- Introduction – the machinery of God’s universe: this is the ‘sweetest’ of the Malachi disputes, where God’s people ask, “How do we return to You?” It is reminiscent of John 14, where Thomas shows concern about not knowing the way to Jesus/heaven. As a response to this question, the Lord reveals profound truths about the workings of His universe. It is as if He gives us a glimpse of the ‘machinery’.
- The ‘cog’ of God’s absolute dependability: verse 6 is a very powerful statement: the Jewish people exist because God is unchanging in His will for them to exist. This is a microcosm. God is both Creator and Sustainer of the Jews. God is both Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
- The ‘cog’ of God’s response to repentance: the latter part of verse 7 is repeated in the New Testament (e.g. James 4:8 + Luke 15’s Parable of the Prodigal Son). God declares His willingness to return to His people if they return to Him. The manner of the people returning is the pivotal issue. How does one make a journey back into God’s Presence? Wider Biblical evidence points to a twofold route: broken-heartedness about personal sin (Psalm 51) and painstaking obedience to God’s commandments (John 14:15).
- The ‘cog’ of God’s absolute ownership: verse 8 reveals a specific area of sinfulness: failure to recognise God’s ownership of every spiritual and physical thing. We are persistently reminded of this throughout Scripture. We are also reminded that God richly blesses those who honour Him with the wealth/resources that they have been allowed to steward. (See Scriptural examples in question 5, below)
- The ‘cog’ of inevitable consequence: the ESV translation of verse 9 (“You are cursed with a curse!”) reveals that God’s people might have been blaming their woes on the wrong things. They are not cursed with ‘bad luck’, rather they are suffering the inevitable results of breaking a covenant with the Living God. To keep a covenant with Him results in a blessing; to break such a covenant results in a curse. By not tithing correctly, the people have jammed/broken the bit of the ‘mechanism’ that gives them a blessing.
- Conclusion – our input into the mechanism: verse 10 is a great Scriptural rarity. In normal circumstances, God discourages any form of testing Him. However, God encourages His people to put the ‘mechanism’ to the test: obey Him, bring in the full tithe, and see how He blesses.
- We begin with a challenging question: have there been occasions in your life when you have felt far from God? What prompted you to try and return to Him?
- What do you understand about the word ‘repentance’? In what ways is repentance different from simply apologising?
- Is it easy to be obedient to God’s commandments? Has He required anything of us that is particularly difficult or irksome? What, in your opinion, is the most common reason for Christians failing to be obedient to God?
- How strict should Christians be about tithing?
- Take a few moments to reflect on some of the Scripture passages that address stewardship: Genesis 1:28, 1 Peter 4:10, Colossians 3:23, Matthew 25:14-30, John 3:27, 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, Luke 16:11, Matthew 23:23. What reasons might God have for encouraging us to be responsible with worldly possessions (cf. Luke 16:11).