“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
5 “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.
6 “I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7 Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
8 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.
13 “You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.
“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’
14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’”
16 Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.
17 “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. 18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.
There are some really beautiful passages in here. I actually love the imagery of God as a refiner of silver and find it really hopeful instead of condemning. Maybe the process won’t be pleasant, but if we go through God’s fire we come out silver on the other side. Maybe even the worst of sinners can go through that fire and come out silver on the other side. With faith, anything is possible.
But what I really want to talk about tithing, which is the focus of most of this chapter. Done correctly, it is bringing a full 10% of the fruits of your labor (then grain, now money…usually) to God. Usually to a church, but again, I think God sees our intention and if donating to a charity is more comfortable for you than donating to a church, I don’t think He would mind. Finally, tithing is separate and apart from offerings, which are givings beyond the 10% tithe.
Is 10% a lot? I go back and forth on this. Sometimes it seems like not so much, other times it really really does! We’re on a tight budget, but even so, I could probably rearrange some spending to clear up 10%. Somehow we seem to make do when we need to – we’ve shouldered whole new expenses with each kid, probably waaaaay more than 10%, doing the same thing we were doing before kids. Sure, we would definitely hit a wall at some point, but I don’t think it’s only 10% away.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a great tithe-er. I’ve done it extremely intermittently in my life. In this chapter, God specifically says “test me in this, and see if I do not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing there will not be room enough to store it.” (3:11) I’ll see as I keep reading, but I remember being told this is the only directive in which God challenges and permits us to test him. So I’ve decided to try it. Actually, I decided to try it two weeks ago when I read ahead a bit. And I found the same thing was true then as in the past when I’ve started tithing.
I know some people will roll their eyes and others will just say it’s a coincidence, but I really do believe God provides for us when it comes to tithing. He doesn’t want it to be a hardship. Would you demand payment from your children if you know it meant them going hungry? Of course not. Let me give you a few concrete examples from my own life:
Let’s start with my newest resolve to tithe. Actually, let me back up, so you know what kind of money I’m talking about here. While my husband and I run the farm together, our primary income, for now, is still my husband’s contract work as a software developer. I don’t pull a paycheck. What I do pull is a household allowance from Chris’ paycheck. So I have $800 a month for groceries, dog food, diapers for two, gas, savings, and incidentals, for a family of four plus a farm manager (who lives in-house) and two dogs. Like I said, we’re doing OK but there’s not a lot of extra wiggle room! So, my tithe would be $80, or $40 per paycheck.
Getting back to tithing, I decided I wanted to start doing it again two weeks ago. That day, I saw a friend in Charlottesville requesting donations through Venmo for help with refugees who were passing through the area. This is a very boots on the ground movement, I don’t even know if it’s an official charity or organization, but I wanted to donate because I know how passionate this friend is when it comes to social justice and I knew the money would be well spent. Now I haven’t used Venmo in forever, I didn’t even have the app installed on my new phone, which is now close to 6 months old. But I vaguely remembered having $30 left in it, so I was going to donate that plus $10 more and call it my tithing for the pay period. I installed Venmo, opened it up, and there was $70 in it. I had forgotten that I hadn’t used all of my birthday money mom had sent me to cover babysitting. So there was the whole $40 without any pinch in my budget.
Let me give you another example from two years ago. Money was extra super tight then. Like, pick which bills to pay tight. But it was around Christmas and I was super pregnant and emotional and really wanted to do something tithe-y. So I wrote a $40 check out to the Church that Sunday with a prayer and the resolve to eat a lot of ramen noodles. Later that week I got a nice big reimbursement check from the insurance company for some medical expenses I had already paid, then they had renegotiated.
Another time, when we were moving, I was in tithing mode. I was cleaning out some old old papers and found $100 I had stashed away in college as emergency money. That covered two whole months tithing back then.
With those examples in mind, let’s talk about what this chapter – and that bit in chapter 2 about unblemished animals – is asking of us. No one I know of is taking uncut bulls to donate to the church anymore, but I think the meaning is still pretty clear – God doesn’t want our cast-offs and leftovers. As I said, he doesn’t want to unduly burden us, but he does want to see we’re making an effort. If you were fixing the sink, and asked your (fully capable) child to bring you your toolbox, but they only come back with a few nails, would you be pleased? No. You’d send them back to do what they were supposed to do. That is why God asks us for the full tithe. He wants to see a good faith effort on our half. He isn’t asking us to fix the sink, just to bring him the toolbox. And he’ll reward us for our efforts.
Is tithing right for you? I hope so. Let’s dream with some rough numbers. The United States of America has a GDP of 19.39 trillion dollars. That’s the value of all the goods and services produced, so it includes household incomes as well as corporate and business profits, but we’ll include it because a lot of businesses do charitable giving. Just 10% of that would be 1.93 TRILLION dollars of charitable giving. Right now the US as a whole (again, individuals and organizations) does a little over $390 billion, only twenty percent of the tithing possibility. Can you imagine the good that would come from adding four times as much charitable giving? It’s not going to happen anytime soon, I know, but it can start to add up. My $40 isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but it is a beginning, small but good.