Haggai 1:15b-2:9

2 In the second year of King Darius, 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 Jozadak, 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, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, 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.’

“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 what is desired by 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.”
(Haggai 1:15b-2:9 NIV)

For 15 years, the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem had not moved forward.  The Lord then sent Haggai the prophet to rekindle the Jewish leaders’ and peoples’ love for God and obedience to His Word.  The Lord rebuked Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest and the Jewish people for living selfishly and building luxury homes as monuments to themselves rather than building God’s house.

The leaders and people heeded God’s Word and began rebuilding the Temple.

Today’s text occurred approximately a month after the Temple rebuilding began.  The Lord spoke through Haggai again, not to rebuke, but to encourage.

Remember the scene Ezra captured at the rebuilding of the Temple foundation and the celebration that took place (Ezra chapter 3)?  Many rejoiced, but some of the older people wept.  The older people had seen Solomon’s original Temple in all its glory.  To see this new Temple with its smaller size and lesser quality building materials was a heartbreaking reminder that their disobedience to God was the reason they lost the original Temple and were exiled.

In verses 2 – 3 of today’s text, the Lord addresses the proverbial “elephant in the room”:  discouragement.  Just a month into the rebuilding of the Temple, the Lord knew that it would be easy for Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest and the Jewish people to decide it wasn’t worth the pain, effort, and expense to rebuild the Temple.  It would be far easier to give up and go back to living for themselves.

So the Lord addressed each of the three (Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the Jewish people) with the same directive:  “be strong” (v. 4).  Another translation uses the phrase “take courage” to capture the heart of the Lord’s message to His people.

The “be strong” mindset had to come first – a decision of the will to obey the Lord and continue the Temple rebuilding despite the discouragement.  But the Lord didn’t stop there.  He also commanded the people to work, to continue rebuilding the Temple.

And why should Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the people be strong, take courage, and work?  Because the Lord was with them.  In verse 5, the Lord took the people on a quick history lesson, back to the days when the Lord brought His children (their ancestors) out of Egypt (v. 5).  The Jewish people all knew the stories of God leading His children out of Egypt; how He protected them, provided for them, and led them with His Presence day and night.  While they may not have a pillar of cloud by day or a pillar of fire by night to signify His presence among them, the Lord tells the people that He remains in their midst.  And what was the Lord’s point of this history lesson?  “Do not fear”.

Part of the reason for the leaders’ and peoples’ discouragement beyond the size of the Temple was the lack of gold and silver items to decorate the Temple once the rebuilding was complete.  In verses 5-8, the Lord said that He would provide these items in due time.  Just like the Egyptians gave the Jewish people a lot of gold, silver, and other items of wealth as they left Egypt, so the Lord would “shake” the heavens, earth, sea, dry land, and the nations to provide silver and gold for His Temple.

The Lord ends His word of encouragement by promising that the glory of the rebuilt Temple will surpass the glory of Solomon’s Temple.  And not only will the glory of this rebuilt Temple be greater than its predecessor, the Lord will also give peace.  Other than the presence of the Lord, what greater gift could the Jewish people ask for than peace?

So what can we learn from today’s text?  One important lesson is not to dwell on the past.  It’s easy to talk about “the good old days” and compare what life was supposedly like in a different time, to bemoan and complain about the way things are in the present.

Was God active in the past?  Of course.

Is He active and working now?  Yes.

Does He promise to be active in the future? Most definitely.

Listen to what God said about Himself as He spoke to the Apostle John:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
(Revelation 1:8 NIV, underlines mine)

To be stuck in the past creates two major problems for us:

  1. By remaining stuck in the past, we deny (or at a minimum, ignore) God’s ability to transcend time and work in the present and future as well as the past
  2. By remaining stuck in the past, we take our focus and attention off of God and who He says we are and what He says about us.  This leads to listening to and relying on the opinions of others, including the Accuser (Satan) who is our critic and wants us to believe his lies.

May we live in the present and look to Jesus for our encouragement, strength, and power to persevere through hard times.  His promise to be with us was true in Haggai’s day; the same God promises to be with us in our day, also.

The question is, will we keep trying to live life on our own, or will we listen to the truth about what He says about us and give Him control of our lives so He can transform us into the persons He created each of us to be?

Blessings,
~kevin

Haggai 1:12-15a

12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, 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.

13 Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. 14 So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, 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, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month.
(Haggai 1:12-15a NIV)

Zerubbabel and a group of Jewish exiles moved from Babylon to Jerusalem and began rebuilding the Temple.  When the neighboring tribes found out about the Temple being rebuilt, they forced the Jews to stop the work.

Fifteen years later, the Lord spoke to Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest through Haggai and Zechariah the prophets.  This prophecy was a big deal – it was the first word from the Lord since the exiles had returned to Jerusalem.

So what did God have to say?  From our text yesterday, God rebuked the leaders and the people for building luxury homes for themselves while the Lord’s house was still not built.  In fact, God said that their present distress was self-inflicted because they were living for themselves and not for the Lord.  God called them back to their original task of rebuilding the Temple.

In today’s passage, Zerubbabel the governor, Joshua the high priest, and all of the Jewish people living in and around Jerusalem obeyed the Lord and showed great respect for God’s Word given through Haggai (v. 12).

When the leaders and people responded from the heart, God communicated His love and favor by simply saying “I am with you” (v. 13).

And how did God show He was with the leaders and the people?  By stirring up the spirits of Zerubbabel the governor, Joshua the high priest, and all the Jewish people to rebuild the Temple, the house of the Lord.

Ezra recorded the event this way:  the people arose and began to work on the house of the Lord.  And when the opposing forces showed up again, the eye of the Lord was upon the Jewish leaders – they would not stop unless King Darius told them to stop (Ezra 5:2-5).

Notice that God did not help them succeed by removing the obstacles of these neighboring people groups; instead, God gave them supernatural courage, strength, and persistence to overcome the bullying and threats and finish the task God had called them to do.

Verse 15a concludes that this rebuilding work began on the 24th day of the month.  God had sent Haggai on the first day of the month.  What was holding them back from obeying?  Why did it take three-plus weeks for them to obey?

There were several factors involved:  1) they had to go up into the mountains and cut down trees and make lumber before they could begin the rebuilding work.  2) remember that the Jews had a predominantly agrarian economy at this point; this prophecy took place in September, right at the beginning of the fall harvest season.  The people had to finish the harvest before they could begin the rebuilding work.

In today’s passage, we see the progression of events unfolded:

  • God spoke via Haggai, and the people listened
  • The people repented, turning their hearts back to God
  • God reaffirmed His commitment to them – “I am with you”
  • God empowered His people whose hearts were turned toward Him
  • God’s people carried out their calling with supernatural resolve.

Jesus made that same promise to us when He said “Go and make disciples… I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

The author of Hebrews reminds us again of God’s promise:

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.”
(Hebrews 13:5b NIV)

May we follow Him in humility and obedience, knowing He is with us every step of the way, assured that no obstacle or person can stop us when we obey God’s directives.

Blessings,
~kevin

Haggai 1:1-11

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 Jozadak, the high priest:

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”

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 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 my 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 your own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”
(Haggai 1:1-11 NIV)

As we begin our journey through the Old Testament book of Haggai, let’s recall a bit of the Jewish history that provides the background for today’s text.

King Cyrus became king of Babylon and commissioned a group of Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.  Zerubbabel led a group of Jewish exiles from Babylon (where he was born) to Jerusalem (where he had never been or lived).  We see this history recorded in Ezra chapters 1 – 3.

When Zerubbabel and the other exiles arrived in Jerusalem, their neighbors opposed the rebuilding of the Temple, taking up physical threats against the Jewish people.  Discouraged, Zerubbabel and the Jewish people stopped the rebuilding and went back to their everyday lives of scratching out a living in a new land.

In Ezra 5:1, God raises up Haggai and Zechariah to speak to Zerubbabel the governor of Judah and Joshua the high priest.  About 15 years had passed since the rebuilding had stopped to where our text picks up today.

This news of God speaking to His people via a prophet was a really big deal.  This was the first time that God sent a prophet since the Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem.

God calls Haggai to speak to Zerubbabel and Joshua (v. 1), with God referring to the Jewish settlers as “these people”.  Normally God refers to the Jews as “My people”.  God was not disowning them; rather He used the term to show His displeasure with them.

God begins by reflecting the common belief of the Jewish people that it was not the right time to rebuild the Temple (v. 2).  This was hard work, and there was much opposition.  And this rebuilding effort was on top of having to earn a living in a harsh land.

Can you and I relate to their excuses?

God responds to their statement with a question:  Is it then time for you to build your luxury houses while My house is still unfinished? (v. 4)

These were not basic homes that provided shelter from the elements and protection while they slept.  These were mini-palaces, tiny castles they had built for themselves.  When God said “you yourselves”, He was pointing out their self-centered way of thinking and living that left Him completely out of the equation.

In verses 5 and 7, the Lord says, “Give careful thought to your ways.”  In other words, “stop and think about what you’re doing.”  All the effort they were expending to earn a living, put food on the table, wine in the cellar, clothes on their backs, and money in their bank accounts was not satisfying – it was never enough (v. 6).

There was a reason for this – the people were honoring themselves and dishonoring God who brought them back from Babylon to Jerusalem to begin with (v. 7).

So what was God telling them to do?  Go up in the mountains, cut down trees, and build His Temple as He had commissioned them and brought them out of Babylon to do.  God wanted to be preeminent in their lives again, to bless them and receive their praise.  But the people had to do their part.

God reiterates the cause-and-effect of the people’s current hardship.  They were working really hard but had nothing to show for it (v. 9a).  Why?  Because they had neglected God and focused on themselves (v. 9b).  And until that changed, God had limited everything that they were striving for (vv. 10-11).

What is our priority in life?  Is it to put food on the table, clothes on our backs, a roof over our heads, and money in our bank?

Or is it to seek after God first and foremost?

Jesus talked about this in Matthew 6:19:34.

And what was Jesus’ conclusion and command?

31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
(Matthew 6:31-34 NIV, underlines mine)

When we put God in high regard, when we put Him first in our lives, He provides everything else for our needs.

May we step into that deeper way of following Jesus today.

Blessings,
~kevin

Introduction to Haggai

Today we begin our journey through the Old Testament book of Haggai.  If you walked with us through the book of Ezra, you were introduced briefly to Haggai (Ezra 5:1, 6:14).

We know very little about Haggai.  His family lineage was not disclosed; however, he must have been well-known and respected in his day, as people seemed to listen to him.  We do know that he was a prophet (from the Ezra passages); some scholars think he might have also been a priest, although that is unlikely, as Haggai goes to a priest for a ruling on whether a particular practice is clean or unclean (Haggai 2:10-13).

The book of Haggai lists very precise time frames; the entire book covers (in our modern calendars) from the end of August to the middle of December in the year 520 BC.  All these recorded events happened during the reign of King Darius.

The book is focused on Haggai’s ministry of encouragement among the exiles who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple.  This four-month period was crucial in the history of the Jewish people and the rebuilding of the Temple.

The authorship of the book is debated among scholars; some say that Haggai wrote the book, while others believe that a group of scribes in Haggai’s day captured the momentous events.  While the author of the book may unclear, the message is laser focused.

Let’s take a moment to review the historical background that we know from the books of Jeremiah and Ezra:

  • The Jews turn their back on God, and God allows Nebuchadnezzar to capture Jerusalem and exile the majority of the Jewish people to Babylon (the message and history captured in the book of Jeremiah).
  • Cyrus becomes king; he releases a group of Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple (Ezra chapters 1 – 2)
  • The returning exiles rebuild the altar and resume sacrifices to the Lord, then lay the Temple foundation (Ezra chapter 3)
  • The neighboring non-Jewish ethnic groups figure out what’s taking place, and oppose the rebuilding of the Temple to the point that the work stops (Ezra 4:24)
  • Haggai and Zechariah encourage Zerubbabel to finish what the Lord called them to do – to rebuild the Temple (Ezra chapters 5 – 6)

Here is the general outline for the book of Haggai:

  1. The Lord’s command to rebuild the Temple (1:1-11)
  2. The people’s positive response (1:12-15)
  3. The promised glory of the new Temple (2:1-9)
  4. Blessings for an unclean (defiled) people (2:10-19)
  5. Zerubbabel is chosen as the Lord’s seal for His people (2:20-23)

This little book is short – only two chapters – but is packed with truth and relevance to both the history of Israel as well as our world today.

Join us as we begin our journey through the book of Haggai.

Blessings,
~kevin

Psalm 29

Psalm 29

A psalm of David.

Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
    Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
    with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
    the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists the oaks
    and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
11 The Lord gives strength to his people;
    the Lord blesses his people with peace.
(Psalm 29 NIV)

David uses the experience and imagery of a thunderstorm to capture the glory and majesty of God.

Using our biblically informed imagination, we hear King David call the angels to worship God – for the sole reason of being God, worthy of all honor and glory and praise (vv. 1-2).

David then proceeds to describe God’s voice manifesting His glory, majesty, and power through the thunder, lightning, and rain (vv. 3-9).  He who spoke the world into existence (Genesis chapter 1) now controls all nature, including the weather.

If you are an outdoors person or a storm watcher, it’s easy to understand and envision the picture David is painting.  To this day, I still see a summer thunderstorm as God’s glory on display and am reminded of this psalm.

David concludes that the same Lord who is able to control the weather with the wind, lightning, waves, and thunder is also able to protect and provide for His people and give them peace (vv. 1-11).

Whether your and my storms are actual (like a summer thunderstorm) or situational (as in the storms and trials of life), may we remember this psalm and see God’s glory displayed.

And may we rest and find peace and protection in Him, as a little child curled up in their Daddy’s arms, safe and secure.

Blessings,
~kevin

Psalm 95

Psalm 95

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
    let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
    and extol him with music and song.

For the Lord is the great God,
    the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
    and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.

Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care.

Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
    as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me;
    they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
10 For forty years I was angry with that generation;
    I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
    and they have not known my ways.’
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”
(Psalm 95 NIV)

Today’s text has a two-fold purpose – both a call to worship and a warning.

The psalmist begins with an invitation to join together in worship (vv. 1-2).  This is not the worship of a dutiful soul, but of a joyful one.  The psalmist is not worshipping because he has to, or someone expects him to; rather, he is worshipping because he wants to be there, and joyfully invites others to join him.

While verses 1-2 identify the “what” and “how” of worship, verses 3-5 focus on the “why”:  the greatness of God.  Our God is above all other idols (small “g” gods), period.  He is the creator of the heavens and the earth, including the mountains, the depths of the earth, the seas, and everything in between.

So what is our response to the awesomeness of God?  humility – of both heart and body (v. 6-7a).  Remember that the position of the body reflects the attitude of the heart.  Bowing our heads and getting on our knees is not a magic formula, but rather, the full acknowledgment that God is sovereign and we are putting ourselves under Him.

Verses 7b – 9 are the psalmist’s warning to not repeat the sins of their ancestors in the days of Moses.  The psalmist refers specifically to the episode at Rephidim (Exodus 17:1-7).  The Lord was leading His people through the desert using Moses as His spokesperson.  When the Lord had the people stop at Rephidim, there was no fresh water to drink.   Rather than trusting the Lord and asking for His provision, the people argued with Moses and hardened their hearts against the Lord.

In fact, Moses gave two names to this place – “Meribah” (quarreling) and Massah (testing).   Both of these names reflected sins against the Lord; testing God (Massah) and arguing with the Lord’s anointed servant Moses (quarreling) were both ultimately reflecting on the hardness of their hearts toward God.

The writer of Hebrews provides clear commentary and application of this psalm:

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.

So, as the Holy Spirit says:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
    during the time of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested and tried me,
    though for forty years they saw what I did.
10 That is why I was angry with that generation;
    I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
    and they have not known my ways.’
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”

12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.15 As has just been said:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
    as you did in the rebellion.”

16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness?18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.
(Hebrews chapter 3 NIV, underlines mine)

Amen… time to check my heart and my attitude first.

May you and I offer gentle words of encouragement to other Christ-followers as well.

Blessings,
~kevin

Psalm 98

Psalm 98

A psalm.

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made his salvation known
    and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
    and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
    let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the Lord,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples with equity.
(Psalm 98 NIV)

As you look back on your week, where have you seen the Lord working?

And what has been your response to His love, faithfulness, and goodness?

While the psalmist does not identify a certain event or occasion that triggers this psalm, it is clear that something has ignited this exuberance and joy.

The psalmist invites fellow Israelites to join in the celebration, with music and instruments (vv. 4-6).

The psalmist also paints a picture of nature (sea, rivers, mountains) all participating in this joyful orchestra and chorus praising the Lord.

The psalmist sees God’s sovereignty and righteousness, not as a cruel dictator, but as a loving Father who watches over and blesses His children (v. 9).

May you choose joy today, allowing the Lord to fill you up.

May the overflow of His joy in your life spill over to others around you.

Blessings,
~kevin