Will a Man Rob God?

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Malachi 3:8-10 - Bring the whole tithe

Malachi 3:8-10 is by far the most preached-upon passage on tithing in the entire Bible. It is a popular passage because it seems to announce a curse upon those who fail to tithe the full amount to God. Using this passage, pastors and preachers tell people that if they want to be blessed financially, they must bring in the full tithe. If they fail in this, they are robbing God and will be cursed.

Malachi 3:8-10 says this

Will a man rob God?
Yet you have robbed me.
But you say,
“In what way have we robbed You?”
In tithes and offerings.

You are cursed with a curse,
For you have robbed Me,
Even the whole nation.

Bring all the tithes into the storehouse,
That there may be food in My house.
And try Me now in this,
Says the Lord of hosts,
If I will not open for you the windows of heaven
And pour out for you such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it.

The text seems pretty clear. If we do not tithe the full amount we are supposed to, and bring it to God’s house, we are robbing God and will be cursed. But if we bring the full tithe, then God will make us rich, so rich, we cannot even hold it all. And this is how the passage is usually taught. The pastor admonishes the people to give their full tithe, and bring their full offerings so that they can be blessed by God, and not cursed.

Yet this is simply another passage that has been severely misunderstood and misapplied because people fail to understand the historical background of Malachi. To understand what this passage is saying, we must begin by looking at the historical context.

Malachi 3:10

Historical Background of Malachi 3

In 538 BC, a man named Zerubbabel was given permission by Cyrus, the king of Persia, to return to Israel and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1–2). The process of rebuilding the temple experienced many setbacks and difficulties, so the prophets Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the people to continue rebuilding the temple despite all of the problems. Finally, after over 20 years, the temple was completed in 515 BC (Ezra 6). Nevertheless, a completed temple did not restore Israel’s obedience to God’s law. The priesthood was corrupt and the people were intermarrying with pagans, so in 458 BC, Ezra traveled to Jerusalem and worked to correct these moral failures (Ezra 9–10).

Fourteen years later, Nehemiah also travelled to Jerusalem, this time with the goal of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Along with rebuilding the walls, he is also able to enact many reforms to the way people live and worship. It was during this time of reforms under Nehemiah that Malachi lived and taught. Some of the issues that Malachi addresses are the same issues which Nehemiah addressed. One of these issues is bringing the tithes and offerings into the storehouse of the Temple.

In the historical record of Nehemiah, here is what appears to have happened. The people of Israel loved to have priests and Levites ministering in the Temple, and were thrilled to give of their tithes and offerings to support this ministry. It was what God commanded, and they rejoiced in giving of their crops and herds (Neh 12:44). Nehemiah specifically says that in his days, all Israel joyfully participated in giving the portions required by the law (Neh 12:47). So far, this does not sound at all like the issue Malachi is concerned with. The people appear to be giving joyfully and generously.

Yet in Nehemiah 13, we read of a priest named Eliashib who had been given the authority over the storehouse in the Temple (13:4). It was his job to make sure that all the singers, gatekeepers, priests, and Levites who served in the Temple received their portion of the grain, wine, and oil that had been brought by the people of Israel (13:5). But he was doing no such thing. Instead, he had removed all of the grain, wine, and oil, and had allowed a man named Tobiah to begin living in the storehouse instead (13:4, 7). And who was Tobiah? He was the enemy of God and of Israel who had tried to stop the people from rebuilding the wall (Neh 2:10-19; 6:10-19)! As a result of not getting their daily portions of food, the Levites and the singers who did all the work in the temple had gone back to their fields so that they could feed themselves and their families (Neh 13:10).

What did Eliashib do with the grain, the wine, and the oil? The text does not say exactly, but after Nehemiah kicks Tobiah out of the storehouse, he brought the grain back into the storehouse, but the text says nothing about the wine and oil, and a few verses later, Nehemiah calls on the people of Israel to replenish the storehouses with grain, wine, and oil (cf. Neh 13:9, 12), and Nehemiah appointed new treasurers over the storehouse who would properly and fairly distribute the portions to the temple workers (Neh 13:13).

We will look tomorrow at what all of this means for understanding and applying Malachi 3. But just from what we have seen here, who do you think Malachi  is really speaking to in Malachi 3:8-10?


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Comments

  1. says

    the verse says “open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it” No where in that verse does it actually state that the blessing being poured out is in any way financial. What if the best way for a wealthy man to be blessed would be if he first became poor and learned to rely upon Jesus instead of his money, (Bear in mind that if you live in the USA you are wealthy). Just a hypothetical example but my point is that God knows what we need far more than we do. Perhaps the blessing poured out will be that of learning humility or learning to be content. What good would it do us if, having already trusted in our income, God gave us even greater income? Nothing. that would be a curse.

    • says

      Gary,

      You are absolutely right. The blessings may not actually be more riches and wealth, but could possibly be poverty, and maybe even death.

      That is a point which needs to be emphasized more. Thanks!

  2. Guest says

    No man can rob God if in Christ. Romans 8:32 said God and Jesus freely gives us all things. Jesus said Paid in full and not sure why many religious folks don’t have a good grasp on what that means.

  3. Guest says

    Gary I agree that pouring out a blessing does not mean the blessing is always money. After looking at my bible concordance on Open the windows of heaven and pour out.
    This obviously meant Rain. Rain helped the crops grow. The Old Covenant blessing was land that God allotted the Jews and the rain helped their crops grow in abundance. In times of sin and rebellion God sent famines on the land and closed up the Heavens so it did not rain. This caused their crops and animals to die. They had an agricultural society based on vegetation from their land.

    Christians also need to understand what nation and group God was speaking to and under which covenant. It makes a world of difference whether God is speaking under the Old or New Covenant? After Jesus said Paid in full on the cross the covenant changed to a New one based on unconditional grace, not works or performance but on the payment Jesus made.

    How is it many Christians who are prey to bible illiteracy fail to grasp the Malachi curse for not keeping the Mosaic law is voided, read Galatians 3:13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by being cursed for us. Second point is, no one in Christ can rob God anymore. Romans 8:32 makes it clear God because of His Son Jesus now freely gives us all things.

  4. adam says

    interesting, but I’d like to know how you arrive at the translation:

    For you have robbed Me,
    Even the whole nation.

    I’m most interested in the “even” since it sets your translation (and meaning) apart from every translation and commentary I’ve consulted.

    thanks

    • says

      Adam,

      Ummm. That’s not my translation. I quoted that directly out of the New King James… sooooo, I guess you didn’t consult the New King James translation?

      • adam says

        Well, I missed the NKJV. :)

        BUT, NASB, ESV, NRSV, NIV, TNIV, NLT, and the Message all read it as the nation (and priests) robbing God. And it seems to me that the NKJV could be read as such too…

        • says

          Yes, the KJV of course, agrees with the NKJV. As does the English Revised Version, but I didn’t look at too many others. Regardless, most of my argument is based on the context and historical situation Malachi was writing to, as well as the cultural context of the sacrificial system. I am not basing my interpretation off a single word.

  5. adam says

    I get that you are basing it off of the historical record of Nehemiah. But it seems to me you don’t need to reinterpret what was written. You’re missing the most obvious solution to the “problem” (and I don’t see a problem).

    The problem is solved if you date Malachi during the period when Nehemiah left for a period of time. The store room given to Tobias was empty precisely because Israel had stopped tithing. This makes a lot more sense than your interpretation and doesn’t require ignoring words (EVERY word is important).

    • says

      Adam,
      My interpretation is based on the best research I know how to do from the original Hebrew text and from the historical/cultural situation in which the text was written. I don’t need the word “even” for my case.

  6. Mark says

    As a Christian, my wife & I tithe our 10% and then some; not out of guilt but because :

    1) We don’t want to freeload & we are grateful for the services & community our local Church builds.

    2) We want our Local Church to keep serving the local community & grow in what it is doing.

    3) In the West we are far more fortunate to have free worship and not face persecution.

    It grinds my gears when some Churches preach Malachi repeatedly in Sermons to guilt the congregation into giving what they cannot afford instead of providing guidance on how to manage that risky but essential commodity commonly known as money.

    The Almighty God who created EVERYTHING!! (including all the stars, galaxies, Black Holes, Quasars, Gold, Silver, Platinum & the electrons which carry & process our monetary system today) does not need your Money! He wants your heart & your good attitude to respond to the others needs as the person he created you as.

    The real curse of Malachi will be when Churches die out due to lack of funding, growth and interest which will impact local societies as they provide immeasurable support to local communities and this will cause society to breakdown even further.

  7. Dave says

    Regarding “even.” Could it be that we are misreading this passage. Perhaps it is saying that “a man” (priesthood) has robbed God and the whole nation. “You have robbed me and even the whole nation.” This would fit if the priesthood had failed in their fiduciary responsibility and misappropriated the storehouse food. Both God and the nation would have been robbed.

    Also, if it meant that the whole nation was guilty, then Nehemiah and Malachi would have been partakers. But we know that they were part of the “revival” process of restoring the old tithing system. So it is improbable that that the whole nation was guilty.

    Lastly, we need to consider which tithe was being discussed. The tithe that went to the storehouse was given by the Levites. They collected the 10% of FOOD items, and in turn gave 10% to the temple in Jerusalem. So the storehouse in the temple actually received a net of 1% of the national tithe. So, God is angry that there is not food in the “storehouse.” So the missing tithes were the tithes that wen to feed the priests, porters who were on duty.

    The man who was over the storehouse was Eliashib. I think he was the man who was robbing God and the whole nation.

    • says

      Dave,
      You raise some good points here. There is certainly a lot more in this passage that needs to be considered in light of the grammatical and historical context. Regarding Malachi and Nehemiah, they may have been much like Daniel who (though not guilty himself), still associated himself with the guilt of the nation.

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