Rev. Hanko is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington. Previous article in this series: February 1, 2007, p. 201.
The Fifth Disputation, Chapter 3:7-12 (continued)
10. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
It is evident from verse 10 that Israel’s sin was primarily the sin of not giving the tithes at all, or giving only part of what God required. These sins are found in the church today as well. How often is it not the case that God receives only what is left over after we have gotten what we wanted, and what is left over is usually just a pittance. Nevertheless, there are other ways in which this sin is committed. When we give grudgingly, even if we give liberally, then we rob God, for our grudging covetousness is a failure to recognize that everything we have is His. Viewing it as our own we rob Him to whom it all belongs.
The same is true of those who give only to get. Those leaders who promote giving only to enrich themselves, and those who believe the lie that giving is primarily a way of getting even more in return from God (they speak of casting their bread upon the waters, Eccl. 11:1), are also robbing God. They give not out of gratitude to God for His great mercy, but only to fill their own pockets at His expense.
That God promises to be liberal to those who give liberally does not contradict what we have said. Indeed, His liberality precedes our giving and is the reason for it. We do not, cannot, give anything to Him unless He has first given us all things in Christ; and then we give not to get more from Him, for what more can He give, but to acknowledge His great goodness and to show our gratitude.
Yet, in the way of showing our gratitude to Him in giving we experience and enjoy His goodness to us. The person who gives sparingly or grudgingly shows that he has experienced nothing of God’s great goodness. The person who gives from the heart and in gratitude shows that he is already enjoying God’s goodness, that he knows it and appreciates it. He has seen the windows of heaven opened and blessings poured out greater than he would ever ask or think.
Nor may we conclude from this verse that material prosperity is promised to all those who give liberally. Even if it were promised, it could not be the motive for giving, but it is not promised. In the Old Testament it was true in a limited way, especially for the nation as a whole, that faithfulness in these matters brought material prosperity, but even then it was not necessarily true on an individual basis. What is more, material prosperity, though it can picture the blessing of God, does not in itself constitute that blessing. If it did, the poor would have to conclude that they have forfeited the blessing of God, and the rich would be able to think that they had His favor. Indeed, we would all conclude that the ungodly have more of His favor than His people, for the experience of God’s people is often that of Asaph in Psalm 73: “Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish…. All the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning” (vv. 7, 14).
The blessings promised, therefore, are, in principle, spiritual and heavenly. They are the blessings of salvation—what the New Testament refers to as the riches of God’s grace and the blessings that are in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3, 7).
That God speaks of “proving” Him is not in the bad sense of tempting Him by doubting Him and His goodness (cf. Ps. 78:18; Ps. 106:14), but in the sense of putting His mercy and goodness to the test by doing as He commands. Israel would find in doing this, Malachi says, that God is full of lovingkindness and tender mercy; that He is abundantly good to those who fear and serve Him. The word amounts, then, to a promise and guarantee of His goodness.
There is some dispute about the last phrase of verse 10. Some understand it to mean that God promises to give more than enough, more than is sufficient for the needs of His people. Others understand it to mean that He promises to give perpetually and without end. The latter interpretation seems to be the more correct, in that the similar phrase is translated inPsalm 72:5: “as long as the sun and moon endure.” In any case, however, it is evident that God is promising blessing beyond what we would ever ask or think (Eph. 3:20). He promises blessing as Jehovah of hosts, the covenant God of His people, the one to whom belong all the hosts of heaven and earth, all of which serve Him and accomplish His purpose and which He will use to give blessing to His people.
God also shows us here that our giving is primarily directed to the work of the church, the ministry of the gospel, and the well-being of God’s people. “Give,” He says, “that there may be meat in mine house.” In the Old Testament the tithes were for the maintenance of the priests and Levites, for the upkeep of the temple, and for the support of the poor. So it is in the New Testament. Our offerings are not first of all for world relief or world hunger, but for the maintenance of the ministry of the gospel, to provide a living (not an enrichment) for the ministers of the gospel, and for the care of the poor and widows. We give to God by giving to the work and support of His church, and give in that way for we can give Him nothing directly. He is, after all, the one who is “dwelling in a light which no man can approach unto: whom no man hath seen, or can see.”
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, saith the LORD of hosts.
Apparently the Jews were suffering the judgments of God on the crops and fields for their unfaithfulness. The verse speaks of disease, probably a blight of some kind, that was destroying the produce of the vines, as well as of the devourer. The latter refers to plagues of crop-destroying insects described by God in Joel as “my great army,” an army that included the cankerworm, the caterpillar, and the palmerworm.
Again, we must note the difficulty in seeing specific acts of God’s providence—diseases, plagues, famines, poverty, war, etc., as well as material prosperity—as evidences of His disfavor or favor. The difficulty arises out of the fact that events and occurrences and providences are not themselves the favor or blessing of God. Thus sickness, poverty, and trouble can be blessings to God’s people, and wealth and health a curse to the ungodly.
We believe that it is impossible, in both the Old and New Testaments, to make any such consistent connection on a personal level, and that it is only on a national or worldwide scale that this can be seen. In other words, viewed at large, earthquakes, war, famines, and plagues are signs of God’s judgment, even though the individual child of God need not fear, when he is caught up in these things, that God’s displeasure rests on him personally.
Here, as a nation, Israel would see God’s favor in material prosperity and in a withdrawal of the plagues that were destroying their livelihood. In the New Testament we see God’s displeasure with our own nations and with the whole world of the ungodly in that such plagues are not removed, but rather increase.
Nevertheless, it should be evident that the judgments God sent on Israel’s fields and vineyards are fulfilled in the spiritual plagues He sends on an unfaithful church in the New Testament. The result of these plagues was prophesied by Amos: “Behold the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.” In such times of famine the church is dry, barren, and unfruitful—terrible times for those who remain faithful.
12. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts.
God promises Israel through Malachi that their prosperity would be an evidence of His blessing even to the nations around them. The difficulties they had previously experienced would vanish, their life in Canaan would be a life of ease and plenty, so much so that they would be envied by those who witnessed their prosperity.
This promise was never fulfilled literally. God is speaking of the future spiritual prosperity of His people. Stuart says:
The Israel of Malachi’s day was a defeated little remainder state under Persian domination consisting of some of the former Judah and some of the former Benjamin, much of it still in ruins, its capital city still largely unpopulated,
and its people eking out a hardscrabble existence in an area of the world that no one could ever call “lush.” But the future would hold for them things that they had never experienced, expressed here, as is typical in the prophets, in grand materialistic terms, though surely having their ultimate import in terms of the people’s spiritual relationship to God.*
Because of this lack of literal fulfillment, there are those who believe that these promises still re- main to be fulfilled in a future earthly millennial kingdom. We know, however, from the Word of God, that Israel is now a spiritual people (Rom. 2:28, 29; Rom. 9:6-8; I Pet. 2:9, 10), that the promises concerning the land and their prosperity in the land are fulfilled in their blessed salvation and in the eternal blessedness of heaven (Heb. 11:9, 10, 13-16).
It is therefore the spiritual prosperity of the church that is prophesied and that fulfils the prophecy of Malachi. The church is a delightsome land, for there are the promises of God in Jesus Christ. There Christ rules as the everlasting King of His people. There His people enjoy the forgiveness of sins, the promise of eternal life, and the work of the Holy Spirit. There they are separated, as Israel was in Egypt, from the spiritual plagues that fall upon the ungodly: terror, a troubled conscience, hopelessness, separation from God, the failure of marriage and family, violence, deceit, and all the other judgments of God upon this present world. A delightsome land indeed!
It is also heaven and its blessings of which Malachi speaks. There can be no doubt of this in view of the word of God in Hebrews 11:16, which speaks of a better and heavenly country, and Revelation 21 and Revelation 22, which give us a glimpse of that delightsome land:
And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.
And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.
And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.
And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie; but they that are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him:
And they shall see his face: and his name shall be in their foreheads.
And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light; and they shall reign for ever and ever,
* Douglas Stuart, Malachi, in Thomas Edward McComiskey, An Exegetical and Expository Commentary on the Minor Prophets, vol. 3, p. 1372.