Forum Class for July 25, 2004
HAGGAI: SOME WORDS TO DISCOURAGED CARPENTERS
by Ray C. Stedman
When you read this book you will notice that the theme of the prophecy of Haggai is "get busy and build the Lord's house." Now, although you may be crowded in your church, and have need of more space, the church building is not the house of God. In Haggai's day it was a picture or shadow of the true house of God. These shadows (as we learned in the New Testament) pointed toward the true house of God which is the believer, and collectively, all believers -- forming the great house of God which is the church, the place where God dwells. That is what God is interested in building.
In Haggai's day the Lord's house was the temple, and you may remember that they had some difficulty building the temple after the Babylonian captivity. (This prophecy should be read in connection with the historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah which appear much earlier in the Old Testament.) As many of the prophets had prophesied, the Babylonian nation was raised up and came sweeping down across the land of Israel. They captured Jerusalem, the king was taken captive, his eyes were put out, and he was also carried as a captive to Babylon and there, just as the prophecy of Jeremiah had foretold, the people stayed in bondage exactly 70 years. This, by the way, is one of those remarkable prophecies which have already been fulfilled, so you can see how God speaks through the prophets what no man could speak on his own.
After the 70 years were fulfilled, Daniel, who prophesied in Babylon, tells us that God began to move to bring the people back to the land. They came first under Zerubbabel, who is mentioned in the opening verse of this prophecy of Haggai. Zerubbabel, who was descended from kings, was the captain of the remnant that came back from Babylon. When they came to Jerusalem, they found the city in ruins. The walls were broken down and the temple was utterly destroyed.
They began work first of all on the temple. Although they were still under the domain and rule of the Babylonians, they had permission from the king of Babylon to begin work on this temple. They started working, and they managed to lay the foundations and perhaps just one row of stones -- a much smaller temple than the original one that Solomon had built. Then the work began to lag, and after a while it ceased altogether and for 15 years nothing was done on the temple. It is at this point that Haggai the prophet rises up to speak.
Haggai delivers four messages to these people -- all within the space of about a year and a half, all concerning the building of the temple. But their deeper message, as I have already suggested, applies to us, the temple or the great house of God that he has been building for 20 centuries now. So we will read this prophecy not only as a message of the prophet to the people of his day about building the temple, but also as a message to the people of God everywhere concerning their responsibility in building the great house of God, the temple that the Holy Spirit has been building out of human hearts.
In this prophecy there are four messages dated by the calendar. Each one reveals an excuse given by the people for not working on the temple -- both their excuse and the real reason behind that excuse. The first message includes all of chapter 1. We read (verses 1 and 2):
In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah [governor under the King of Babylon] and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, "Thus says the LORD of hosts: This people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD." (Haggai 1:1-2)
The prophecy was addressed to the civil governor and to the religious heads, Joshua and Zerubbabel, and in this verse the prophet repeats the excuse that the people gave for leaving the temple abandoned for 15 years. They were saying "Why, the time has not yet come. There has been a mistake in figuring the 70 years that Jeremiah prophesied. There's no use doing anything now because God is not ready yet." But read the answer God gives to their excuse (verses 3-5):
Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, "Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider how you have fared." (Haggai 1:3-5)
In other words, God says, "Is the problem really that you think it's not yet time for me to work? Well, it's amazing that you think it is time for me to work in helping you to build your house. How about mine?" And he rather ironically suggests that the real reason the work of God has lagged is that they are all wrapped up in their own affairs. They have put God's work second and their own needs first.
They had forgotten something. The fact that they were there in the land at all proves that God's time had come. They would not have been back there if those 70 years had not been fulfilled. The real reason, therefore, was that they were not willing to put God first. Their own comforts, and their own convenience and their own desires came first. Now God says that he wants them to see what the results are. Three times he says, "Consider...consider...consider." Notice in verses 5 and 6:
"Consider how you have fared. You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warn; and be who earns wages earns wages to put them into a bag with holes." (Haggai 1:5-6)
They had inflation in those days too! He is saying that all this labor and work that they put out did not give them what they expected. "You are trying to get prosperous," God says "but prosperity eludes you. You are trying to satisfy yourself, but you never find fulfillment. There is always something missing." Verses 7-11:
"Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider how you have fared. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may appear in my glory, says the LORD." (Haggai 1:7-8)
"You have looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?, says the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while you busy yourselves each with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought upon the land and the hills, upon the grain, the new wine, the oil, upon what the ground brings forth, upon men and cattle, and upon all their labors." (Haggai 1:9-11)
God says, "I am behind this." Why did he do this? Why did he short-circuit all their efforts to achieve prosperity? Was it because he was trying to punish them? No, God never punishes in that sense. He was trying to wake them up. He was trying to show them that there was an infallible rule that runs all through scripture and all through life, that men are constantly trying to reverse, that says, "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well." (Matt. 6:33) The way to have what you need in terms of physical food and material shelter and the necessities of life is to give your major concern and interests not to these, but to advancing God's work. That is what you are here for. You have a Father in heaven who knows your needs along this line, and he is perfectly able to supply them, and he will as long as your interest is first of all in his work.
That is right up to date, is it not? That is calling us back to this great principle that the New Testament is reminding us of that we are not our own, but we were bought with a price; we belong to him. (I Cor. 6:19,20) We are here to advance his cause, his interests. We are here to build the house of God. That is why God has left us here in this world, so that we might be his instruments in this work of erecting a great temple of human beings which will be and is a habitation of God, the dwelling place of God.
Is that first in our interests? Is that what we live for? Or is it that we might get a new color TV set or a better automobile or a more beautiful home or better drapes or a softer rug? Not that all those things are denied to Christians. Let us understand that. God, in his grace and goodness sometimes gives wealth to Christians and they are to use it, as Paul reminds us in his letter to Timothy. in being generous, giving richly and freely.
But God has called us primarily to put the building of the house of God first -- not the brick and mortar building, but the church of God. There are people all around us that the Holy Spirit intends to add to the house of God if we are his instruments and channels of his working. And the great question that Haggai confronts us with is: how can we find time to advance our interests so eagerly, so carefully, so thoughtfully -- spending so much time thinking about advancing our own material gain and then excuse ourselves from the work of building the house of God by saying, "It isn't time yet"?
Do you remember that story of William Carry, the father of modern missions, who in 18th century England got concerned about India, far across the sea, and prayed that God would somehow reach those poor, benighted heathen who had never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He tried to stir up interest in the churches of England, but he met everywhere with adamant resistance to his idea. In one meeting, Carry made an impassioned plea to be sent out as a missionary. Even though he was a simple cobbler and uneducated, he was willing to go. One of the elders of the meeting pointed his finger at Carry and said, "Young man, sit down. When God wants to evangelize the heathen, he'll do it without your help."
This was the kind of stubborn resistance that Carry met with, but he was a man who could not be defeated. He was used of God to begin the great modern missionary movement that has not stopped yet, because he was one who was concerned about God's work. There is an excitement that comes into our lives when we really, genuinely put the affairs of God first, and do not even bother to think about the provision of our own needs. This is why God says, "Now is the accepted time. Today is the day."
So we read that they started this work (verses 12-15):
Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him; and the people feared before the LORD. Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD's message [and what a message] "I am with you, says the Lord." [you can count on that] And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the...governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month. (Haggai 1:12-15)
How long did the work last? Three weeks. And then it ground to a halt again. Notice the calendar (chapter 2, verses 1-3):
In the second year of Darius the king [that is, the same year] in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, [21 days later] the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, "Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, "Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?" (Haggai 2:1-3)
Now God was repeating what the people were saying. They had gotten started and the temple had begun to go up. There was a bustle of excitement until an old man came down to watch the work. He had been a child when they were carried captive into Babylon and had seen the temple of Solomon in all its great glory, and as old men sometimes do, he was living in the past. And he said, "Do you call this a temple? This heap of ruins here? I saw Solomon's temple, and what you are building here is nothing compared to that. All the gold and silver that was in that temple -- it was amazing! And you don't even have any gold or silver. How are you going to decorate this temple?" The people got discouraged and they said, "You know, he's right. We don't have any gold or silver. We don't have anything to make this temple beautiful. What's the use? Why work?" So they quit. But the Lord said (verse 4):
"...take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD;" (Haggai 2:4b)
On what basis, Lord?
"Work, for I am with you," (Haggai 2:4c)
That is always God's answer. "Work, for I am with you. Don't worry about the fact that things don't look as good as they ought to." Verses 5 and 6:
"according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit abides among you; fear not. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all nations," (Haggai 2:5-7a)
When God says he will shake the heavens and the people and the earth, he is not speaking literally, but figuratively. He means that he is going to rearrange the whole historical picture (verses 7 and 8):
"...so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine." (Haggai 2:7b-8a)
"You don't need to worry about that. I've got all we need of that. And if I wanted this house decorated with gold and silver, I could stack it up in piles here on your back step. But that isn't the kind of glory I have in mind. I am going to fill this house, so that (verse 9):
"The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts." (Haggai 2:9)
God is like that. He says, "Look, you are discouraged because you think what you are doing won't amount to anything. But don't stop the work because of that. I have a different plan in mind. This house, little as it is, unpretentious as it is, without gold or silver, is actually going to have greater glory in it than the glory of the previous temple."
Now those words were fulfilled. Do you know how? Into that house one day came one who found it filled with money changers, and overthrowing the tables, he drove them out and said, "You make [my Father's house] a den of robbers." (Matt. 21:13) And he cleansed it and made it a place of prayer. And he filled it with the glory of his teaching, standing in the midst of it and saying things such as people had never heard before. And he utterly changed the whole life of that nation and every nation in the world by what he said. And from out of that house, changed and altered a little by Herod, but the same house, there went forth a glory that has never ceased, a different kind of glory.
Do not stop the work because it does not compare with something that was there in the past. This is one of the problems of God's people. We are always looking back to the past. We say, "Oh, for the days of D. L. Moody. Oh, for the days of the church where we came from. Oh, what we did then." And we are wistful and long to have it just that way. But the great lesson that God wants to impress upon us is that God always does a new and different work. The thing that is coming in the future is always better for our present situation than the past. We do not need to hang on to these things of tradition. God is saying, "Keep on working, I am with you. And when I am in your midst you don't need to worry about how it is going to turn out. It may be different but it will always be better." Well, that took effect for awhile, and then what? Well, they quit again. In verses 10-12 we read:
On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month [that is two months later] in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, "Thus says the LORD of hosts: Ask the priests to decide this question, 'If one carries holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and touches with his skirt bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any kind of food, does it become holy?'" (Haggai 2:10-12a)
This was in accordance with the law of Moses. If you get into a situation, Moses said, where you do not know what to do, go ask the priest to declare the appropriate principle and then make an application from that. It is the same thing we are told to do. When you get into a situation that you do not know how to handle, go to the word of God and get the principle that covers that situation.
And this was the question they were to ask the priest. "If you have something clean (holy) about you and you touch something else -- a bit of bread or wine or oil -- does that become holy because you've got holy flesh on you? Does the unclean thing become holy?" And the priests answered correctly, "No." Well, then he put another question (verse 13):
Then said Haggai, "If one who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?" (Haggai 2:13a)
The priests answered, "Yes, it does." What is this all about? What is the problem here? Well, as we read on we will see (verses 14-18):
Then Haggai said, "So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, says the LORD; and so with every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean. Pray now, consider what will come to pass from this day onward. Before a stone was placed upon a stone in the temple of the LORD, how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten; when one came to the winevat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. I smote you and all the products of your toil with blight and mildew and hail; yet you did not return to me, says the LORD. Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the LORD's temple was laid, consider." (Haggai 2:14-18)
What does he mean? If you read between the lines, you can see again what the people were saying. They were saying, "Look, we've been working on the temple for two months. You said that the reason we were having such a hard time materially and physically was that we weren't working on the temple. We have been working on the temple now for two months, 21 days, and we are still having a hard time. What is the matter? Why work? Nothing is happening. It doesn't work." They were the same kind of people we are. They wanted instant results: "I straightened everything out yesterday. Today everything ought to go great."
One time when a couple came to see me for marital counseling, the man said, "We just can't live together. She is always blowing up and exploding and bawling me out about everything." I examined the situation and found out that the major problem was that here was a man who paid no attention to his wife; he utterly neglected her and she would take it just so long and then she would blow up. So I told him this and he said, "I think you are right." So he went home to do something about it. The next morning he called me up and said, "Well, I took her out to dinner last night and we had a great time. She enjoyed it so much I was sure you were right. But this morning she blew up again. The thing doesn't work."
I had to say to him what Haggai said to these people. Do you think the deep pollution of sin that has been going on for years is going to be cured overnight when you start doing the right thing? Do you think that all these habits of wrong thinking that have been deeply ingrained in your mind are suddenly going to be eliminated simply because you begin to operate on the right basis? No, we need time and patience. "Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart." (Gal. 6:9) Now notice this word of encouragement (verse 19):
"Is the seed yet in the barn? [You plant your seed and you do not expect instant results, do you? You expect to wait until the harvest. It takes time for the seed to grow.] Do the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree still yield nothing. From this day on I will bless you." (Haggai 2:19)
Do not worry. Keep on. Do not stop work just because you do not see instant results. If you are doing the right thing, keep on doing it and the results will come. Once again, on the very same day, they needed a little encouragement and so another message came, the last one (verses 20-24):
The word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, "Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders; and the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his fellow. On that day, says the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, says the LORD, and make you like a signet ring [the sign of authority]; for I have chosen you, says the LORD of hosts." (Haggai 2:20-24)
Now here was a special word of encouragement to the leader while the people were yet under the authority of Babylon, although they were back in the land and building the temple again, they were still beset by many problems. Everywhere they looked there was the sign of the authority of the foreign power. They saw chariots everywhere and soldiers marching through the streets and all the signs of bondage, and their hearts grew fearful and they said, "When will it ever be? Are we ever going to be free?"
God says, "Don't worry. I have a program going that will reverse the whole order of things. I will destroy the power of this kingdom. I will bring their chariots to naught. I will break you loose from the bondage of this people and I am going to take Zerubbabel, the man who stands as the leader of the people and make him a signet ring." Now Zerubbabel was of the royal line, the line of David, and though these words were not literally fulfilled in Zerubbabel, they were spoken of his descendent who was Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus, God fulfilled all these words. He took the son of David and made him a signet ring by which all the nations shall ultimately be ruled.
Now in what way is all this a word to us? It is a word of encouragement in a day of darkness, a word of rising up and acting now. Build now. Do not wait. The work of God needs to be done now. Not next year. Not ten years from now. Now. Are your homes open? Are your lives ready? A great harvest field is before us here and around the world. Opportunities abound as they never have before. Is this first in your prayers? Is it first in your interests that this great harvest may be reaped? Are your homes open to the students that throng our campuses that they might come to Christ? And to your neighbors so that they can come in and find a friendly heart and a ready smile and a ready ear to listen?
How much are we ready to build the house of the Lord? This is always the key, is it not? This is the work of the Spirit. When all that man has done around us crumbles into nothing and all the vast civilizations and great secrets of nature are forgotten, the one thing that will last is the work of the Lord, the house of God that he is building now. Are we investing in eternal things? That is Haggai's word.
Date: September 11, 1966)
by James M. Boice
In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest: This is what the LORD Almighty says: "These people say, 'The time has not yet come for the LORD'S house to be built,' " Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: "Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?" Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it," This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored," says the LORD. "You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the LORD Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands."
There is a conviction, shared by various writers, that history is a series of key moments in the otherwise undistinguished flow of human life. According to this view, years may go by with little of importance happening. But suddenly there will be a crisis. A challenge will emerge, and the nature of the next period of history will be determined by how the leaders of the day react to that challenge. Hitler's invasion of Danzig on the last days of August 1939 was one such moment. Would England go to war as she had threatened to do? Or would Hitler be allowed to continue in his announced course of aggression? That England did go to war marked out the course of Western history for decades.
The year 520 B.C. was like that. It would not appear so to most secular historians or even to many biblical historians, but it was important enough for God to have sent a prophet to deal with it and to record what happened in the Word of God. Sixteen years earlier, in 536 B.C., the Persian emperor Cyrus had issued a decree permitting the Jewish exiles in Babylon to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (cf. Ezra 1:2-4). In response to this decree, about fifty thousand people returned under the leadership of the newly appointed governor of Judah, Zerubbabel, also called Sheshbazzar (cf. Ezra 1:11; 5:14, 16), and Joshua, the high priest. These people settled in or near Jerusalem and began the restoration. They cleared the temple court of rubble and replaced the altar of burnt offerings on its base, thus making it possible for the daily sacrifices to begin again. This was in the fall of 536 B.C. By the spring of the next year they had laid the foundations of the temple.
Then troubles began. The people experienced hostility from various neighboring tribes, especially the Samaritans, whose help in rebuilding they had earlier declined. Moreover, Cyrus died in battle, and his successor Cambyses, also called Ahasuerus (cf. Ezra 4:6), was pushed to stop the work. When the work ceased, the people turned to private affairs and gradually became used to worshiping among the ruins of the once great temple. Desire to rebuild died out, and fifteen years passed. The people were on their way to becoming merely the secular occupants of an impoverished land. Then came the year 520 B.C. In that year God sent the prophet Haggai with his challenge to the people to get on with God's work and build the temple. That they listened to Haggai and started rebuilding was a significant turning point in their history, as important in its own way as the building of the temple in the first place or the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon.
PROPHETS OF THE RESTORATION
We know very little about Haggai himself, as has been true with others of the prophets. His name is based upon the Hebrew word hag ("festival") and means "my feast" or "my festival." It may indicate that he was born on a feast day, but we cannot be certain. We do not even know who his father was, since he is merely referred to as "the prophet," both in his own book and in Ezra (Haggai. 1:1; Ezra 5:1).
Haggai is one of the three last prophets of the Old Testament period, the prophets of the restoration: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The others came to Israel or Judah before the fall of those nations, the former to the armies of Assyria in 721 B.C. the latter to the armies of the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The earlier years saw great giants of prophets, chief among them Isaiah and Jeremiah. Later there were prophets whose words were spoken mainly against the gentile nations: Obadiah, Jonah, and Nahum. There were prophets to the northern kingdoms: Hosea and Amos. Others carried on their ministries in the south: Joel, Micah, and Zephaniah. During the Exile, Ezekiel and Daniel had made their contribution. But those periods were past now, and it was a radically different age that confronted these last spokesmen for God in the Old Testament. Gone was the glory of the former kingdom and temple. Gone was the great population. All that was left was the rubble of Jerusalem, the remnant of the people, and the task of restoration.
There are five biblical books that may profitably be read together in studying this period: the three prophets of the restoration, which we have already mentioned (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi), and two historical books: Ezra and Nehemiah. Of the three prophets, Haggai and Zechariah come rather early in the period. (Zechariah began his work just two months after Haggai.) Malachi comes approximately one hundred years later, in years of decline.
THE PEOPLE AND PLACE
We are not going to get very far in studying Haggai (and later Zechariah) unless we realize that this was not an unredeemably bad period in Judah's history. In our studies so far we have become accustomed to prophetic warnings of God's judgment on a sinful people and self-righteous people. But the last three prophets spoke to a different situation. Their audience was the remnant. These people were not at all like those who had lived in Israel and Judah previously. True, they were neglecting to build the temple and this was serious in God's sight. It was an indication that their spiritual priorities were not right. They were living for themselves rather than for God's glory. But they were still the right people, living in the right place, wanting to do the right work for the right reasons.
These points are worth looking at in detail. First, in Haggai we are dealing with the right people, select people whose devotion to and zeal for God were evident. This is summed up in the spiritual meaning of the word "remnant" which we have already used to describe them. It means that they were not the entire body of the Jewish people at this time. Many thousands had been carried away to Assyria. Others had been deported to Babylon. In fact, when Cyrus issued his decree permitting the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple, most of the exiled Jews remained in Babylon, where they had settled down and prospered during the Exile period. It was only these few 42,360 (plus 7,337 servants and 200 singers) who actually left Babylon and made the long journey back to Judah with Zerubbabel. One commentator says, "The 'remnant' to whom the message was given composed of Israelites who were distinguished by special devotion to the Lord. It was their devotion to him, and their zeal for his house, that was the cause of their separation from the mass of their brethren who remained behind in Babylon. They were, therefore, a choice company of people. They had and been separated for a purpose of great importance; for the direct line of God's dealings was to continue with them to the coming of Christ."
Second, the people to whom God directs His word through Haggai were in the right place. That is, they were in Jerusalem and its environs at the call of God and not in Babylon among those who had preferred their fixed way of life to the rigors of a return.
This is not insignificant. Today God does not restrict His work to a particular place. When the Samaritan woman asked Jesus whether the mountain of Gerazim in Samaria or Jerusalem was the proper place to worship, Jesus replied, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.... Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth" (John 4:21, 23). That time came with His own death and resurrection. But it was not yet true in the days of Haggai and the other Old Testament figures. In the Old Testament period God had placed a special value on Jerusalem and had required that the sacrifices for sin be made there and not elsewhere. He had punished the people by exile, but He had also promised to bring them back after the years of their exile were finished. This was the hope of the people while in Babylon. The people who had returned with Zerubbabel and Joshua were sensitive to was these promises and wanted to be in the place of God's blessing. When the call to return came, they left Babylon and got back to Jerusalem as soon as possible.
A moment ago I said that God's of their brethren who remained behind commitment to a particular place has been altered to a concern for the whole world in our day. That is true in one sense, but it is misleading in another. It is true that God has sent His people into the whole world with the gospel, and in this sense Christianity has become universalistic rather than particularistic. But it is equally true that God does not send the individual believer into "all the world." He sends him to a particular place and to a specific group of people where he is to live for Christ and share the gospel. In other words, Our response to God as individuals must be as related to a place as was God's call to the Jewish remnant. If we are to be the right people, we must be in the right place also. Third, the remnant to whom Haggai spoke also wanted to be about the right work. There were many things they needed to do. They needed to provide homes for their families. They needed to make a living, in their case largely through farming. They needed to establish schools, shops, commerce, trade. These were all valid and necessary pursuits. But in addition to these and chief among them, the people also wanted to rebuild the temple, which is what God had put into the heart of Cyrus to decree (cf. Ezra 1:2ff.).
As Ezra tells it, the first thing the people did when they arrived in Jerusalem was take a freewill offering toward the rebuilding of the house of God. It was a substantial offering. Ezra says, "According to their ability they gave to the treasury for this work 61,000 drachmas (darics) of gold, 5,000 minas of silver and 100 priestly garments" (Ezra 2:69). In our weights the gold was 1,100 pounds or 13,200 ounces (Troy weight), for a value somewhat in excess of five million dollars. The silver weighed three tons and was worth more than half a million dollars at our current rates of exchange. The people used this money to pay masons and carpenters and to buy and transport cedar logs from Lebanon. Then, in the second month of their second year in Judah (after they had established themselves and presumably brought in the first harvest), they began the work and progressed as far as laying the foundation of the great temple. These people clearly wanted to serve God and put His work above their own interests.
Finally, the people were working for the right reasons. We could imagine them rebuilding the temple to assert themselves with some sense of distorted national pride: "The Babylonians destroyed our temple; but we'll show them who will have the last word. We'll build it again." We can imagine them attempting to construct a monument to their own fierce independence, like the Tower of Babel. These were not their motivations. So far as we are told, their sole desire was to please God.
Philip Mauro, whom I quoted earlier, writes correctly: "They were characterized by affection and zeal for God's house, and this is a great thing in his sight. Not only so, but, in pursuit of that object, they had voluntarily turned away from all the magnificence, grandeur and luxury of Babylon, where, after a long residence, the people of God had become thoroughly domesticated. They had faced trials and difficulties in crossing the intervening territory, and the result of all their efforts and hardships was but to bring them to a desolated land and a ruined city. So their devotion and zeal for the Lord's interests had been fully proved. There was nothing to attract them to that land and to that city except the fact that it was God's holy land, and the city which he had chosen to put his name there."
So I repeat, the people to whom the prophet Haggai spoke were the right people, living in the right place, trying to do the right work for the right reasons. Yet the years had gone by, and they were sufficiently caught up in their own pursuits to let the work for which they had come to Jerusalem slide.
Many in our day are like that. They are not unbelievers. They are not even unconcerned believers. These people want to know the will of God and do it. At least they did at one time--perhaps when they were in a Youth for Christ group in high school or in Campus Crusade or InterVarsity Fellowship during their years in college. Perhaps they were zealous for God in the years immediately following their conversion. But life has moved on. Now there is a job or a wife or children (or any one of a dozen other things) to think about, and somehow they have let the work of God slide. They have left the work to younger or older or newer or merely other Christians. The word of God by Haggai comes to such people--to you, if you are one. God says: What is the condition of my house? What is the condition of my work in your home, your church, your neighborhood, your city, your land? He says: What are you doing to fulfill the purpose for which you have been set apart by Jesus Christ?
"CONSIDER YOUR WAYS"
In a certain sense there is only one message in this book: "Give careful thought to your ways." It is found twice in chapter 1 (vv. 5, 7) and three times in chapter 2 (vv. 15, 18). In the first chapter it comes about like this. Apparently the people had not only ceased work on the temple, they had also done what many Christians who become lazy in the Lord's work also do. They had begun to make excuses. This is a clue to underlying guilt. If there is no wrongdoing, there is no need to make excuses. But here there was guilt, and excuses were being made. The people said: "The time has not yet come for the LORD's house to be built" (v. 2).
How many times have you heard that?
"Yes, 1 believe in foreign missions, but with our economy the way it is, this is just no time to expand our missionary budget."
"Well, of course every Christian is to be a witness where he lives and works. But witnessing to my co-workers is a delicate business. I don't think it's time to tell them about Jesus Christ."
"I know I should tithe, but I can't do it this year. I have too many family obligations."
"I'm flattered that you think my talents might help in that particular area of the church's work, but I don't have time to serve just now. Perhaps later when the pressures of my job let up a bit or when I retire."
I am glad David Livingstone did not think that way when he was being called by the Lord to set out on his missionary journeys to Africa. He had applied to a mission society in Scotland, but they had told him, "Young man, when God sees fit to evangelize Africa He will do it without your help." Livingstone rightly recognized that every time is the right time to evangelize and that the work of missions is every Christian's job.
In the first chapter of Haggai, God challenges this excuse and the inactivity behind it with two arguments. First: "Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?" (v. 4). That was a very biting argument. God was accusing the people of having plenty of time for themselves while pleading a lack of time for God. It was an accusation of having plenty of money to spend on their own comfort and pleasures while claiming not to have enough for God's service. The people were prospering. How could it be, then, that they were unable to get on with the work God had given them to do?
When I read this I think of evangelical church in America. It fits the pattern of the Jewish remnant perfectly. Evangelicals are orthodox; in that sense they are the right people. They are in the right place; they attend good, Bible-believing fellowships. They are trying to do the right things; they want to share the gospel and do works honoring God. They are even trying to do it for the right reasons; that is, they really want to please God rather than man and see Christ honored. But something is wrong. Their intentions do not come to fruition, and the reason is their failure to put God first. Instead of having God first, they put affluence first.
A generation ago Harry Ironside wrote in his study of Haggai: "Alas, how much is sacrificed for money! Christian fellowship, the joys of gathering at the table of the Lord, gospel work, and privileges of mutual edification and instruction in divine things--all are parted with often simply because the opportunity arises of adding a few paltry dollars to the monthly income and savings. Brethren with families even will leave a town or city where the spiritual support fellowship of their brethren is found and where their children have the privilege of the gospel meeting and the Sunday-school, simply because they see, or fancy they see, an opportunity to better their earthly circumstances. Alas, in many instances, they miss all they had hoped for, and lose spiritually is never regained!"
At this point we are beginning to see why the failure of the people to build the Lord's house was so tragic, and why similar failures are so tragic for ourselves. It is not that any particular temple is in itself all that important --though the temple in Jerusalem was the special and anything God commands is of importance simply because He commands it. But the failure to proceed with the temple was the result of inverted priorities, and in the final analysis all inverted priorities are idolatry. They put the creation before the Creator.
God says, "You shall have no gods before me" (Exod. 20:3). He says, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deut. 6:5).
The second argument with which their Haggai challenges the people's inactivity is an observation on what has actually transpired in their lives. They first had put other things before God, and God, who will have no other gods before Him, sent leanness. This is where the reference to giving careful thought comes in. "Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it" (vv. 5, 6). Later on the word of God continues in the same vein: and "You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why? . . . Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the what '" grain, the new wine, the oil and what ever the ground produces, on men and why cattle, and on the labor of your hands" (vv.9-11).
I do not know of any passage in the Bible that better describes the feverish yet ineffective activity of our own age. Haggai's first remark (in v. 6) is that the people had "planted much" but had "harvested little." Since farming was their chief occupation, it is the equivalent of saying that they were always working. They were like the people in our day who take on extra jobs, who work through lunch and stay at the plant to work nights, who are always rushing around to get ahead. Yet little had come of it. They were like the person in the Pennsylvania Dutch expression: "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get." They were so concerned about working every possible moment that they were upset if they missed one turn of the revolving door. Yet they seemed on a treadmill. They were running up the escalator two steps at a time while it was coming down faster than they were climbing.
Not only were they falling behind in their push to get ahead--a picture of frustration--they were also dissatisfied, even in the midst of their apparent abundance. A number of the phrases speak of this: "You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm." I do not think this means that there was insufficient food or drink--though the next verses do speak of a drought which affected the fields. The people were eating, after all. They were drinking. They did have clothes to wear. But they were not satisfied by these things and therefore always went about with a sense of longing for what was not there.
Is this not a picture of our age? More cars, more houses, more furniture, more food, more television sets, more games, more vacations. . . . Yet people are wretchedly unsatisfied. People have everything, but they are miserable. And some of those miserable people are so-called evangelical Christians. What is the cause of this? It is the work of God. God has sent emptiness so that His people might awake from their idolatry and turn back to Him. The psalmist says, "He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul" (Ps. 106:15, KJV).
The last phrase is a classic description of inflation, the scourge of the latter third of our century: "You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it." We save, but our savings dribble away, eaten up by taxes and the progressive devaluation of our currencies through government overspending.
What is the solution? It is not a few more government programs. It is not prayer in Congress or the schools. It is not a crusade or a demonstration or a campaign to mail letters to our senators. It is obedience! It is getting on with what God has given us to do. In the context of Haggai's situation, it was the command: "Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored" (v. 8). In our context it is to set spiritual matters first and get on with serving God to the best of our ability.
THE RESULT AND GOD'S PROMISE
It is one of the discouragements of the Christian ministry that so often a pastor will preach the Bible with as much power as he possesses and then be greeted with yawns by his parishioners as they go back to doing what they had been doing all along. Still, from time to time there is something quite different. The Word of God strikes home, and a life is genuinely changed. When that happens in large numbers you have a revival. This happened under Haggai's preaching. We recall from our study of the earlier prophets that the warnings given to the Jewish people before God's judgment by the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions generally went unheeded. Micah had some success. But for the most part the people could not have cared less for the prophets' warnings. To our joy we see a different kind of response from the people of Judah under Haggai's ministry. They had had been negligent of God's work. They had invented flimsy excuses as to why they were inactive. But they were the not basically hostile to God or His commandments as the people living before the Exile had been. They really wanted to please God. So when the word of the LORD came to them by Haggai, they recognized it as a true word of God and did what God commanded. The prophecy says, "Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak the high priest and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD"(v. 12).
The chapter concludes, "So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, and the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius" (vv. 14, 15).
There is an interesting note in that last verse, where we are told that the people resumed the work on the twenty-fourth day of the month. If we compare that with the first verse of the chapter, where we are told that Haggai began to preach on the first day of the month, we find that the change came about in just twenty-three days. Haggai spoke on August 30, 520 B.C. The work began on the twenty-first of September.
I wonder if there is a date like that in your life or if today might possibly become that day. I do not mean the day of your conversion, you may or may not have a known day for that. I mean the day in which you finally got the priorities of your life straightened out and determined that from that time on you would put God and His work first in everything. You need to do that. You need to ask yourself these questions:
"Is my own comfort of greater importance to me than the work of God? Am I making increasing efforts to get ahead financially but finding greater and greater disappointment in my life?" If the answer is yes, just turn around and get on with God's business. Obey Him. Put Him first in your life.
Former Glory, Future Glory
On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: "Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, 'Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,' declares the LORD. 'Be strong, O Joshua Son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,' declares the LORD. 'and work. For / am with you,' declares the LORD Almighty. This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear,' " "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD Almighty. The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the LORD Almighty. The glory of his present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the LORD Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the LORD Almighty. "
People familiar with George Frederick Handel's great oratorio Messiah know that it is not many minutes into the work when the bass soloist sings the recitative containing Haggai's great promise: "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, yet once a little while and I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land, and I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations shall come." The recitative is preceded by the words: "The glory of the LORD shall be revealed." It is followed by: "But who shall abide the presence of his coming?" These musical segments rightly present both the glory and terror of Christ's coming. In the second chapter of Haggai the emphasis is on the glory. God's promise to shake the nations is meant to be an encouragement to God's people.
CALL FOR COURAGE
We have already seen something of the historical situation into which Haggai spoke his message. Fifteen years before, the people had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon and had laid the foundation of the temple that had been destroyed by the earlier Babylonian invasion. As Ezra tells it, there was a celebration of some sort on this occasion. The priests put on their vestments. The people assembled. Together they sang and gave great shouts of praise to God for His goodness in allowing the foundations for His house to be relaid. "But," we are told, "many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid" (Ezra 3:12). The older people remembered the temple that had been and realized that nothing they could do in this later day would ever make their temple equal to the earlier one.
Something like this must have happened in Haggai's day too, on the occasion of the people's return to the building. As the people returned to their task they must have been overcome with depression as they realized that their new structure would never equal the one that had been lost.
We go through moods like this ourselves. We begin the Lord's work with joy, but the time comes when we compare what we are doing with something that seems to us to be or have been greater, and we become discouraged. In light of the other work our own work seems paltry, and we find ourselves in the same slump the people of Haggai's day were in.
Sometimes we compare the church of our day with that of previous ages. We look to the apostolic age, for example. Acts says that the early Christians "were together and had everything in common. . . . Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people" (Acts 2:44-47). The Lord blessed that church, adding to it "daily those who were being saved." But our churches are not like that, we reason. The apostolic church was united; we are divided. They were filled with joy and were often praising God; we are discouraged and depressed. They had favor with the people; we are despised by the people. They had many converts; often we seem to have none. We say, "This is a bad age; no matter how hard we work, our days are never going to equal the days of the apostles."
Or we look at the Protestant Reformation. There were great men of God in those days, and the people of Europe gave unprecedented attention to the gospel. The doctrine of justification by faith literally swept across the continent. We say, "Where is the power of that gospel today? Where are those leaders?" By comparison our century seems to be one of small things. We are discouraged.
Or again, we look at the Great Awakenings in England and America. We say, "Where are the Whitefields? Where are the Wesleys of our time? Where are the gatherings of twenty, forty, or even fifty thousand people to hear the gospel, not just on a rare occasion, but regularly?" We do not see that, so we get depressed.
Even if we do not look to the past to compare our situation with that of some former age of church history, we often do the same thing by comparing our work with other contemporary works. We look at another church and say, "Look at that congregation. Twenty-five years ago they were only ten people meeting in a house. Now there are five thousand people, and they have a magnificent new building. All sorts of projects have been launched through that ministry." Or we look at an organization that has so much money it does not seem to know what to do with it, while our organization just struggles along. Or we look at another person's life and say, "That person seems to be so joyful, so victorious in everything. He doesn't seem to have any problems at all. Every time he opens his mouth somebody seems to become a Christian. I have been struggling with my neighbor, talking about the gospel for years, but there is nothing to show for it. What's wrong with me?"
Situations like this get us down emotionally, and we find ourselves thinking that our efforts are useless. We think we might as well give up.
God has a word for any who think like that, the word spoken to the returned exiles through Haggai. It has several parts. First, God says that He knows how we feel and that it is true that the work we are doing does not compare with what was done previously or with what is going on elsewhere. In Haggai's day the people had been working for approximately three and a half weeks, from the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month (Haggai. 1:15) to the twenty-first day of the seventh month (Haggai. 2:1), and already discouragement had set in. So God said, "Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, 'Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?' " (vv. 2, 3). In these words God is acknowledging the situation as they saw it. He is not trying to cover it up. He is not telling them that they have overly idealized those earlier days or that they are putting themselves down too much. He begins by acknowledging that things really were bad. That is, God begins with realism.
The second part builds on this realism. It is a message to "be strong" in precisely this dismal situation: " 'Now be strong, O Zerubbabel,' declares the LORD. 'Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land: declares the LORD" (v. 4).
Have you ever noticed how often God or one of His messengers has to tell someone to be strong? When Moses delivered his final charge to Israel before they crossed the Jordan to enter the Promised Land, he told them to be strong before their enemies: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you" (Deut. 31:6).
Shortly thereafter, Joshua, Moses' successor, stood on the far side of the Jordan to begin the conquest. God appeared to him with a threefold repetition of the charge Moses had given the people earlier: "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous.... Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go" (Josh. 1:6, 7, 9). Then even the people joined in, saying to Joshua, "Only be strong and courageous" (v. 18).
Later, Joshua spoke to the people: "Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous" (Josh. 10:25).
David gave a charge like this to his son Solomon in regard to building the temple: "Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished" (1 Chron. 28:20).
In the New Testament we find the apostle Paul saying, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" (Eph. 6:10).
Repetition is characteristic of these verses, as it is in Haggai 2:4, where the words "be strong" are repeated three times: "Be strong, O Zerubbabel. . . . Be strong, O Joshua. . . . Be strong, all you people of the land." God repeats His words precisely because of our discouragement.
The texts in which God or one of His messengers says to be strong have another feature, which explains why God can say this. It is the promise of God's presence. Moses said, "For the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." Joshua was told: "The LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." David told Solomon, "The LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished." In Haggai God says, "I am with you This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear" (vv. 4, 5).
It is the presence of God that makes God's people strong. In ourselves we are not strong. That is why God does not say, as we might say to someone in order to buck them up, "Go on, I know you can do it. Just be strong. Give it your best." That advice might be valuable at a football rally or when a person is waiting to participate in a talent contest, but it is not valuable in spiritual things simply because we are not equal to our spiritual tasks. Like Moses, we are weak. Like Joshua, we face tasks that are impossible by normal means. Like Solomon, we are not the heroes our forefathers were. But we can be strong and we can be equal to the task, because God is with us. In His strength we can be courageous.
THE GLORY TO COME
In the second half of the message given through Haggai on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the Lord had an even more encouraging word. The people were building a temple that they could see was not going to be glorious, at least when compared with the temple built by Solomon. They were looking back, and from that perspective the present looked bleak. But God spoke again, directing them toward the future. Compared to the past, the present was indeed bleak. But what they could not see was that the present was leading to a future that would make even the temple of Solomon look dingy. "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory: says the LORD Almighty. 'The silver is mine and the gold is mine: declares the LORD Almighty. 'The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house: says the LORD Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace: declares the LORD Almighty" (vv. 6-9).
This is a great paragraph. It contains great promises.
1. I will shake all nations. There is some doubt as to how these words should be taken. They may refer to political events in Zerubbabel's day or to events in the distant future, events perhaps more spiritual than political.
The promise certainly appears to refer to Zerubbabel's own day. It is repeated further on in a direct word to Zerubbabel: "Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I will shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother" (vv. 21, 22). This seems to refer to a literal shaking of those kingdoms with which Zerubbabel would have been familiar.
Moreover, the nations were shaken. The Ionian Greeks, who had expanded eastward to the western shore of Asia Minor, had been subjected to the rule of Persia by Cyrus the Great about 540 B.C. But in 501 B.C., about twenty years after the date of Haggai's prophecy, they rebelled against Persia, bringing on a Persian invasion of Greece about a decade later. Darius was king at this time. He led a great army, but he was defeated at Marathon in 490 B.C. in a victory the Greeks still remember with pride. Shortly thereafter Darius's successor Xerxes marshaled an even larger army and a powerful navy. The army contained 1.8 million men. The navy was the largest ever seen. But in 480 B.C. the Greek boats scattered the Persian navy, and the Greek army defeated the Persian army at both Thermopylae and Plataea. A year later the reassembled Persian navy was again defeated. Thus Persian hopes of conquering the Greek mainland were forever crushed.
As the Persian Empire began a gradual collapse, Alexander the Great came to power and led the Greek armies over the Bosporus against Persia. He defeated the Persian armies at Granicus in 334 B.C., Issus in 332 B.C., and Arabela in 331 B.C. At his death the Greek empire broke up and was eventually replaced by Roman rule of the Mediterranean countries. The Romans were in control at the time of Christ. If there was ever a shaking of the nations and a redistribution of power, it was during this period.
Yet there are reasons to think that God was also pointing to more distant events. In the New Testament the author of Hebrews takes Haggai's words and applies them to the shaking that will take place at God's final judgment. He warns that everything that is not firmly established in the kingdom of Christ will be plucked up and blown away: "At that time [God's appearance to give the Law on Mount Sinai] his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, 'Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.' The words 'once more' indicate the removing of what can be shaken--that is, created things--so that what cannot be shaken may remain" (Heb. 12:26, 27). In this text the earlier, former shakings are evidence of the greater shaking to come.
2. The desired of all nations will come. The second promise in this important paragraph of Haggai is the one for which the text was incorporated into Handel's Messiah. In this case, as in popular Christian thinking generally, "the desired of all nations" is assumed to be Jesus and the promise is assumed to be about His birth.
But that is not the correct interpretation. The nations are not desiring Christ. They are actually resisting Him. Also the verb following the Hebrew word translated "desired" is plural in number, so the subject of the verb must also be plural. Thus, it must refer, not to Jesus Christ, but to either the "desired people" or "desired things" that are to come.
Here again there is a division of opinion. Some writers, such as Thomas V. Moore, regard this as the "wealth" or "choice things" of the heathen. This is a probable interpretation, because the passage goes on to speak of the silver and gold that are God's (v. 8). In this context, the verse seems to be teaching that the heathen will bring their silver and gold to Jerusalem so that the temple will regain and even surpass its older glory. This did happen. Under Herod the Great the temple of Zerubbabel was gradually replaced with more elegant buildings, and, when all was completed, the temple enclosure was the glory of the East. The pinnacle was covered with gold, which shone out over the whole city during the time of Jesus Christ.'
In my opinion, the "desired of all nations" refers to people, in the sense that "the chosen, the elect out of all nations, those gentiles whom God has from eternity foreknown and predestinated," will increase the glory of the true temple, which is the church. That is, the ultimate glory of God's house will not be a mere physical glory but a spiritual glory that comes from having an increasingly large host of all tongues and nations enter into it.
3. The glory of the present house will be greater than the glory of the former house. What we have already said about the "desired of all nations" illuminates this point, but it is worth adding a New Testament passage in which the apostle Paul compares the glory of the old covenant with the greater glory of the new. He is not thinking of this passage in Haggai, so far as one can tell. He is reflecting on the way Moses' face glowed with a transferred glory as the result of his having spent time with God on the mountain. But the contrast is the same. He writes: "What was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts."
"Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into this likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:1-18).
4. In this place I will grant peace. If this promise concerns peace from physical fighting, it has not been fulfilled yet, because Jerusalem has been anything but the "city of peace" its name suggests. Actually, this refers to the work of Christ who made peace between God and man through His death on the cross in Jerusalem. We are not at peace with God in our natural state. We are at war with God. But Jesus crossed the lines, died as our Mediator, made peace with God, and now lives to grant peace in full measure to all who come to the Father through Him.
CONSIDER YOUR WAYS
The last half of Haggai 2 gets back to practical matters, probably in response to a question that might have gone like this: "You are speaking of a future glory of the temple, which is all well and good. And I grant that there is some encouragement in knowing that. It makes our labor just a little more meaningful. But still, we are living in a most discouraging time. You speak of the future. But we don't have that perspective. We have to live in the present, and day by day as we handle our bricks and apply our mortar and see the walls of the temple slowly rising, we are reminded of how bad things are. What good is a distant future, however glorious, when we live here and now?"
God's word is for any who may be in this condition. It is a word that comes to where we are. The people have been complaining about the grimness of their present days, so God tells them to pay good attention to those days, especially by comparing the days before they began to work on the temple with the days afterward.
The challenge was conveyed in a dramatic way. Haggai was to go to the priests and ask them for a ruling on how an object could become consecrated or defiled. He asked the question: "If a person carries consecrated meat in the fold of his garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, oil or other food, does it become consecrated?"
The priests answered, "No." That was right. Holiness is an isolated virtue. It is not communicable. Then Haggai asked: "If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?"
The priests answered, "Yes." Again they were right. Contamination is communicable. It is far easier to spread evil than virtue.
God explains that it has been like that with Israel. They have been living in a contaminated state due to their inverted priorities, and, as a result, everything they have touched has been contaminated. "Consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the LORD'S temple. When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not turn to me." But now they have turned to God, and therefore from this point on the situation will be different. "From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the LORD'S temple was laid. Give careful thought: Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.
"From this day on I will bless you" (vv. 15-19). Earlier I pointed out that the phrase "Give careful thought" (vv. 5, 7) is almost the theme statement of the book. It occurs twice in the first chapter and three times in chapter 2 (vv. 15, 18). In each case "give careful thought" calls attention to the well-being or lack of well-being of the people. They were to look to their state before they began to put the work of God first, and the were to look to their state after the began to put God's work first. By comparing the two they were to see that they had nothing but trouble, frustration, and disappointment where they put their own work first, but then, they experienced peace, fulfillment and blessing as soon as they determined to serve God.
Are you bold enough to accept that kind of challenge? Usually we are not very bold in this area. We are afraid of anything as tangible as this, because we do not really believe that God will bless us if we put Him first and are convinced that if we did act this way, your faith would be shaken. We retreat into a spiritual world over against the "real," material world. We can be utterly down in the mouth. But if some one asks, "How are you?" and we reply, "Well, God has certainly blessed spiritually this week," no one can question that. If you claim that God had blessed you spiritually, who can prove you wrong?
But if you say, "I've determined to put God's interests first, and I am accounting on God to bless me in tangible, material ways, because this is what He has promised," then you really put your faith on the line. That is something that both you and others can see and the issue is whether God is real or not and whether or not His work can be trusted.
This is a very bold challenge. You may have been going your own way, putting yourself first. You may have said, "Well, 1 have to do that. If I don't look after myself, no one else is going to do it. I have to look out for number one." But God asks you, "How does it work out when you do it that way? You haven't done very well, have you? Things have gotten pretty rough.
You're having trouble with your boss, your family, your wife, your husband. Isn't that the case? Isn't that what you see when you give careful thought to your ways?" You have acknowledged that God is right, and that is indeed true. But now God says, "I want you to change your priorities and put me to the test. I want you to turn from the way you've been living and begin to live as a Christian should live. I want you to 'seek first (my) kingdom and (my] righteousness' and see if 'all these things will (not) be given to you as well' (Matt. 6:33). Three months from now, or a year from now, I want you to look back and ask yourself: "Was God a God of His word or wasn't He? Does Christianity work or doesn't it? Is it better to follow God or the world?"
God is not afraid of that kind of test. Are you? He puts the challenge to you directly.
WORD TO THE GOVERNOR
The last words of Haggai are to Zerubbabel, the governor. I am glad they are, because there are special burdens of leadership that not everyone has, and leaders, therefore, need encouragement even more than other people. Zerubbabel lived in difficult, even dangerous times. The work had not been going well. The people were discouraged. The building of the city walls had not even begun. Anyone could invade the city. Zerubbabel could be killed. God told Haggai to give Zerubbabel this message: "Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I will shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother. 'On that day. . . I will take you my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel . . . and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,' declares the LORD Almighty" (vv. 21-23). The signet ring was a stone carved with the symbol of the person in power. It was used by pressing it into clay tablets to authenticate what was written on them. That is, it was much like a signature today. The signet was a precious object. So it was kept on the ruler's finger or on a cord around his neck. It was guarded with his person. God was telling Zerubbabel that he was going to be like that to God. God was going to place the governor on His finger or hang him around His neck so, that though the nations and even heaven and earth should be shaken, Zerubbabel would remain safe. He would be kept secure until God had done all the things spoken about in this prophecy. I point out one last thing. The closing words of Haggai are "the LORD Almighty." This designation of God occurs fourteen times in the book. It is appropriate, because it focuses on the strength or sovereignty of God. It is as if God is saying, "I, the sovereign God, stand behind these promises." The sovereign God is not just Haggai's God. He is not just Zerubbabel's or Joshua's God. He is our God, if we have come to Him through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our God stands behind His promises.
(James M. Boice, The Minor Prophets, 1996. Kregel Publications)