In a previous article I argued that the blessing God promised in Malachi 3:10 was RAIN.[i]
I must hasten to add that this is not my own idea; it is rather the result of a study of the text itself. Having said that, let me proceed with my own paraphrase of Malachi 3:20 –
“I will open the clouds in the sky so wide they will pour out so much rain until they have no more to give. The clouds will be completely emptied out. To the last drop. I promise!”
Thus, God will bless the tither by giving him rain. God will rain on the ground until the clouds have no more rain to give. God will totally empty the clouds with rain. That is, God will make it rain to exhaustion!
But understand this: The blessing of rain was intended for the ground. Every kind of pest will die from the soaking, drenching rains, and the farmer will have his field back.
Now he has a big job to do! He must now roll up his sleeves and go to work. For some the work can be back-breaking, but a true farmer always has his eyes on the harvest. His work will run the full gamut of “sowing and reaping” – all four months of it. And then comes the harvest! The point is, his blessing will not fall on his lap from heaven. His blessing will come from working the land that was first blessed by God’s rain. In short, the tither’s blessing or sustenance is derived.
The covenant bound the farmer to the land.
The Covenant and the Land
Now that the farmer has heard God’s command he will need to first bring his tithes – all the tithe – to the storehouse, if he desires God’s favor upon him. I cannot overemphasize this point: the text commands the farmer to bring his tithe to God’s storehouse first, THEN God will make it rain on his behalf. Obedience was at the point of the command; the blessing came after!
There are 2 elements that form the framework of the passage (3:7-11) as I see it. The first has to do with the Levites, and the other the Covenant.
- The Levites
The Levites were clearly God’s primary concern here. “Bring all the tithes… that there may be food in my house.” Who was going to eat all that food? Under the provision of the Law the tithes were meant to provide food for the Levites and the needy.[ii]
The text before us suggests that the Levites, to whom God had given “all the tithes,” were being neglected by the people – a clear violation of a covenant-provision in Deut 12:19 which says, “Be careful not to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land.”[iii] There is likewise evidence the priests in Malachi’s time may have had something to do with it. They have totally messed up their priestly duties in the temple[iv] where God’s storehouse was located.[v]
- The Covenant
Let me say 2 things here. First, about the land. Ancient Israel was largely an agricultural (agrarian) economy. This means that the people lived on the land which depended principally on seasonal rains.
Second, the land we are talking about is also known as Canaan. God owns the whole earth,[vi] and He promised the land of Canaan to Abraham, the father of the Hebrew nation, and to his descendants.[vii] The land of Canaan was a covenant-land. What happened on the day when God made a covenant with Abraham is couched in somber words: “When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces”. (Gen 12:1; 15:18-21; Num 34:2; Josh 1:3,4, etc.All emphases mine). The spies Moses sent ahead of the people came back and spoke the truth. “It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.” (Deut 1:25).
God first swore to give the land to Abraham and to his descendants. Almost 500 years later, as the children of Israel were poised to enter Canaan, Moses described this covenant-land in the hearing of Israel: “Therefore you shall keep every commandment which I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the land which you cross over to possess, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the LORD swore to give to your fathers, to them and their descendants, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’ For the land which you go to possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and watered it by foot, as a vegetable garden; but the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys which drinks water from the rain in heaven, a land for which the LORD your God cares; the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year” (Deut 11:9-12).
“He brought us out to bring us in”
The Israelites were slaves in Egypt. They did not have a land of their own, but the exodus would change all that. This is how Moses recounts the people’s miraculous deliverance from Egypt: “(God) brought out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our fathers” (Deut 6:23). And what would sustain them in the promised land? “The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as it is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness” (v24,25).
The land is theirs to keep if…
If they obeyed the Lord. “Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have strength to go in and take over the land you are crossing over the Jordan to possess, and so that you may live long in the land that the LORD swore to your forefathers to give them and their descendants, a land flowing with mild and honey. The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning or the year to its end” (Deut 11:8-12, NIV. All emphases are mine).
If they work the land. But God’s blessing of rain will fall only as a consequence of the people’s obedience to the covenant that bound the people to Him and He to them.[viii]“So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul – then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied” (Deut 11:13-15).[ix] And again, “The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none” (Deut 28:12).
If they care for the Levites and the poor among them. A double blessing is attached to the command for the proper care of the Levites. When the Israelites provided food[x] for the Levites and “the stranger and the fatherless and the widow” God promised to “bless you in all the work of your hand which you do” (Deut 14:29).The “work of your hand” refers mainly to their work on the land.
God will bless the land beyond measure. “The LORD will command the blessing on you in your storehouses and in all to which you set your hand, and He will bless you in the land the LORD your God is giving you” (Deut 28:8).
God promised to bless the people through “the seventh year” even as the land lay fallow.[xi]“So you shall observe My statutes and keep My judgments, and perform them, and you will dwell in the land in safety. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell there in safety. And if you say, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, since we shall not sow nor gather in our produce?’ Then I will command My blessing on you on the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years. And you shall sow in the eighth year,and eat old produce until the ninth year; until its produce comes in, you shall eat of the old harvest” (Lev 25:18-22, NKJV; see Deut 31:9-13).
What exactly am I getting at? Quite simply this: a fruitful land was a marker of God’s favor and blessing under the covenant. Put differently, the people would realize God’s blessings upon them when they enjoy a fruitful land and a bountiful harvest. But take away the rain and the land and the people will experience a drought. And in the language of Scripture the absence of rain is clear manifestation of divine curse.
This was precisely what Moses warned Israel against: “You will sow much seed in the field but you will harvest little, because locusts will devour it. You will plant vineyards and cultivate them but you will not drink of the wine nor gather the grapes, for worms shall eat them. You shall have olive trees throughout your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with oil: for your olive trees shall drop off. …Locusts shall consume all your trees and the produce of your land” (Deut28:38-40).
And that seemed to have been the case in Malachi’s time. In Malachi’s account the sacrificial system helmed by the priests threatened to become a total disaster. The chaotic situation invited divine response. And it came with uncharacteristic bluntness: “You are cursed with a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me” (Mal 3:9, NIV).[xii] The curse was payback for their unconscionable and flagrant neglect of the Levites, for defrauding or robbing God “in tithes and offerings.”
The Promised Cure
God knew what was wrong[xiii] with the people, although the priests feigned ignorance.[xiv] “You have changed and turned away from me since the days of your forefathers,” God pointed out. “But I do not change,” He declared. “That is why you are not consumed” (Mal 3:6.7a).
What then is the divine remedy? “’Return[xv] to me, and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty” (3:7b).
“How do we return to you?”
“Stop robbing me! And bring in all the tithes to my storehouse that there may be food in my house.”
And the glorious promise is given: “I will make it rain until the clouds are completely emptied out”! Next to the rain God will “rebuke the devourer” (locusts). And God will not let the grapes fall to the ground out of season.
Thus, rain upon the covenant-land was the expected result of the people’s obedience to God’s laws and decrees. “So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul – then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied” (Deut 11:13-15). Did not God promise rain in Mal 3:10? “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse… and… I will throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing (rain).”
And when the people sin, and they come back to God, He promises to heal their land. “If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chro 7:14).
Their faithful obedience to the tithe-law will be game-changer for the land. “’Then all nations will call you blessed, for yours shall be a delightful land,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Mal 3:12)
(Watch this website for Part 3, ‘The Hermeneutical Concern: “Why I Believe in the Tithe.”)
[i]We knew the Mal 3:20 scripture by heart. It is a go-to scripture whenever pastors or church leaders prepare the faithful for the Offertory. Usually at such times Lk 6:30 is cited as a companion text. It reads, “Give and it shall be given you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” Let me comment on this. About the only word that makes this text appear like it was about “given offerings” is the word “give.” But do you know that the context (6:37-38) instead warns us against passing biased, self-serving judgments of others? “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. …For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you,” and possibly even more! See the “speck/plank” tit-for-tat in the subsequent parable (6:39-42).
[ii]God owns the tithe. And what did He want to do with it? He gave all the tithe to the Levites. “Then the LORD said to Aaron: ‘You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel’” (18:20). Aaron and his sons served in the priesthood. The rest of the members of the Levitical clan (otherwise known as Levites) assisted the priests and performed other temple-related duties. The LORD promised this to the Levites: “Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting” (18:21). Thus, the tithe was by law the divinely-designated inheritance of the Levites. And God’s clear command to Israel was firm: “You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has not part nor inheritance with you” (Deut 14:27). This is clearly stipulated in the covenant God made with the children of Israel. A double blessing is attached to the proper care of the Levites. When Israel provide food for the Levites and “the stranger and the fatherless and the widow” God promised to “bless you in all the work of your hand which you do” (v29). The promised blessings for obedience extended to the seventh-year law of the land. “So you shall observe My statutes and keep My judgments, and perform them, and you will dwell in the land in safety. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell there in safety. And if you say, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, since we shall not sow nor gather in our produce?’ Then I will command My blessing on you on the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years. And you shall sow in the eighth year, and eat old produce until the ninth year; until its produce comes in, you shall eat of the old harvest” (Lev 25:18-22, NKJ).
[iii]See also Deut 14:28,29.
[iv]Mal 1:8-14. God charged that the priest had defiled His altar when they offered unclean sacrifices – the animals were blind, infirmed and crippled – the kind of offerings they would not even consider giving to their governor. In fact, the priests admitted to the uselessness of such exercise, calling it burdensome. Of course, God Himself was not pleased with the offerings, and He wished that someone would just close the temple doors down and be done with the whole thing!
[v]See Malachi 1:6-14. Twice God charged the priests and the people of Judah with having violated God’s “covenant with Levi” (Mal 2:4,8; cf Num 3:12). There were numerous storehouses throughout the countryside that the Levites guarded (1 Chro 26:12-20; 26:15). “Storehouses” occur in different Hebrew words (ISBE): acamim (“barn,” Deut 28:8); otsroth (“treasuries,” 1 Chro 27:25; assupim (“thresholds,” Neh 12:25). “Storehouses” first appears in Gen 41:56. See also “store(s)” in Gen 41:36; Lev 25:22 (lit. “you shall eat of the old store”); 1 Ki 9:19; 2 Chro 8:4,6; 16:4; Psa 144:13.
[vi]Gen 1:1; Exo 9:29; Psa 24 :1.
[vii]“On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river Euphrates” (Gen 15:18). God repeats this promise-covenant to Moses in all seriousness: “I will bring you to the land I sworewith uplifted hands to give to Abraham to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD” (Exo 6:8, NIV).
[viii]A theme suggested in Eugene Peterson’s book title, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. The author makes a remarkable study of Psalms chs 120-134 with today’s Christian pilgrims in view. (Special edition, 2000).
[ix] “If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in the land. …I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people” (Lev 26:3-5,12).
[x] God also commanded Israel to provide cities across the land for the Levites to dwell in as well as pasturelands (Num 35:1-8; Cf Deut 18:6; 1 Ki 2:26).
[xi] “When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD. For six years sow your fields and for six years prune you vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest” (Lev 25:2-5). The land at rest is called fallow-ground. See Isa 37:40; Jer 4:3; Hos 10:12.
[xii]God’s statement of curse is explicit: “…you shall build a house, but you shall not dwell in it; you shall plant a vineyard, but shall not gather its grapes. …You shall carry much seed out to the field but gather little in, for the locusts shall consume it. You shall plant vineyards and tend them, but you shall gather neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes: for worms shall eat them. You shall have olive trees throughout your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with oil: for your olive trees shall drop off. …Locusts shall consume all your trees and the produce of your land” (28:30,38-40).
[xiii] The priests’ behavior was appalling and for all intents and purposes mutinous. See my endnote #5.
[xiv] The priests posed hypocritically the following questions to God: “How have we defiled you?” (1:7b); “How have we wearied you?” (2:17b); “How are we to return?” (3:7b); “How do we rob you?” (3:9b); “What have we said against you?” (3:13b).
[xv] Heb shuwb, “to return,” “to be converted.”