Since the pandemic began, members of my church have been asked to post a short video showing viewers where Christ can be seen in the Old Testament. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus… It was so encouraging to hear my brothers and sisters in Christ share the beauty of the broad story of redemption that is the Bible. I was asked to share about Haggai, so I thought I would go ahead and share what I learned here, as well.
Haggai was a prophet to Israel and a contemporary of Zechariah, they actually ministered together at times. In the book bearing his name, God is delivering a message through Haggai to the priest and the governor of the remnant of Israelites who were released from Babylon by Cyrus to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. God is, once again, trying to stir up their hearts and turn their attention and affections back to Him.
You see, God moved in the life of Cyrus, king of Babylon, to release a remnant of about 50,000 Israelites back to their land to rebuild the temple, which had been destroyed. They got started, but never finished. (I hate how much I relate to the Israelites, but praise God there’s 66 whole books proclaiming and proving God’s love for His people!) It’s now 16 years since they last worked at the temple site, and God says, “These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord. Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses (the kind of houses that kings lived in), while this house lies in ruins?” Haggai calls the people to consider the way they have been living and acting, to consider what it is costing them to neglect God’s house. He says “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.”
This made me think of Matthew 16, verses 24-27. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me, For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”
When Christians seek out emotional experiences with God, rather than a substantive relationship, any substance they might encounter never makes its way into their hearts. Good intentions are a start toward spiritual maturity, but then it fizzles our or loses its importance in the heart of the seeker. Our lives will never flourish apart from allowing the Holy Spirit to fully indwell and change us.
We read that the older Israelites had accepted in their minds that the temple had been grand before, and that they were never going to achieve that level of grandeur again. They did not feel motivated to keep pressing onward to rebuild the temple as God had instructed.
We Christians can be like that- when we count on our moment of salvation or a moving emotional and spiritual moment as enough in the eyes of God. And while our salvation is never in question after true belief in Jesus and yielding to God’s authority, if we don’t allow God to enable us to obey and love Him through the power of the Holy Spirit, then our hearts are like bags with holes, and our spirits are always thirsty for more.
Because of the Israelites’ neglect and sinfulness, God caused a drought to fall on the land, so that they were unable to harvest grain and other essential crops, and even the cattle and other animals suffered, which would have caused a drop in both their meat supply and caused them to consider carefully the consequences of not setting an animal aside for sacrifice.
Through Haggai’s message, the Holy Spirit stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel (the governor) and Joshua (the priest) and enabled them to lead the people in obedience and in fear of God; and God encourages His people saying “I am with you.”
Zechariah 4:6 says “’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit.’ Says the Lord of hosts.” God is the initiator of our faith- He starts the conversation; He enables us to obey Him. And here’s the best part- we cannot fail because He is both the law and the righteousness. Philippians 1:6 encourages us, in that when God begins a work in you, you can depend on Him to finish it, just as He enabled this rebellious and selfish remnant to turn from their ways and walk in obedience with Him. To have the Spirit of God is to have Christ.
To have the Spirit of God
is to have Christ.
As the building continues, God encourages them once again, reminding them of the covenant He made with Israel, and His promise that His Spirit remains in their midst, and that at the end of days, He will shake the all the nations and fill the temple with glory and will give peace.
This glory that He speaks of, is the glory of Christ. Jesus ministers in this temple during His time on earth, and He will fill it with His glory and peace when He returns. Believers today can have peace with God because of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross, and his victorious resurrection from the grave. We enjoy the peace of God as we yield to Christ and put all of our trust in Him.
As the work goes on, God speaks to the priests through Haggai, reminding them that the temple cannot be a holy place if it is being built by men who are not themselves holy. God couldn’t bless the people they way He wanted because they were defiled by their sin.
Matthew 6:33 tells us that if we put God’s interests first, He will take care of the rest. God calls us into right relationship with Him, and He also stirs up our spirit to desire that relationship and enables us to pursue Him; then He provides His Son’s righteousness that we get to present to God instead of our own. He prompts, prepares the way, and provides everything we need to be in right relationship with Him.
Finally, Haggai brings a special message of encouragement to Zerubbabel, the governor. Zerubbabel was actually in the royal Davidic line, but because of the people’s sins resulting in discipline from God in the form of exile, he is just a lowly governor of a struggling remnant of His people. God tells him that he is chosen and accepted, unlike some of his ancestors, and renews His promise that the Davidic line would not die out, but that one day it would give the world a Savior.
Our God is a God who keeps his promises. 2 Peter 3:9 says “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that anyone should perish, but that all should seek repentance.”