Sunday, May 16, 2021 Brad Barrett
Haggai: Be Strong For He Is With Us
Way back in an earlier life, I worked as a civil engineer. I truly enjoyed my job. I was grateful to serve the Lord in the way I did. One time I was given a project by my boss. It wasn’t a big or complicated project, but it needed to be done. However, I simply didn’t want to do it. I don’t remember my excuses, but I’m sure they were lame. Well, one day my boss had had enough of my procrastination, so I got called into the office and was told in a firm voice, “Get this done.” I was rather humbled. I had no defense. I apologized and went and finished the project in short order.
Today we are going to read from the prophet Haggai. The first part of the story has some similarity to my story, but the stakes were much, much higher. And instead of procrastinating for a few weeks like I did, the people put off the work of God for 16 years. Through the prophetic voice of Haggai, the people get called into the Boss’s office…the Lord’s presence…and are told, “Get this done.”
Throughout the OT, Israel had a poor track record of responding to the Lord in obedience. But this time upon hearing Haggai’s words, they obeyed. It’s a fascinating story.
Before we read Haggai’s short book, I want to give you the backstory. The historical setting is so crucial to understanding Haggai’s words.
From books of 2 Chronicles, 2 Kings, and Jeremiah:
- In the 600’s, the kings of Judah, the southern kingdom of the nation of Israel, let the people astray, so the Lord promised judgment.
- Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in 607 B.C., including exiling some people. The prophets Daniel and Ezekiel were among those exiled over the next 10 years.
- Then in 586 B.C. Judah were fully crushed and sent into exile to Babylon. The glorious temple of God built by Solomon 400 years earlier was destroyed.
- Then about 50 years later in 539 B.C., the Medes Persian empire defeated the Babylonians and become the new rulers over the Jews.
From Book of Ezra 1-6 we read the longer story of the Book of Haggai.
- Then in 538 B.C., a remnant of 49,000 returned, sent by the Persian King Cyrus.
- This remnant returned and built an alter at the location of the temple. They began to rebuild the temple, but opposition arose, so they quit. Read Book of Ezra, ch. 3-4.
- They made no effort to re-start construction for 16 years, so the Lord sends Haggai to get things moving. Read Ezra ch. 5-6.
Before we begin reading Haggai, I want to point out a few more things.
Uniqueness of Haggai’s short book (the second shortest in OT. Only Obadiah is shorter.)
- Written entirely in prose, not poetry (the only prophet to do so).
- His message in the situation was immediate, not something far off. And quite specific.
- The people actually repented…which seems like a rare occurrence in the OT.
1 In the second year of Darius [duh RIGH uhs] the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest:
The year is now 520 B.C. King Cyrus of Persia is dead. Darius is now king. Zerubbabel is the governor. He is of the lineage of the kings, descended from David, and of the ancestry of Jesus Christ.
49,000 Jews came back to the Promised Land about 18 years earlier. They started on the temple reconstruction but quit due to opposition. They lost heart.
2 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.”
3 Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet,
Notice the phrases, “Thus says the Lord” and “the word of the Lord.” Phrases like this are repeated 21 times in just 38 verses of this book. Clearly the Lord wanted Israel to know that Haggai’s words are a message from heaven.
4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?
5 Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways.
Think, people! You live in nice houses, but the Lord’s house, this temple is still in ruins after 70 years.
6 You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.
7 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways.
8 Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord.
It had been 16 years of doing nothing. So the Lord simply says, “Consider your ways! Get this job done for my sake!!”
And something that should have been so obvious was not. For 16 years they had struggled to grow enough crops. They didn’t have adequate clothing. They lost wages.
All of this should have been obvious to the Jews. A key part of the Covenant God gave to Israel through Moses 900 years before was that if Israel obeyed and followed the Lord, they would be overflowing with prosperity.
But if they were disobedient and rebellious, he would bring curses on them and on the land, and they would suffer for it.
Haggai is telling them this obvious truth: You are suffering because you’re being rebels. So think! Consider your ways! Get busy and build the temple. God’s pleasure and honor is at stake here! Throw off all excuses and start doing what is right!
I can relate to that. Over the years, I have used many excuses at various times to not do what is right. I’ve said, “It’s too hard.” Or, “I’m too tired.” Or, I’m afraid.”
9 You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? Declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.
10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce.
11 And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”
Here he repeats the problem: It won’t get better until you repent.
Here is the surprising but beautiful response of the people.
12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.
13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, “I am with you, declares the Lord.”
14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God,
15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.
So their response is beautiful. The leaders and the people determine to obey.
Vs. 14 says, “The Lord stirred up their spirits.” This word means he aroused them from their slumber. They were spiritually asleep, and the Lord woke them. He stirred up their spirits.
And in Vs. 13, God graciously promises, “I am right there with you. I have not abandoned you. I am with you and for you. You won’t walk alone.” He longs to be their God and have them be his people.
I love this statement, “I am with you.”
On a human level, we all deep down cry out for someone to be with us. To defend us and love us and protect us and be by our side. We long for this from our parents. Our spouse. Our friends. Our church.
How much more beautiful and how much better is it when God declares with his sure word, “I am with you. You aren’t alone.”
I keep a file with every Scripture where God says these very words. More than 50 times he says this. In almost every case, the Lord says it when his people are afraid or they are facing an overwhelming situation.
One of those is a crucial time in history, when Jesus was ready to ascend into heaven.
He gave his disciples this mammoth task to “Go and make disciples of all the nations.” He concluded with this: “And surely I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
This beautiful but overwhelming task has been given to us. We cannot do it on our own. So Jesus promises…he guarantees…that he will be right there with us until the end of time.
It is that same assurance that God gave to Israel in this overwhelming task of rebuilding this temple, a task that was very, very expensive and would take them five years to complete. To know that God was with them was enough. God was enough.
1 In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet:
This is now a month after they began reconstruction of the temple.
2 “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say,
3 ‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?
There were a few among the people old enough that they were alive 66 years earlier when Solomon’s temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. They had seen the original temple with its breathtaking beauty and glory. They now saw the beginning of the reconstruction, and it looked dismal in comparison. Surely they lost heart. So much work to rebuild it. So many resources needed.
So the Lord gives them a charge.
4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts,
5 according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.
6 For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.
7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.
8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts.
9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’ ”
The charge is this: Be strong, you leaders. Be strong, you people. Do the work I have set before you. I made a covenant with you 900 years earlier when you were delivered out of Egypt. I will not fail you. My Holy Spirit remains in your midst. Stop being afraid.
I will shake the heavens and the earth. I will bring the treasures of the nations to you to rebuild this house. And because of my presence, the future glory of this temple will be greater than the past glory of Solomon’s temple.
One side comment on vs. 7:
My English translation says, “the treasures of all nations shall come in.” In older English translations it is commonly translated, “the desire of the nations.” That wording (which appears in at least two Christmas carols) implies the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. There is a debate based on the Hebrew grammar on how to translate this. Most modern English translations don’t see it as a prophecy of the coming Messiah, though it is possible.
10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet,
This is now about 3-1/2 months after reconstruction on the temple began.
This section has two parts, both backwards looking but forward looking leading up to the assuring promise of blessing.
11 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law:
12 ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’ ” The priests answered and said, “No.”
13 Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.”
14 Then Haggai answered and said, “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the Lord, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean.
His point here is that holiness is not some automatic thing. They have not been walking in holiness in the past, so all those past deeds are unholy.
15 Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord,
16 how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty.
17 I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord.
18 Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid, consider:
19 Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.”
As he did in Chapter 1 three months earlier, the Lord asks the people to again consider where they have been and what is to come. Where they have been? Due to their rebellion, God had thwarted their crops, hindering even survival. The barns are empty.
Where are they going? Because they are now walking with him, all that will change. The last sentence in vs. 19 promises that God’s blessings will now rain down on them.
After 900 years of consistent rebellion against the Lord since the days of Moses, the people can see that God is still faithful to his word, the Covenant. If they humble themselves and repent, he will bless them once again.
This last short section is forward looking and pointing to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.
20 The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month,
21 “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth,
22 and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother.
23 On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.”
In a coming day when the Lord shakes the heavens and the earth and he brings down the nations, he is going to raise up a Ruler over all. He speaks to Zerubbabel as if it will be that man himself, and perhaps Zerubbabel thought that.
But we now know the Lord was speak of Zerubbabel’s great descendant, Jesus Christ.
Matthew 1:12-13 tells us the genealogy of Jesus Christ, which includes Zerubbabel.
This ruler will be made like a signet ring. Throughout the OT, a signet ring was a ring symbolizing power and authority.
This Ruler would have the power of the Lord.
So the Lord through Haggai offers Zerubbabel and all Israel this great hope of a coming King who will rule over all by the authority of God.
So whenever we read the Scriptures, we look for the meaning of the text. And then we should always ask, “How does this apply to our lives today.”
If I were to summarize the main part of Haggai’s message to the people, it would be this:
Consider your lives. Do the work. Be strong. The Lord is with you.
These four messages are repeated several times to Israel. And we don’t have to go far in any direction in the Bible—OT or NT—to find similar messages. Israel’s experiences are not unique to humanity, not even to us today in the church..
Let’s expand these four points.
Consider our lives, our hearts, and the Lord himself. Are we obeying? Or are we half-hearted, using excuses? The people of Israel had excuses for 16 years while they busied themselves with their own agenda.
Disobedience like Israel had can make us spiritually sleepy. Like Israel, we need the Lord to “stir up our spirits,” to awaken us from our slumber.
The Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Rome are good for us.
Romans 13:11–12 ESV Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
The Great Descendant of Zerubbabel, Jesus Christ, has come. The King of kings. His will is in front of us in the Scriptures.
So if you are a follower of the King of kings, pray that God would “stir up your heart” like he did with the people in Jerusalem. To arouse you from your slumber.
Fundamentally, God’s Word is at the core of rousing us awake.
So we must somehow and in some way expose our lives to the truth of God in his Word.
- First, pray. “Lord, am I spiritually asleep in any way, but don’t know it.”
- Read God’s Word each morning. Remember Haggai said dozens of times in this short book, “…so declares the Lord.” If you’re not reading at all now, simply open it today. Pray, “Lord, I want to know you. Help me.” Then read a chapter or two. Tomorrow do the same.
- Be in a small group of Christians to read and study together.
- Surround yourself with people who want to do the same.
- Read a good biography of godly men and women. In the past month or two, my wife has listened to four biographies (audiobooks) of missionaries—both men and women— doing bold things for God. I have been able to listen along to some of them. It’s been life-changing.
So we must consider our hearts in prayer: Are we spiritually asleep or awake?
A second message to Israel we can take to heart:
- Be strong.
Find strength and courage in the Lord.
Haggai’s word from the Lord was to a people who for 16 years said, “We can’t.” What they really meant was, “We WON’T!”
We may relate to their excuses. They had opposition. The task was huge. But where was the honor for the Lord in that? How did that please the Lord? The people were inadequate in themselves.
The Apostle Paul recognized that we Christians today can feel the same way.
So he told them this:
2 Corinthians 3:5 ESV Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God…
Paul was entrusted with this glorious ministry of doing work for Jesus Christ. He knew within himself he was not sufficient. He didn’t have what it took. But he found that Jesus in him and for him and with him was more than enough.
One of those biographies my wife and I have been listening to last week is about a Christian simply known as “Brother Andrew.” He was from Holland and his ministry about 60 years ago was smuggling Bibles into eastern Europe where Communist governments severely restricted Bibles. One pastor in Ukraine didn’t even have one Bible for his church of 150 people. Countless times Brother Andrew felt compelled to take some action for Christ, but he had no idea where the money or resources would come from. Plus, he had a wife and young children to care for. He was inadequate. But through his simple faith, Andrew’s God provided for him over and over again.
The point for us is not whether I personally have what it takes. The real point is this: Do I believe that God has what it takes? Is he enough for me? We can find strength, for God is enough.
A third message from the Lord to Israel was this:
- Do the work.
Whatever God has set before us, we should do with a whole heart.
Colossians 3:23–24 NIV Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Whatever work God has set before us, we work for him first and foremost. He is our Top Boss. Not the guy at work. Not the pastor. Not our parents. Even if you’re a business owner, God is the True Owner.
We have many kinds of work God will set before us.
- Caring for our families.
- Working at our jobs/school.
- Obeying parents.
- Giving money.
- Serving our community.
- Helping a neighbor
Are we doing the work God has set before us with a whole heart to please an Audience of One?
A fourth message from the Lord to Israel was this:
- Believe he is with us.
Twice Haggai’s word to the people was, “The Lord is with you.” The Lord is here. He is not absent. He is not disinterested.
He is right there with them, going in front and behind them.
If you are a Christian—you have believed in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins—you are guaranteed the presence and protection and provision of God Almighty.
Ephesians 4:30 ESV And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
God’s Spirit lives inside us! We have something greater than what Israel had. What hope, what strength, what nearness we have!
So in summary:
- We consider our hearts in prayer and the Word: Are we spiritually awake or are we groggy and asleep?
- We are to find our strength not in ourselves but in the God of all power.
- We are then, by his strength, to set out to do the work God has put before us, and to do it wholeheartedly.
- And finally, we must remember God is with us. He is for us, and he will never leave us nor forsake us.
Let me wrap up with this.
Like Israel in 520 B.C., we can lose heart and grow spiritually sleepy. But God assures us that whatever we do by faith, it matters. Our work is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
That chapter in Corinthians is all about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the great descendant of Zerubbabel, promised centuries ago. This King has risen from the dead to never die again. We, too, through our faith in the risen Lord will rise from the dead into everlasting glory.
Because of this, all we do for the Lord matters. It is not in vain. It matters now, and it matters into eternity.