Get Moving!

Posted: October 22, 2015 in Haggai, Route 66

Route 66: Haggai, “Get Moving!”

Every parent is familiar with the phrase, “Time to get moving!”  Mornings can be a bit of a struggle in our home, as younger hands & feet move slower than others when it’s time to get dressed & ready for school.  But procrastination isn’t limited to children & teenagers; it’s a common habit among many adults as well.  It’s easy to find ourselves surfing the internet, watching TV, or getting caught up in other things & find that the whole day has been wasted.

What’s worse is when we procrastinate in our relationship with God.  We know we ought to pray, but we put it off.  We know we ought to share the gospel, but we think, “Next time.”  We know we need to forgive, but we make the excuse that we’re not ready yet.  And the list could go on.  When God gives us a command, it’s not something that can be put off.  We’ve got to get moving!

The prophet is Haggai. Although the book is written in the third person about him, there’s really no reason to doubt Haggai as the author.  We know a bit more about him than some of the prophets, but not much more than others.  We know nothing of his family line, although we know his associates and the precise dates of his prophetic ministry (which are listed throughout the book).  We don’t know where he came from, and we don’t know what happened to him afterwards.  We read of his 3-month ministry here, and he seems to disappear.  He was given a few short messages from the Lord on some very specific days, and then he’s gone.  He may have had a brief ministry, but it was powerful!

Because we do know the precise dates of the messages (all of them given between August & December 520BC), we know several things about the background leading up to this point.  For the first time in 70 years, the Jews are back in the land of Israel.  Haggai marks the first of the post-exilic books of the prophets.  Everything else leading up to this point had been warning of the coming Babylonian conquest, or actually written during the time of the conquest (i.e. Lamentations).  During their time away, prophecy fell mostly silent, with a few notable exceptions such as Daniel.  Now that the Jews are back in the land, they begin to receive oracles from God once again as God renews them as His people, reaffirming that He is (in fact) their covenant God.

In 538BC, King Cyrus of Persia gave the command for the Jews to return home, and to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem – even promising to finance the entire venture (Ezra 1:2-4).  This wasn’t necessarily a sign of the king’s conversion, but something he did for many of the people scattered throughout the former-Babylonian empire.  The first wave of Jews came back with Zerubbabel leading them (over 42,000 men in all), and they quickly built the altar of God & laid the foundation for the temple.  This itself was a momentous event, making the renewal of the people to the land & the ability to begin worship of the One True God once more.  Although some of the older people of Israel wept when they saw the foundation (it was small in comparison to what had been there before), it was mostly a day of rejoicing.

The rejoicing didn’t last long, as the neighbors surrounding the Jews caught wind of what was going on.  They remembered the victories that God had given the Jews in the past, and they didn’t want to see any of that happen again in their generation.  They quickly wrote the king, and ended up shutting the work down.

Time passes…to the tune of 18 years, and the work of rebuilding the temple has still not yet restarted.  People had settled into their routine, and they went about their own lives business-as-usual.  They were thinking of themselves, and not of the God they were supposed to serve.  That’s when God gave these messages to Haggai.  It was time for them to stop procrastinating & get to work.  It was time to get moving!

Primarily, what we find in Haggai is a call-to-action, but it’s more than that.  In this short little book we see the covenant love of God for His people affirmed, the sovereignty of God every nation affirmed, and the messianic promise to the line of David reiterated.  This is a series of messages given to a people who were just reforming their nation, and God reminds them of a greater kingdom yet to come in the future.  What they were doing at this time was nothing compared to what was going to come – they just needed to trust God and be obedient in the tasks He had given them.

From that aspect, there’s much here for the NT Christian.  Haggai is only quoted once in the NT (Haggai 2:6-7 –> Hebrews 12:26), and that is a rather minor reference.  The importance for the Christian is similar to the importance for the Jew:

  • It reminds us of God’s covenant love for His people.  God has a future plan for the nation of Israel, and it’s something that we as NT believers need to know.  After all, we will also be included in that future kingdom.  What was promised to Israel is something that includes the church.
  • It reminds us of God’s call to action.  We are saved by grace apart from works (praise God!), but that doesn’t mean we have no work to do.  God saved us by grace through faith specifically for good works, and we need to be about God’s business.  As easy as it is to get distracted, the distractions of the world are not something that we can afford.
  • It reminds us of the power of God.  Over and over again, God affirms that He is “YHWH Sabaoth,” LORD of the Heavenly Armies.  God has the power to bring His promises to pass.  Not only will God work according to His will, but He also empowers His people to do the work of God.  God doesn’t give us a command & leave us alone – He equips us for the task at hand.
  • It reminds us of the glorious Messiah.  Even in this short little book, the future glory of Jesus over all the world is made known.  Our Lord Jesus is also the King of Israel, and His Kingdom is appointed by God, and will be brought about by God.  One day, all the nations will see our Jesus in His glory, and it will be wonderful!

As usual, different scholars divide the book in different ways.  Considering that Haggai himself gives the specific dates of his oracles, it seems logical to divide the book according to the messages he received.

  • Message #1 (1:1-15) – Command.  We receive the basic background of the book, as well as the specific command for the Jews to begin the building project.
  • Message #2 (2:1-9) – Encouragement.  As the work is done, people are discouraged in how it compares with the temple of the past.  God tells them that was nothing compared with the temple that will come in the future.
  • Message #3 (2:10-19) – Teaching.  What the people had done in the past was through their own strength, so it was unclean.  What God offered in the future was incredible blessing and restoration.
  • Message #4 (2:20-23) – Promise.  Zerubbabel is specifically called out as being chosen by God, and through him, God looks forward to the future Messiah.

Message #1 – The Command
Introduction & Joint Word (1:1-2)
Each message begins with its own date.  Here, it’s “the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month.”  By the Hebrew reckoning, it is 1 Elul – by the Western calendar, it was August 29, 520BC.  That is remarkably specific for a prophetic writing.  Typically, we’ve seen prophets mention the reigns of the kings under which they prophesied, but not much more than that (if that much at all!).  Haggai records it to the exact day.

  • That makes sense when we stop to think of it.  When God calls you, it’s a big deal!  Do you remember the moment you got saved?  I don’t remember the exact date, but I remember the precise event & moment in August 1986.  …  Obviously, for those who were very young, they might not have as precise a memory, but when God calls us, we know it.  It’s a date worth marking & remembering!

For the Jews, the date was significant, because it demonstrates they had been back in the land for 18 years.  Cyrus sent them out in 538BC, and it was now the year 520.  Nearly two decades had passed, and once they built the foundation of the temple, they had done nothing else.  In only 30 days, they would about to begin a new civil year (which begins the 1st day of the 7th month) – and that’s when God speaks to His people.  It’s as if He’s giving them 30-days’ notice.  This is the time they ought to be seeking God – this is the time they ought to be repenting of their sins – yet this is the time they weren’t doing anything.  That’s when God speaks up after so many years of recorded silence.

At first, God speaks to two people: Haggai the prophet, and Joshua the high priest.  Haggai was apparently already being used as a prophet in the service of the Jewish governor Zerubbabel, and Joshua (whose name means “salvation,” and is the same Jewish name as our Lord Jesus) had been re-established as the high priest, although all that was available for worship was an altar & a foundation.  They had a bare minimum, but not much else.  This first word from God seemingly came to both of them, and it would have been a pointed wake-up call: Haggai 1:2, "(2) “Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, saying: ‘This people says, “The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.” ’ ”" God knew what was on the mind of the people, and it wasn’t worship.  They had been making excuses for themselves, saying that it wasn’t time for the temple to be built.  To be sure, their initial efforts encountered some resistance – but it seems that they just gave up.  They knew it was difficult, so they just decided it wasn’t time for it to be done.

Question: how did they know?  Just because something is challenging doesn’t mean it’s a closed door.  Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.  The truth was that they didn’t know whether or not it was time to build the temple, simply because they hadn’t asked the Lord about it.  They could have gone to God at any time with their questions and requests, but instead decided on complacency.  Because they couldn’t do it the way they wanted, they decided not to do anything at all.

  • Doing nothing can sometimes be as bad (or worse) than doing the wrong thing.  God can always make a course correction with us if we’re moving, but we’re not open to it when we’re still sitting on our duffs.  If we don’t know what God wants us to do, we ought to go to Him and ask.  We ought to search the Scriptures, seek out Godly counsel and advice, spend time in prayer – and then we ought to get moving.  We can wait upon the Lord and still be moving.  Active waiting is better than passive apathy.

The Command to Build (1:3-6)
The first word came to both prophet and high priest, but after God gave that, He spoke independently to Haggai (1:3).  God had known the sinful laziness of His people, but this is when He calls them out on it.  The Jews had been active building their own houses with paneled walls, but they left the temple of God lying in ruins (1:4).  They had attended to their own needs, and neglected the greater work of ministering unto the Lord.

  • This is so easy for us to do today!  We get so consumed with our lives and routines, that it becomes easy to set the things of God over to the side.  We “get to it, when we get to it,” rather than making the worship and service of God a priority.  As long as we can give God an hour on Sundays, we’re fine…just as long as we can still get to our sports, our shopping, and our other activities.  That’s not the way it ought to be!  The Great Commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength – to love Him with everything that we have & everything that we are.  If there were some way to measure our love for God, how would it compare with our love for other things?
  • It all comes down to a matter of priorities.  It’s not that God expects His people to do nothing but sit in church all day listening to Bible studies; but God does want to be involved with us all through our day.  God does need to be a priority in our day, no matter what it is that we’re doing.  As we go to work, we go to work with Jesus.  As we watch sports, we’re sitting on the couch next to Jesus, etc.  We do all of these things with Him, mindful of Him, seeking to glorify Him in all that we do.  With that kind of mindset, we might just find our schedule of activities changing on its own.

God called the people to consider their own ways (1:5) – they needed to take stock of their lives and see the results.  They spent all this time on themselves & their own luxuries, and what had they gained?  Nothing of value.  They spent their time getting food, but they were still hungry every day.  They were still thirsty.  They couldn’t warm themselves no matter how many clothes they had, nor could their wallet ever have enough money.  All their stuff was fruitless without the Lord.  They always needed more, and they were always lacking.  They had no true satisfaction, because true satisfaction is only found in our relationship with God.

  • As a non-believer, did you ever find yourself always wanting more?  Nothing that the world offers can ever truly satisfy us.  What we need is something eternal, and that can only be given by the eternal God.

Beyond their constant need & greed, they had a literal physical lack of food & clothing.  This came as a direct result of their neglect of God.  Vs. 7…

The Consequences from Not Building (1:7-11)
Once more the people are told to “consider” their ways (1:7) – they were to look around them and understand what was going on.  God made it clear that they were supposed to be rebuilding the temple, so that He might “take pleasure in it and be glorified.”  That was God’s will for them, but that’s not what they were doing.  Because they had focused upon themselves, God blew what they had away (1:9-10).  God had held up His side of the covenant.  After 70 years of captivity, He brought them back into the land.  But they weren’t acting as if they were in a covenant relationship with God.  They were neglecting God, and thus bringing on the consequences of sin, just as was promised in the terms of their covenant.  In vs. 10-11, God speaks of drought and a lack of agriculture.  That’s exactly what He said He would do when the Hebrews violated their covenant agreement.  Deuteronomy 28:23–24, "(23) And your heavens which are over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you shall be iron. (24) The Lord will change the rain of your land to powder and dust; from the heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed." The people had just come out of their covenant discipline & were already entering back into it.  No wonder God spoke to them through Haggai!  They needed to wake up now before it was too late.  They needed to get moving, so that they didn’t go through all of it all over again.

  • It’s a good thing to take stock of our lives every now and again.  It’s actually a needful thing to do.  Paul told the Corinthians to even examine themselves to see if they were in the faith (2 Cor 13:5).  When our lives start looking more like the culture around us than the Christ we claim to serve, that ought to be a warning.  Obviously we are not under the same covenant agreement that God had with ancient Israel, but we DO have a covenant with God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ (something we celebrate through Communion).  Jesus has done the work for our salvation, but that doesn’t mean we stand still and do nothing.  He’s saved us for the purpose of doing good works & glorifying Him, and we ought to be up and doing it.  So examine yourself – take stock & consider – what is it your life reflects?  Would someone look at it and see the works of God, or the works of man?

The Response of Obedience (1:12-15)
It may have been a stern & sobering word from the Lord, but it had the intended results.  Zerubbabel and the rest of the people heard the prophecy, and they took it seriously.  They recognized the voice of God, as speaking through Haggai (1:12b, 13).  They feared the Lord their God, reverently worshipping Him as the Authoritative God (1:12c).  Because of both of these things, they obeyed the command of God and got to work (1:12a).  They received the assurance that God was with them (1:13), and that God empowered them by stirring up their spirits to do what needed to be done (1:14).  Haggai even records the date they got started: the 24th day of Elul (September 21, 520BC).  Why did the people wait 23 days to get to work?  There’s no reason to believe the people were unnecessarily delaying the work.  It’s possible that they used the three weeks to plan and get materials ready for the building project.  There’s no indication here that God chastised them for any delay; rather the date is recorded along with the other lists of their obedience, as a positive thing.

  • What do we do when we encounter a command from God?  (1) We need to recognize the voice of God.  Is it in the Scripture, or somehow verified?  We want to follow the clear leading of the Holy Spirit & not some wild idea, or someone else’s idea for us.  (2) We need to fear God & worship Him.  We need to remember that He is indeed God, which means He is our Lord & King.  What He gives us to do, we are to do.  Thankfully we are His children & friends, but we are also His servants.  (3) We need to follow through in obedience.  It’s one thing to know we ought to obey God; it’s another to do it.  We need to be faithful and actually DO what He gives us to do.  (4) Along the way, we need to rely on the power of God to do it.  It’s impossible to do the work of God without the power of God, but thankfully that is exactly what God offers through the filling of the Holy Spirit.  We can ask for a renewed filling, and trust that God will give us the power we need.

Message #2 – The Encouragement
Don’t be Discouraged (2:1-5)
The people God to work, but it didn’t take long for them to get discouraged.  The 2nd message comes to Haggai nearly a month after the project began.  It was the 7th month (Tishrei), on the 21st day of the month (October 17, 520BC).  This was the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and thus an appropriate time for God to give His word to His people who had come out of a type of wilderness wandering of their own.

The people (especially those who were old enough to remember the former temple) were discouraged at the rebuilding project.  Already in their eyes, it was “nothing” compared to what had been there before. (2:3)  It would be easy for them to lose heart.  Here they were, obeying the clear command of God to rebuild His temple, and thus rebuild an essential part of the old kingdom of Israel.  And as they looked at it, they thought, “This is it?  This isn’t what Solomon built.”  It would be a reminder of everything they had lost, and the glory that they believed was gone forever.  If they were being obedient to the Lord, why didn’t they get something better?

  • Have you ever felt the same way?  Perhaps you lost something in the past due to some sin.  Perhaps you simply sacrificed something for the sake of God, rather than take the easy way out.  Now as you follow the Lord, you wonder, “This is it?”  Take heart!  Don’t be discouraged.  God knows you & God knows your heart.  He knows what you have done in following Him now.  Even if you don’t see results from that today, you’re assured of seeing one day at the judgment seat of Christ.  He will reward those who have served Him in sincerity of heart!

Through Haggai, God encouraged His people in a similar way.  He had not given up on them.  The LORD of hosts was with them (2:4).  God’s covenant with His people was still in effect, and His Spirit remained among them (2:5).

  • It’s no different with us.  For those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ by faith, we have been bought by Him.  We have been born again by the Holy Spirit of God.  We belong to God.  We are His people – His children.  He has not abandoned us.  He has not forsaken us.  When we walk through our own times of trials and challenges, we can know that God knows us.  His Spirit still indwells us, and His comfort is still available to us.  We can call upon the Living God, and He will answer!

As for the Jews, God not only got them refocused on His relationship with them in the present, but He reminds them of His work among them in the future…

Look to the Future (2:6-9)
Read it for yourselves: Haggai 2:6–7, "(6) “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; (7) and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts."  God gave His people a future!  God gave His people a promise!  God was on the move, and it was a move that would shake the whole world.

At this point, God looks beyond the present rebuilding of the temple to the future temple in the glorious day of the Millennial Kingdom.  One day all peoples everywhere will go to Jerusalem to worship the Lord at His temple.  The Desire of all the earth will be found there as people see Jesus.  The riches and wealth of all the earth will be found at the temple, as it points to the glory of God (2:8).  The glory of that latter day will be far more than the Jews’ present day, and God will give true peace (2:9).  Basically all of the things the people were looking for in the current rebuilding project would be granted – but it would be granted at a later time.  It’s true that the temple built by the returning exiles paled in comparison with the temple built by Solomon.  But in the Millennial Kingdom, it will be Solomon’s temple that pales in comparison to the one built by God!

  • Sometimes we experience similar problems in our own times of discouragement.  We look at the promises of heaven & we expect them here on this earth…and we get let down when it doesn’t come.  It WILL come – but it will come in God’s time.  Besides, we cannot let our satisfaction be driven by the physical blessings we may or may not receive.  Our satisfaction comes from our relationship with Jesus.  All the gold & silver in the world is nothing compared with Him!
  • Of course the greatest thing God promised to the Jews in that future day was “peace.”  God will give His true “shalom” – His all-encompassing peace that is available to His covenant people.  The good news for us today is that this is one thing we don’t have to wait for!  God promises this kind of peace today for those who trust Jesus!  As we believe upon Him, turning everything over to Him in prayer, He gives us the peace that passes understanding.

Message #3 – The Teaching
The Unclean Past (2:10-14)
Two more months pass before the next oracle comes to Haggai.  2:10 states that it was the 24th day of Kislev (December 18, 520BC) when God spoke again.  The work of building was ongoing, so it wasn’t another call to get started, nor was it a word to address their discouragement.  This time, it was addressing some of the things that had gone on in the past, and the general purpose of the temple in the present.

God begins by having Haggai pose a question to the priests (2:11-12): did simply touching something with an item designated as holy make the other thing holy?  If the priests carried meat in their robe, was the meat holy because it touched the robe which had been sanctified?  The obvious answer was “no.”  So what?  So the same principle would apply to the temple.  The temple they were involved in rebuilding was holy, but that’s not what would make the people holy.  It wasn’t enough to be around the things of God.  For something to be considered holy, a true work of God needed to be done to/for it.  Proximity doesn’t purify; grace does.

  • This is exactly what we see when comparing the differences between formal religious rituals & a true relationship with Jesus Christ.  Being around the stuff of church doesn’t save anyone.  Walking into a building, even taking communion, or giving tithes & offerings don’t save anyone.  What we need is the true grace & work of Jesus in our life – that’s something that only comes through a real relationship with Him.

The flip side of the question dealt with uncleanness.  Something wasn’t made holy by touching holy things, but could something be made unclean by touching something that was defiled?  Yes. Haggai used the example of touching dead bodies (2:13), and this is something affirmed in the law.  Purity can’t be transferred by touch, but impurity can.  We see the same principle at work in regards to germs and stains.  It only takes one drop of mud to stain a perfectly white shirt, but it doesn’t get removed so easily.  God’s application (via Haggai) brought it back to the Jews.  The people had been unclean, and so all of their previous offerings had been unclean.

What was the issue?  They were bringing offerings to the altar, expecting to be made holy.  Instead, all they were doing was defiling what they brought through their own sin.  They didn’t receive true atonement for their sin because they hadn’t been seeking the Lord in the process.  Keep in mind that one of the first things the Jews did upon their return to Jerusalem was to build the altar of sacrifice.  Yet it took them 18 years to get moving on the temple itself.  What had happened in the previous 18 years?  Nothing.  None of the ritual made them holy.  None of the ceremonies gained atonement for their sin.  They had been selfish, complacent about God, and just walking through the motions.  That sort of ritual didn’t help them at all, and it certainly wouldn’t help them in the future.

  • Before we write this off to only belonging to Israel, we need to remember that we can find ourselves doing the same thing.  How often do we mutter a prayer, not even paying attention to the words we say?  How often do we sing mindlessly, just going through the motions?  Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that real worshippers worship God in spirit and truth. (Jn 4:23-24)  Our worship – our relationship with Jesus has to be far more than ritualistic.  It needs to be sincere!  God deserves nothing less.

Present & Future Blessings (2:15-19)
Once more, God called His people to “consider” the things around them (2:15,18).  How had it been in the past few years?  They had experienced hardship & blight & mildew & hail (2:17).  All of those things ought to have been expected because they had neglected their covenant with God, and these were the promised results.  To this point, the Jews still had not experienced the material blessing in the land that the covenant promised, even though they were back in the land.  However, now things were going to change.  The hearts of the people had changed, evidenced by their newfound obedience, and God would act in response.  He promised “From this day I will bless you.” (2:19)  The people had turned a corner, and it had not gone unnoticed by the Lord.

Of course, the question might be raised: when?  When would God bring these promised blessings?  After all, though the people were back in the land, they never again had true independence as a nation, with their own king on the throne.  When would the blessings come?  God goes on to answer…

Message #4 – The Promise
Victory of Messiah (2:20-22)
The final message actually came the same day as the previous one.  It’s as if the question of God’s blessing was hanging in the air, and thus God decided to provide an answer.  Using the same language He used earlier when describing the rule of Messiah in the Millennial Kingdom, God again promised to “shake heaven and earth.” (2:21)  All the kingdoms of the world would be overthrown by God, and all who opposed God would go down in massive defeat (2:22).  This is exactly what is foretold in the book of Revelation when King Jesus comes back to earth in all of His power and might.  The earth is literally shaken as the largest earthquake in the history of the earth comes & levels the city of Babylon (Rev 16:18-20), and as Jesus physically returns, the armies of the earth fall and have their bodies gorged upon by the birds of the air (Rev 19:17-18).  That is when Jesus institutes the Millennial Kingdom, and all of the blessings that God promised to Israel finally come to true fulfillment.

Chosen Messiah (2:23)
The governor Zerubbabel is specifically called out by God in this 4th message, with the prophecy of Jesus’ 2nd coming being given to him, and the assurance of God’s work in his life reaffirmed here.  Zerubbabel’s very existence was proof of God’s promise, as Zerubbabel was of the kingly line of David.  The governor served as a “signet ring” – a type of signature/verification that God would keep His word.  In earlier generations, the authority of God had been temporarily removed from the house of David, as the Jews were sent into Babylonian captivity.  Now the people are back, and although Zerubbabel is not king, he was entrusted with the authority & renewed covenant of God.  In the day that would come, the descendant of Zerubbabel, the Son of David would come and reign over all the world…exactly as God always said that He would.

  • This is something Zerubbabel had to trust by faith.  He would not live to see the final Day of the Lord, brought in by his descendent. But is it true?  Yes.  According to Matthew 1:12, Zerubbabel is directly in the lineage of Jesus.  God always keeps His word…every time.

Sometimes we need a little kick to get moving…the Jews certainly received that from the Lord.  But the good news is that it worked!  The word of God had its intended effect, brought conviction to the hearts of the people, and they began to walk in obedience.  After years of neglecting the Lord to serve their own selfishness, they reprioritized and put God back in 1st place.  True, they were a bit discouraged along the way, but God would see them through.  He gave them power for the present, and a promise for the future.  Ultimately, the temple they longed for would be the temple in which God Himself will dwell.  They longed for the new Kingdom, just like we long for heaven.

The good news is that we (just like they) will see it!  It may not be today, but it will be soon.  God has a future in store for us, and He will empower us in the meantime until we see it.  Until we get there, we’ve got work to do.  There is a Great Commission to fulfill, and whoever we are in the body of Christ, God has given us each a part to play in it.  Are we doing it?  Are we doing what it is God has called us to do?

It’s not about being busy for busy-ness’ sake.  It’s about being faithful.  It’s about keeping God 1st place in our lives, having Him as our priority.  It’s about loving Jesus with all our heart, soul, and strength.


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