The setting of this Book is one of a national call to the Hebrews, to arise from their spiritual sleep and to once again praise God and do His bidding. Only when they did this were they promised God’s undivided attention and help, not only with food and income, but with success against their enemies.
What, then, does this tell us about our current state in the world, where Christians are crushed underfoot, their efforts come to naught, and everything is turning to dust? It is obvious – we, too, are guilty of slumber! God has allowed us to suffer, if not come under His direct punishment. He called us many times but we resisted. Think not? Think the fault is with ‘others’? No, we are all guilty in some way or another. A few stand up to be counted, but most walk blindly and do nothing to oppose wickedness.
Once again, I call upon all believers to at last come awake! Start to oppose evil and praise God. Show the world what real Christians are made of. It is the one and only solution. How many will heed the call? Many tell me they are afraid of the consequences. My friends, do you think I am not afraid? Yet, I am compelled by my calling, and by the salvation freely given, to stand up and plainly speak what God says. Yes, I fear what can (and often does) happen to me, but if I do not speak out I am lower than the soil I stand on. I fear man, yes, but I fear God more. Do you? Fear is not an excuse for inaction and a refusal to stand with our Captain. He is the Lord of Hosts, not a minor private in the army!
I urge you all to rebuild the House of God in our time, to show the Church to be made up of people alive and true, faithful and sound, ready to show the world Who God really is, and what He demands. This Book is about the time of Haggai, and about our time, too.
Verses 1 - 3
In the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month, came the word of the LORD by the prophet Haggai, saying,
Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and to the residue of the people, saying,
Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?
Haggai continues his prophecy, repeated to the civil leader, prince Zerubbabel, and the spiritual leader, descendant of the Levite high priests, Joshua. It was also a message for the ‘residue’ of the people. This is an interesting historical point, that the Hebrews now in Israel were only a residue, or remnant, ‘what is left’ of the original descendants of the ‘southern kingdom’. Some chose to stay outside Israel, but the word ‘remnant’ in this text means that many more were killed in the previous war. Of those few who returned, most began their new lives in and around ruined Jerusalem.
In this text, then, ‘residue’ has the meaning of a people who escaped severe wrath, survivors not just of war, but of God’s judgment. In our day we are beginning to see what happens when we disavow God by being slow to obey. We will go through worse before we see sense and return fully to Him.
God asks the people: how many remember the old days when the first Temple was still standing? Almost none, but how do they see it now, in its ruined state? It has no glory and is as nothing to the eye and mind. How many today think of God’s Church as glorious? It has very little of its own to glory in, yet, as God’s people we have every right to praise God and see His Church as glorious! Repentance will clear-away the cloudy appearance of what has almost become a ruin, and will take us back to a sure foundation. As wicked men raise the dust, God still gives us hope!
Verses 4 - 9
Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts:
According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.
For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land;
And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts.
The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts.
The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts.
God tells Zerubbabel and Joshua to be ‘chazaq’! It means to be courageous and resolute, and to grow stronger; to press forward urgently. As I keep saying: the time is NOW, not tomorrow or next week, but NOW. God told everyone in the land to be strong and not to give in. What did He mean? Why should the people not be strong? Why was there a reason to take courage? Surely, now they were back in their own land, things would work out alright?
No. This is a deception we all go through at times. We come through one hard time after another and then, when things suddenly go right, we relax. It was at just such a time that David lost his kingdom! He dropped his moral and spiritual guard. Along came a suitable temptation and he fell, hard. Bathsheba was not just a beautiful woman; she was David’s downfall, one that ruined a kingdom God had built, through him, over many years, by his piety and obedience to the Lord. But, at a time when wars are not waged, he walked on his roof without a care in the world.
What happened? Satan hit his mark! This was no ordinary downfall. Jesus came from David’s stock. Satan would do anything to stop the birth of Christ, and he began with David. But, Satan reckoned without the power, mercy and grace of God to change a man. David turned himself around, repented deeply, and got on with his life. However, his failure had a lifelong effect. Though forgiven, he could not stop the results of his sin from affecting the kingdom.
After the people returned to their own land, they had high ideals but no spiritual heart. So, after a brief interlude when they had every intention of rebuilding both Jerusalem and the Temple, the opposition of the Samaritans damaged the brittle spiritual shell of the ‘remnant’, who just could not be bothered to carry on. So, they gave in and forgot about the Temple. As we have seen, it went much farther than that, for, in forgetting the Temple, they forgot God. And so God turned His back on them temporarily, to remind them of their obligation and care. He caused them to experience drought and famine, and loss of income. Now, He was calling them back, through Haggai.
God said “I am with you”. God knows our hearts and minds. And, remarkably, even when we fail and deliberately avoid His cause and our faith, He will send us a reminder of what we ought to be like. Have you forgotten God? Do you stroll through life as if your spiritual obligations are optional? Then repent, for God will be with you.
God reminds the people that He was the same in their day as He was to the Hebrews in Moses’ day. Following the same pattern, God is the same with us as He was with the Hebrews of Haggai’s day. Or, to use the term used in the Bible, He is ‘the same yesterday, today and forever’! Those who believe we can lose our salvation, do well to remember that fact. It is unchangeable truth. God’s Spirit remains with us, so “fear ye not”. The ruined Temple represents our miserable past. The new determination to rebuild it is a symbol of our glorious future (and our present, if we only obey).
Why do we fear, if God is with us? I observe in many people, and in myself, the way we collapse to our knees in concern if we sin, or if wicked men overcome us. We give up and give in. God tells us to be strong, and to keep gaining in strength. If God is with us why do we fear? It can only be that, as human beings, we are frail; we see the thing causing us fear, instead of the God Who is Lord of lords. It is a sign of our unbelief and weak faith. If we truly believe in God, we have no reason, and no justification, in being afraid. Even when God chastens us, we must realize He only chastens those whom He loves. To be chastened by God in this way is to be tried in the fire of purification, so that we may come out of it as purest gold.
Thus, when the enemy is so thick around us it all looks black, we must hold the banner high and simply walk forward with fearful resolution. We will then walk through the black cloud of sin and despair, to see Christ our commander, fighting on our behalf, the sun shining on His breastplate. He will soon come to the earth, and this is what God now says. He will shake the entire earth to its core, because His Son will enter history to save men. Yes, the second Temple will be more glorious than the first, but even that would be eclipsed by the coming of Christ. Everything in the universe belongs to God. The silver and gold so cherished will be as nothing compared to the glory that was to come: the birth, life, death and resurrection of the Messiah. It is a glory far greater than the Temple, and He will bring peace – peace with God. Do you believe it? Truly? Then why be so sad?
Verses 10 - 14
In the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying,
Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Ask now the priests concerning the law, saying,
If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy? And the priests answered and said, No.
Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean.
Then answered Haggai, and said, So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith the LORD; and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean.
Two months later, Haggai resumed his prophecy. Some today claim to prophesy daily! This is nonsense and a lie. If God prophesied daily it would no longer be prophecy but a normal teaching! This time, Haggai was to ask the priests a question about the law. ‘If you carry holy flesh in the corner of your clothing, or if your shirt touches bread, or soup, wine or oil, or any meat, will it still be holy?’ The priests all gave the same answer: ‘No’.
What was this all about? In an age when people try to ‘cut corners’ to get the same results, the way of working becomes shoddy. God is warning the priests to maintain the laws as He commanded them when He instituted the Hebrews as a nation. Nothing less would do – only His perfection. Thus, the clothing of a priest should not come into contact with sacrificial flesh. The meaning is that it is far easier to pass on what is tainted, than to make it clean again. Same goes for sin. It is very easy to sin, but much harder to eradicate its effects on the mind, heart and spirit. The priests agreed, that wearing holy clothes is without holiness if they are not clean.
Haggai presses his point: if a priest wearing holy clothing touches a dead body, and then touches holy things of the temple, are those things still clean? They all reply that they are not clean.
Now, God shows them why He is asking these questions… the priests have already provided the answers. That is, just as holy garments cannot sanctify what is unclean, and what is unclean tarnishes what is holy, so the people were made unclean by their resort to sin and following wicked ways. After all, it was why God handed them over to famine, drought and hardship.
For us, it means we must avoid what is sin at all costs. Sin always corrupts what it comes into contact with, but holiness does not make what is sinful clean. This is why we should not socialize with sinners, or make them close acquaintances. Their unsaved state will rely on unsaved minds and hearts, which are against God, no matter how ‘nice’ the people are. And when we are among them, we adopt their ways and think their thoughts. We become slowly corrupt. But they do not become slowly pure by being with us! Their spirits are dead, so they can never adopt holy ways or be for the Lord.
God is telling the priests that though they continued in their practices, offering sacrifices, etc., none of it made a scrap of difference, because their souls were not clean. When the Temple was being built, the priests had to be whiter-than-white, both in their clothes and in their hearts. Otherwise, everything they did would be not just tainted, but scandalous and abominable before the Lord. Do you think it is any different for us today? No, it is just the same.
How many preach, or teach, or counsel others; how many do good works? How many appear to be holy? But how many of these have secret sins? How many do not think aright? How many are blameworthy before God because of their blackened hearts? Think hard and put yourself right if you recognize any of these things in your heart. If you do not, you run the risk of offering to God what is tainted and unworthy.
Verses 15 - 19
And now, I pray you, consider from this day and upward, from before a stone was laid upon a stone in the temple of the LORD:
Since those days were, when one came to an heap of twenty measures, there were but ten: when one came to the pressfat for to draw out fifty vessels out of the press, there were but twenty.
I smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the labours of your hands; yet ye turned not to me, saith the LORD.
Consider now from this day and upward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the LORD's temple was laid, consider it.
Is the seed yet in the barn? yea, as yet the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree, hath not brought forth: from this day will I bless you.
Until this prophecy by Haggai, the people were suffering because of their own sinfulness. God prevented food from growing and water from flowing. Whatever the people expected from their labours came up very short. Now, they were obeying God and placing the first stones down for the new Temple. It was a momentous time, to be remembered. Before they repented and turned back to God again, they worked hard and yet seemed to have nothing (because God brought them to nothing). They expected certain harvests, but they were simply not there. The measures of corn they expected were much less. The wine (pressfats – wine presses) was far less.
As human beings we always think we will get so-and-so every time for our labours. But, God is in the picture! If we forget Him, our labours might be in vain. Because the Hebrews forgot God, He judged them “with mildew and with hail in all” their labours. They received ‘blasting’ or crop diseases and mildew, with hail to flatten crops when they were grown. Time and again I hear Christians refusing to accept that God sends His own people hardship, attacks and danger, in return for their evils. God will, and does, punish us at times for our intransigence. And when we continue in our sins and laxity, He will continue His punishments. When we undergo loss of blessings, it is wise to consider our ways, for it is likely we have offended God.
So, God urged them all to obey His demands. He asks them if the fruits of their labours are showing yet… seed, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives… up until now they had been withheld from them by God. Now they were starting to rebuild His Temple, they would start to prosper as He blessed them. This is a very clear instruction to us all: if we move away from God our lives will not prosper. But, if we do His bidding and obey, we will know blessings in abundance. It is not charismatic nonsense, but straightforward truth: if we obey and live holy lives, God will bless us. That is what He is saying here.
Verses 20 - 23
And again the word of the LORD came unto Haggai in the four and twentieth day of the month, saying,
Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth;
And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother.
In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the LORD, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the LORD of hosts.
On the same day, Haggai was told by God to speak to Zerubbabel. A summary of these last few verses is that Zerubbabel was favoured by God and would be made a “signet”. In those days Hebrews wore a signet-ring on their chest, hanging from a string. The ring was used to make a seal on wax, a mark of authority and ownership. God said He would do this because He had chosen him.
God proclaimed He would bring all kingdoms and heathen to nothing, along with their armies. Each would be destroyed by their brothers, such would be the chaos and mayhem, in the day that God would “shake the heavens and the earth”. Zerubabbel was to know that though other nations would fight and be involved in great upset, he was not to worry about Israel. This was not just about the days in which he lived, but about all nations, big or small, who think they can rule forever. They would fall, like all other nations have, and as Satan himself will be cast down, but, God would take care of His own. And so Zerubbabel, as a faithful servant, would be near to God.
Will any of us be God’s faithful servant? Will any be chosen to be close to Him? This book is not dry as dust – its message is as fresh as when it was first given. And it applies to us all.
© April 2009
Published on www.christiandoctrine.com
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