An Exhaustive Examination of "Tithe," "Tithes" and "Tithing"
Should the Church Teach Tithing?
Section 13b - Malachi 3 and 4
GOD’S JUDGMENT OF THE PRIESTHOOD Mal.
2:17 You have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet you say, Wherein have we wearied him? When
you say, “Every one that does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them”; or, “Where
is the God of judgment?” Mal.
3:1 Behold, I will send my MESSENGER [Hebrew: Malachi], and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom you seek,
shall suddenly come to this TEMPLE, even the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in. Behold,
he shall come, says the LORD of hosts. Mal.
3:2 But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appears?—for he is like a refiner’s fire,
and like fullers’ soap: Mal.
3:3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall PURIFY THE SONS OF LEVI, AND PURGE THEM as gold and
silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness. Mal.
3:4 Then shall the offering of Judah
and Jerusalem be pleasant to the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former
This text, along with 2:13, ought to be enough evidence that God has never stopped speaking directly to the priests and is
still not speaking generally to the people. This text is merely a repetition of the mockery the priests have been throwing
at God throughout the first two chapters. God’s answer to the final question, “Where is the God of judgment?,”
is addressed to PRIESTS in the following verses. (3:1)
God’s judgment of purification will begin in His house, His temple, with His priests who have the primary responsibility
to teach truth. Preachers who teach tithing have correctly used these texts many times prophetically in order to teach about
either John the Baptist or Jesus Christ. However, while such applications are true because of the principles of greater multiple
fulfillment, they are NOT the primary focus of the context. Using
the principle of multiple fulfillments (Greek: apotelesmatic), these texts have at least three possible fulfillments.
The first fulfillment is obvious to those familiar with the New Testament. Jesus himself quoted these texts in reference to
John the Baptist who paved the way for his ministry and his temple cleansing activity (Mal. 4:5; Matt. 3:3; 11:10-11; Mark
1:2-3; Luke 1:76; 3:4; 7:26-28; John 1:6-7, 23; Isa. 40:3-5). A second
fulfillment is the LORD himself because the pronoun in the texts refers to God coming in wrath and fire. It is the Messiah,
not John the Baptist, who appeared as a refiner’s fire to cleanse and correct the Levitical priesthood at his first
coming. Also, the great Messianic hope of Israel anticipates the Messiah who will establish pure temple worship at his coming in glory at the end of the age. “Remember
them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites [by intermarriage with pagans]. Thus I cleansed them
from all strangers, and I also assigned duties to the priests and the Levites, each to his service. Remember me, O my God,
for good! (Neh. 13:29-31). NKJV
GOD’S JUDGMENT OF THE PRIESTHOOD
Mal. 2:17 You have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet you say, Wherein have we wearied him? When you say, “Every one that does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them”; or, “Where is the God of judgment?”
Mal. 3:1 Behold, I will send my MESSENGER [Hebrew: Malachi], and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to this TEMPLE, even the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in. Behold, he shall come, says the LORD of hosts.
Mal. 3:2 But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appears?—for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:
Mal. 3:3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall PURIFY THE SONS OF LEVI, AND PURGE THEM as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness.
Mal. 3:4 Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant to the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years.
(2:17) This text, along with 2:13, ought to be enough evidence that God has never stopped speaking directly to the priests and is still not speaking generally to the people. This text is merely a repetition of the mockery the priests have been throwing at God throughout the first two chapters. God’s answer to the final question, “Where is the God of judgment?,” is addressed to PRIESTS in the following verses.
(3:1) God’s judgment of purification will begin in His house, His temple, with His priests who have the primary responsibility to teach truth. Preachers who teach tithing have correctly used these texts many times prophetically in order to teach about either John the Baptist or Jesus Christ. However, while such applications are true because of the principles of greater multiple fulfillment, they are NOT the primary focus of the context.
Using the principle of multiple fulfillments (Greek: apotelesmatic), these texts have at least three possible fulfillments. The first fulfillment is obvious to those familiar with the New Testament. Jesus himself quoted these texts in reference to John the Baptist who paved the way for his ministry and his temple cleansing activity (Mal. 4:5; Matt. 3:3; 11:10-11; Mark 1:2-3; Luke 1:76; 3:4; 7:26-28; John 1:6-7, 23; Isa. 40:3-5).
A second fulfillment is the LORD himself because the pronoun in the texts refers to God coming in wrath and fire. It is the Messiah, not John the Baptist, who appeared as a refiner’s fire to cleanse and correct the Levitical priesthood at his first coming. Also, the great Messianic hope of Israel anticipates the Messiah who will establish pure temple worship at his coming in glory at the end of the age.
“Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites [by intermarriage with pagans]. Thus I cleansed them from all strangers, and I also assigned duties to the priests and the Levites, each to his service. Remember me, O my God, for good! (Neh. 13:29-31). NKJV
If indeed Malachi is a real person (compare Haggai 1:13), he is still the spokesman for God and the governor. It was a priest (Ezra) and the governor (Nehemiah) who had the literal zeal to literally cleanse the defiled priesthood and restore the priests to their covenant (Ezra 9-10; Neh. 13:8-13, 29-31). We must not ignore the historical context of the book of Malachi in Nehemiah.
The first verses of chapter three continue God’s address to the priests which began in 1:6 and continued in 2:1. In 2:17, when the priests mockingly asked “Where is the God of judgment?”, God answered them by saying that His judgment would begin in the Temple (with them) (3:1). It is the “sons of Levi” (and not the people) who must be purified (3:3)!
(3:4) It is only after God shall “purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness”; only then shall “the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant to the LORD.”
MORE SINS OF THE PRIESTS
Mal. 3:5 And I will COME NEAR to you to JUDGMENT; and I will be a swift witness against the SORCERERS, and against the ADULTERERS, and against FALSE SWEARERS, and against those who OPPRESS THE HIRELING in his wages, the WIDOW, and the FATHERLESS, and that turn aside the STRANGER from his right, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.
In order to be understood correctly, the tithing texts of 3:8-10 must be connected to their context. Therefore, for the purpose of understanding tithing in Malachi, the entire preceding discussion has been necessary to clarify the context of chapter 3, and, especially, verses 5-7. Again, from 1:6 until 4:6 the context addresses primarily the priests and not the entire nation. The “you” of this verse continues from the “you” from 2:17; 3:1,2 which is the “priests.”
It is usually agreed that Malachi and Nehemiah lived in the same place at the same period in history; both ministries ended approximately 400 B.C. However, it is impossible to date Malachi beyond controversy. Scholars make educated guesses at various dates often based upon their presuppositions. For example, did the robbery of tithes and offerings occur while Nehemiah was absent from Jerusalem or, oddly, after a surplus had been received? Are the thieves the ordinary citizens of Judah, or are the thieves the priests who have either kept some of the tithes out of the storehouse or have not given the Levites their share of the tithes per Nehemiah 13;10-11?
PLEASE FOLLOW THIS DISCUSSION CAREFULLY. In Nehemiah, chapters 10-13 the people had been pressured by Nehemiah to bring firstfruits, firstborn, offerings, tithes and the temple shekel. They gave so much that it was necessary to build storehouses.
For the following reasons, this author believes that those who deserve judgment in chapter 3, verse 5, are, once again, the Levitical priests, and not the nation as a whole.
First, it can just as easily be argued that Malachi could have occurred immediately after Nehemiah 10-12 (possibly during Nehemiah 13:1-11) and is a description of the sins of the priests in hoarding the tithe, not giving God the best, and not providing food for their Levite assistants and the other needy listed in verse 5. This explains Nehemiah 13:10, “And I perceived that the portions [tithes] of the Levites had not been given them [by the priests]: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field.”
Second, some tithe-teachers insist that Malachi was describing the condition in Judah either before, or long after, Nehemiah enforced tithing in chapters 10-13. This assumption makes the priests the VICTIMS instead of the thieves! Yet making the priests the victims is contrary to the flow of the entire book of Malachi. For example, there is no indication that the priests are innocent because they do not have acceptable offerings to bring to God. Just the opposite is true! God said that they had kept back the acceptable offerings (1:14).
Third, there is no reason to believe that Nehemiah would only require that this compulsory tithing would occur once in one year. Knowing Nehemiah, we must conclude that he continued the practice every year afterwards.
Fourth, the priests were guilty of sorcery. As the responsible religious leaders, they had set the wrong example. They had said that “the table of the Lord is contemptible” (1:7, 12; 2:8). The priests were guilty of adultery because they had exchanged Hebrew wives for pagan wives and had been especially disciplined by Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 10; Neh. 13:28-30). They had also been guilty of false swearing (1:13-14).
Fifth, an omission from the list in verse 5 may provide a good reason for concluding that this text is only addressed to the Levitical priests. In the law, the Levites are often first on God’s list of persons deserving the tithe, because they received no land inheritance, they served God in exchange of the abolished priesthood of the firstborn, and they are supposed to be identified with the very poorest in Israel.
The tithing ordinances of Deuteronomy 14:27-29 and 26:12-13 both list “the LEVITES, strangers, fatherless, and widows” as eligible recipients of tithes. This same list is also true when the tithe was brought to the feasts (Deut. 16:11, 14). However, many texts mention the fatherless, widows and strangers and omit the Levites. (See Deut. 10:18; 24:14,19-21; Ps. 94:6; 146:9; Jer. 7:6; 22:3, 7; Zech. 7:10).
If Malachi 3:5 refers to the entire nation sinning by oppressing the needy by not bringing tithes, then WHY are the priests NOT included in the list of those who need the tithes? Logic dictates that the priests must AGAIN be the OPPRESSOR rather than the OPPRESSED!
Sixth, thus far in Malachi, the priests (not the people) have received terrible condemnation from God! They have been found guilty of a wide range of sins, including a curse for theft (1:6, 14). “Cursed be the deceiver, which has in his flock a male, and vows, and sacrifices to the LORD a corrupt thing.” Nehemiah 13:11 must primarily refer to the temple ruling priests as the ones who are guilty of stealing the tithe (only the portions of the Levites) from the Levites, “Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken?”—by the hungry Levites in verse 10.
Mal. 3:6 For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed.
Mal. 3:7 Even from the days of your fathers you are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return tome, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts….
(3:6) This text has often been interpreted to mean that God does not change and will always require the exact ten percent tithe from his people, whether his people are national Israel under the Old Covenant, the Christian church under the New Covenant, or the very poorest and needy believers.
However, the context suggests something quite different. Since God is just and will not punish the righteous with the guilty, then He will judge the sins of the priests (3:1-4) and already had to a large extent (2:1-17) by cursing them four times. God does not change regarding judgment (2:17 to 3:4). He has placed the final responsibility for the needy in the hands of the priests (3:5)—and God will not change and release the guilty priests from their duties.
Therefore, in this context, “God does not change” means that He never changes about judging sin! God keeps his covenant promises of both blessings and curses.
(3:7) It is absolutely dishonest to ignore the context of verses 1-7 and begin teaching about tithing from verse 8! Again, I ask the question, “Is God still speaking to the priests, or has He changed towards addressing the entire nation in this verse?” Although we do not find a clue from the phrase, “Even from the days of your fathers…,” we can honestly conclude that God is speaking to Israelites and not the Church.
The second phrase, “…from my ORDINANCES, and have not kept them,” provides a clue to God’s audience. Have you ever read the exact wording of the ordinance which establishes tithing? This ordinance is Numbers 18, the foundational chapter on tithing. “Statute” and “ordinance” occur five times in that chapter (vv. 8, 11, 19, 23).
The entire Mosaic Law, or Old Covenant, consisted of commandments, ordinances/statutes and judgments. “Ordinances” were the cultic ceremonial worship “statutes” which detailed every aspect of the priest’s service in the sanctuary. Notice that God does NOT say, “You have gone away from my ‘commandments’ and ‘judgments’.” Compare Nehemiah 10:29.
Whether God is speaking only to priests, or to the entire nation of Israel, it should be crystal clear that verses 8-10 must be understood and explained in the context of God’s ordinances, or statutes, of the Mosaic Law from verse 7! Ordinances are the ceremonial worship laws for priests in the Old Covenant. Tithing is one of these ‘ordinances’ and is not a moral ‘commandment’!
Mal. 3:7…But you said, Wherein shall we return?
Mal. 3:8 Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me. But you say, Wherein have WE robbed you? In tithes and offerings.
NOTICE!: If you BEGIN your reading of this chapter (or this book) at this verse—you are harming your own knowledge of God’s Word, you are being dishonest with the context of God’s Word and you will probably not understand the real meaning of Malachi 3:8-10! I plead with you to please stop now, go back, and at least read the entire article up to this point (preferably Second Chronicles 31 and Nehemiah also).
HOWEVER, if you refuse to go back and read my previous discussion of Malachi up to this point, then you still need to know about the context of Malachi, the Levitical cities, and the work schedule of the priests and Levites in the Jerusalem Temple. Why? Because these three topics give essential context to tithing practices in God’s Word. The major part of that immediate context is the book of Nehemiah. If one is completely honest with God’s Word, but unfamiliar with the book of Nehemiah, then it will seriously change what you probably thought that the Bible teaches about tithing. Nehemiah discusses tithing far more than does Malachi and gives us the possible exact context of 3:8-10.
Fasten your seat belts! The following discussion will be a wild ride for some.
I have often urged the reader to consider a very important question from 1:6 forward, “To whom is God speaking?” Again, “Who is the ‘you’ and ‘we” of Malachi 3:8?” Although there is a secondary application to the people in general, God is still specifically speaking to the priests. Verse 7 ends with the priests from 2:17 to 3:6 asking God, “How shall we return to obeying You?” In context, they are asking, “What do we priests need to do in order to return to keeping your ceremonial worship ‘ordinances’?”
Verse 8 does not begin in a vacuum! It begins with God answering the question asked by the priests in 3:7. Honesty to God’s Word demands that we do not begin a Bible study at verse 8. God is telling the PRIESTS that THEY have robbed Him in tithes and offerings!
You ask, “Where does the Bible say that God is speaking only to the priests?” And I answer: (1) since God clearly BEGAN speaking to the priests in 1:6, (2) emphatically continued speaking to the priests in 2:1, (3) must still be speaking to them about their altars in 2:13, (4) is clearly still speaking to them from 2:17 to 3:4, THEN (5) God is still specifically addressing the priests in 3:8! I ask, “When did God STOP speaking to the priests? The burden of proof must fall on those who say that God has suddenly changed His audience from the priests to the people.
Who has thus far robbed God in the context of Malachi 3:8?
First, Bible students simply cannot ignore Malachi 1:13-14 which is clearly addressed to the priests from 1:6. The NAS reads, “…you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering!…But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord…” Again, where the KJV reads “torn,” the NAS says “taken by robbery,” the NKJV says “the stolen,” the RSV says “taken by violence,” and the TLB says “stolen.” God says that the priests had “stolen” either more than their tenth of the tithe, more than their share of offerings, or both! Malachi also points out that the priests had robbed God by not giving Him the best which they had vowed.
Second, when we compare Nehemiah 10:37, 38 and 12:44, 47 with 13:4, 5, 10, 11 it is clear that the high priest had stolen the Levites’ share of the tithe because everything else was at hand to replace. Undeniably the priests had stolen the tithe from the Levites! “And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field” (Neh. 13:10).
The objector says, “No! No! You have it all wrong! The priests are completely innocent! The people are guilty of not bringing tithes to the priests! The people are guilty of robbing God!”
I answer this objection by asking, “Where do you find this from Malachi 1:6 to 3:7?” Throughout the book of Malachi, THE PRIESTS HAVE BEEN THE VILLAINS, the guilty party, the robbers—and, now, suddenly, you say that they are the mistreated party. How inconsistent can one be! God has already CURSED the priests FOUR TIMES for robbing him and for not bringing what they already possessed. The priests are not the poor innocent victims which so many preachers want us to think. The priests are the “robbers” and “swindlers” who already have the tithes and offerings (from Nehemiah 10:38; 12:44, 47), are not giving God the best and are not sharing with the Levites in Nehemiah 13:10 and the needy in Malachi 3:5.
The phrase “tithes and offerings” “tithes” PLUS “offerings.” And it does not mean (as many teach) that everybody must give tithes first and offerings can only be given after tithes have been given. That is a lie! In reality tithes were never required from everybody (especially the poor) and legitimate tithes could only come from inside national Israel (see chapter one). Only farmers and herdsmen could tithe from the increase produced by God. Everybody else only gave freewill offerings from what they produced.
Mal. 3:9 “You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed me, even this whole nation.” KJV
Mal. 3:9 “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! NASU
“Finally,” the tithe-teacher will say, “you must admit that NOW God is speaking to the WHOLE NATION and not to the priests in this verse!”
I reply, “What is the context? Up to this point, the pronoun, you, has almost exclusively referred to the priests receiving the curses which God had placed on them because of their guilt. Are we justified in concluding that NOW the pronoun, you, suddenly refers to the people, and that the people have wronged the priests?” The first four curses had been placed on the dishonest priests (1:14 and 2:2). These ministers were guilty of robbing God and received the longest and most harsh rebuke in Malachi (1:6 to 2:9). They had dishonored Him and despised His name (1:6). They had robbed Him by not offering the best (1:7-8)). Their worship was not acceptable (1:8). God desired that one of them would stop the hypocritical worship and lock the temple doors (1:10). He was tired of their dishonesty (1:13-14) and cursed them as deceivers or swindlers (1:14). Even their children would be affected by their sin and rebuked (2:3). God promised to even spread dung in their faces during their religious festivals (2:3).
“But,” objects the tithe-teacher, “verse 9 clearly says “this whole nation.”
I reply, “Look at the verse more closely.” For some good reason many scholarly Hebrew translators think that verse 9 should read, “this whole nation OF YOU.” Although “of you” does not appear in the King James Version, it does appear in the more literal NAS and RSV (and also the very popular NIV). The purpose of adding “of you” is unclear unless it distinguishes the whole nation “of you priests” from the rest of the nation! A possible contextual biblical precedent is seen in the theft of tithes from ministering Levites by Eliashib in Nehemiah 13:7-10 which had to involve other priests. Again, the main point thus far, however, is that (until now at least) God had been cursing the priests as thieves instead of expressing sorrow for them.
If Malachi 3:9 continues the curse of 2:2, then it is an addition to it. “I will even send a curse upon you (priests), and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because you do not lay it to heart.” Even the priests’ offerings were cursed, “And this is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand” 2:13 NAS.
The priests needed a serious cleansing indeed, “And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness” 3:3. Why would God so quickly switch from cursing the priests to assisting them a few verses later (as some say)?
Exactly what is the “curse” of Malachi 3:9? Deuteronomy 27:26 reads,
“Cursed is he that does not confirm all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen” (quoted in Gal. 3:10). This curse was the curse of the Old Covenant. I repeat, the curse of Malachi 3:9 was the curse of the Old Covenant! The nation had promised God that they would completely obey every single part of the whole Law, or else agree to place themselves under a curse. Malachi’s audience, in Nehemiah 10:28-29, renewed their Old Covenant vows and, again, asked God to place them under the curse if they failed to comply with every single part of the Law.
The New Covenant teaches us that Jesus Christ came as the second Adam (Rom. 5:17-19), and as Israel personified (Mt. 2:15) to live the perfect sinless life and obey every single part of the Law (Heb. 10:9). By faith His perfect obedience is credited to the believer (Rom. 3:24-26; 2 Cor. 5:21). Therefore, Christians are not, and cannot possibly be, under any curse of either the Old Covenant or the New Covenant because Christians have the perfect sinlessness of Christ standing for their obedience to God. As my good friend, Jonathan Kithcart points out so well, “Why would Christ die to redeem us from the curse of the law, and then turn around and place us right back under that same curse? That’s crazy, man!”
Friends, it is a terrible SIN for Christian preachers to take the curse of Malachi 3:9 out of its historical Old Covenant context and use it like a sledge-hammer, or hot iron, to threaten church members for not paying tithes! Only the Israelites could be cursed for such as a sin because they were the only ones who had asked God to curse them if they failed to perfectly keep His Law. God never entered into any such covenant with the Church.
The Apostle Paul, in Galatians 3, discusses the “curse of the law.” After quoting Deuteronomy 27:26 in verse 10, verse 12 says that the law is not based on faith. Likewise, tithing is not based on faith. As God’s elect, New Covenant Christians are not under a curse for ANY reason! How can we be? We are already conquerors and our lives are already hidden with Christ in God (Rom. 8:37; Col. 3:1-4). Scripture is clear on this (see also Rom. 8:1, 33; Heb. 10:14; Eph. 1:7). Believe God’s Word to the Church! Believe “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). Be free from the lies of those who want to scare you with an abolished curse!
Concerning verses 8-10, the highly esteemed J. Vernon McGee wrote “Under grace God wants you to give as you are able to give. For some people that would be less than the tithe. And I’m of the opinion that a great many in this affluent society ought to be giving more to God” (p. 84). “Again I would remind you that we are not under the tithe system today. There are many humble believers with very little income for whom a tenth would be too much to give” (p. 85). “There is no such thing today as that which is called ‘storehouse giving.’ That’s not quite the way we give because Israel’s giving was in the form of produce” (p. 86).
One final comment on the curse of Malachi 3:9. There are only three texts in which Jesus Himself mentioned tithing. And, believe it or not, Jesus actually placed curses (woes) on tithe-PAYERS because the remainder of their lives was hypocrisy. This proves that there is no such thing as automatic blessings for tithe-payers! See Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 and 18:12.
Mal. 3:10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be FOOD in my house, and prove me now herewith, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open to you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
What does “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse” mean? For over forty years I have sensed that something was wrong with the usual interpretation of this verse, but could not “put my finger on it.” Although, at first glance, the superficial preacher, student, or lay person thinks that this verse is self-explanatory, it is actually very far from such. One must understand the inspired biblical context of both Malachi and Nehemiah in order to understand Malachi 3:10.
Actually, beyond this single verse, God NEVER commanded anybody to bring ALL the tithes into THE storehouse in Jerusalem. This needs to be said again, “Beyond this single verse, God NEVER commanded anybody to bring ALL the tithes into THE storehouse in Jerusalem.” In fact, just the opposite is true! Carefully consider the following instruction from God’s Word.
There were actually three different tithes required in the Old Covenant, and only a small part of the first was commanded to be brought into the storehouse. Therefore, something is seriously wrong with the tithe-teachers’ explanation of Malachi 3:10.
The FIRST TITHE, for the Levitical servants of the priests, was NOT to be brought to the temple storehouse. “And, behold, I have given the children of Levi ALL THE TENTH in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation” (Num. 18:21). “And [Levites] were in the cities of the priests, in their set office, to give [tithes] to their brethren by courses, as well to the old as to the young” (2 Chron. 31:15). “Also of the sons of Aaron the priests, which were in the fields of the suburbs of their cities, in every several city, the men that were expressed by name, to give portions [of the tithes] to all the males among the priests, and to all that were reckoned by genealogies among the Levites” (2 Chron 31:19). “And the TITHES of our ground [bring] to the Levites, that the same Levites might have the TITHES IN ALL THE CITIES OF OUR TILLAGE [NKJV: farming communities; NAS & RSV: rural towns]” (Neh. 10:37b).
God commanded Israel to bring ALL of the first tithe to the Levites (not the priests) where they lived in their Levitical cities—and Jerusalem was not a Levitical city (see Joshua 21:9-19). The Levites did NOT permanently live near the Temple in Jerusalem. All four of the preceding texts make it absolutely clear that the Levites received the WHOLE tithe, ALL of the tithe, in their cities—and not the priests in the Temple. After the Levites received the tithes, both priests and Levites consumed most of them outside of Jerusalem.
What did these tithe-receiving Levites DO most of the time? While in the Temple, the Levites were priests’ assistants, guards, singers, and builders and craftsmen of all kinds. Those outside of the Temple were herdsmen (Num. 35:2), teachers, politicians and judges, and evidently sharpened their skills as craftsmen and overseers of craftsmen. In First Chronicles 23:2-4 we find that, out of 38,000 total, 24,000 were builders and craftsmen, and 6,000 were civil judges and supervisors. These, yes, these received the WHOLE tithe! None ministered as priests! Shocking indeed!
Also, the facts about the Levitical cities and the 1 of 24 week work schedule (24 courses) in the temple meant that 95% of the tithe stayed where 95% of the priests and Levites stayed. Therefore, Numbers 18:21; Second Chronicles 31:15-19; and Nehemiah 10:37-38 clearly point out that Malachi 3:10 cannot possibly refer to ALL of the tithe including that which belonged to the Levites.
The SECOND TITHE, the festival tithe, was NOT brought for storage at the temple storehouse. Deuteronomy 12:17-18 “You may not eat within your gates the TITHE…but you must EAT them before the LORD your God IN THE PLACE which the LORD your God chooses, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice….” NKJV.
You can read about this tithe in Deuteronomy 12, verses 6-19 and in Deuteronomy 14, especially verse 23. This festival tithe was brought to “the place,” that is, “Jerusalem,” to one of three national religious celebrations to be shared by ALL. Since the tithe was always food, it was consumed by all in the streets as Israel celebrated. Therefore, neither was the second tithe brought into the storerooms of the Temple.
The THIRD TITHE, the poor tithe, was NOT brought to the temple in Jerusalem either. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 “At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the TITHE of your increase the same year, and shall lay it up WITHIN YOUR GATES: And the Levite, (because he has no part nor inheritance with you,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand.” You can also read about this tithe in Deuteronomy 26:12-13. This tithe was paid every third year and God specifically commanded that it should be kept “within the gates” of the tithe-payer for use by the Levites and all other needy. Therefore the third tithe was not even brought to Jerusalem, much less to the storehouse.
Confused? How many times have you heard tithe-preachers point out these three tithes while preaching on Malachi 3:10? Malachi 3:10 is not so self-evident now, is it? Clearly “ALL” of the tithe was NEVER brought into the “STOREHOUSE.” Therefore, since this was never true, then how can the church use it as its primary example of “storehouse tithing”????
Now let us make some sense out of this mess. The real meaning of Malachi 3:10 is revealed by what God really commanded to be brought to the storehouse in Jerusalem. Concerning food tithes, we shall discover that the storehouse in Jerusalem was only to be the storage place for constantly replaced food used to feed the priests and Levites who rotated in and out of the temple every week for one week ministries.
If you really want to know exactly what Malachi 3:10 means when it says “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse,” then carefully read and study the following three sets of texts, Numbers 18:9-32; Nehemiah 10:35-38; 12:44, 47; and Second Chronicles 31:15-19.
First, Nehemiah 10:35 (expanding Numbers 18:12-13) commands the “people” to bring the “firstfruits” of harvest “to the HOUSE of the LORD yearly.”
Second, Nehemiah 10:36 (expanding Numbers 18:15-18) commands the “people” to bring the “firstborn” of all clean animals to “the HOUSE of our God” “to the priests.”
Third, Nehemiah 10:37a commands the “people” to bring the “first” and best of dough, fruit trees, new wine and oil to “the chambers of the HOUSE of our God” “to the priests.”
Fourth, NOTICE THE CHANGE! Nehemiah 10:37b (expanding Numbers 18:21-24) clearly commands the “people” to bring the tithes, NOT TO THE STOREHOUSE, but “to the Levites” in their Levitical cities, the pasture lands, the farming communities, or rural towns, where the Levites (and priests) lived while not taking their turns “waiting” as singers or gatekeepers in the temple. “And the tithes of our ground [bring] to the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage.” This fact reveals a fatal flaw in the usual interpretation of Malachi 3:10! Since most of the priests and Levites did not stay at the Temple, the “people” normally did NOT bring tithes to the Temple.
Fifth, Nehemiah 10:38 (expanding Numbers 18:26) commands the “Levites (along with priests)” to bring “the tenth of the tithes,” that is, the “tithe of the tithes” from the Levitical cities) “to the HOUSE of our God, to the chambers of the STOREHOUSE,” or treasure house. “And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the TITHE OF THE TITHES to the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house.” Notice that the “people” were NOT normally commanded to “bring” any part of the tithe directly to the Temple because the Levites and priests were responsible for doing that!
10:35 Firstfruits of land To Temple storehouse For priests
10:36 Firstborn of herds To Temple storehouse For priests
10:37a First of bread, wine, & oil To Temple storehouse For priests
10:38 1/10th of whole tithe To Temple storehouse For priests
10:37b WHOLE TITHE TO LEVITICAL CITES FOR LEVITES
Actually, not even all of the priests’ portion was brought to the Temple. Nehemiah 10:38 does not say “when.” Since the priests and Levites only served in the Temple one week out of twenty four (1 of 24), the portions of the tithe going to the storehouse were very small indeed.
Nehemiah 12:44 and 47 add the missing details of “when” those priests and Levites working their one week at the Temple were provided food. “And at that time were some [Levites] appointed over the chambers for the storerooms, for the offerings, for the firstfruits, and for the tithes, to gather into them out of the fields of the cities the portions of the law for the priests and Levites: for Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites that waited.” Since both priests and Levites only ministered one week out of twenty four (1 of 24) in the Temple, those who were not employed as political officials and judges lived the other 23 weeks (46+ per year) scattered around the country in their non-inherited lands as farmers, herdsmen, or working at their many crafts needed for temple maintenance.
Nehemiah 12:44 explains that it was necessary to bring food (from the tithes) to those priests and Levites who were taking their turn ministering. They were to bring “only the portions of the law” into the temple storeroom. When Nehemiah 12:47 says, “all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah, gave the portions of the singers and the porters, every day his portion,” it is again referring only to the daily “portion” which was brought up from the Levitical cites into the storehouse to provide for those ministering (see also 2 Chron. 31:16). This “portion” was from the whole tithe of the Levites and from the tenth of the tithe of the priests. However (and this is important), the balance of the tithes were kept in the Levitical cities where the majority of the priests and Levites lived! Again, it makes no sense to place the FOOD in one place while the PEOPLE lived in another place (see Second Chronicles 31:15-19).
How did the priests eat on one tenth of the tithe when the Levites ate on the entire tithe? The answer again is found in Numbers 18 and Nehemiah 10:35-38. At least once a year each family brought firstfruits and firstborn TO THE PRIESTS—but not to the Levites! Common sense would suggest that each brought his own tithe-food share with him from his home city.
“Well,” you ask, “if the WHOLE went to the Levites in their cities and did not go to the to the temple storehouse in Jerusalem, then what does Malachi 3:10 mean?
Since Malachi 3:6-7 has already reminded us that God does not change in regards to His covenant relationship with Israel, then we must conclude that God was not changing the ordinance of tithing found in Numbers 18:21-24 as long as the Old Covenant was in effect.
The only logical conclusion remaining is consistent with the evidence that God is still speaking only with the priests since 1:6 and, especially 2:1 “And now, O you priests, this commandment is for you.” The priests had assisted the Levites in collecting the tithes according to Nehemiah 10:38 and they had followed up to “bring up the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house,” not all at once, but only “daily,” or “as needed,” for those taking their turn ministering, or “waiting.”
What happened to the tithes after they had been “brought up” in Nehemiah 12:47? They had been removed from the Temple (stolen) by the High Priest (and other priests?) (Neh. 13:7-10) and had to be replaced (Neh. 13:11-12) so that the Levites could again assist the priests (Neh. 13:11). If Nehemiah 13 is the context of Malachi 3, then the priests had stolen the Levites’ portion of the tithe!
Whether Nehemiah 13 is the context or not, “bring the tithe into the storehouse” was commanded, not to the people, but to the Levites and priests in Nehemiah 10:38. Therefore, “bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse” is only addressed to the Levites and priests (or dishonest priests) and only refers to daily portions for those serving in the temple. The vast majority of the tithes MUST remain in the priestly and Levitical cities where the vast majority of priests and Levites stayed.
Christian tithe-teachers cannot accept this conclusion. Accepting this fact would be an admission that, except for that one course actively ministering, 90% of the Levites’ portion, ALL of the festival tithe, and ALL of the poor tithe was to stay outside of THE storehouse. Even worse for them to admit, the bulk of these tithes stayed in the Levitical cities where most of the Levites and priests permanently lived with their families.
Even if New Covenant tithing were correct (and it is not), the real meaning of Malachi 3:10 forbids its use to command ordinary church members to bring ALL of their tithe into the so-called “storehouse” of the church. Therefore, SINCE Malachi 3:10 does not mean that Israel should bring the WHOLE tithe into the storehouse, THEN preachers should not quote it to mean that Christians should also bring the WHOLE tithe into the church.
THE CHURCH IS NOT THE STOREHOUSE
Christian tithe-teachers say a lot about the “storehouse” of the church. In order to justify this they juggle the Greek verb thesaurizo, translated “storing up,” from First Corinthians 16:2 in order to manipulate the Greek text. The phrase is literally “by himself, to place, storing up.” The text does not call the church a “storehouse”; it merely tells the contributor what to do with the gift. Many commentators even say it means “store up at home” with no relevance to a church building (which, by the way, did not exist when Paul wrote First Corinthians) or pastoral support.
You will not find Christian tithe-teachers using Second Corinthians 12:14 for their example of the church “storehouse.” Yet Paul used the same Greek verb, thesaurizo, while saying “the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.” At least, as far as Paul was concerned, he told the Corinthians that he, the gospel worker, should be working in order to provide for the needs of the poor in the church. He repeated this thought in Acts 20:35.
The Christian concept of the church as the storehouse is woefully unscriptural. In Malachi’s context, the storehouse was primarily the responsibility of the political authority, the governor, to ensure that it was maintained. Kings controlled the temple wealth. Scripture records seven times that kings gave away wealth from God’s temple storehouse and from their own royal storehouse (1 Kings 14:25-26; 15:18; 2 Kings 12:18; 14:14; 16:8; 18:14-15; 20:13-19; 24:13). Do you want your government to be able to do this?
For the following reasons, proper explanation of the context of Malachi does not convert its storehouse into the “storehouse of the church”:
One: From the discussion above, THE storehouse in Jerusalem did not permanently contain the whole tithe. Since most priests and Levites required the tithe in the Levitical cities where they and their extended families lived, most of it was kept there. The food went to where the people lived. According to Second Chronicles 31:15-19 and Nehemiah 12:44 and 47, only enough daily portions (or weekly for each course) were brought up from the Levitical cities to feed those currently ministering in their rotation. This was only a very small portion of the WHOLE tenth of the Levites and of the “tenth of the tenth” of the priests (Neh. 10:37-38).
Two: While Old Testament storehouses were considered the property of the religious state, most New Covenant churches are not.
Three: While Old Testament storehouses received political aid to collect its tithes, most New Covenant churches do not.
Four: While Old Testament storehouses held tithes of food, New Covenant churches collect money which was never included in the biblical definition of tithe.
Five: While the Old Testament festival and poor tithes provided food for the needy, most New Covenant churches which collect all of their so-called “tithes” keep most of them for themselves and do not become heavily involved in welfare work.
Six: While the Old Testament storehouse provided sustenance for its national priesthood, the New Covenant teaches a priesthood of all believers.
Seven: While the Old Testament storehouses promoted priestly sacrifices according to the Law, New Covenant church leaders are new offices under new principles.
Eight: While most of the Old Testament storehouse was for the priests’ portion of firstfruits, firstborn, temple taxes, and vow offerings, this pattern is not followed by New Covenant churches.
Nine: While Old Covenant tithing was a separate fund from free-will offerings for buildings and maintenance, many New Covenant churches place all needs into a total program and correctly eliminate the Old Covenant tithing principle.
Ten: Since orthodox Jews do not handle money or collect offerings on their Sabbath, it is doubtful that early Jewish Christians would have changed this tradition by handling money at a church. Yet Christians gather most of their money on their holy day.
Eleven: While the Old Testament Temple, like the pagans, became an illegitimate banking storehouse (treasury), the New Covenant church is not to be used as a commercial bank storehouse, or treasury.
Mal. 3:10b “That there may be food in my house.”
Again, according to God’s Word, tithes in Israel were food, and only food! “Bring tithes…that there may be food” means exactly what it says! Although money existed, God’s Word NEVER included money in its primary description of items to be tithed! Yet it is the only accurate biblical definition of “tithe.”
Mal. 3:10c “…and prove me now…”
“Test me” (NAS, NIV, RSV). The tithe-teacher boldly says, “This is the only place in God’s Word where he commands us to test him”—as if this test to Israel under the terms of the Old Covenant somehow proves that tithing is a New Covenant doctrine! If this were so important, then why did the Holy Spirit not inspire any New Covenant writer to clearly repeat it? God does not need to “test,” or “prove,” New Covenant believers with their obedience to any part of the old Law from which He has released them. Believers are dead to the law (Rom. 7:4). When Paul needed food for the needy in Jerusalem, he said, “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others” (2 Cor. 8:8 NIV). That is the New Covenant approach to giving. This “test,” (opposite the curse of verse 8) is no different from God again telling Israel to observe ALL of the Law in order to be blessed. The “test” was to obey the Old Covenant in order to be blessed!
God also tested the righteous character of his children in the Old Testament by the way in which they treated the poor! If the New Covenant church responds positively by testing God—I ask you—is its in-gathered bounty used in the SAME manner God decreed for its use in the Old Covenant?—or does it keep most of the money for its own salaries?—or does the typical church tell the congregation to “test God” by tithing and THEN “reproach God” by not having mercy on the poor (Prov. 14:31)? Is the church’s profession of “really knowing God” shown by “judging the cause of the poor” (Jer. 22:16)? Are too many churches, exactly like Sodom, full of abundance, but not helping the poor (Ezek. 16:49)? After testing God and receiving abundance of bounty, Israel was expected to take care of its poor from Malachi 3:5. How does your church match up to this “test” (Zech. 7:9-10)?
Christians are not “tested” by obedience to the Mosaic Law. The opposite is true. In Acts 15:10 Peter called trying to place Gentiles under the law “tempting God.” The letters called this action “subverting the gospel” in Acts 15:24.
Mal. 3:10d “I will open the windows of heaven….”
Mal. 3:11 And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, says the LORD of hosts.
3:12 And all nations shall call you blessed: for you shall be a delightsome land, says the LORD of hosts.
“The LORD shall open to you his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain to your land in his season, and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend to many nations, and you shall not borrow (Deut. 28:12). Deuteronomy, chapter 28, contains the Old Covenant blessings and curses referred to in Malachi 3. These blessings for tithing are the same covenant blessings and curses which had just been renewed by Malachi’s audience in Nehemiah 10:29 and provide the context of Malachi. “Windows of heaven” refers to rain (Gen. 7:9; 2 Kings 7:2, 19). See also Leviticus 26:2, 3 and Deuteronomy 26:12.
In a land often stricken by famine and drought, the greatest blessings were from the “windows of heaven” in the form of rain. Israel was primarily a nation whose wealth and success depended upon its herds and farm produce. God promised that there would not be enough storage room to preserve the food from a bountiful harvest. The obedience of the priests would lead to blessings in all of the land.
One might ask, “If God is speaking only to the priests who could not permanently own or inherit land, then why is he promising them bountiful harvests if they bring their tenth of the tithe into the storehouse?”
In reply, if the land and the Israelites who worked the land were not blessed, then they could not give tithes to the Levites, and the Levites would have no tithes to bring to the priests. They all rejoiced or suffered together. Just as a president might address senators with references to “your states, your citizens, your industry, and your farms,” even so God includes the people of the priests in his blessings. Although this might be rather difficult to see in the exact wording of these texts, it is even more difficult to discover exactly where God STOPPED speaking directly to the priests after 2:1.
With reference to Numbers 35:2; Second Chronicles 31:15-19; and Nehemiah 10:37 and 13:10, it is also important to know that the Bible does not say that the Levites were not also farmers or herdsmen; it only says that the land they lived on, farmed, and raised herds upon always belonged to the tribe in which they lived and could not be inherited or passed on as an inheritance.
Mal. 3:13 Your words have been arrogant against me,” says the LORD. Yet you say, “What have we spoken so much against you?”
Mal. 3:14 You have said, “It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts?
Mal. 3:15 And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.”
Read 1:6-14 once more; 3:13 sounds like a restatement of 1:6-10—the priests had arrogantly despised His name by keeping the best sacrificial animals (from tithes or firstborn) for themselves and by offering to Him that which was stolen, lame, or sick. Verse 14 is similar to the vanity of 1:12 and the rebuke of 3:7. Verse 15 mimics 2:7-8. Again, because the priests had not fulfilled their duties, all Israel had followed their example.
Mal. 3:18 Then shall you return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serves God and him that serves him not.
“Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as you have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law” (Mal. 2:9). Although verses 16 and 17 are comparable to all of Judah in Ezra 9:4, verse 18 is clearly for the priests. The priests had clearly been guilty of partiality and “not fearing the LORD,” therefore 3:16 would be appropriate. They even exclaimed in 1:16 “What a weariness it is,” that is, worshiping God! It is the priests’ responsibility to “discern between the righteous and the wicked.” AFTER they have been purified in the temple according to 3:2-5. Thus “they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness” (3:3).
Mal. 4:1 For, behold, the day is coming that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
Mal. 4:4 Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded to him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.
Mal. 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
Mal. 4:6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
(4:1) This refers back to the punishment of wicked priests from 3:2, “who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appears? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap.”
(4:4) This text is one last reminder that everything in the book of Malachi is in the context of the Old Covenant Law which has been superseded.
(4:5) The thought is parallel to 3:1 when God will come to the temple to cleanse the priesthood. One fulfillment was that of John the Baptist, the messenger of God, and the son of a priest.
(4:6) The book of Malachi closes without any indication that God has ever stopped speaking directly to the priests from 2:1 “And now, O you priests, this commandment is for you.” In order to be honest with their interpretation of the Word of God, Christian preachers must stop deceiving their less informed church members and stop causing them to think that Malachi 3:8-10 means exactly the opposite of what was really taught.
If one really wants to make a correlation to today, then the preachers have unbiblically taken the place of the dishonest priests in Malachi. By their actions they are hiding the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers in order that they may collect tithes. They completely disregard the biblical definition of “tithes.” They ask that all of the tithe be brought into the church, ignoring Nehemiah 10:37b. They do not make the greatest percentage of the tithe available to the poor as the Bible teaches. And we wonder why the Old Testament ends with the word, “curse.”
Note: This author fully realizes that major changes were made during and after the 400 years which separate Malachi and Matthew. Although it is very likely that the Roman Empire was appointing high priests and that the priests were bypassing the Levites by taking the tithe, and redistributing it as they chose. These changes were not authorized by God; they did not change the way that God wanted the tithe handled from Moses to Nehemiah.
 Jonathan Kithcart, my good friend, is author of Did the Apostle Paul Teach Tithing to the Church?, an unanswered challenge to well-known evangelists to enter a dialog about tithing.
 Malachi, Through the Bible Commentary Series, J. Vernon McGee, Malachi 3:8-10, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991).