The God of Benevolence

For full sermon, watch the video.

Malachi said, “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them,” (Malachi 3.7a, ESV). The sin that was confronting the Israelites was one that had been going on for generation after generation after generation for a thousand years. They had been taken into exile because they would not keep the Sabbath years. Now that they were back they were offering lame, sick, dying, blind animals as a sacrifice.  They had continuously living in a state of sin with no explanation, and Malachi was telling them that they were doing the same things that their ancestors had done.

And now he was calling on them to repent. “Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts,” (Malachi 3.7b, ESV). Yet they were so steeped in their sin and had been doing it for so long that they didn’t even realize they were in sin. They were blind to their own evil.  “But you say, ‘How shall we return?’” (Malachi 3.7c, ESV). This is an incredulous question, not a genuine. They aren’t asking what they can do; they are asking what they’ve done to deserve such an indictment. The question should be read as if stated, “Return? What have we done that we need to return? God is the one who left us. He’s the one that abandoned us in our needs.” Their sins and despair had blinded them to God’s presence. They were blinded to God’s graces.

So there was a blindness due to generations of sin that made it seem God was far when He was near. They couldn’t see their sin, and they couldn’t see God. Double-blindness.  Malachi understood their question of “How shall we return?” as what it really meant, “What have we done?” And he shows them their begrudgement.  “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions,” (Malachi 3.8, ESV).  The people were robbing God; it could be said that they were defrauding God.  How? In their tithes and offerings.  Remember the indictment against the people for their lame, dying, blind, sick animals?  That was what they brought to make sacrifices.  Here is something similar, but different. Here we are talking about the tithes. This was the first fruits. This was a tenth of their harvest and such.

When we get to verse 10, we’ll see God calling for the “full tithe” to Him, indicating that the people may have been bringing a partial tithe or something less than a real tithe. That’s why I call it a begrudgement. It doesn’t seem like the people completely kept their tithes away, but what they gave, they gave begrudgingly. They did it out of duty. They did it out of obligation. They did it so that they wouldn’t be shamed. Who knows, but they didn’t do it out of love and they didn’t do it out of joy.

People ask me if I’m a person who believes in tithing or gracious giving. I think I’ve settled on that I believe in a gracious tithing. If anyone believes in tithing (and I am one of them), but will only tithe begrudgingly, then they are guilty of honoring God with their checks, but their hearts are far from him. The begrudging tither is helping pay the bills, but is receiving no benefit from the giving.

Yes, the tithe was part of the law, but as such it was part of the greater laws: to love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

One cannot begrudgingly be thankful or loving to God or to our neighbor. But the people in Malachi’s day were trying to do just that. Their hearts were not in their tithes and offerings.  And God saw their hearts even more than their tithes. And so we see his response to their begrudgement: “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you,” (Malachi 3.9, ESV).

Now, let’s remember here what I said at the beginning of this sermon. We read out of Deuteronomy 28 and saw what would happen if the people were disobedient.  They would be cursed and their land would not provide food, as well as other things that would happen. Remember that? That’s why I read it then, because we need to understand that God is not just cursing willy-nilly. He is not being capricious or overly-sensitive. He warned a thousand years prior, and since then continuously sent prophets to remind the people generation after generation, what would happen if they turned from obedience. But never has He been seeking to obliterate His covenant people; he has always been seeking to make them into mature, faithful followers.

But Malachi’s prophecy doesn’t stop with the curse. It stops at God’s benevolence. Why? Because God is desirous to bless. Remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive and God is the quintessential Giver. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him. The fact that we are givers is a sign of the imago dei, the image of God.  We imitate God when we give. And just as it pleases us to give, so it pleases Him to give and more so!

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. 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. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3.10-12, ESV)

Notice the return. At first Malachi is general, return to me and I will return to you, but now we see how they are to return. “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse.” The temple had a storage room for food, and God was calling on His people to bring in all that they owed, and so showing their repentant, returning hearts for Him. This isn’t penance, where we work to gain God’s love, but repentance, where we return to God and his ways. God already loves us; we can’t earn that back because we never lost it in the first place. But we can stop drifting so far, turn around and draw near to Him, experiencing the love that He has always had for us.

But notice the fact that He tells them to “put me to the test.” But there are two tests going on here.  God is testing the Israelites by calling on them to bring the full tithe. Will they bring it and live by faith rather than by sight?  Will they believe that God is true to His word? By doing so, they are putting God to the test. In reality, it is proving God. That’s how the KJV translates this wording. Will God prove true?

In God’s defense, He has pointed back to Deuteronomy 28. You are cursed with a curse, the whole nation of you. What curse? The curse of Deuteronomy 28. It’s as if God is saying, “I told you this would happen. I promised you this would happen. You didn’t believe me, and it happened. I’m always true to my word. And as part of my word, I said that when you return, I will remove the curse and I will bless. Trust me. Test me. Prove me. You’ll see that I can be trusted.”  Look at what God told the people in Deuteronomy 30:

The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, (vv. 9-10, ESV).

God delights in blessing His people. He does not delight in disciplining His people, but does so out of love. This is the only place in all of Scripture where God calls on His people to test Him in such a way. But He does so because He is anxiously awaiting to bless. He will open up the heavens and pour down the rain that gives water to the crops and causes them to grow, which will feed them, their animals, and the priests of the temple. The nations will see how God has blessed His people and they will exclaim it as well.

God is most definitely a gracious Giver. And the greatest gift God has given was His one and only Son. It is by His death and resurrection we are set free from our sin, our begrudgement, our blindness. It is through Him that we are truly blessed by a benevolent God. Will you repent, turn to Christ, and receive God’s blessing of salvation?

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