God’s Word for You
Malachi 3:7-8 robbing God
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, April 29, 2021
7 Since 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 the LORD of Armies.
When God says “Return to me, and I will return to you,” he might seem at first to be telling us that coming to faith is a matter of the human will; indeed, a matter of free will and man’s choice. Except that the verse begins with the condemnation of the law: You human beings, all of you, since the days of your ancient fathers and ancestors, have always turned away from me. You don’t keep my law. Man can know God’s law, but he can’t keep it. We try, but we fail. Only the gospel will turn us to Christ and his forgiveness, but Malachi is speaking to people who were not listening.
You say, “In what way should we return?”
Luther calls this the cry of “holy hypocrites.” They were unwilling to admit that anything they did was a sin. How is it that we gain eternal life? The first part of repentance is being sorry, admitting and agonizing over our sins. We recognize the error of thinking about free will, since free will has nothing to do with obtaining forgiveness, and that free will is not even the only path for sin in our lives. We sin apart from free will all the time; we are truly born sinful, as David says: “Certainly, I was guilty when I was born. I was sinful when my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5 EHV). Surely free will accounts for many sins that are committed, but our hands get dirty in other ways apart from deciding to go and pick up dirt. We fall into sins because of weakness and our inclination toward sinning as much as choosing to sin. Give a gossip a piece of news. Walk in front of a thief with a dollar hanging out of your pocket. For someone weak toward that sin, it will be a temptation too great to resist. This is our sinful leaning; our inclination to sin.
To say, “In what way should we return?” is to say, “I’m not really lost. What path shall I take, if you, O God, think I’m straying?” This is the snotty reply of a belligerent, hostile child, not a child of God.
8 Will a man rob God? You are robbing me! You say, “How have we robbed you?” In regard to the tithe and the special offering. (EHV)
It’s a testimony to man’s sinfulness that he doesn’t like to be called a sinner. And this is shown even in the attitude of many commentaries on this verse, where the main point is frequently a dispute on whether “rob” should mean “rob” here or “deceive,” since the word sounds like “Jacob” (see Genesis 25:26). Malachi points to the tithes and the special offerings as evidence of sins. Those offerings were what gave the priests all their income. The Lord had forbidden the priests from doing anything else, but when the people brought nothing, the priests had to give up their service in the temple and go into the fields for work and for food. While some would say, “Good! Let them finally do some real work for a change,” this wasn’t God’s will at all. This is the voice of corruption, corrupting the church of God with its insolence. It is only unbelief that treats God’s workers as worthless, because the devil wants to strike out at what he fears the most. His desire is to grind every minister of the gospel into dust, and so he attacks pastors today just as he attacked Israel’s priests and Christ’s apostles.
Whatever way the devil may attack you, through weakness from within or abuse from without, remember that suffering produces patient endurance “and patient endurance produces tested character, and tested character produces hope” (Romans 5:4). As we are turned back to God through repentance and faith, we ask for his help to guide us throughout the thorny paths of our lives. Pray that God would keep you from danger, from temptation, from grief, and from sin. God, who sent you his Son to rescue you from the burden of your sin, will not abandon you on the present road. Give him glory in whatever you do.
Pastor Timothy Smith