by John Ellis
A couple of Sundays ago, I had the privilege of preaching the book of Haggai. Originally, when I began studying the book of Haggai, I had the idea to write a sermon manuscript in the hopes that my pastor would give me some feedback on it. Graciously, he did, and he also asked if I would be willing to preach it. I was willing. However, I forgot to hit “record” before I began preaching. This means that if you’re interested in my sermon on the book of Haggai, you’ll have to read it. Below, you’ll find the manuscript. Please keep in my mind, it’s written to be spoken/heard, and not read. Also, I haven’t included my initial “joke” about Bible Sword Drills, which was the set-up for the Introduction. No doubt, you can fill the joke in on your own, which wasn’t that good/funny to begin with.
For many of us, not being sure where Haggai is exactly located in the Old Testament probably runs parallel with our not being sure where Haggai sits chronologically in the story of Redemption (the story of the Bible). Since Haggai is a Minor Prophet, we know (we have a general idea) that it’s located somewhere between Ezekiel and Malachi. Likewise, most of us know that the book is connected, somehow, to the exile.
So, to help us bookmark Haggai in our minds, I’m going to set the chronological stage.
After a couple of centuries of continuous sin and rebellion against God, the Israelites, both the Northern and Southern kingdoms, were sent into exile. With the Southern Kingdom being conquered by Babylon in 586/7 BC.
Hearkening back to the Garden of Eden, God’s people were kicked out of God’s land and exiled away from His presence, as represented by the Temple. In this dark replaying of our first parent’s story, the awful questions loomed, “What’s going to happen to God’s promise to send a seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent?” “What’s going to happen to God’s promise to Abraham that the peoples of the world will be blessed through his offspring?” “What’s going to happen to God’s promise to David that one of his sons will sit forever on his throne?”
In that moment of history, those promises seemed far away.
However, in 538 B.C., things start to look up because the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great issued an edict that allowed the exiled Jews to return home. In Ezra 1:1we read, “1. In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:
And with that proclamation, Cyrus freed the exiles and enabled them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild God’s Temple.
Ezra then details how God blessed the returning exiles by causing the Persians to return much of the plunder the Babylonians had taken from the Temple. We learn that the returned remnant were joyous and filled with optimism as they marched back to Jerusalem. Ezra 2:70 tells us that Temple singers were part of the returning remnant, so I think that we can realistically imagine that the journey back was filled with songs of praise to God. They’re going back. The exile is over. God has not forgotten His people. God has not forgotten His promises.
Back in Jerusalem, the returned remnant began rebuilding the Temple, only to abandon the project soon afterwards. They were back, but things were not right. The land was inhospitable. The people who were there were not happy that the remnant had returned, and the surrounding residents plotted and schemed to undermine the returned exile’s efforts. Rebuilding the Temple was tedious, discouraging, and even dangerous. In the eyes and minds of the returned exiles, their return fell far short of the previous glory of God’s people living in God’s promised land.
This is the setting, or context, into which the prophet Haggai delivers God’s message to God’s people. Lord willing, this morning we’re going to look at that message under four headings. 1. Covenant Responsibilities. 2. Covenant Power. 3. Covenant Blessings. 4. Covenant Promise.
But first, because we Christians often use words and assume that other Christians, much less non-Christians, know what we mean, a quick explanation of the word “Covenant.” The Bible’s plot structure is constructed around Covenants; specifically, God’s covenant with His people. A simple definition is that a covenant is an oath between two parties. More specifically, especially as it relates to the ancient Near East and the Bible, a covenant was generally made between a king and lesser people groups who wanted to submit themselves to that stronger king in return for protection. So, the king usually promised some benefits to the people, and, in return, the people promised to keep certain stipulations. Often, the Covenant was sealed in a somewhat bizarre ceremony (bizarre to us in the 21st century, at least). At the end of the Covenant ceremony, animals would be cut in two, and then the subject, or the representative of the subjects would pass through the pieces of the dead animals, signifying that if they did not keep the covenant stipulations, the curse of death would be called down upon them. We see an example of this in Genesis 15. God makes a covenant with Abraham (at that point, he’s still called Abram, but I’m going to refer to him as Abraham). God promises to be Abraham’s God and that He will make Abraham, and his descendants, His people.
Following the pattern of covenant ceremonies, animals are then cut in half. At this point, Abraham, as representative of the subjects, is supposed to pass through the divided animals, calling down God’s curse of death if the covenant stipulations were not kept. But, in God’s infinite mercy, before that could happen, God caused a deep sleep to fall on Abraham. And amazingly, and graciously, God Himself passed through the divided animals. Knowing that His covenant people would fail to keep His stipulations, God took the curse of death upon Himself, for His people. That, in a nutshell, is an explanation of the word Covenant in the Bible. God said, I will be your God, and you will be my people. And He promised to make that happen.
And that brings us to the covenant responsibilities found in Haggai, which is our first point.
Over fifteen years after the returned remnant gave up on the rebuilding of God’s Temple, in 520 B.C., for the first time after the exile, God speaks to His people. If you haven’t already, please turn to Haggai 1, which can be found on page 791 of the Bibles provided in the pews. For our first point, we’re going to look at Haggai 1:1-15, and I’m going to begin by reading the first eleven verses. Please follow along as I read.
1 In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: 2 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” 3 Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? 5 Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. 6 You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.
7 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. 8 Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. 9 You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. 10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”
Briefly, verse one, the superscription, the front of the envelope, so to speak, signifies that Haggai is speaking with divine authority. What’s coming next is a Word from God. And through the prophet Haggai, God is delivering His Word to His people, represented by Zerubbabel, the civic leader, and Joshua, the spiritual leader. And with that Word from God, Haggai confronts the people with their misplaced priorities dominated by selfishness, greed, disobedience, and lack of faith.
As mentioned earlier, things weren’t necessarily easy in Jerusalem during the 6th century B.C. The land of Israel had not remained empty over the previous 70 years. Some Israelites had been left behind and other people groups had been resettled there. And they resented the returned exiles, and they had an ally in the Samaritans who were afraid that Jerusalem would become an autonomous seat of power and economic influence apart from their leadership. So, according to Ezra 4:4, “The people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose.”
Considering the number of obstacles, amount of hostility, and the waning support from government officials, it’s understandable that the returned exiles ceased construction on the Temple, right? In fact, it wasn’t that they had decided to never rebuild the Temple; it’s just that the time wasn’t right. They thought, “Not now. The timing is off. We’ll wait until it’s less inconvenient for ourselves and our neighbors.” (“We’re loving our neighbors.”)
Except, in God’s covenant, our responsibilities before God are to take precedence over all else. God’s people are to obey God. “You shall therefore love the Lord your God and obey his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always (Deuteronomy 11:1).”
Haggai’s question in verse 4, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” is obviously rhetorical. Being in covenant relationship with God brings covenant responsibilities. The returned exiles were not seeking God’s kingdom first. Under the Old Covenant, God met with His people at the Temple. The Temple signified God’s covenant presence with His people. By failing to rebuild the Temple, and, instead, building their own houses, the returned exiles were making a claim that God’s presence is less important than material concerns. They were failing to understand what it meant to live in covenant relationship with God.
But let’s be honest, we do this same thing when we fail to obey God’s command to gather as God’s people to worship Him. When we allow other things, like late Saturday nights, work, or play to consistently undermine our faithfulness, like the Israelites in Haggai, we are claiming that God is less important in our lives than material concerns.
Further, does this sound familiar? Societal obstacles, hostility from the community at large, and the waning support of the government? So often, we have allowed ourselves to become compromised in our places of work, our neighborhoods, and even among our earthly families because, like the returned remnant, we, too, face growing outside pressure to not pursue life as God’s people in the ways that God desires. How do we respond when it’s inconvenient for us to be a Christian?
Haggai goes on to remind the returned exiles that even though they have “sown much, [they have] harvested little.” They “eat, but never have enough.” “Drink, but never have [their] fill.” They clothe themselves, “but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.”
In case the Israelites failed to grasp his point, Haggai tells them that God is sovereignly undermining their efforts to serve themselves before serving Him.
Now, before our minds start drifting to the heresy of the prosperity gospel, we need to understand something. In the Old Covenant, God’s blessings were primarily connected to the land. God promised the Israelites a land flowing with milk and honey. And that promise points to something greater – the new Eden, the new Jerusalem, the new earth in which God’s people will never go hungry, never suffer, never do without. And it also points to the New Covenant blessings; blessings that can’t be taken away. In the new covenant, God’s blessings are primarily connected to our sanctification, to our being made more like Jesus. And Jesus was the suffering servant who said that the world would hate his own. Brothers and sisters, most of us have been materially blessed, there’s no doubt of that, but our true blessings from the Father are faith and obedience and the desire to reflect our King with the entirety of our being. So, please, by the grace of God, do not buy into the lie of the devil that you can have your best life now. We are not called to material prosperity, we are called to be conformed to the image of the suffering servant, Jesus Christ, who gave up everything, including his life, for his children.
Make no mistake, though, God has given those of us in the New Covenant responsibilities. I’ve already mentioned the command for us to not forsake the assembly of God’s people. The Great Commission is another one. We are commanded to preach the gospel to unbelievers. And unbelievers surround us daily. Yet, sadly, we are often far more concerned about our standing at work and in our neighborhood, and in keeping peace amongst our family and friends than we are about obeying our King through the faithful sharing of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters in Christ, if that’s you, repent and trust that God’s grace is sufficient because the power of the covenant is not dependent on us.
In the very next verse, verse 12, we read, “Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him.” But let’s not miss verses 13 and 14 which say, “13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, “I am with you, declares the Lord.” 14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.” Obedience is the result of God’s work in our hearts. It’s an outworking of our faith and the immeasurable joy we have in our salvation through faith in Jesus. How comforting it is that when God calls us to obedience, He also says, “I am with you,” and causes our spirits, our hearts to obey. And that brings us to our second point:
No matter the burden, no matter the weight, no matter the trial, be it temptation to sin or temptation to doubt God’s goodness during sickness or other hard providences, God’s grace is sufficient. While praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, no less than King Jesus himself prayed that God the Father would protect his children from the evil one, and Jesus prayed that those of us who are repenting of our sins and placing our faith in him would be sanctified in the truth. Our risen King and Savior and High Priest is now sitting at the right hand of God the Father, making intercession for us, asking that through the power of the Holy Spirit, God the Father would protect us from sin and temptation and that we would be sanctified for his glory. Truly, God’s grace is most sufficient.
Let’s be honest, though, there are many moments of discouragement as the people of God. The devil, the world, and our own sin seek to place obstacles in our life in order to hinder us from living a life of faithful obedience as God’s covenant people. The accusations of intolerance and being bigots tempt us to mute our Christian presence in the world. We’re tempted to be a “silent” Christian in our places of work, in our neighborhoods, and around our unbelieving friends and family members. But there’s no such thing as a “silent” Christian. We’re called to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ crucified. Proclaim the gospel with our mouth. Regardless of what popular books tempt us to believe, we cannot get away with just living the gospel. That belief that says that our lives of kindness and generosity, that if our lives are marked by merciful love, we have shared the gospel in obedience to King Jesus. We have not. We have disobeyed. We must speak the Gospel. We must declare with words that all are sinners and stand condemned before the throne of God and are under God’s just wrath. And that apart from the repentance of sins and faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, sinners will enter eternity under God’s wrath and suffer for all eternity the just punishment for their sins. “14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Romans 10:14
Although, even those moments when we seek to obey God as an outworking of our joy and thankfulness in our salvation, we often find ourselves discouraged. Our efforts through the preaching of the gospel seems to bear little or even no fruit. We are tempted to believe that we are tilting at windmills, as we weep at the idols of sin in our heart that are obscuring our view of Jesus. But let’s look to God’s word for encouragement.
Please follow along as I read Haggai 2:1-5. “In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet: 2 “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, 3 ‘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? 4 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, 5 according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.’”
As the returned exiles obediently labored to rebuild the Temple, as they sought to reorient their priorities to make pursuing God’s kingdom first, it was obvious that their efforts did not match the former glory of the Temple built by Solomon.
In His mercy, God recognized their discouragement. God didn’t shame them for their discouragement. He didn’t scold them. Instead, God lovingly reminded them that they can take heart and be strong in their efforts because He is with them. The Creator of the universe, the God who miraculously brought them out of Egypt is with them. Look again at verse 5 “My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.”
This encouraging, loving, and gracious admonishment echoes Moses’ prophetic words spoken in Deuteronomy 31:6. “6 Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”
God’s presence among God’s people is the power of the covenant; the power to serve God in joyful obedience is provided by God through God. For the returned exiles, the continued presence of God’s spirit is confirmation that God is committed to keeping His promise to be their God and to make them His people.
Those of us under the New Covenant have that same promise, that same assurance. After his resurrection, before ascending back to heaven, Jesus promised his disciples that they “will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you (Acts 1:8).” Our King did not leave us a job to do for which he hasn’t provided us the means to accomplish it. And the promise of the Holy Spirit is directly connected to Jesus’ call for obedience. In John 14:15-17 we learn from the lips of Jesus that, “15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
We are called to a life of obedience, that’s true, but, in His mercy, God provides the power to live that life of obedience. Like the people in the book of Haggai, obey Jesus and hear the comforting Words of God that “My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.”
Our labors are not in vain, brothers and sisters. And I encourage you to praise God for the power of the Holy Spirit and ask for obedience. We don’t have to rely on our own strength. If we are repenting of our sins and placing our faith in Jesus, if we are truly God’s people through faith, we have the power of God. King Jesus promised us that. Furthermore, Jesus is not only King, he’s our high priest sitting at the right hand of God the Father advocating for us. God will hear our prayers for obedience because He hears His son. And God the Father will bless us like He promised to bless the returned exiles in Haggai. Which is our third point:
Please follow along as I read Haggai 2:6-9, actually, I’m going to pick back up in verse 5. “5 according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. 6 For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. 7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. 9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’”
Part of God’s blessings is that He speaks to His people. The phrase “says the Lord of hosts” is throughout the book of Haggai. And God continues to graciously speak to His people today, primarily in and through His word, the Bible. Do not voluntarily cut yourself off from God’s blessings by failing to regularly listen to God’s voice through the reading of the Bible.
That “yet once more, in a little while” in verse 6 is another way of saying “now, but not yet.” In other words, the returned exiles will see aspects of the promises that follow verse 6 fulfilled, but the full weight and glory of those promises are eschatological, in the future.
I want to make note of the word “shake” that appears in verses 6 and 7. The word is often used as a theophany (a visible manifestation of God), and it is most often associated with the shudderings of creation on the Day of the Lord. Isaiah 24:18, speaking of YHWH bringing judgment on the day of the Lord, “For the windows of heaven are opened, and the foundations of the earth tremble.” Ezekiel 38:20, “And all the people who are on the face of the earth shall quake at my presence. And the mountains shall be thrown down, and the cliffs shall fall, and every wall shall tumble to the ground.”
In Haggai, however, the theophany is applied a little differently, to a new activity of YHWH, although the aspect of divine judgment is still present. But the application is expanded, and it’s revealed that on the Day of the Lord, God’s presence will also bring blessings to God’s people. Specifically, those blessings are connected to the house of the Lord, the Temple.
God declares that more than just the Temple treasures that were stolen will fill the Temple; according to verse 7, the treasures of all nations shall come in. Job 41:11 tells us that “Whatever is under the whole heaven is [God’s].” On the day of the Lord, the kingdoms and peoples of this world will no longer be able to delude themselves into believing that what they have is theirs. All the treasures of the world belong to God. And this is one of the reasons why the returned exiles, and us, for that matter, understand this to be eschatological. Even Solomon’s Temple couldn’t have contained all the treasures of the world. The Temple is pointing to something greater, something bigger. To a time when all the world will live in obedience before God and will recognize that all the fullness of the world is Gods, and God’s people will continuously worship in His presence without ceasing, because on that day, God’s presence will never come to an end.
And ultimately the glory of the Temple is the presence of God. The covenant blessing is God Himself. The story of the Bible, the movement forward of the redemption of God’s people has at its heart, the full communion of God’s people with God. In the beginning, God made Adam and Eve to enjoy His good world primarily through the blessing of being in right and full relationship with Him. The greatest tragedy of sin isn’t that we lost the Garden of Eden, although that is tragic. The greatest tragedy is that sin separates us from God. After Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden, an ethical divide opened up separating the Creator from the created.
That ethical divide has been and remains a problem. Because God is holy and just, sin has to be dealt with. If God were to simply ignore or pardon sin, He would cease to be God, because He would cease to be just. So, if God is holy, set apart from sin, and He is; and if God is just, punishes sin, and He is and does, how can an unholy people enjoy the blessings of God, which, as we’ve seen, the ultimate blessing is God Himself? How can a sinful people receive God’s presence? Or, to put it another way, how can a holy and just God give of Himself to a sinful people?
Follow along as I read Haggai 2:10-14, “10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, 11 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: 12 ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” 14 Then Haggai answered and said, “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the Lord, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean.”
Do you see the problem? The people are unclean. In the midst of this section about God’s covenant blessings, there’s an obstacle. How can God bless an unclean people? You may be here this morning very aware of your uncleanness. The weight of the awful things that you have done this past week may be breaking your heart, to make matters worse, you know from your past history that you will continue to do those awful things. You are trapped in a cycle of wrongdoing and guilt. You are unclean, and you know it. So what does Haggai have to offer you?
Way back in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, God, in His kindness, set up a system, what we refer to as the “ceremonial law,” that allowed His unholy people to have a relationship with Him, to enjoy His blessings. All those rules and regulations we read about in Exodus through Deuteronomy were a gift from God to enable His people to enjoy and benefit from His presence. Many of us tend to look at the ceremonial law given to the ancient people of Israel as heavy-handed and smothering. On one hand, they are problematic, which is wrapped up in the reason God instituted them, and, Lord willing, we’ll get to that in a moment. But, all of those laws and rules and regulations were a kindness of God. They allowed God’s people to enjoy the blessings of God.
But, and when I said that we’ll get back to this in just a moment, I literally meant “just a moment,” the law also served to highlight the people’s guilt of sin before God. Because, you see, the law was unable to fully and finally take away the sins of God’s people. Look again at Haggai 2:12-14. And I’m not going to reread the verses, but I want us to see three points – meat that’s been sanctified to the Lord, made holy, does not make the person who touches it holy. On the flip side, touching something unclean, unholy, verse 13 uses the example of a dead body, makes the person unclean, unholy. Because of that, the people’s offerings are unclean, unholy. To put it another way, and borrowing the words of theologian Andrew Hill, it’s a theological truth that “holiness is not transferable; impurity is transferable.”
Part of what’s wrapped up in this is that the people believed that the ceremonial law actually and fully cleansed them of their unholiness. In other words, the people believed that God’s blessings were the payment or reward for their actions. God, through the prophet Haggai is disabusing them of this notion. No matter how diligently they keep the law, no matter how hard they try, according to verse 14, “every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean.” The people of Israel were unclean at a heart level, and the law could not and did not change their hearts. The returned exiles remained unclean, and stood guilty before the throne of God. The people of Israel made the mistake of believing that God being true to His promises was somehow their doing.
Let’s not kid ourselves, though, we, too, are tempted to believe that our actions, our good deeds, our charity work, mean that we have bridged the ethical divide that separates us from God. Many times, we believe that because we attend church regularly, remain faithful to our spouse, our obedience to our covenant responsibilities, all good and right things, but we believe those things are what determine our standing before God. Haggai 2:12-14 disabuses us of that faulty assumption, too.
In the very next breath, or, rather, in the very next brush stroke from his pen, the prophet Haggai asks the returned exiles to consider the ways in which God has punished them. Look at verses 15- through the first half of verse17, “15 Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord, 16 how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. 17 I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail,”
The just and righteous Creator of the Universe rightfully and lovingly disciplined His people. Except, finishing verse 17, we find that, “yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord.”
God’s punishment did not cleanse them of their sin. The people remained unholy. Which makes verses 18 and 19 so surprising as to be almost shocking. Listen to what God promises His unholy people after pointing out the fact that nothing that has been done, either through their actions, their adherence to the ceremonial law, or even His divine punishment, has fixed the real problem. Their hearts are still sinful. But listen to verses 18 and 19, “18 Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord‘s temple was laid, consider: 19 Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.”
God has not forgotten His covenant. He will fulfill His promises. Even though the peoples’ hands are unclean, even though God’s people have failed to fully keep the covenant stipulations, God will bless, because God promised to fulfill all the demands of His covenant with His people.
But, considering verses 12-14, how can this be? How is God going to do this? Unholiness, sin, has to be dealt with. God can’t overlook it for all eternity. How can God remain God and fulfill His promise to bless a sinful people? In our final point, Covenant Promise, we find the answer to that question.
Let’s read the final four verses of Haggai. Haggai 2:20-23, “20 The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, 21 “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, 22 and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. 23 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.”
The summary of that promise is that God is announcing the salvation and restoration of His people through the covenant line of David.
Verses 21 and 22 are a restatement of the theophany of verses 6 and 7 – verse 21 “shake the heavens and the earth” and that leads to the overthrowing of the throne of kingdoms and the destruction of the strength of the kingdoms of the nations. Which, if you remember what we looked at in verses 6 and 7, is back to how the theophany of shaking is most often used in the Bible. In verses 6 and 7, the application is expanded to include blessings heaped upon the people of God, specifically the blessing of God’s presence. But as Haggai closes, the emphasis shifts back to God’s judgment on those who are not His people.
That judgment will destroy the enemies of Jerusalem, the enemies of God. In one of the many prophetic utterances about this day that can be found throughout the Bible, Psalm 2 asks the question, “Why do the nations rage and the people plot in vain?” And it’s a rhetorical question because the Psalmist paints a vivid picture in verse 4, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.”
Friend, if your view of God does not take into account the God of Psalm 2:4, a God who sits in the heavens and laughs at the rebellion of sinful people and who holds His enemies in derision, then I submit to you that you are not confronting yourself with the God of the Bible.
In Haggai 2:22, we see not just the overthrow of the kingdoms’ thrones, but the total devastation wrought by God. Look again at the end of verse 22 where it’s written, “And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother.”
As the horses and their riders are overthrown, the mass confusion and panic will result in the enemies of God turning on each other. And this is a motif that’s presented throughout the Bible, one notable example is found in the story of Gideon. And don’t we see this in the self-destructive power of sin? As rebellion against God, sin is the reversal of God’s good order and it wreaks havoc everywhere it touches. The destructive power of sin is writ large across the history of the world with things like the mounting death tolls of those murdered or slaughtered by greedy, power-hungry rulers. Bringing it down to a personal level, we can look back over our life and see how sin has destroyed relationships, our health, and has caused us to spend nights in despair. There is coming a day when God is going to turn the destructive power of sin in on itself, and utterly and finally defeat sin and death. And whose side are you going to find yourself on that day?
Furthermore, when is this day going to happen? Earlier, we saw how the covenant blessings were eschatological in nature (in the future); the returned exiles understood that the full riches of the covenant blessings were still to come. Well, verse 23 tells us that “On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Sheiltiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.”
So, does verse 23 mean that this day has already happened? Was Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah in 520 B.C. the culmination of God’s promises? Promises going back to Genesis 3:15 when God promised to send a savior to crush the head of the serpent? Well, yes and no. To help us make sense of that, I’m going to read from 2 Samuel 7:12-13.
“12 When your (David’s) days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
Throughout the Old Testament, we see this promise of the eternality of the Davidic line in reference to Solomon, Hezekiah, among others, and a future King that is left unnamed. In Psalm 110:1, David says, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” (what a vivid picture; Christians of all people should love poetry)
We see this pattern in the OT of the promise to David being partially fulfilled in the successive kings of Judah. Yet, each King falls short of being the fulfillment of God’s promises. The Israelites, including David as we saw in Psalm 110:1, knew that there was a coming eschatological King. Zerubbabel is part of this pattern. In verse 23, God calls Zerubbabel “my servant” and promised to make him “like a signet ring, for I have chosen you.” Throughout the Old Testament, God calls those whom he has set apart for a special task, “my servant.” This is especially true in connection to King David and the Davidic line, a line to which Zerubbabel belongs.
And this has already been set up in Haggai 2:6 with the language of now, not yet. God is letting the returned exiles know that He has not forgotten His promises; that He is still working in history for the final and full salvation of His people. And like how the rebuilt Temple points to something greater, so does Zerubbabel, in whom the line of David continues.
To whom, then, (this unknown king) is Zerubbabel pointing?
Before we answer that, we need to remind ourselves that the problem for the returned exiles still remains; if, in the 6th century BC, this promised king had returned in wrath and vengeance as promised in Haggai 2:21-22, God’ people would’ve been crushed, because as we saw in verse 14, God’s people are fundamentally unholy. Thankfully, Haggai points forward to the one in whom God is going to finally and fully overcome the obstacle of His peoples’ sin.
When our son was a little younger, Danita and I could tell when he wasn’t listening during family devotions because he would answer “Jesus” no matter what we asked. “How many animals did Noah take on the Ark?” “Jesus.” And, to be fair, that’s not a bad answer. Because Jesus is what this Book is all about. Every chapter, every word, every beat is about Jesus Christ.
Three books after Haggai, the New Covenant, or as we translate it, the New Testament begins with Matthew. And the very first thing that we read in Matthew, in the New Testament is, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David the son Abraham.” The next 17 verses provide that genealogy, starting with Abraham, includes David, and concludes, of course, with Jesus, who is called Christ. But, the last half of verse 12 of Matthew 1 includes, “and Shealtiel, the father of Zerubbabel.”
Like Abraham, like David, Zerubbabel is a picture pointing to Jesus. But how did Jesus accomplish what David couldn’t? What Zerubbabel couldn’t? What the ceremonial law couldn’t accomplish?
Chapter 9 in the book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus secured the eternal redemption of his people through the shedding of his own sinless blood. Which, according to Hebrews 9:15, makes Jesus “the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” Furthermore, as the book of Hebrews comes to a close, the writer connects that promised eternal inheritance with Haggai. Hebrews 12:25-26. “25 See that you do not refuse him (Jesus) who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time (Jesus’ earthly ministry) his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”
The Day of the Lord that the ancient Israelites were looking ahead to finds its culmination in the final return of King Jesus. The Second Advent. And on that day, Jesus will finally and fully bestow all of God’s blessings on God’s people and he will finally and fully destroy those who are not God’s people, condemning them to an eternity of suffering as the just payment for their sin before God.
Often, though, many of us miss how God’s promises to Abraham and David and the returned exiles we read about in Haggai apply to us in 2017. Yet, the promises are for us today. They are a correction to those of us who are convincing ourselves that our good deeds are enough to repair our relationship with God. They are for those of us who are struggling in our sins, who feel our uncleanness.
Friend, if you’re here this morning, and you’re counting on your good works. Or, if your heart is despairing over your sin, listen to this good word, God’s solution for overcoming sin and restoring relationship with Him.
Going back to where we started this morning, Genesis 15, God’s covenant with Abraham is held out to us as our only hope in life and death. Remember, in that covenant, God promised to make Abraham’s descendants His people, and then God took on the curse of death, knowing that Abraham’s descendants would fail to obey the covenant stipulations.
And when in history did that curse of death fall on God? On the cross, Jesus took upon himself the curse of death for the sins of God’s people.
Friend, if you are counting on your own strength, your own good works to satisfy God’s covenant demands, you are under the curse of death. You are among the riders of Haggai 2:22 that are going to be destroyed on the day of the Lord.
In His mercy and grace, though, by taking the curse of death upon Himself, God is making a nation of faith through the line of Abraham. The Apostle Paul provides exegetical support for this in Romans 9 where he writes that not all who are physically descended from Abraham are the promised offspring of Abraham, not all of Abraham’s physical descendants are God’s people. In Galatians 3:7, leaving no room for doubt, Paul writes, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” It is those who are placing their faith in God’s promised Savior, who is Jesus Christ our Lord, who are the recipients of God’s covenant blessings. That was true in Haggai’s day, and it’s true in 2017.
Friend, the only way to enjoy God’s blessings is to accept His solution to your sin. Repenting of your sins and placing your faith in Jesus, who lived the sinless life that none of us can, obeying God’s covenant stipulations for us, took upon himself the curse of death that is the just and righteous payment for those who break God’s covenant stipulations, who break God’s law (which is all of us), and who was then raised from the dead three days after his death and is now sitting at the right hand of God the Father, faith in Jesus is the only way to restore a right relationship with God and enjoy His covenant blessings for all eternity. Friend, if you want to know more about that, about the salvation from sin won by Jesus, Lord willing, I’ll be at the back door after we conclude. Please talk to me; I would love to tell you more about Jesus.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, hear the word of God delivered to us by the ancient prophet Haggai. Rejoice in your salvation; rejoice in the knowledge that God the Father has not forgotten His promises, and pray for the faith to obey Jesus as a thanksgiving for your salvation and for the glory of God. Let’s pray.
Soli Deo Gloria