Remarkable Declarations from Haggai
By Paul Robison

"Man's will is free because God's will is sovereign. ... Perhaps an illustration will help us understand this.  An ocean liner leaves New York City for Liverpool.  Its destination had been determined by the liner's directors.

Nothing can change this decision.  This is a faint picture of [God's] sovereignty.

On board the liner, there are many passengers.  These are not in chains, and neither are their activities determined.  [Some may have been suggested,] but they are completely free to move about as they will.  The eat, sleep, play, lounge, read, talk, as they please; but all the while, the great liner is carrying them steadily onward toward a predetermined port.  Both freedom and sovereignty are present here and do not contradict each other. . . . The mighty liner of God's design keeps its steady course over the sea of history.

God moves undisturbed and unhindered toward the fulfillment of those eternal purposes which He has purposed in Christ Jesus before the world began.  We do not know all that is included in those purposes, but enough has been [revealed] to furnish us with a broad outline of things to come and gives us good hope [if we faithfully obey God's will]" (Tozer in Swindoll).

A book among the prophets that illustrates well man's free will and God's sovereignty is Haggai.  If you'll recall from our last lesson, we learned that the prophets Zechariah and Haggai were co-workers to the Jews after they had returned from exile.  Hopefully, you'll remember some of the background from last week's lesson.  Remember how the Jews began to rebuild the temple, but then their enemies intervened and caused a new Persian king to halt the building, with only the foundations and altar being erected.  "During [the next 16 years of neglect], the people of Judah lost their vision and sense of spiritual purpose" (NSB).  "The condition of the Jews [was] wretched and miserable.   The cities and houses lay in rubble, the walls were torn down, and the land had been neglected for 50 years" (Hailey).  Someone said this about the times: "Unlike Joshua's generation, [these] Jews had no command from God to exterminate the other peoples in the land, nor were they enabled to do so.  They came not with might nor with power.  They came by permission of Cyrus [a foreign ruler].  Disillusion set in.  Cynicism found fertile soil.  Energies were turned to the business of making a living.  Hope was placed on a dusty shelf to be reconsidered when more time was available.  Enter Haggai and Zechariah" (Baylis).  So, God sends these prophets about 520 BC to encourage the people to stop working on their own houses and businesses, and to return to building His temple.  Someone else observed: "Haggai and Zechariah prophesied at a time when God's people needed a fresh challenge to finish the temple.  Haggai focused on the people's spiritual [indifference], while Zechariah declared the great things God would do in the future" (Arnonld/Beyer).  The work on the temple really began to pick up when another Persian king was written, who checked the previous records, and then gave the go ahead for the Jews to complete their temple and for others in the area to help them with the necessary supplies!  So Haggai was a person who was great encourager!  Someone said this of Haggai: "His duty was to take the scattered embers of national pride and piety and, with his inspired breath, kindle the flame anew" (Ward quoted in Yates).  Someone else said, "His eagerness and enthusiasm are still refreshing" (Bewer quoted in Yates).

Here's an outline that can help you to remember the four major prophecies that make up this book:

The people's work on the temple will be blessed (1:1-15);
The new temple itself will be blessed (2:1-9);
The Jews themselves will be blessed (2:10-19);
The Jews' leader will be blessed (2:20-23).
This book offers some remarkable declarations from God for our consideration.

The first remarkable declaration is seen in 1:7-9: "Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Consider your ways!  Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,' says the Lord.  'You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away.  Why?' says the Lord of hosts.  'Because My house is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house.'"  Here are four little words that reveal God's great power: "I blew it away."  The people had neglected building the temple for 16 years, and now God is challenging them to start back to work on it.  The people had sown much in the way of crops, but the harvests had been very small.  And when they finally got their barns filled with what little they had, God then affirms that He blew it way, just like wind blows away the chaff from the grain.  The Scriptures tell us that God's breath, just His breath alone, can cause frost, and fire, and force or life for an army (Job 37:10; Isaiah 30:33; Ezekiel 37:9-10)!  It is very sobering for us to think that God could easily take away all our possessions!  A farmer named Newt learned this firsthand.  This is true story.  He had a bumper wheat crop, so he built a new granary to store it all.  About two weeks later, a tornado touched down, hit his granary, and scattered his wheat all over Callahan county.  After this incident happened, he read this passage from Haggai, took it to heart as a judgment against himself, his selfishness, and his sinfulness, and then he promptly became a Christian!  Now this passages is not saying that all tornadoes come from God, but it does show us that God is powerful, and He can get our attention.  What Haggai wants the Jews to learn is that there was a direct connection between their poverty and their neglect of the temple (Baldwin).  Have we forgotten that behind all our mighty economy and great wealth, there is a God who is far mightier and much greater?  There's a simple little poem that illustrates this idea: "And back of the loaf is the wheat that waves on yonder hill.  And back of the hill is the sun, and the rain, and the holy Father's will."  You see, "The great impact from this verse is the truth that God simply will not bless a people [who are] determined NOT to do His will" (Coffman).  Are we putting our prosperity and our will before God's house and His desires?  An elder once made this insightful comparison: "Too often we are like the little boy building his castles, and roads, and cities in the sand by the sea.  He is so busy with the affairs of the moment and his world that he does not watch the creeping tide behind him.  In a moment, a sudden wave carries it all away, and he rushes in terror to his father's side.  Woe unto a man who finishes life with no enduring works and has no Eternal Father to whom he can run when all his earthly labors perish!  Have we forgotten the grand truth—Permanence is the final test of all values (Layton)?  Let's also consider our ways and put God's eternal kingdom first in our lives like Newt did, for if we don't put God's church and His desires first, God can simply upend all our plans and prosperity!  “I blew it away.”

The second remarkable declaration is seen in 1:13: "Then Haggai, the Lord's messenger, spoke the Lord's message to the people, saying, 'I am with you, says the Lord.'"  Here is God's messenger giving what God wants to be said to encourage the Jews, and that message is just four words that we need to remember too: "I am with you."  David said that he could walk through the valley of the shadow of death because God was with him (Psalm 23:4).  This is a wonderful promise for these Jews as they began to work on the temple once again.  It let them know: that God would help them in their work, that the reconstruction would be successful, that the opposition and various difficulties would be overcome.  To God's people, this [assurance] makes all the difference between despair and rejoicing, defeat and victory" (Austel).  Don't forget the last words that Jesus told His disciples in the last verse of Matthew's gospel: "And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age."  Just at God endorsed and strengthened the Jews' good resolves, so Jesus endorses and strengthens our good resolves as well.   A preacher made this good remark: "The greatest danger facing all of us . . . is that we may . . . be unconscious of life ablaze with the light of the Presence of God—and be content to have it so—that is the danger.  That some day we may wake up and find that we have been busy with the husks and trappings of life and have really missed life itself.  For life without God, to one who has known the riches and joy of life with Him, is unthinkable, [even] impossible" (Brooks quoted in White).  Whatever may be your circumstances, no matter how dark they may be, remember the light of the presence of Christ is saying, "I am with you.”  What a wonderful promise we as Christians share—Christ is always with us now and will be with us continually through eternity!  "I am with you."

The third remarkable declaration is now seen in 2:7: "'And I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the desire of all nations, and I will fill this temple with glory' says the Lord of hosts. 'The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,' says the Lord of hosts.  'The glory of this later temple shall be greater than the former' says the Lord of hosts."  "I will fill this temple with glory, a glory greater than that of Solomon's splendid temple!”  It's interesting that shortly after this promise, the king of Persia issues a decree for tax money from Israel's neighbors be used to help pay for the temple's construction and supplies (Ezra 6:8-10).  But the real fulfillment of this promise comes about 500 years later when King Herod the Great decides to expand this temple in 20 BC.  John 2:20 tells us that Herod worked on the temple's beautification for 46 years.  He added large court areas, a wall of warning to tell the Gentiles not to go beyond a certain point, more elaborate outer walls, several gates, some porch areas with many columns, cisterns, and towers!  As Jesus and His disciples left the temple area once, one of the disciples exclaimed: "Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here” (Mark 13:1)!  Yes, God had indeed kept His promise of making this temple even more glorious than that of Solomon's!  There is also another principle here worth remembering.  God is showing this idea: "Look, you do the work on the temple, and I'll do My part to glorify it."  And so it is with us as well: "As long as we are doing the work God has given us to do in accordance with His will [such as teaching the lost, feeding the hungry, helping the poor, and being a blessing], we are valued participants in God's great program of making His salvation known" (Austel).  If we'll worry about working and doing our part, we can count on God to make it even better than what we could ever imagine on His part!  Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:20 that God "is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think!"  "I will fill this temple with glory."

The next remarkable declaration is found in 2:9: "'And in this place, I will give peace,' says the Lord of hosts."  God's four word affirmation shows that He is the source of peace: "I will give peace."  The temple in Jerusalem would be a place of peace where peoples from all the world could come together and worship the supreme God.  It is interesting that when Jesus cleansed the temple, he said in Mark 11:17: “Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for the nations?'”  This was to be a place where all could come to pray.  Of course, under the new covenant, the Prince of Peace offers us His peace: "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  Jesus is our source of peace.  In fact, Paul proclaims in Ephesians 2:14: "For He Himself is our peace."  Then Paul explains further that Christ's church is the new creation where all people can be reconciled to each other and to God (Ephesians 2:15-18).  The point is that God and Christ are the sources of true peace.  Someone has rightly observed: "God . . . works always in tranquility.  Fuss and feverishness, anxiety, intensity, . . . and every kind of hurry and worry—these, even on the highest levels, are signs of the self-made and self-acting soul. . . . The saints are never like that.  They share the quiet and noble qualities of the great family to which they belong" (Underhill in Rowell).  Let's trust God and Christ to provide us lasting peace.  "I will give peace."

The next remarkable declaration is found in 2:16-17: "'... since those days, when one came to a heap of twenty ephahs, there were but ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw fifty baths from the press, there were twenty
[So the Jews were expecting abundant harvests, but they were not getting them.  Why?  Look at the next verse.]  I struck you with blight and mildew and hail in all the labors of your hands; yet you did not turn to Me,' says the Lord."  Literally, the text says that NONE of the Jews turned to the Lord.  Here we see God's judgment upon the Israelites in an effort to regain their loyalty.

"The Lord of the harvest has the power to withhold [the productivity] and so gives [a] warning [of] His displeasure to the these Jews" (Baldwin).  Moses had warned the Jews centuries before that if they forgot God, God would send disasters their way in order to try to get them to repent (Deuteronomy 28:22).

What's the point?  Well, "we have plenty of fungicides and insecticides; but no matter what [we] have, or fancy [we] have, [we] must also have the blessing of Almighty God in order to make it.  Israel did not have it, and they weren't making it" (Coffman)!  Job shows us disasters can be Satan's doings.  It's hard to know sometimes who is behind disastrous events, but all of them should make us stop and think: "Is God continuing to be our first love?  Are we exalting Him above all else?"  Let's keep God first.  "I struck you ... yet you did not turn to Me."

The next remarkable declaration is found in verse 19: "Is the seed still in the barn?  As yet the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yielded fruit.  But from this day, I will bless you."  God has been causing the harvests not to be productive, but from now on, God is going to bless the Jews' harvests.  Someone else puts it this way: "But the people are to mark this day, 18 December 518, as the beginning of a new era. . . . from this day on, they will begin to see the visible results of their obedience as their experienced eyes observe the beginnings of new and abundant harvests" (Austel).  From now on, God's blessing "will become a tangible reality" (Ibid).

The point?  Just as easily as God can withhold productivity, we see also that He can cause it to happen.  When we prosper, we had better be thankful to God for helping it to happen.  He is the source of all blessings.  James tells us: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights ..."  God's promise of blessing provides the Jews and us great assurance for we know that He will keep His word.  "But from this day, I will bless you."

The next remarkable declaration is seen in 2:22: "I will overthrow the chariots and those who ride in them."  Chariots were like our tanks today; they were the military machinery of Israel's day.  In the previous passage, God says that he will also overthrow thrones and Gentile kingdoms.  So, it is God again who is in control of international affairs, and His promise to help Israel overcome their enemies must have been welcome and comforting news, especially since the Jews were now living under a Persian king.  Someone reminds us of God's help with this little poem: "God's might to direct me; God's power to protect me.  God's wisdom for my learning; God's eye for my discerning.  God's ear for my hearing; God's Word for my clearing" (Patrick in Rowell).  Even as we assemble, God is in the business right now of overthrowing nations and chariots.  He is in control.  "I will overthrow the chariots."

The next remarkable declaration is seen 2:23: "'In that day,' says the Lord of hosts, 'I will take you, Zarubbabel My servant, the son of Shealitel,' says the Lord, 'and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you,' says the Lord of hosts."  "I will make you like a signet ring."  "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 [or on wax affixed to papyrus documents]. . . .  The signet was considered precious because it was the authentic designation of the owner" (Austel).  It was sort of like a logo today.

Just as God had said that Zerubbabel's grandfather would be a signet ring that He would pluck off His right hand and give away (Jer. 22:24-25), now we see the reversal, and God will make Zerubbabel His representative.  This "designation is one of high honor and privilege" (Austel), backed by God's authority and power (Coffman).  To be God's signet ring was to be very special!

God can exalt and lift us up too.  "Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time" (1 Peter 5:6).

"I will make you like a signet ring,"

One last remarkable declaration is found in 2:21: "I will shake heaven and earth."  "Great upheavals—political, social, and cosmic—are in God's program" (Austel).  God again will be the source of these changes.  We see that from after the Persians, God raised up the Grecians, and then the Romans, and then  many other nationalities since that day.  But all the changes that have taken place throughout history will be as nothing when compared to God's final shaking: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are therein will be burned up. . . . Nevertheless, we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Pt. 3:10 & 13).  Peter tells us that there will be the shake up and destruction of this creation's present order for an entirely new  order wherein only righteousness will exist!  Jesus is preparing this eternal abode for all His faithful disciples, and He will one day return to bring His church to that special place.  Let's remember that this eternal home is the ultimate end which God is designing.  "I will shake heaven and earth."

You see, we are the tape recorders, but God is the power pack!  Only through His strength and blessing can we find abundant living!  He is driving His ocean liner towards that time when He will give the creation its final shaking, but He allows us the freedom to chose how we will live.  Haggai encourages us to remember that God is the real source of our strength.  Let's meditate on these declarations, put our trust in God and His promises, and live lives that show others that we are depending totally upon Him!  If you've forgotten the Source of your strength or if you've been trusting more in your own strength or in temporary things, then confess to others here that you really need God's strength, and you want to depend more on Him in the future.  Let Christ give you His true and lasting peace!

“How does a portable tape recorder function?”  “That's easy, it works off of batteries.”  For a good recording, the batteries must be strong!  We've just seen some remarkable declarations that Haggai communicated to the Jews.  Now listen carefully: "I blew it away.  I am with you.  I will fill this temple with glory.  I will give peace.  I struck you.  I will bless you.  I will overthrow the chariots.  I will make you like a signet ring."  Don't these declarations sound like we are very dependent upon God and His strength?  Don't these declarations help us to see that we ourselves aren't really all that strong?