How The Lord Stirred Up The People
Revised notes of address on Haggai, Chapter 2
Readers will recall that consequent upon the writings of Jeremiah and the prayers of Daniel a small remnant of God's people returned from Babylon under the leadership of Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah. They were beset by many difficulties: strong enemies without and failing harvests and deep discouragement within. Ezra 4 tells us the sorry story of how the work of building the temple was made to cease. Under God, and doubtless also the exercise of godly men, the word of the Lord was brought to bear upon the situation. What was thought to be due to external pressure and circumstances was due to lack of heart amongst the people of God. Is it time for you to dwell in your own ceiled houses and the Lord's house to lie waste? (Haggai 1:4).
The Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel and the spirit of the remnant of the people and they came and did work (v. 14). There remained, however, some very real difficulties to face, both then and now, and the Lord's answer, through the mouth of his prophet must be of interest to us. It is not a little striking (Haggai means feast of Jehovah) that this prophetic word (2:1) came to the people of God on the 21st day of the 7th month. This appears to be the Old Testament equivalent of the last day of the feast when Jesus stood up in the temple (John 7:37). What should have been an occasion of the greatest joy was darkened by the gloomy clouds of disappointment and despair.
The first of the difficulties was the smallness of the position. In Ezra 3:12 we read that when the foundation of the temple was laid many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, and had seen the first house (Solomon's), wept with a loud voice. The Lord remonstrated, "Is it not in your eyes as nothing" (2:3). Some may feel this also in their local gatherings. There is ever the danger of, eulogising the "good old days". But the prophet Zechariah (4:10) reminds us that we must not despise the day of small things. When the earth is disquieted (Proverbs 30:21-23, and was it ever more disquieted than it is now?) the answer is found in smallness, in ants, conies, locusts and spiders (Proverbs 30:24-28). The three revivals of the Old Testament, it is worthy of note, became progressively smaller but better - Hezekiah's, Josiah's, and Ezra and Nehemiah's. Why are they better? It is because the Lord graciously says, "I am with you" (1:13 and 2:4). The smallness of Proverbs 30 is followed by that which speaks of Christ - the lion, the war horse, the he-goat, the king (Proverbs 30:29-31, N.T.). Where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst (Matthew 18:20). The prophetic answer to the smallness of the position is a consideration of the resources of God.
- The word (2:5)
- my spirit (2:5)
- the silver and the gold is mine (2:8), and
- the promise of His coming (2:7).
The river of God is ever full of water (Psalm 65:9) "May we with this be satisfied, and glory in His name".
The second cause for discouragement, both ancient and modern, is the slowness with which blessing comes. The initial move for God followed the prophetic word spoken on the 1st day of the 6th month (1:1). By the 24th day of the 9th month (2:18) there was evidently still some evidence of shortage. For the Jews this was a blight on material prosperity. With us the flow of spiritual blessing may not come at once. Lessons on the principle of association have to be learnt (2:10-14). The holy cannot make the unclean holy, but the unclean can make the holy unclean. A sound apple does not make rotten apples good, but rotten apples can make a good apple rotten!
Patient continuance with God is needed. Notice the emphasis in this section upon work - "Be strong" and "work". There are two words for work in Haggai. In 1:14, the word is never used for servile work. In 2:4 it is more general, any kind of work. Brethren, we must work. Not only Joshua and Zerubbabel but also the residue of the people are included. In days which are characterise by the conditions described in 2 Timothy there are the "others also". Even the smallest and humblest of us, at this late hour of the church's history, must do something. We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works which He has before prepared that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). In the pastoral epistles there are no fewer than nine references to good works. "This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works" (Titus 3:8). Furthermore not only must we work but we must have" long patience" in waiting for the results. Hudson Taylor laboured, was it 14 years, before there was one convert in China. But presently how the trickle became a mighty stream! In Philadelphia the Lord says, "I know thy works" - not incomplete works as in Sardis, but complete works, which He can fully approve. The answer to the slowness of blessings is not to give up or to give way, but to hold fast, and stand fast, and rely upon His promise. "From this day will I bless you" (2:19).
The final cause for discouragement, then, and always, is the strength of the enemies. In those days it was Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian (Nehemiah 2:19). Every servant and work for God has had to campaign against opposition; not a battle only, which may soon be over, but a campaign which continues to the end. In a dark day the opposition is ever more intense. They that will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). More and more we are brought to feel the pressure, and the prophetic answer to this situation is ever the imminent return of the Lord. In the light of the present situation and current events, how cheering is this word! "I will shake the heavens and the earth" (2:21), a quotation which is repeated in Hebrews 12:26. "I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms (2:22). We know who sits upon that throne - the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan. He will be cast into the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:2-3). The strength of the kingdom moreover is in the hands of the beast and the false prophet, who will be cast alive into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20). "The chariots and those that ride in them, and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother." Often in biblical history the enemies slay one another, as Jonathon proved (1 Samuel 14:20), Gideon (Judges 7:22), Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:23), Egypt (Isaiah 19:2) and even the Lord Himself (Mark 14:59). It would seem this is also the way in which Israel will be delivered in a future day. As to our enemies we are to "fear not" (2:5). The scene will be cleared, but the scene will also be filled. "In that day, saith the Lord of Hosts, will I take thee, a Zerubbabel . and will make thee as a signet." This, though a personal communication to Zerubbabel doubtless has a greater than Zerubbabel is in view.
Moreover, wherever a ring is mentioned in Scripture, a position of public dignity is in view. Pharaoh gave to Joseph his ring, Haman's ring was put on Mordecai, and the prodigal also had a ring given him. "What, know ye not that ye shall judge angels?" (1 Corinthians 6:3). The signet here not only indicates ownership but style. The new heaven and new earth will take character from Christ (everything exactly like, and according to Christ. What a scene!). In 2:7 we learn that the desire of all nations shall come. We have to take this to be Christ. The words "shall come", however, are in the plural. Does this not tell us that not only Christ will come, but all that is Christ's and according to Christ. This is encouragement indeed. The days may be small, and the house nothing much to look at, but the latter glory of this house (the Millennial temple) will be greater even than Solomon's temple. "And in this place I will give peace," in contrast to the battle of the present day. In truth we can sing: "With smiling face the Christian says, The best lies on before." Summarising therefore, may we say that the answer to smallness is the resources of God; to the slowness of blessing, reliance upon His promise; and to the strength of the enemies, the sure and certain and early return of our blessed Lord. Even so come Lord Jesus.