Session 2 THE TEMPLE TAX
TEMPLE TAX DURING THE PERIOD OF THE KINGS
The period of the Kings is defined as the reign of King Saul (around 1043 B.C. depending on who you believe) to the siege and collapse of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in 587 B.C. when the Jewish people were deported to Babylon (a couple of miles outside of modern-day Bagdad, Iraq).
This era saw a basic change in the way the Temple activity was financed, based on the King who happened to be on the throne at the time.
It is difficult to make any sweeping statements about the Temple Tax during the period of the kings. For one thing, after the death of Solomon there were two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Some of the kings were very devout and some of the kings were not at all godly; occasionally a King was devout but his devotion to God didn’t translate to the general populace.
2 Kings 12 gives us an example of such mixed behavior: King Jehoash reigned 40 years in Jerusalem. Verses 2-3: “And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places.” 1
“High places” are not necessarily mountain tops, although they could be. This odd phrase designates a place of worship for false gods such as Baal and Molech. Jeremiah 7:31 (a verse we looked at during the “Death of Judas” series) locates a “high place” in a valley: “And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom….” )2
THE ROYAL TREASURY PAYS—OR DOES IT?
During much of the period of the kings, the Temple and the priesthood seems to be supported by the royal treasury—that is, if the king was a godly king! This becomes hit-and-miss.
Take for example I Chronicles 16:1-3 which says “And they brought in the ark of God and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord and distributed to all Israel, both men and women, to each a loaf of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins.”
Here is another example: 2 Chronicles 30:24 says “For Hezekiah king of Judah gave the assembly 1,000 bulls and 7,000 sheep for offerings, and the princes gave the assembly 1,000 bulls and 10,000 sheep. And the priests consecrated themselves in great numbers.” The next chapter, 2 Chronicles 31:3 tells us more about Hezekiah: “ The contribution of the king from his own possessions was for the burnt offerings: the burnt offerings of morning and evening, and the burnt offerings for the Sabbaths, the new moons, and the appointed feasts, as it is written in the Law of the Lord.”
2 Chronicles 35:7 shows what good King Josiah did: “Then Josiah contributed to the lay people, as Passover offerings for all who were present, lambs and young goats from the flock to the number of 30,000, and 3,000 bulls; these were from the king’s possessions.”
Some of our Old Testament verses say plainly “the king paid” and some of them only “hint” that the king paid. We have no specific information on what was done on a regular or annual basis. We can be sure that some kings, like Ahaz for instance, did not support the temple.
Josiah in 2 Chronicles 34:8 acts thusly: “Now in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had cleansed the land and the house [of Baal worship], he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz, the recorder, to repair the house of the Lord his God.” These “repairs” would suggest neglect of God’s house for many years. This is the time when they rediscover the book of Deuteronomy!
PRE-EXILE and EXILE SUMMARY
The time of the Kings leaves us wanting more information. It appears that some of the kings who were the servants of God treated the Temple with respect and with financial support. Ungodly kings, according to hints we find in the Old Testament, were not supporting the clergy or the costs of maintaining the Temple.
Did the population support the Temple? Did they occasionally have a census for the purpose of collecting an assessment for the Temple? We simply cannot make any sure pronouncements. The Bible doesn’t tell us.
After the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., there was no Temple while the people were in Babylon. It had been torn down and abandoned by the Babylonian army. Without a Temple, there was no need for a Temple Tax.
When the Jews came back to the Holy Land to build “the Second Temple,” we have more specific information. We can read about the support for the Temple, the Temple Tax and how it was collected, how much it was, etc. We even have coins from this era which were used for the Treasury. The theology of Judaism becomes very precise, and with it comes volumes of information from the rabbis of the time!
1 “The high places” (הַבָּמ֖וֹת) is not a translation of the Hebrew text but a translation of the Greek translation (Septuagint—this is 4th Kings in the Greek, because the Septuagint calls the books of Chronicles “I Kings” and “2 Kings” so what we know as 1st and 2nd Kings becomes 3rd and 4th Kings—a little strange, huh?) which says πλὴν τῶν ὑψηλῶν οὐ μετεστάθησαν (literally: “but the high places weren’t turned down”). The Hebrew word הַבָּמ֖וֹת is of uncertain origin, but apparently can mean a stage, an elevated platform, an altar area for sacrificing, etc. K.-D. Schunk, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 2:141 says in part: “…the translation ‘high place sanctuary,’ which frequently occurs, does not give an adequate picture of the real nature of a bamah. On the basis of archeological and biblical evidence, it would probably be best to translate bamah as ‘a small elevation for cultic use’ or ‘a cult place.’”
2 Thompson, J.A. The Book of Jeremiah, a volume in the The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT) Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1975, p. 291n, points out that the Hebrew is plural, “high places,” but the Greek LXX and the Targums are singular. Were later Jewish scribes trying to avoid the idea that there were multiple altars to the god Molech in the Ben Hinnom Valley for the purpose of sacrificing children? Multiple altars would suggest a very wide-spread practice of child sacrifice among the Jewish population!