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Monday, April 30, 2012

Malachi 3:10 - Do we give to have our storehouses filled?

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” – Malachi 3:10

How many times have you heard Malachi 3:10 trotted out in a sermon or a Bible study or from a friend to tell us that if we tithe, God will reward our sacrifice with abundance? We are told that this is a promise to us from God, that if we are willing to sacrificially give to God that God will open up the windows of heaven and bless our storehouses to overflowing! We are told that this verse is unusual in that it is the only place where we are commanded to actually put God to the test and that in all other contexts putting God to the test is explicitly a very bad idea, to say the least. The fact that this verse is the only one of its kind is often used as an indicator of emphasis – that God really really wants us to try this test so that God can bless us and make us prosper.

So we are told…

In this brief article I want to show why this reading of Malachi 3:10 seems to me not only exegetically impossible, but possibly even downright selfish and sinful as it tramples on the goodness of God to his whole people and sees God as a cosmic vending machine – put in your tithe, press the button and get the prize of a full personal bank account.

We primarily should notice the context of this passage.  Malachi is written to a people returning to the land of Israel after the exile. They are apparently suffering doubts about God and his covenant faithfulness. They are looking around and seeing the sinful and wicked prospering and the righteous suffering. They doubt whether God actually cares about what they do, what the priests do, and if he will ever intervene and stop the oppression of his people. The priests have become sinful, selfish and wholly unconcerned with the covenant relationship that they have with God as Levites and only obey in so far as they have to in order to keep the appearance of religious devotion.

Over and over leading up to this passage God challenges the people and priests that they have been unfaithful to God and have been lackadaisical in their keeping of the law. Priests have offered sacrifices that were blemished while keeping their unblemished and valued animals to themselves, even after publicly vowing them to God. We see that they offer sacrifices that were gained through deception, violence, and theft. They have oppressed the people they were meant to serve and make a mockery of God’s alter. They commit adultery on their wives and marry women devoted to pagan deities and yet still offer sacrifices to God but complain when they are not blessed for their tithes. It is this lackluster kind of superficial piety that God condemns repeatedly in Malachi. God pronounces judgment and says that at this time he accepts no sacrifices in Israel where his great name has become disdained and the people no longer revere God or his law and only half heartedly give out of some religious sentiment of duty.

So when we reach this passage in Malachi 3, we have come to a place where the only reaction left from the people is “How shall we return?” (Mal. 3:7) or to be more explicit, “how can God’s people return to God’s favor?”

This is where our verse comes in. God does not say “repent and believe” as we would expect him to (though undoubtedly this should take place.) God says,

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

Before God’s people can return to God’s favor, they have to stop actively robbing from him! They have to give him what is due to him and see that all of the world is God’s storehouse and that what they withhold in their tithes are already God’s possession and in keeping it for themselves, they are robbing from God. Not only are they robbing from God but they are keeping God’s wealth out of God’s house (the storehouse was a reference to the temple where the offerings were kept and dispersed as needed) where God actively blessed his people, fedthe poor, and protected the orphans, the widows and the downcast.  

Thus it is in this context that we find the commonly abused verse in question and can now see its actual meaning. This verse is not saying that if we trust God in our tithes that God will fill our bank accounts. It is not saying that the bigger check we write to some ministry the more God will bless us with personal wealth to buy nice homes, new cars, or the latest and greatest toys.

This passage is telling us that we are robbers of the house of God when we even talk about it as if it is “our” wealth in the first place. That we are robbing from God when we withhold God’s own money to disperse from the temple of God to take care of the poor, the downcast, and the oppressed. This is not a promise about what God will do for us if we tithe and is in fact a direct rebuttal against that very kind of selfish outlook on finances. If we look at this verse as telling us to test God with our finances so that we will see how much he blesses us, we have committed the exact sin of those priests who gave their second best because they thought it would keep God on their side and that he might personally bless them for it.

No, we do not give in order to get. We give because it is not ours in the first place. We give because this passage does not promise that God will fill our own storehouses, but will fill the storehouse of the kingdom so that in the end there will be “no more need.” God was telling Israel to give according to what God had given to them, so that in all of Israel no one would be need. The temple could operate and do its job to feed and clothe the needy and protect God’s people from oppression like it was designed to do under the law.

Earlier in Malachi, the Lord gives this condemnation: “For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction,” (Malachi 2:7-8a).

The next time you hear some overzealous preacher or pastor or Bible study try and tell you that this is a promise of God to you, that if you trust God with your finances that God will bless your pocket book, do not be fooled. Do not be the one to stumble on that instruction. Give because it is God’s. Give because you want to see the poor fed and clothed, the oppressed protected, and the orphans cared for. Give not to have your own storehouse filled, but to see the storehouses of the kingdom filled so that the church can do what it was called to do. And pray that the leaders of the church are not like the priests of Malachi’s day…

How to raise an Atheist

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Freed Thinker Episode 5.4 - Philosophical Reasons to Reject Kalam P2

 In this episode of The Free Thinker Podcast we start out by giving some recommendations for some of my favorite new podcasts and then we look at some of the objections given by critics of the arguments to the philosophical reasons for accepting the 2nd premise that I presented in our last episode. I hope you that enjoy and continue to contact me with your questions or comments as they are a great source of material for me to know what you want me to respond to.

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Enjoy the show!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Freed Thinker Podcast - Episode 5.3 - Kalam Cosmological Argument

After a long sabbatical we are finally back! In this episode of the Freed Thinker Podcast, we continue our discussion of the Kalam Cosmological argument by looking at the philosophical and mathematical arguments in favor of the second premise - that the universe began to exist.

I look forward to hearing back from you and reading your comments!

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