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Haggai: The Temple and the Call to Obey Print E-mail
Sunday, 07 March 2010

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We often approach the Old Testament wondering: ‘How in the world does this apply to my life today?’  Perhaps you have been thinking this recently as you have been working through a Bible reading plan.  And I understand the struggle.  It is not always easy to see the importance of particular Old Testament passages.  They seem to be talking about things that have absolutely nothing to do with us and our following after Christ.

For example, the book of Haggai deals with God’s charge to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.  In 586 the Babylonians invaded the city, destroyed the Temple, and carried many captives back to Babylon.  Yet, the Persians would eventually defeat the Babylonians and Cyrus, the Persian King, would allow the Israelites to return to their home in 536 (as foretold in Isaiah 45:1-13).  In fact, since Cyrus wanted Yahweh to favor him, he told the Israelites to rebuild the Temple and gave them supplies to do it (Ezra 1:2-4).  They began the work but immediately quit when opposition arose (Ezra 4).  After sixteen years of no work being done, the Lord raised up Haggai and Zechariah as prophets to charge the people to resume work on the Temple.  The book of Haggai contains four messages that the prophet preached to the people concerning the building of the Temple during the reign of Darius another king of Persia.  They were delivered in August, October, and December of the year 520 according to the text.

It seems that the questions we raised in general concerning some Old Testament passages apply particularly to this book.  What in the world are we supposed to do with Haggai’s sermons concerning the rebuilding the Temple?  Surely this book has nothing much to say to us.  Actually, that is not the case.  We have much to learn from the book of Haggai (and every passage in the Bible).  In order for us to see this, I want to begin by walking us through the message of Haggai then close by returning to the issue of application.  So then, what is the message of Haggai?

Haggai’s message to the leaders/people in their disobedience (1:1-12):

The book begins with Haggai’s message to the leaders in Israel.  Look at 1:1-2.  Zerubbabel and Joshua were the leaders of the people and God’s message comes to them: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.  It seems that the people were giving excuses for their delay in rebuilding the Temple.  They claimed that the time was not yet right.  Yet, the Lord wants Zerubbabel and Joshua to lead them in obedience.  They need to provide an answer for this excuse.  What answer are they to give?  Well, we see the answer that the Lord gives in Haggai’s message to the people in 1:3-11.  Look at verses 3-4.  The time may not have come for them to rebuild the Temple, but that does not mean that the time has not yet come for them to build there own houses.  No time for building the Lord’s house, but plenty of time to build their own.  Instead of obeying the Lord and restoring the Temple, they are being selfish and spending their time and resources on themselves.  So the Lord rebukes them.  Look at verses 5-6.  Here is the problem: the people think that by serving themselves they will have what they want, but in fact the opposite is true.  They may harvest some, but never a lot.  They may eat some, but never enough.  They may drink some, but they are never full.  Even the money they have does not last.  In short, they are never satisfied with what they have.  They never have enough.   

So what’s the problem?  By refusing to build the Temple, they have refused to obey God and refused to seek His presence.  Look at verses 7-11.  We must remember that the Temple was the place that God met with His people.  It was the physical symbol of His presence with Israel.  Yet, they were so occupied with themselves, so worried about their own homes and their own stuff, that they had neglected to rebuild the place of God’s presence.  And what they did not realize is that their disobedience was only leading to further dissatisfaction.  They could get all the ‘stuff’ in the world, but would remain unsatisfied as long as they disobeyed God.  Of course, the same is true for us.  You can look for satisfaction in all sorts of places: money, sex, wine, women, power, ease, on and on we could go.  But the simple truth is this: there is no true, lasting satisfaction in life outside of a relationship with God through Christ.  Try all you want, but you will never really find it.  God’s people were serving themselves and it was getting them nowhere.  God sends his prophet to tell them the truth.  So how do they respond?

The people and the leaders respond with obedience.  Look at verse 12.  The people turn from their disobedience (repentance) and obey the Lord.  They recognize that what Haggai is saying is the very Word of God.  They fear God and they obey.  This is an example of the power of the Word of God to change a people.  They were serving themselves and disobeying God.  Yet, at the words of the prophet, they repent and obey.  The remainder of the book is Haggai’s message to them following their decision to obey.

Haggai’s message to the leaders/people in their obedience (1:13-2:23):

After the people decide to obey, Haggai has more to tell them from the Lord.  What does he say?  First, he tells them that the Lord is with them.  Look at 1:13-15.  The Lord lets the people know that He is with them in their obedience.  In fact, we can even see His initiative (stirred up the spirit) in causing them to obey.  One of my commentator’s notes: “Behind the willing response of both leaders and people was the silent working of the Lord, creating a willing attitude by His spirit.”   The Lord initiates the peoples’ response and gives them His presence. 

Second, not only is the Lord with them at the beginning, but He promises to continually be with them.  This is Haggai’s message in 2:1-9.  After they had been working on the Temple for about a month, apparently the people were growing discouraged.  It seems that some of the older folks were observing that the rebuilt Temple would never be as glorious as the former Temple.  Yet, notice what Haggai says in 2:3-5.  We see their discouragement in verse 3, but Haggai goes on to encourage them with the fact that God will continue to be with them, just as He was with them when He brought them out of Egypt.  And not only this, but God tells them through Haggai that the Temple they are building will actually be greater than the former Temple.  Look at verses 6-9.  The Lord is encouraging the people with these promises (we will consider more in moment just how this particular promise will work out).

Third, Haggai tells the people that the Lord will bless them.  In 2:10-19 we are told that Haggai calls in the priests and asks them a couple of questions.  The first deals with holiness being transferred and the second deals with uncleanness being transferred.  Look at the second question in verse 13.  Haggai applies this principle to the people in verse 14.  Look at that with me.  Yet, now that they have chosen to obey, even though they are unclean, the Lord is going to show them mercy and bless them.  Specifically, He is going to bless their crops.  Look at verse 19.  The Lord is going to give them what they need to survive and be satisfied. 

Fourth, Haggai tells the people that the Lord will restore the house of David and the hope for the Messiah.  In the closing verses of the book, Haggai speaks again to Zerubbabel and tells him that the Lord is going to make him like a signet ring.  The ‘signet ring’ was worn by the King and was used to verify the Kings approval when needed.  God had promised to bless the nations through the line of David, but He had told one of Zerubbabel’s kin that he was no longer a ‘signet ring’ to the Lord (see Jeremiah 22:24-25).  Thus, what the Lord is saying here is that He has not given up on His plan to raise up a king through the line of David who will reign forever.  We know that Kings name: Jesus.  And Matthew tells us that Zerubbabel was in His line (see Matthew 1:12-13).  Thus, God will restore the house of David and continue His plan to send the Savior.  All of these promises are given to the people in light of their obedience to build the Temple.

Well, we have seen Haggai’s message to the leaders/people in their disobedience and in their obedience.  Yet, how exactly does the call to rebuild the Temple apply to us?  In order to answer, we must again remind ourselves of the significance of the Temple.  It was the place of God’s presence among His people.  The people in Haggai’s time would finish the Temple and it would survive until 70 ad.  Yet, how exactly was the Temple they build greater than the one that stood during Solomon’s day?  Well, this Temple would actually be visited by God Himself.  Jesus, God the Son, would come to that Temple.  And even more, He would make it clear that a brand new Temple was present, the Temple of His own body.  Look at what He says in John 2:18-22.  The Temple that Solomon built and the Temple that was rebuilt after the Exile were only foreshadows of the true Temple, the true presence of God with His people, namely Jesus Himself.  He is the true Temple.  And not only that, but all of those who are in Him are also being built into a Temple of God’s presence.  Look at Ephesians 2:19-22.  God’s presence no longer dwells especially in a Temple built by Israel.  No, it dwells with those who have turned from their sins and placed their faith in Christ.  So again, how do we respond to all of this?

If you are here and you have never placed your faith in Christ, then I plead with you to repent and believe in His death for your sins.  He paid the price for all of your rebellion.  He lived a perfect life and died a perfect sacrifice.  And do not make the mistake of thinking that you can find satisfaction anywhere else.  There is no satisfaction apart from God.  Have you ever wondered why you have to keep going back to your sins and addictions?  It’s because they can never truly satisfy.  But through Christ, you can be reconciled to God and actually become (like the Temple that the Israelites were told to rebuild) the dwelling place of God.  Do not delay. 

If you are here and you are a believer, then in one sense (and I don’t want to stretch this too thin) you are still called to build the Temple.  Granted, this no longer involves cutting down trees and putting up walls.  But it does involve determination and sacrifice.  We build the Kingdom by taking the gospel to anyone and everyone that we can.  It is the Lord who will build His Temple, but we are called and commanded to participate.  He has told us (just as He told Israel) that He will be with us as we labor (see Matthew 28:18-20) and He has shown us that the nations will indeed be drawn in (as Haggai foretold in 2:9, see Revelation 21:26).  Thus, obey the Lord and build the Kingdom by fulfilling the Great Commission for His glory.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 16 March 2010 )

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