The Message of Haggai

F.A. Blair

SIMPLE and short though the prophecy of Haggai is, yet it contains some far-reaching principles of Divine workings. The word of God spoken by the prophet Haggai answers not a few questions which arise in minds to-day. Christians, who are concerned about the state of God's house on earth, find encouragement for their own pathway in this picture of old. It shows God's remedy when things are ready to perish through the failure of His people.

God meets the hindrances to progress in His work in two ways:

1. He exposes the things that are secretly hindering.
2. He encourages those who are engaged in His work with the promise of His presence.

The effect of the first, when truly felt in the light of His word, is to awaken the conscience to self-judgment; God then shows the way to deal with the hindrances. When God promises to favour His people with His presence, He first reminds them of what His presence meant to them at the beginning of their history, when He led them out of bondage. Afterwards He adds, what the full effect of His presence will mean, when He manifests His glory.

An evil exposed in the light of truth loses to a great extent its strength to hold the soul in bondage. The human heart often deceives itself in thinking that an obstruction is an insurmountable obstacle; in looking at the difficulty it forgets God. The root of the trouble lies in the innate desire of the heart for self-gratification. But when the light of truth breaks through the darkness of the natural mind which is, without God, it discloses "what is in the heart, and reveals at the same time, what is in God's heart; the soul receiving the truth as light from God is set free from the bonds of its slavery.

God is light and God is love. When God as light reveals the sin that is in the heart, perfect love is there to do it. This was the effect, when Christ came into the world; He was love in it, and He was the light of it. The love of God in grace meets man where he is in the depth of his need; confidence is awakened, for the heart sees itself in the light of the presence of God, who reveals Himself in love. God's heart and man's heart meet. The confidence man lost in the fall, by Satan's seduction, is won back by the revelation of that which God is in grace. He exposes sin in the light, and puts it absolutely away from His presence by His gift of love in the cross of Christ. It is at the cross we see God's absolute separation from evil, and the fullest expression of His perfect love for the sinner, that He might bring the sinner to Himself apart from his sin.

When everything is in disorder, the first thought of man, awakened to the sad state of affairs, is to try to put things in order. This is not God's way of remedying the harm which the negligence of man has caused. It is not His way to re-establish in its old form that which has broken down, but He gives a present word of instruction for the obedience of faith, and promises something far better than the former things. God deals with the individual soul first. He does not leave His own amidst the evil as though they were obliged to continue in it, and by so doing help it on.

God dwells by the Spirit in His house here, on earth, and the sense of His presence delivers from the thought that evil has to be countenanced. Consciousness of the presence of the Holy Spirit as a divine Person in the house prevents those who are faithful and subject to Him from attempting to do more than He is doing. God gives His approval to faith which walks in the path of obedience, and He does not speak a word of blame, because the former order is not re-instituted, when there is no power given to restore it. God looks for obedience to His word, not for imitation of an order.

In the days of Haggai a remnant of Jews under the leadership of Zerubbabel, a prince of Judah, had returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon. The Babylonian empire had been judged in its head - Nebuchadnezzar - who had failed to govern rightly for God as supreme head on earth. The Persian Empire had risen providentially on the fall of Babylon, and in its day the Jews were more favoured than under the first empire. The day for the final fulfilment of the Counsels of God had not yet come. He was still working out His plans among the Gentiles. As a pledge of future blessings in Canaan, a remnant of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were sent back to Jerusalem under the decree of Cyrus, the Persian king, to rebuild the house of God. When the imperial system is ended by judgment in a yet futl1re day, all Israel will be gathered again to the land.

Although a number of Jews returned to the land, in no case, from the day they were carried away captive to Babylon, are they called the people of God. They are His people, but having come under His hand for judgment, and imperial power being put into the hands of the Gentiles, He does not publicly act through the Jews in world affairs. They had a temple, it was their centre of religious and national life, but it was by the mercy of their Persian masters. God could bless them in many ways when partially restored to the land of Judea His Spirit remained with them, but the former glory had passed away, not to return until the future day of which Ezekiel speaks. (See Ezek. 10 for the departure of the glory, and Ch. 43:2, 4, for the return of the glory.)

The remnant of Jews brought back many vessels of the sanctuary (Ezra 1), but not the ark, the seat of Jehovah's glory. They had no king, for Jehovah had removed His throne from Jerusalem, and His king could, not reign at Jerusalem while a Gentile king was ruling the world by God's appointment.

Daniel gives the details of the Gentile empire, its rise, its continuance by the providence of God, and its final judgment for its failure in its head, the first monarch, Nebuchadnezzar. The system had failed. When the empire appears in its last form, opposing the coming of God's king and persecuting His holy ones, then He will destroy that which was set up by His fiat and which can only be broken by His power. Then will the Jews and all Israel, after the unrighteous have been taken away, return to enjoy the blessings of the reign of the Messiah.

Cyrus had issued a decree that the temple was to be re- built, built, and' about fifty thousand Jews volunteered to go ba.ck with Zerubbabel. They erected an altar and offered sacrifices, but did not lay the foundations of the temple until the second year. As soon as they laid the foundations their enemies came forward and offered their help. Zerubbabel faithfully refused their assistance. Only those who are called to the service and have willing hearts to apply to the, work can carry on the work of God; all other proffered help is but a hindrance.

The opposition .of their enemies greatly 'weakened the hands of the builders, and the people of the land appealing to Persia obtained authority to stop the work, which they did. Apparently most of the work had ceased before the enemies applied force.

Two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, were raised up to rouse the people to begin anew, and by the words of Haggai it can be seen that the people had not waited for violence to make them cease work. Nobody had done anything to the building' for fifteen years. During that period God had wrought providentially amongst the people in a manner that ought to have spoken to their consciences; but it needed the word of God to bring home to them what He had been doing. When chastened enough for His purpose, and prepared so that they would receive His word, He spoke by the mouth of the prophet and revealed the real cause of the people's lassitude.

In God's dealings with His people government and grace are intermingled. When He has dealt with the people to show them the end of their false way, He then graciously, in His providence, disposes the hearts of kings in their favour. Ezra gives the history of these times.

 

CHAPTER 1: THE EVIL EXPOSED

We know nothing of Haggai's ancestry. He appears in the second year of Darius Hystaspes, some sixteen or seventeen years after the Jews returned to Jerusalem, and fifteen years after the work had stopped. He addresses Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest; and sums up the attitude of the people from the excuses they were making for not building.

When those whom God appoints to govern, fail, and His priests no longer maintain the link between the people and God, He raises up a prophet who is His instrument of sovereign grace to carry on His relationship with His people. The voice of the prophet is the voice of God. He comes into the scene when all other means of maintaining the relationship viTith God have broken do,vn. The prophet is under no earthly control. He speaks as moved by the Spirit of God, and only when the state is bad and beyond ,every other means of recovery. He is necessarily a voice of sorrow and rebuke, but, at the fitting moment, he announces the way of blessing and hope to those in whom grace has prepared a receptive heart.

The people were saying that the times and conditions were not propitious for building the' house of the LORD. But they were building their own substantial panelled houses, while the house of the LORD lay neglected and roofless. It was not so much the violence of their enemies which prevented their continuing the building of the temple, the desire for their own ease and Gomfort filled their hearts. Any reason v-vas sufficient for stopping their labour on the seemingly unprofitable work on the temple, where outward opposition was encountered, and when it gave an excuse to free them for their own interests.

The word of God is a light which searches every dark corner of the heart, and when the Church on earth is lang'uishing in the distractions of the world, the W ord, in the po'wer of the Spirit, is the means which God uses to rouse His people from their lethargy. If they do not stir in response to His testimony, they will not know the presence of the Lord, but will taste the sorrows of unrequited efforts.

For years God had been dealing with the people providentially. All their efforts for self-gratification had proved profitless (vers. 6-11). God had been compelled to chasten them. But chastening does not bring the heart into communion with God, it prepares the, ground so that the heart will receive the knowledge of God. Job is the outstanding instance of these "ways of God. Only when God makes Himself known in grace is the heart taken out of itself and into the consciousness of God's presence, where it then desires to be.

The Messiah had not come to Israel to bring full blessing in grace, the law was still their rule of life, and they knew blessing according to their submission and obedience to that law. But they needed their ways discovered to themselves by the Word of God to show them the falsity of their motives, and how far in heart they had departed from God. The words of Haggai made them fear before the LORD. But without grace there would be no power, so the prophet adds the message, "I am with you, saith the LORD." This was grace indeed, and power and protection more than sufficient to cover them in their work, and to assure blessing instead of sorrow in all their striving.

God gives light for the way, but when feet grow weary and reluctant, it is not more light that is needed, neither is it more power that is wanted, but that the soul be brought into the presence of God by the word of truth. There alone will the soul learn its state, and discover what is pleasing to God. He delights in a "wholehearted obedience to His word.

At the time of the Reformation the great question of the day "Is the word of God to be obeyed, or not?" was uppermost in the minds of men. It was the question for Israel in Haggai's day; it has to be answered to-day. What is needed now is to bring the conscience before God by His word, as the word of truth and the revelation of God, and to learn before Him the state of things.

God demands faith, not mere submission in favourable circumstances. Without faith it is impossible to please Him, and faith learns God in the word He has given. Faith is not a mere belief that God has spoken, but a 'belief in an object which governs the thoughts and affections and is the motive of all action. God alone may demand such allegiance from man. Difficulties find their solution in trust, faith reckons on God in the face of the impossible.

In neglecting the house of God they were neglecting God. Haggai's people had to learn, as all who have to do with the' things of God have to learn, that it is not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the LORD that sanction and energy are found to build for God. Twenty-four days after the prophet had spoken they began to work on the house of God. But within a month the work slackened again.

 

 

CHAPTER 2: THE EFFECT OF THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD

Again Haggai urges on the people, for another difficulty arises. Not only has the opposition of enemies to be over·· come, and faith to be active when circumstances seem to be all against the successful prosecution of the work; but when the result of the labour is poor, the heart is apt to be discouraged (ver. 3). Though the eye of man may see most inferior workmanship because of the imperfect material at hand, yet faith looks for God's approval. If confidence does not rest in God, what virtue is there in the effort? There would be neither faith nor piety.

The Spirit of the LORD remained with them as at the brightest period of their history (ver. 5). Mean though their work appeared) the LORD was with them as at the beginning. He could not favour their work with His glory because of their fall; besides, another order of things had been set up, and He could not lessen His glory by dividing His authority on earth between two distinct and rival systems existing at the same time.

The temple they were building was not as magnificent as in former days, but they were not to be depressed. It was useless for them to try to add the glory of the past to the feeble efforts of the present. Indeed they were but returning captives bringing with them what their overlords gave them. They had neither the wealth, the skill, nor the enthusiasm to build as Solomon had built. Their national glory was gone, and the only grandeur about them was the nobility of mind which rose above the poverty of the moment. They were enabled to do this by the power of the Spirit of God who remained with them, even as He was with them in their best days.

The last days of the history of the Church on earth are closing in, and much truth that lay buried in the failures of centuries of world contact and compromise has been, through the greatness of the grace of God, recovered to the Church. The personal presence of the Spirit of God as still dwelling in the house of God on earth, which the Assembly of God is whatever its outward appearance, was again recognized and taught. Those who had hearts to receive the truth were encouraged to continue in the work of God. When they gave the Holy Spirit His place they learned the will of God from His word, which is the medium of the Spirit to convey to the soul the mind of God, and they built for His approval, not regarding the thoughts of men.

If the Holy Spirit is given His place believers will be saved from trusting to human expedients, they will be guided by that which the Spirit is doing', and they will attempt 110 more. Living in the consciousness of His presence saves believers from thinking that though God gives His approval to the work, they are setting up again a state of true order,. When the true order of God's house is broken down In man's hands, God's remedy is not to re-establish it again in its first beauty and power, and once more put it under man's responsibility. If He were to do so it could be in a sense to ignore the departure that had already taken place under trial. He recalls His people to recognition of that which He set up in beauty and order at the beginning, so that those who through grace share His thoughts and feelings may be humbled before Him. Though made aware of their failure and· realizing their weakness, they are filled with appreciation of the grace which stoops to meet their need in unfailing faithfulness and constancy to HIS unchangeable purpose. The revelation of that purpose which He will bring to pass by His power meets for faith the present need.

The altar is a wall of defence to those who give God their worship according' to the mind of the Spirit. The house is still His house however poor the workmanship of man who is engaged in it (1 Cor. 3; 2 Tim. 2); the word I.S t h e sanction and guide to continue to build, and the presence of the Spirit is the power to meet the opposition of the enemy and the sense of inferiority because things are not now as they once were.

To remember what was first set up (Rev. 2), and know that it was God who began the work, brings the heart back to the very source of grace and power. It is then that believers may go on with the work in the sense of present grace; truly humbled by the condition of the house, which lack of devotion to the truth has caused, yet knowing that neither the grace nor the power has diminished. The outward appearance of glory and power may not be seen in the present activity of the Spirit because of the failure that has been.

But the glory shall be seen, and neither the earth nor the heavens will be able to contain it (vers. 6). When the LORD appears in His glory the powers in heaven will be shaken (Heb. 12), and all that is on earth will be moved out of its place. Every form of human institution will vanish for what is now seen cannot hold the fullness of His glory. Then will come that for which the nations wait but cannot obtain by all their striving. The glory of the LORD will fill the house·, this house, He says, because the Spirit of God speaks of the house as a unity, no matter what its appearance may be.

There have been three houses or temples. Solomon built the first; the second is the one built by Zerubbabel; the third temple Herod built, if it may be included as another. There will be a fourth built by the Jews going back now In unbelief· they have rejected their Messiah come in meekness and lowliness and God will not own their worship until they repent in brokenness of heart and confess that there is no salvation apart from Him. There will be a fifth temple, the plan of which is found in Ezekiel, Chs. 40-46.

All the treasure of the earth is the LORD'S however men may gather it to themselves, and He will use the wealth of the world for His own earthly glory. "The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, saith Jehovah of hosts." It will not be a different house, as though God would change His dwelling-place. Peace will follow the coming of His glory amidst His own people.

Two further prophecies which refer to the house ~re added (vers. 10-14). That which is holy cannot sanctify the unholy, and that which is unclean destroys holiness. Occupation with evil, even the mere thought of it, contaminates the mind, communion is interrupted, and service is impaired. If evil is allowed to rest on the mind it will soon rule there, and strength for the real work of God is sapped. To depart from evil and seek the Lord is the first step to, yards blessing in a day of ruin.

The people were to stop and consider how they had been chastened in the providence of God; and to search out the false motives which led them to work for their own interests and forget God. If they were led to seek Jehovah, He would bless them immediately, although, at the moment, there appeared no outward sign of blessing.

In the closing prophecy Jehovah uses Zerubbabel the governor of Judah, the true heir to the throne in the royal line of David, as a type of the king whom Jehovah would set up. The Messiah is promised, the elect One from among the people. Zerubbabel would be a signet, a seal, of the coming Messiah, who would come in the day "Then all nations would be shaken.

The shaking of the nations does not here refer to the overthrow of the apostate western confederacy of nations under the beast, but to the nations which will be gathered about Jerusalem "Then they come to sweep it away (Zech. xii). The beast of Daniel's prophecy and of whom the book of Revelation in the New Testament speaks rises against the coming heavenly King. The nations which gather around Jerusalem to contest the right of Jehovah to rule on earth amidst His people,' from Jerusalem His dwelling-place, will meet a greater power than their own, and their might will be destroyed.

The hope of blessing for the remnant of Israel rests on the appearing of the Messiah. Jehovah God will subdue His enemies, to make way for the glorious kingdom of the Messiah, whose kingdom shall never give place to another.

Blessing on earth is always connected with God's house. Jacob learned the name of the God who had watched over and blessed him, when he reached Beth-el-the house of God. Solomon built the temple in the city of God's delight, and the glory of the LORD filled it. In the prayer of Solomon at the consecration of the temple, repeated reference is made to the blessings connected with the house. If when captive they prayed looking' towards the city and the house, the LORD would hear and bless them, for it would be a prayer of faith.

Faith recognizes the purpose of God and looks beyond the feeble efforts of man. Although the latter work cannot be compared with the first work, yet faith counts on God to do His own work and 'to finish it. It looks on to the day when the glory of the LORD will fill the whole earth. For God will, according to His grace and by His power, bring out something more excellent than man is able to produce when the building' is committed to his hands.

God owned the authority He had given to the Gentile empire, His people remained subject. But David's heir was there rendering to Caesar the things which were Caesar's; the people were not rendering to God the things which were God's.

Believers to-day who seek to walk in the truth as it was first delivered to the saints, find themselves in much the same position as the remnant of the Jews in the time of these last prophets. While there is strong discouragement on the one hand, yet the Spirit of God is present as at the beginning. Though to all appearances everything seems to be failing and the truth to be losing ground, the strength to go on with the work of God lies in living in the sense of the favour of God, and in the fact that the Spirit of' God is here in as great power as at the beginning. When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD in the early days of their return from captivity, the people shouted and praised the LORD, though many wept when they thought of the former glory. In the days of Haggai God promised prosperity from the day they began again on the foundations (Ch. 2:19). It is the same in these last days of the history of the Church. Through the grace of God a return was made in the nineteenth century to first principles, and there was great spiritual blessing and much sober joy.

Though there be confusion in the house, yet the foundation stands sure. "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11). The apostle Paul laid the foundation of God's building on earth, to him was committed the revelation of the Church, and he administered the truth on earth. Others must take heed how they build on the foundation Paul laid (1 Cor. iii. 10). When the superstructure is in ruins the foundation remains, and there is abundant blessing for those who through grace return to the foundation-truth as taught by Paul. If through the distraction of prevailing evil, interest slackens, and the builders grow sluggish, the Lord disciplines His people and the Spirit of God recalls them to first principles. The truth, in its purity as He gave it, is ever the foundation on which to begin building. Nothing is secure that rests on a man-spoilt structure; always there must be a return to that which God first established, this brings back to God Himself.

There are two characteristics which mark the foundation of the house of God on earth to-day. The first is, the Lord knows those who are His; the second is, all who name the name of Christ separate themselves from evil (2 Tim. ii. 19). Christ knows His own, and they keep themselves in all purity because of their love for Him. God promises His presence to those who are separate to Him, and it is as blessed to know the presence of God and to live in His favour at the end of the day of trial, as it was in the brightest days when the work was more spectacular.

God's remedy in a day of confusion is not to bring back the former order, but to fill hearts with the power of His grace that they may be made willing to walk in His presence, to count on Him, and to find in His favour more than has been lost in outward manifestation of power. It is, not a question of power when the Lord directs the way in a time of difficulty, but whether we are devoted and obedient. The visible results must be left with God, who in His wisdom and love will make everything work for His glory and for the good of those who are called according to His purpose.

In the days of our responsibility, it is not a question whether we gather around Christ that we may hear Him, but whether we find Him so precious that everything is put aside that we may obey Him. While we are ever made conscious of our weakness, yet our hearts can be perfectly assured of His love. But are we implicitly obedient to that which God has taught us to be right, not merely because it is right, but because Christ is the object of faith which attracts the heart? A sense of mere legal obligation gives no power to continue to do right. When Christ is the object that fills the heart, self is forgotten and there is power to persevere. Only a deep sense of His grace, learned by dwelling in His love, will keep the heart ever near Him.

 

Frederick Alexander Blair: Published 1947 (1891 - 1974)
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