The purpose of this study is to examine what the passage Malachi 3: 7-12 says to the reader. Is the interpretation that Christian churches make correct? I examine each verse, one by one, in four versions of the Old Testament. Although there are some differences, my using of these versions is to try to establish the intended meaning, not to show the differences. Following the four renditions of each verse is a comment. After all the verses have been examined, I attempt to show the relationship to the modern concept of tithing and offerings.
- HBME – The Holy Bible in Modern English
- LXX – The Septuagint
- NJPS – New JPS Version
- SSBE – The Sacred Scriptures, Bethel Edition
Malachi 3: 7
HBME – “You left My Decrees, nor regarded My Laws from the times of your fathers.
Yet now turn to Me and I will accept,” says the LORD OF THE ARMIES.
But you ask, “With what be returning?”
LXX – …: but ye, the sons of Jacob, have not refrained from the iniquities of your fathers: ye have perverted my statutes, and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, saith the Lord Almighty. But ye said, Wherein shall we return?
NJPS – From the very days of your fathers have you turned away from My laws and have not observed them. Turn back to me, and I will turn to you – said the LORD of Hosts. But you ask, “How shall we turn back?”
SSBE – From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, says Yahweh of hosts. But you say, In what [way] shall we return?
This verse, as well as the following verses, establishes that it is Yahweh, or God, who was speaking. There can be no doubt of that. The Septuagint indicates that He was speaking to the sons of Jacob. The antecedent of the second person pronouns can be found in the previous verse in the other versions. Again, it is the sons of Jacob. These were the Israelite people up to the time of the giving of this warning. The nature of the warning infers that it also applied to future descendants. There is no suggestion that it applies to Gentiles. To whom did God give the laws? It was the children of Israel. Who did not keep those laws? Again, it was the children of Israel. God made a promise to His chosen people. Since he wanted them to receive the benefits from that promise, He offered to return to them if they would return to Him. They must have strayed far to be unable to see how to return.
Malachi 3: 8
HBME – “Could Adam hide up from God?
Yet would be hiding from Me!”
Ask you, “What have we hidden from You?”
“The tithe and offering of harvest.”
LXX – Will a man insult God? for ye insult me. But you say, Wherein have we insulted thee? In that the tithes and first-fruits are with you still.
NJPS – Ought man to defraud God? Yet you are defrauding Me. And you ask, “How have we been defrauding You?” In tithe and contribution.
Footnote: [Defraud] Hebrew qaba’ a play on the name Jacob (v. 6); cf. Genesis 27: 36.
Footnote: [Contribution] I.e., the contributions to the priests from the new grain, oil, and wine; see Numbers 18: 12.
SSBE – Will a man rob Elohim? Yet you rob me. But you say, In what have we robbed you? In tithes and offerings.
God told the Israelites how they had gone astray. Whether any one of the words defraud, insult, hide up from, or rob is used, it still means that the people have been withholding something from God. They had gone so far that they did not recognize that they had been neglecting tithes and offerings. References to tithes can be found in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Much on offerings can be found in Leviticus.
Malachi 3: 9
HBME – “You are cursed with a curse, for you rob Me.
The whole nation hides up.”
LXX – And ye do surely look off from me, and ye insult me.
NJPS – You are suffering under a curse, yet you go on defrauding Me – the whole nation of you.
SSBE – You are cursed with a curse; for you rob me, even this whole nation.
Deuteronomy 28: 16-68 describes the curses that would fall on those who turn away from God. Since this turning away had gone on for numerous generations, some of those mentioned probably were included. Verse 11 of this passage from Malachi gives an idea of what the curse was. The people continued disregarding the laws despite the curse.
Malachi 3: 10
HBME – “So bring all the tithes to My garner,
And let there be food in My House: —
Now try Me by that,” says the LORD OF THE HOSTS,
“And ask to unclose you the sluice of the skies, and pour you a blessing:”
LXX – The year is completed, and ye have brought all the produce into the storehouses; but there shall be the plunder thereof in its house: return now on this behalf, saith the Lord Almighty, see if I will not open to you the torrents of heaven, and pour out my blessing upon you, until ye are satisfied.
Footnote: [Torrents] Or, windows, see Genesis 7:11, there rendered “flood-gates.”
NJPS – Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, and let there be food in My House, and thus put me to the test – said the LORD of Hosts. I will surely open the floodgates of the sky for you and pour down blessings on you;
Footnote: [Storehouse] I.e., the public storehouse; see Nehemiah 13: 10-13.
SSBE – Bring the whole tithe into the store-house that there may be food in the house, and prove me now with this, says Yahweh of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
In spite of what the people had neglected to do, God invited them to begin to do right. It is implied that they took only token tithes to the temple. Apparently, there was insufficient food for the Levites and the poor. The tithes were definitely agricultural in nature, although there was allowance for monetary tithes in certain situations. God invited the people to test Him to see what He would do. Such words as floodgates, torrents, sluices, and windows of heaven suggest abnormal quantities. The Bethel Edition emphasizes these metaphors by saying that there would not be sufficient room to hold the blessings. How could such a promise be refused?
Malachi 3: 11
HBME – To fill stores and drive wasters away from destroying the fruit of your labours.
Nor your vine shed her fruit in the field,”
Says the LORD OF THE ARMIES.
LXX – And I will appoint food for you, and I will not destroy the fruit of your land; and your vine in the field shall not fail, saith the Lord Almighty.
Footnote: [Appoint food] Or, give a charge for you to be fed.
NJPS – …; and I will banish the locusts from you, so that they will not destroy the yield of your soil; and your vines in the field shall no longer miscarry – said the Lord of Hosts.
Footnote: [Locusts] Literally “devourer.”
SSBE – And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast its fruit before the time in the field, says Yahweh of hosts.
A horde of locusts can quickly devastate a field of grain as it devours to satisfy its ravenous appetite. If grape vines or fruit trees do not hold their products until they are ready to be picked, there will be a great loss. Apparently, the Israelites had these two afflictions. Since the economy of the country was based on agriculture, the whole population would be affected. It would appear that God had allowed these problems to occur because of the people’s failure to keep His law. All that the people had to do to obtain relief was to return to God. Could anything be easier for them?
Malachi 3: 12
HBME – “And all nations then call you the blessed,
For your land will become a delight,”
Says the LORD OF THE ARMIES.
LXX – And all nations shall call you blessed; for you shall be a desirable land, saith the Lord Almighty.
NJPS – And all the nations shall call you happy; for you shall be the most desired of lands – said the LORD of Hosts.
SSBE – And all nations shall call you happy; for you shall be a delightful land, says Yahweh of hosts.
God further told the people that, if they would return to Him and receive His blessings, their prosperity would be seen by other nations. Among other things, this would likely cause an increase in foreign trade, thus further increasing the prosperity of the people.
In this passage, God spoke to the sons of Jacob, or children of Israel, through the prophet. He told them what they were doing wrong, what they needed to do, and what He would do if they would obey. Does this passage apply to Christians today?
Now enters replacement theology. The Israelites had strayed far from the commandments of God. They rejected the Messiah when He came to them. They were looking for someone who would give them freedom from a foreign conqueror, not someone who could give them freedom from evil spiritual powers. Many Jews are still awaiting the first coming of the Messiah. Thus, they are no longer God’s chosen people. They have been replaced by the Gentile Christian church, which accepts Jesus as the Messiah. (Jews who have accepted Yashua HaMashiach are not accepted by either Jews or Gentile Christians.)
Churches use verse 8 to justify the monetary paying of tithes and offerings. Usually, one-tenth of one’s income is paid as tithe, either voluntarily or by requirement. It is used for such purposes as paying the pastor’s salary or paying for headquarters costs. Those who cannot attend a church may pay it to a televangelist or a charitable organization. Offerings go to such local expenses as a building fund, mortgage payment, Sunday School supplies, building operation, alms, or missionary fund. What is the connection between Christian tithes and offerings and those referred to in the Malachi passage? Again, we have replacement theology.
What has the modern-day Christian concept of tithes replaced? Grain, fruit, cattle, and sheep were tithable (Leviticus 27: 30-33). Corn, wine, and oil were also included as tithable products (Deuteronomy 14: 22, 23). One-tenth of the products brought in went to the Levites, who had no inheritance of land (Numbers 18: 26-29). DoChristians who produce these products tithe them? There is no mention of tithes for those who did not produce anything. Thus, these people can tithe only money, which is not covered in the Mosaic law. The reference to money in the Mosaic law states that a person was to exchange his products for money under certain circumstances, then go to a place which the Lord appointed, spend the money on food, and eat it at that place (Deuteronomy 14: 24-26). This hardly fits the interpretation of the tithes of the present-day Christian church.
What has the modern-day Christian church concept of offerings replaced? A burnt offering would be a perfect male from the flock or herd, which would be offered at the door of the Tent of Assembly and whose blood, after being killed, would be sprinkled over the altar by the priest (Leviticus 1: 2-5). Later, the priest would burn the parts of the head, the fat, the entrails, and the feet on the altar (Leviticus 1: 6-9). Turtle doves and pigeons could also be offered as sacrifices (Leviticus 1: 14-17). Baked goods also could be burnt as offering (Leviticus 2: 1-10). There were thank-offerings (Leviticus 3: 1-16), sin-offerings (Leviticus 6: 17-23), and national offerings (Leviticus 6: 2-11). Burnt sacrifices were involved. These are a few examples. Is there a Christian church that follows these practices? Christians will say that Jesus was our once-and-for-all-time sacrifice. They are right. However, these offerings are what is meant in the passage from Malachi.
Church organizations have expenses. How can they be met? There would be no problem if one situation could be overcome. Who comes first in the lives of many Christians? It certainly is not God. The two great commandments stated by Jesus are not kept (Matthew 22: 37-40). Money that is spent on elaborate buildings could be used to assist in the work of missionaries at home or abroad. It could help alleviate the poor. Congregations were not so large in Bible times because they were split into smaller groups. Can this not be done more today? Also, Christians cannot always distinguish between personal needs and personal wants. Again, we have replacement theology.
Since tithes and offerings are decreed in the Mosaic law, should not other aspects of the law be included in Christian practice? Some creatures forbidden for human consumption included the following: swine, any fish that lack fins and scales, any animal that walks on its paws, and all reptiles (Leviticus 11: 3-47). The fat of any acceptable animal was also forbidden for food (Leviticus 7: 22-27). How often do Christians break these laws! There are laws of festivals to be observed (Leviticus 23: 1-44). How many Christians know that they exist and know what they mean, not to mention the observance of them? When has a Christian congregation stoned adulterers (Deuteronomy 22: 20-24)? These are just a few aspects of the law of Moses. Is it not selective use of the Scriptures in picking out one verse of the law, applying man’s interpretation of convenience to it, and discarding the rest? How well do Christians really know and understand the Bible, particularly the Old Testament? Christians tend to have the attitude, “What can the church do for me?” rather than, “What can I do for the church?” In the second case, I am using the term church to mean the people who have accepted Jesus. Here is more replacement theology.
Malachi was passing a message to the children of Israel. Nowhere in the New Testament is the decree directed to those who receive salvation through grace, although it is mentioned in regard to persons under the Old Covenant. God’s covenant people still are the descendants of Jacob.