Haggai was one of the post exile prophets. Very little is known of him. He is merely mentioned in Ezra but no history or lineage is given about him. His name means 'festival' and suggest he was born on one of the festival days. The focus of his prophetic ministry is to encourage the rebuilding of the temple.
It was the decree of Cyrus, after seventy years of captivity, that the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem. This decree was to return and build the temple. The first exiles returned under the leadership of Zerubabel and spiritual leadership of Joshua. Haggai and Zechariah were the prophets of God to these people at this time. About 50,000 people returned to Israel. Imagine what that was like. Anyone younger than 70 had never been in the land. Only those older than 75 or so would even recall any memories of te land. Many of the Jews were very happy in Babylon.
The returning exiles set out to rebuild the temple and worked at it for six years when the oppositions began to strengthen. They, in turn, lost their resolve and the temple rebuilding was moth-balled for ten years. It was restumed when the Lord sent Haggai and Zecharian to minister and prophecy to them. The work was restarted and in four years it was completed.
The Samaritans pressured the Jews to cease the temple rebuilding. The people began to assimilate and commingle with all the other cultures. They made themselves at home in the middle of this mixed bag and lost their desire to rebuild the temple. This is the atmosphere from which Haggai delivers his prophetic messages.
In a 'man on the street' interview people were asked, "What's the biggest problem with Christianity today, ignorance or apathy? One man said, "I don't know and I don't care."
The prophet Haggai prophesied to Zerubbabel who was leading the 50,000 exiles. This prophecy is given 4 years before the temple is finished. From that we can determine that the temple hasn't been worked on for ten years. Haggai is speaking this right to the governor who was given the responsibility of rebuilding the temple. There were at least three obvious failings:
Unfaithful in their mission: By stopping the work, they were declaring their lack of faith in God. They didn't trust His word nor the His power to deliver on it. The threats they heard and saw with their eyes meant more to them than God's word spoken into their life. The preservation of their own life and comfort had become a higher priority than God's mission for their life.
Ineffective in their calling: Excuses flow freely when accountability comes calling. This can be particularly true in a crowd; when many people can agree on an excuse they begin to justify themselves. The excuses started 10 years prior. It may have been too dangerous to continue. Too expensive. Too confrontational politically.
- Billy Sunday called an excuse "the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie."
- Benjamin Franklin wrote, "I never knew a man who was good at making excuses who was good at anything else."
Inconsistent in their walk: A major inconsistency existed in their thought process; it wasn't time to build God's house but it was time to build theirs. Where did this thought process come from? God had called them and provided for them and moved them from captivity back to Israel to do this work. Yet, they had stopped and remained stopped for ten years. They certainly had not considered their ways. Had they done so, they would have spied disobedience, rebellions and a lack of trust.
How did Zerubabel not see this happening? How did he not stop this before it spread through the ranks? The people had become complacent and very adept at making excuses. Did they fall away one or two at a time at first, just failing to who up for work? Were they overcome with the fear of the opposition? Had they become spoiled? They ignored their responsibility as it it didn't exist and attempted to just go on with life. Yet there was a problem. They felt the futility of life without the purpose of the Lord. They could not experience contentment.
- They sowed crops, but didn't get much harvest.
- Crops are sown on faith, with the hope of rain and protection from threat, they might bring forth a harvest over time. Imagine investing the time and effort
- They ate, but never had enough.
- This is like eating rice cakes; no substance, no flavor, won't fill you up and no matter how much you eat, none of that will change.
- They drank, but never quenched their thirst.
- Have you ever been so dehydrated you couldn't ge your thirst quenched? You can drink until your belly is full, but you remain thirsty as your body seeks relief from the dehydration.
- They put clothes on but never got warm.
- This is a terrible feeling; a bonechilling cold that can't be removed by piling on layers.
- They worked and worked, earning wages, and never had enough.
- No matter how much money you make, it won't replace God's blessing and joy in your life. The constant striving with our eyes on our own comfort will create more and more greed that will never be quenched.
The people had their eyes on their life and their comfort. They placed their wants and desires above what God called them to. Therefore, their labor was without profit; but also what was produced didn't bring any contentment or enjoyment. Haggai is helping Zerubabel consider his ways as a leader. He may not have led them to the futility of life they were experiencing but he also hadn't led them out of it.
God says they should consider their ways. Have we considered out ways? Have we lost his blessing because we put our eyes on our desires instead of God's desires for us? Their lives had become characterized by looking for big things and finding little things. In their unfaithfulness, God blew it away.
- The heavens withheld the dew
- The earth withheld its fruit
- There was s drought of rain. Grain. New wine. Oil. All crops. Men. Livestock.
- All their labor was as a drought.
God's people heard and responded because they feared the Lord. It happened this way:
- They believed God; not because of any evidence, but from respect or fear.
- God gives his assurance to the people
- God stirred the spirit of the governor, priest and people.
- They were united in their work for the Lord
This process took three weeks. It's takes a whole lot less time for a project to stop than it does for one to start.
It's not quite a month later when Haggai speaks to Zerubabel and Joshua again. It's the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, a day of rejoicing and celebration. The focus of this celebration was a remembtance of their time in the wilderness and praising God for the harvest and His abundant provision. It was during this same time that Solomon dedicated the original temple (1 Kings 8:2). Pointing back to this time may have saddened those older men who saw Solomon's temple and remember this grand and beautiful structure. This new temple was nothing in comparison. But the glory of the temple was never about the structure, it was about the presence of God that filled the temple. This glory is unchanging. It was never about the structure, it was about belief; faith in the promises of our unchanging God and obedience to His word. The 'former glory' of verse 3 is the same as the present glory.
Belief wasn't going to come by what we saw. Would these Jews be more likely to belief if the temple were larger and more ornate? No, in fact, they were more likely to trust in the wrong thing. They were more likely to find righteousness in religious acts and their presence around the temple. This can all be seen by the actions of the Jews in the time of Christ at the temple of Herod.
Haggai offers three things to these people. We aslo can take the same three things as encouragement to us:
- With this remembrance during the feast of tabernacles, they would also remember that the book of Dueteronomy was read to publicly during that feast. Haggai refers to a similar encouragment when he tells Zerubabel to 'be strong'; repeats it again to Joshua, 'be strong; and again to the people, 'be strong'. Moses encouraged Joshua to be strong three times in the face of this unknown journey. Likewise, David instructed Solomon in the building of the temple and encouraged him to be strong. The phrase 'be strong' is etched into the Jewish history; and thereby becomes part of our history (Eph 6:10).
I am with you:
- Attached to this command is the promise of God's presence, "I am with you." We have a similar promise repeated in several places in scripture; Matthew 28;20 being a pominent one. It's the assurance that we didn't arrive in our circumstances without His knowledge. He didn't save us and deliver us, just to abandon us along the way when things get difficult.
Do not fear:
- If fear isn't unbelief in a vague disguise, it's certainly a close cousin. The Jews received this command but it couls also be received as a promise. Fear eases in around the edges of life, sometimes unnoticed and unseen until it overcomes us I a moment. We are to push this fear away as a command, but can be encouraged that we don't have to let fear overtake us. We can refer to the promise that God is with us and we can be strong.
As the Lord pointed to the history and heritage of the Jews to remind them of their promises, we can likewise look back at our spiritual heritage to be reminded of these promises. We were 'born again' in the Spirit. This wasn't based on your performance or goodness. You didn't earn it, nor can you preserve it. It's by faith. That is belief in the promises of God. Where ever you stand today, we can stand boldly in Christ; knowing:
- Our strength comes through Him and by Him
- Our assurance is that He is with us and will never forsake us
- We don't have to fear anything, anybody or any circumstance of life.
It's good to be citizens of an unshakable kingdom (Heb 12:28) because we know that all the heavens and all the earth will be once again shaken. All the nations, all of mankind will then come to understand their need for Christ. He willl be the Desire of Nations and they will come to Him. The glory of the latter temple will be greater than the former. How is it greater when God is unchanging? The glory of God will be the same, but the need of mankind will be evident and the glory of Christ on the throne will be the culimination of the fulfillment of that need. It will be greater because the people's minds won't be clouded by unbeleif.
Just a few months later, Haggai speaks to the priests. The harvest had been brought in. The prophet Zechariah had begun his ministry to the people. The question put before the priests was this:
- Can holiness be transferred from the sacred to the common?
- Could the holy meat, offered as a sacrifice, touch the common bread and become holy? The answer was 'no'.
The second quesitons;
- Can defilement be transferred from the unclean to the holy?
- To touch a dead body made one unclean. Whatever that unclean person touched also became unclean. So the answer was yes.
The lesson is that defilement is easily transferred and spread, without thought and without effort. But holiness can only happen by intention, by focused and deliverate effort to be set apart as directed by God, for His purposes.
The unbelief of the people had spread to all they put their hand to. They were rebuidling the temple, going through the motions. But this was a sacred undertaking, a holy place. While they couldn't impart holiness on the temple, they could easily defile it by their sin. The work of their hands had to be a work of devotion to the Lord.
We step forward again a few months. Harvest was over, winter was setting in. The Lord reminds the people of what the sin of unbelief had brought to their life. It was the curse of sin, of separation from God and the loss of His blessing. Even in the scarcity of food and their need, they had failed to turn to Him. This had gone on for some time. They were asked to look at their storehouses and their harvest and to consider how this had gone for them. There was no seed and the harvest was meek. Yet, God offers a blessing. Would they receive this blessing? Would they believe God could bless them and care for them? Had they stepped away from their unbelief into faith?
The signet ring was something held precious and dear to the owner. It was always worn and was used to give the 'stamp of approval'. Haggai is pointing forward to a day that is coming when the Lord would shake the entire earth and conquer all His enemies. Zerubbabel stands representative as the line of David once again on the throne. He stands as a representative of the messiah who will come in the line of David. Zerubbabel stands as a remembrance that the messiah is coming. The promise of the coming Christ had not failed nor could it fail by the unfaithfulness of the people. It stands true inspite of the people and stands true as ann offer to the people.
Unbelief is a horrible sin that can make its home in the life of any man. It's a sin that can defile our life and work and permeate all that we do. It is a natural progression if we don't guard against it.
God is still in the temple building business:
- Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)
- Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph 2:19-22)
Let's grab those promises as we consider our life and the health of our faith.
- Be strong and courageous.
- He will never leave you.
- Do not fear.
That day is coming, when Christ will come. In that day, we can have peace and assurance in Jesus. I hope you have trusted in Jesus and repented of your sins and that you live in that same faith by day, until He comes.
©2017 Doug Ford
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