“‘Bring the full tenth into the storehouse so that there may be food in my house. Test me in this way,’ says the Lord of Armies. ‘See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of the things we see people being instructed not to do several times in various places in the Scriptures is to test God. We are not to hinge our devotion or obedience to Him on his doing something we want Him to do. He is not at our beck and call. He is God and we are not. In light of this, seeing Him actually command the people to test Him on something here should cause us to sit up and take notice. Well, sit up, and let’s take notice.
It seems to me that there are two questions that need to be answered here. The first is why God would give this command. The second is what exactly it means for us. First, though, since we’ve been off for a week, let me bring you back up to speed.
We are nearing the end of Malachi’s collection of prophecy and by that, the end of our journey through the Minor Prophets. Malachi was the final prophet to the people of Israel before John the Baptist came on the scene about 400 years later. His words to Israel are focused in on the people’s lack of faithfulness to God. This problem started with the priests and was mostly playing itself out through a series of problems with their worship.
What we started talking about last time was God’s challenging the people to come back to covenant faithfulness to Him as demonstrated by their giving the full tithe they had been commanded in the Law to give. What we said then was that giving like this wasn’t about God getting His hands on our stuff. It was about His getting His hands on our hearts. As Jesus would later teach, our hearts can generally be found wherever our stuff is the most concentrated. God knows that if He can get to our stuff, He’ll likely get to our hearts. Thus the commands to give.
That all brings us here to God’s asking the people to test Him on this point. Give me your trust and your heart and let me prove myself worthy of it.
This is why God is giving this command. You see, something we often forget about when it comes to thinking about God’s commands is that they are never given outside the context of a relationship. He created us to be in a relationship with Him. That’s His number one goal when it comes to His interactions with us. He wants to be in a relationship with us.
God had given the command in the Law to give to the temple. This was a command rooted in relationship. This was the case in several ways. It gave them the chance to trust Him more. It provided a foundation to allow them to connect with Him in an organized way (religion). It helped them make sure they didn’t get dominated by their stuff and give themselves to it instead of to Him. All of these and more were about relationship, not simply the arbitrary giving of stuff they otherwise needed to survive.
God’s call for them to test Him was a bold putting of Himself on the line. The people were cynical of Him and His character. Remember? That’s what was driving much of Malachi’s prophecy. God knew this cynicism was going to overflow in skepticism of this call to give. If you don’t trust someone’s character, you’re not very likely to give away your hard-earned resources to help them advance their interests which may or may not line up with yours. God made us. He understands us. He understands how we think and reason even in our sin-broken states. He knows our strengths and our weaknesses. He knew the people were going to struggle with this command and so He invited them to put Him to the test on it. Try it and see. If things don’t go like you want them, then you can quit. But, if they go better than you could possibly imagine, perhaps you’ll consider continuing down this path.
That was for them, what about us?
Well, the first thing we need to know (and something we’ve talked about before) is that this wasn’t a promise or offer given to us. It was given to Israel and we don’t have any evidence we can appropriate it directly for ourselves. That means God isn’t here offering for us to test His generosity with us in our own practice of sacrificial generosity. It also means that we are not being commanded to give 10% of our income like they were.
This is a more controversial point that I believe stems from a very common misunderstanding of how the Old Testament relates to modern followers of Jesus. The tenth or the tithe we see mentioned a few times in the Old Testament is not a command that is picked up or extended in the New Testament. What’s more, ancient Israel was commanded to give multiple different tenths that amounted to about a third of their total income when put together. While giving 10% in obedience to the Scriptures has been packed to be an easy sell to Christians today, I don’t suspect giving 33% would catch on quite as easily. The principle for giving we see consistently upheld in by the various New Testament authors is not tithing, but sacrificial generosity.
Sacrificial generosity should be percentage-based, and 10% is a fine percentage start with, but it should not be the end goal of our efforts. Instead, it should be an entrance ramp to a lifetime of increasingly sacrificial generosity whereby we entrust more and more of ourselves into the abundantly-resourced hands of our faithful God and watch with amazement as He magnifies the impact of our own generosity, augmenting it with His own generous spirit. For that to happen, our sacrificial generosity should be progressive, meaning that we gradually increase the level of our giving over time so that it remains in the realm of sacrifice.
All of that said, what’s the connection point for us here? It is this: The character of the God who was so keen for the Israelites of Malachi’s day to trust Him that He was willing to put Himself on the line to prove Himself worthy of their trust hasn’t changed. In fact, for us, He didn’t ask us to put Him to the test, He went ahead and put Himself on a line…or rather, a cross…to prove His love for us. The commitment He demonstrated to the Israelites here He raised to the nth degree for us on the cross. He has proven His love without any doubts or questions. All that remains is for us to accept Him and receive the life He longs to give us. I hope you will.