“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts. (Mal 3:6-12)
This will be my last post in the current series on tithing. It has been a fruitful exercise, with 40 comments on the previous five posts so far. The first post Best before 30AD? currently ranks #2 for the most comments of any post on this blog, whilst curiously, my exegesis on Leviticus 27 and the link between the tithe and the devoted things didn't get a single comment :-(. So now, to fulfil a promise and exegete the Malachi passage...
I actually think this passage is exceptionally clear and unambiguous, and poses no problem to those of us who believe in the principle of tithing. It is those who would dismiss it who must jump through hoops and bend over backwards. The usual dispensational loophole of "Not applicable because its part of the law" has been shut off by the very opening words. The prophet is introducing this discourse on the basis of the eternal nature of God himself, not the temporary nature of the Levitical regulations (if indeed it is valid even to consider these as temporary rather than eternal, yet fulfilled eternally in Christ).
The next argument raised against this passage, is that a God who calls us "robbers" and who talks of us being under a "curse" does not sound like the God of the New Testament. Where are the blessings and grace that is extended to us in Christ? Yet again though, the opening verse put it in context - God does not change! This is not the voice of a separate wrathful Old Testament God who has been replaced by the nice fluffy blessing-dispencing God of the New Testament. God is unchanging, and he is always to be feared and held in awe and reverence. He is still a most holy God who is full of wrath against wickedness, it is just we stand shielded from it because of the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Acts 5 shows us that God is not opposed to reminding his people that he will not be dishonoured lightly.
Some would say that because we are in Christ we don't need to worry about God's curse anymore. On the contrary, I believe that because we are in Christ, God's curse is the only one that we need worry about! No other curse can touch us! (Nu 22:12) It is also important that we understand the nature of God's curse. God never desires to put a curse on anyone. His curse is not like a voodoo hex put on someone who invokes his displeasure. God sets out two paths before us, a path of obedience and submission, and a path of doing things our own way. It was this choice that led to the original curse when Adam chose to do things his way rather than God's. It was the choice laid out for the Israelites in the Law (Dt 30:19). It was the choice set before us when we heard the gospel. Although we have been set free from the curse of relying on the Law for justification (Ga 3:13) it is still true that God sets such decisions before us, and does not force our hand, even though he always desires us to take the right path. As every parent knows, sometimes your children have to find out the hard way, even though you wish it were not so. [And of course we are aware that as Christians we are not immune from the results of the original curse, even though we continually take more land for the Kingdom and see the extension of God's will done on earth as it is in heaven.]
The prophet Malachi reveals that the issue of tithing is one such crossroads in life, and the path we decide to take will have its own divinely ordained consequences either way. If we honour God by bringing him the tithe that is his, then he will bless the remaining 90% so that it produces far more than the 100% on its own ever could have. (See my previous post Is all money equal?)
Other points of note in this passage are "full tithe" and "into the storehouse" (See "What?" and "To whom?") There is also a clear distinction made between tithes and offerings (contributions.) The tithe is not giving, it is already given (See Devoted: Exclusively God's)
It seems that God himself is aware (how could he not be!) that some will be sceptical of this principle, as he invites us to "put him to the test." It is as if God is saying, "You may not believe me, but just try it and see!" It is important that our giving tests God the right way (Malachi 3 and not Acts 5!)
There is more I could say, but that's enough to kick things off, I'm sure the rest will come out in the comments... fire away!