In the midst of his account of the miracles of tithing, DCP trots out the standard passage from Malachi that serves as the Biblical proof text for the Mormon commandment to tithe on one's income:
8 Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
9 Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.
10 Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
11 And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.
Here we have the simple formula of tithing resulting in blessings of abundance. If we do not tithe, we are robbing God.
Now, this passage is, of course, much more than a proof text. In its context, it is a story of a priest Eliashib who stole offerings dedicated to the upkeep of the Levites and other temple personnel that the people had already tithed to YHVH. This account can be found in Nehemiah 13. This was not an accusation that the people had robbed God by not tithing. No, instead God was requiring them to replenish the offerings that had been stolen from the temple so that the priests and personnel of the temple had the wherewithal to return to take up their duties again.
The problem here was very specific and the solution was practical but required great sacrifice. What the passage is not, however, is a blanket principle that applies equally for all times and circumstances. It makes all the difference in the world to know that the question, "Will a man rob God?," was not a condemnation of the people in general for their failure to tithe. It also makes a difference that the blessings promised were connected to a special extra sacrifice that God was commanding his people to do. It was a commandment essentially to double-tithe in exigent circumstances, so that the service of the temple could continue.
Not only am I bothered by the lazy way in which this proof text is habitually used without any reference to the real context and circumstances that make it intelligible, I am also bothered by the way God's focus is made to seem so solipsistic. According to the common reading, God is angry because He was shorted what was owed Him. In fact, God is angry because Eliashib has in fact stolen tithes and offerings. On the positive side, God is also concerned about his priests and servants at the temple who are unable to feed themselves and their families because of what Eliashib had done. God is concerned about his people. He will provide for the priests and other temple personnel by having the people tithe again, and he will provide for the people who are sacrificing by pouring out special blessings upon them.
This practical concern of God for the people is precisely what is underserved by treatments like DCP's. The thrust of his piece is all about the obligation of people to tithe so that divine blessings will pour out upon the tithe-payers. But God does not just provide miraculous blessings in response to faithful tithes. In Malachi, we see that the tithes were feeding human beings. What is at issue in our discussion of the EPA treasure trove is exactly that. We are reminding everyone that robbing God is taking money that has been tithed faithfully and putting it to questionable purposes, just as Eliashib had. Every year, 1 billion dollars is taken directly from God's tithes and put to no discernible purpose other than producing more money.
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed him! Wherein have ye robbed Him? By stockpiling vast quantities of money while the people of God go hungry and suffer.
Another thing that irritates me in all of this is the convenient fixation on the Old Testament. What would Jesus say of the obligation to feed and clothe the poor? Or to heal them?
Let's look at Matthew 25:
31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.
32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
40 "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'
Here we see the same kind of judgment being made in an end-times setting, and applied more clearly and directly than it is in Malachi. Will a man rob God? Whoever does not clothe, feed, heal, and free the poor, sick, and oppressed has robbed God. The tithes of the Church are not for just certain priests of the temple to stockpile and invest. To the extent that investment outstrips caring for the needy, God has been truly robbed, and those who are guilty are the priests, not the people.
Unfortunately, the ingrained culture in the high priests of Mormondom is to stockpile, to invest, and to condemn the people for failing to pay a full tithe, all the while forgetting that God has told us clearly what He wants done with the tithes. As He tells His people in scripture, God is not happy to see a mere pittance given to a few poor people. At the center of his program is providing for the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. A mere fraction of a percent will not do. Condemnation clearly weighs upon the priests who have robbed God by forgetting what the tithes are for and for committing them instead to pointless, empty multiplication.