Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts
The above passage is one of the most commonly abused, twisted, and misunderstood passages in the Bible. It is used by false teachers as a tool for convincing the congregation that God will inevitably bless them financially if they are faithful to give certain percentages of their income to their ministry. This passage is used to teach that the goal of Christianity is financial blessing and prosperity – something that the entire New Testament argues against. These false teachers take the covenant promise of God made to Old Testament Israel about a physical land and they turn it into a foolproof formula for receiving a blessing from God.
One of the fundamental rules of Bible reading is that we must read Biblical passages in their original context and then draw principles that apply to our current context. When God speaks to a specific person such as Jonah and says, “Arise, go to Nineveh”, we cannot read that sentence in isolation and apply it to every Christian today as a command that every Christian needs to make a pilgrimage to Nineveh. Context matters and it is by ignoring the context of Old Testament promises that many false teachers use the Bible to manipulate their hearers.
One false teacher in my local community references this passage in Malachi as “the exchange rate of God”. He says that by giving certain amounts to his ministry, “God will have no choice” but to bless financially. He says that by giving you “bind God to his promise”. He teaches that God will be forced to rebuke the devourer for you whom he interprets as the devil (although the Old Testament readers understood this term as a crop-destroying pest in a physical land). This particular prosperity gospel preacher goes on to put himself up as the living proof of this heavenly exchange rate working. He claims that because he has been faithful to tithe he has not gotten sick in 40 years, his air conditioner hasn’t broken in 25 years and that God has rewarded him with a 35,000 square foot house. He attributes all this blessing to the formula of tithing in which God is bound to financially bless obedient giving.
This interpretation of Malachi 3 as the formula for Christians to get rich is a false interpretation. It is a false teaching that puffs up man, praises self-indulgence, belittles God, distracts from the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, and idolizes wealth. It is the epitome of what Jesus calls foolish (Lk. 12:15-21) and it is a snare that plunges many people into ruin and destruction (1 Tim. 6:6-10). In this particular post, we will only look at the false application of Old Testament Scriptures such as Malachi 3. It would take several posts in the future to Biblically confront the false teachings of the prosperity gospel.
Old Covenant Promises
So what is represented in Malachi 3:9-12 if it is not a promise of wealth and prosperity for those who give a percentage of their income? Verses 9-12 are a snapshot of the covenant agreement God made with the people of Israel. From the beginning, God has been establishing relationships with his people by way of covenant agreements.
In the Garden of Eden, God had a covenant relationship with Adam and Eve. They were blessed with a beautiful land, the presence of God, and with provision and prosperity. This blessing would be removed, however, if they chose to sin against him. Adam and Eve broke that covenant by disobeying and they were cursed out of the land, cursed with separation from God, and cursed to endure pain, suffering, sorrow, and death.
In the book of Exodus, God establishes another covenant relationship this time with the people of Israel. After saving them from slavery in Egypt and calling them to be his unique people, God promises a physical land reflective of a new Garden of Eden flowing with milk and honey. He promises a new way for God to be present with his people through the tabernacle and he promises earthly blessing of provision and peace. This covenant with Israel had a similar stipulation on the promised blessing as did Adam and Eve. Israel will have to obey God’s law to receive the blessing. This time, there is not one rule. There are 613 laws given for Moses to record and enforce.
The formula of the Mosaic covenant was simple: Obey the laws and be blessed or disobey the laws and be cursed. Deuteronomy 30 makes the stipulations of this covenant with Israel very clear.
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”
When we fast forward to Malachi 3, we find that the whole nation is disobeying God’s covenant law and that the curse has come upon their land. Part of their Old Testament law was that tithes and contributions from their crops and livestock be brought into the temple for the priests so that worship in the temple could carry on. In their greed, they had stopped bringing in those tithes and contributions. They had broken God’s law and thus invited God’s curses.
We Have a Better Covenant
The book of Malachi is a testimony to the real problem with humanity. Israel had broken the law of God in several ways just as they had always done. The Old Covenant constantly failed to secure even temporary blessings for mankind much less eternal blessings. Man always turns away. We always break the covenant. If left to ourselves we always choose actions that lead to the curse. Just as Adam and Eve had been removed from the garden of Eden through their disobedience, the people of Israel had already been removed from their land once because of their disobedience to the law. The Old Mosaic Covenant will never work to bring mankind back into the blessed Garden of Eden of God’s presence. Mankind can never be obedient enough to secure his own blessing and avoid the curse of sin.
We need a new covenant, with new stipulations, and with a new kind of blessing that we cannot lose. If the false teachers of today’s prosperity teaching want to claim the promises of the Old Covenant made to Israel as the “exchange rate of God” they need to be prepared to claim all 613 Old Testament laws that Israel was never able to obey. If we want to claim the promise of Malachi 3 for ourselves as if they apply to us directly, then we need to be prepared to receive the curses from Deuteronomy 28 for all the ways in which we have broken and are breaking the Old Covenant law.
The implication of Malachi 3 is that mankind needs a better covenant. We are too sinful to earn God’s blessings and we absolutely deserve God’s curses. We need a promise that does not rely on our obedience. We need an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading kept in heaven for us. We need someone to come and take the fullness of the curse of sin on himself so that we can enter the blessed presence of God. We need what Jesus came to accomplish. We need what Jesus promises at the last supper, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Lk. 22:20).
As New Testament Christians we live in a new and better covenant with new and better promises. We are promised an eternal land where we will forever be in the presence of God Almighty. We are promised eternal blessing because Jesus took the eternal curse on himself at the cross. We give of our money for the relief of the poor, the support of the church, and the spread of the gospel not in order to receive Old Covenant promises of earthly prosperity, but because we have received the New Covenant promise of eternity. We give not to get a temporary blessing based on our obedience, but because we have been given eternal blessing based on Christ’s obedience.
(For an audio sermon on Malachi 3:6-15 click here.)
By His Grace & For His Glory,
Pastor Brandon Langley
St. Rose Community Church