Reading: Haggai 1 & 2
Good morning everyone. This morning I would like to look at our middle Old Testament reading, Haggai, for our words of exhortation.
The Kingdom of Judah was destroyed. Nebuchadnezzar had first taken "Jehoiakim king of Judah ... with part of the vessels of the house of God ... into the land of Shinar to the house of his god" (Daniel 1:1). Then in "the nineteenth year" (Jeremiah 52:12) of his reign he got tired of the rebellious remnant in Jerusalem and "brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire" (2 Chronicles 36:19) and "burned the house of Yahweh" (Jeremiah 52:13) and took everyone captive other than "the poor of the land" (Jeremiah 52:16). There they remained for seventy years "to fulfil the word of Yahweh by the mouth of Jeremiah" (2 Chronicles 36:21).
During that time they were not without hope. Jeremiah had prophesied "after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon ... Yahweh will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place" (Jeremiah 29:10). The righteous Daniel "understood by books the number of the years ... the seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem" (Daniel 9:2) and made it matter of earnest prayer. Within two years of the fall of Babylon, Yahweh's word was fulfilled.
If you will turn with me to Ezra 1 we will find in verses 2-4 Cyrus' decree.
Ezra 1:2-4 - Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.
Many of the children of Judah left Babylon and made the long journey back to Jerusalem with "Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah" (Ezra 1:8), who is better know as "Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah" (Haggai 1:1).
The excitement was initially great, and celebrations of the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles were kept in the seventh month of the first year, "but the foundation of the temple of Yahweh was not yet laid" (Ezra 3:6). It took them until the second year and second month to complete the foundation of Yahweh's house and that's when disaster struck.
Ezra 4:1-2 - Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel; then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.
Who were these people, these "adversaries of Judah and Benjamin"? These were none other than the Samaritans who had been transplanted from other places by the Assyrian king Esarhaddon and placed in the northern areas of the former kingdom of Israel, who had been taken captive by Sargon II.
2 Kings 17:24 - And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.
These people initially were totally pagan but began to intermarry with the remnant of the tribes of Israel still found in the northern areas of Samaria. They were taught about God and his Laws (17:28) but instead on being converted they merged the worship of Yahweh with their pagan worship (17:41). They had mixed true worship and doctrine with false worship and doctrine and essentially said, "I worship God in my own way".
The Samaritans had been a source of irritation to Judah before the Babylonian captivity and here they were 70 years later causing trouble again. The leaders of Judah, Zerubbabel and Joshua had rightly rejected the advances of these people because they had corrupted the worship of Yahweh with their false gods and false ideas (Ezra 4:3). Unfortunately, when the Samaritans were rejected they made it their goal to do anything to stop the remnants of Judah, which caused the Jews to lose heart and as Jesus said over 500 years later "when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended" (Mark 4:17). This period of on and off activity on the house of God lasted nearly 15 years (Ezra 4:24), at the end of which we are introduced to Haggai.
Ezra 5:1 - Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them.
This is the background in which we find the prophecy of Haggai. He received four separate prophecies from God, all in the second year of Darius, yet the Ezra record only says "Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them."
The theme of Haggai's message is found in 1:5, 7; 2:15, 18
Haggai 1:5 - Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.
Haggai 1:7 - Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.
Haggai 2:15 - And now, I pray you, consider from this day and upward, from before a stone was laid upon a stone in the temple of the LORD...
Haggai 2:18 - Consider now from this day and upward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the LORD'S temple was laid, consider it.
Haggai wanted Judah to think about why things have been so difficult for them. He started by revisiting their attitude towards life.
Haggai 1:2-6 - Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD'S house should be built. Then came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste? Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.
The term "ceiled houses" refers to lavishly paneled homes. All their time, money and effort was being channeled towards their own wellbeing, and consequently Yahweh's house was being neglected. They even used prophecy to back up their claim.
Haggai 1:2 - Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD'S house should be built.
Their attitude was that the 70 years from the destruction of the temple hadn't arrived yet and so they couldn't do anything. They weren't even preparing for the time when they could work on the temple. Because of this attitude of mind God had punished them with famine and want.
Haggai 1:5-6 - Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.
The harder they worked for themselves the less they seemed to have. God, by sending this upon them was inviting his people to take stock of their position before Him. Moses had told the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 28 that if they would turn to God, He would bless them and the work of their hands, give them increase, bless their cattle and insure that there was enough rain to keep them well watered. Now Haggai reminded the remnant of Judah that because they chose to ignore God's house they were being punished.
Haggai 1:8-11 - Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD. Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.
One other thing that God was reminding Judah through the words of Haggai was that He was in complete control and that He was their defense. The phrase "LORD of hosts" is used 12 times in this short book. This is the militant title of God, Yahweh of armies. David in Psalm 34 said "The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them" (Psalm 34:7), and Elisha showed that this was true in his day when he said "Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them" (2 Kings 6:16) and "behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha". When Haggai used this title he was expecting the people of Judah to remember these things.
The prophecy of Haggai was not only a call to the people to reflect on their ways, but it was also a call to action.
Haggai 1:8 - Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD.
This challenge required personal courage; no doubt many would have preferred to leave the situation as it was for fear of further opposition. As we read near the end of the chapter many were encouraged by the words of Haggai and began the work
Haggai 1:12 - Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Josedech, 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 did fear before the LORD.
Their response to God's appeal through the prophet was met with approval from God.
Haggai 1:13 - Then spake Haggai the LORD'S messenger in the LORD'S message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the LORD.
This approval spurred on further enthusiasm for the building of the temple of Yahweh.
Haggai 1:14-15 - And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, in the four and twentieth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.
What are the lessons for us?
There appear to be several lessons for us to look at. The days of Haggai are typical of the days in which we are living.
John 3:19 - And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
Because of the pressures being brought to bear upon the ecclesia both from within and without we see the house of God suffering neglect. We need to "consider our ways", to view circumspectly both our individual and ecclesial position and be prepared to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God.
Proverbs 3:11-12 - My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: for whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.
The word of God is as powerful today as when it was spoken by God's prophets. Like Judah in the days of Haggai, we must be prepared to receive it.
We also learn that many times difficulties arise in our lives and our ecclesias which are part of God's way of molding our characters, and therefore we need to react accordingly.
James 1:2-4 - My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
We learn that we must prepare to build God's house, like David did.
1 Chronicles 22:5 - And David said, Solomon my son is young and tender, and the house that is to be builded for the LORD must be exceeding magnifical, of fame and of glory throughout all countries: I will therefore now make preparation for it. So David prepared abundantly before his death.
If we do not prepare ourselves by reading and studying God's word how can we help God's ecclesia grow and be strengthened?
We learn that we need to separate ourselves from the religions around us whose "minds have been corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3). Their religion is a corruption of what is true and we need to remember that and fight "against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:11) so that we "receive it not into our house, neither greet it with welcoming joy" (2 John 10).
We are reminded that "Yahweh is a man of war" as Moses said to Pharaoh, and that we need to remember that Yahweh, manifest in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ "will be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God" (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8). We also need to remember that "he most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men" (Daniel 4:17) and that his angels who are "all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Hebrews 1:14) are always around us and are there to protect us.
Let us heed God's word, prepare ourselves to build up God's ecclesia and actively participate in it; and as always "having this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:5-8).
Written by Matthew Smith
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