(359) December 25: Haggai 1-2 & Revelation 16

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

Read Haggai 1-2 & Revelation 16

To discover:­
As you read consider what lessons there are for Christian service.

To ponder:
Haggai spoke to the exiles after they returned to Judah from Babylon in fulfilment of God’s word through other prophets. They had begun to rebuild the temple only to be opposed by others living in the region (see Ezra 1-6, and 5v1-2, 6v13-15). God had given the kings responsibility for the temple, so in the absence of one, alongside the high priest (Joshua), it was the governor (Zerubbabel, Jehoiachin’s grandson) who was most responsible to him for its rebuilding (see 1 Chr 17v14).
            The book begins with God relating how the people say it’s not yet time to build the temple. They may have felt this because they didn’t want to provoke opposition, but the context suggests it was primarily because they wanted to prioritise their own homes. So God responds asking if it is time for them to live in their plush panelled houses whilst the temple is in ruins. The point is that God’s house is far more important - because he is. This is why the Christian is prepared to neglect attaining or perfecting the things of this world in order to honour Christ as God’s temple, and build his church, the spiritual temple (1v2-3).
            God tells the people to think carefully about the fact that they have invested (planted) much materially, but benefited (harvested) little. So they never have enough of all the food and drink they enjoy, nor warmth from their clothes, nor money left from wages. Again, this demonstrates the futility of focusing on such things rather than God. And so, for a second time, God calls the people to consider their ways and choose better priorities by getting timber and building God’s house so he can take pleasure in it and be honoured – no doubt by the people’s worship there. Here we see that the reason the people’s expectations of receiving much from what they have prioritised has turned out for little, is because God blew it away by calling for a drought (1v4-11). In other words, the people are under his curse (as Deut 28-30) because of their lack of concern for his concerns. We should examine our priorities in the light of this. Paul is clear that if we give generously to the LORD and his church (temple), he will bless us materially. Although this doesn’t promise us great wealth, it does imply that if we struggle to achieve in life, it may be because we are prioritising the things we desire over those God desires (2 Cor 9v6-15).
            On hearing this, Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the people all feared and obeyed God, presumably by fetching the timber. God then declared that he was with them, and stirred up their spirits so that they began rebuilding the temple again (1v12-13). When the Christian recognises their wrong priorities and starts to remedy them, they often find the Lord, in turn, giving them right desires for his priorities. And if we or our church lack such desire, these verses encourage us to pray God would change our desires accordingly.
            Again, God speaks, and this time to Zerubbabel, Joshua and the remnant. He tells Haggai to ask who saw the temple in its former glory before the exile seventy years ago, and to note that it now seems like nothing in comparison. Yet, as if to ward off discouragement, God urges the two leaders and people to be strong and keep working as he is with them by his Spirit, just as he promised in the covenant at Sinai (2v1-5). The note that they need not fear, again, implies they may have been tempted to give up because of opposition by others in the area (see Ezra). In building the church, it is only to easy to be discouraged by comparing our work with that of other ministers or other churches. But the Lord promises to be with each church by his Spirit, and urges its members to be strong in their service, to build it as best they can. 
            In the light of the sense that the temple was less glorious than Solomon’s, God promises it will one day be better. He states that in “a little while” he will shake heaven, earth and all nations – the language of earthquake that from Sinai signifies God’s awesome presence, often in judgement. Then the “desired” (or “treasured”) of all nations will come. In context, this probably refers not to Christ, but the treasures of the nations being brought into the temple, making it more glorious than Solomon’s (as Is 60). This is why God declares silver and gold are his. Because he owns and governs the use of all things, he can do this. And he does, as people from all nations come to faith in Christ, and invest their wealth in the building of the church, that is made of the spiritual stones of God’s people and that pervades the world (2 Pet 2v4-12, Rev 21v26). God promises that he will fill this temple with his glory, ie. presence, as he had when Solomon’s was finished (2 Chr 7v1). And he does fill the church by his Spirit. He also promises peace, which has always been the result of his dwelling amongst his people when they are faithful. This implies his kingdom finally established in perfection, and looks to the peace of the world to come.
           God’s next word gets Haggai to ask the priests if someone carries consecrated meat (ie. that used in offerings) and the garment it is held in touches other food or wine, does that become consecrated? They answer no as holiness is not transferable. However Haggai then notes that defilement is, as those defiled by contact with a dead body who touch food do make it defiled. God’s point is that because the people are defiled by sin, their offerings and everything else are defiled and so unacceptable to God. It’s a reminder that nothing we do pleases God, including our building of his church, unless we love and obey him from the heart (2v10-14). Again, this raises the issue of prioritising him.
            In what follows God tells the people to carefully consider how much they lacked before they began to rebuild the temple, because he inflicted their resources with the very things the law said would accompany God’s curse (2v15-16, Deut 28v22, 38-42). However, it seems on this day they laid the foundation stone. And so God tells them to carefully consider that from this day, before which they lacked seed and fruit, the LORD will now bless them (2v17-29). Likewise, when we work to fulfil God’s purposes we experience blessing (Phil 4v19).
            On that same day God’s word also came through Haggai to Zerubbabel. In it, he promises that his coming shaking of heaven and earth, when his glory will fill the temple (2v7), will mean the overthrow of kings, kingdoms and their armies, as they turn on each other. Whatever near fulfilment, this looks most clearly to Christ’s return in judgement. God commends Zerubbabel’s faithfulness by saying that then he will be like the valuable signet ring king’s cherished, and that carried their authority. Because Zerubbabel was in the line of David (Matt 1v12), and also here given the important titles “servant” and “chosen,” this may actually refer to God establishing the promised Davidic kingdom under a chosen descendent of Zerubbabel, who would serve God by ruling with his authority (2v20-23). The point is that although the temple didn’t look like much, God’s promises would be fulfilled. And this should encourage us in what may be thought a day of small things for the church.

Praying it home:
Praise God that he will fulfil his purposes no matter how distant that seems to any generation. Pray that you prioritise him and the building of his church.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Haggai, click here.

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