Sometimes lovers argue. Lovers fight when one party in the relationship has committed an act of betrayal. Then things start to break down, and a dispute arises. We’re going to listen to a lovers’ quarrel between God and his people.
We rob God when we don’t give
It’s in Malachi 3:6-7 where this lovers’ quarrel breaks out. God begins because he is the one who has been betrayed. He says, “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.”
God is speaking to His people: “Look, we have this relationship. Somebody in this relationship has moved away. Someone in this relationship had been unfaithful, and it’s not me. I don’t change. I didn’t abandon you. And it’s a good thing for you that I have remained faithful, that I have kept my promises, or you might be destroyed. Historically, over the many years of our relationship, you have proven to be consistently unfaithful. You’ve continually turned away from the Covenant (contract) we’ve had, the decrees I’ve given you.
But then God says these tender words: “Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:7). And oh, what tender words they are. But remember this is a lovers’ quarrel, and God’s people are not immediately convinced; these words don’t make their hearts melt and become tender. God says at the end of verse 7, “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?'”
God answers that. In verse 8 he says, “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me.” It’s interesting that God singles out the area of money. We might expect God to get after the people for worshiping idols, although these are individuals who came back from 70 years of captivity in Iraq (ancient Babylon). They have come back to the land, and one thing we know about the Israelite people after this captivity is they don’t struggle with worshiping false idols like they did before they went into captivity.
But in this case, God singles out money. That makes sense, doesn’t it? A lot of lovers’ quarrels are over money. If you’re married you know that’s true, because you’ve had that happen in your home. One day one of you looks at the checkbook and says, “$274.67 at Wal-Mart! You told me you were only going to buy toilet paper and toothpaste.” And then later in the week, the other spouse finds out a 4-wheeler has been purchased, and that is not how the money was going to be spent. And you both feel the other person has betrayed you and has robbed the money you had both set aside for a particular purpose. That’s what God is doing in this lovers’ quarrel. He is accusing his people of robbing him.
You can anticipate what they’re going to say. The second line of verse 8 says, “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?'” God, come on. Explain that. How do we rob you?
God gives the answer at the end of verse 8 and in verse 9: “In your tithes and contributions.” God goes further to explain, “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.”
God is upset here, and he calls these people a name. In verse 9 he says, “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.” That word “nation”—the Hebrew word gowy—was used for the pagan peoples, and rarely in the Old Testament does God use that to describe Israel. God typically uses another word. When he speaks of Israel, he calls them “my people” or “a people”—the Hebrew word ben. But in this case, He uses this word gowy, or “nation,” because it has the connotations of paganism and being a heathen. He’s upset with them, and he’s lumping their behavior with the behavior of the people living around them: “You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me.”
How are the people robbing God? In tithes and offerings. The word tithe is literally “tenth,” or ten percent. The people living before Jesus were under the law of Moses. That was their covenant with God, and that law in Deuteronomy 14:26-29 specified the people had to give a portion to the Lord.
“But the holy things that are due from you, and your vow offerings, you shall take, and you shall go to the place that the Lord will choose, and offer your burnt offerings, the flesh, and the blood, on the altar of the Lord your God. The blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the Lord your God, but the flesh you may eat. Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 14:26-29
So, if your farm yielded 90 bushels of wheat, nine would be given to the Lord. If your cows had 30 calves, you would offer three of those calves to the Lord. That was your tithe.
It gets a little more complicated because in the Old Testament law there were three tithes. One was this tithe that was given to the priests. A second tithe was used to celebrate the annual sacred feast—the people used this to throw a party in honor of God. And then every third year the people would give another ten percent to help the poor. When you add that together, that works out to be roughly 25 percent of your income. That was expected of the people, and God says: You are robbing me because you are not following through on giving your tithes.
We have to ask ourselves a question: Is this issue still a problem today? Is it still a sin not to bring tithes and offerings to God? This practice is an Old Testament one, right? God, doesn’t hold us to those old standards, does He? When Jesus came on the scene, some things changed. The way you and I relate to God through Jesus is different in some respects than how the people of Israel related to God. So, we have to ask: Is this still a sin for us today?
To answer that question, we have to look at Old Testament teaching through the lens of Jesus’ teaching and ministry. 2 Corinthians 8-9 is one of the most complete discussions in the New Testament on giving. To get the answer to the question you will have to come back next Tuesday and read that post. That is a cliffhanger.