Before we look at today's passage, let us briefly consider Malachi's teaching on divorce that we only touched on yesterday. Malachi 2:16 is exceptionally difficult to translate from Hebrew into English, and many translations render the verse so as to say God "hates divorce" (NKJV). On account of this, many believers have thought that divorce is never legitimate. However, we must read Malachi's teaching in the context of Scripture as a whole, and Jesus and Paul say divorce is lawful in certain cases (adultery and desertion; see Matt. 19:1–10; 1 Cor. 7:12–16). True, divorce was not the Lord's intent for creation from the beginning, but He graciously permits it in specific situations to help us deal with life in our fallen world. Malachi teaches not that divorce is always unlawful but that it is wrong to divorce one's spouse simply because one wants to marry someone else—especially an unbeliever.
This problem with rampant divorce, intermarriage, and improper sacrifices (Mal. 1:6–2:17) indicates that even after the exile, things remained seriously wrong in Judah. True, there was no blatant idolatry as there was prior to the exile (see 2 Kings 17:7–23), so the Jews learned that lesson. But the covenant community as a whole did not recognize what matters to God more than anything else—true love for Him with one's heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deut. 6:4–5). Thus, hypocritical worship and maltreatment of neighbor characterized the post-exilic situation. Is it any wonder, then, that the Lord did not return to His temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies after the exile? Malachi 3:1 indicates that this was the case because the prophet predicts the return of the Lord to His temple, which would have only been necessary if He was not there. Moreover, the Bible does not mention the presence of God filling the second temple like He did the first one (Ezra 6:13–18; see 1 Kings 8:1–11).
The Lord remained with His people after the exile, for a faithful remnant always remained in Judah, including men such as Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. But God did not meet with His people in the temple because the community as a whole had no interest in Him. This lack of commitment is also seen in the community's failure to tithe (Mal. 3:6–12). The people held back the full tithe required of them. Since the priests depended on the tithe for their living, this hurt them, and so they were willing to take whatever they could get, even impure animals. Yet though it was bad enough not to support the priesthood, even worse was that in holding back the tithe, the people were actually robbing God (v. 8).
Dr. R.C. Sproul has often pointed out that Malachi 3:10 is the only place in Scripture where God commands us to put Him to the test. It is otherwise sinful to test the Lord, but we may test Him with the tithe. When we give to the work of the Lord, He promises to bless us and meet our needs—not necessarily to make us rich materially but to satisfy us and make us content. Let us give to the Lord's work that we might see Him keep His promises.