Looking ahead can be a risk business. Who would have thought 2020 would turn out as it did?
Last time we looked at Haggai 1 where God asked his people to look back. Here, he encourages them to look ahead.
God’s people were back in the promised land after 70 years of exile. They’d tried to rebuild the temple but stopped. Haggai was sent by God to tell them to re-start. But they were few in number and low on resources. Life was hard enough because of weak harvests, without having to worry about the temple.
They failed to see that their actions were forgetting that God will dwell on the earth with his people, and the temple was how he would do it at that time. They were told to get on with it – and they did.
But still: Who was going to pay for it all?
Be strong and work without fear (1-9)
Haggai’s messages all come to us with really precise dates. Read Haggai 2:1-2.
- Another message from God through Haggai.
- Another message both to the leaders and to all God’s people too.
Read Haggai 2:3. Less than a month into the rebuilding work. Most work so far would have been planning, preparing, gathering tools and materials, arranging the workforce. Some of the walls were probably still there in places, plus loads of rubble from when the Babylonians trashed it. So quite a bit of clear-up work to be done. And so, standing back, it was all pretty disheartening.
There’s no way the temple could be as great as it was. The work seemed impossible. The past was way better than what could be imagined of the future. It’s easy to feel like that. Churches often look back with nostalgia regarding times of blessing long gone. “And look at us now! The work seems impossible!” The past seems way better than what could be imagined of the future.
It’s not your work
But it’s not your work, it’s not done in your power, and you don’t have to provide all the resources. Read Haggai 2:4-5 (below):
- But now the LORD says: Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land.
- All of us. Be strong. Each of us. Though only few.
- And now get to work, for I am with you, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.
- Brick by brick; meal by meal; day by day.
- He is with you. Watching and strengthening.
- He is with you. Aware when you’re lazy.
- My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid.
- This really is an amazing promise. God promised to be with them – forgotten in neglect of the temple.
- Coming together to do God’s work – rebuilding their community around God, being identified as having him in their midst, was to be who they were.
- For you, as a Christian, this is even more profoundly true. In John 14, Jesus said he’d sent his Spirit as advocate into the world – convicting people of sin, righteousness, judgment.
- The same Spirit lives in you – sent into the world by Father and Son at Pentecost; he is with you to do his own work through you.
And the God who is in you doing his work is powerful enough to do it. Read Haggai 2:6-7.
What about the finances?
God himself can shake up nations to make things happen. “Yes, but what about the finances?” Read Haggai 2:8. As it happens, some who opposed the rebuild wrote to Darius, the Persian emperor, ruler over the whole area. He wrote back saying that all the gold stolen by Babylon had to be returned, that all expenses for the rebuild were to be paid out of the empire’s funds, and even all animals for sacrifice were to be provided – all at no charge to the Jews. God can shake nations to provide for his people to accomplish his purposes. “I am with you” is very encouraging!
By way of encouragement, a picture of future glory is given: Read Haggai 2:9. If you know your Old Testament history you might wonder if that ever came true. Herod’s day, perhaps? We’ll come back to it.
First, an encouragement to keep working:
From this day on…
The instruction – to be strong, to work, not to fear because God is with them – all came in October. It’s fairly easy to start work, but it’s also easy to slacken off. It’s easy to be discouraged and lose heart. When winter sets in, and the work is hard, still there is encouragement: Read Haggai 2:10.
At first, though, it seems like strange encouragement! It’s a technical question about holiness and ceremonial cleanliness: Read Haggai 2:11-13. So if a holy thing touches something that’s not holy, the unholy thing doesn’t become holy. But if an unclean thing touches something clean, the clean thing also becomes unclean.
The people are asked to look back to the time before they started rebuilding the temple. Was the output of their hands good, or not so good? It was pretty bad, because “unclean makes unclean”. Read Haggai 2:14-17. The weak fruit in the field was a direct result of their weak trust in God. Unclean makes unclean.
But that’s looking back – before they started work. This word is coming in December. They’ve been working, building – but would God be pleased with what they’ve done? Read Haggai 2:18-19.
The lack of blessing is turning to promise. Their seeds are still in the ground, but the promise has been given. Faith led to obedience. Obedience resulted in work. Work leads to a promise of blessing – a harvest.
Promise of harvest given in winter
Notice that the promise wasn’t given in August when Haggai first spoke. It was given in December, in the cold, when work had begun and fields have been planted, and the harvest is way off.
Maybe you’ve done work for the Lord and seen some results and some failures. Are you tired? Have you given up? Maybe you’re like those Israelites who felt like they had enough on their plates to get busy with God’s work. But we are a community of God’s people gathered to Christ to bring him glory. We’re his bride, not his brides. And he’s given you work to do. Together, we’re to build his kingdom.
Be strong; start building; he is with you; don’t fear.
And, in the cold Winter months where it all seems planting and building but without harvest or blessing – keep going. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you started something (or put new energy into something) for Christ, and you could hear him say “From this day onward I will bless you.” You’d keep going, wouldn’t you? He will build his kingdom. And he’ll do it through you.
Because we’re all part of something much, much bigger:
You are appointed by God (20-23)
Haggai’s little book finishes with another word given on the same December day. This time it’s just for Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel was the governor over God’s people. He was a descendant of David (actually grandson of Jehoiachin, the 3-month king exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar). When God promised David that he would always have a descendant ruling God’s people in 2 Samuel 7, it was a promise God would keep. And here is Zerubbabel – which actually means “seed of Babylon” as he was probably born there; David’s heir.
So read Haggai 2:20-23. When a king issued a decree he would seal it with his own royal seal – an important sign of power and authority. The seal was valuable to a king and usually worn as a ring – a signet ring.
- So for God to say that Zerubbabel was God’s signet ring is an astonishing and beautiful thing.
- Zerubbabel would lead the people to rebuild the temple.
- The rebuild would be a success because God himself was with his people, providing and protecting.
- The success of Zerubbabel would be God’s seal on things – the impossible had been achieved and it was all God’s work through Zerubbabel and the people.
Still, some of the language seems pretty grand. Did God really “shake the heavens and the earth”? Or, as v9, did the temple end up with greater glory than before? Often, Old Testament prophecy operates on multiple time horizons. It often comes true partially in the time of the prophet, and then comes more fully true later on.
And the “later on” here has begun! The temple was a place where God dwelt on the earth with his people. But there was a day when God assumed human flesh, grew up, and walked on the earth in human shoes. Jesus, Son of God, entered the temple in Jerusalem and wasn’t impressed by the false worship, the rule-keeping, the lack of actual love for God. His presence was the greater glory, but his people didn’t recognise him. His kingdom is the greater kingdom, but still people don’t recognise him.
In fact, the kingdom that Jesus has ushered in is eternal and will last for ever – which is more than can be said of this broken world. The Bible is clear that there will be a day when God makes all things new – everything you know will be taken away. Only Christ’s unshakeable kingdom will remain. That’s the promise being made through Zerubbabel here!
Hebrews 12:26-29 –
When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: “Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also.” [Haggai 2:6] This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain. Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire.
Two fundamental sins
And that worship of him is through obedience to his word. In Haggai’s day, the nation had committed two fundamental sins, sins that are common today, sins you may need to repent of:
- God’s people failed to see themselves as part of a community built around God, mirroring his people in heaven.
- They had forgotten that God is active and present among us together.
- It was shown by the way their prioritised their own homes and lives over building God’s house.
- God’s people failed to trust God for the protections and provisions they would need to obey his commands.
So, since God has a huge plan of salvation in Christ, and since God has given you commands that seem beyond your ability to obey, then, as you step forward in faith you can expect him to protect you, to provide for his own success, and to grow his kingdom as Christ works in and through you.
Commit to Christ. Be an active part of his body, this church. Commit to loving and service his church. Integrate. Participate. Prioritise. Obey him. Fear him. Strengthened by him. Be enthused by him.
Be strong; get to work; fear not: He is with you.