February 12, 2007
Meditation Commentary Malachi 3:8-12
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before her time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightful land, saith the LORD of hosts.
How can a man rob God? It seems counterintuitive. Isn’t God all-powerful? How can a human being, a creature of dust and time, possibly rise up against the Almighty and forcibly take anything from him? But, according to Malachi 3:8, God can be robbed. When we withhold the tithes that rightfully belong to him, the gifts he has commanded us to give to him, we are robbing him and keeping for ourselves what is his.
And this, too, seems odd. Doesn’t everything belong to God? Why, then, are withheld tithes singled out as abominable theft? The answer seems to lie in the nature of what tithes were meant to be, and furthermore, as in all things, in the nature of who God himself is.
Deuteronomy chapter 26 tells us that when an Israelite brought his tithe to the temple, he was to declare to the priest the history of his people: that his father had been a stranger in the land of Egypt, oppressed and enslaved, and that God, by his mighty hand, had brought his father out of Egypt and into a land flowing with milk and honey. “And now, behold,” the Israelite was to say, “I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which thou, O LORD, hast given me.” And there before the Lord he was to worship, out of gratitude celebrating God’s great abundance, the tenth itself as concrete proof of God’s grace. The Israelite essentially brought his tithe to the Temple, set it down and said, “Look, see what God has given me!”
And having set that gift down before the Lord, the next command is this: “And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the LORD thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you” (Deut. 26:11). The giving was not meant to be dutiful and somber; it was a celebration, a rejoicing in the gifts of God and a sharing of that gift with those who needed it. The tenth was to be given to the Levites, foreigners, orphans and widows (Deut. 26:12), all people who did not have the capacity, for whatever reason, to provide for their own needs, “that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled” (Deut. 26:12).
So the tithe was meant to be a reminder, or remembrance, of past works of God, namely the deliverance from Egypt; it was meant to be a current declaration of God’s material blessings; and it was meant to be an instrument of blessing to others. All these things hark back to the personhood, character and power of God himself: Jehovah has delivered, Jehovah has provided, and as Jehovah has given to us so let us give to others. Rejoice, oh Israel, the Lord thy God is powerful and full of grace!
But when Malachi was prophesying, the people had evidently ceased to bring their tithes to the Temple. They had forgotten God’s incredible gifts to them in the past, and they were not recognizing and sharing with others his providence to them in the present. This, Malachi says, is robbing God, forgetting him and leaving him behind, as if his power to save has meant nothing. What a terrible thing to do! And it is not isolated to the renegade Israelites; it is something we are continually guilty of committing. God has poured out blessings on us, blessings of life and talents and every tiny thing we take for granted, from rose petals and storms to birthdays and apple pie. And then there is the incredible gift of the Cross, the blood covering for sin and the way to a personal, dynamic relationship with the One who made us! But we forget what he has done, we don’t recognize what he is doing, we don’t give from the abundance he has given us. This is robbing God; not that we have stolen a trinket or overpowered the Almighty, but that we have forgotten God, and neglected to give him what is his and his alone: All glory, laud and honor, now and forevermore.