What are Taxes?
As the government of the Jews shifted from the lax rule of the Judges to the firmer hold of the kings, and from a domestic to a foreign power, the taxes and the mode of their collection likewise altered. Taxes were first exacted for religious purposes - for the support of the priests and Levites. They were called the Tithes, First-fruits, and the Redemption-money (see separate titles). "The payment by each Israelite of the half shekel as atonement-money for the service of the tabernacle on taking the census of the people, Ex 30:13, does not appear to have had the character of a recurring tax, but to have been supplementary to the freewill-offering levied for the construction of the sacred tent." Ex 25:1-7. The taxes were light; when the Jews got a king their burdens were largely increased. In addition to forced military service, heavy taxes were laid upon the productions, monopolies sprang up. 1 Kgs 10:28-29. We find the most detailed account of these taxes in the history of Solomon's reign, but doubtless the same phenomena appeared in all subsequent reigns. Great complaints were made. 1 Kgs 12:4. The idolatry of the king occasioned less anxiety than his extravagance. The pocket is touched sooner than the heart. The Persians, like all conquerors, required the conquered to pay heavily. A wise man like Nehemiah did what he could to lessen the evils, but he was only partially successful. He exercised economy, and refused for himself the usual supplies furnished for the governor. Neh 5:14. Read Neh 5:1-11 for a sad picture of the times. This taxation led, apparently, to such a neglect of the tithes that a special poll-tax of one-third, Neh 10:33, afterward increased to one-half, a shekel was laid for the temple-services. The latter amount was exacted in N.T. times. Matt 17:24. During the Graeco-Egyptian period, which followed, there was a continuance of oppression, owing to the wretched system of "farming" the revenues. This, of course, led to incalculable troubles. After the Romans had made themselves masters of Palestine they left the collection of the taxes to the native kings, who were required to send a large tribute yearly to Rome. But when the Jewish kings gave way to Roman governors, then the system of tax-collection so familiar to us by the N.T. came into vogue. It was a tax on poll and ground, on product of field and hand. "There were duties to be paid at harbors and the gates of cities, and there was also a house-tax in Jerusalem, but Agrippa I. remitted it." Under these payments the people groaned, but particularly because it was a galling proof of their subjection.