Due to their failure to keep the covenant confirmed on Mt. Sinai, God sent His people into exile a few hundred years before the birth of Jesus. First, the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC, and then Babylon captured the people of Judah about 140 years later in 586 BC (2 Kings 17:7–23; 25:1–26). In 538 BC, a remnant of the covenant community, consisting mostly of the exiled citizens of Judah, returned to the Promised Land to renew the covenant with the Lord, rebuild the temple, and await the restoration of David’s throne (Ezra 1–2).
On the whole, this returned people failed in their calling, as the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi tell us. By the time of Malachi in the fifth century BC, the transgressions of the people had increased greatly, to the point where the covenant community was even stealing from God, as we see in today’s passage.
It might seem strange to speak of human beings robbing the Lord. He is sovereign over all and owns the whole creation, so how then can it be said that a person could steal from Him? Yet in forming a covenant with the Israelites, our Creator established them as stewards over His bounty, responsible to enjoy and manage that which was rightfully theirs. They were not, however, permitted to keep for themselves that which did not belong to them, which is what they were doing when they kept the tithes and offerings for the temple and priests for themselves (Mal. 3:6–9).
We saw yesterday that the eighth commandment assumes the right to private possessions (Ex. 20:15). This right, however, does not mean we can use our possessions against the law of God. Along with the right to private possessions comes the duty to hold to them loosely and to give of them freely to the work of the Lord’s worship and instruction (Num. 18:8–32). To fail to give to the work of those who lead His people in worship and the teaching of Scripture is to take from God, for these leaders are the Lord’s appointed shepherds. When we do not support kingdom work, we show ourselves disdainful of the covenant God has made with us.
The temple and priesthood have passed away, but Malachi’s charge that God’s people rob Him when they do not support the expenses associated with worship and instruction in His kingdom remains. May we never be guilty of this great sin.