Many of the laws and traditions of the Old Testament are shadows that are fulfilled in Christ. For instance, the circumcision of Jewish boys points to a spiritual circumcision “not performed by human hands” (Col 2:11). Your old self has been cut off by Christ, which is why some refer to Christ as our circumcision.
But what about tithing? How is this old covenant practice a shadow of a new covenant reality?
Tithing and circumcision have a lot in common. Both were practiced by Abraham, both were subsequently encoded into Moses’ Law, and both have led to controversies that divide the church. The early church fought over the issue of circumcision (Eph 2:11), while the modern church argues about tithing.
But we wouldn’t argue over an old covenant shadow if we understood the new covenant reality. So what is it? How does tithing point to Jesus? To answer this question let’s look at the most dogmatic Biblical teaching on tithing:
“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says the Lord of hosts. “All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,” says the Lord of hosts. (Mal 3:8-12, NASB)
This scripture is sometimes used as a big stick to manipulate people into giving. “If you don’t give ten percent of your gross income, you’re robbing God and opening the door to the devourer.” Usually the people preaching this derive their income from such giving, which is an amazing coincidence.
Obviously you should not fall for this law-based teaching, for we are under grace not law. If you believe you must give a tenth of your income to be blessed, then you are obligated to keep the whole law, which includes circumcision, animal sacrifices, and no bacon cheeseburgers while watching Friday night football. How much better to “serve in the newness of the spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (Rom 7:6).
The law is the shadow; Christ is the reality
Here is a key question: Is Malachi preaching law or is he prophesying? Is he pointing the finger at law-breakers, or pointing ahead to the Law Keeper? He is doing both, but we have only understood the former. We’ve seen the law and missed the prophecy. Never mind that the first two words of Malachi are “an oracle” or “a prophecy.”
So let’s take off our law glasses and put on our Jesus lenses and reread the words of the prophet. Doing this we might see how the old covenant shadow signals a new covenant reality, and how the lesser (the tithe) points to the greater (Jesus):
– Under the old covenant, you were cursed if you had no tithe (Mal 3:8-9), but in the new you are cursed if you don’t have Jesus (Matt 25:41).
– Under the old covenant, you dared not approach God without your tithe (see Luke 18:12), but in the new we have access into the throne room through Jesus (John 14:6).
– Under the old covenant no tithe meant no meat in the storehouse (Mal 3:10), which meant the priestly-tribe went hungry, but in the new covenant Jesus is the meat who sustains his priestly people (John 6:55-56). The old covenant tithe was the priest’s inheritance (Num 18:26), but our greater inheritance is in Christ (Eph 1:11).
– Under the old covenant, God required a tenth (Mal 3:8), but Jesus asks for more. “To whom much has been given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). The Much that God demands is the Much that has been given which is his Son.
– Under the old covenant you were blessed if you tithed (Mal 3:10-12), but in the new we are blessed with every blessing on account of Jesus (Eph 1:3).
– Under the old covenant, one nation was blessed on account of the tithe (Mal 3:12), but under the new covenant all nations are blessed on account of Jesus (Gen 22:18).
Read Malachi’s words through the lens of the law and you will find curses and blessings for your law-keeping performance, but read his words through the lens of grace, and you will see Jesus who fulfills the law of the tithe on your behalf and who is indeed greater than the tithe.
A person, a place, a party
One more thing. Under the law-keeping covenant, the tithe reminded the Israelites of a person, a place, and a party. The person was Melchizedek who received the first tithe and whose name means King of Righteousness. Hmm, who does that remind you of?
Melchizedek was the king of Salem which became Jerusalem, the city of peace. This was where the Israelites’ brought their tithes. Specifically, they brought their tithes to the temple which was an old covenant shadow of Christ himself (see John 2:19-21).
Finally, the Israelites used their tithes to throw parties (Deu 14:26-29), which is not a very old covenant thing to do. But parties are common in the new covenant, for they happen whenever the King of Righteousness brings his peace into our troubled lives.
Tithing was a shadow; Christ is the reality. If the Israelites had been a prophetic people, and if we are to be a prophetic people, we will see that the ancient tithe points to Jesus who is the Person, the Place, and the reason for our Party.
Why was God angry in Malachi 3? Was he upset because the Israelites had neglected to tithe their veggies? Or was he angry because they had knocked down a signpost that points to Jesus who is our tithe and much more besides?