Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 54. Haggai
Hag 1:13 Then Haggai, the LORD’s messenger, gave this message of the LORD to the people: “I am with you,” declares the LORD.
How different each of these prophetic books are, from Jonah a story about a prophet, to the likes of Micah with strident calls to repent, to Nahum with words against a single city, to Habakkuk with a conversation with God about evil, to Zephaniah, again with strident calls to repent, and now to this little two-chapter book covering four practical, personal prophecies spoken within a three month period to the returning exiles who had started out rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem but who, for a variety of reasons, gave up and needed some motivation. This book is that motivation.
Ezra had summed it up: “the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet… prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel …. set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 4:24, 5:1,2)
When you open your Bible to the two pages that cover these two chapters of Haggai, a quick scan over them reveals quite easily that there are four time dates indicating four ‘words’ that Haggai brought (1:1, 2:1, 2:10, 2:20)
Haggai’s first word is a wakeup call to the governor and the high priest (1:1). Haggai first confronts them with the prevailing attitude: “These people say, `The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built.” (1:2) but then challenges them, “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” (1:4) So that is the state at the moment but that in itself is not enough to get them under way again. They need some more motivation, so he brings it: “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.” (1:5,6) i.e. this life is not working!
But sometimes people argue and debate and question and query, so to make sure there are no doubts about what is going on He elaborates: “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.” (1:9-11) Oh my goodness! The reason it’s not all working is because the Lord has blocked off the supply of His blessing on us!!!! So He tells them what to do: “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.” (v.8) So the people respond (v.12) and it is followed by a simple follow-on word: “I am with you,” declares the LORD.” (v.14)
Haggai’s second word is mostly a word of encouragement for the governor, the leader of the people, and the high priest: “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 I 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.’” (2:4,5) Why can these two leaders be strong? Because God reassures them He is with them, and His Spirit is with them, because that’s what He said He would do when He first drew them out of Egypt centuries before.
But then comes a word that seems to leap the centuries: “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.” (2:6-9) Now there is no record of the Spirit filling this new Temple as he had done the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple, but the Lord always fulfils His word, often in ways we did not foresee. This particular temple was not spectacular until Herod the Great added on to it and transformed it into a mighty edifice which even carried Jesus’ disciples away. I do so like Mt 24:1 – “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.” The temple of God in human form, truly glorious for those who had eyes to see, was walking away from the stone edifice that impressed so many people. Good one! In AD70 that temple was destroyed and now the words of the apostle Paul echo down through the centuries to us: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) We the Church as a whole are God’s Temple, the place where His glory should be revealed.
Haggai’s third word reminds them that until now it had been hard going but now, “From this day on I will bless you.” (2:19). Haggai’s fourth word is a specific word for the governor, that the Lord will shake nations but He will take Zerubbabel and make him like His signet ring. Now signet rings of rulers were used to create the imprint of a seal and a seal was a guarantee. The Message Version puts it beautifully: “I will set you as a signet ring, the sign of my sovereign presence and authority.” Wow! Zerubbabel, you are God’s authority, the sign of God’s presence in this new day. What an encouragement to this leader. He concludes, “for I have chosen you.”
What a resource this book is for preachers: “I am with you.” (1:13) “My Spirit remains among you.” (2:5) “From this day on I will bless you.” (2;19) “I have chosen you.” (2:23) The apostle Paul said of personal prophecy, “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3) and these verses certainly conform to that description, and these four words are exactly the four words the Lord says to His children today who are inheritors of all of His blessings through the work of Christ on the Cross, and the indwelling Spirit.
These words should speak to all those who unwisely say, “Spiritual gifts are not for today. We no longer need them now we have the completed canon of scripture.” Oh yes we do. We each need, from time to time strengthening, encouraging and comfort and I would be the first to say that the written word of God does that, but there is nothing like having that ‘now’ sense of the Lord God Himself speaking such encouragement directly into your spirit by His now word. Just like with these returning Israelites, it has the power of motivation that words alone does not have. We need both word and the personal Holy Spirit input, and foolish is the person who denies it.