"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto good works." 2 Timothy 3:16~17
One of the things that I think is difficult for us, as Christians, as a people who are living in a post Messianic world, is dealing with the Old Testament scriptures. There are two errors we are prone to. Firstly we read them as history that doesn't pertain to us ~ & there is a place for understanding the history & context of the Old Testament scriptures. The second is to think, "Oh well, They were under the law; we are in the age of grace now". The problem with such thinking is that when Paul gave his injunction to Timothy about the scriptures the scriptures he was refering to were the Old Testament. There was no New Testament!
So the trick is to read the Old Testament with a New Testament mind. God in His goodness & grace uses symbols & types that remain absolutely consistent throughout scripture for God does not change. We can particularly struggle when it comes to the prophets, those wonderful men of God who so consistenly upset the people of Israel they couldn't get rid of them fast enough: Isaiah they sawed in half; Jeremiah they put in the bottom of a well; Zechariah, killed by Jerhoash near the temple altar; Amos, tortured & matyred; John beheaded; Christ, crucified... Make no mistake. They were pretty plain about it because the Prophet's job was always to redirect the people of God in the direction God would have them go, to direct their thoughts & hearts to the Holy one of Israel. They proclaimed it loudly. They proclaimed it consistently until as it says in Isaiah, the people rose up & demanded,
"See no more visions... Give us no more visions of what is right...stop confronting us with the Holy one of Israel." [30:10]
Haggai was no different.
Now Haggai was the first prophet to speak to the exiled people on their return to the land & he was called to a very specific role ~ the rebuilding of the temple after the 70 years exile. I will discuss this briefly because the inherent symbolism is pertinent throughout this short book ~ only 2 chapters, 38 verses.
The name Haggai refers to a festival ~ & his ministry begins & ends at times of Jewish festivities. He was among the returning Babylonian exiles who were given permission by the Babylonian ruler to rebuild the temple , the 10th of the 12 minor prophets [the last men to speak before God prophesied through His son] & he was a contemporary of both Malachi & Zechariah.
The Jews got as far as the foundations when the ongoing squabble with the Samaratians halted progress for 16 years. You'd think they'd get over it in 16 years but in fact the people were gripped by an enormous ennui & there the Temple sat with the foundations overgrown with weeds & nothing at all happening. You'd think they'd get over it after 70 years in Babylon with neither their own land nor their own temple but instead they were consumed with their own interests. It is at this point Haggai enters & declares, " Consider your ways."
We will pause here for a moment because if you want an exergisis on Haggai this is not the place. There is an excellent one here. Nor is this an historical study with New Testament application. Sorry, no. Rather we shall be looking at the symbolism because the symbolism is pertinent to all ages & all God's people no matter their country, their era, their race. This is the universal language of the bible. I am not saying the other is unimportant but I am saying that it is secondary to this study.
It does not require rocket science to work out the main symbol in Haggai is the Temple. The temple was central to Jewish worship. Prior to the exile it housed the ark of the covenant, the Urim & thummim, the ephod. It was where the people gathered for the major festivals & sacrifices took place. It housed the Holy of Holies. It was a dwelling place for the Name of God. It was the place where God dwelt among His people & every time the Temple is mentioned you have mention of God's shekinah, His glory. It was incredibly beautiful. David, who had wanted to build a house for the Lord & was denied, saved all his life to build & furnish the Temple. The white limestone would have dazzled in the Israeli sunshine. There was imported Lebanon cedar to panel the walls, gold inlays, gold overlays ~ so much gold which does not tarnish the way silver does. The best craftsmen were hired to work on the temple: stonemasons, carpenters, carvers, smiths. No expense was spared. There were golden bowls, golden platters, golden goblets, the wealth of a nation poured into this one place, the place where God's glory rested amongst His people. This was Solomon's Temple, the first temple, the temple the Babylonians razed to the ground when they carted God's people off into captivity. They were never to see its like again.
Now we know that the Israelites did in fact rebuild the Temple. It was desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes [nick~named *the Mad One*] & rededicated under Judas Maccabaeus then renovated by Herod so that in Jesus time it was known as Herod's Temple. So where is the application for us? It is found in 1 Corinthians 6:19~20 "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; & also in 1 Peter 2:5: ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Now if this is so, & scripture says it is so, what has Haggai to say to us? I suggest to you that many Christians are like that temple. They are saved. They have a firm foundation but work on their temple then halts. For whatever reasons they do not progress in their Christian walk. Their spiritual life stagnates. The building goes no further. And what does Haggai say the problem is?
Verse 2: They procrastinate: the time is not yet.
Verse 4: They are selfish & self~involved ~ panelled houses were expensive.
Verse 6: they were dissatisfied. Nothing they did ever gave them the return they expected.
Why? They were not honouring God.
So this is the first lesson from Haggai. Let's get our priorities straight. Our house, our temple, His dwelling place amongst us, is the first thing we need to put in order in our lives. There is something else here too & it is an important something & it is a directive particularly for those in leadership roles. Haggai directs his statements initially to Zerubbabel, the civic leader & to Joshua, the high priest. People tend to follow as they are lead. If the leadership is in disarray, if the leadership is in sin, if there is fault at the highest levels of a society then it will filter throughout the whole community. Whether a leader likes it or not they set the standard by which the people will measure themselves.
Note something else, & something that is born out in the New Testament. It is the Lord's spirit who stirs the people to act. Sixteen years they'd done nothing. Sixteen years they sat on their bums & ignored the unfinished work of the Lord's house but when the Lord stirred them up they began to act. Note too that the leadership was stirred first, then the people. Both parties had to have their hearts prepared & ready but there is an order in this because God is not a God of disorder.
When we first come to the Lord, when we first taste of salvation & know that God is good, we have a fire in our bones ~ & this is right. That is as it should be. Over time though the cares of this world eat away at us. We need to hold down our jobs, run our households, discipline our children. There are meals to cook, clothes to wash, cars to be serviced, bills to be paid. All these things have to be done. They need to be done. We forget Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. [1 Cor.10:31]
Suddenly we find ourselves in a place we never expected to find ourselves having to deal with the sin & apathy that defiles our temple. We may remember how we began & despair but listen to what the Lord says to us through Haggai. Haggai is speaking to a people who had lived in bondage for 70 years. Many of them were too young to remember Solomon's temple but oh! For those who did remember! How their hearts must have broken for the cedar walls, for the gold & the limestone & all the shinning glory that was Solomon's house for the Lord his God. The new temple, the rebuilt temple, was dowdy by comparison. It must have seemed so empty! No ark. No holy fire. No Shekinah. No spirit of prophecy. No urim & thummim. It isn't a patch on the old temple & I think we sometimes feel like that too. We come out of a time of clearing the rubble out of our spiritual lives & commence work on our temple again & we get so discouraged. We aren't where we hoped to be. We aren't what we hoped to be. Sin still besets us but listen to what the Lord says.
Egypt is almost always a symbol for slavery ~ the slavery of sin ~ but "I am with you," declares the Lord. " My spirit remains among you." Now isn't that true? And isn't it such a blessing? And then the most wonderful promise takes place & it is particularly wonderful for us because it is addressing the end times, the post Messianic age, our age. Haggai is talking of the heavens & the earth being shaken & I only know of one place in scripture this refers to & that is the Last days, the end times, the time before Christ's return. " The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house!" says the Lord Almighty. He says he's going to fill His house, us, with glory.
And then Haggai gives instructions for bringing us back into right relationship with God. He explains that the holy can never make clean that which is unholy but what is unclean always defiles. The principle is found in Leviticus 10:10 ~ teaching between what is holy & what is unholy. See the people were experiencing God working in their lives & they were being outwardly obedient but they were still a sinful people & their sin was defiling their work so God's blessing was withheld. They still needed to deal with the sin in their lives, to confess & repent.
We are almost to the end but there is yet one thing more & I'm not sure it isn't the most wonderful thing of all in this short little book that holds so much promise. The promise starts "From this day on I will bless you". Then Haggai starts talking again about the heavens & the earth being shaken, about the kingdoms being overthrown, about rulers being overturned & then he says the oddest thing. "On that day I will take you, my servant, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, & I will make you my signet ring for I have chosen you." Do you ever read this stuff & go, Whaaat? Turn with me to Matthew. Matthew 1:12. This is so exciting. It reads Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel... Haggai sees, sees not the literal Zerubbabel but the seed of Zerabbabel, Zurabbabel who is in the physical lineage of Christ, Christ who is the Father's signet ring, his seal upon the world, his seal upon believers.
Now this last prophecy took place during the Feast of Tabernacles. We know this because Haggai dated all his prophecies accurately so we know Haggai delivered this message on October 17th 520 BC. It is his final message delivered on the last day of a festival which was the last in the religious calendar for the year; a festival that celebrated the autumn harvest, the ingathering of the crops & the remembrance of the 40 years in the desert when God provided for His people Himself. Every day of this festival the priest went to the Gihon river & filled a golden pitcher with water from the river. He then returned to the temple & poured that whole pitcherful of water over the altar. It was a very graphic visual reminder of God's provision & of how he provided water in a dry land. The people have been reminded of that. Then Haggai prophecies. Now come forward to the gospel of John [7:37] & we see Jesus at this same feast, celebrating these same truths & on the last day of this feast, a feast that sees water poured over the altar, Christ says, "If a man is thirsty, let him come to me & drink." John goes on to explain that Jesus meant the spirit, a spirit that had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified!
Do you see, friends? We are God's temple, a temple whose glory is greater than that of Solomon's because the glory of Christ, God made man, resides in us. So let us consider our ways, prayerfully, thoughtfully & if there be any uncleanliness in us let the light of God's Holy Spirit shine on it & cleanse us from all unrighteousness.