Meditations in Malachi : 29. Tithing
Mal 3:8-10 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, `How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse–the whole nation of you–because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.
We’ve said a couple of times that going through Malachi is like taking a spiritual check-up with God, Israel have become complacent with God and therefore now their attitudes and behaviour are unacceptable in a variety of ways. As we’ve also said before, when one sin creeps in, others soon follow. The Lord moves relentlessly on, laying down the next complaint, the next thing that needs to be dealt with, and which must be rejected if they are to return to Him.
“You’re robbing me!” is essentially what the Lord now says. “What? How?”Israel appear almost indignantly to reply. “By your tithes, or rather your lack of them,” the Lord replies. Again as we’ve said before they had rather sunk to a ‘minimalistic religion’ where they can do the least possible while still maintaining some semblance of spirituality. We aren’t told but it is possible that they were simply bringing a token offering, rather like the person who drops 50p in the offering plate as it goes around on a Sunday morning.
The overall principle of the tithe is clearly stated in the Law: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD.” (Lev 27:30). A tenth of all produce from the agricultural economy belonged to God. The use of the tithe was also clearly stipulated: “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting.” (Num 18:21) i.e. it was God’s provision for His servants, the Levites: “It is the Levites who are to do the work at the Tent of Meeting,” (Num 18:23) and so “I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the LORD.” (Num 18:24)
Thus giving a tithe, a tenth of your income, to the Lord was to be an expression of your love and obedience, part of the covenant, and it was to be used to support the Levites and the priests who were part of them. If Israel stopped giving tithes or at least started cutting back on them, it was first a sign of their diminishing love and concern for God and, second, a sign of their lack of concern for the Levites as God’s servants. Those things, although not spelled out, are at the heart of what is going on here.
The consequence of all this is a curse! “You are under a curse–the whole nation of you–because you are robbing me.” The tithe was, for Israel, a specific command to be kept. We saw previously how the covenant had been initiated and how it was focused, from Israel’s side, on obedience. Obedience to the Law brought blessing, God’s decree of good. Disobedience brought a curse, God’s decree of bad. You know when you are under God’s curse: nothing is going as it should and whichever way you turn things are going wrong and the blessing or goodness of God is clearly missing. It happens, and still happens, when we fail to obey God and do the opposite to what He has instructed. The instructions He has given us are for our good. They are always in accord with the way He has designed us to live good, wholesome, enjoyable and fulfilling lives. The giving of the tithe simply reminded the people constantly that God is The Creator who has made all things and so they belong to Him. They also remind us that God is our provider.
Obeying God always brings blessing: “Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” What an amazing challenge from the Lord! Obey me, and just watch what happens! Come on, do it! Bring in all the tithes and see what happens. You’ll find that when you honour me and do as I’ve said, I will bless you in such a manner that you won’t know what to do with it all.
The same thing applies today. Recognise that God owns everything you have, and allow Him to bring a generous heart to you that blesses the servants of God and those in need around you, and responds to His prompting, and then just watch out. It IS as simple as that.