Today's passage is Haggai 2:10-23. This passage is not an easy one to understand at first, but stick with me and you're going to learn some powerful lessons. Let's go!
Haggai 2:11 (NIV)
11 "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Ask the priests what the law says:
On verse 11: Just as the Lord asked Haggai to test and question the priests about the Jewish law, as priests in God's kingdom you and I need to know the word of God well so that we can answer the questions God places on the hearts of people around us. May you study the Scriptures well and be a servant of God "who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).
Haggai 2:12-14 (NIV)
12 If 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."
13 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."
14 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.
On verses 12-14: God gets Haggai to ask the priests two questions:
Question 1: If someone carries a piece of holy, sacrificed meat in their pocket, and their pocket touches some bread, stew, wine, oil or other food, does that other food become holy too?
Answer: The priests correctly answer "No". The fact is: the Jewish law did provide that under circumstances, when something or someone considered to be holy directly touched an object, that object was deemed to be holy too. (For example, see Exodus 29:37, Exodus 30:26-29, Leviticus 6:18, and Leviticus 6:27.) But the Jewish law did not provide that an object could receive holiness second-hand. In other words, the pocket could become holy by touching the holy, sacrificed meat, but other objects could not become holy by touching the pocket. What's a lesson for us here? You need a direct touch from God. You won't become automatically holy just by touching someone who you think has been touched by God. Similarly, you won't become automatically holy (that is, acceptable to God and saved from your sins) just because your parent or grandparent is a Christian or just because you go to church. To be holy, you need a direct touch from God. God Himself needs to touch you. Fortunately, Jesus Christ, who is God in the flesh, came to touch us and make us holy. We can all receive a direct touch from God by receiving Jesus Christ into our hearts.
Question 2: If someone who became unclean by touching a dead body touches some bread, stew, wine, oil or other food, does that other food become unclean? The priests correctly answer "Yes". According to the Jewish law, a priest could become unclean by touching something that had touched a dead body (Leviticus 22:4). What's a lesson for us here? To be holy, you need a direct touch from God, but sin and corruption can pass much more easily and indirectly from one thing/person to the next.
What is Haggai's point in asking these questions? Haggai is speaking about the poor spiritual condition of the people and how their poor spiritual condition affects their work of rebuilding the temple. Haggai says in verse 14: "'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." In other words, because the people had not fully repented of their sinful ways, the work they were doing of rebuilding the temple was not pleasing to God. God wanted the Jews to rebuild the temple, but He didn't just want their service. He wanted their hearts.
What can we learn from this? Don't assume that just because you are engaged in what looks like God's holy work, whether it's going on a short-term mission trip, or going to church, or serving, that God does not care about the sinful habits that still hinder your life. God doesn't just want your service. He wants your heart.
Haggai 2:15-17 (NIV)
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.
16 When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty.
17 I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not turn to me,' declares the LORD.
On verses 15-17: Haggai tells the priests to "give careful thought" (one of Haggai's favourite phrases) to the state of their people both before they started rebuilding the temple (v15). He points out that before the rebuilding work began, the people experienced great lack (v16) and challenging conditions such as blight, mildew and hail (v17). Haggai says that God allowed these difficulties to happen, "yet you did not return to me" (v17b). What can we learn from this? God allows difficulties in our lives not to punish us, but to draw us near to Him. So when you're going through difficulties, don't run away from God; run to Him. A problem in your life can actually become a blessing if because of that problem you draw you near to God and know God more intimately as a result.
Haggai 2:18-19 (NIV)
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:
19 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. "'From this day on I will bless you.'"
On verses 18-19: Next Haggai tells the priests to give careful thought to the state of their people after they started rebuilding the temple three months earlier. He points out that the people are still experiencing lack and fruitlessness (v19a). Why is that? One reason was a lack of repentance. The people got busy rebuilding before they got busy repenting. Yet for any rebuild to be successful, repentance is necessary. A second reason was time. It's easy to get excited about a project at the beginning when everything is fresh and new. But God's greatest blessings are reserved for those who persevere. In Haggai 2, three months of rebuilding work had elapsed before God spoke the words, "From this day on I will bless you" (v19). Similarly, God has an appointed time to pour out His blessing on your life, family, and ministry, but if you don't persevere and wait around for that time, you will miss that day of blessing. Don't give up. The prize goes to those who persevere.
Haggai 2:20-23 (NIV)
20 The 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.
22 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.
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."
On verses 20-23: After speaking a word to the priests, that same day Haggai receives a word from God for governor Zerubbabel personally. (Don't be surprised if God has more than one thing to say to you in a day, or wants to speak to you more than once!)
For 16 years Zerubbabel had been expending so much energy trying to lead the Jews in this project of rebuilding the temple. Zerubbabel maybe thought, "For 16 years I've been leading this project and it has been going nowhere. Look at us. We are such a small people compared to the rest of the world. What good is the work we're doing? What difference will it really make?" Yet in verses 20-23 God gives Zerubabbel a huge vision for his life. He tells Zerubbabel that he will be the Lord's "signet ring", a seal which God will use to stamp His name and glory on the earth. It's a vision so big that it seems to have heaven-shaking, world-changing implications (v21), one that involves the overturning of foreign rulers and the defeat of military powers (v22).
How could Zerubbabel's rebuilding of Solomon's temple have such big implications? As it turns out, the Lord was talking about something greater than rebuilding Solomon's temple. He was talking about ushering the coming of Jesus, the king of kings. For through Zerubabbel's family line, Jesus would be born. In fact, Zerubabbel is the only ancestor of Jesus who is mentioned both in his father Joseph's genealogy (Matthew 1:12) and his mother Mary's genealogy (Luke 3:27). Jesus would be the one through whom Zerubabbel would shake the nations and the earth and overturn all powers and authorities in this world.
So don't have a small view of your life and what you are now doing. God has a much bigger vision for your life than you think. Like a signet ring, God wants to use you to stamp His name where you are, on your generation and generations after you. May God use you like He did Zerubbabel, that because of you, others will know who Jesus is.
Heavenly Father, thank You that You want not just my service, but even more my heart. Thank You also for the big vision You have for my life. Because You have a big vision for my life, may I not give up using my time and talents for Your glory. It will all be worth it in the end. Use my life to stamp Your name and glory on this earth for generations to come. In Jesus' name, AMEN.
A Final Note on Haggai
That concludes our look at Haggai. It's such a short book but wow isn't it packed with so much powerful and practical truth? How has the Holy Spirit used this book in your life? What were the most important lessons you learned from this book? I encourage you to write them down and share them with me. I'd love to hear.