My wife, Gael, and I read a chapter every morning at the breakfast table. We are working our way through the Five books of Moses, and have just finished Leviticus. I had never looked at chapter 27 in any detail before, and there are a number of commands the Lord gave to Moses to pass on to the people that I had not thought about until now. The redemption of vows, children, slaves, and so on, were all things that I had only thought of peripherally. One in particular triggered my thoughts; and that was the possibility of redeeming the tithe.
One of the reasons it resonated with me was the fact that a friend had forwarded a blog article to me in which the author was suggesting that we as Christians ought to heed what the Lord said through Malachi about the tithes that were being withheld in his day in order to be prosperous. I believe that to be a “category error” to borrow a term from formal logic. Malachi has nothing to say to followers of the Lord Jesus unless we see a general principle we can apply.
The tithe in the nation of Israel was completely separate from the offerings. The Lord had said that when they came into the land, one tenth of what the land yielded belonged to Him, not them. It was for the maintenance of the Levites and the services of the Tabernacle (and later, the Temple in Solomon’s day). It was his; and failure to render it was equivalent to theft. I would imagine that the provision in Leviticus 27 was given for the situation where a man might want to have a bit more barley to seed his fields, and he had the option of ‘redeeming’ part of th tithe for that purpose. The procedure and value is clearly laid out for him, and included a 20% fee to be added to the value of the tithe.
Gael and I have an acquaintance in the ‘goods and services’ sector who did not pass on the HST, he should have been collecting, to the government. The consequences for him and others close to him were very serious, and he has not recovered from the penalties to this day. That is the scenario of Malachi 3:8–12. To rob God of what belongs to Him is a serious matter. The context has nothing to do with the prosperity of the Christian today. It has to do with the avoidance of the Lord’s discipline on the nation in the days of Malachi.
My Dad once related to me a conversation he had with a Jewish believer many years ago in Scotland. The conversation revolved around the thought of generosity and this man emphasized to my father some of the thoughts I have already touched on: that the tithe was never his to give to the Lord; it already belonged to the Lord; offerings were always above and beyond the tithe.
The Lord has made distinctions between Jews, gentiles, and the Church of God; and we need to be very careful to maintain those distinctions in our teachings and practice.