This 4 part expository study of Haggai was preached at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in 2003. Audio and manuscripts are available for each lesson.
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Every day you exchange a day of your life for something. It’s as if at the start of life each of us were issued a certain number of coins. They’re hidden inside a large machine so that we don’t know how many we were issued or how many we have left. Each day, the machine issues us a new coin. It may be the last coin we get, or we may get many more. All we know is that the average person in America gets between 70 and 80 years’ worth, but some get far less; a few may get more.
You take each day’s coin and exchange it for something: a day at work or school, shopping, church, leisure, or whatever. Once spent, you can never get the coins back to spend them differently. The art of living wisely is largely a matter of spending your coins on the things that really matter in light of eternity and not frivolously wasting them. Living wisely is difficult because often the choice is not between the bad and the good, but between the good and the best.
The Book of Haggai, second shortest in the Old Testament, has a potent message. It tells us to put first things first in our lives. It was written to people, like us, who would have told you that God must be first. They believed that; we believe that. But, they had drifted into a way of life where their intellectual belief in the supremacy of God was not reflected in the way they were living. They gave lip service to the priority of God, but in fact they lived with other priorities. God sent this prophet to help His people get their priorities in line with what they knew they should be.
The historical setting is the early chapters of Ezra (see Ezra 5:1). In 536 B.C., a remnant of about 50,000 Jews had returned from Babylon to Judah under the decree of Cyrus, King of Persia. They quickly rebuilt the altar and began offering sacrifices. Two years after returning, they had laid the foundation to rebuild the temple. Their Samaritan neighbors had offered to join in the work, but the Jews refused their offer. The Samaritans, in turn, threatened the workers and sent men to Persia to lobby against the Jews, bringing the work to a halt.
At least 14 years had passed. The people got caught up in the routine of life—farming, building houses, raising families, and that sort of thing. They got used to life without a temple. Even their leaders, Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest, had gotten used to things as they were. Into that scene, God raised up Haggai and (two months later) Zechariah to proclaim His message to this returned remnant.
The Book of Haggai consists of four precisely dated messages from the Lord. The first (1:1-15) was on the first day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius (1:1, August 29, 520 B.C.). The second (2:1-9) came on the 21st of the seventh month (2:1, October 17th). The third (2:10-19) and fourth (2:20-23) messages came on the same day, the 24th of the ninth month (2:10, 20; December 18th). To sum up the first message:
God will grant true blessing when we put His house first.
Charles Feinberg (The Minor Prophets [Moody Press], p. 240) put it, “In short, Haggai is saying, ‘Give God the supreme place in your life.’” Or, as Jesus put it, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). We all know this, but …
This is the default mode on all of our fallen “computers”! If we give no thought to how we’re living, we will naturally live for our agendas, not for God’s. All of us who have trusted Christ as Savior know (intellectually) that it is foolish and vain to live for the things of this world. We know that these things never deliver the satisfaction that they promise. We know that we will not find true happiness apart from God. And yet we keep drifting towards loving the world if we don’t fight against it. Note four things about those who put their prosperity above God’s house:
We would not understand Haggai’s message properly if we forgot that the people to whom he was speaking had made the difficult commitment to leave their established way of life in Babylon and make the dangerous journey back to the land of promise. They had homes and jobs in Babylon. Most of them had been born and raised there. But they knew that God’s purpose for His people involved the Promised Land. By faith they had responded to the call to return and had committed themselves to the hardships of getting re-established in the land that had been devastated by war. Probably most of them made that commitment because of their commitment to God.
Shortly after returning, they had made an attempt to rebuild the Temple, but the opposition had stopped the project. Gradually, they had lost their vision and had drifted into a lifestyle where God’s house was no longer the priority. They probably viewed it as nice, but not necessary; extra, but not essential.
We need to see ourselves in this picture. If you know Christ, there was a time when you made a personal commitment to Him. You decided to follow Jesus, as the chorus goes. At first, you were zealous for spiritual things. You read your Bible every day. You got involved with groups like Campus Crusade or Inter-Varsity during college. You got involved serving in a local church. But perhaps your efforts met with difficulties. You had a personality clash with another Christian, or you were disillusioned with the disappointing results, or you encountered personal trials that God didn’t remove, even after much prayer.
Meanwhile, life moved on. You started a career and a family. You had bills to pay and other demands on your time. Church and the Lord’s work drifted into the background. You still attend church as often as you can, but it has become a slice of life, not the center. You tell yourself that you just don’t have time to serve as you used to. Someone else who doesn’t have the responsibilities that you have will have to get involved. Without deliberately rebelling against God, you have drifted into putting your house above God’s house. When your conscience nags, you have reasons to explain why things are this way:
They were saying, “The time has not come, even the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt” (1:2). If you had asked them why the temple had not been built, they would have responded, “Don’t get me wrong! I’m all for rebuilding the Temple. It’s a great cause. But the timing just isn’t right. We’re in an economic downturn right now. Everyone’s pinched for money. There aren’t enough good jobs. It’s all I can do to provide for my family. But times will get better, and then we’ll rebuild the temple!”
Again, we must see ourselves here! We’re all prone to make up excuses for why we are not obedient to put God first with the time and money He entrusts to us. Sometimes we even use the Bible to support our excuses. “The Bible says that if a man doesn’t provide for his own family, he’s worse than an unbeliever and has denied the faith! I’m just trying to obey that verse by providing for my family. But someday I’ll have all the kids through college and the bills paid, and then we’ll give more to the Lord’s work.” Or, “This is a hectic time in our family life. The kids demand so much attention. Every day is taken up with meeting their needs. But someday we’ll be through this phase, and then we’ll get involved in the church.”
The people in Haggai’s day were having problems. They sowed plenty of seed, but there was a drought and the crops didn’t yield as much as they had hoped. That meant that they had less to sow the following year, even though they needed to make up for the previous bad year. No matter how hard they tried, they just seemed to be spinning their wheels. Inflation seemed to gobble up the little bit that they earned. It was like putting money into a bag with holes (1:6). By the end of the month, there was nothing left. Of course the hard times meant that they didn’t have any extra to give toward the temple building fund. But surely God understood their difficult circumstances!
What they didn’t see was that God not only understood their circumstances, He had caused them! They were working harder but going behind faster, but they hadn’t stopped to consider that God was trying to tell them something. Haggai came along and said, “Hey, folks, it’s God who controls the rain and the harvest. He is withholding His blessing because your priorities are not right! Put His house first and He will bless you. Seek first His kingdom and all these things will be added unto you.”
People who slip into putting their prosperity above God’s kingdom have lost the spiritual perspective they need to get out of the quicksand they’ve fallen into. They’re working for the food that perishes, but not for the food that endures to eternal life (John 6:27). They’re forgetting that if their ways are pleasing to the Lord, He will give them all that they really need. They need to stop and consider that they are working against God, who merely blows on their take-home pay and scatters it (1:9). He does that to get them to reconsider their mixed up priorities.
Some of these people had a measure of material success. They lived in fine, paneled houses (1:4). But the point of verses 6 & 9-11 is, even if you get what you’re working for, it never satisfies. Solomon, who tried money, fame, knowledge, sensual pleasure, and everything a man could dream of, ended up cynically saying, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” (Eccl. 1:2). In the words of the Rolling Stones, “I can’t get no satisfaction”!
What good does it do to work hard all your life so that you can retire and enjoy the good things in life, if a month after your retirement, you have a heart attack and die? You have just put your wages into a purse with holes! What good does it do to build bigger barns to hold your increased wealth if God says, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” (Luke 12:20)?
History is strewn with people that devoted themselves to climbing the ladder of worldly success, only to find out too late that it was leaning against the wrong wall! Sadly, some of those people have been God’s people who just drifted downstream with the world. The truth is, only God can satisfy your soul. As Jesus promised, when we put God and His kingdom first, He gives us all the material things we need. But we have to fight constantly the drift toward wrong priorities.
Let me clarify what I mean by “God’s house.” In our text, of course, it refers to the temple in Jerusalem, which was the center for worshiping God. Although God is everywhere, the temple was the place on earth where God dwelled in a special sense. He revealed His glory there. The sacrifices offered there pointed ahead to the coming of God’s Messiah, Jesus, who would offer Himself as God’s final and complete sacrifice for our sins. To allow the Temple to lay in ruins was to neglect the worship of God. It was to have inverted priorities, and as James Boice puts it, “in the final analysis all inverted priorities are idolatry. They put the creation before the Creator” (The Minor Prophets [Baker], 2:469).
In the church age, God’s temple is not a physical building, but rather, His people, both individually and corporately (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). God dwells in individual human hearts, and together we are being built into the temple or house of God (Eph. 2:21; 1 Pet. 2:5). To make God’s house the priority in life means that your number one aim is to make your body a fit dwelling for the Holy Spirit and to devote yourself to building others in Christ so that their lives are a proper dwelling for God. It means that your main goal is to know Christ at home in your heart by faith and to do all that you can to help others do the same. Note two things:
As I said, our default mode is to put material prosperity above spiritual prosperity. That is the strong pull of the world. If we want to go God’s way, we have to fight every inch of the way.
It is striking that in contrast to many of the prophets, like Jeremiah, who preached all their lives to stubborn and disobedient people, Haggai preached and the people obeyed! It started with the leaders, Zerubbabel and Joshua (1:12). That took humility on their part. It would have been easy for them as the political and spiritual leaders to resist Haggai’s message in order to preserve their esteem in the eyes of the community. “Who does this upstart prophet think that he is? We’ve never heard of him before. He has no credentials. He just comes along and says, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts’ and we’re supposed to believe him?” Yes, they were, and thankfully they did!
It’s interesting that proportionately, Haggai claims to speak the word of the Lord more than any other prophet in Scripture (25 times in 38 verses) and he refers to God as “the Lord of hosts” 14 times. He is saying, “God is the Lord over all the armies of heaven and earth, and I am bringing you His message, so you’d better listen!” In this case, the people did listen and obey.
The application is that we must accept the Bible as the authoritative word of the Lord of hosts and submit to it. When it confronts the way we live, we can either resist it by making up more excuses, or we can obey it. But one-time obedience is not enough. We must deliberately and continually obey if we want to keep our priorities in order. How do we do that?
Twice the Lord tells the people, “Consider your ways” (1:5, 7). That means to stop long enough in your busy schedule to evaluate your life in the light of God’s Word and fearing Him (1:12).
(1) How are you spending your time? These people had plenty of time for themselves, but they didn’t have time for God. Rearrange your schedule!
(2) How are you spending your money, which is really God’s money? These folks claimed that they had to get their own houses built first, and then they could build God’s house. That was backwards. God says that we are to give Him the first fruits, off the top. We are to give Him the best. We are managers of all that He has given us, to invest it profitably for His kingdom.
(3) What are your goals? What is it that you’re aiming at in life? If you live to an old age, what do you want to look back on as far as accomplishments?
(4) What do you think about the most? What secretly occupies your thought life? Do you dream of getting rich, of achieving fame, of some hobby or leisure pursuit, or do you think about the Lord and how He wants you to spend your life?
(5) Who are your heroes or models? Whom do you most admire? Whom would you like to be like? Why?
(6) Who are your friends? Whom do you like to spend time with? Why do you like to be with them?
(7) How do you spend your leisure time? When you have time off, how do you spend it? Do you watch TV? Do you live for sports? Do you hang out with friends? How does your leisure time reflect and affect your devotion to Jesus Christ?
It’s helpful to write down your goals and re-evaluate every so often to see where you’re at. Otherwise, you drift off course.
Undergirding all of these questions should be the fear of God (1:12). Some think that the fear of God is an Old Testament concept, and that we are to focus on His love. But the New Testament has plenty of references to fearing God (Matt. 10:28; 2 Cor. 7:1; Eph. 5:21; Col. 3:22; 1 Pet. 2:17; Rev. 14:7; 15:4; 19:5). While we do not need to fear His final judgment if we are in Christ, Peter tells us, “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Pet. 1:17).
What is the result when we reverently obey God by putting His house above our material prosperity?
God is looking for pleasure and glory from His people. The main problem when we fail to put His house first is that we are indifferent to His glory. I commend to you John Piper’s deep, but worth wrestling with, God’s Passion for His Glory [Crossway Books], which includes the full text of Jonathan Edwards’ The End for Which God Created the World. God created and called a people for Himself for His glory (Isa. 43:7). Our aim should be God’s glory.
The Lord stirred up the hearts of the leaders and the people (1:14), “and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.” While we are responsible to get our priorities in order, when we do it, it is because God has moved in our hearts. As I said recently, whatever you do to pay bills, the chief business of every Christian is to extend the kingdom of God.
When the people obeyed, God sent word, “I am with you” (1:13). If we have God with us, we have everything. If God is with us and for us, who can be against us (Rom. 8:31)? If God seems distant in your life, perhaps your priorities have gotten mixed up. When you put God truly in first place, you experience a new awareness of His presence. That is true blessing!
I’ve shared before the story of the time management expert who was speaking to a group of business students. He pulled out a large, wide-mouth jar and filled it with fist-sized rocks. When he couldn’t put any more in, he asked, “Is this jar full?”
The class responded, “Yes.” He said, “Really?” Then he pulled out a bucket of gravel and poured it in, shaking it down through the cracks. Then he asked, “Is the jar full?”
The students were onto him, so they said, “No.” “Good,” he replied. He dumped in a bucket of sand. Once more he asked, “Is the jar full?” “No,” they shouted. Again he said, “Good.” He poured in a pitcher of water until the jar was full to the brim.
Then he asked, “What is the point of the illustration?” One student ventured, “No matter how full your schedule, if you try hard, you can always fit more in.”
“No,” the speaker replied, “that is not the point. The point is, if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.” (First Things First, by Stephen Covey, Roger & Rebecca Merrill [Simon & Schuster], pp. 88-89.)
What should your “big rocks” be? God and His house! Put them into your life first!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
The famous inventor, Thomas Edison, tried again and again to find the right filament for the incandescent electric light bulb. One day he had completed his 10,000th experiment only to discover another way that would not work. When he arrived home that night, he shared this bit of news with his wife. “Aren’t you pretty discouraged, Tom?” she asked. “Discouraged?” responded Edison. “Certainly not! I now know 10,000 ways that won’t work!”
Perseverance seems to be an outdated concept in our day of instant everything. If it doesn’t come easy, why pursue it? If it’s hard or requires endurance, maybe it isn’t your thing.
It’s easy to start a new diet. It’s tough to stick to it when you crave that cinnamon roll. It’s easy to start a new exercise program. It’s tough to persevere when your aching muscles scream, “No more!” It’s easy to get married. It’s tough to hang in there and work through problems over a lifetime. It’s easy to begin a new ministry in the local church. It’s tough to keep on when problems arise or when the results don’t match your initial expectations.
That describes the people in Haggai’s day, just shy of a month after they had obeyed his first message and resumed work on rebuilding the temple. The foundation had been laid about 15 years before, but the project had been set on the shelf. But now, in response to Haggai’s word from the Lord, the leaders and people had begun to rebuild on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month of the second year of Darius (Sept. 21, 520 B.C.; 1:15). The seventh month in Israel began with the Feast of Trumpets on the first day, followed by the Day of Atonement on the tenth day. Then the Feast of Tabernacles went from the 15th to the 21st. On the last day of that feast (Oct. 17th), Haggai delivered his second message to the people (2:1-9). It is a message of God’s encouragement to discouraged workers. We learn that …
God encourages His discouraged servants to persevere in His work.
These verses teach us three things about persevering by turning our discouragement in serving the Lord into encouragement:
The Lord did not gloss over or ignore the reality of the situation. He knew what they were thinking and feeling, and He brings it up to show them that He understood and that He cared for them. If we do not keep in mind that in all our troubles the Lord understands and cares for us, we will easily become discouraged. The text and historical context reveal several potential sources of discouragement when we get involved in serving the Lord:
There is always a certain sense of excitement when you begin a new ministry or project. But the glow easily rubs off in the grind. There were probably piles of rubble that needed to be removed. Perhaps some of the workers had envisioned putting the finishing touches on some gold work or other craftsmanship, but they hadn’t thought about hauling rubble. Their initial enthusiasm was already wearing thin.
The summer after I graduated from seminary, I was involved with a group of men in starting a new church that was branching off of an existing church. We received some wise counsel from the elders of the mother church. They said, “What you’re doing now is new and exciting. But the time will come when the glamour wears off and then you’ll need to know that God has called you to this work and persevere in it.” The leaders did persevere, because last year I received an email from the pastor telling me that they were celebrating their 25th anniversary.
Work for the Lord seldom moves as quickly as we had hoped. Perhaps working around the numerous feasts and Sabbath days in the seventh month had dampened the initial enthusiasm because the work was going so slowly. It’s easy for that to happen in anything we do for the Lord, and the delays get us down.
In verse 5, the Lord says, “Do not fear!” He would not say that unless they had a reason to be afraid. Probably the same men who had threatened them and lobbied against them at the Persian court 15 years before were at it again. Any time you attempt to do God’s work, Satan will stir up opposition. We’re in a battle with the forces of darkness that are opposed to the church of Jesus Christ. Expect opposition!
When I began in ministry, I naively thought that most of the opposition would come from outside the church. Boy, was I wrong! Most opposition comes from within, and it takes different forms.
One common form is pessimism. “We tried that before. It won’t work!” When they had laid the foundation years before, there was great joy mixed with weeping (Ezra 3:11-13). The young people who had not known the glory of the former temple were rejoicing. But the old-timers, who had seen Solomon’s Temple, wept at this new temple, because it just didn’t measure up. Although they would be in their seventies or older by now, a few were still around when the work got started again. Maybe they were saying, “God’s blessing just isn’t on this temple!” Pessimism!
A second form of inside opposition comes from those who drop little comparisons on you. The old-timers were saying, “You should have seen Solomon’s Temple. Now that was a temple! This new one is hardly worth calling a temple compared to the old one!” Sometimes people will say, “That church on the other side of town really has their act together!” (Implication: You don’t!) Or, “Have you ever heard Chuck Swindoll preach? He’s really good! You ought to listen to him.” Thanks for the encouragement!
And then there are those who have faulty expectations. This usually operates in conjunction with comparisons. “Where is all the gold? Solomon’s Temple was lined with gold. Why isn’t this one?” I’ve had people tell me about their former pastors who must never have slept and changed into their pastor uniforms in a phone booth! These pastors would visit everyone in the church, preach superb sermons (with great illustrations), attend all the youth activities, and always have time for drop ins. Besides that, they never neglected their families! Implication: “Why aren’t you like they are?”
Some view success externally rather than internally (or spiritually). “This temple isn’t as big as Solomon’s Temple was. This temple doesn’t have all the gold and fancy workmanship that Solomon’s Temple did.” But God says through Haggai, “I own all the gold and silver in the world, and I could cover this temple with gold if I wanted to. But I’m going to do something better. Instead of gold, I’m going to fill this temple with glory, the glory of My Messiah” (paraphrase of 2:7-9).
God doesn’t view things as we do. Just because one church isn’t as big or outwardly slick as another church doesn’t mean anything to God. A church may have a multi-million dollar facility, but if it doesn’t honor God’s Word or promote His glory among the nations, that facility is a big pile of wood, hay, and stubble! God is looking for the glory of Christ formed in the hearts of His people, not for the outward, superficial signs of success.
Another wrong view of success is the instant view as opposed to the eternal. None of the workers on this temple lived to see its glory exceed that of Solomon’s Temple. That didn’t happen until Messiah came into this temple over 500 years later, and even then many missed it! God says, “Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land” (2:6). While there may have been a partial fulfillment of that prophecy within a few years of Haggai’s day (in the overthrow of powerful kingdoms), the ultimate fulfillment is still future in our day! God will shake all the nations at the Second Coming of Christ, and they will bring the wealth of the nations to His temple in the Millennium.
If the people in Haggai’s day were viewing success from the short range, they would have been very discouraged. With God, a thousand years is as a day. True success will be measured in the light of eternity, not in our lifetimes. We need to keep this in mind as we labor for the Lord. The harvest is at the end of the age, not at the end of the meeting. God’s timing is not our timing.
Whatever our source of discouragement, God understands and He cares. But He doesn’t coddle us or let us stay there.
Three times the Lord repeats, “Be strong!” (“Take courage!”) And He tells them to work. Keep going! Persevere! There are two aspects to this kind of perseverance: an attitude and an action.
The people had the wrong attitude. They were weak because they had gotten their focus off the Lord and onto the slow, disappointing progress on the temple. Maybe they were thinking, “This will never get done. We’re just wasting our time!”
Have you ever noticed how much your attitude affects your ability to persevere? If you’re motivated, you can stay up all night on some project. But if you get discouraged, you procrastinate and never get around to finishing it.
We hear about many pastors burning out and quitting the ministry. While in some cases the cause of burnout is not properly managing one’s schedule, often the real cause is an attitude of discouragement because of setbacks or disappointments. I recently read that 70 percent of pastors constantly fight depression. Eighty percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their ministries. I think every pastor should feel unqualified (2 Cor. 2:16), but not discouraged. As Americans, we’re far too emotionally fragile. Someone offends us, so we get our feelings hurt and drop out of service. Someone doesn’t do what we had expected, so we quit. Someone criticizes what we’re doing, and we say, “I’m out of here!”
But God says, “Be strong!” We aren’t to be strong in our own strength, of course, but in God’s strength (2 Cor. 3:5). But, be strong! Have the attitude that hangs in there in spite of obstacles. The real question is not how do we see things, but how does God see things? If we have not factored God into the equation, we don’t see things in the right perspective.
Do you remember the story of the 12 spies who went into the land of Canaan? Ten of them came back focused on the giants in the land and said, “We’re like grasshoppers in their sight. We can’t conquer them!” But Joshua and Caleb came back and said, “Because God is with us and He has promised us that land, we will eat them for lunch!” (Num. 14:9, paraphrase). Be strong in attitude!
The attitude provides the motivation, but motivation without work won’t get the temple built. Joshua and Caleb had the right attitude of trust in the Lord. But they still had to go into the land and fight the giants. Much of the Lord’s work is far more perspiration than inspiration! That is certainly true of my weekly sermon preparation. These messages don’t come floating down from the sky! I have to work hard to prepare them. Just because you’re gifted in whatever you do for the Lord does not mean that it just flows effortlessly. To persevere we must not only be strong; we also must work.
Thus God encourages us in our service for Him by showing that He understands what we’re feeling and He cares. His word to us is, “Be strong and work!” Finally,
After telling Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the people to be strong and to work, God adds, ‘“For I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts.” The Jews may have feared a hostile host against them, but God is the Lord of hosts, the Supreme Ruler over all the armies of heaven and earth. If the Lord of hosts is with us, who can defeat us? If we’re serving Him, then nothing can happen to us accidentally or without His express permission. The assurance of His presence should lift our discouragement and enable us to press on.
After many years of hardship and danger in the heart of Africa, David Livingstone received an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow. On that occasion, he said, “Would you like me to tell you what supported me through all the years of exile among people whose language I could not understand, and whose attitude toward me was always uncertain and often hostile? It was this: ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.’ On those words I staked everything, and they never failed.”
“Promise” (2:5) refers to the covenant God made with Israel when they came out of Egypt. He promises them now, as He had then, that His Spirit would go with them and abide in their midst. Therefore, they need not fear.
God has made a better covenant with us than He did with them, the New Covenant, enacted on better promises (Heb. 8:6). Jesus sealed that New Covenant with His own blood. He promised us the indwelling Holy Spirit to be with us forever (John 14:16). When we grow discouraged in our service for Him, we should remember His promise, that He would not leave us as orphans, but would come to us and that in the meanwhile, He has given us the Holy Spirit to enable us to serve Him.
The many prophecies in Scripture are not given for us to speculate about the future, but to strengthen and encourage our faith. When we see how God has worked down through the ages in accordance with what He told His people in advance, it encourages us to keep serving Him, knowing that the remaining unfulfilled prophecies will surely yet be fulfilled.
Commentators differ on when the shaking of heaven and earth and the nations (2:6-7a) would take place. Some say that it referred to God’s stirring up Darius to supply help and materials for this rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 6:6-15). Others say that it refers to God’s bringing future judgment on the Persians, Greeks, and Romans (see James Boice, The Minor Prophets [Baker], 2:476-477). While that may be an initial fulfillment, like many biblical prophecies, there may be multiple fulfillments. In this case, it refers ultimately to the Second Coming of Christ, when God will shake the heavens and the earth (2:21; Joel 3:16; Matt. 24:29; Rev. 16:18-20) and conquer all the rebellious nations (2:22).
Haggai 2:6 is the only verse from this book quoted in the New Testament. In Hebrews 12:26-27, the author states, “And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’ This expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” This refers to the final judgment when God will destroy the heavens and the earth, prior to establishing a new heavens and earth (2 Pet. 3:10, 12-13; Rev. 20:11; 21:1).
There is also debate about the translation of the phrase, “the wealth of the nations” (2:7). Some translations have it, “the desire of the nations,” which would be a reference to Jesus Christ. While this is possible, both the Hebrew grammar and the reference to silver and gold (2:8) probably tilt the evidence toward “the wealth of the nations,” a reference to the nations in the Millennium bringing their wealth in homage to Jesus Christ.
The Lord also says that He will “fill this house with glory” and that “the latter glory of this house will be greater than the former” (2:7, 9). Again there is some debate. How could Zerubbabel’s temple be greater in glory than Solomon’s? While Herod replaced this temple with more glorious buildings (the temple in Jesus’ time), this verse probably refers to the coming of Jesus into that temple. His presence made it even more glorious than Solomon’s Temple. In the Millennium, His presence as King of Kings and Lord of Lords will surpass the veiled glory of His first coming. In the new heavens and earth, there will be no temple, “for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22).
Finally, the Lord promises that in this place He will give peace (2:9). Again, this has multiple fulfillments. In His first coming, Jesus preached peace to both Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:17). We have peace with God and with one another when we trust in His shed blood (Rom. 5:1). But true and lasting peace for this world and for Jerusalem will only come when Jesus returns.
We could get hung up on the details of interpreting these prophecies. But the application for us is that since the Lord of hosts has predicted the certain final triumph of the kingdom of His Son, we should be encouraged in our work for Him, knowing that our work in the Lord is never in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).
One of the most remarkable examples of a Christian persevering in the Lord’s work is that of William Wilberforce of England (1759-1833). He was converted in 1785. Two years later he gave notice in the House of Commons, where he served, that he would bring a motion for the abolition of the slave trade. This was a hugely lucrative business that brought much income into the British economy. The British plantations in the West Indies depended on slave labor for their profit. Owning slaves was a strong cultural institution. So it was an enormous task to undertake.
Numerous times Wilberforce’s life was threatened. There was political pressure to back down because of the international political ramifications. For example, if Britain outlawed slavery, the West Indian colonies threatened to declare independence from Britain and associate with the United States, which still allowed slavery. But in spite of all of these obstacles, Wilberforce persevered.
Finally, on March 25, 1807, after 20 years of setbacks, Wilberforce prevailed when the House voted to outlaw the slave trade. But the battle wasn’t over. Wilberforce battled on for the next 26 years, until his death, to abolish not only the slave trade, but also slavery itself. The decisive vote on that issue came on July 26, 1833, just three days before Wilberforce died. After 46 years of battle, slavery itself was outlawed in the British Empire.
But Wilberforce wasn’t just a one-issue man. He was also involved heavily in a number of missionary endeavors and in many social causes. He worked to alleviate harsh child labor conditions, for agricultural reform, prison reform, and the prevention of cruelty to animals. And he continually sought to win his colleagues to personal faith in Jesus Christ. (The above facts are taken from John Piper, The Roots of Endurance [Crossway Books], pp. 129-134).
Not many of us can rack up such a record! But we can persevere in whatever the Lord has given us to do for His kingdom. Just as the result of the people’s building the temple in Haggai’s day would bring more glory to God, so our obedience in building His spiritual temple, the church, will glorify Him. If you are discouraged in your service for the Lord, He wants to encourage you to persevere for His glory.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
When asked what he needed for his birthday, a six-year-old said firmly, “I don’t want to need, I want to want.” Perceptive kid!
What do you want in life? That question requires careful thought! The story of King Midas, who was granted his ultimate wish that everything he touched would turn to gold, shows us how easy it is to want the wrong things. Midas quickly discovered that you can’t eat gold and you can’t relate to gold people! He made the wrong choice!
What I want more than anything—I covet it—is God’s blessing. When you’ve got God’s blessing, you’ve got it all. You may be rich or poor, healthy or ill, living in a mansion or hiding out in a cave. But if you know that God is blessing your life, you’ve got something that the world can’t give or take away. You are truly satisfied! On the other hand, if you lack God’s blessing, you may get what you think will satisfy, but you will have leanness in your soul (Ps. 106:15, KJV).
The prophet Haggai’s third message (2:10-19) to the remnant that had returned from the Babylonian captivity tells us how we can experience God’s true blessing. As we saw in his first message, the people to whom he was preaching were, for the most part, believers. They had made the difficult commitment to leave their familiar circumstances in Persia and return to the Promised Land. We see their commitment to the Lord in that one of the first things they did when they got back was to rebuild the altar and to begin to rebuild the temple. But they encountered strong opposition from the Samaritans and other peoples of the land, and the project came to a halt.
Meanwhile, they got busy with their own work and their own houses, and the temple got set aside. About 15-16 years later, God raised up Haggai with the message, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?” (1:4). The people responded and the work on the temple started again.
In Haggai, the first and the third messages are similar, as are the second and fourth. The first and third are messages of rebuke or exhortation. The second and fourth are messages of encouragement. The first message told us to seek first God’s kingdom, not our own priorities. This third message shows that not only should we seek first God’s kingdom, but that we must do so from pure hearts. Thus it develops the second half of Matthew 6:33, “and His righteousness.” The first message was, God will grant true blessing when we put His house first. The third message is:
God will grant true blessing when we put His house first from righteous lives.
Why did this message come from Haggai when it did, on December 18, 520 B.C., about three months after the first message? A couple of factors may explain the timing. First, the early rains begin in Jerusalem in mid-October, softening the ground for plowing and planting seed. By mid-December, this work would be done, but there would be no evidence yet as to whether it would be a good year for the crops. As verse 19 implies, the seed was not in the barn; it had been planted. But neither the seed nor the fruit trees had yet given any evidence as to the harvest. Would it be another year of drought (1:11)? Would it be another frustrating year of sowing much, but harvesting little (1:6)? God assures the anxious people that because they had put His house first by rebuilding again, He would bless them.
But it was not enough just to reconstruct the physical temple. God never desires a fancy building and lots of sacrifices if the hearts of the worshipers are not right before Him. Among those working on the rebuilding project there were some, if not many, who thought that if they just got that building reconstructed, it would be like a good luck charm. Since they rebuilt God’s temple, He would bless them with a bountiful harvest. But their hearts were not right before God. They were not drawing near to Him with clean hands and pure hearts (Ps. 24:3-4). So Haggai delivers this message to exhort the people not only to keep working on the temple, but also to do it from hearts that are right before God. Outward religion is never enough. God looks on the heart.
We will look at the two sections in reverse order, because the second section really reiterates the message of chapter 1, whereas the first section adds to it the requirement of personal holiness.
Haggai’s message reveals both the negative and positive sides:
There is some confusion over the time references here. It could mean, “Think back over the past years of drought and frustration and you will see that your problems began when you set aside the Lord’s house and put your houses first.” Or, it could have the nuance that the NIV gives it, “From now on, start thinking about the past and how your problems correlate to your neglect of God’s house.” Either way, the main idea is clear: “There is a direct correlation between your selfish priorities and your difficult circumstances of the past few years.” Perhaps the reason that they were still experiencing frustrating circumstances was that God had not removed the consequences of their past neglect.
God’s discipline is not pleasant but it really is a blessing, as Hebrews 12:1-11 tells us, because it is a mark of His love toward us as His children. Those who lack God’s discipline are not His true children (Heb. 12:8)! Sometimes His discipline stems directly from some sin in our lives. It is like a spanking: we sinned and our Heavenly Father administers the rod of His love to teach us not to sin.
At other times, His discipline is not directly related to any specific sin, but rather it is to bring us to spiritual maturity. This is like a loving parent who gives his child a difficult chore to do. It is not pleasant, but by submitting to his father, the child learns some valuable lessons that he will need throughout life. As a general rule, we do not learn to trust God and to submit to Him when everything is smooth as much as we do when things are difficult. The trials force us to rely on Him, because we have no where else to go.
In the case of the Jews here, the frustrations and hardships that they had been experiencing were due to their neglect, whether deliberate or inadvertent, of God’s house. They had slipped into the wrong priorities, putting their own pleasure and comfort ahead of God’s kingdom. God sent His discipline to get them to stop and consider their mixed up priorities.
The people had begun to obey three months earlier, but as of yet, they did not see any results. But God graciously assures them through Haggai (2:19), “From this day on I will bless you.” Verse 18 has a couple of problems. First, why does Haggai seem to say that God would bless them from this day (Dec. 18th) on, when they had started to rebuild three months earlier? And, why does he mention the founding of the temple then, when it had been founded some 16-18 years before?
As to the first question, probably the sense of what he is saying is, “From today onward, start thinking about how things have been for the past 16-18 years. Write it down and you will later see that God’s true blessing began at this very time” (adapted from Robert Alden, Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan], 7:590).
As to the founding of the temple, the Hebrew word does not necessarily refer to the foundation being laid, but to the start of the work (Joyce Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries [IVP], pp. 52-53). The work of rebuilding had begun 16-18 years before; now it was beginning again. Haggai’s point is that God would truly bless them because of their obedience in putting His house first. Note two things in this regard:
Without God’s blessing, our work ends in frustration. We go to our store of grain expecting to find 20 measures, but only 10 are there. We expect to draw 50 measures of wine, but only find 20 (2:16). We plant expecting a crop, but blasting wind, mildew, and hail decimate the yield (2:17).
In Leviticus 26, God spells out for Israel the blessings that He would bring on them if they obeyed Him, as well as the curses that would come if they disobeyed. If they obeyed, God promised that five Israelites would chase 100 enemies, and 100 would chase 10,000 (Lev. 26:8). That is way out of proportion to any human explanation. The only explanation was God’s blessing. His blessing gives results that are out of proportion to human ability, calculations, or effort.
We see the same thing in the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus tested the disciples by asking them where they would get the bread to feed this huge crowd (John 6:5-6). They did some quick calculations and figured that 200 denarii would not be sufficient for everyone just to get a little. Of course, this was hypothetical, because the disciples didn’t have anywhere near 200 denarii (200 day’s wages). But the point of the miracle is that when Jesus blessed the five loaves and two fish, it was sufficient for everyone to eat plenty and to have 12 baskets full of leftovers.
When we scheme how to build God’s church by using the latest slick methods or how to raise money for God’s work by hiring professional fund raisers who could get the same guaranteed results from any group of people, we are operating outside the sphere of God’s blessing. Any time that I get a flyer advertising “proven methods” for building your church or boosting attendance, I know that while the methods may work, they work apart from God’s blessing. I am not interested in such approaches.
But when we simply obey God, honor His Word, depend on Him in prayer, and preach the gospel, and the results are far beyond any human explanation, that is His blessing! I must add, we may not see any such results in our lifetimes, and only eternity will reveal what God does with such sacrifices of obedience on His altar. Many missionaries have labored for years in dependence on God with no visible fruit. But because they were obedient to Him, He will bless their labors in eternity, if not in their lifetimes. We need to keep His perspective. But let’s ask Him for His blessing on all that we do in dependence on Him!
But what about godly people who are truly seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness, but they have many great trials?
These Jews were still under Persian rule. They were still surrounded by hostile nations. They were still just a small remnant in the land. None of them lived long enough to see God’s glory rest on this humble temple in greater splendor than it had on Solomon’s temple. I agree with John Calvin, who says, “It often happens that those who sincerely and from the heart serve God, are deprived of earthly blessings, because God intends to elevate their minds to the hope of eternal reward” (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker reprint], on Haggai 2:15-19, p. 382).
In other words, the greatest blessings are not temporal blessings that quickly vanish, but the abiding joy and satisfaction that God’s obedient servants will know throughout eternity in heaven. While God often blesses His obedient servants on earth with material things (as He here promised the Jews), His greatest blessings are reserved for us in heaven. We need to keep the eternal perspective or we could easily become discouraged.
How can we get God’s true blessing on our lives and our work for the Lord?
Through Haggai, the Lord asks two questions of the priests. First, if a man carries holy meat (meat offered in a sacrifice) in the fold of his garment and touches bread (or other food) with this garment, will that food become holy? The priests correctly answer, no (the meat would make the garment holy, but the process stopped there; see Lev. 6:27). The second question was, if one who is unclean through contact with a dead body touches any of these things, will it become unclean? The priests correctly answer, “yes” (see Lev. 22:4-6; Num. 19:11-16). Note three lessons:
It’s like health and disease. If I am healthy and you have the flu, my coughing in your face won’t make you well, but your coughing in my face will make me sick. Health is not contagious, but disease is. As we all know, it’s much easier to get sick than it is to stay healthy, especially when you have constant contact with sick people. At school, kids pick up germs from other kids and then they bring those germs home. It takes a lot of careful effort to avoid catching whatever is going around!
Sin is like that! You don’t pick up “holiness antibodies” by hanging around holy people, but you do pick up “sin viruses” by hanging around sinful people. But we tend to think just the opposite. We think that if you hang out in church buildings around the “God crowd,” surely some of it will rub off! We also tend to think that we can hang out with godless people without any adverse effects on us. Wrong on both counts!
I’m not suggesting that you check yourself into a monastery to avoid contact with the world. But I am saying two things. First, you won’t catch godliness by joining a godly group of people. You must personally get right with God by repenting of your sins and trusting in Jesus Christ, and you must walk in personal holiness before Him. Hanging out with godly people will definitely help you to walk with God, but you won’t catch holiness by osmosis.
Second, you should view your contacts with the world, whether it’s worldly people or exposure to worldly ideas, as a doctor views his patients. There is a very real danger of infection, so you must exercise proper caution and keep your objectives in mind. You are not in the world to cavort with sinners. You are there to snatch them from the fire, “hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 23). In other words, you have contact to lead them to Jesus Christ, but you must be careful or you will be contaminated by their infection of sin. It’s contagious!
The temple was the greatest cause on earth in that day. God would manifest His presence and His glory to His people there. Sacrifices for sins would be offered there. The various feasts and celebrations took place there. These people were offering sacrifices and going through the prescribed rituals, but their hearts were not right before God. The contamination of their disobedient hearts was defiling the very sacrifices that they offered, just as those who touched a dead body contaminated others who touched them (2:14). To live in sin during the week and then come to the temple to worship was like dragging a corpse into the temple. It defiled everything. If they thought that God would bless them just because they were involved in rebuilding the temple, they were sadly mistaken. God isn’t fooled by anyone who labors for Him while hiding sin in his heart.
In our day, the church is the greatest cause in the world. Jesus said, “I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18). Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25). The church (people, not buildings) is God’s temple, where He dwells and makes Himself known on earth today (Eph. 2:21-22). But Haggai’s word to us is, “You can be involved to the hilt in the local church, you can give money to the church, you can even be on the staff of a church, but if your heart is not clean before God, you’re defiling everything you touch!”
As we all know, there are professing Christians who build multimillion dollar ministries, who are on TV and in the national news, and who have thousands flocking to hear them speak. Sometimes they sell millions of copies of their books on how to have God’s blessing in your life. But if they are not broken and contrite of heart, if they are not striving against sin and for holiness on the heart level, then they are just slick showmen who happen to be in the church business. God’s true blessing is not on them.
We often look on the outward activity: “Lord, look at all that I’m doing for You!” But God looks on the heart. Do we do what we do from hearts made clean through faith in Christ? Do we abstain from evil when no one else is looking, except God?
It’s not enough to build His temple; we must build from hearts that please Him who knows our every thought. Motives are important to God. Our private thought life matters to Him. Do we truly seek Him every day, or is our Christianity just a mask to cover the corruption of our hearts? Do we take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5)? Do we pluck out our eye or cut off our hand, if need be, in order to be holy before God (Matt. 5:27-30)? If not, we’re only practicing our righteousness before men (Matt. 6:1), but God sees right through us. The godly 19th century Scottish pastor, Robert Murray McCheyne, said, “According to your holiness, so shall be your success. A holy man is an awesome weapon in the hands of God.”
So, what is the bottom line? What should we do?
Three times God repeats the same phrase that He repeated three times in the first section (1:5, 7): “Consider” (2:15, 18). It is literally, “set your heart,” or “fix your attention on this.” What God wants us to consider is, if we seek first His kingdom from righteous hearts, He will bless us. So we need to take frequent inventory of our lives, beginning on the heart level.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Ps. 139:23, 24).
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
A correction notice in a local Oregon newspaper read, “The title of a First Christian Church program in last week’s paper was written as ‘Our God Resigns.’ The actual title is ‘Our God Reigns’” (Reader’s Digest, [9/93], p. 53). What a difference one letter makes!
But maybe that typo is more true in our experience than we care to admit! Many Christians live as if their God resigned, not as if He truly reigns as the Sovereign of the universe. As I mentioned recently, 70 percent of pastors constantly fight depression and over 80 percent of pastors and their wives feel discouraged in their work. If we aren’t careful, we can easily develop that perspective, because as you look around, it seems as if the enemy is winning. In spite of all of the Christian influence and Christian resources available in this country, evil has escalated to unimaginable proportions in the past 35 years.
Most Americans used to agree with Christian moral standards, even if they didn’t keep them. But now even many professing Christians do not live by those standards, let alone those in the world. People flaunt their sin as if it’s a badge of honor. Several Christian denominations tolerate homosexual sin not only among their members, but even among the clergy! Very few churches take a stand for absolute truth, whether in morals or in doctrine. The gospel has been changed from how a person can be saved from God’s judgment to how we can use God for personal fulfillment!
When you consider the cause of world missions, it also can be discouraging. The worldwide threat of militant Islam is daunting. Often new converts in Islamic countries are killed, which is no small problem in founding new churches! There are still thousands of people groups with no gospel witness. Quite often, even in this country, let alone in developing nations, professing Christians mingle cultural folk religion with their Christian faith. If we focus too much on these problems, it’s easy to wonder if our God resigned!
Zerubbabel found himself in that sort of discouraging situation. He was the grandson of Jehoichin, the last ruler of Judah before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and conquered the land. Most of the population had been carried off to Babylon, and even now, only a small remnant of about 50,000 had returned under Cyrus’ permission. They were still under Persian rule and surrounded by hostile neighbors who opposed the Jewish resettlement. The Jews who returned seemed more concerned with their own comfort and prosperity than with the things of God. Although there was a good response to Haggai’s call to rebuild the temple, many of the Jews were religious outwardly, but their hearts were not right before God (2:14). The walls of Jerusalem were still torn down, leaving the city vulnerable. Somehow, Zerubbabel was supposed to govern in this bleak situation.
That was the picture on December 18, 520 B.C., the day that Haggai had a message from God for the people (last week, 2:10-19). He called them not only to continue the work on the temple, but to do it from hearts that were holy before God. He promised to bless them from that day on.
On that same day, God gave Haggai a message directly to Zerubbabel. As I said before, the first and third messages in Haggai are parallel, and the second and fourth are parallel. The first and third were messages of rebuke or exhortation. The second and fourth are messages of encouragement. To Zerubbabel and to all of God’s servants who may be discouraged, God has this word:
Because the Sovereign Lord will prevail in His eternal plan, His servants should be encouraged to trust Him and to do His will.
This is the explicit message of the text. The application (being encouraged to trust God and do His will) is by way of implication. Five truths drive home this overall message, that the Sovereign Lord (“Lord of hosts”) will prevail.
Note the repetition of the first personal pronoun, “I”:
*“I am going to shake the heavens and the earth…”
*“I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms…”
*“I will overthrow the chariots and their riders…”
*“I will take you, Zerubbabel…”
*“I will make you like a signet ring…”
*“‘I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord of hosts.”
You get the impression that God has an idea about what He is going to do! History isn’t just careening out of control with God desperately trying to grab the reins! The Sovereign God controls all of the events of history for His purpose. As He declares through Isaiah:
The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand” (14:24).
Remember this, and be assured; recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure”; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it (46:8-11).
As you know, there are many Christians today who effectively deny God’s sovereignty over man’s will. One popular Bible teacher even has a message he calls, “The Sovereignty of Man,” which I consider to be a blasphemous title! Scripture affirms that people make choices for which they are responsible, but it also affirms that over and above the choices that we make is the sovereign purpose of God. His ultimate purpose is that He will be glorified: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). We have the choice of either cooperating with that purpose, in which case we will be blessed; or of fighting against it, in which case we will not in any way thwart it, and He will be glorified in our judgment.
Our text does not contain any conditions. God does not say, “I hope to be able to shake the heavens and the earth, but it depends on how men respond with their free will! I would like to take you, Zerubbabel, if you’re willing, and make you My signet ring. I sure hope that you say yes!” God is quite absolute in declaring what He will do in the future to accomplish His plan.
Zerubbabel easily could have said, “But, Lord, we Jews who have returned to the land are few in number. We have no king, no army, no weapons to use in our defense. We’re surrounded by hostile and powerful nations and we’re subject to the most powerful kingdom on the face of the earth. How can we prevail?”
But clearly, God’s ability to accomplish His sovereign purpose does not depend on the puny resources of His people, but on His power and might. The Bible is loaded with stories of how God delights to overthrow powerful kingdoms that dare to exalt themselves over His weak, vulnerable, chosen people.
He is the God who brought the plagues on the mighty Egyptians and drowned their king and his army in the Red Sea. He delivered Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, into the hands of this ragtag bunch of refugees in the wilderness. He toppled the walls of Jericho. He used Joshua and Caleb, who trusted Him, to conquer the fearsome giants in the land. He delivered the horde of Midian into the hands of Gideon with a mere 300 men. He felled Goliath and put the Philistines to flight at the hands of a teenaged shepherd named David. He delivered Hezekiah and Jerusalem from the siege of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, by sending His angel to kill 185,000 soldiers in one night.
He repeatedly declares in His Word, as Jeremiah put it, “Ah Lord God! Behold You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You!” (Jer. 32:17; see Jer. 32:27; Gen. 18:14; Zech. 8:6; Matt. 19:26; Luke 1:37). Now, what is your problem?
God plainly states the reason that He will make Zerubbabel like His signet ring: “‘for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord of hosts” (2:23). Again, note that God does not say, “I will make you like My signet ring because I can foresee that you will choose Me.” There are many Christians who would force that meaning onto this text, but I am content to let the text read as it stands. God accomplishes His sovereign plan through His choices. As John Calvin observes, “For God does not here ascribe excellencies or merits to Zerubbabel …; but he attributes this to his [God’s] own election” (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], 15:387). Calvin goes on to say that if we ask why God had so much exalted Zerubbabel, “it can be found in nothing else but in the goodness of God alone.” In other words, God’s election is not conditional on anything that He sees or foresees in fallen man, but only on His grace and good pleasure.
I agree that Zerubbabel willingly cooperated with God’s plan; but the reason he cooperated with God’s plan was that God chose him to do so. God’s sovereign, eternal choice lies behind the temporal choices of men. But at the same time, men are responsible for the choices that they make.
It is the same in the matter of salvation. People must choose to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Indeed, God commands them to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15). But when people make that choice, it does not stem from anything in them. It does not happen because they considered all the alternatives, and with their innate brilliance, they saw that it made the most sense to trust in Christ.
The natural mind is blinded by Satan and by sin, so that it cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). The natural mind cannot understand or accept the things of the Spirit of God, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). So when anyone chooses to trust Christ, it is only because God has sovereignly chosen them and because Jesus willed to reveal the Father to them (Luke 10:22). Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9).
In our text, the Lord says that He has chosen Zerubbabel to be like a signet ring. The signet ring was the instrument that the king used to seal all official documents. It was a symbol of honor and authority. When the wicked Queen Jezebel confiscated Naboth’s vineyard for her weak-willed husband, King Ahab, she wrote letters in his name and sealed them with his seal (1 Kings 21:8). That seal told the recipients of the letters that the king stood behind the message and it had better be obeyed (see also, Dan. 6:17; Esther 8:8). Since it carried such authority, the king’s signet ring was a precious object of great care, which he usually wore on his person so that no one could steal it (Jer. 22:24).
God had said concerning Zerubbabel’s wicked grandfather, Jehoiachin (Coniah), “even though … [he] were a signet ring on My right hand, yet I would pull you off; and I will give you over into the hand of those who are seeking your life” (Jer. 22:24, 25). But now God graciously is reversing that judgment and restoring the Davidic line through Zerubbabel. Although Zerubbabel himself did not reign on the Jewish throne, he is included in both of the genealogies of Jesus Christ, the son of David (Matt. 1:12; Luke 3:27). So God’s promise of His choice of Zerubbabel as His signet ring should have brought great comfort and encouragement to this discouraged man in these difficult times.
Other than the fact that the doctrine of God’s sovereign election humbles the flesh and gives us no reason to boast, I do not understand why Christians stumble over and invent ways to get around it. It is given to us repeatedly in Scripture to comfort and encourage us. God’s message to Zerubbabel was that even though the most powerful kingdoms on earth would shake and fall, he need not fear because he is God’s chosen one, as precious in God’s sight as a signet ring was to a king. God’s message to His church and to individual believers in frightening times, when world or personal events cause us to quake with fear is, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). The doctrine of God’s choosing us should comfort, encourage, and strengthen us when we face hard times!
Thus, God has a definite plan for history. He is mighty to accomplish that plan. He carries out His plan in accordance with His sovereign choices.
We cannot correctly understand our text unless we see that Zerubbabel is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ (Calvin saw this over 450 years ago, ibid., p. 384). Jesus Christ is the center and final goal of what God is doing in human history. All of the Old Testament points ahead to Jesus Christ. God’s promises to Abraham and to David find their fulfillment in Christ. All of the New Testament centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. As Luke records of Jesus on the Emmaus Road after His resurrection, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).
Richard Wolff (The Book of Haggai [Baker], pp. 80-81) writes,
[Zerubbabel] is a type of Christ, the true servant of God and God’s signet ring. All that has validity in God’s eyes, bearing the seal, the stamp of His approval, comes to us through Jesus Christ….
[Zerubbabel] led Israel out of the Babylonian exile and Christ delivered from the bondage of sin; Zerubbabel built the temple of God and Christ is building the spiritual temple, the church. Christ is the signet ring in and through whom all divine purposes are sealed. After the final shaking of the nations we shall receive a kingdom that cannot be moved and all nations shall walk in the light of God and He shall be all in all.
It is important to affirm that Zerubbabel is a type of Christ because these promises were not fulfilled in Zerubbabel’s lifetime. He never ruled on a throne over Israel. He didn’t live to see the thrones of kingdoms overthrown. He didn’t see his name in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. That points to the last thing about God’s plan for history:
In 2:6, the Lord says, “Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. And I will shake all the nations ….” Haggai 2:21 & 22 obviously refer to the same shaking, which God said would take place “in a little while.” Although there may have been some partial fulfillments of that shaking of the nations when Persia, Greece, and Rome were overthrown, the final fulfillment is still future in our day! Clearly God’s idea of “a little while” does not coincide with our idea of “a little while”!
Because these prophecies were not fulfilled in Haggai’s day, liberal Bible scholars make comments like these: “The nations did not press into the Second Temple of the prophet, here anticipated; the kingdoms of the world were not overthrown, the messianic age did not at once begin, and the governor Zerubbabel held no honourable place in it… ideals which, in the sense in which they were spoken, remain unfulfilled” (S. R. Driver, cited by Wolff, p. 79).
Such liberal commentators are the type of men of whom Peter wrote, mockers who say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” As Peter goes on to point out, “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:4, 8-9).
As Hebrews 11:13 states with regard to the men of faith from the past, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Faith is the issue, isn’t it! We must accept by faith in God’s Word the promise of Christ’s return and all that it holds for us who believe, as well as the warnings about the coming judgment to those who scoff. That leads to the implicit application of our text:
God calls Zerubbabel His servant (2:23), which is a title used of David (Ezek. 34:23; 37:24) and repeatedly of Messiah (Isaiah 40-55). So again in that sense, Zerubbabel is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. But also, we who believe in Christ are all His servants. Just as He chose Zerubbabel to serve a unique role in His sovereign plan, so He has chosen you, if you know Christ, to serve Him.
Haggai ends with this final triumphant note, but it is only a source of encouragement if we trust God’s word. If Zerubbabel heard this word through Haggai and hoped that it would be fulfilled in his lifetime, he would have died as a disappointed man. He had to take God at His word and trust that in His timing, the Lord would fulfill all of these promises in His perfect way. And he had to get on with the task of governing this people, which God had called him to do.
This final message of Haggai teaches us that frightening world circumstances, powerful enemies of the gospel, and personal discouragement are not good reasons for neglecting what God has called us to do. God’s Word to the leaders and the people in the second message, “Be strong and work,” is His message to us now. We have the great privilege of participating in God’s plan for the ages, the plan that brings Him eternal glory through Jesus purchasing for God with His blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev. 5:9). But to serve Him as we should, we have to trust His promises about what He is going to do in the future. Our God will prevail! He has not resigned. Our God reigns!
We don’t know what happened to Zerubbabel after this. Some scholars assume that both Haggai and Zechariah encouraged Zerubbabel to look forward to a time when Judea would be free from foreign domination and be governed by a descendant of the house of David. And they assume that the promise of our text led to the crowning of Zerubbabel, an act that was quickly crushed by Darius (R. K. Harrison mentions these views, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible [Zondervan], 5:1057). But this is not likely. Although there are several legends about what happened after this, the Bible is silent. It leaves Zerubbabel with these hopeful promises, and we never hear of him again until he appears in the genealogies of Jesus Christ.
Maybe some of his unbelieving contemporaries scoffed, “You’re just believing in pie-in-the-sky when you die!” If they did, and if anyone scoffs in that manner at you, the correct answer is, “That’s true!” “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). As believers in the promises of God, we put all of our “eggs” in the eternity “basket.” If God’s promises about the resurrection to life and to judgment are not true, then “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32).
But if God’s Word is true and if Christ is raised from the dead, then let us “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58)!
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2003, All Rights Reserved.