google-site-verification: google3e8cc4742c5fd8a2.html Thursday with Tabitha - Haggai

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Haggai

Hello, welcome back to our minor prophets series. This week we are looking at the book of Haggai. This is another short book, consisting of just 2 chapters.

 

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As with several of the other minor prophets, we don’t know much about Haggai himself. We can be quite sure about the dating of the book though, because Haggai included precise dates for the oracles he received from God. These details place the book in the year 520 BC, and between the months of August and December. Haggai was a contemporary of the prophet Zechariah.

 

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In 539 BC Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered and overthrew Babylon. One of the first things Cyrus did was make an edict that allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild the temple. This action was predicted by the prophet Isaiah and recounted in the first two chapters of the book of Ezra.

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About 50 000 Jews, including Ezra, returned to Jerusalem in 536 BC and they began to rebuild the city. Ezra encountered significant opposition to his work and the building work stalled. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem 13 years later to spearhead another major push to rebuild the walls. His building team managed to complete the building of the walls but they also faced hostile opposition and the population of Jerusalem was still relatively small and vulnerable. The people had a dramatic experience of repentance and revival under Nehemiah’s leadership but after he’d left them to go back to his job in Babylon the people quickly slipped into sinful ways.

 

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By the time we reach the prophecy of Haggai, 16 years have passed since the origin return of the first exiles to Jerusalem.

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King Darius is ruling the kingdom of Persia, which now includes the territory of Judah. The people of Jerusalem have settled back into their city and they have built houses for themselves. But there is a problem. They have left the temple in a state of decay and ruin.

 

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God sends his word via Haggai to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and to Joshua, the high priest:

 

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 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.”

(Haggai 1:2)

 

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The people have busied themselves in the building of their own houses but they have procrastinated about rebuilding God’s house, the symbol of God’s presence amongst them. God explains to the people that because of their indifference and neglect of his house, he has frustrated their efforts to be fruitful and productive in their farming and manufacturing. They have been working hard to produce clothes and food but yet they cannot seem to get warm or satisfied. God cannot stand by and allow his house to be neglected in this way whilst the people simply pursue their own interests.

 

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Once the people hear this and realise the source of their failure, they obey God and commence the work on the temple. They have physical work to do and also emotional work to do, turning their hearts back towards God. The people respond with respect and fear of God and God reassures them:

Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD's message, “I am with you, declares the LORD.” (Haggai 1:13)

 

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Some of the people of Jerusalem would have been old enough to recall Solomon’s temple in the days before the fall of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon. Once the building work got underway it became obvious to them that the rebuilt temple would be nothing like the old temple; it would be much plainer and far less glorious. So God sends word to Haggai again to encourage the people.

 

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‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.

(Haggai 2:3-5)

 

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God speaks with great comfort and love to his people and assures them that he is not going to leave them and they have no need to be afraid. God promises that he will fill the temple with the treasures of the nations and, more than that, he will fill it with his very presence, making it more glorious than the first temple.

 

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God’s next word is to the priests, three months after the rebuilding began. He reminds them that something that is ceremonially clean cannot make an unclean thing holy by touching it, but something unclean is capable of defiling something holy. In the same way, the ruin of the temple has rendered all of the offerings of the people unholy and inadequate. Although God has punished his people by limiting the fruitfulness of their produce, he promises to bless them again, once the temple is rebuilt.

 

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The final part of the book is addressed to Zerubbabel the governor.

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On that day, declares the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the LORD, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the LORD of hosts.” (Haggai 2:23)

 

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Zerubbabel was a descendent of king David. In this section God is confirming his promise to bless his people, and eventually the whole world, through the house of David. A signet ring was a used to make a mark in wax or other soft material as an official seal and sign of royal approval and authority. God sets Zerubbabel over his people as his chosen instrument. And, lo and behold, if we look ahead into Matt 1:12-13, we find Zerubbabel’s name in the genealogy of Jesus.

 

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So what can the prophet Haggai teach us today?

Firstly, although the focus of the prophecy is on the rebuilding of the temple, the message is not primarily about a building, it’s about a relationship. God was concerned with the neglect of the temple because it was a sign of the people’s neglect of their relationship with God. God is not pursuing and saving and loving bricks – he’s interested in people.

 

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Sometimes we are called to embark on literal building projects for the sake of God’s kingdom. There is often hard physical work to be done and practical things to be arranged, but the point of it is to bring people into a relationship with God. It’s all for his glory and his name.

 

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Sometimes our labours are less about bricks and mortar and more about learning and teaching or writing and blogging. Sometimes they are about planning or hosting events or arranging meetings and conferences. These things can be very important in building up the body of Christ, but they are not to exist simply for their own benefit. It is not primarily about the well-written lesson or sermon or book or blog. Neither is it just about the successful event, the well-attended talk or the popular conference. It’s about a relationship with the creator of the universe. No matter how hard we slave away under the guise of working for God, if we’ve neglected our relationship with him, the works will be useless. God wants our hearts and our minds first of all. He wants our love. We cannot prove our love in our works, we need to experience it as a reality in our relationship with God, and from this our works will follow.

 

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Paul says it like this in 1 Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.(1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

 

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Secondly, God wants our work for him to take a place of highest priority in our lives. When Jesus teaches his disciples about worry, he tells them to stop being so concerned with what they are going to eat or drink or wear. He then says:

 

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But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

 

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Jesus says that God knows what we require and he understands our physical needs, but if we will only make his kingdom work our first priority, he will see to our other needs as well. Haggai reminds us that all things come from God in the first place, so it really is quite foolish to hang onto our stuff so tightly, when it all came from God’s generous hand in the first place. 

 

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Finally, Haggai reminds us that a more glorious temple is coming, and in fact has already come. Haggai spoke God’s prophecy about a temple that would be filled with God’s glory, more glorious than the first temple. When Jesus died on the cross the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The way to God was opened and there was no longer a need for God’s people to meet him within the confines of the physical temple, through the mediation of a priest.

 

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The old temple became obsolete and the new temple is now made up of living stones, the individual believers in Christ. Peter describes it like this:

 

You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

(1 Peter 2:5)

 

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In the book of Haggai, God promises to the people of Judah that he is in their midst. In the book of Revelation we see the ultimate realisation of this promise. In chapter 21 of Revelation the apostle John writes about his vision:

 

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I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it.

(Rev 21:22-26)

 

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Next week we’re going to be looking at some selected highlights from the longer book of Zechariah. It’s one of the Old Testament prophetic books that is quoted numerous times in the New Testament and there is some incredible prophecy that we see fulfilled in the life of Jesus. Join me again next week to find out more!

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