God condemns Israel for the fifth time. He again brings up their offerings and sacrifices but instead of rebuking them for the quality of what they bring He disputes the quantity. Under Mosaic Law the Israelites are to bring a tithe (10%) of all they produce and receive to the temple. This supports the work of the temple and provides for the poor. But this generation has long since stopped bringing what it owes. They not only keep for themselves the best of what they raise and produce but they also keep more than 90% of what they receive. A people who do not see any need to honor God with their best also see no need to honor Him with much.
This section begins with a transition from the fourth disputation (2:17-3:5). After telling the people He will purge the unrighteous from them and ensure that their offerings will someday please Him again, He makes a statement about His character. He says very simply, “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” He is Yahweh and He is always faithful. He is not like men who alternate between faithfulness and unfaithfulness – between righteousness and unrighteousness. He does not change and He cannot be untrue to His nature.
“I do not change – that is why you exist. Your actions warrant your destruction – but my unchanging faithfulness to the covenant ensures your life. You exist not because of your own merit but because of Mine. I promised Abraham that through his seed the whole world would be blessed – and I will not fail to make that happen. But apart from that you would be gone – and deservedly so. Your existence is predicated entirely on My faithfulness.”
Thought: This is always the situation for the child of God. It is HIS faithfulness that our lives are based on. HE redeemed us. HE sustains us. HE ensures our physical lives and everlasting existence. It is HIS righteousness that clothes us when we stand before Him. He does not change – we do. He cannot be unfaithful – we can and are repeatedly.
Verses 7-9 detail the fifth condemnation. God begins by reminding them that they have never truly been faithful to Him. As a people their whole history is littered with repeated instances of unfaithfulness to the covenant and repeated violations of the law. He says they have turned aside – overtly violated the prohibitions of the law (sins of commission) – and have not kept His statutes – have not acted on the commands of the law (sins of omission). This has gone on from the beginning (the people worshiped the golden calf WHILE the law was being given to Moses – Ex 32), yet God has remained faithful and they have not been destroyed.
Verse 7 makes what God told Israel at the beginning of the book even more amazing. He began everything with the statement, “I have loved you” (1:2). He has loved them even in the midst of their continual unfaithfulness. This gives another nuance to verse 6. God is not only faithful because of Himself but He also loves because of Himself. He does not love because they warrant it – He loves because He chooses to love and in spite of their behavior. This is the same way He loves His children today.
Though the Israelites have been unfaithful, God tells them there is still hope. If they return to Him He will return to them. That God can return to them means He has removed the blessings of the covenant. They are not consumed because God cannot violate His covenant but their unfaithfulness has not been without penalty. God has removed Himself and His blessings from them. They are outside the protections of the covenant. If they come back (note who makes the first move), however, He will return and His presence and blessings will be among them once more.
The people respond predictably. Since they do not realize they are outside of His presence they have no idea how to return. Hard to know how to return from a place you do not know you are. They ask, “How shall we return?”
God’s answer is NOT predictable. Instead of noting their poor worship or their unfaithfulness or their lawlessness, He focuses on one specific violation of the law. He says the way they can return to Him and bring the blessing and protection of the covenant back is to tithe as the law commands.
God’s words in verses 8 and 9 are shocking. He does not simply say they are violating the law. He tells them they are robbing Him. This is extreme language. To not tithe is more than disobedience – it is violent crime. They are not just depriving the temple, they are robbing it. They are stealing what is rightfully God’s and taking it for themselves. It is amazing how strongly God condemns this practice (note also that it is widespread – He says it is the whole nation of you!). The extreme nature of their crime is why God tells them that correcting it is the means of returning to Him. [Perhaps God takes our giving a little more seriously than we realize?]
Under Mosaic Law there are actually three tithes. The first tithe supports the priests and Levites (Num 18:21,24). The second tithe is set aside for a sacred festival (Deut 14:22-27 – this actually stays with the giver and is consumed by him to glorify God and thank Him for His provision). The third tithe is given every third year to support the poor, widows, orphans, and aliens (Deut 14:28-29, 26:12-15). Consequently, the people’s shorting of the tithe means the Levites are not supported, God is not honored, and the poor are not cared for.
This actually goes right along with what we know about Israel’s worship. They bring the worst of what they have instead of the best (1:8). They do not bring the first-fruits but the last leftovers (1:14). They have no respect for the priests (2:9) – because of the priests’ disdainful attitude toward worship (1:13) – and so are likely not too concerned about supporting them. And the priests do not worry about tithing because they apparently support themselves by showing partiality in their instruction (2:9).
As a result, God tells them they are cursed with a curse. The curse is most likely explained by its reversal in verse 11. Their crops do not produce because they are infested and destroyed. Their vines effectively miscarry and their grapes are ruined before harvest. In short, God’s blessings have been removed and though they keep more than their share the people are actually impoverished. (See Haggai 1:5-11 for another example of the effects of God removing His blessing.)
This is yet another case of the Israelites having a small view of God. Their God cannot take care of them on only 90% of their income. Their God is not worth the faith it takes to give the first-fruits to Him. [This is always what giving comes down to – how big is our God?]
Solution and Blessing
Unlike the first four condemnations God tells the people the benefits of changing their behavior and offers them hope if they will obey. God says if they fulfill the tithe He will protect their crops and guard their vines. He will open the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. They will be blessed more abundantly than they can even imagine. His blessing will also extend beyond financial or tangible measures. He will make them a delightful land – the land itself will be blessed such that Israel as a country will be a wonderful place to live.
God tells them He will bless them to the point that other nations will actually notice (12). Pagan nations that do not know Yahweh will acknowledge Him because of the extent of Israel’s prosperity and delight. This means the blessings the people enjoy as a result of their obedience will ultimately bring glory to God. This is a repeated pattern in the Bible – man benefits when he glorifies God and God always seeks to glorify Himself through His interactions with man.
The amazing part of verses 10-12 is that God tells the Israelites to test Him. He says, “…test Me now in this.” Typically the Bible warns us to never test God. Yet here God wants to make the point about tithing so strongly that He commands the people to test Him. “Put Me to the test! See if what I say is true! You will be better off giving than hoarding. You will be richer and more prosperous and more blessed by giving up what you have rather than unlawfully keeping it.” Giving is so important to God that He effectively dares them to take Him up on His promised blessing.
And that means He WANTS to bless them. He LONGS to bless them. He would not tell them to test Him if He did not welcome the challenge. If He blesses them it means they have obeyed and glorified Him. It means they have loved Him with their giving and worship. It also means they have depended on Him – and God loves to have His children depend on Him. He loves for them to experience the communion that dependence requires and He loves the glory that comes to Him as a result. Tithing is ultimately a reflection of faith and love and God longs to reward both.
Thought: There is no reason this must be limited to Old Testament Israel. It does not seem too much of a stretch to conclude that God is so intent on our receiving the blessings of giving and dependence that even today He dares us to test Him at His word. He wants to bless His children when they give. He longs for us – because He loves us – to receive all that He has for us when we faithfully trust Him and give. It is OK to test God’s promises of blessing for the giver. Take Him up on his promise and see all He can do.
Verses 10-12 are filled with mercy. Though the people have violated or ignored His law and have been unfaithful to the covenant since the days of their ancestors, and though they doubt His love and are careless about their worship – if they come back to Him through their tithing He will bless them abundantly. Return to Me and I will return to you. “Bring the whole tithe to Me and I will return to you with blessing and abundance.”
Thoughts and Applications
Does the New Testament teach tithing? Little to nothing is said in the New Testament about tithing. About the only reference to it is in Matt 23:23 where Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for tithing on every tiny piece of income while ignoring justice. He calls them hypocrites because they are so focused on the letter of the law that they ignore its spirit. What is notable about this verse, however, is that He specifically tells them to uphold justice without neglecting the tithe. He does not abolish the tithe; He simply says to tithe without justice is meaningless.
It is also interesting that nothing is said about Jesus and tithing. The Pharisees and scribes watched Him continually so they could condemn Him at every turn. They condemned Him for not keeping the Sabbath. They condemned His disciples for not washing before meals and for picking grain on the Sabbath. But nothing was said about His tithing. This likely means there was nothing to condemn. He had few possessions so perhaps it was a moot point, but He apparently tithed of anything He did have or His critics would surely have pointed it out.
Paul does not mention tithing when He encourages the Corinthians to give to the poor saints in Judea (II Cor 8-9). But he specifically tells them his request is not a command because he wants them to give as proof of their love (8:8). This effectively precludes him from referencing the tithe. It could also be that the giving he asks for is beyond what they already tithe to the local assembly. Something else to consider is that Paul says in I Cor 16:2 that each one is to put aside as he prospers – this is proportionate giving which models the tithe.
So the New Testament neither mandates nor abolishes the tithe.
Does Tithing have application for us today? We are under grace and not under the law, but that does not mean the law is irrelevant. That God established the tithe in Israel as a way to honor Him and show faith in Him remains meaningful. And it is notable that tithing actually predated the law through the acts of Moses (Gen 14) and Jacob (Gen 28) who both did it as an act of worship when confronted by God. If God established it as an act of faith and if the patriarchs practiced it as a natural response to seeing God even before the mandate of the law, it makes sense that any discussion of giving at least begins with the tithe. There is no other guideline; consequently, the tithe remains meaningful if not legally mandated.
Does that mean we actually have to give a full 10%? We have much more of an understanding of the grace of God than any Old Testament believer had. We have much more of a burden to spread God’s good news than any Old Testament believer had. According to Peter we have many more privileges than those who lived before Christ because we have seen what they only received a glimpse of. With all that said – does it make sense that we would give LESS than Old Testament believers?
There have been times when people have come to me as their pastor and asked about “tithing,” giving away a tenth of their annual income. They notice that in the Old Testament there are many clear commands that believers should give away ten percent. But in the New Testament, specific, quantitative requirements for giving are less prominent. They often ask me, “You don’t think that now, in the New Testament, believers are absolutely required to give away ten percent, do you?” I shake my head no, and they give a sigh of relief. But then I quickly add, “I’ll tell you why you don’t see the tithing requirement laid out clearly in the New Testament. Think. Have we received more of God’s revelation, truth, and grace than the Old Testament believers, or less?” Usually there is uncomfortable silence. “Are we more ‘debtors to grace’ than they were, or less? Did Jesus ‘tithe’ His life and blood to save us or did He give it all?” Tithing is a minimum standard for Christian believers. We certainly wouldn’t want to be in a position of giving away less of our income than those who had so much less of an understanding of what God did to save them. – Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods
I have never understood the following logic and I actually hear it. “We live in the New Testament. We have seen the love of God for us at Calvary. We have seen the power of God for us on Easter morning. We have been filled with the Holy Spirit of grace and sonship. We are secure and nothing can separate us from the love of God. We have the promises of the Almighty that He will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. THEREFORE – we may be content to give LESS than Old Testament saints.” – John Piper
Does God’s statement about robbing Him apply to us? It certainly opens our eyes to how seriously God looks at giving. It is valid to point out that He condemns the Israelites for their specific violation of the law, but it would be lax to assume that since we do not have the demands of the law God views our giving less seriously. God owns everything. He is the reason we have any of the material blessings we have. Even if we think we have earned our prosperity through hard work it pays to remember that He caused us to be born where and when we were (if we were born in Bangladesh instead of the USA we would simply not have the lifestyle we have today) and gave us our abilities and intellect. To not honor Him with our giving is more than just a lack of generosity – it is robbing Him of what is rightfully His.
Giving shows our understanding of God’s ways. The Bible teaches very clearly that if we live for ourselves we will never be content and will never find satisfaction. It is a mystery of life that the one who most looks to satisfy himself is the one who is most discontent. In the same way this passage – and others – teaches us that the one who hoards instead of gives is the one who is least satisfied with what he has – or who ends up with the least (this seems to be a teaching targeted primarily at believers). The Israelites do not honor God with their giving and are impoverished as a result. But if they fulfill their responsibility to tithe God will prosper them. Greed ends with the curse of poverty. Generosity ends with the blessing of prosperity. Live for yourself = you suffer. Live for others = you benefit. Be greedy = have less. Be generous = have more. God’s laws of cause and effect cannot be violated and His ways are certainly not our ways. There is one who scatters, yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, but it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered. Prov 11:24-25.
Giving shows where we worship. Note that God tells the Israelites to bring the whole tithe into My house. That implies their tithes are in other houses. If we do not give back to God what is rightfully His it is because we give it somewhere else. And where we give it shows what we truly worship. Whether it is food, entertainment, travel, investments, clothes, or even the necessities of life, it all comes down to whose storehouse will receive our gifts and whose storehouse is most important to us. We do not think of spending our money as giving or sacrificing, but every spending decision is ultimately a spiritual decision and every time we utilize money we effectively ‘give’ it somewhere.
Giving shows the size of our faith and the size of our God. Many who contemplate tithing or sacrificial giving resist not because of greed but because of fear. How can I give away 10% of my income and still meet the responsibilities of my life? How do I save for the future and make sure my family is secure? These questions show a misplaced trust. Is God not big enough to care for us on 90% of our income? Is it really better to put our security in money rather than God? Would God ask for something from His children and not support their obedience? How big is our God? How big is our faith? “Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or’What shall we drink?’ or’With what shall we clothe ourselves?’For all these things the Gentileseagerlyseek; for your heavenlyFatherknows that you needallthesethings. But seekfirst His kingdom and His righteousness; and allthesethings shall be added to you. Matt 6:31-33
Giving brings security. A lesson of the last few years is that there is no such thing as security in our finances (Jesus’ teaching on the volatility of treasure on earth should have become very clear to His children since 2008). If we have extra money are we confident that the stock market is a good place to put it? What about real estate? Even the local bank in an age of coming inflation seems less than secure. With that in mind, does it not make sense to instead give our money to God’s work and ensure it is used for eternal purposes? If we look at giving as investing rather than sacrificing it becomes the best investment open to us. The old quote – “You can’t take it with you but you can send it on ahead” – has meaning today. What better place to securely invest our money than with God? Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys – Lk 12:33.
The man with his primary investments in the stock market will have his hopes rise and fall with the stock market. The man whose greatest riches are in banks will be destroyed when the banks fail, as will the farmer whose greatest asset is his crops when his crops fail. In contrast, the man whose hope is in God will be devastated only if God fails – which is an impossibility. Any man who has the rug pulled out from under him was standing on the wrong rug. To set our heart on earthly riches is not only to deprive God of glory, others of help, and ourselves of reward, but to destine ourselves to perpetual insecurity.
People lay up treasures on earth rather than in heaven not only because of greed and covetousness and selfishness, but because of fear, insecurity, and anxiety. Yet putting our hope in earthly treasures does nothing but multiply anxiety, precisely because they are so uncertain.
-Randy Alcorn – Money, Possessions and Eternity
Giving brings freedom and reward. God offers blessing, prosperity, and freedom to the giver. His blessing raining down from heaven, prosperity such that all needs will be met, and freedom from the love of money or anything else that shortchanges the believer and stands between him and his heavenly Father. Do we want to be free from the love of money? Give it away. Do we want an eternal mindset that puts God in the center of our lives? Give away what threatens to take His place. Do we want to grow closer to God? Give enough to force continual dependence on Him and the communion that dependence requires. Do we want a heart for missions or the poor? Give enormous amounts to support those needs and watch our hearts follow. Do we want treasure in heaven? Give enough away to preclude treasure on earth. His rewards are not necessarily always monetary – as the statement about a delightful land attests – but His blessings on the giver are sure. The sincere giver is ALWAYS rewarded and is ALWAYS free.
Giving too much is not addressed in the Bible. Proverbs has verses that discuss how wealth comes from work (10:4, 13:22, 14:23, 21:5, 21:17) and that we are to be prudent with our money. And Paul tells Timothy that anyone who does not provide for his family is worse than an unbeliever (I Tim 5:8). But it is notable that even in Proverbs there is the principle of giving to God first and of the prosperous man giving generously (3:9-10, 11:24-26, 28:22). And Paul’s perspective on providing for one’s family should be balanced by his statement to Timothy in the same letter that, “…if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (I Tim 6:8). The Bible has much more to say about giving sacrificially and generously than it does about saving and providing.
Consider the following examples from the New Testament. Jesus did not rebuke the widow for giving 100% of her wealth (not just 100% of her income – since she likely did not have any – 100% of everything she owned – Mk 12:41-44). Jesus did not rebuke Mary for pouring out perfume worth a year’s wages to honor Him (Matt 26:6-13). Peter did not tell the Christians in the early church to stop selling all their possessions to provide for their poor brethren (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35). Paul did not rebuke the Macedonians for giving beyond their means in the midst of their poverty (II Cor 8:1-5). In none of these cases were people told to be prudent with their money and make sure they retained enough to provide for themselves or their families. Their sacrifices were praised and held up as examples of how to give and live by faith. It may be possible to give too much, but God – knowing our hearts – sees no need to address the problem in His word.
Giving should be an act of love – not sacrifice. Note that in all cases mentioned above the motivation for giving was love. They did not concentrate on what they were giving up – they did not think in terms of how noble they were for being willing to sacrifice so much. They instead focused on God and on how much they loved Him. Mary was motivated to give because she had been forgiven much – and out of that forgiveness she wanted to express her lavish love for her Savior. The early converts in Jerusalem were not told to sacrifice but eagerly sold their possessions to meet the needs of the brethren they loved – because God loved them so much and gave Himself for them. The Macedonians BEGGED to participate in the offering to the poor saints because they first gave themselves to the Lord – they did not focus on the gift but on the One they loved. God loves a cheerful giver because it means it is one who understands that he is not called to sacrifice as much as he is called to joyously participate.
This kind of giving precludes self-righteousness. The giver who sees his giving as a privilege and an opportunity to join focuses on the receivers of his gift and the God who saves him. The one who sees his giving as great sacrifice focuses on himself and runs the risk of becoming puffed up over his great righteousness and unselfishness. He also runs the risk of giving up when the burden becomes too great. It is only as we understand that giving is itself a gift of God offering us freedom and great blessing that we change our focus from how much do we have to give (and are we not wonderful believers for giving so much) to how much do we get to participate and how well can we express our love to our heavenly Father. It is not unselfishness and sacrifice – it is love.
Practical Ideas for Giving
- Set two overarching goals for finances – seek God’s kingdom and store up treasure in heaven. ALWAYS keep these in front of you as you consider spending and giving.
- Give to areas/organizations you are excited about. Ask God to bring causes into your life that you can enthusiastically support.
- Give more to fewer places – giving small amounts to dozens of organizations does not engender a sense of partnership and investment.
- Prayerfully look for special needs outside of your normal giving that you can meet – areas where you participate more on an individual level rather than corporate.
- If your giving becomes too automatic and rote, increase it.
Giving is not a responsibility – it is a privilege. Giving is a means of blessing and freedom and a tangible way to live out the gospel. To give is to express faith in God, tangibly seek His kingdom, store up treasure in heaven, increase the harvest of our righteousness, and cause others to glorify our Father. Would that we could see our giving as a means to participate and trust and not as a burden to be grudgingly borne.