Commentary on Malachi 1 and 2: Cursing the Priests for Stealing

An Exhaustive Examination of "Tithe," "Tithes" and "Tithing"

Should the Church Teach Tithing?

A Theologian's Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine

Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

Section 13a –  Commentary on Malachi 1 and 2: Cursing the Priests for Stealing

The essential CONTEXT of Malachi 3:8-10.


If you have already read the previous two chapters on Second Chronicles 31 and Nehemiah, you will be far better prepared for the study of Malachi. This chapter will give evidence from God’s Word that the tithing texts from Malachi 3:8-10 have been interpreted and applied incorrectly by the majority of the Christian church. It will show that those who are guilty of robbing God in Malachi 3:8 are the ministering priests and not the people. Consequently, those cursed in Malachi 3:9 are the priests who are cursed for breaking the Old Covenant. When compared to Numbers 18:21-24 and Nehemiah 10:37b, the usual interpretation of “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse” has been turned into a terrible lie which, for the decency of God’s truth and for the good of Christ’s church, must stop immediately.

Although, the book of Malachi is only four (4) short chapters, many have never read it completely in one sitting. For the sake of clarity, I plead with you to carefully and prayerfully read all four chapters after reading this paragraph. While you are reading, ask yourself these questions, “To whom is God speaking in this section? When did He start speaking to this group of persons? Has He changed His address from one group of persons to another? If so, what evidence is there that He has changed from speaking to one group towards speaking to another group?”—Please stop and read Malachi now.—

This author believes that Malachi should be divided into only three ­ sections: The first section, 1:1 to 1:5 is the introduction. God wanted all Israel, all Jacob, to hear this message because everybody was involved either directly or indirectly with the causes and consequences of the message. The second section, 1:6 to 1:14, is God’s chief complaint against the arrogant and dishonest priests. This section is crucial to understanding the remainder of the book because it provides the basic grounds for all other problems in the book. The third section, 2:1 to 4:6, is God’s specific direct address to the priests. Although the rest of Israel is indirectly affected by the actions of the priests, God does not change His address after it begins in 2:1. This chapter will attempt to convincingly reveal the reasons for this approach. If true, then this interpretation is devastating to the usual logic presented in favor of tithing in most Christian churches. It is especially important to discover the real meaning of Malachi 3:8-10.

Mal. 1:1 The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi

The first part of Malachi is directly addressed to “Israel” (1:1), “Judah in Israel” (2:11), and “priests” of Israel (1:6; 2:1). From Exodus to Calvary, tithing was commanded to God’s special nation, Israel, and ONLY to Israel (Lev. 27:34; Num. 18:23-24; Deut. 12:5-6, 11; Heb. 7:5). Even tithes from proselytes (converted non-Israelites) were not allowed to enter into the Temple.



Mal. 1:6 A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O PRIESTS, that despise my name. And you say, Wherein have we despised your name?

Mal. 1:7 You offer polluted bread upon my altar. And you say, “How have we polluted you?”

By saying, “The table of the LORD is contemptible.”

Mal. 1:8 And if you offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And if you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it now to your governor. Will he be pleased with you, or accept your person?” says the LORD of hosts.

Mal. 1:9 But now entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to [ALL OF] us. While this is being done by your hands. Will He accept you favorably? says the LORD of hosts. NKJV

Mal. 1:10 “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD of hosts, “nor will I accept an offering from you.” NASU

Mal. 1:12 “But you are profaning it, in that you say, “The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.’

Mal. 1:13 “You also say, “My, how tiresome it is!’ And you disdainfully sniff at it,” says the LORD of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?” says the LORD.

Mal. 1:14 “But CURSED be the swindler who HAS a male in his [the priest’s] flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,” says the LORD of hosts, “and My name is feared among the nations.”


(1:6) According to 1:6 and 2:1, Malachi is most specifically addressed to dishonest ministers, that is, Old Covenant priests! These two verses, 1:6 and 2:1, are the KEYS to understanding the entire book of Malachi. These two verses actually REVERSE what most of us have been told all of our lives. As you study the remainder of Malachi, do not forget the context of these two verses. God is specifically rebuking His ministers, the priests, and not the people. The first “you” in Malachi 1:6 refers to the priests. They are guilty of dishonoring God and despising His name.


(1:7-8) God is rebuking the ministers for giving Him what nobody else wants. By doing so, the ministers are guilty of despising the “table of the LORD.” Notice that God does not say that they did not “have” the ­ adequate offering to present to Him. There is no reason to conclude that the ministers were forced to give defiled food because they did not have anything else to give.


(1:9) God only criticized the PRIESTS (and not the people) for bringing unacceptable OFFERINGS. He said that their governor would not even accept these offerings of the lame and sick for his table. This is because the governor knew that these ministers had plenty of good healthy animals for sacrifice from the firstborn offerings and from their share of the tithed animals. Why is this true? Because Nehemiah had ordered the people to bring these offerings and so much abundance had been received that storehouses were necessary (see Neh. 10:35-38; 12:44, 47; 13:4, 5, 12, 13).


(1:10) God is extremely angry at the priests in Malachi. He told them that He would like for them to stop all hypocritical worship. He was not pleased with the priests and would not accept any meaningless offerings from them.


(1:12) The priests are guilty of profaning God’s nameTheir disgusting sacrifices revealed their utter sinful contempt for God.


(1:13) This is a very interesting text. The KJV says “that which was torn”; the NIV “injured”; the NAS, NKJV and TLB prefer “by robbery” or “stolen”; and the RSV says “taken by violence.” If stolen, then this means that the priests had somehow taken “more” than their legal share. Since the firstfruits, firstborn, and offerings went directly to them, the priests could not have stolen these items (Neh. 10:35-37b). However, the priests had taken the Levites’ portion of the tithe from the storehouse (Neh. 13:10-11).


(1:14) Those who only read the curse of Malachi 3:9 do not realize that the word, curse, had previously been used by Malachi four (4) times in cursing the priests! This first curse of Malachi 1:14 is very evidently placed on the priests, the ministers, of the Old Testament. The priest already “HAS” acceptable sacrificial animals received from tithes and offerings. God did not excuse them because the people had not properly paid tithes! Although priests were not required to tithe, they were expected to VOW freewill offerings from the tithes and offerings they received. Their sin was in vowing to give God the best and then giving Him the worst!


Mal. 2:1 “And now this commandment is for YOU, O PRIESTS.

Mal. 2:2 “If you do not listen, and if you do not take it to heart to give honor to My name,” says the LORD of hosts, “then I will send the CURSE upon you and I will CURSE your blessings; and indeed, I have CURSED them already, because you are not taking it to heart.

Mal. 2:3 Behold, I will corrupt your [priestly] seed, and spread DUNG upon your faces, even the DUNG of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it.


(2:1) Because of its vital relationship to the remainder of Malachi, this verse becomes the greatest key to its meaning! For the second time, God distinctly makes it clear that He is specifically addressing the priests! Since there is no corresponding text anywhere else in the book of Malachi that God has changed his primary audience, then the conclusion must be that God did not change his audience for the remainder of the book. Chapter two continues God’s condemnation of the PRIESTS. After describing some of their sins from 1:6 to 1:14, he now describes their punishment.


(2:2) How many preachers ignore this text when they preach on the curse of 3:9? Could it be because these second, third, and fourth occurrences of CURSE in Malachi (like the first) are again directed towards the ministers themselves? Nothing can be clearer from this text.


(2:3) “God will spread dung, refuse, offal, manure—in your priestly faces!” This verse shows the extent of God’s anger with the priests. He definitely does not feel sorrow for the them because they do not have tithes and firstborn offerings to sacrifice.


Mal. 2:4 And you shall know that I have sent this commandment to YOU, that my COVENANT might be WITH LEVI, says the LORD of hosts.

Mal. 2:5 My COVENANT was with him of life and peace, and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name.

Mal. 2:6 The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips. HE [the Levitical priest] walked with me in peace and equity, and turned many away from iniquity.

Mal. 2:7 For the PRIEST’S lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for HE [the priest] is the MESSENGER of the LORD of hosts.

Mal. 2:8 But you [priests] are departed out of the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law; you have corrupted the [priestly] COVENANT of Levi, says the LORD of hosts.

Mal. 2:9 Therefore I have 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. 2:10 Have WE not all one father? Has not one God created US? Why do WE deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the COVENANT of our fathers?


(2:4-7) We should not forget these verses when we read chapter 3, verse 7, which is the immediate context for the tithing texts of 3:8-10! Even though it is true that God’s entire covenant with all Israel INCLUDED His specific covenant with the priests of the tribe of Levi, THE ONLY SPECIFIC COVENANT mentioned in the book of Malachi is God’s covenant with the PRIESTS! These verses about God’s covenant with Levi remind us that, when the nation Israel sinned God held the priests primarily responsible for not living righteous lives before them and for not teaching His word correctly as they had done when the nation was young.


(2:8) The PRIEST was to be God’s MESSENGER to His people. The name, MALACHI, in Hebrew, means MY MESSENGER. The word (Strong’s 4397) occurs over 200 times in the Old Testament and is most often translated “angel.”


(2:9) The PRIESTS deserve and draw God’s contempt in this verse. They have decided among themselves which parts of the Law they will observe and teach. (Does this partiality sound familiar?)


(2:10) Notice the pronoun change from “you” to “we” and “us.” The LORD has temporarily stopped speaking in verse 9 and now Malachi is speaking. Since Malachi’s name means, my messenger, then he is most likely a priest himself. This means that “we” indicates “we priests.”

However, if Malachi (as a prophet) is speaking for all of Israel, then “we” means the entire nation. This text could arguably belong either to 2:1-9 or to 2:11-12. However, since thus far the word, covenant, has been used in 2:5 and 2:8 to narrowly refer to God’s covenant specifically with the priests, then there is no internal reason to believe that Malachi has abruptly switched to the general covenant with all of Israel.


In 2:10 Malachi’s message to the priests is, “Since we (the priests and the rest of Judah) all have one Father and one Creator, therefore, when we (priests) sin by violating our special covenant with Levi, we deal treacherously with everybody in the nation because our covenant is part of their covenant.” This brings us to the sins of Judah.


Mal. 2:11 Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the holiness of the LORD which he [Judah] loved, and has married the daughter of a strange god.

2:12 The LORD will cut off the man that does this, the master and the scholar, out of the tents of Jacob, and him that offers an offering to the LORD of hosts.


(2:11) At either 2:10 or 2:11 most commentaries say that God has switched from speaking only to the priests towards speaking to all of Judah. The reasons given for the change include the mention of Judah and God’s condemnation of divorce which all of Judah had committed. See Ezra 9-10 and Nehemiah 13.

Since neither these conclusions, nor mine, are infallible, I chose to disagree and present my reasons. First, verses 11 and 12 are “third person,” that is, God is still speaking TO the priests, but He is speaking ABOUT Judah and all Israel. The sins which the priests have committed have also been committed by the rest of the nation. God holds the priests, the spiritual leaders, responsible for the spiritual welfare of the whole nation. This was made clear in verses 4-9. In Ezra 10 the priests are cleansed before the remainder of the nation is cleansed. Second, while it is quite evident that God switched His audience from the nation to the priests in 1:6 and 2:1, there is no corresponding pronoun “you” statement such as, “And now, O Judah, this is for you” to indicate that His audience has switched back.


(2:12) Unless the priests and the rest of Judah put away their pagan wives and return to their Israelite wives, they were to be “cut off,” refused access to the temple worship ritual, and counted as non-Israelites.


Mal. 2:13 And this is the second thing you do, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he does not regard the offering any more, nor receives it with good will at your hand.

Mal. 2:14 Yet you say, Why? Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously. Yet is she your companion, and the wife of your COVENANT.

Mal. 2:15 And did not he make [husband and wife] one? [Was the spirit in this union?]. And why one?—That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. [Note: There are translation difficulties here]

Mal. 2:16 For the LORD, the God of Israel, says that he hates putting away [in divorce]: for one covers violence with his garment, says the LORD of hosts. Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you deal not treacherously.


(2:13) The second person, “you,” resumes with God speaking directly to the priests. First, from verses 10-12, the priests were guilty of dealing treacherously by being prominent in divorcing their wives and not rebuking the sin. Now “again,” “second,” in 2:13 God is rebuking the priests’ hypocrisy of continuing to offer sacrifices while living in open rebellion.


This text has a strong relevance to the priests because they were the ones who literally wept over the altar. The people of Judah and Israel had no direct access to the altar and could not literally “cover the altar of the LORD with tears.” According to Nehemiah, God was much more ­ displeased with the priests than the rest of the people for their intermarriages with pagans (Neh. 13:23-30).


(2:14-16) God defends the Israelite wives.