Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me!” “How do we rob you?” you ask. “By not making the payments of the tenth and the contributions. …. Bring the full tenth into the storehouse so that there may be food in my house. Test me in this way,” says the Lord of Armies. “See if I will not … pour out a blessing for you without measure.” – Malachi 3: 8-10 [CSB]
Are non-tithers in Christendom really robbing God?
The word translated rob in Malachi 3:8-10 is written only in two locations in the Old Testament: here and in Proverbs 22:23, translated in the CSB, plunder, “the LORD will champion their cause and will plunder those who plunder them.”
The translation, plunder, is probably due to the previous verse [Proverbs 22:22] which actually uses the Hebrew word rob, “Don’t rob a poor person.” The word translated rob in Proverb 22:22 is a different word and correctly means to rob. But does our word in Malachi 3 actually mean to rob?
The Septuagint, LXX, 70
The Septuagint, the LXX, translates Proverbs 22:22-23, “Do no violence2 to the poor. …. For the Lord will plead his cause, and thou shalt deliver thy soul in safety.” The word rob is left out of verse 23. It should be obvious that the 70 [LXX] men who translated the Hebrew into Greek struggled with this word in the text.
And what about our verses in Malachi in the LXX? The word rob is translated insult. “Will a man insult3 God? for ye insult me. But ye say, Wherein have we insulted thee? In that the tithes and the first-fruits are with you still. And ye do surely look off from me, and ye insult me. ”
The Greek dictionary tells us that the greek word insult used in the Septuagint translation of these verses means: to deceive.4 It comes from a word meaning to trip up or bite the heel. [The noun form is the word heel.] This should remind us of Jacob who held unto Esau’s heal at the birth of the twins and later he was known as a deceiver. The metaphor came to mean deception. [The word insult carries Paul’s warning in Galatians 6:7 “Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked.”] C.F.Keil tells us that the word used in Malachi and in Proverbs “…signifies to defraud, to overreach.”5 Overreaching, the dictionary says mean to ” get the better of (someone) by cunning.”
Martin Luther translating this word täuschen (to deceive).6 The Vulgate or Latin uses the word configitis which translates afflict: If a man will afflict God, then you greatly afflict me. And you have said, “In what way, do we afflict you?”
The Hebrew dictionary leaves it an open question but defaults to the modern interpretation of robbing, We read: “dubious, [meaning] perhaps rob ” (And then it references the Hebrew word “to rob” in Proverbs 22:22 as a possible synonym.)7
The New Testament
The New Testament uses only the noun, heel,8 The idea of tripping or kicking is used metaphorically to signify using trickery to injure another. This was what Judas Iscariot was all about in betraying the Savior. John 13:18 [CSB] “I’m not speaking about all of you; I know those I have chosen. But the Scripture must be fulfilled: The one who eats my bread [eats bread with me] has raised his heel against me.”
It is a short hop in logic to go from the idea of deceiving God to greediness when it comes to a discussion of giving and tithing. Greed means hoarding money for the sake of having it not in anticipation of need. By withholding the tithe, Israel was rationalizing that God could be deceived or tricked into either accepting less or in ignoring their disobedience altogether. C. F. Keil in his commentary called this a “dead-work righteousness“9 which required no piety or devotion on their part beyond the ritual of pretending that it did. Keep in mind that the levites received no inheritance other than the tithe.10 “Store chambers were built for this purpose.”11
“Then Hezekiah commanded to prepare chambers in the house of the LORD; and they prepared them, And brought in the offerings and the tithes…” 2 Chronicles 31:11-12
I am reminded of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. In verse 3 they are exposed for their deception: “But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?”
It may be that Israel’s sin in Malachi 3 was not theft as much as it was another form of greed which Paul called idolatry.12 C. F. Keil explains,
The outward …kind of idolatry [worshipping idols and heathen gods] had been rendered thoroughly distasteful ..by the sufferings of the exile.
[The Schemá became their anthem: Deuteronomy 6:4, “the Lord is our God; the Lord is one, or The Lord is our God, the Lord alone…”]
Its place was taken [worshipping idols was replaced with the idolatry of greed? or] by the more refined idolatry of dead-work righteousness.13
We leave this analysis to all givers within the Christian community to evaluate in the light of their personal giving. Is there a difference between robbing God and attempting to deceive, insult, or afflict (grieve) Him? The idea of robbing or theft suggests God needed the tithe and first fruits or He somehow missed having these. But God’s interest was not in the tithe but its function within Israel, to support the levites. The underlining issue was not theft but Israel’s deception and God’s grief over it.
What About You & Me
Could there be a weakness in our financial commitment to God’s work that would be reflective of a personal greed? Are any of our resources held in trust by us for His use but we see them as personal property?
In the parable of the unjust steward our Lord was not so much concerned with tithing as stewardship. A thought possibly relevant here?
“Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and whoever is unrighteous in very little is also unrighteous in much. “So if you have not been faithful with worldly wealth, who will trust you with what is genuine? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to someone else, who will give you what is your own? Luke 16:10-12 [CSB]
Is God’s work suffering as a consequence of a tendency of God’s people to see their blessings from God as theirs to own instead of theirs to share? Would it be unreasonable for God in this case to withhold blessings which according to Malachi might be substantial?
Verse 3:10 “See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure.“
Look at it this way:
Each person should do as he has decided in his heart — not reluctantly or out of compulsion, since God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 [CSB]
4 Gn 27,36; Jer 9,3; Hos 12,4; Mal 3,8(bis) to go behind the back of sb to deceive, to outwit (metaph. meaning of to bite the heel of sb; from wrestling) Jer 9,3; id. [τινα] Gn 27,36 *Mal 3,8 εἰ πτερνιεῖ does one go behind the back of, does one deceive-עקב◊ יעקב for MT קבע◊ היקבע does one rob, see also Mal 3,9. The greek word comes from the word heel or footstep. Perhaps, this is why the German translates our word untertreten, to overstep. [Greek Lexicon for the Septuagint. Page 1033]
5 C. F. Keil, Commentary of the Old Testament. vol X, page 463.
6 Ist’s recht, daß ein Mensch Gott täuscht, wie ihr mich den täuschet?
Is it right that a man should deceive God, how have you deceived me?
7 F. Brown, et. al., The Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. page 867
8 Joesph Thayer, Dictionary of the Greek New Testament. page 556
11 Keil, page 463ff.
12 Colossians 3:5 [CSB] “…greed, which is idolatry…”
13 Keil, page 428