The Prophet Malachi, painting by Duccio di Buoninsegna, c. 1310 (Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena Cathedral). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
By Justin Borger with assistance from Generous Giving staff
When a human heart won’t yield to God, it must be broken. Pharaoh’s refusal to release the Israelites from slavery in Egypt is not unlike the old, gnarly tree stump that refuses to be uprooted without a tractor and a few sticks of dynamite. When a stump won’t give, it must be broken. Similarly, after God commissioned the prophet Moses to lead his people out of the land of bondage, he told Moses,I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go (Exodus 3:19-20).
Again, just before he gave Moses permission to perform the first plague, which turned all the water in Egypt into blood, God reemphasized his reason for bringing such cataclysmic disaster and violent upheaval upon Egypt: Pharaoh’s “unyielding” heart had caused him to refuse to let God’s people go (Exodus 7:14).
We should exercise caution in drawing too close a parallel between Pharaoh and ourselves because God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 10:1), while he has promised to give us new hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Still, it is important for us to recognize that an unyielding heart always brings disaster. This truth applies to both Christians and non-Christians—whoever refuses to yield and withholds what belongs to God. The Old Testament prophet Malachi was very clear that pagan kings are not the only ones guilty of withholding things that God demands. Malachi was speaking to God’s own people when he asked, “Will a man rob God?” and told them that they were under a curse because they were robbing God by withholding the tithes and offerings he demanded (Malachi 3:8-9). God demands that we let go of everything that does not belong to us (Romans 13:7), and the account of the 10 plagues in the book of Exodus teaches us just how serious God is about this demand.
Like the Old Testament, the New Testament contains many examples of the troubles that come when our hearts grow hard and unyielding. One of the most frightening examples of this kind of disaster is the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). This married couple gave the proceeds from the sale of some property to God under the pretence that they were contributing everything they had received from the sale. However, secretly they withheld some of the money. Both were struck dead. Even though it would not have been wrong to keep the property with which God had blessed them, their hearts were hard and unyielding in spite of their superficial desire to appear generous before others. The severity of their punishment serves as a stern warning for the times when we feel our hearts hardening and growing increasingly unyielding, or when we become aware that our gifts and contributions to God are given grudgingly. The devastating consequences of an unyielding heart also can be sin, as demonstrated in the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-31). This young man asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor.” Unfortunately, the man’s heart had grown unyielding, and he chose to part with Jesus rather than the possessions Jesus had told him to give away.
How have our hearts hardened? In what ways have we given grudgingly or refused to yield? Do we rob God of our time? “Time is money,” and in our hypersonic culture, the devotion we give to God in service and worship tends to be lickety-split. Just as God demanded that Pharaoh let his people go, he demands that we—his people—yield ourselves (Romans 12:1). God demands that we give him our time and devotion and prioritize weekly rest from our regular work so that we can serve him and those around us in ways that are tangible and deliberate (Exodus 20:8-11). But this is not all. Besides our time, we also rob God of our efforts. How often are our energies absorbed by God’s purposes “on earth as it is in heaven”? We offer up the dregs of our existence after being entirely exhausted by the finite things about which we really care. And of course, like the rich young ruler, we rob God of our money by failing to give generously to the poor and needy.
The point to remember is this: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6). In the end, God cannot be robbed, “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36). Everything has been created by him and rightly belongs to him. The manner in which we give to him can vary greatly. Everything in creation is at God’s disposal, so the question is whether we will give willingly, with yielding hearts, or whether we will harden our hearts and have our closed hands forced open by the Almighty God. We will either experience the joy of giving generously or, like Pharaoh, be smashed, having everything taken from us. In light of these ultimate ends, everyone should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion from others but out of love for God’s Son, who became poor so that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Related Passages: Exodus 3:19-20; 7:14; 10:1; 20:8-11; Ezekiel 36:26; Malachi 3:8-9; Mark 10:17-31; John 12:37-41; Acts 5:1-11; Romans 2:5; 11:36; 12:1; 13:7; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7; Hebrews 3:7-19