Hardships and Blessings

10On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Haggai: 11"This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Ask the priests what th e law says: 12If a person carries consecrated meat in the fold of his garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’" The priests answered, "No." 13Then Haggai said, "If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?"

"Yes," the priests replied, "it becomes defiled."

14Then Haggai said, "‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the Lord. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.

15"‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on—consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s temple. 16When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, the re were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. 17I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not turn to me,’ declares the Lord. 18‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: 19Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vi ne and the fig-tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.

"‘From this day on I will bless you.’"

About two months after the previous message (given in Haggai 2:1– 9), and exactly three months after the remnant resumed building the Temple, the Lord spoke to Haggai again: "On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month , in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Haggai." (vs. 10). In this message, as a teaching device, the Lord asks the priests (since they had the responsibility of answering questions concerning the Law of God ) some questions concerning the Law: "‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: "Ask the priests what the law says: If a person carries consecrated meat in the fold of his garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, oil o r other food, does it become consecrated?"’ The priests answered, ‘No.’ Then Haggai said, ‘If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?’ ‘Yes,’ the priests replied, ‘it becomes defiled.’ Then Haggai said, ‘"So it is with this people and this nation in my sight," declares the Lord. "Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled."’" (vss. 10–14). The Lord reminds them of the properties of clea n and unclean things. If something is consecrated, and touches something that is unclean, the unclean thing does not become consecrated. However, if something is defiled and touches something that is consecrated, the consecrated thing does become d efiled. This law of defilement is a fact of science, and logic, as well as a moral fact. We see it in life around us. If we have clean hands, and we pick up a dog that has been wallowing in the mud, our hands get dirty, the dog does not become cle an. Likewise, an eyedrop full of filth contaminates a barrel of pure water, so that none of the water is fit to drink. We also see this rule at work in the medical world. A healthy man cannot through contact heal a hospital full of sick people, bu t a sick man can make a gym full of healthy people sick.

In the same way, in the spiritual world, which the Lord is specifically addressing, that which is defiled cannot become consecrated through mere contact with that which is consecrated. The nation of Israel had become defiled, and so, as the Lord told them: "Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled" (vs. 14). Thus, none of their good works could make them holy. They were working on the Temple of God, by His command. Perhaps the people were thinking, "Well, this work that I am doing for the Lord is cleansing me from my sin." The Lord is telling them, "No, your consecrated works cannot cleanse you from your defilement." We must realize the same thing. Our good wor ks do not cleanse us from sin. Obedience to the law is a minimum requirement, not an added bonus. We do not get "brownie" points in heaven for obeying the Lord: obedience is expected. The Lord alone can cleanse us from defilement, and H e has prescribed the way that we may be purified from our sin. To the Israelites, the Lord required sacrificial rituals and ceremonial washing to cleanse them from sin. These rituals pointed to the ultimate method by which we may be purified: thro ugh the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who is "the atoning sacrifice for our sins" (I John 2:2). We have the revelation of Jesus Christ, and so, we are cleansed, not through good works of our own, but through acceptance of His atoning s acrifice.

So, the Lord wanted the Israelites to know that their holy work of building the Temple would not cleanse them from sin. He also wanted them to know that the previous hardships that they experienced were not due to their defiled state. The Lord sent the hardships to get their attention: "Now give careful thought to this from this day on––consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s Temple. When anyone came to a heap of twenty measure s, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not turn to me" (vss. 15––17). God sends hardships on His people to get their attention. If His people are not walking according to His will, He will use hardships as a tool to get them on the right track. In the case of the Israelites, the hardships were sent upon them not because they were a defiled na tion, but because God wanted to use them despite their defilement. Their hardships were a temporary result of their disobedience, not a permanent result of their defilement.

The Lord challenged them to discover these things for themselves. He said to them: "Now give careful thought to this from this day on––consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s Temple&q uot; (vs. 15). Things were rough before work on the Temple began, but things would get better because they began to be obedient to what the Lord wanted them to do: "From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth mont h, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig-tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit. Fro m this day on I will bless you" (vs. 18–19). The Lord told the Israelites ahead of time that He would bless them. They weren’t prospering yet. No seed was "left in the barn", and the "vine and fig-tree, the pomeg ranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit." Yet, the Lord assured them: "From this day on I will bless you." By telling them ahead of time that they would be blessed, despite their previous hardships, God would stren gthen their faith. They would realize that God is faithful to His promises. As a result, they would be strengthened in their work for Him. They would see that, despite all the time they were putting in to serve Him, they were still being blessed w ith prosperity.

And this is a challenge also to you. Look at your life. "Give careful thought" to your life. Is God trying to get your attention the same way He was trying to get the attention of the Israelites? Are you faci ng trials? Is life toilsome, an uphill battle? Are you expecting a "heap of twenty measures", but finding only ten? It could very well be, then, that God is trying to get your attention, trying to get you to turn to Him. You need to rearrange your priorities. You need to put God and His work first. Test Him in this. Resolve to put God’s work at the top of your priority list, and then "give careful thought to this from this day on." Note the difference of how things were before and after you put Him first. I am sure you will find, in many ways, the results of God saying to you: "From this day on I will bless you."

 

On That Day

20The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21"Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I will shake the heavens and the earth. 22I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.

23"‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty."

When the Lord promised the Israelites, "From this day on I will bless you" (vs. 19), He was speaking, not only to the Israelites who were there individually, but also to Israel as a nation in posterity. To confirm this, the Lord gave a final message to Haggai concerning what would happen in the future. First, He told of what would happen to the nations around Israel: "Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I will shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother" (vss. 21–22). The world will pass away. Even the greatest of nations will be shaken by the Lord. Nothing in the world is truly lasting. We should take this to heart and put our trust in Him who is everlasting.

For Zerubbabel, the governor of Israel, the Lord had a special promise: "‘On that day’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty" (vs. 23). This promise is prophetic of a descendant of Zerubbabel. The promise clearly did not apply to Zerubbabel himself, because it spoke of the time ("on that day ") when the Lord would "shake the heavens and the earth" (vs. 21). No, the Lord was speaking prophetically of an offspring of Zerubbabel and a successor in the office he held as "governor of Judah" (vs. 21) .

Zerubbabel was a direct descendant of David, on the royal line. This is probably why he was chosen to be governor of Judah. At that time, though, the royal line of Judah was under the judgment of God. The last king of Israel, Ze rubabbel’s ancestor Jehoiachin (also known as Coniah) was the evil king who broke the camel’s back (so to speak). The Lord told him: "As surely as I live... even if you Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my rig ht hand, I would still pull you off. I will hand you over to those who seek your life, those you fear––to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to the Babylonians" (Jer. 22:24–25). This of course happened, when the nation was taken into exile to Babylon.

Note that in both prophecies––the one made to Jehoiachin and the one made to Zerubbabel––the symbol of the "signet ring" is used. A "signet ring" was a ring with a seal on it, which was the legal stamp and signature of its owner. It was used to sign letters and legal documents. It was a prized possession of its owner, especially those in positions of power and honor. The royal line of David was supposed to be the signet ring of the Lord, His representative on earth, but they failed miserably, and so, after Jehoiachin, the Lord no longer saw them as His signet ring. However, in His message to Haggai, the Lord promised that honor would once again be restored to the royal line: "I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you." The judgment upon Jehoiachin would be reversed. The honor of the royal line would be restored in the person of Jesus Christ, who was a direct descendant of Zerubbabel (s ee Matt. 1:13; Luke 3:27). In His kingdom, there will be no end (see Luke 1:33). May the Lord be praised!

Home | Next Article | Back Issues | Table of Co ntents | Complete Index | Mailing List Request

To contact us:

ssper@aol.com