Haggai 3, “So is this people… before Me”

Intro: The book of Haggai is a series of 4 messages from God to His people. Last week we considered Haggai second message to the people of Israel.

  • His initial message was to get bust rebuilding the Temple, that had been abandoned for several years. His message was heeded and the work resumed.
  • His second message concerned the attitude that first caused them to quit working – Discouragement. He called them to not be dismayed at the outward glory of days gone by, but put their trust in God ability to fill His house with a future glory, greater than the past. God’s promise of His presence and coming peace was designed to overcome their discouragement.
  • Exactly 3 months after the work on the Temple began, Haggai received two more messages. We consider them both briefly today.

I. Haggai’s Third Message: Haggai 2:10-1410 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, saying, 11 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Now, ask the priests concerning the law, saying, 12 “If one carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the edge he touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will it become holy?”‘” Then the priests answered and said, “No.” 13 And Haggai said, “If one who is unclean because of a dead body touches any of these, will it be unclean?” So the priests answered and said, “It shall be unclean.” 14 Then Haggai answered and said, “‘So is this people, and so is this nation before Me,’ says the Lord, ‘and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean. The lesson contains an illustration and application.

A. The Illustration: God asks the two questions of the priests. This was appropriate as they were the ones who were to distinguish between the clean and the unclean, and to teach the people about holiness. The questions were not hard to answer.

1. If a priest carried holy meat (used in a sacrifice) in the fold of his garment, and the hem of that garment touched some other article of food, was that food made clean as well through contact? Was holiness transferrable? The correct answer was No.

2. On the other hand, if a person became unclean through contact with a dead body and then touched any of these things, would it become unclean? The answer was yes. The law had been clear on this question. If a high priest or a priest, a Nazarite, or any from among the people touched a dead body, he would be unclean, and everything touched by him became unclean. Num 19:22 – “Whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean; and the person who touches it shall be unclean until evening.'” Uncleanness was transferrable.

3. You go to a restaurant where you can watch the food being prepared (Japanese steak house) The cook lays out the raw meat on the cutting board and cut the portions to size. Then, after placing the raw meat on the grill, he gets the vegetables and places them on the same cutting board in the juices of the raw meat. You object that he is going to get everybody sick and he tells you that the cleanliness of the fresh veggies will sanitize the cutting board. Sound reasonable or are you going to find another place to eat? Have you cured your illness by standing next to a well person? Have you ever gotten sick by touching a sick person?

B. The application: Haggai 2:14Then Haggai answered and said, “‘So is this people, and so is this nation before Me,’ says the Lord, ‘and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean. The illustration of cleanness and uncleanness pointed to the principle of acceptability and accessibility toward God. That which was unclean was unacceptable, and only the clean had access to God. It also described what could be used by God for His purposes. The items used in the Temple (even the priests themselves) had to be made clean. If they became unclean they could not be used until they became clean again. Haggai announces God’s judgment- So is this people – what they offer there is unclean.

1. Upon returning from exile, the remnant had almost immediately erected the altar and began offering sacrifices (Ezra 3:31). But during that time they had neglected the work on the Temple. The “holiness” of those sacrifices and returning to “the Holy City” did not transfer to the rest of their lives and make them acceptable to God. In fact, because sin is contagious and defiling, their neglect made the sacrifices they were offering “unclean”.

a. Hailey says that the “every work of their hands” (v. 14) more accurately describes their agricultural pursuits (their efforts to support themselves). Things were not as good as they anticipated and there was a reason why. Hailey writes…“Neither the land to which they had returned nor the altar they had erected imparted holiness; they were yet unclean. “The work of your hands” is used in verse 17 of the produce of the land. In whatever way the people had defiled themselves, they had communicated their uncleanness to the products of the land so that what they offered in sacrifice on the altar had been unclean. They were looking for Jehovah’s blessings prematurely; they must first cleanse themselves of their defilement, and then they could expect His presence among them and His blessings on them.”

2. “.. carefully consider from this day forward” (Hag 2:15) Haggai returns to a word he uses 5 times in his four messages. Consider -( literally, to set your heart upon) – pay close attention to what is happening, to your circumstances. Sometimes we are not really paying attention, only complaining.

a. He bids them to look back from that day to the days before the work on the Temple began (14 years ago). Things have not been as good as you expected (v. 16) God explains that their meager crops, scanty wages, and the natural calamities they experienced were instruments He had used to cause them to repent, “yet you did not turn to Me,’ says the Lord. (2:17).

3. “But from his day I will bless you” (Hag 2:19). Despite their previous neglect they could expect the future to be better because now they were being obedient. All production and fruitfulness depends on Jehovah. The day of their obedience marked a turning point in their lives. Things will be different. Matthew Henry comments …”Set the wheels a going, and God will oil them”. Later Malachi would also reiterate this principle to them ..”Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith Jehovah of hosts” (Mal. 3:7).

II. Haggai’s Fourth Message: Haggai 2:20-2320 And again the word of the Lord came to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, saying, 21 “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying: ‘I will shake heaven and earth. 22 I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms. I will overthrow the chariots And those who ride in them; The horses and their riders shall come down, Every one by the sword of his brother. 23 ‘In that day,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtiel,’ says the Lord, ‘and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you,’ says the Lord of hosts.” On the same day that Haggai received and delivered his final message – a message of hope and assurance. This message looks beyond the material blessings to the fulfillment of the spiritual hope in their leader, Zerubbabel. The message is addressed to Zerubbabel himself.

A. ” I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms..” The first element of God’s promise to Zerubabbel is the coming judgment against his enemies. God would “destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations“, each in its own time, using one evil nation to defeat the previous one (“everyone by the sword of his brother”). As is repeatedly brought out in the prophets, Jehovah uses the heathen nations against each other to fulfill His purposes for His people.

B. The second element is the personal promise to Zerubabbel that in the day in which Jehovah brought done the power of the heathen nations, Zerubabbel would be made a signet ring (Hag 2:23). Zerubbabel is faithful and God is willing to honor him. Hailey writes… “The signet, or seal, was a ring or cylinder engraved with the owner’s name or some design. It was worn on the finger or on a cord about the neck, and was used to make an impression of ownership or authorship on clay tablets;” The signet represented the authority or right of the king.

1. As Judah went into captivity, God had declared of Coniah, king of Judah, that though he “were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck you off” (Jer. 22:24). Coniah was cast out and carried into Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, 597 B.C., “for no more shall a man of his seed prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling in Judah” (Jer. 22:30).

2. Jehovah’s promise to David (that one of his descendants would sit upon the throne of God’s kingdom forever, 2 Sam. 7) is now revived in Zerubbabel, David’s descendant through Coniah. This promise, though, is not fulfilled in Zerubbabel personally or physically as he never sits upon a throne. But this promise culminates spiritually in the coming of Jesus the Christ, from the lineage of Zerubabbel, who is raised from the dead to sit on the throne of David. Acts 2:30-32 – Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, 31 he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.32 This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.

III. Haggai’s Message to Us: As we view the prophecy of Haggai as a whole there are a few prominent principles that emerge as lessons for us today.

A. “Consider your ways” – God calls on His people to pay attention to the direction of their life and make a serious evaluation of how they are meeting their responsibility toward their Creator. It may be, as it was for the Israelites, that God has allowed us to suffer or be unfulfilled so that we might be encouraged to set our hearts upon Him, rather than ourselves. The N.T. consistently admonishes us to “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves...(2 Cor 13:5).

B. Put God’s Things First – Just as the returning exiles were persuaded to abandon the work on God’s temple and put their energy into their own houses (1:9), so we too can lose our spiritual focus and stay busy on the pursuits of this world. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness..” (Matt. 6:33)

C. Get to Work – We need to get busy building God’s house. Doing His work is the source of our fulfillment and God’s blessing. 1 Cor 15:58Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

D. Do not be Discouraged, but be Strong. – Just as the exiles, we also opposed in the work God has given us to do. That can be a source of great discouragement and dismay. Haggai told them to look to their God for the future, because He would “fill His house” and “the glory of the this latter Temple will be greater than the former, says the Lord of Hosts.” (1:7-9). God has the resources to fill our every need for the future. Galatians 6:9And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Hebrews 12:3-4 3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. 4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.

E. Seek God’s Blessing through Comprehensive Obedience. The Christian must never overlook the defiling, contaminating, and contagious nature of sin. Sin in one area of our lives can render us unclean. Said another way, regardless of how correct our position may be in some particular, unless we are striving to please God in all things we cannot expect God’s approval or blessing.

1. Often someone will ask, “Is that church sound”? The next question might be “on what?” Because correctness on any one issue or practice is not all that is involved in being right with God.

      • What good did it do for the remnant to offer sacrifices on the altar and refuse to build the temple? Holiness in one did not excuse their disobedience in the other.
      •  What good does it do for us to be straight on the issue of institutionalism and neglectful on the issue of evangelism or benevolence.
      •  What good does it do to worship God in song “without the instrument” and not be “instruments of righteousness” in word and deed?
      • What good does it do to “preach the truth in love” on the Lord’s day and “live a lie” on the weekdays? Someone has said, “If Jesus is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all!” Jesus said, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Lk. 6:46)

F. Live in anticipation of God’s Work – Haggai’s messages to Israel ended on the surety of God’s promises. He told unequivocally that there was a better day to come, and God would keep His promises. Even though we live on the other side of the coming of David’s Seed and the King of Kings in upon His throne, we continue to live by faith in the consummation of God’s work. His Temple is still being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. The glory of this latter Temple is greater than the former. We should live in the anticipation of His return.

Conclusion: Paul fairly well sums the message of Haggai in the following Scripture:

For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us, to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works. (Tit. 2:11-14)