Wednesday, May 21, 2014

An Indictment Against the People of Israel: The LORD'S Declaration Concerning Repentance (Part II)

Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.” (Malachi 3:8-9)

The LORD'S reply to Israel's question deals with the curses of robbery and the cures of repentance. The nation had failed to bring the simple offerings commanded in the Law. The Hebrew noun behind the word tithe means a tenth. The Hebrew verb which describes the act of tithing is also from this same root and it means to give a tenth part. When the Bible says that Abraham gave to Melchizedek “...tithes of all...(Genesis 14:20),” it literally means that he gave him the tenth part of what he had. This natural result of Abraham's gratitude and affection toward God was expected to be present in the nation of Israel. Levitical law commanded both priest and people to offer tithes of all. The priesthood was to be sustained by a portion of what the people offered (Nehemiah 13:5), and the priests were to tithe from the tithes of the people (Numbers 18:26). The word for offerings pertains to the offerings used for sacred service. The daily service of God's temple required the availability of numerous types of wares; however, these necessary items of service were not being provided. God considered the disregard of His tithes and service offerings to be nothing short of robbery, and because of it, the nation was cursed. Tithing and offering to God was intended to be a natural outflow of the nation's gratitude. The requirement of a tenth was merely a starting point. When one considers the freewill offerings, peace offerings, vows and so forth, giving to God was to go beyond the tenth part. Giving back to God what already belonged to Him was not to be considered a laborious task to be avoided; it was intended to be a demonstration of one's gratefulness to the Almighty; therefore, its absence indicated a situation of spiritual decay and apostasy.

This heart of tithing and offering which was to be present in Israel is the same heart which is to be present in God's church. To make such a connection is not to confuse Israel with the church. God's people have demonstrated similar traits in every dispensation, and the act of giving is one of those traits. In keeping with the Old Testament example, the church has used the tenth as a starting point for its tithes. It is interesting to note however, that the New Testament church is never told specifically to give a tenth. In fact, the word tithe does not appear in the New Testament in specific relation to the church. It is almost as though the believer is expected to naturally give what is required in order to meet the needs of the body, and should not have to be commanded specifically since such giving should be a natural outflow of one's gratitude to Christ. After all, if the Old Testament saint, who was not armed with the same advantages of his New Testament counterpart, could find it in his heart to give a tenth, and beyond a tenth, how much more should the Christian, who has the ever-present Spirit, be able to do at least as much? Examples of giving to the needs of the saints abound in the New Testament (II Corinthians 8-9). In Galatians 6:6, the believer is commanded, “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” The word communicate means to have a share in. As the tithes of Israel helped meet the needs of the Levitical priesthood, the tithes of the Christian help meet the needs of church leadership. As one who is commanded to be an example in all things (I Timothy 4:12), the pastor is also expected to give back a part of what has been given to him, just as the Levitical priesthood was commanded to offer. Such a heart of giving is expected. It should not have to be forced, neither should it be argued against. Such giving should not have to be proven beyond example. The Christian who fights against giving is betraying his own spiritual degradation. Many a New Testament Christian would do well to heed the admonition of Deuteronomy 26:12-15 which says, “When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled; Then thou shalt say before the LORD thy God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of mine house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all thy commandments which thou hast commanded me: I have not transgressed thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them: I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, neither have I taken away ought thereof for any unclean use, nor given ought thereof for the dead: but I have hearkened to the voice of the LORD my God, and have done according to all that thou hast commanded me. Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people Israel, and the land which thou hast given us, as thou swarest unto our fathers, a land that floweth with milk and honey.” This man's tithes benefited others. They not only ministered to the spiritual leadership, but they also relieved the needy and the oppressed. The Christian's tithes and offerings should do the same. In so caring for people through a heart of sacrifice and concern, the believer comes closest in offering to God that which truly delights his heart, because the Lord desires “...mercy, and not sacrifice...(Hosea 6:6).” The Lord considered the tithes and offerings of Israel to be holy. They were not to be used for self-consumption during difficult times. They were not to be used for any unclean purpose, or in making an offering for the dead as the heathen nations would do. They were God's; therefore, they were holy. Such is the case with all that the believer possesses. His spirit, his body, and all that he has is holy because it all belongs to God (I Corinthians 6:19-20)! He is not to use what belongs to God simply because he has fallen upon hard times. In his “mourning,” he is not permitted to take what belongs to God and others and comfort himself with it. The Christian life is not one of self-preservation, but one of faith. The believer is not to view tithes as a means of warding off his responsibility to God through giving a tenth. His love for Christ should be such that he “...[takes] joyfully the spoiling of [his] goods, knowing in [himself] that [he has] in heaven a better and an enduring substance (Hebrews 10:34).” As the text will soon declare, God will not leave destitute the man who is obedient to the principles of faith, charity, and sacrifice; but to ignore these principles is to bring a curse.

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