MALACHI 3:10 is often quoted by prosperity preachers as a promise of financial blessing for Christians who give generously to the church:
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
This modern-day prosperity application is characterised by two misguided beliefs:
The first, is the belief that tithing is the obligatory minimum requirement for Christians. This is not founded upon any New Testament Scriptures that teach tithing, because there are none! Instead, it is based upon a form of twisted logic that says that if God required tithing of people in the Old Testament then, surely, he must require at least that from us today, and probably more. Underlying this is the disturbing concept that because we have been more blessed than those in the Old Testament, we should pay God more money than they did, or at least as much as they did. Of course, money preachers do not express it as crudely as this; their message is delivered with persuasive and emotive eloquence, but the concept should disturb us because it represents a subtle undermining of the gospel of grace. Of course, the New Testament exhorts us to give “generously” to God’s kingdom (2 Cor 6:9-15), and many Christians freely choose to give more than 10% of their income to the work of the church as an expression of that generosity. But to legislate 10% as the minimum requirement is a legalistic stricture that has no basis in the New Testament.
The second misguided belief is that verses such as Malachi 3:10 promise Christians material prosperity and blessing in return for tithing. This represents a serious lack of appreciation for the literary context of this Old Testament passage. Malachi 3:10 is actually God’s promise to remove the curse of a drought if Israel would repent of their sin of idolatry! Israel had strayed from God and, consequently, had been cursed by him:
“You are under a curse, the whole nation, because you are robbing me” (Mal 3:9)
The problem was much more than simply neglecting their tithes. Malachi Chapter 1 tells us that the Israelites were worshipping other gods. They were giving their finest offerings to those false gods and were bringing sick and injured animals to the temple as an offering to the true God – animals that would probably have died or needed to be put down anyway:
“You bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices” (Mal 1:13)
This angered God:
“I am not pleased with you, says the Lord Almighty, and I will accept no offering from your hands. For my name will be great among the nations…” (Mal 1:10)
God declared that this was a symptom of a deeper spiritual sickness; his people had turned away from him in their hearts:
“You have not set your hearts to honour me” (Mal 2:2)
This spiritual sickness resulted in a multitude of other sins, for which God was judging them:
“So I will come near to you for judgement. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me” (Mal 3:5)
Therefore, God had cursed the entire nation by sending a drought upon the land, resulting in a severe famine:
“I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings” (Mal 2:2)
The whole book of Malachi is a plea from God towards his adulterous people, summarised by the simple statement in Malachi 3:7:
“Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty. (Mal 3:7)
With this context in mind, Malachi 3:10 contains a command and a promise:
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse”
Their meager, diseased offerings, which were symptomatic of their spiritual malaise, were to be replaced with wholehearted giving, as a sign of their renewed commitment to God.
God promised that he would send rain upon the land again, to end the drought:
“I will throw open the floodgates of heaven”
He promised to end the famine and bless them again with food in abundance:
“and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it”
Malachi 3:10 must be interpreted in the context of the whole book of Malachi, which is the historical account of God’s punishment of a sinful, idolatrous nation, and his promise to remove that punishment if they repent.
How can we apply this verse to ourselves today?
1. We can’t directly apply this verse to ourselves at all!
This prophecy was given to an unregenerate, pre-Christian people who were cheating God, swindling the poor, intermarrying with pagan nations, indulging in sorcery and committing spiritual adultery, which resulted in them being cursed by God. If you think this applies to you, then you have a big problem!
2. We can, however, make two general applications:
- God disciplines those he loves
- God removes his discipline and restores us when we repent
The reason we can make these applications is because
- This is the actual historical meaning of this passage, and;
- These are clearly articulated New Testament principles. Just as God disciplined these pre-Christian people in the Old Testament, he continues to discipline his people in the New Testament era.
Malachi 3:10 is not a spiritual guide to prosperity and wealth. It is not a promise by God to give us more money in the bank if we give 10% to church. It describes God’s desire to bring a sinful, adulterous people to repentance so that he might then heal their land. In particular, God’s promise to “throw open the floodgates of heaven” was quite literally a promise to send rain to a land in drought. It should not be allegorised to infer a flow of money into our bank accounts.
For a more detailed discussion of this topic, and many other issues relating to the interpretation of the Old Testament and the differences between the two covenants, see my book, “Making Sense of the Bible”, available at https://smartfaith.net/shop/ (Also available directly from me, at a discount price, this weekend at Noosa Anglican Church, Queensland).