About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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Robbing God (ch. 3:6 - 18)


God through Malachi in verse 6 says, “I the Lord do not change”.  This one very important thing we need to know about God.  This is a fundamental theological truth.  God does not change.  Who He is does not change.  What He does may change from time to time or age to age, but He Himself does not change.  This means that what He thought back in Malachi’s day He thinks today.  How He felt about certain things back then, He feels the same way today.  This is why I say, if God felt and thought certain things about Israel , His people in Old Testament days, He will feel about the church in New Testament days if the church follows in Israel’s footsteps.  I believe this is backed up by the seven letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation.  This is also why we can learn much about this small Old Testament writing.


In the last half of verse 6 God says, “so you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed”.  Why did God say this?  He said it because He does not change, as He just said.  Since He does not change, He will fulfill all the promises that He made to the forefathers of Israel.  This is especially important in prophetic history.  Some people believe that Israel has no place in prophetic history any more.  They believe Israel has no significance anymore.  The church has replaced Israel, and all that was once prophesied about Israel in the Old Testament now refers to the church.  But God doesn’t change.  He is faithful to His word, no matter who it was spoken to.


In verse 7 God says that Israel has constantly and consistently walked away from the decrees God gave their forfathers.  God then says, “turn to me and I will turn to you’.  It is clear that God turns His back on His people when they turn their backs on Him.  This is why God turned His back on Jesus while He was on the cross.  It wasn’t that Jesus had turned His back on God, but since He carried the sins of the world, God had to turn His back on Jesus. 


It is interesting to note from a Futurist standpoint of prophecy that Israel does return to God in the end as Paul states in Romans 9 through 11.  But the way in which they return is through the Great Tribulation.  It is through trials and troubles that Israel turns back to God and that is often the case with Christians as well.


The last phrase in verse 7 is Israel asking “how are we to return?”  Once again, Israel does not even understand that they strayed so far away from their God.  They are so far away that they’ve lost all track of where they should be.  So when God asks them to return, they have no clue how to return, so they ask God how to return.  This in my thinking is exactly the state of the church today.


In verse 8 God answers by saying, “will a man rob God?  Yet you have robbed me.”  This is an interesting response. Israel asks how they are to return to God and God answers by first asking them the question “will a man rob God”?  Then He tells Israel that they have robbed Him.  On the surface, this does not seem to be an appropriate answer to the question Israel asked, but in God’s mind it obviously was.


Israel did not wander away from God in a geographic sense of the word, so God couldn’t give them directions to move to a new location.  But Israel did wander away from their God in a spiritual sense.  The way in which they wandered was leaving the covenant, leaving the commands of God they were to obey.  The giving of tithes, and I do say “tithes” plural because there are a least three different tithes spoken about in the Law of Moses.  Anyway, tithing was one way that they wandered, and now God is pointing this out to them.  If they’d return to tithing as stated in the Law, then they’d be on their spiritual road back to God, with the understanding that there were other acts of obedience that had to be done as well. 


Continuing on in verse 8 Israel ask how they robbed God.  This is a logical question.  How can a mere human being rob God of anything.  It doesn’t seem to make sense. 


The last phrase in verse 8 says, “in tithes and offerings”.  This is how Israel was robbing God.  They were not giving Him the tithes that He had asked for in the Law of Moses, and therefore God considered that robbery.  From God’s standpoint, you can see how He thought this was robbery. 


Another question should be asked here. God mentions both tithes and offerings.  Does the word “offerings” refer to financial contributions or animal or grain sacrifices.  The answer to this question should affect your view on tithing.  If it refers to animal sacrifices, and you believe in Old Testament style tithing because of this verse, then you’re obligated to give animal  and grain sacrifices as well.    


We need to ask here an important question.  Does the tithes that God is speaking about apply to the church?  I ask this, because for those Christians who believe that tithing is a New Testament practice, this is the foundational verse.  This is a large subject and I’ve dealt with it elsewhere in detail, so I won’t get involved in it here.  You can read about this at http://stevesweetman.com/articles/tithing.htm


The very first verse of Malachi tells us that these words are written to Israel.  From that I take it that they weren’t written to New Testament Christians.  But if that point is not convincing enough for you, the whole discussion comes down to an hermeneutical issue of how New Testament Christians relate to Old Testament passages.  I believe that we can learn a lot from the Old Testament, but what was written to Israel was written to them and not directly to us.  Besides, Paul in Romans 10:4 and elsewhere says that Christ is the end of the Law.  The Law of Moses, along with the tithing rules is no longer in force for anyone to obey. 


Some will suggest that tithing can be seen before the Law and therefore exists after the Law.  There’s no logic in that either, because other practices existed before the Law as well.  Animal sacrifices is one such example.  We don’t sacrifice animals these days. 


If you claim that Melchizedek’s receiving of a tithe from Abraham is the plan to follow, you need to note that Abraham only tithed to Melchizedek once and the tithe was not from his income, but from the spoils of war. 


Much more can be said about tithing and New Testament Christians, but I will leave it at that. I believe the New Testament concept of the giving of money is “to give generously, according to your ability to give”.  


Another thought one needs to think of concerns the word "offerings" in verse 8. What is this offering referring to?  Most Evangelicals would claim that this is money over and above the tithe.  But as stated earlier, this might well have been an animal or grain offering, and it might well have been the "free will offering".  These same people gave a free will offering in Ezra 3:6-7.  If this is so, Christians who believe in tithing as prescribed in the Old Testament should also believe in giving the free will offerings as prescribed, which means animal sacrifices.     


In verse 9 God says, “you are under a curse, the whole nation of you, because you are robbing me”.  Note that God is dealing with Israel as a nation here, and not as individuals.  The whole nation is under a curse, even though there might well have been some righteous people in the nation, although the text does not say that.  I believe God deals the same way with nations today, and also with His people today. 


I believe that Israel was robbing God in more ways than just money.  I think the tithing was just one aspect of this robbery.  We’ve already seen how Israel was offering God polluted sacrifices.  This can be seen as robbery as well, so we shouldn’t over-emphasize tithing concerning this robbery.


The reason why Israel was under a curse because it was so stated in the Law of Moses.  If they obeyed the Law they would be blessed.  If they disobeyed, they would be cursed, and so God is now cursing them.


Verse 10 gives the roadmap back to the place Israel should be spiritually concerning tithing.  God says to start bringing the tithe “into the storehouse so that there may be food in my house”.  If Israel would take the step and begin to tithe again, they’d begin their return to God.  I’m not convinced their return would be complete by simply tithing. There were other things they had to do as well, like start bringing proper sacrifices.


God continues in verse 10 by telling Israel “to test Him” on this.  People will often point out that no where else in the Bible does God tell us to test Him. But remember, He was telling Israel to test Him.  God was telling these people if they test Him and obey Him, the flood-gates of heaven would be opened and they’d be so blessed that they wouldn’t have room for the blessings.  This is a major blessing.  When floodgates are open in a river, a massive amount of water comes gushing out causing a major flood.


This is what could happen to Israel upon obeying God.  Yet the intent of the New Testament in my thinking is not looking for the great blessings, but to follow Jesus and the way in which He lived while He was on this earth.  We are to live in humility as He did.  We will reign with Him in great blessings in the next life, but that is then, not now.  We have a mission at this present time, and it’s not storing up treasures on earth.


Verse 11 tells us how God will bless Israel.  He will prevent pests from destroying their crops and their vines.  The fruit of their labour will bring great success. 


Verse 12 says that when this happens “all nations will call Israel blessed, for their nation will be a delight”.  In keeping with the prophetic nature of  this book, that which we’ve spoken of earlier, this has not yet happened.  We have not seen Israel in this enviable state, but we will after the return of Jesus.  We will see it in the thousand years, and I believe the New Jerusalem that comes down from Heaven is the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy.


In verse 13  the conversational prophecy shifts the subject away from tithing.  This is just another example of why God is so upset with Israel.  God says that Israel has said “harsh things against” Him.


Israel does not know how they have been harsh towards God because they ask God how they have been harsh.  Once again, Israel has strayed so far away from God, even though they are very religious, that they don’t know their sin.


What are these harsh words that God is talking about?  Verse 14 gives us the answer.  Israel has told God that is “futile to serve” Him because they haven’t gained anything from their service.  They said that they haven’t gained anything by obeying God’s requirements.  This is clearly a materialistic way of thinking.  They thought that if they obeyed God, they should expect lots in return.  But this is not the reason why one obeys God.  You obey God for who He is, not for  what you can get from Him.  We have the same mentality in many parts of the church today.  The Prosperity Movement teaches that we can expect prosperity.  Yet men in the New Testament did not think this way.  Their thinking was based on the idea that they were servants of the Lord and the reason for their existence was to serve Jesus.  They’d inherit treasures in the next life.  This life was a life of hard work in the service of the Lord.  We will have all of eternity to live in prosperity and enjoyment.


Israel also says that they’ve mourned for nothing.  Mourning was part of the ceremonial process.  The mourning represented a repentant heart.  It appears to me though that their mourning was not sincere, and if not sincere, there was no repentance, thus the reason why they were in their present poor standing before God.


In verse 15 we see that Israel got to the place where they actually considered arrogance a state of blessedness.  Arrogance is that place where man considers himself more highly than he should, and more highly than he actually is.  Arrogance is not acceptable in the eyes of God.  Humility is the way in which we should live.  Jesus was humble.  This does not mean He was weak, because from His position of humility, he spoke with great authority, the authority that came from God His Father.


Two other harsh things that Israel said and believed in were that evildoers prospered and God’s enemies escaped His wrath.  There’s no place in the Bible where God says that evildoers won’t prosper, at least for a season.  In the end of course, they won’t prosper.  They’ll get what is coming to them. 


Both Israel back then, and many people today think that it’s not worth being righteous in light of them seeing so many wicked people prosper.  We can turn to the pages of the New Testament and see that the men of God who gave their lives to preaching Jesus did not prosper.  Obviously they had a different mentality from the Jews of Malachi’s day.


Verse 16 presents us with another shift in the conversational prophecy.  It switches to a time where Israel will have a conversation with herself and come back to their God in humility.  Prophetic Futurists say that this will come abut at the end of this age.  It is apparent that it has not yet come about.  No time in Jewish history since these words have been written has Israel come to God in humility.  Most of the twenty four hundred plus years since Malachi’s day, Israel has not even been in existence for this to happen. Yet since 1948 this has all changed.  Though Israel is now a nation once again, they are still not walking with their God.


In verse 16 God notes that “those who feared the Lord” talked with each other and God listened.  To me this suggests that the Jews came to the place where they got together, maybe individually and also maybe collectively, and decided to return to their God.  When this happened, or will happen at some future dates, God will listen.  This is always the case.  When people begin to fear God, God begins to listen to them.  It is thus clear that those people, even Christians today, who live in arrogance and do not fear God will not be heard by God.  This obviously effects the lives of these people and the churches they are a part of.  No wonder the supernatural aspect to the Kingdom of God isn’t seen much in our modern church.  We are too self sufficient, to motivated by materialism, and certainly don’t fear God as we should.  This is also why the book of Proverbs says over and over again that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.


In the last half of verse 16 we note that “there is a scroll of remembrance written in the presence of the Lord”.   The wording seems to suggest that someone other than God is writing in this scroll.  What is written concerns the Jewish people who begin to fear the Lord.  A number of scrolls can be seen in the book of Revelation.  This is yet another scroll.


Verse 17 makes it clear concerning the timing of when this scroll is written.  God says that “in the day he makes up His treasured possessions” these Jews will be mine.  The scroll is clearly a part of that time in the end when Israel returns to their God in humility. 


I don’t believe we can say this scroll concerns New Testament Christians.  We can’t include them in this particular scroll because we have noted that the words of this prophecy have been specifically directed towards Israel.  If we include Christians in this scroll, then we need to include Christians in the things God has said about tithing, about animal offerings, and about everything else that can be found in the book of Malachi.  This then presents a multitude of problems.  Besides Christians should not worry about not having their place in this scroll.  They will be found in another scroll, and that is the Lamb’s book of life.


The last phrase in verse 17 says that God will spare Israel .  He will not demolish them.  He will judge them, and in this judgment bad things will come on Israel , but because of this judgment, Israel will return to their God.   At that point God will restore Israel because they’ve learned to fear Him. 


In verse 18 God says, that at this point, that is, when Israel is restored,  you will see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, those who serve God and those who don’t serve God.  I believe the righteous in this verse applies to both New Testament Christians as well as restored Israel.  Only at this point, the point of the end of this age, will we clearly see the distinction between the people of God and the people of the world who oppose God.  Until that day comes, as is clearly the state of God’s people today in the church, the lines between the righteous and unrighteous are blurred.  This does not mean that we can’t make ourselves more distinctive now, because we certainly can.  I’m just saying that the ultimate distinction comes at the end of this age, something not all Christians believe. There is a certain segment of the church that believes in the perfection of the church prior to the end of this age.  I don’t believe this is what verse 18 is saying.

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