Project Augustine

Malachi 3: 10

 

11/24/09

 

10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.      –   Malachi 3: 10

 

Q:  In Malachi 3: 10, what does the author mean when God responds to his critics to “… test Me now in this…if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows” (NASB)?  How would the original audience have understood this?  Does this mean that we can “test” God with our tithes and offerings and wait for blessings today?

 

Exegesis

 

Background

 

Q:  What was the historical setting of the book of Malachi?  When was it written and who wrote it?

 

  1. Written around 475 – 450 B.C. – postexilic time frame
  2. Around 586 B.C., Judah fell to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the Temple was destroyed. Many of the inhabitants were deported to Babylon.
    1. In 539 B.C., Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians.
    2. In 538 B.C., King Cyrus of Persia issued a proclamation allowing the Jewish people to return to Palestine.
    3. Some Jews stayed in Babylon, but those who returned went back in several groups over many years.
    4. In 516 B.C., the Temple was rebuilt, 70 years after its destruction. (Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps & Time Lines, p. 65)
  3. Setting of Malachi takes place nearly one hundred years after the end of the Babylonian captivity and Cyrus’ decree. (2 Chronicles 36: 23)
  4. Malachi is a “child of the Persian period”
    1. The Temple has been rebuilt, but already disillusionment has set in
  5. It may be that “Malachi”, which means “my messenger,” is not a personal name.
    1. In Mal. 3: 1 the same word is translated “my messenger.”
      1. There it describes the anonymous agent who will be sent to prepare the way for God’s future coming.
    2. It’s unlikely that this book was written by a prophet named Malachi
  6. Q: Who was the audience of this prophetic book?
    1. This book addressed the Jewish community who returned from exile in Babylonia
  7. Q: What was the overall spiritual climate like and how or why did it get that way?
    1. Nearly eighty years after the nationalistic prophets Haggai and Zechariah had encouraged the rebuilding of the temple with glorious promises of God’s blessing, the engrafting of the nations, prosperity, expansion, peace and the return of God’s own glorious presence (cf. e.g. Hg. 2: Zc 1: 16 – 17; 2; 8; 9) (NBC, p. 883)
      1. The temple had been rebuilt, and the sacrificial system had been reestablished. Indeed, it had been functioning long enough to develop certain abuses against which Malachi contended at some length in his book.
      2. The city of Jerusalem had returned to a substantial degree of normalcy; and the inevitable lethargy, laxity, and leniency in spiritual matters had developed. A measure of comfort and security under Persian suzerainty encouraged the people of Judah to let their hands fall in their task of building their nation under God.
        1. To Malachi’s disillusioned contemporaries, these misunderstood predictions of blessing and prosperity by previous prophets must have seemed a cruel mockery. Instead of glowing promises, the harsh reality was one of economic privation, crop failure, prolonged drought, and pestilence (Mal. 3: 10 – 11)  (NBC, ibid)
      3. Among the returned Jews, the Levitical priests received special criticism and warning (1:6, 10; 2:1, 4, 7; 3:3). There is, however, no way of knowing whether Malachi was himself a priest.

 

Literary Genre and Structure

  1. It’s a prophecy or “oracle” and “word of the LORD”
  2. The book has at its heart six “disputations”:
    1. Dispute about defending God’s elective love for Israel (1: 2 – 5)
      1. People were dishonoring God by their irresponsible offerings and hypocritical formalism of their worship
    2. Dispute about the contempt the priests show (1: 6 – 2: 9)
    3. Dispute about Israel’s covenant breaking (2: 10 – 16)
      1. Malachi condemns interfaith marriage as infidelity against Israel’s covenant with God and condemns unauthorized divorce
    4. Dispute about God’s justice (2: 17 – 3: 5)
      1. Malachi promises that God will vindicate his justice
    5. Dispute concerning repentance (3: 6 – 12)
      1. Malachi returns to the subject of Israel’s begrudging offerings
      2. The people had experienced material adversity and were under a curse, not in spite of their behavior but because of it.
      3. Malachi challenges them to conscientious tithing, which will be rewarded with divine blessing
    6. Dispute about harsh words against the Lord (3: 13 – 4: 3)
      1. Malachi assures that evildoers, who may seem to escape divine justice b/c of their prosperity, will yet to be judged, while the Lord will deliver those who fear him
  3. Q: What would you say is the overall theme of Malachi?
    1. A call to renew our passion for covenant fidelity. It was an appeal to those who have forgotten the Lord. God is a covenant-keeping God and demands the same of his people. He will judge his people for their half-hearted obedience.
    2. Malachi’s contemporaries may have been relatively orthodox in their beliefs and free from blatant idolatry, but theirs had become a dead orthodoxy.
      1. They were all too ready to make ethical compromises and to dilute the demands of proper worship.
      2. In response to the cynicism and religious malaise of his fellow-Israelites, Malachi’s prophecy comes as a wake-up call to renewed covenant fidelity. (NBC, p. 884)

 

Exegesis

 

  1. Verse 7: God explained why he did not answer the people’s prayers: “You have turned away from my decrees”.
    1. The invitation to return, which could as well have been translated “repent” or “convert,” was met with a cynical question: “How are we to return?” Malachi did not answer this question; his whole book and ministry was basically one of telling people how to get right with God.
    2. It’s more about repentance than anything else
  2. Verse 8: Q: Without going into too much detail, what is a tithe and what’s its purpose?
    1. Tithing (being fiscally responsible before God) is introduced by the blunt question “Will a man rob God?” Stealing means not only taking what is not yours but keeping back for yourself what belongs to someone else. In this case one-tenth of a man’s income was due God; failure to pay that debt amounted to robbery (cf. Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11).
    2. The tenth of all produce as well as of flocks and cattle belonged to the Lord and was by him assigned to the Levites for their services (Num 18:21, 24). It may be that the people’s disobedience prompted some of the priestly grumbling Malachi had earlier referred to.
      1. In Deut 14: 28 the tithe due every third year is designated for the support of resident aliens, widows, orphans, and levitical priests.
      2. The temple served as a warehouse for the produce the Israelites brought.
      3. The Levites then distributed it for sacrificial purposes, for their own domestic needs, and for whatever emergencies arose.
    3. That God condemned the whole nation suggests that this “robbery” was a rather widespread abuse of his generosity. Failure to pay up amounts to robbing God.
      1. This negligence may have seemed justified b/c of crop failure, drought and pestilence (v. 10 – 11), which would have been more than enough to deter such complacent worshippers.
        1. The Lord reveals, however, that these natural disasters were the result, and not the cause, of the nation’s disobedience. (NBC, p. 888)
        2. They were experiencing the covenant curses of the Mosaic law (Deut 28: 15 – 57)
    4. The remedy for Israel was simply to start doing what was right- bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.
  3. Verses 10 – 12: Q: What does it mean to “test Me in this”? Anybody do a word study of the Hebrew word for “test”?  
    1. Hebrew words for “test”:
      1. Bahan: test, try, prove (used specifically of people)
      2. Hqr: To search
      3. Nasah: To test, try
      4. Sarap: To smelt, refine, test
    2. The OT indicates that God may “test” human beings (nasah, bahan), but in turn human beings aren’t allowed to “test” (nasah) God (Deut 6: 16)
    3. Malachi calls on postexilic community to “test” (bahan) God
      1. Opportunity to “prove” the faithfulness of God in keeping his covenant relationship (and covenant promises) with Israel by demonstrating their own faithfulness in obedience to the covenant stipulations regarding the tithe
      2. Relates back to God’s character in v. 6 when God says, “For I, the LORD, do not change.”
        1. This is in terms of how God remains faithful to His covenant
    4. Q: What type of blessing do you think was promised here? What does “windows of heaven” mean here?
      1. Since he was dealing with an agrarian society, the “blessings” had to do with crops and the like.
        1. For “heaven” = samayim: sky, atmosphere, or space- place where weather happens like rain, snow, frost, wind, etc.
        2. As soon as his people become faithful in presenting their full tithes, the desperately needed rain will come, pestilence and crop failure will cease, and the Abrahamic promise wherein “all the nations will call you blessed” (Gen. 12: 2 – 3) will be fulfilled.
        3. In Psalm 78: 23 – 24 it states, “Yet He commanded the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven; He rained down manna upon them to eat and gave them food from heaven.” (NASB)
        4. Genesis 7: 12 – 13 – “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life…all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.”  (NRSV)
      2. Remember that this is all Malachi’s theological (not scientific) interpretation of the events of his time.
      3. More literal translation is “and pour out for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (NBC, p. 888)
        1. In short, God promised to meet all their needs, but not necessarily all their greeds. (ibid)
      4. In Western society today, we usually equate blessing with material, monetary, or financial blessing or prosperity. But here, it was a means more of survival as well as economy.
    5. Q: What was the overall purpose of blessing the people?
      1. Then, as is always the case, there was a purpose for the blessing (v.12). Not merely would God’s people be comfortable, healthy, and happy, but because of this the Lord’s name would be honored.
      2. It will be a testimony to the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12: 2 – 3 and Isaiah 61: 9, “Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the LORD has blessed.
      3. Echoes the Deuteronomic blessing tied to the covenant obedience in Deut 28: 12, “The LORD will open for you his rich storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all your undertakings.”
      4. The main theological message behind all this is that God wanted them to know and see that God Himself is their greatest treasure, blessing, and reward – this is what it means to be the people of God.
    6. This is what it means to understand what God’s name means.
    7. Failure to tithe was more about a failure to “fear” God
      1. The main problem wasn’t just about the harsh economic environment; the real problem was faithlessness towards God.
        1. Obeying and paying the tithe was a first step in repenting and moving toward a renewed relationship w/ God.

 

 

Hermeneutics

 

  1. Q: How have you seen these verses taken out of context or abused in churches today? These verses have been misused, abused, and misinterpreted by many churches – most notably the “prosperity gospel” and the “health and wealth gospel” prevalent in most wealthy societies.
    1. Tele-evangelist Pat Robertson from his book “The Secret Kingdom: Your Path to Peace, Love, and Financial Security” on Malachi 3: 7 – 10:
    2. if we want to release the superabundance of the kingdom of heaven, we must first give.  Our Father is more than ready to fulfill His side of the Law of Reciprocity.  One can almost imagine His heavenly host standing on tiptoe, brimming with anticipation, gleeful, awaiting the opportunity to release the treasures so badly needed in our visible world. Note the promise of abundance in Malachi’s words.  Some translators render the promised blessing as ‘so great you won’t have enough room to take it in!’  In the world, we measure return in percentages of 6 or 8 or 10, and sometimes 15 and 20.  In the kingdom, as we noted earlier, the measures are 3,000%, 6,000%, and 10,000% – thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold.  That is a beautiful promise for those facing economic distress today.  ‘Test Me,” says the Lord.  ‘Prove ‘  I am as certain of this as of anything in my life: If you are in financial trouble, the smartest thing you can do is to start giving money away.  Give tithes and offerings to the Lord.  Give time.  Give work.  Give love.  That sounds crazy.  But we have seen how the plan of God is filled with paradox.  If you need money, then begin to give away some of whatever you have.  Your return, poured into your lap, will be great, pressed down, and running over.”  (Robertson, p. 117 – 118)

  1. Q: What are some of the dangers of preaching on these verses without proper exegesis in understanding or worshipping God?
    1. One of the greatest dangers of this type of improper understanding of the verses are that more often than not people seek after the material blessings that are promised rather than seeking after God.
  2. More often than not, most sermons don’t focus at all about the heart of the message of Malachi 3: 7 – 10, which is repentance, and instead focusing upon the importance of giving money to the church and anticipating a guaranteed reward from God (whether financially, physically, materially, etc.). They will often site the “test Me now on this” to lure people in so that they can “step out in faith” and bring it to a “higher level”.
    1. An unbalanced emphasis on this passage can lead to legalism. Especially b/c of the promised blessing, some have misused Malachi to encourage the notion that we can barter with God.  On the other hand, it is a mistake to neglect instruction on regular and sacrificial giving, which the NT also affirms (Luke 6: 38; 1 Cor. 16: 2; 2 Cor. 9: 7)   (Old Testament Survey, p. 421)
  3. Another danger deals with evangelism: if there’s an emphasis of how God had “miraculously” given them material blessing and uses this as a testimony to witness about God’s provision, some may get the wrong message and would only come to God seeking financial wealth rather than seeking God.
  4. Some have a pagan notion of God and may use these verses as a type of mantra to chant to test God and get more material wealth or wait for the “overflow” of blessings.
    1. And maybe even develop a quid pro quo type of “relationship” with God.
    2. It abandons the need to understand of knowing and loving God for who He is rather than what He can give you.
  5. These verses in no way promises or guarantees that every time you’re obedient in your tithes that God will bless you materially. The main message is about trusting in God though things may look bleak (as the post exilic community was) and remembering the character of God and taking comfort in the fact that He is the Lord and that He does not change (Mal. 3: 6) in his love for us.  But if He does somehow bless us materially, it’s not necessarily b/c we’ve been so good or that we deserved it but rather that He is so good and that He has done it to glorify his name to all the world (Mal. 3: 12)
  6. Like the Levitical priests and the post-exilic community that the message was addressed to, we too can easily “go through the motions” in our worship and service to God and miss God all together. The message of Malachi serves to wake us up out of our complacency and doubts about God, bring us to repentance, and into a right relationship with God.
  7. Malachi asks us to search our hearts and ask who or what is the object of our worship. Is it material blessings or is God Himself our ultimate blessing?

 

 


 

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, The, Pradis CD-ROM:Malachi/Exposition of Malachi/VI. The Robbery and Riches of God (3:6-12)/A. The Neglect of the Tithe (3:6-9), Book Version: 4.0.2

 

 

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