§ 2. God indeed is faithful to his promises, but the people's own conduct has occasioned the withholding of favours: they have been shamefully negligent in the matter of tithes and offerings; let them amend their practice, and they shall be blessed.
Will a man rob God? The prophet shows the people how they have departed from God, in not keeping even the outward observances of religion. The word translated "rob," defraud, found also in Proverbs 22:23 , etc; is rendered in the Septuagint, πτερνιεῖ , "trip up," "supplant;" Vulgate, si affliget homo Deum, or, as St. Jerome first translated, " si affiget homo Deum ," and referred the words to the crucifixion of our Lord. In tithes and offerings. These were due to the Lord, and therefore in withholding them they were defrauding not man but God. (For tithe, see Le 27:30, etc.; Numbers 18:21 . See the complaint of Nehemiah, Nehemiah 13:10-12 .) The "offering" meant is the heave offering, the breast and shoulder of the peace offering, which were the priests' portion ( Exodus 29:27 ; Le Exodus 7:14 , 32-34; comp. Nehemiah 10:37-39 ).
The sin of robbing God.
The special form of sin which is hare denounced (robbing God of tithes and offerings) is only one manifestation of a sin which is older than the law of tithes, and which survives in all nations to the present day. Observe—
I. THE NATURE OF THIS SIN . It is an ancient and an inveterate sin. The secret of it is alienation of heart from God ( Malachi 3:7 ). It is due to God, our Creator, Benefactor, Redeemer, that we make his will the law of our life, and therefore that we present ourselves a living sacrifice, according to the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. If we fail to do so, it must be either because we do not acknowledge the claims which God makes on us, or, acknowledging them, we yet deliberately withhold them. In the first case, we give the lie to God; in the second, we rob God. (Terrible alternative for every neglecter of God and Christ.) If it is robbery to withhold our hearts, ourselves, from God, it must be also to withhold anything from him. For what is there of which we can say, "This is not God's property; it is no part of his estate; we can do what we like with this"? It required no law of tithes to assert God's proprietorship and our stewardship. Cain robbed God when he withheld the offering which God would have accepted, or the spirit of dependence and faith without which even the right offering could not have been received. The withholding of a right spirit from God paves the way for other acts of robbery. The principle of tithes precedes and survives the law of tithes ( Proverbs 3:9 , Proverbs 3:10 ; Proverbs 11:24 , Proverbs 11:25 ; 2 Corinthians 8:12 ; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 , etc.). The precept, "Render unto God the things that are God's," applies to things as spiritual as souls and as material as silver. If we are not proprietors but stewards, our one duty in regard to every talent we are entrusted with should be, "How will the Divine Proprietor wish me to use it?" If through selfishness or criminal carelessness we use it in a way which does not bring to God the honour that be has a right to expect, we are guilty of robbing God. "Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his Name."
II. IT IS A SIN WINCH MEN ARE HARD TO BE CONVICTED OF .
1 . In Malachi 3:7 we find a reproof and an appeal which should awaken great searchings of heart: "Lord, is it I?" ( Lamentations 3:40 , Lamentations 3:41 ). But we may be so self-righteous or ignorant as to evade such general appeals as quite irrelevant. So the net must be drawn tighter; the indictment must be made more definite.
2 . So the charge of robbing God is suggested. "Will a man rob God?" The very aversion we feel at the thought of being robbed (for we would rather give away or throw away our property than be cheated of it) should prompt the inquiry, "Is it possible that I may be robbing God?" e.g. of the reverence and godly fear due to the Almighty, as though we could disregard him and dare him to do his worst. Or of the gratitude and dependence he deserves as our Father, our Redeemer, as though we could to a considerable extent dispense with him during life, and then "make it up" at the last. Whose conscience could not convince him that in these or other ways he had been often guilty of robbing God? Yet so hard are men to be convinced of the sin, that to God's question and his direct charge there comes the glib reply, "Wherein have we robbed thee?"
3 . Thus God is compelled to lay his finger on one most glaring act of robbery: "In tithes and offerings." Some of the offerings were less rigidly regulated by law than tithes, as is the case with the offerings of Christians for the kingdom of Christ and the claims of benevolence. But we may be guilty of robbing God "in offerings."
III. IT IS A SIN WHICH SHUTS THE WINDOWS OF HEAVEN . The excuse which is generally urged for that parsimonious giving which is a robbery of God is, "I can't afford it." This may arise from a criminal ignorance of the claims of God and our relations to him, or from a feeble faith on the part of those who yet acknowledge themselves to be his stewards. The guilt of the former has been exposed; the fear of the latter is here met by God's own challenge, "Prove me now herewith;" "Have faith in God;" "Honour the Lord with thy substance;" "Seek first the kingdom of God;" and then see if God is not faithful to all his promises in regard to both temporal and spiritual blessings. Men may complain of hard times, and may want prosperity to precede liberality. "No," says God to these suffering Jews and to scanty Christian givers who may be in adversity, "honour me first by obedience and cheerful trust, and see if prosperous times will not come then." Illust.: widow ( 1 Kings 17:13 ); poor Macedonians ( 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 ). Bad times may be the result of past unfaithfulness on the part of God's servants. You may be reaping sparingly because you have sown sparingly. Try the opposite plan. Now the windows of heaven are closed against ourselves by our own sins. God will open those windows as soon as we honour, obey, and trust. He can surpass our hopes and thoughts ( Ephesians 3:20 ). His spiritual blessings will only be limited by our capacity for receiving them. Illust.: 2 Kings 4:6 ; 2 Kings 13:18 , 2 Kings 13:19 . And with these best of blessings all temporal blessings that will be good for us will be added ( 2 Kings 13:11 ; Matthew 6:33 ), and showers of blessing on our hearts and homes will descend through the windows of heaven once closed on God's dishonest servants, now opened to his faithful stewards.
The people of Malachi's days met his reproof in a quibbling and self-justifying spirit. Men who are self-satisfied can resist all appeal. Religious formalities have this as their supreme peril—they satisfy men, and prevent them from feeling moral and spiritual anxieties, and from responding to moral and spiritual demands. These men could not see that there was any sense in which they were depriving God of his rights. The prophet puts his finger on one thing. That suffices to prove his accusation. They were withholding and limiting the tithes and offerings due to God's house. How could citizens be loyal who neglected to pay in those taxes of the king which were the very sign of loyalty? "One might reasonably think such a presumption could not enter into any man's thoughts, as to rob God of those things which are dedicated to his service; when he considers that he hath received all things from him, and therefore ought in gratitude to set apart some share of his substance for the maintaining of his worship and the public exercises of religion" (Louth). Consider—
I. WHAT GOD 'S CLAIMS ON MEN ARE .
1 . His natural claims, as the Author, Designer, Creator, practical Arranger of man's body, life, relations, and associations. See the rights of a man in the house he builds, the garden he lays out, the machine he makes, the child he rears. Of everything that a man does he expects some appropriate form of return.
2 . His revelational claims. Israel was under special obligation because it had received special revelation.
3 . His experimental claims. He had gained rights, and reasonably formed expectations, out of his pitiful and gracious dealings through long years.
II. ON WHAT BASIS DO GOD 'S CLAIMS REST . Not merely the supreme rights of Deity; but here especially man's own acceptance of his claims. Claims are sterner things when they are both made and accepted.
III. HOW GOD 'S CLAIMS MAY BE NEGLECTED OR REFUSED .
1 . By the delusion that those claims have been relaxed.
2 . By the hope that something can be put in place of obedience to them.
3 . By sheer listlessness.
4 . By persistent wiifulness.
5 . But it is more subtle and searching to say—God's claims are now chiefly missed through man's over occupation.
The world and self fill men up.
IV. HOW IS SUCH NEGLECT OF GOD 'S CLAIMS TO BE DEALT WITH ?
1 . Call it by its right name—robbing God.
2 . Bring discipline to bear upon the neglecters, etc.—R.T.
A Divine complaint and a Divine invitation.
"Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances," etc. In these words we have two things—a Divine complaint and a Divine invitation; and both are addressed to sinners. Notice—
I. A DIVINE COMPLAINT AGAINST SINNERS . The complaint involves three charges.
1 . The charge of apostasy. "Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances." Your fathers who brought on themselves the Babylonian captivity departed from my ordinances, and you are doing what they did. All sin is an apostasy, a departure from God's "ordinances" both moral and positive. "My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the Fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" ( Jeremiah 2:13 ). Like the prodigal son, we have all gone away from our Father into the "far country" of practical atheism and sin.
2 . The charge of dishonesty. "Will a man rob God? Yet he have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings." Their dishonesty consisted in withholding from him his claims. Thus they robbed or defrauded him. "Ye have robbed me." "Ye have done so to me in respect to the tithes due to me; viz. the tenth of all the remainder after the firstfruits were paid, which tenth was paid to the Levites for their support (Le 27:30-33), a tenth paid by the Levites to the priests ( Numbers 18:26-28 ), a second tenth paid by the people for the entertainment of the Levites and their own families at the tabernacle ( Deuteronomy 12:18 ); another tithe every third year for the poor, etc. ( Deuteronomy 14:28 , Deuteronomy 14:29 ). ' Offerings. ' Not less than one-sixth part of corn, wine, and oil ( Deuteronomy 18:4 ). The priests had this perquisite; also the tenth of the tithes which were the Levites' perquisite. But they appropriated all the tithes, robbing the Levites of their due nine-tenths; as they did also, according to Josephus, before the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. Thus doubtless was God defrauded—the priests not discharging aright their sacrificial duties, and robbing God of the services of the Levites who were driven away by destitution" (Fausset). Thus men rob God now; they keep back what belongs to him. They cannot take anything from him, and thus make him poorer, as in the case of man robbing man, but they can rob him by appropriating to their own use that which he demands, by acting like Ananias and Sapphira.
3 . The charge of insensibility. "Ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee?" They had lost all sense of their obligation in relation to these tithes, and become utterly indifferent to the Divine claims. "Wherein have we robbed thee?" As if they did not know their fraud on God. Thus men go on keeping from God what is his due without any sense of wrong. Sinful habits blind and deaden a man's conscience to his momentous duties.
II. A DIVINE INVITATION TO SINNERS . Here is an invitation to return:
1 . To Divine friendship. "Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts." Return to me by rendering to me my dues, and working lovingly and loyally in my service. "Return to me"—this has been God's voice to sinners in all ages; this was the invitation of Christ: "Come unto me," etc. The return is in a sense mutual. God says, "I will return unto you." This does not, of course, mean that God compromises, changes; but it expresses his readiness to receive them, as the father of the prodigal was ready to receive his lost son. He waits to be gracious.
2 . To honest service. "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house; Nehemiah calls the "storehouse" ( Nehemiah 13:5 ) a great chamber where they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels. To put this to its proper use is what Jehovah would have them to do, and he promises, if they accede:
CONCLUSION . Learn:
1 . That a man is a bad man who withholds from God his due . What are God's dues? All we have and are. "All souls are his." And if we render not up to him our souls—our all—we are bad.
2 . A bad man becomes good by surrendering his all to God. By bringing his all into the storehouse of God, devoting all to the Divine service.
3 . The more good a man has in himself, the more good he has from the universe. If his whole soul is filled with supreme love and reverence for right and God, all the heavens outside of him will "open their windows" and rain blessings on him. Religious liberality is of all profitable investments the most profitable. And the converse. The niggard is "cursed with a curse." The man who robs and defrauds God robs and defrauds himself. As the fabled eagle who robbed the altar set fire to her nest with the burning coals that adhered to the stolen flesh she bore away, so the soul that defrauds God of his claims will set itself in flames.—D.T.