THE GREAT PROBLEM
OF MALACHI 3:10
By Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
Revised, December 31, 2022
Today all of the explanations of Malachi 3:10 in all Bible commentaries make God into a cruel tyrant.
Why? They all teach that the sin of the people of Judah in Malachi 3:10 was not bringing the whole food tithe to the one temple storehouse in Jerusalem.
Something is very seriously wrong with this explanation.
Name your state, province or capital city. Now, pretend that your religion is national like Judah’s and commands all of your members to “bring all of the food tithe into the one storehouse at the capital city.” How would you like it if your church members had to do that? And, how would you like it if your church leaders who needed the tithe for food had to travel to the capital city every time they were hungry?
The obvious answer is “Nobody would tolerate such command!” However, that is exactly what the commentary theologians and tithe-teaching pastors tell us that God commanded the people of Judea! In fact, most emphasize on that explanation of “all” in Malachi 3:10!
Yet, this is absolutely contrary to both logic and the teaching of God’s Word!
If you were an Old Testament Levite-priest under King Solomon, you lived in one of 13 cities inside Judah. However, if you were an ordinary Levite before Israel’s civil war (930 B. C.), you lived in one of 35 non-priestly Levite cities in the remainder of Israel (Josh 21). The northern-most city of Dan was 99 miles from Jerusalem, Jericho is 23 miles away up and down a steep mountain and the southern city of Beersheba is 69 miles from Jerusalem. Only a cruel God would command that kind of travel for food.
SOLVING THE PROBLEM
A. In Leviticus 27:30-34 the holy tithe was only food from inside God’s holy land of Israel. It was only the tenth of the crops and clean domestic animals. Although money was common, the holy tithe was always only food from inside holy Israel, God’s special property. The holy tithe was neither the “best” nor the “first” …. it was the “tenth”.
B. Numbers 18:20-28 is the exact wording of the tithing statute, or ordinance. The holy tithe was to replace land inheritance and wealth for worker-Levites and priest-Levites for their service in the temple. The priest-Levites only received the best one tenth of the whole tithe.
C. In Numbers 35 and Joshua 20-21, before the civil war of 930 B. C., there were portions of 48 cities scattered among the other tribes for the Levites to live. Common sense should include these facts in an explanation of Malachi 3:10; the citizens of the tribes would bring the first whole Levitical tithe to the Levitical cities within their own tribes.
D. First Kings 6 describes the storage rooms of Solomon’s temple. Since there are no huge storerooms described for “all” the tithe of Solomon’s prosperous Israel, the first whole Levitical tithe must have been brought by the people to the Levitical cities. This affects a proper interpretation of Malachi 3:10.
E. Second Chronicles 31 (circa 720 B. C.) is crucial for understanding Malachi 3:10. While beginning a revival after years of pagan worship in Judah, in 31:4 King Hezekiah mistakenly commanded the people to bring the tithes to Jerusalem. In 31:5-7 the people brought so much that there was no storage space and they “laid them by heaps” in the streets of Jerusalem.
In 31:8-9 King Hezekiah realized that something was wrong. Why were there heaps of food rotting in the streets of Jerusalem? He questioned the priests and Levites.
This was Solomon’s temple over 250 years later! It still contained no storage facilities for all the tithes of the nation! In 31:11-12 the king commanded that “limited” storage facilities be constructed (in Solomon’s temple). These would be the forerunners of chambers in Zerubbabel’s temple as seen in Nehemiah 13:5. They were quite small, or “limited”, because they only held the tithe for one course of priests and Levites for one week at a time.
In 31:13-21 the answer to the problem of Malachi 3:10 is found. The events which followed adding limited tithe chambers to Solomon’s temple are extremely important! Notice that the overflow of the heaps was re-distributed to the cities where the priests and Levites lived! This is logical. This is common sense. This is where the tithes should have been brought from the beginning. The temple was not enlarged to hold “the whole tithe” of the nation! Only a very small portion of the first whole Levitical tithe was later re-supplied to the temple for the weekly course of Levites and priests.
The remainder of chapter 31 is extremely important. It explains why Hezekiah’s commandment to bring all tithes to Jerusalem was wrong --- it belonged in the Levitical cities.
F. Nehemiah 10:35-39 are the best verses in the Bible which prove that the people brought the first Levitical tithe to the cities where the Levites and priests lived. When the “you” of Malachi 1:6-14; 2:1 -9, 13-17 and all of chapters 3 and 4 is understood to refer only to the dishonest priests of Judah, Malachi 3:10 is logical.
Notice the difference between 10:29-37a and 10:37b-39. In 10:29-37a the people of Judah swore an oath to bring the first-fruits and firstborn “unto the priests that minister” “unto the chambers of the house of our God.” These were the duplicated chambers first added to Solomon’s temple 250 years after it was built.
Nehemiah 10:37a-39 is the key to understanding Malachi 3:10. Verse 37b states “and we should bring … the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage.” Again, of utmost importance for understanding Malachi 3:10, the tithes (not the first-fruits or firstborn) were brought to the cities of Judah where the Levites and priests needed them for food!
Read Nehemiah 10:38-39 with the context of Numbers 18:25-28. After 930 B. C. the only Levitical cities remaining of the original 48 were 13 priests’ cities in Judah. When the priests and Levites travelled every 24th week to minister in the temple, the Levites carried the priests’ share (one per cent) to the temple for them. This is the only portion of the tithe brought to the temple and it was brought (not by the people as many mis-interpret Malachi 3:10) but by the Levites per verse 39.
G. Nehemiah 13:4-12 proves conclusively that “all” of the tithe of the people, or the “whole” tithe was never intended to be brought to the temple in Jerusalem.
While governor Nehemiah was away (13:6), the high priest Eliashib emptied the large storeroom which partially held tithes and moved his pagan friend into it 13:4-5). This is a crucial text for understanding Malachi 3:10. This one room only contained the Levites’ portion of the tithe.
In addition to the Levites’ portion of the tithes, that singular chamber also held “food offerings, frankincense, vessels and wine” (13:5). Notice in 13:10 that only the Levites (not the priests) had returned to their fields for something to eat. All of the priests had been involved in the theft of the Levites’ portion of the tithe. Since that chamber could not possibly hold “all” the tithe described in 2 Chronicles 31 as “heaps” in the streets of Jerusalem, then “all” the tithe in Malachi 3:10 must only refer to that portion of the Levites’ tithe which the priests under Eliashib had removed!
Since verse 5 does not include the daily food tithes for the weekly rotation of the priests, those must have been kept elsewhere.
Nehemiah 13:12-13 reflects an emergency restocking. It does not negate 10:37a-38 and does not refer to the whole tithe because it is clear in Second Chronicles 31:6 that there were not enough storage facilities for the tithes.
Nehemiah 13 is probably the context of Malachi 3:8-10. In Nehemiah 13:28-30 Nehemiah cleansed both the priests and Levites.
H. Malachi 3:6-10 has been misinterpreted by Bible teachers. This is due to a failure to link the preceding texts from First Kings 6, Second Chronicles 31, Nehemiah 10, Nehemiah 10 and 13 and Malachi 1:6; 2:1 to 3:5 and logic.
Please study the following comments carefully. Any logical explanation from readers will be much appreciated.
1. Malachi 3:6’s “sons of Jacob” is a reference only to the Levitical priests. Since 10 of the 12 tribes had been lost, the text cannot refer to all 12 tribes. Priests are legitimate “sons of Jacob.” See the same reference in Nehemiah 13:28.
2. The persons being addressed as “you” in 3:6 remain the priests from 1:6-14; 2:1-9 and 2:13 to the end of Malachi. Therefore, God is consistent in continuing to rebuke the priests for stealing the tithe in 1:6-14 and Nehemiah 13:5.
3. In Malachi 3:8 “robbed me in tithes and offerings” adds to 1:6-14 where the priests robbed God in impure sacrifices. It is also a reference to Nehemiah 13:5-10 where the priests had removed the Levites’ tithes from the storeroom and caused the Levites to return to their fields. The priests were not complaining and had their tithe food.
4. In Malachi 3:9 “the whole nation” can also read “the whole nation of you (priests) as translated in the NAS, RSV and NIV. Every priest had obeyed their high priest, Eliashib, and was involved in the robbery. According to 1:14 and Numbers 18:25-28, the Levites had given the priests the best of their herds.
5. Most important, in Malachi 3:10 “all the tithe” is only a reference to all the tithes which had been removed by the priests in Nehemiah 13:5. God was commanding the priests to return all the tithe they had robbed from Him which had caused the Levites to return to their fields (Neh 13:10).
6. Conclusion: Studied together, all of First Kings 6, all of Second Chronicles 31, Nehemiah 10:37a-38 and Nehemiah 13:4-12 prove that Malachi 3:10’s “storehouse” was, at the most, two large rooms combined. Almost 300 years earlier, King Hezekiah realized that Solomon’s temple had no storage facilities for the “whole tithe” of the much-smaller nation of Judah (2 Chronicles 31:1-19). Therefore, common sense teaches that “all the tithe” cannot possibly refer to all of the tithe of all of the nation.
Second Chronicles 31 clearly teaches that Solomon’s temple had no facilities to hold the whole tithe of the whole nation. King Hezekiah correctly returned the vast majority to the cities where the priests and Levites required the tithes.
Nehemiah 10:37b-38 is correct --- the people were always commanded to bring the tithe to the Levitical cities. In turn the Levites brought the very small portions of the priests’ tithe to the temple for their one-week rotation.
If every Levite and priest ministered in the temple every 24th week (4% of the time) and the wives and younger children stayed home (2% of the total), only 2% of the Levites and priests needed tithes at the temple at any one time.
God never commanded anybody other than dishonest priests in Malachi’s time to “bring ye all the tithe into the storehouse.”
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD