Trusting God in Troubled Times (Mike Riccardi)

Malachi 3:6-12   |   Sunday, May 26, 2024   |   Code: 2024-05-26-MR


Trusting God in Troubled Times

Malachi 3:6–12 

© Mike Riccardi





There is a very popular, very wrong view of the Christian life that circulates throughout the visible church in our day. And that’s the view that treats Christianity as if it were something of a manual to a successful life. “Become a Christian! and you will find a wonderful spouse and have a happy marriage!” “Become a Christian! and you will have a happy home with obedient and respectful children!” “Become a Christian! and the Lord will bless you financially, and provide you with a fulfilling and well-paying job!” “Become a Christian! and you will have meaningful friendships with your fellow church members! You’ll be happy, and joyful all the time, and the Lord will protect you from seasons of deep sorrow and grief!” It’s not quite the “health-and-wealth” Gospel of the prosperity movement, but something along the lines of a mental health-and-wealth Gospel. An entire generation of ministry gurus peddled this bill of goods to the unsaved, unfulfilled world and called it evangelism.


And perhaps the heyday of that kind of ministry methodology has seen its pinnacle in days past; for that we can be thankful to the Lord. But it’s certainly not the case that all traces of it have been eradicated in the professing church today. And in some sense, there’s good reason for that. The strength of any good lie is that there’s a germ of truth in it. And there’s certainly some sense in which some of those promises are true, isn’t there? If indeed you wisely apply Scripture’s instruction to the circumstances of your life, you can expect things to go well with you. You can expect blessing to follow obedience. You can expect God to be faithful to His promises. If a husband loves his wife like Christ loved the church, and if a wife submits to her husband as the church submits to Christ, then, yes, generally speaking, they can expect to enjoy the blessing of a God-honoring marriage. If Christian parents discipline themselves to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, being diligent to apply biblical principles of discipleship, then yes, again, generally speaking, they can expect to enjoy the blessing of well-behaved and respectful children.


But there’s two things to say about that. First, Christianity is not a talisman. It’s not some sort of cosmic life-hack that you can use as a means to your own fleshly happiness. The Lord Jesus Christ is not a genie whom you can bribe with your obedience to lay hold of the idols of financial success and mental and emotional ease. Christ Himself is the treasure! He is not the means to anything greater than Himself. He Himself is the great end of all of our faith and hope and love and joy. And so He cannot be manipulated by men and women into being used to provide them with whatever they really find their ultimate joy and satisfaction in.


And then, secondly, we can go really easy on ourselves when evaluating whether we’ve been faithful and consistent in applying biblical principles to our lives, can’t we? We can be pretty easily convinced that we’re walking in obedience. We’re reading the books; we’re attending the seminars; we’re reading Scripture, praying, and going to church. And our circumstances still aren’t what we thought they’d be. In that situation, we can tend to gloss over the need for honest, careful self-examination: “Am I really following what God’s Word says, thoroughly and consistently? Is what I’m calling ‘obedience’ truly the overflow of a life submitted to the Lordship of Christ, according to the explicit teaching of His Word? Or are there pockets of my life that I’m reserving for my own self-lordship that I’m not surrendering to Him?” We tend to gloss over that kind of self-examination. And we convince ourselves that we’re keeping up our end of the bargain! The problem is that God just isn’t delivering on His promises!


We were told that following Christ brings blessing, but when those blessings don’t appear in the ways and on the timetable we expect, we grow disillusioned with, disappointed in, and even critical of God Himself.


This was exactly what was happening in the post-exilic community of Judah during the ministry of the prophet Malachi. We’ve gone over it numerous times (because it’s always a good thing to be reminded of the context in which any portion of Scripture has come to us), but the events of the Book of Malachi take place about 100 years after the southern kingdom of Judah was delivered out of the Babylonian exile and regathered into the land of Israel. And by then it had been about eighty years after Haggai and Zechariah made glorious predictions of the nation’s renovation. Messiah would come, the temple would be rebuilt, the people would dwell in safety in their promised land: the beleaguered nation would finally see God’s promises fulfilled.


But by Malachi’s day, those promises had not been brought to pass. Eighty years down the road, and Judah remained on a small strip of land, under the control of the Persian Empire, and in a time of economic distress, where God had seen fit even to withhold prosperity from their harvest. And you can understand it! The people are saying, “Look, we didn’t dream up these promises! You told us all these wonderful blessings were forthcoming, and we don’t see any of them!” They began to doubt the trustworthiness of God’s Word. It seemed He had forgotten them. And in return, they had begun to forget Him.


The people became disillusioned and apathetic with the temple worship, as Chapter 1 verse 6 through chapter 2 verse 9 shows us. In chapter 2, verses 10 to 16, God accuses this nation of covenant treachery—of betraying their marriage covenants by divorcing the wives of their youth in order to marry pagan women, and of betraying their covenant with God by offering blasphemous worship.


Last time, we came to chapter 2 verse 17 through to chapter 3 verse 6, where these treasonous rebels accuse God of not caring enough about justice. They say, “‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of Yahweh, and He delights in them,’ or, ‘Where is the God of justice?’” “You know, God, You must just not care about justice, because we look around and see all the evildoers living like kings, and here we are, Your covenant nation, languishing under their thumb with no food from the land!” Just arrogant, blasphemous insolence.


And after promising them that the God of justice is coming, chapter 3 verses 1 to 5, we come to our text this morning: chapter 3 verse 6, down to verse 12, where we hear more of the same. You can hear it: “We’ve kept up our end of the bargain, God! I mean, sure, some of the animals aren’t blemishless, but hey: we keep the temple service going! And yes, there’s been divorce, and interfaith marriage, and now You’ve gone and brought up this tithing thing. But that’s not the real issue! We’ve been faithful! We promise! The problem is that You’ve changed! Your Word used to be reliable! But evidently it’s reliable no more.” And here’s the heart of their objection: “Faithful obedience to Yahweh just doesn’t work. We obey, but the blessings just don’t come.”


God answers this objection from His wayward people once again in our passage this morning. It is not that God has changed. God is unfailingly unchanging, and thus unfailingly faithful. It’s that the people had been consistently changing, variable, and faithless. In a sense, they had changed so little, because they kept constantly changing so much. God comes to them and explains: rather than continuing to turn aside from Him, they must turn back to Him in faithful repentance. If they do that, God promises that they will experience His promised blessings precisely as His Word has prophesied them.


That’s the burden of our passage today. And we’ll work through it in four parts: there’s (1) a declaration of faithfulness; (2) an accusation of waywardness; (3) a call to repentance; and (4) a promise of blessing.


I. A Declaration of Faithfulness (v. 6)


First, let us consider this declaration of faithfulness. And we see that in verse 6. God says, “For I, Yahweh, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” The accusation is: “God has changed. He used to care about justice, but where is the God of justice now? The evildoers prosper. God’s people remain slaves to the pagans. His promises don’t come to pass. God has changed!”


And God’s answer is: “No, I have not changed, and it’s that very fact of my unchanging nature—my immutability—that explains why you’re still even here! why I haven’t wiped you away in the very exercise of divine justice that you’re foolishly clamoring for!”


This is a precious verse that illustrates with unmistakable clarity the precious doctrine of the immutability of God. And the term “immutability” just means “unchanging,” not able to be mutated. Our God, GraceLife, does not and cannot change—in any sense. Our God is so perfect that He cannot get any better than He is, and so He cannot change for the better. And He is so perfect that He could never change for the worse. That would be for the infinitely perfect One to become imperfect, which is impossible. And so if He cannot change for the better and if He cannot change for the worse, then He cannot change in any sense. There is no becoming in God. There is only pure being.


And He insists on that very thing at the beginning of verse 6 by citing His covenant name. “I, Yahweh, do not change.” When God met Moses in the burning bush, and commanded him to lead the people of Israel out of captivity in Egypt, Moses said, “When I tell Israel that the God of their fathers has sent me to lead them out, and they ask me what Your name is, what am I supposed to tell them?” And God says in that famous passage in Exodus 3:14, “I AM WHO I AM.” Tell the sons of Israel: “I AM has sent me to you.” “I AM”! Not “I am becoming!” Not “I will be, eventually!” But the imperfect, first-person singular form of the verb to be.


In Psalm 90 verse 2, Moses says, “Before the mountains were born Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” Notice that! Not, “From everlasting You have been God,” or were God,” but, “You are God!” “From eternity to eternity, You are”! “I AM”! God just is! He is pure being, and no becoming. He is self-existent. He does not “need anything,” Acts 17:25. That is, He depends on nothing outside of Himself to be what He is. He has no passive potency by which He might be brought into a state of being other than what He is. His very name is Yahweh, “I Am,” changelessness. And being the One who is, “I, Yahweh, do not change.”


God is immutable in his power. Isaiah 40:28 says, “Yahweh…does not become weary or tired.” He is immutable in His wisdom. Isaiah 40:13–14 says that no one has ever counseled or informed God, of anything. No one gave Him understanding, or taught Him knowledge, but He has been pure, unchanging wisdom and knowledge from eternity. He is immutable in His sovereignty, and His holiness, and His justice. But the emphasis in this text especially falls upon His immutable faithfulness. Twenty-six times in the twenty-six verses of Psalm 136, we read that Yahweh’s chesed—His steadfast, loyal, covenant faithfulness—is everlasting. And that means He can be depended on, and trusted in. The immutability of His nature implies the rock-solid dependability of His promises.


How opposite—and how superior—God is in comparison to human beings in this way! Numbers 23:19 famously says, “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should [change His mind]; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” Inconstancy is the mark of all creatures. Because we undergo changes, moving from one state of being to another—because we are not unchangingly perfect in wisdom, or loyal love, or power—mere men often cannot be depended upon. Human beings remember something they had forgotten, and so they amend their plans. Or they learn something that causes them to change their minds and pursue a different route. Or they just flat-out lie; we’ve all had promises made to us that weren’t kept. Men are unreliable!


But God is not like this. He is not a man, that He should lie or change His mind. The great hymn aptly says, “Human hearts and looks deceive me, / Thou art not like them, untrue.” Proverbs 19:21: “Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of Yahweh will stand.” He is, James 1:17, the “Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (ESV). And so He is perfectly reliable, perfectly trustworthy. As Joel Beeke has said, “The immutability of his will is reflected in the stability of his Word” (RST, 1:693). Psalm 119:89: “Forever, O Yahweh, Your word is settled in heaven.” Jesus says in Matthew 24:35: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” Peter quotes Isaiah 40 verse 8 in 1 Peter 1:25: “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” And so if the immutability of his will is reflected in the stability of his Word, as Beeke says, then the stability of His Word issues in the dependability of His promises.


And that’s God’s point in response to Israel’s complaint. “It doesn’t work to serve Yahweh anymore! He’s changed! He delights in injustice and His promises aren’t dependable!” And He says, “No, faithless people. I am Yahweh! I don’t change! And therefore I am who I always was. My character is constant. My Word stands as inviolable, and therefore My promises are sure and My covenant stands fast. In fact, it’s because I don’t change that “therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” And I love that He calls them sons of Jacob. Remember how He began the entire book. Malachi chapter 1 verse 2: “I have loved Jacob.”


“What do you mean, God? How have you loved us?” “I have set My covenant love upon you in a way that I have not done to your twin brother Esau, who deserved My love no more and no less than you did. I have made you My people, and I have joined you to Myself by covenant, promising Abraham, Isaac, and—yes—Jacob a nation of descendants, dwelling securely in the land I’ve promised, bringing blessing to all the other nations.” Calling them “sons of Jacob” recalls the Abrahamic Covenant promise of Genesis 12, and reminds them that it’s precisely because He doesn’t change that He keeps His covenant. And the very fact of their existence testifies to that. It’s only because God is immutable that He is faithful to His covenant! And it is only His covenant faithfulness that makes it so that these sons of Jacob are not consumed by the God of Justice who is “a consuming fire.” The immutable God is faithful to His covenant—even when His people are faithless.


Do you see, dear people, how the immutability of God is a rock to stake your entire lives upon? Turn with me, briefly to Psalm 102. In this Psalm, we have, according to the superscription, “A Prayer of the Afflicted when he is faint and pours out his compliant before Yahweh.” He says in verses 3 and 4, “For my days have been consumed in smoke, And my bones have been scorched like a hearth. My heart has been smitten like grass and has withered away.” He is weighed down with affliction, and feels as if his very life is withering away. What does he do? What truth does He turn to act faith upon? Verse 12: “But You, O Yahweh, abide forever, and Your name to all generations.” “I’m fading away, but You never change! You abide forever!” Verse 26: “Even [the heavens and the earth] will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed.” Verse 27: “But You are the same”—literally, “but You are”; You are Yahweh!—“And Your years will not come to an end.”


What comforts the afflicted worshiper? who feels his very life slipping away from him? The truth that: even though the most fixed and stable objects in the universe—the very ground we walk on, the fixed spheres of the skies—even they will change, decay, and wear out; but God will always remain the same (Beeke, RST, 1:688). Hebrews, chapter 6, starting in verse 17: “In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast…” Dear friends, the immutability of God is an anchor of the soul! When the world around you looks bleak, when His presence is not easily sensed, when His promises seem far off, you anchor your soul in the immutability of the Great I AM!


I love what the American Puritan Samuel Willard says about this. He wrote, “Live upon this attribute! It is enough to keep up your spirits, and strengthen you with patience to run that weary and difficult race that you are called unto. It is true, you meet with many changes among creatures; yea, there is nothing here but what is changeable; you are tossed up and down from one change to another … yet faint not, nor be weary, for in all these you have an unchangeable God to stand by you” (A Compleat Body of Divinity, 64–65; as in Beeke, RST, 1:699). Psalm 62:6: “He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.”


II. An Accusation of Waywardness (vv. 7–9)


Well, that declaration of faithfulness brings us, in the second place, number two, to an accusation of waywardness. And we see this in verses 7 through 9. God says, “‘From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,’ says Yahweh of hosts. ‘But you say, “How shall we return?” Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, “How have we robbed You?” In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you!’”


The unchanging God has been constantly faithful. He has kept His covenant to the people of Israel—from the days of the first promises to Abraham, through to the united monarchy of David and Solomon, even into the time of exile in Assyria and Babylon, and even now in the people’s return from Babylon back into the land. Yahweh has been immutably faithful.


But Israel has been consistently unfaithful. Look again at verse 7: “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them.” Their whole history as a people—since the days of the patriarchs—has been characterized by rebellion against the stipulations of Yahweh’s covenant (McComiskey, 1363–64). Stephen, in Acts chapter 7, concludes his discourse against the Jews—just before they stone him—by underscoring this very point. Acts 7:51: “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.”


In bold contrast to God’s immutability, Israel has always been turning aside, always changing, always faithless, always unreliable. As I said before, they had changed so little, because they kept constantly changing so much. God says, “I am calling you to turn away from your constant turning away from me!” Verse 7 again: “Return to Me.” “You need to repent! You need to return! You need to fall on your face and humbly acknowledge your sin and your guilt! Confess your own inability to remedy things on your own! And cry out to Me for forgiveness! and resolve to walk in faithfulness to the covenant that binds us together!”


And do you know what He says will happen if they do that? Wonder of wonders: He’ll return to them! “Return to Me, and I will return to you! I don’t change! My character is constant! Immutable! And so when you turn from your sinfulness and return to Me, My unchanging delight in covenant faithfulness will cause you to experience My favor once again!” It’s just so amazing. The people of God sin against their God, the God of infinite holiness. And sin against infinite holiness is an infinite wickedness; it demands an infinite punishment. God could justly cast every one of us into hell forever for just one sin. He could justly demand gruesome, never-ending penance—walk over broken glass, lay on a bed of nails, and so on. The infinite chasm of holiness and wickedness must be bridged. And how will it be bridged? God says, “Return to Me, and I will return to you.” Unthinkable! No penance, no torture, no punishment: just come back! How great is this God, that, as far as our sins drive us away from Him, we’re never more than one step of genuine repentance away from being restored to Him.


But how does Israel respond? Again in verse 7: “But you say, ‘How shall we return?’” There’s that unbelievable arrogant insolence again. “What do you mean, repent? What have we done? We rebuilt the city walls! We rebuilt the temple! We’re bringing the sacrifices! Sure, there’s a broken leg or two in there somewhere, but hey!” Calvin captures it well. He says, “It is evidence of perverseness, when men answer that they see not that they have erred, and that hence conversion is to no purpose required of them… ‘What [do you] require from us? for we are not conscious of any defection; we worship God as we ought… we see not why [God] should so expressly blame us; let him show in what we have offended’” (583–84). “What is there for us to turn from?!”


I hear this quite a lot in counseling, unfortunately. You preach the Gospel to believers, and you tell them that if they’d only release the grip on their sin in this area, there is forgiveness and blessing and joy on the path of obedience. Proverbs 28:13: “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” “It’s so easy! Compassion from both God and men are so near to you! Just turn from it!” And they say, “Why are you suggesting that I need to repent of something? What sins have I committed? I’ve been conducting myself righteously! No, me and God are good. We’re good! I’m not sure why you’re being so judgmental of me!” And usually, I get: “It’s him you’ve got to worry about!” Rather than being overjoyed at a call to repentance, they’re offended by the entreaty to repent and find mercy. Calvin is right. There’s no other word for that but perverseness.


“But how shall we return?” God tells Judah what repentance looks like in their case. Verse 8: “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me!” And they can’t believe it. Just as incredulous, they reply: “How have we robbed You?” And God says, “In tithes and offerings.” Israel was refusing to give the money and resources that God had required they give.


The word “tithe” (ma‘aser) literally means “tenth.” It refers to one-tenth of each Israelite’s income or produce from the land, which God required be given to Him first, before any other obligations were met. Leviticus 27:30 says, “Thus all the tithe of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is Yahweh’s; it is holy to Yahweh.” The earth belongs to God. All wealth is His. Whatever money we are able to earn is only a stewardship entrusted to us by God, to whom everything ultimately belongs. Psalm 24:1: “The earth is Yahweh’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” And so when God gives His people material increase for their labors, He reserves a portion of that increase for Himself, so that His people remember that all they have is owed to His kindness, and that He is to be worshiped and sanctified above all things.


And in Israel, the portion that He determined would be reserved for Him was a tithe—one-tenth of their increase. And God reserved that tenth for the support of the Levites—the priests of Israel, who would give themselves to the service of temple worship. The Levites would not work the land, or participate in a trade, to earn money. They were priests, whose income would be supplied by the nation’s tithes. Numbers 18:21 says this very thing. God says, “To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting.” And so the tithe was preeminently for the maintenance of the temple service. If any Israelite gave less than 10% of their gross income, they were virtually starving the nation’s worship to Yahweh, robbing God by not supplying the priests with adequate resources to survive and maintain the temple.


But then besides this, there was a second tithe that Israel was required to give for the funding of the national feast days. You read about that in Deuteronomy 14:22–27. And then that passage also states, Deuteronomy 14:28–29, that there was a third tithe to be paid every third year—a triennial tithe—to be given for the poor: the alien, the orphan, and the widow. So, in the theocratic nation of Israel, there were three tithes: ten percent every year to fund the temple worship and the government run by the Levites; ten percent every year to fund the national festivals; and then ten percent every three years—or three and a third percent every year—to give to the needy. That works out to 23.3%, which is roughly equivalent to what the United States middle class pays in income tax.


The term “offerings,” terumah, was a general term that was used to describe various kinds of financial gifts—both compulsory offerings, like the tithes, as well as voluntary offerings that worshipers could give over and above their tithes as an expression of gratitude for God’s goodness. The post-exilic community of Judah had begun withholding their tithes and offerings from God. And in one sense, you understand why. Verse 11 speaks about “the devourer” that had been destroying the fruits of the ground in the land. God was withholding the blessing of the land from them because of their disobedience. And so things got tight! Money was scarce! The produce of the ground was thin!


But rather than take honest stock of their lives, and seriously contemplating whether their financially straitened condition was an instance of God’s chastening for their covenant-breaking, they got practical. “Well, God’s not prospering us! And we need what little we have to survive! God will understand if we don’t make the full ten percent this month.” Instead, God says, “You’re robbing Me. The whole nation of you are robbing Me of what is rightfully mine.” No matter how you try to rationalize it, God isn’t duped by your disobedience. If He commands ten percent, then His people must give ten percent.

Now, it’s important for me to say here: you and I are not Israel. We don’t live in a theocracy. And the fact of the matter is: the New Covenant Scriptures do not stipulate a certain percentage that Christians are supposed to give to the Lord as an act of worship. The tithe is not carried over into the New Testament as a principle of Christian giving. And that means all the hucksters of the health and wealth movement—all the prosperity preachers on TBN who insist that their listeners send them their tithes—are abusing this text. Any pastor or teacher or church leader who seeks to bind the consciences of God’s people to a particular percentage required for faithful giving at best conflates the Old Covenant with the New Covenant and Israel with the Church, and at worst lays heavy burdens upon the shoulders of the sheep that the Great Shepherd never intended them to bear.


But, while a specific percentage isn’t carried over to the New Covenant era, the principle of giving to the Lord from our firstfruits a portion of what He has blessed us with certainly has. Paul teaches in 1 Timothy 5:17 that the elders who lead Christ’s church and labor in preaching and teaching “are to be considered worthy of double honor.” That is, pastors are not only to be esteemed by God’s people, but also financially supported by God’s people, “for,” Paul follows up in the next verse, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” He says in 1 Corinthians 9:14 that “the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” Like Israel was to give to God in support of the priests, the church is to give to God in support of their pastors, who keep watch over their souls and instruct them in the Word of God.


The most extended New Testament instruction on giving comes in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9. And I preached on those two chapters back in 2017 as we worked our way through the entire book of 2 Corinthians. And so for extended discussion, I refer you to those messages. But in those chapters, Paul speaks of how God’s grace had worked in the hearts of the Macedonians to move them to give generously and sacrificially in order to meet the needs of the saints. He says in 2 Corinthians 8:7, “But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also”—that is, the gracious work of giving. In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul instructs the Corinthians, “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper.” That is, weekly offerings are to be received from the church and administrated by the leadership, so that they might be distributed to the saints who have need.


And so we are to give! But the only stipulation the New Testament gives concerning the proportion of our income which are to give comes in 2 Corinthians 9:7, where Paul says, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” The only requirement is that we give cheerfully—that whatever percentage of our income we give, we do it with a happy and willing heart, eager to bless God with a portion of that with which He’s blessed us; because His grace has so satisfied us that our earthly treasures are not so dear to us as God Himself is, and so we gladly lay our treasures at His feet, because He is our treasure, above all else. God is more pleased with a cheerful three percent than with a begrudging, tight-fisted twenty percent.


However, I would be remiss if I didn’t say: the biblical pattern is that Old Testament obligations are only heightened in the New Testament, not lessened. Hatred is the murder of the heart. Lust is adultery of the heart. As one commentator observes, the Law sets apart one day in seven to be holy to the Lord, but the Spirit sanctifies all seven of them. We keep a continual Sabbath rest in Jesus. Every day is a day of worship. The law sets apart one tribe out of twelve to be priests—the tribe of Levi. But the Spirit declares that every member of the New Covenant is a priest unto God, ministering in the presence of God through Christ and offering up spiritual sacrifices of praise to Him. Well, so also, the law set apart one-tenth of His people’s possessions as holy unto Him, but the Spirit makes every believer the special possession of God Himself—so that all that we have, and, indeed, all that we are, belongs to Him (Verhoef, 311). We don’t owe the Lord ten percent, or even twenty-three-and-a-third percent. We owe Him 100%. We owe our entire lives to God.


And so, if we live in the age of the fulfillment of all God’s promises—with Christ crucified and risen and dispensing grace to us from heaven, with the Holy Spirit Himself permanently indwelling us and making war on our flesh that remains—can we be content to give less than Israel was required to give, while they lived under the shadows, and we live in the light of the substance? To be sure, there is no percentage requirement. But I would argue that the supremacy of the glory of God revealed in the face of Christ ought to happily constrain us to give no less than ten percent! We who have received the blessings that Israel could only long for and dream about ought to be eager to outpace them in every aspect of worship which it lies in our power to perform.


Such was certainly true for the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8, whose souls had been so touched by the grace of God in salvation that Paul says, verse 2, “in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints.” That’s the way grace gives: Affliction, plus joy, plus deep poverty overflow in a wealth of generosity! Rather than having to be begged to give, we beg for the favor of giving!


This wasn’t Judah’s attitude in Malachi. And certainly, a thoroughgoing repentance would have meant more than giving according to biblical prescriptions—the rest of the book outlines several other ways they must return to God in covenant faithfulness. But this would be a good beginning—a practical first step in demonstrating their trust in Yahweh’s promise, even in the midst of difficult practical circumstances. The checkbook always seems to be a good barometer of heart. After all, whether they were truly giving a tenth of their income really is only known to God. It’s not like the priests supervised their bank accounts and compared them with their offerings. So it would be a good heart-check for the people. Will you have the integrity to obey in the secret place? Not just in outward, eminent displays of self-righteousness that can be counterfeited, but in an act of worship that only God knows about. “Lord, I repent of distrusting Your promises. Though wants pinch hard, I trust You to provide for our needs, and so I give to You according to Your commandment.” If their hearts were right enough to correct secret disobedience, repentance for the eminent disobedience would follow.


But as it stands, verse 9, they are “cursed with a curse.” Precisely because they won’t give of their income and produce, God has cursed their produce, and made it difficult for them to earn income. In trying to save their livelihood by withholding from God His due, they were losing their livelihood. It reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 16:25: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Covenant disobedience brings curses, not blessings.


III. A Call to Repentance (v. 10a)


And so, in addition to a declaration of faithfulness and an accusation of waywardness, Yahweh issues, number three, a call to repentance. And we see that in the first part of verse 10: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house.”


And we’re running short on time, so we’ll only offer brief comments on this. But: notice how concrete God requires their repentance to be. This is no vague, “I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again. Please forgive me”; no “Lord, if you get me out of this one, I promise I’ll never…” No. Genuine, biblical repentance is an about-face turning. It is the exchange of specific and particular obedience in the place of specific and particular disobedience. If the sin is failing to bring the whole tithe, then repentance is, “Bring the whole tithe.” And this teaches us, brothers and sisters, that we can’t repent in general terms. Our repentance must be specific; it must be concrete. “Don’t be deceived; God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” You can’t trick God into blessing you by half-hearted or non-specific repentance.


And the fact that God says, “Bring the whole tithe,” signals that it wasn’t that Judah wasn’t giving at all; undoubtedly they were giving something. But they were bringing a half-tithe, or a quarter-tithe. And here we learn that just as repentance cannot be vague, so also obedience cannot be partial. “Well, I know I’m not obeying in the precise way God’s Word commands, but I’ll do what I can, and I’m sure He’ll understand!” Just this past month, a counseling case crossed my desk in which we discovered that member of Grace Church had been living apart from his wife without biblical grounds, but he was salving his conscience by paying for her rent. “I know that I should be living with the woman who is my wife by covenant, but she’s really hard to live with. So, God, how about I provide for her like You command me to, just… not under the same roof as me.” No, that’s trying to obey in half measures. But there is no such thing as partial obedience. “Bring the whole tithe”! Subject all of your life to the Lordship of Christ! Because He will be Lord of all, or He will not be Lord at all.


IV. A Promise of Blessing (vv. 10b–12)


Well, that brings us, in the fourth place, to a promise of blessing. God annexes to this call to repentance an abundantly gracious promise of blessing. Look at verses 10 to 12: “‘…and test Me now in this,’ says Yahweh of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows! Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,’ says Yahweh of hosts. All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,’ says Yahweh of hosts.”


The grace in these verses is almost too much to stand. Yahweh is abundantly kind to His wayward, faithless people! Not only is repentance just one step away, no matter how far we’ve strayed, but repentance is accompanied with blessing. Judah forfeited any right to covenant blessing by her corrupt worship, the betrayal of spouses in divorce, her arrogant, blasphemous insolence by which she reproaches the character of God. Repentance is her duty, simply because she has sinned. Justice requires her to return and do penance and atone for her crimes. But grace says: penance and atonement are not necessary. As if God was saying, “I’m looking forward to the perfect worshiper, the perfect sacrifice: the Lord who is coming to His temple and who purifies like a Refiner’s Fire! I’m satisfied with His blood and His righteousness in place of yours! And so you, dear people, may return to Me, and expect blessing for His sake!”


And look how abundant is His grace: He says, “Test Me now in this!” “Come on! Try Me!” Almost as if He’s saying, “Let Me be gracious to you!” This is a God who is eager to bless His people! This God who says, “You shall not put Yahweh your God to the test,” in Deuteronomy 6:16, here says, “Test Me! Try Me! Taste and see if at the first sign of your change of heart I won’t blow open the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows!”


Now, this is not a promise that God will make every family rich and prosperous if they start tithing. It’s a corporate promise to the nation of Israel that if they obey God according to the covenant law, He will bring covenant blessing upon them. He will give rain from the windows of heaven—Genesis 7:11 calls them “the floodgates of the sky.” And then, because you don’t only need rain for a good harvest, He says, He’ll rebuke the devourer—literally “the one who eats,” probably a reference to locusts or other pests that destroy the fruits. And He’ll also prevent crop failure—grapes won’t fall from the vine and be trampled, but God will sustain them for a fruitful harvest.


And as a result of all of this, Israel will become the blessing to the nations that God had promised they would be in the Abrahamic Covenant promise of Genesis 12! No longer would they be “a defeated little remainder state under Persian domination,” lying mostly in ruins, its people scraping by on a meager existence on a piece of land that no one would envy of them (McComiskey, 1372)! No, verse 12, “All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land!” Covenant obedience brings covenant blessing.


The people of God must trust the promises of God enough to walk in obedience to His Word. When they do, He is eager bless, eager to be gracious, eager to forgive, eager to reward.




And so, dear people, when circumstances are difficult, when God’s promises seem to be far off, fight the temptation to doubt His trustworthiness, to believe that He has changed, or that His Word is unsure. Our God does not change! He is unfailingly faithful to His covenant promises! And He has made the greatest covenant promises to us in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant, sealed by the blood of the covenant—that He will never leave us nor forsake us; that He will perfect the good work He has begun in us until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6); that He will refine us until all of our impurities are purged from us, and we are fit to dwell with Him in glory, love, and joy.


And until then, while those impurities remain in us, when providence seems dark, let us be more quick to examine ourselves than to accuse God. Perhaps our dark providences are God’s means of chastening us—coaxing us, if you will, to return to Him from whom we’ve wandered, in wholehearted, unfeigned repentance. Let us make war on our own sin, resolving to put to death the deeds of the body, knowing, that annexed to the Lord’s kind call to repentance is the promise of abundant blessing. Not necessarily a perfect marriage and perfect children and financial prosperity and freedom from pain. But the blessing of communion with the Triune God; the sense of the Father’s deep love; the nearness of Christ; the consolation of the Holy Spirit; divine power at work in you to will and to work for His good pleasure. Trusting His promises and obeying His commands leads to the blessing spoken of in 2 Corinthians 9:8: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”