6“I am the LORD, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already completely destroyed. 7Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have scorned my laws and failed to obey them. Now return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How can we return when we have never gone away?’
8“Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me!
“But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’
“You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. 9You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. 10Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Let me prove it to you! 11Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not shrivel before they are ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. 12“Then all nations will call you blessed, for your land will be such a delight,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:6-12, NLT)
If you’ve ever been to a church and heard a sermon on tithing, you have probably heard this passage preached.
Malachi was a prophet who lived about 400 years before the time of Christ. He wrote to Jews who had very recently returned from being in exile (taken captive by the Babylonian empire).
Malachi was rebuking the people for their neglect of the temple. In this passage, he specifically addresses the people for their neglect of the tithe.
What is the tithe?
The word tithe literally means a tenth. When the Israelites entered the promised land of Canaan, every tribe was alotted an area of land as an inheritance , except for the Levites. The Levites were the tribe of Moses and his brother Aaron. The Levites were commissioned by God to be the priests who would lead worship and administer the temple sacrifices and act as mediators between the Lord and the people.
Because the Levites had no land, and their job was essentially religious clergy, they had no means of sustaining themselves. The tithe was implemented to take care of the Levites, who in turn were responsible for caring for the spiritual needs of the people.
When the Jewish people neglected the tithes, the Levites were forced to care for themselves in other ways and with other jobs. Therefore, the duties of the temple were neglected. It is in this way that the Lord is saying that the people had cheated Him. Because the tithes weren’t given, the priestly duties were neglected and therefore God was robbed of the worship that is rightly His.
It’s important to realize that the tithe wasn’t just money. It could be grain or some other portion of a harvest. This is why the author mentions the storehouse. The storehouse was a physical room in the temple that was used for storing the grain and other produce that the people brought into the temple as part of their tithe.
The principle of the tithe is still valid in the church today. Essentially, the Lord is asking His people, as an act of faith and worship, to give back to Him a portion of what He has given to us.
When we give a tithe, we are expressing to the Lord that we acknowledge that everything we have comes from Him. We also are trusting that He is able to sustain us on the portion that is left over.
In this passage, The Lord invites us to test Him. He says that if we give to Him the first fruits of our labor, He will richly bless us and the balance of our resources will be more than enough to provide for us.
This sounds counter-intuitive to our finite minds. It seems logical to us that if we keep all of our resources, we will have more wealth to spend and invest. But in God’s economy, He promises that if we give to Him first, we will actually end up with more because He will bless the balance of our resources and we will see a greater return on that smaller portion than if we had kept the whole for ourselves.
What role has tithing played in your own spiritual life? How have you been able to integrate tithing (giving) into your spiritual practice?
If you have struggled to implement tithing as a spiritual practice, what are the factors that keep you from taking that step of faith? What experiences with the Lord can you draw upon in order to help you take a small step of faith?