Haggai 2:20-23

20 The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21 “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. 22 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.

23 “‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
(Haggai 2:20-23 NIV)

In our previous passage, the Lord blessed His people for their obedience in rebuilding the Temple.  God redeemed His people as only He could do, forgiving their sin and restoring them to right relationship with Himself.  Because of the Israelites’ obedience, the Lord lifted the consequences of their sin and restored His blessings upon them.

In today’s passage, the Lord speaks through Haggai the prophet a second time on the same day.  This time, the message is not for the Jewish people, but rather, for Zerubbabel the governor.

In the same way that God blessed the Jewish people for their obedience and removed the consequences of their disobedience, the Lord is blessing Zerubbabel for his obedience in leading the people to rebuild the Temple and removing the consequences of his forefathers’ disobedience.

Remember that Zerubbabel was in the Davidic line that led to the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:12).  And who was in Zerubbabel’s family tree?  None other than several ungodly, evil kings, including Jehoiachin (1 Chronicles 3:17), also known as Coniah.

To understand the significance of the Lord using the image of the signet ring as His blessing, we have to go back to Jeremiah 22:24, where the used the signet ring image as a sign of displeasure against Jehoiachin, Zerubbabel’s grandfather.  The Lord told Jehoiachin that if he were a signet ring on God’s hand, God would take him off because of Jehoiachin’s willful disobedience to the Lord.

Now we see the Lord saying that Zerubbabel is God’s signet ring, His seal, His mark that He is leaving on the world.  God has blessed Zerubbabel’s obedience and removed the consequences of his grandfather’s sin.

So what is the Lord going to do?  He is going to “shake the nations”, destroying the man-made power bases of the nations, intervene on behalf of His people, and establish Himself as the ruler of heaven and earth (vv. 21b-22).

Looking forward from Zerubbabel’s perspective, this was initially fulfilled on a spiritual basis through the Messiah, Jesus Christ during His first coming to earth.  Jesus promises to come again, this time fulfilling His role as Lord of heaven and earth once and for all.

May we look forward to that day when Christ comes again, knowing we live in a broken world in desperate need of a Savior.

And may we be faithful like Zerubbabel, stepping by obedience and faith into whatever God calls us to do, finishing well despite hardships and opposition that confronts us.

Do you know someone who is persevering for the Lord despite their circumstances?  Write them a note, give them a call, and let them know the positive impact their life is making on yours, how their faithfulness encourages you in your walk with Christ.

Blessings,
~kevin

Haggai 2:10-19

10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Haggai: 11 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Ask the priests what the law says: 12 If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’”

The priests answered, “No.”

13 Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?”

“Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.”

14 Then Haggai said, “‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the Lord. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.

15 “‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on—consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s temple.16 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. 17 I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord. 18 ‘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: 19 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.’”
(Haggai 2:10-19 NIV)

After Haggai spoke the first word of the Lord to the leaders and people of Israel, rebuking them for not rebuilding the Temple as they had been commissioned, the people repented, listened, and began the rebuilding work.

About a month after the Lord had rebuked the leaders and people, the Lord spoke again, this time to encourage the leaders and the people to be strong, take courage, keep working, and not to let fear stop the rebuilding work.  This was a crucial moment in Israel’s history.  Even though this Temple was smaller than Solomon’s original Temple, the Lord promised to fill this new Temple with more glory than the original one.  And more importantly, the Lord promised to bring peace, something the leaders and Israelite had not known for a very, very long time.

As we step into today’s text, we see the Lord speaking through Haggai the prophet again, this time approximately two months after He spoke words of encouragement to the leaders and the people.

The Lord directed Haggai to ask two questions to the priests:

  1. If something consecrated (such as a piece of cooked meat offered on the altar) touches something common (such as other food), will the common things become holy?  The priests’ answer was “no”.
  2. If someone ceremonially unclean touches anything, whether holy or unholy, will that thing become unclean?  The priests answered, “yes, it becomes defiled (unclean)”.

The Lord used these two questions to show that He had considered the people ceremonially unclean.  The Lord had set Israel apart (made them holy) to do His work (rebuilding the Temple).  But the leaders and people had stopped for fifteen years, and the Temple stood like a dead corpse in the middle of their city, a testimonial to their unfinished work and disobedience to the Lord.

With the entire city pronounced as unclean before the Lord, this affected not only their status before the Lord but also their well-being.  The famine, droughts, and pestilence were all a direct result of their disobedience to the Lord.

Thankfully, this was not the end of the Lord’s word through Haggai the prophet.  In verses 18-19, the Lord does something no one else can do – He offers salvation by His grace and blessing to His people once again.

Let’s take a quick look at the calendar to understand the context of the Lord’s statement.   The original word of the Lord was in late September, during the harvest.  This third word from the Lord was three months later, in December.  The harvest was complete, the fall tillage was done, the late autumn rains had fallen, and the winter seeds were sown, and the uncertainty of spring lay ahead.

And yet now, in December, the Lord offered His blessings due to the obedience of the people in rebuilding the Temple.  The Lord predicted that there would be great physical harvest as a result of His blessings on His people, just there would be a great spiritual blessing on His people because they obeyed and were rebuilding the Temple.

May we see the image of Christ painted in today’s story – how we who were unclean with no hope of redemption were pronounced clean and holy by God’s grace, through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. and how we are promised God’s blessings of eternal life, just as the Lord promised the blessing of an abundant crop next September while the seed lay dormant in the December ground.

May we see how we are promised God’s blessings of eternal life through Christ, just as the Lord promised the blessing of an abundant crop next September while the seed lay dormant in the December ground before spring and summer had come.

May we see that like that seed that lay in that soil, unless we die to self, we cannot produce a harvest and multiply His glory as the Lord intended.

Blessings,
~kevin

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