Malachi, in his book, is pointing out spiritual defects in the lives of the people of his day. Here he comes to deal with the matter of tithing. Because they had not tithed according to God’s instructions, they were revealing that their hearts had departed from God. This practice had been going on for a long time, from the days of their fathers, which may be a reference to those who returned from the exile or to those who lived before the exile. The people probably did not give the issue much thought. But God did; he regarded their failure as robbery.
In general, the tithe was used for the running of the public aspects of God’s worship: the upkeep of the temple, the daily sustenance of the priests, the care of the poor. The tithe was not limited to money but included a tenth of variety of things. Failing to give as God required was the equivalent of plunder.
This is an astounding assessment. For a thief to rob a weak person’s money is understandable even although it is a cruel crime; for him to try and rob the most powerful person in the country is an act of folly as well as a crime because he should know that he will be caught and punished. In robbing God, the Israelites were displaying folly as well as sin because they should have realised how easy it was for God to detect their sin and punish them for it.
Their failure is astounding in another way as well. In addition to it being an expression of folly, it was also an expression of ingratitude. They were refusing to give to the God who had been so good to them as a people throughout their history from the Exodus onwards. He had faithfully kept his promises to them, therefore they should have fulfilled their commitment to him.
Jesus endorses the practice of paying tithes in Luke 11:42 when he was condemning the Pharisees for their religious failures: ‘But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.’ Again, he shows there is a connection between tithing and religious dedication.
The Lord through Malachi issues a call to repentance, for his people to put things right. They are to bring the tithes to the temple (the storehouse). If they did, then the Lord would send them rain, with the result being an abundant harvest. He would also ensure that their crops and vines would be protected from marauding animals and armies. The Lord even insists that they test him in this regard to see whether or not he will keep his promise.
How long would the Lord continue to give this blessing? The answer is as long as the people kept on tithing. The phrase ‘until there not be room to receive it’ is literally ‘until there is a failure of sufficiency’. It could mean that God would give so much that there would not be enough room for it or it could mean that God would keep giving until the heavenly source ran dry (an impossibility, of course). In any case, it means that continual obedience to God will result in continual blessing from God.
Some people read this verse as if it were mainly a promise of spiritual revival. That is probably an application of it, but it is not the initial point of the verse. The verse is dealing with God’s response to the obedience of his people. It is similar to what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that if we seek first the kingdom of God, he will provide us with our food and our clothing, he will ensure that we have the good things of this life that we need.
The prophet also says that other people would see the difference. The surrounding countries would realise that the Lord had blessed them. I suppose an application of this is that non-Christians should observe that the needs of believers are met by God even in difficult circumstances. Private giving eventually results in a public witness to the goodness of God.