HAGGAI – CHAPTER 1
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
1:1. "In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and Joshua, the son of Josedech, the high priest,"
The opening phrase does more than pinpoint the time, for no small part of God's instruction is conveyed in the meanings of the Bible's names. Darius means investigation: the dwelling will be full of heaviness, and if we substitute that meaning for the name, the phrase becomes, "In the second year of investigation: the dwelling will be full of heaviness." The spiritual lesson is easily read, for in verse 5, and again in verse 7, God said, "Consider (investigate) your ways." The result of that investigation could have produced nothing but heaviness, both individually, and nationally, as they looked back over almost twenty wasted years during which they had failed to build God's house. Can there be any different result as we also investigate our ways? Must we not confess to delinquency, as great spiritually as theirs was literally, and surely there must be something wrong with the man, as well as the local church, who doesn't experience heaviness of heart resulting from that survey of wasted years during which we too have failed to build God's house?
Two is the Biblical number of testimony or witness, so the reference to its being "In the second year of Darius," testifies to the truth that the scepter had been taken from disobedient Israel and placed in the hand of the Gentile, where it will remain until it is taken up by the Prince of Peace in the soon coming Millennium.
Since a month is the twelfth part of a year, and twelve is the number of Divine government on display, we should always look for a message related to the display of God's government every time we encounter a Biblical reference to "month." (Israel in her twelve tribes was the living demonstration of God's government in operation. Obedience brought blessing; disobedience, chastisement. The Church, built upon the foundation of the twelve apostles, Eph 2:20, demonstrates the operation of that same government today. Obedience brings blessing, disobedience, chastisement).
Since six is the number of man, and therefore of weakness and sin, the reference to the sixth month declares that it was a time when Israel's weakness and disobedience were all too evident. But inasmuch as one (in its good sense) is the number of God, its being the first day of the month, tells us that it was also the time when His intervention was about to begin, to end the disobedience so that chastisement might be exchanged for blessing.
"... came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet." The instrument might be a mere man, but the word was that of the Lord, and was therefore to be obeyed. His name, incidentally, means my feasts, reminding us that he who bears God's Word to others, spreads a feast for those who obey it. Nor has time changed anything. God still deigns to use mere men, and when the man's message is admitted to be in harmony with Scripture, it is not to be despised because of the human instrument God has chosen to use. The message, whether in rebuke, exhortation, encouragement, or teaching, is to be received as from God.
"... unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest." Zerubbabel means melted by Babylon, the sorry state of the people he governed bearing eloquent testimony to the truth that Babylon had indeed apparently molded him to some extent at least, but since Babylon represents false religion, the lesson for believers today is that there is the danger that we too, may be influenced by the world's religious systems, to a greater degree than we are aware. Christendom, in fact, presents incontrovertible evidence that the professing church today is largely Babylonian in character.
His father's name Shealtiel means I have asked of God, reminding us that there had been a time when they had known nothing of Babylon's evil influence, and would never have known it but for their rebellion against God. We would do well to take the lesson to heart.
Since Judah, meaning he shall be praised, speaks of worship, Zerubbabel's being governor of Judah, declares the truth that as he himself had been "melted" or molded by Babylon, so had he helped, albeit unwittingly, to transmit a Babylonian spirit to those he governed. The spiritual lesson is easily read. It is her leaders who have been largely responsible for impressing the image of spiritual Babylon upon the professing church.
Joshua means Jehovah is salvation, and his father Josedech means Jehovah is the righteous one. There is nothing but good connected with these two names, and this, coupled with the fact that Zerubbabel is always mentioned first, seems to point to the truth that the miserable state of the people may have been attributable more to their secular than their religious lives. As we shall see a little later, in fact, the wretched state of the professing church is due largely, not to what her members do on Sunday, but to what they do Monday through Saturday.
An obvious question is, Why was the message addressed to both the civil and the religious leaders? and at least one answer suggests itself. God would teach us that the believer's life is not divisible into two parts, one for Lord's day, and the other for week days, one sacred, the other, secular. Had Zerubbabel alone been addressed it could have been concluded that Israel's fault lay in the failure of the civil administration. Had Joshua alone been addressed it could have been concluded that it was somehow due to failure on the part of the religious administration. Both were addressed, and in this God would teach us that spiritual success or failure is not the result of anything right or wrong in one part of my life: everything depends on the condition of the heart. If the heart is right with God, everything else will be right, the activity of Monday, as well as of Sunday; and if the heart isn't right, nothing else will be either. If my business life is wrong, my "religious" life will also be wrong, and vice versa.
1:2. "Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built,"
The Lord's anger is revealed in His description of them as "This people," rather than "My people," and remembering that the cause of His anger was their failure to build His house, we must ask ourselves, as individuals and as local churches, whether He hasn't reason to speak of us in the same manner. If we're honest, must we not admit that we have been equally delinquent in going out with the Gospel, so that there might be "living stones," the material needed by the Holy Spirit for the building of the invisible, but nonetheless real, house in which God dwells today?
They had been back in the land for almost twenty years, yet there was nothing to show for those years other than the foundation laid when they had first returned from Babylon. May we not detect in this the pattern of our own experience? Does it not remind us of a zeal we had once, but that is long since gone, that delighted in the building of God's house?
What had stopped them? The opposition of the enemy? Yes - but it takes more than enemy opposition to stop God's work. The adversary often finds a willing ally in the apathy of God's people themselves. He doesn't appear to have had much success in hindering the work when it involved the building of their own houses, "Is it time for you ... to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste?" verse 4. There is almost always an inverse correlation between the apparent urgency of our own business and God's?
But before looking at what had hindered them, we should take a moment to examine this matter of time. A Scripture that comes often to mind in regard to the peril of the unsaved, is, "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Co 6:2). It's easy to forget that that warning applies also to us in regard to spreading the Gospel. Today is the time to speak to that neighbor, that fellow employee, that relative.... Tomorrow he could be dead, or because of illness, incapable of hearing or understanding the message. Tomorrow I could be dead, or incapacitated mentally or physically. Tomorrow the Rapture could have occurred! Behold, NOW is the time to build God's house. For many, there will be no tomorrow!
1:3. "Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying,"
1:4. "Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?"
They had come back to a ruined city, and God knew that they needed houses to live in. There was nothing wrong with their having built or repaired houses for themselves, but that word "cieled" does more than describe their houses: it tells us something about the people themselves. The rich dwelt in cieled (wainscoted or paneled) houses. This remnant, returned from Babylon, had begun to build God's house, but it would appear that their enthusiasm for that work had quickly evaporated, being replaced by a greater concern for their own comfort. The work on their own houses had clearly gone far beyond necessity. Since what has been written aforetime is for our learning, we cannot read this without having to ask, Does this apply to me? Does God's house "lie waste" because I have used to "ciel" my own house, time, talents, money, etc., that should have been used to build His
It shouldn't be forgotten that the remnant had returned well equipped to build God's house. The Persian king had returned to them all the treasure looted from the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, Ezra 1:8, and in addition had commanded that those who remained should furnish them with everything else they might possibly need, Ezra 1:4. We have also been provided with everything needed for the building of God's house, for in addition to the gifted men given to the Church, Eph 4:11, every believer has been given a spiritual gift, 1 Co 12, and these gifts are for, "...the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying (building up) of the body of Christ" (Eph 4:12).
Is it possible that they had appropriated for the beautification of their own houses what should have been used in the building of God's? Is it possible that we have been guilty of the same offense? Have we, as stewards (and every believer is a steward), received in trust, time, abilities, money, etc., that should be used for the building of God's house - but used them for ourselves? May grace be given us to so live that their failure doesn't prove to be but a portrait of our own, for "... we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.... everyone of us shall give account of himself to God" (Ro 14:10-12).
1:5. "Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, Consider your ways,"
This exhortation is repeated in verse 7, and when God takes the time to repeat something, it is because it is important. We shouldn't forget that this twice repeated exhortation to His earthly people remains His exhortation to His people through all time. It is no less His exhortation to us, and as was noted in our study of verse 1, there is a link between that consideration (investigation), and the meaning of Darius' name investigation: the dwelling will be full of heaviness. That investigation can be properly conducted only in the light of eternity, in anticipation of the judgment seat of Christ.
1:6. "Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes,"
It is hardly necessary to note that their impoverishment, as the context makes clear, was the result of their failure to build God's house, and the application to ourselves will be apparent when we remember that for everything literal relating to Israel, there is a spiritual counterpart relating to spiritual Israel, the Church.
In every Biblical reference to the sowing of actual grain, we have a symbolic allusion to the sowing of the good seed of the Gospel. The meager harvests resulting from the remnant's abundant sowing, remind us that the harvest of souls resulting from the sowing of the Gospel today is equally small, and this in spite of the fact that there has probably never been a time when the seed of the Gospel was more abundantly scattered by means of television, radio, books, tracts, etc. There has indeed been much sowing, but very little reaping, and the question asked by the Israelite of Haggai's day must surely be asked by the believer today, Why? God's answer then was, "Because of mine house that is waste," v.9. Can we doubt that the reason is the same today?
God's house is built by love. There may be much activity in connection with our attempts to spread the Gospel, but if that activity isn't rooted in love for God, which displays itself in love for men, saints and sinners alike, then it is little more than the activity of the flesh, which God can never bless. That love must be the impetus of our activity, is declared in 1 Co 13, which reminds us that the greatest gift, the most profound knowledge, the most costly sacrifice, apart from love, is relatively worthless. If we don't learn the worthlessness of mechanical, loveless sowing, then we are missing the message of Haggai.
In regard to the sowing of the good seed of the Gospel, we must never lose sight of the motive that impels us, for if that motive isn't pure we can expect exactly the same results as attended the literal sowing of the returned remnant - meager harvests. And if we're honest, must we not admit that all too often our motive is ulterior? Is it not true that often we are far more concerned about filling seats in our meeting places here on earth than we are about leading men and women to the Savior, rejoicing that they will have a seat in heaven, even if they never come into our local fellowship?
The crying need of the Church today is for believers to get down in repentance before God, and acknowledge that we have been unfaithful, that we have attended to our own "houses" to the neglect of His, and then to seek grace to go out and preach the Gospel, impelled by the knowledge that the salvation we have to offer has been purchased with the Savior's blood. If we are to see "abundant harvests" (souls genuinely saved), we must be willing to confess that the wasted years have seen us playing at Christianity, entertaining ourselves with church suppers, musical evenings, fun and game nights, retreats, seminars... everything in fact except simple obedience to the commission of Christ, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."
If we were willing to spend half the time praying, reading, studying, evangelizing, that we do studying how to pray, read, study, and evangelize, there would be more "wheat" in the "barns." A Church that has so eagerly seized upon the world's methods in practically everything she does today, has been strangely reluctant to use the "hands on" method when it comes to preaching the Gospel. We're willing to spend hours learning how, but strangely unwilling to spend five minutes doing. We're willing to travel across the country to attend a seminar on how to evangelize, but refuse to walk across the street to tell a neighbor who needs the Savior, how we were saved, and how he can be too.
I'm not sitting in the critic's chair. What I'm writing applies first to me, and what I'm going to write now is for your encouragement. It's not that I hadn't witnessed to the family and neighbors after a fashion. I had. The trouble was it was more of a formality than anything else, my concern for their souls was halfhearted. Then the truth of this little book of Haggai began to come home to me, and the more I considered what was written, the more I began to realize that I was just as guilty as the remnant to whom Haggai was sent.
I realized that only God could give me a genuine concern for their souls, and I began to pray for that concern, and for the courage to go to them with the simple Gospel of man's desperate need, and God's remedy, the Lord Jesus Christ. God used the sudden death of one relative, and the protracted critical illness of another, to answer my prayer. Getting the concern however, was one thing, getting the courage was another. I never did get the courage. but my conscience gave me no peace, and I realized that, with or without courage, I must go to them.
Realizing that in my nervousness I'd probably fail to say what I wanted, I typed out as briefly as possible the essentials of my own conversion. Then with trembling knees, and sweaty palms, I went next door, at a time selected by them after I had telephoned to say that I wanted to speak with them about something, and that I didn't want to come over at an inconvenient time.
No, they didn't get saved, but they did listen, and gave me permission to leave them literature any time I wanted, promising that they would read it. I think my nervousness worked to my advantage. It attracted sympathy, where a confident air might possibly have evoked a hostile response. I came away on trembling legs, but with a lighter heart and conscience that I'd had since the message of Haggai began to speak to me.
Having broken the ice, it wasn't quite as difficult to follow the same approach with other neighbors, and each one has given me permission to leave literature any time I like. Now at the beginning of every month, I take advantage of that permission, sometimes using a tract, but more often something I've prepared myself. And every morning I pray for each one of them, as I do also for relatives and acquaintances, too distant to visit, but to whom I've sent the letter I took with me to the neighbors, and to whom I also send that monthly Gospel message.
I trust that this will encourage some readers at least, by helping them realize that Bible teachers are no more courageous than anyone else when it comes to approaching relatives and neighbors. It's far easier to speak to absolute strangers than to people we know and see daily. But we may not bypass God's pattern for spreading the Gospel. Those early believers, whose "sowing" produced such abundant harvests, preached first in Jerusalem (home), then Samaria, and then the rest of the world. The healed demoniac of Luke 8 was told by the Lord, "Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee." And we read that "he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him" (Lk 8:39). And in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 5, we read that that same man "began to publish in Decapolis (the ten-city region) how great things Jesus had done for him." There is the same pattern: first his own house, then his own city, and then the ten-city region. The preaching of the Gospel must begin at home. There is no point in running across the world with a Gospel we haven't preached at home, in our own neighborhood, and our own city.
We have already discussed the spiritual significance of the first two clauses of this verse, and noted that in spite of much sowing of the good seed of the Gospel, there is a disappointingly small harvest of souls, the result, in some measure at least, of cold, loveless, mechanical sowing. There must be genuine concern for the souls of those to whom we seek to bring the Gospel, and there are at least two ways to develop that concern. First, pray for it. Then take time to think about where the unsaved are going to be for all eternity. No Christian should be able to contemplate the awful reality of the lake of fire, and then say of anyone, even his worst enemy, "I don't care." If you saw your neighbor's house on fire, and knew that he was inside, asleep, would you not make some attempt to warn him - even if he was someone you didn't particularly like? If your response is, "No, I wouldn't warn him," there is something drastically wrong with you. I'd say you were dangerously close to being classified as a murderer. And if one who claims to be a Christian gave such a response I would question whether he knew the meaning of the word salvation.
If, then, you wouldn't fail to warn your neighbor of literal bodily danger of burning, what is it that keeps you from warning him of a far more terrible danger - of burning, body, soul and spirit, in the lake of fire eternally? I don't believe there is a Christian on the face of the earth who can honestly consider this grim reality, and still refuse to preach the Gospel. Think about it for just a minute. Think of where that relative, that friend, neighbor, work mate... will be the first minute after he breathes his last breath, and passes from time into eternity UNSAVED! Will you still tell me you won't warn him, even though the Lord Jesus Christ went to the cross to make salvation possible for him - AND FOR YOU? How will you stand before that same Christ at the Bema and explain to Him why you remained silent, in spite of His having commanded you, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature"?
It is necessary however, to note something else that is essential for abundant harvests - the preparation of the soil. However little you may know about agriculture you don't need me to tell you that there is very little likelihood of gathering a harvest if the seed has been scattered on unprepared ground. And just as tilled soil is essential in the natural realm, so also in the spiritual. But how is spiritual tilling accomplished? First, and absolutely essential, is prayer, both for those I hope to lead to the Savior, and for myself. For them, that God will cause the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts; for me, that I will be under the Holy Spirit's control as to how, where, and when to present the Gospel.
But then there is the practical "plowing." And again, you don't need me to tell you that the person to whom you have been friendly, for whom you have done a good turn, will be much more likely to listen when you present the Gospel. Don't however, make the mistake of believing that you'll win the unsaved for Christ by joining them in activities unbecoming a Christian. This is the rock on which many a Christian testimony has foundered. It is possible to be friendly and kind, while maintaining in regard to an unsaved world, that separation which God commands. It is significant that Lot, who had failed to maintain separation from the ungodly Sodomites, was mocked when he sought to warn them. It is equally instructive to note in regard to Abraham who maintained his place of separation from them, that the testimony of the ungodly Canaanites was, "Thou art a mighty prince among us" (Ge 23:6). The men of the world may mock at first, but they will eventually admire, even if grudgingly, an uncompromising testimony that is accompanied by an evident willingness to show them kindness.
At this point it is necessary to note a few things in regard to what is becoming a very popular method of sowing the good seed of the Gospel. Many organizations have produced "Gospel" packages, and however the details may differ the method is the same. You are given a printed set of questions to be asked of prospective converts, questions such as, Do you believe in God? Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Do you believe that He died for sinners? etc., etc. Then at the end is a little prayer which you are invited to have the person repeat if he has responded Yes to the questions, and while the wording may vary, the prayer in essence is almost invariably an invitation for Jesus Christ to come into the heart or life and take control. The "presentation" is completed by your having the person sign the card, at which point you are instructed to assure him that he has now become a Christian, a believer.
A variant form of this method involves a short series of diagrams depicting man on the throne of his life, and Christ refused control; or man is shown in a place of separation from God, with Christ or the cross depicted as the link to bring man and God together. The final formula however is the same. The person is invited to agree, to repeat the prayer, to sign his name, and you are to assure him that he is now saved.
The best thing to do with all such cards and papers is to refuse to use them. It's the easiest thing in the world to find people who will give an affirmative response, pray the prayer, and sign the card - but this is not how you lead men and women to see that they are sinners on the broad and crowded way, rushing to eternal destruction with the speed of time. This is not how sinners are convicted of sin, led to repentance, led to cry out "God be merciful to me a sinner!" (Lk 18:13), "What must I do to be saved?" (Ac 16:30). There will be multitudes in hell who have said Yes to all the questions, who have prayed those trite little prayers, who have signed the cards - and who will curse for all eternity those who deceived them, because they were themselves deceived. These schemes will produce plenty of "professions" but few, very few, genuine converts. Leave all such schemes for those who are satisfied to traffic in superficialities, who are more concerned about numbers than souls. The salvation of a soul is an individual matter, requiring a different approach for every sinner. The world's assembly-line methods don't work in the spiritual realm. That isn't how converts are produced.
If sinners are going to be saved they must be warned of their terrible danger, convicted by the Holy Spirit, and led to value the salvation of their souls above anything or anyone on earth. Such conviction and conversion aren't produced by superficial questions and prayers. Nor are they produced by "evangelists" who have allowed themselves to be deluded into believing that numbers measure success. The man who is occupied with numbers is a fool. Only God can distinguish the wheat from the tares. Our business is to preach the Gospel, and leave God to do the counting. We shouldn't forget that it is the Lord Himself Who declared, "Strive to enter in at the strait (narrow) gate...." (Lk 13:24), "Enter ye in at the strait (narrow) gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait (narrow) is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Mt 7:13-14).
We have noted that the spiritual counterpart of Israel's scanty harvests, in spite of much sowing, is the small number of converts in spite of much preaching of the Gospel. And we have noted the necessity of preparing the ground in which the good seed of the Gospel is to be sown, but we must note also the necessity of sowing good "seed" - i.e., an unadulterated Gospel that faithfully declares man's utter ruin, that warns of two eternal destinations, heaven or hell, that presents Christ as the only One through Whom men can be saved, and that declares the imperative of a life that confirms the testimony of the lip.
In Job 33:14 it is written, "For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not." Diminished harvests was one of the ways in which God had sought to speak to disobedient Israel, but deaf ears heard no voice, blind eyes saw no message written in the empty barns. It is to be feared that the ears of spiritual Israel, the Church, are equally deaf, her eyes equally blind. How few today perceive the message declared by the few converts, the diminished congregations!
As always, hunger was a concomitant of blasted harvests, "ye eat, but ye have not enough." When they reaped their fields the grain had to be divided into two parts: one for food; the other for sowing. And each year their continued disobedience resulted in smaller heaps of harvested grain, so that now they had to ration what they ate. And it was a vicious circle, for the amount available for the next year's sowing was also shrinking with each harvest. Eventually the time would come when they would die of hunger - and this in spite of the fact that their God was He Who delights to bless, and Who had once promised them a land "flowing with milk and honey." What was the explanation? DISOBEDIENCE! God cannot bless disobedience, for that would be to condone sin. He who would be blessed must obey.
But just as there is a spiritual analogy to sowing, so is there also to eating. Eating is synonymous with satisfaction, just as hunger is with dissatisfaction. The written Word, which is itself the revelation of Him Who is the living Word, is the spiritual counterpart of the Israelite's literal food. And who will deny that of us too it is true that "ye eat, but ye have not enough"? It is doubtful if there has ever been a time in the history of the Church when there were more "hungry" (dissatisfied) Christians. And this in spite of the fact that there has never been a time when, humanly speaking, "bread" was more abundant. By television, radio, tapes, books, seminars, Bible study classes, etc., the Scriptures are more easily available than at any other time in the history of the Church, yet Christians are spiritually starving. Why? For the same reason as caused literal Israel to starve. We too have been busy building our own houses, while God's house (the Church) "lies waste."
An unpleasant truth we don't want to face is that lack of concern for the unsaved reflects a lack of love for Christ, and an equally unpleasant truth we don't want to face is that lack of love for Christ is reflected also in a lack of love for the written Word. We're busy buying books, listening to tapes, running to seminars, etc., to learn how to study the Bible, and we're equally busy learning how to spread the Gospel, but none of this succeeds in disguising the truth that at heart many Christians today have as little appetite for the study of the Word as they have for spreading the Gospel. But it salves the conscience to be always busy preparing to preach and study, just as long as we don't have to actually do either. It provides an excuse for not studying the Word, for not preaching the Gospel.
How do I know that there is little appetite for the Word? It's too obvious to miss. Just take a look at the mid-week Bible study hour, for example. "Oh, but," I hear someone exclaim, "you don't understand. Many people can't come out. They're working, or they're late getting home from work." And then there is the old favorite, "Well, you know, we can't neglect our families." And the excuses go on. But strangely enough, announce a film, a supper, a musical evening, even a missionary with slides - and it's amazing how the attendance goes up. And perhaps the most eloquent testimony to our distaste for spiritual food is the ever increasing number of discontinued Sunday evening meetings. I wonder what the Christians in those fellowships do on Sunday evening.
Let me tell you of a busy executive I once knew. His day began around six a.m., and it was a rare thing for him to get home before 7.30 p.m. But on Wednesday night (the assembly Bible study and prayer meeting night) he was there at the meeting, except when business had taken him out of town. But this is how he did it. He lived about thirty miles from the meeting place, so instead of going home, he took the train to the town where the building was located, and his wife met him there, having driven the thirty miles from their home, and having obtained a baby sitter for the children. For supper they had sandwiches, or a quick meal at the local diner, so they could be at the meeting on time. Nor was he a mere spectator. He prayed intelligently, and his participation left no one in doubt that he had spent more than just a few minutes in the passage being studied. And they got home around 10.30.p.m. We need more Christians like him and his wife.
"...ye eat but ye have not enough." Continuing to see in the literal hunger of that disobedient remnant, the spiritual dissatisfaction of many in the Church today, and having looked at some of the causes, it remains to look at yet another cause.
Our Bible reading, like our service and our worship, has become a cold mechanical activity that involves the intellect, while leaving the heart unaffected. For many, reading involves nothing more than a quick glance at the verse and brief comment on the daily Scripture calendar. What has been rapidly read is rapidly forgotten, and the result is that the reader experiences in his soul what the literally underfed experiences in his stomach - hunger, dissatisfaction. A lean soul with its accompanying spiritual weakness is the counterpart of an undernourished body and its accompanying physical frailty.
Then there are the schedules that enable you to read through the whole Bible in a year, and I do not disparage such schedules. Consistent reading of the Scriptures is essential to spiritual growth. The problem is not with the program, but with the person using it. All too often the reading is nothing more than a dull routine, a mechanical intellectual activity whose only objective is to adhere to the schedule so as to be able to boast, I've read through the whole Bible this year. Such reading does little to develop spiritual strength, nor does it do much to satisfy the soul.
How then should we read so as to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pe 3:18), and possess that inward satisfaction which is the antithesis of the spiritual dissatisfaction symbolically portrayed in the returned remnant's eating but not having enough? The answer is to be found in the instruction given Joshua, "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success" (Jos 1:8).
The connection between meditation and satisfaction is stressed again in Ps 1:1-2, "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.... But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law doth he meditate day and night." The secret lies in the word delight. There will be satisfaction, joy and peace only when the reading of the Word, and meditation on it, are a delight. This satisfaction will elude the man who views the reading of Scripture as a task to be performed, rather than as a feast to be enjoyed. The written Word is nothing less than the presentation of Him Who is the living Word, the Antitype of the manna, the true Bread Who came down from heaven. It is all too apparent however, that it is with spiritual Israel as it was with literal Israel whose attitude towards the manna is recorded in Nu 11:5, "We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: but now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes," and Nu 21:5, "...our soul loatheth this light bread."
Unfortunately the spiritual equivalent of the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlick desired by, but denied literal Israel, are not only desired by, but also available to spiritual Israel. As natural life is sustained by natural food however, so is spiritual life sustained by spiritual food. A distaste for spiritual food therefore raises the solemn question as to whether there is spiritual life, for since the written Word is nothing less than the presentation of Him Who is the living Word, a dislike of the one is nothing less than a dislike of the Other. Such an attitude is strangely at variance with the declaration of John regarding the attitude of the true believer, "We love Him, because He first loved us" (1 Jn 4:19).
In the natural realm there would be consternation regarding a newborn baby if even one day passed without its cry for milk being heard, yet there is often peculiar apathy, total indifference on the part of spiritual parents who see days, weeks, months, years go by without any sign that their spiritual children "desire the sincere milk of the Word" (1 Pe 2:2), apart from which spiritual growth is impossible. A distaste for the written Word is an ominous sign, for it indicates two possibilities: (1) the person is a believer who is beginning to backslide, or (2) he is not a believer at all.
In spite of the obvious analogy between physical eating and spiritual, between the needs of the body and the needs of the soul, it is peculiar that the spiritual equivalent of mastication and digestion (essential to the physical digestive process), should be deemed unnecessary in connection with spiritual digestion. Yet every time we encounter the word meditate in the Scriptures, that is exactly what God is telling us is essential. Meditation is just as necessary as reading, for reading without meditation will do little to nurture spiritual growth.
But meditation has become a lost art. We've become a nation of speed-readers and skimmers, and however useful those skills may be in the business world, they have no place in the study of Scripture. The truth is, in fact, that we skim material that we have to read. Notice the difference when the reading material is enjoyable. We read at a leisurely pace, going back to reread some passages, savoring each word. If we find that our Bible reading is characterized by skimming it's time to ask ourselves some questions. Why am I skimming? Is it that deep down in my heart my Bible reading has degenerated into a distasteful duty? Does my skimming declare that my love for the Lord revealed in the Scriptures has grown cold, that I have little or no desire to spend time with Him, no desire to hear His voice, no wish to share His counsels, that I feel no need of His guidance?
"Ye eat, but ye have not enough," was literally true of the returned remnant addressed by Haggai. But why was their bread rationed? It was because of diminished harvests. But why were their harvests diminished? God Himself supplies the answer, "Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house" (Hag 1:9).
Why do we have so many Christians today whose spiritual state is represented by the physical state of the returned remnant? whose spiritual dissatisfaction is the counterpart of their actual hunger? It is because we are neglecting God's "house," leaving others to preach the Gospel, to minister to the needs of fellow believers (this is how God's house is built today), while we "run every man to his own house." We're so busy with our own business that we have no time for God's business. We're so busy laying up treasure on earth instead of in heaven, so dazzled by the world's gold, fame and pleasure, that we have become blind to the fact that we are bankrupting ourselves for eternity, blind to the fact that we are rebels doing the very thing God has forbidden, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth" (Mt 6:19), while refusing to do what He has commanded, "Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven" verse 20, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15).
God's complaint against the returned disobedient remnant was that they had failed to build His house. Diminished harvests and resultant hunger were the evidences of His displeasure. The spiritual hunger (dissatisfaction), evident everywhere in Christendom today, is the evidence of His displeasure at our failure to build His house, for, as we have noted already, that house is built of living stones, and it is our failure to go out with the Gospel that has resulted in the lack of material, the living stones which constitute His house today
"...ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink...." The drink referred to is wine, and the lack was the result of God's having diminished the grape harvests, as chastisement for their failure to build His house. The spiritual significance of this lack of wine will be understood only as we recognize that wine is a symbol of the Word in its ability to cheer the heart, e.g., "...wine that maketh glad the heart of man" (Ps 104:15). Consider also Mt 9:17, where, under the figure of putting new wine into new bottles (skins), is declared the truth that only the renewed man is capable of receiving the "new wine," i.e., the joy imparted by Scripture, a joy available only to faith.
Do we find the analogy in Christendom today? Most certainly! Just as our disobedience has robbed Scripture of its ability to be spiritual food to satisfy our souls, so has that same disobedience robbed it also of its ability to cheer our hearts. Do we find Christians today turning to Scripture for cheer and encouragement in adversity, sickness, bereavement, loneliness, unemployment, financial need, marital or family problems, etc.? No! We find ourselves running instead to psychiatrists or counselors, and it is not uncommon to find elders so busy counseling that they have little or no time to study and teach, teaching, incidentally, being the elder's principal work, see e.g., Paul's command to the Ephesian elders, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood" (Ac 20:28). The well-fed flock is the well-shepherded flock, for the well-taught believer won't readily fall victim to Satan's wiles, but in many cases those selfishly usurping the elders' time are simply disobedient believers, most of whose problems would be solved by obedience to the Word of God, and where there isn't an obvious solution to their problems, the comfort and guidance of Scripture would sustain the obedient believer through the trial.
The failure of today's Christians to find joy and comfort in the written Word is the more deplorable when we remember that not long ago even unbelievers found comfort in such portions as the twenty-third Psalm. God's rebuke of that disobedient remnant is as applicable to us as to them, "ye drink, but ye are not filled (satisfied) with drink."
"...ye clothe you, but there is none warm." Clothing is the Scriptural symbol of righteousness, either the righteousness of Christ that clothes the believer, or the "filthy rags" of self-righteousness so abhorrent to God. Consider, for example, the case of Adam and Eve. Following their transgression of God's command, their first discovery was that they were naked. It was the outward symbol of their lost righteousness of innocence, and their next employment was the sowing the fig leaf aprons, type of the vain good works with which fallen man would seek to cover himself.
In the case of the disobedient remnant the language is literal: insufficient clothing resulted in lack of warmth. The application to the Christian however, is spiritual, and the individual portrayed is an all too common sight today. God bids us see here the Christian whose outward morality may be exemplary, but whose heart is cold. The love which the Lord values so highly, and which ought to be the motive for the conduct, is lacking. The outstanding examples of such people were the Scribes and Pharisees. Outward conformity to the law of Moses might blind men, but it didn't hide from the eyes of Christ the condition of heart that evoked His scathing denunciation, "...ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Mt 23:27-28).
Nor should we fail to note that the church of Ephesus, while having much that the Lord commended, is nevertheless described as "fallen." "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (Re 2:5). What was it that elicited this rebuke and warning? "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love" (Re 2:4).
Others have drawn attention to the significant contrast between what is written concerning the church of Ephesus, and that of Thessalonica. In regard to the latter, Paul writes, "We give thanks to God always for you all ... remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope" (1 Th 1:2-3). In the letter to the church of Ephesus however, the Lord declares only, "I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience" (Re 2:2). The faith, love and hope had gone, and without these, the work, labor and patience were nothing more than a mechanical routine.
In this connection, 1 Co 13 should be studied carefully, for it declares unequivocally the worthlessness in God's sight of any service not impelled by love.
In this description of the literal state of the disobedient remnant, clothed but cold, God bids us see a picture of ourselves. Outwardly our lives may be circumspect, but mere morality is no substitute for a heart that loves the Lord.
Their impoverished state wasn't the result of sloth. They were busy plowing, planting, reaping and threshing. They were busy tending vineyards and olive yards. They were busy building houses. They were a busy people. That in fact was their problem: they were too busy, for with all the activity related to their own business, they had no time for God's. His house was left unbuilt, evoking His angry question, "Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?"
We are spiritually blind however, if we fail to see in their busy lives the portrait of our own, and we are equally blind if we fail to see in their lack of love for God and what pertained to His house, the image of our own loveless condition, with its accompanying indifference to the state of God's house, the Church. We are "clothed" but not warm. We are moral, but loveless. Our hearts are cold as ice, hard as flint. Our lack of love for God, and for His Word, displays itself in lack of love for His people, and for the sinners for whom Christ died. The Lord declared, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (Jn 13:35), and He said again, "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you," followed immediately by, "These things I command you, that ye love one another" (Jn 14:15-17). Little genuine love is to be found in the average local church today.
It might be well to take a moment to note that the love enjoined by the Lord is not the sickening sentimentality so often mistaken for love. In Jn 13:35 His command is "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to (not for) another." That to instead of for, makes it possible for me to love even the unlovable. We are called upon, not to display to them the same sentimental love we have for our spouses and children, for example, but to act toward them in a loving manner,
Another command largely ignored today relates to the unconverted, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15). When did I last warn someone that he was on his way to hell, and then present him with the good news that he could be saved by trusting the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Savior? Does my delinquency declare that the Lord's rebuke of the disobedient remnant is also His rebuke of me? Is it true that what related to them literally applies to me spiritually, "Ye clothe you, but there is none warm"?
"...and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes," verse 6. The disobedience of the returned remnant in regard to the building of God's house had brought chastisement instead of blessing, and we have already considered the spiritual significance of the diminished harvests, which in their case, had resulted in rationed bread, scarcity of wine, and insufficient clothing, noting that for us each one of these has a spiritual equivalent. It is the same also in regard to their wages. It was as though the bags in which they sought to save their money were literally full of holes so that the coins dropped out and were lost. It is the figurative description of inflation. The scarcity or abundance of a commodity governs its price, and in the case of that disobedient remnant, scarcity had inflated prices to the point where income was insufficient for their needs.
This is the symbolic description of conditions in Christendom today. We too, busy with our own affairs, running "every man unto his own house," while God's house lies neglected, find ourselves in the same position as that disobedient remnant. Having set our hearts upon this world's money, pleasure, and fame, instead of on the things that have eternal value, we find that there is never enough. Do we acquire one million dollars? Immediately we want two. Do we taste some earthly pleasure? We want more. Do we acquire a degree of fame? It isn't enough. No one has described this principle more beautifully or accurately, than the poet:
"I tried the broken cisterns, Lord,
But, ah, the waters failed.
E'en as I stooped to drink, they fled,
And mocked me as I wailed."
With so many people scrambling for the same things, the price of those things is high, too high, for the seller is Satan, and the price he demands is the purchaser's soul, in regard to which God asks, "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mk 8:36-37). Instead of being "content with such things as (we) have" (Heb 13:5), realizing that "godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Tim 6:6), we ignore the command of Christ, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt ... but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven ... for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Mt 6:19-21).
In pursuit of the worthless, we are scrabbling in frantic competition with the unbeliever for the things that are costing him his soul; and us, the loss of an eternal treasure in heaven, and the loss of peace and happiness here on earth - our ruthless competition with him all the more heinous, because by making ourselves his competitor for Satan's worthless baubles, we are making it impossible for us to fulfill the command of Christ to warn him and seek the salvation of his soul.
Happy is the man who obeys the admonition of Christ, "Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you," (Mt 6:31-33).
1:7. "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways."
Having exposed the cause of their poverty, God then repeated the command given in verse 5, "Consider your ways," and we do well to remember that when God repeats Himself it is because what He has to say is of utmost importance. If therefore we read this fragment of Jewish history (in which He has painted a symbolic picture of ourselves), and fail to consider our ways, we will make ourselves heirs of chastisements still worse than those which have already fallen upon us.
The tragedy of their impoverished state is that it need never have been. One blighted harvest should have been enough to prompt their investigation of the cause, and the discovery of that cause (their disobedience) should have produced confession, repentance, and a quick return to the building begun in the second month of the second year of their return, but quickly abandoned. It would be difficult to believe that a people could be guilty of such folly, were it not that Christendom today is the living demonstration of even more incredible foolishness. That disobedient remnant had prolonged the chastisements for almost twenty years: a disobedient Church has groaned under equally unnecessary chastisement for almost twenty centuries! And our culpability is compounded by reason of the fact, that besides having them as an example, we have also been given an immeasurably greater degree of light.
1:8. "Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord,"
The spiritual blindness and deafness induced by disobedience becomes more acute with the passage of time. This was the case with the disobedient remnant, for it would appear that they had long since lost sight of the cause of their impoverishment, making it necessary for God to repeat the command given them through Cyrus just prior to their return from the Babylonian captivity, "...go up to Jerusalem ... and build the house of the Lord God of Israel" (Ezra 1:3). God now repeats the command, verse 8, and as always, for every literal activity commanded earthly Israel, there is a corresponding spiritual activity enjoined upon spiritual Israel, the Church. Sadly however, long years of neglect have reduced the spiritual meaning of Scripture to a foreign language totally incomprehensible to most Christians today.
What does the mountain represent? A king, or a kingdom, or both, see e.g., Dan 2:35, where the smiting Stone that destroyed the image, and became a great mountain, is a figure of Christ as King in the Millennium.
The language of Haggai isn't difficult to understand. His bidding them, "Go up to the mountain," becomes His command to us to "go up" from occupation with earthly things, to the high ground of His kingdom, and to busy ourselves there with the building of His house, first in a faithful proclamation of the Gospel to the unconverted, and then in an equally faithful ministry to those who are Christ's.
But how may we "go up to the mountain"? As with most spiritual matters, we often stumble over the simple and obvious, looking for the complex and obscure. Since it is clear that enjoyment of the kingdom of heaven requires separation from the things of this world, one obvious way to obey God's command is to follow the example of those (and they are a rare few) who have discovered the secret of serenity in the midst of earth's turmoil, who know what it is to "walk with God" as did Enoch. An essential part of that essential separation is to set apart a time each day to be spent alone with God. The first step to an obedient, and therefore happy, Christian life is to have a place where I can go and shut the door on earth's distractions; where I can open my Bible and listen while God talks to me from its pages; where I can kneel and talk with Him in prayer.
If your response is, I've tried that, and it doesn't work, I would remind you that for others it does work. But if you're expecting an overnight miracle you're going to be disappointed, and your disappointment is going to be equally great if you think that an hour a day of mechanical reading and prayer is going to bring happiness and peace into a life that continues to pursue the things of the world for the rest of the time. Happiness and peace are not to be thus cheaply bought. What I have suggested will work only as part of a totally changed life, and only after there has been honest confession to God, true repentance, and a sincere seeking of His will for every moment of the day. Spiritual development is akin to physical: it is imperceptible. Only God can measure the daily growth that transforms the helpless infant into the strong young man.
"...and bring wood...." For us, the wood, too, is symbolic, and as has been noted in other studies, it represents humanity. As the returned remnant was to cut down literal wood, and then fashion it into boards for God's house, so are we to go out with the Gospel, the instrument of the Holy Spirit to first cut men down by showing them their lost state and their desperate need of a Savior, and then, following their conversion, to shape them into "boards" for God's house.
The boards of the Tabernacle are the perfect symbols of this spiritual process. Once, covered with thorns (symbol of sin), growing in the desert, as men grow in the spiritual desert of this world, they were first cut down, and then shaped according to the Divine pattern, and set side by side, each on a foundation of silver (symbol of redemption). Thus transformed, they constituted the walls of God's house. So is it with men and women: first "cut down" by the convicting power of the Word, but then, as obedient believers, shaped according to that same Word, each is set by Divine appointment in his proper place in God's house, the Church.
"And I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord." May there be given to each of us the grace that will impel a willing obedience in the building of that which gives God pleasure, and in which He is glorified.
1:9. "Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house."
Perhaps remembering the promises of God given long ago that He was giving them a land flowing with milk and honey, they sowed their seed and looked for an abundant harvest, forgetting that blessing was contingent on obedience. Long continued disobedience however, had resulted, as it must always, in their being unaware of any fault on their part. Disobedience had become a way of life, so that blind eyes and deaf ears perceived no message in the diminished harvests. Year after year, for almost twenty years the harvests had disappointed their expectations, demonstrating the truth of what is written, "For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not," Job 33:14. That the meager harvests were God's voice, is declared in chapter 2:17, "I smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the labors of your hands; yet ye turned not to me, saith the Lord," and, as has been noted already, it should not have taken more than one blighted harvest to remind them of their sin.
In spite of the fact however, that their folly has been recorded (as has all of Scripture) for our profit, we have repeated their disobedience, and like them, have become so conscience-seared that we too have failed to discern God's voice in the small harvests resulting from the sowing of the good seed of the Gospel. There has probably never been a time in the history of the Church when there was a more abundant sowing of that good seed. By television, radio, tapes, books and tracts, it is broadcast daily, but like the remnant's small literal harvests, so also has there been a disappointingly small return for the sowing of that spiritual seed.
Having considered the imperative of a right motive, and the need to proclaim a pure Gospel (see notes on verse six), we will not repeat that lesson here, but go on to consider the spiritual significance of God's declaration, "...when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it."
It was not just that the harvests were smaller than expected. Even when gathered into the barns they were not beyond the reach of God Who would teach his disobedient, but beloved people, that apart from obedience there could be no blessing. The method isn't disclosed, but whether by mildew, vermin, etc., what was thought to have been safely gathered in, was found also to be smaller than expected, for even there God, "did blow upon it," literally, " did blow it away."
Have we had the same experience? All too often! Is it not true that even when there has been an occasional response to the Gospel, an avowal of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have seen the convert brought into the fellowship of the local church amid rejoicing. Spiritual believers have watched hopefully for spiritual fruit in that life, evidence that there has been a genuine conversion, but time passes, and all too often we have the disappointment of seeing neither the fruit nor the person. God has "blown upon it" (tested the reality of the profession), and the result has been the same as with those earthly harvests long ago - the amount of good seed is far smaller than had at first appeared (the "good seed" in the present context, being genuine converts).
We will miss much of what God wants us to learn here if we fail to consider the significance of God's "blowing" upon the harvested crops. Blowing moves the air and produces wind, but wind is one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit, e.g., "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit," Jn 3:8. It is by "the wind" (the activity of His Holy Spirit) that God reveals the difference between good "seed" and bad, for, "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit," Jn 3:6, and, "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His," Ro 8:9.
With spiritual power departed from us because of sin, but determined to preserve the outward facade by means of numbers, we are afraid to submit profession to any test whatsoever lest its unreality be disclosed, and the result has been that we take into "the barn" (the local church) those whose profession won't bear scrutiny, even though in our hearts we sense that there has been no new birth.
The same fear of losing the "convert" prevents our insisting upon Scriptural order, and the teaching of sound doctrine. We're afraid to mention the necessity of baptism; of the need for the woman to have a covering on her head; of the need for holy living; of the need for any kind of testimony.... the list of our derelictions is long. Had we but the spiritual perception to recognize it, all of these things tell us of a fallen spiritual state that cares as little for the welfare of men's souls, as for God's glory.
One thing that characterizes many of our churches today is the ebb and flow of members. There is always the small faithful nucleus, but there is also a disconcertingly rapid turnover of members. God is never afraid to test faith. However negligent we may be, He will "blow upon" what is brought into "the barn"; but such is our spiritual state that instead of realizing that some of it has been "blown away" because it was chaff or weeds, not wheat, we busy ourselves with the invention of ways to keep "the barn" full, to keep up the numbers with little or no concern for the reality of the profession that we are all too anxious to accept, no matter how suspect it may be. The result has been that many of our churches are little more than religious social clubs, constituted of a "mixed multitude" of believers and unbelievers, with everything geared to please the flesh, and little to contribute to the upbuilding of what is spiritual.
There is a full house for films, musical evenings, dinners, etc., but only the same small faithful few at the prayer meeting or Bible study. When it comes to an evening of softball, volley ball, bowling, etc., there is no lack of participants, but pitifully few when it comes to the healthy exercise (physical as well as spiritual) of distributing tracts.
It is significant that in a day when concern for God's glory, and for men's souls, led the elders of assemblies to examine the credentials of those seeking fellowship, there was remarkably little turnover in the makeup of the churches. The interview, not infrequently, separated false profession from genuine, and led often to the true conversion of those who had been deluded into believing they were saved when they weren't.
It helped also to weed out those who were unsound in doctrine, who refused to be baptized, who refused to wear a head covering, etc., - whose disobedient attitudes in fact would have brought the whole assembly under the chastisement of God. There was a stability about the congregations that is missing today, except where godly elders still exercise the same careful watch over the flock entrusted to their care, striving to guard against the introduction of Satan's weeds and wolves amongst God's wheat and sheep. When God "blows upon" what is in those "barns," more survives His testing, less is discovered to be chaff or weeds.
God asks the same question today as was propounded long ago to that disobedient remnant. WHY? And as then, it is He Himself Who furnishes the answer, "because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house." In spite of having been commanded to build God's house, and in spite of having been furnished with everything necessary to make obedience possible, they had quickly abandoned that work, and for approximately eighteen years had been busy with their own affairs while God's house lay in ruins. The foundation laid in the second month of the second year of their return from the Babylonian captivity, had lain untouched for almost twenty years; and during that time their disobedience had deprived them of blessing, as God, seeking to get their attention, laid His hand upon them in chastisement, when the desire of His heart was, as always, to bless.
All of this is the OT foreshadowing of what is found in Christendom today. The foundation of God's house, the Church, was laid twenty centuries ago by the faithful believers of the Apostolic age, but history has repeated itself. The unfinished work of the preceding generation is the foundation upon which each new generation is to build, and it is doubtful if there has ever been a generation as guilty of dereliction as the present. We too have "run every man unto his own house," while God's house lies waste.
We should note that word run. It implies urgency. It speaks in fact of an inordinate concern for our own affairs, to the utter neglect of God's. And how we have impoverished ourselves! The literal scarcity in Canaan twenty-five hundred years ago finds its counterpart in spiritual Canaan today. Like them, we, "have sown much, and bring in little"; like them, we, "eat, but (we) have not enough; (we) drink, but (we) are not filled with drink: (we clothe ourselves), but there is none warm"; and like them, we earn wages, "to put it into a bag with holes."
"Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house."
How long are we going to go on like this? Until we have destroyed ourselves? Are we going to spend our few brief days here on earth under the chastisement of God when we could just as easily be enjoying His blessing?
Or will we take the lesson to heart, and take the first step towards recovery by doing what God commands, "Consider your (our) ways"? Are we willing to bow before Him repentantly confessing the enormity of our sin, and seeking the grace that will restore us to the place of obedience and blessing?
Until we do, the chastisement, the spiritual famine will continue. But the moment there is genuine contrition, and obedient abandonment of our insane pursuit of the things of this world, God will take us up again, granting us the same assurance given the remnant in response to their repentance, "Consider from this day and upward.... from this day will I bless you," chapter 2:18-19.
1:10. "Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit."
The dew is one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit, or of His activity, and it is to be noted that whereas in verse 11 God says, "I called for a drought upon the land," He does not claim direct responsibility for having stopped the dew.
To understand the significance of this it is necessary to recognize the difference between the earth the land, and the ground, for though the terms are literally interchangeable, they are not symbolically synonymous.
Applying the law of first mention (where mention is first made of anything in Scripture is usually where its spiritual significance is most clearly seen) we turn to Ge 1:2,10-12, and find that the earth was separated from the sea, but since Isa 57:20 shows the sea to be the symbol of unconverted humanity, the earth separated from the sea is clearly the symbol of believers or of genuine profession. (We should note that in these verses land is italicized because it isn't in the original, but has been added by the translators to aid in the understanding of the translation).
We see then the spiritual significance of God's saying that the dew had been stayed, though He doesn't, as in the case of the drought upon the land, claim direct responsibility. We know of course that it was He Who stopped the dew, but He did it only because of the people's disobedience. They were the cause. It was they themselves who had stopped the dew by their disobedience, and the lesson being taught is that disobedience cuts off the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and therefore, blessing; but God takes no pleasure in it. His very nature however, compels Him to act, for to continue blessing disobedience would be to condone sin, and thereby impugn His Own holiness.
To deny that the same spiritual condition prevails today in the midst of God's people, is to advertise our spiritual blindness. Nor need there be any question as to the cause. We have been as negligent in building God's spiritual house (the Church), as they were in building His literal house (the temple).
"...and the earth is stayed from her fruit." As the earth, separated from the sea in Genesis chapter one, was to be fruitful, so is the spiritual "earth" (believers) to bear fruit for God, but as the dew was essential to the fruitfulness of the antediluvian earth (there was no rain until the flood of Noah's day, "for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth....But there went up a mist from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground," Ge 2:5-6), so is the ministry of the Holy Spirit necessary for spiritual fruit bearing. When He is grieved or quenched, as He is by disobedience, there will be no spiritual fruit.
1:11. "And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labor of the hands."
While the earth represents true faith, the land appears to represent mere profession. The frequent references to the land in connection with Israel furnish the clue to its spiritual significance. Though they professed to be God's people, He Himself acknowledged as His Own only the small believing remnant within the mass of the outwardly professing nation. His denunciation of the professing mass was, "...this people draw near to me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me," Isa 29:13.
It becomes clear then, why in connection with what represents the cutting off of the Holy Spirit's ministry to genuine believers, God claims no direct responsibility, but does declare Himself to be the Cause when what represents mere profession is involved. "I (God) called for a drought upon the land." The reason is obvious. The believer himself may choose blessing or judgment, depending on whether he is obedient. The unbeliever has no choice, for he can do nothing to please God (except of course, trust in Christ).
But another lesson may be learnt. Since the earth represents genuine faith; and the land, mere profession, they stand also as figures of the true and the false church. A characteristic of the mere professing church is that outwardly she apes the morality of genuine faith, and it is in that outward appearance of the false church that the actual state of the true Church is seen: as her moral standards are lowered, so are those of her harlot counterpart. The evidence of the "drought upon the land" is all too apparent. Because the disobedience of the true Church has restricted the Holy Spirit's ministry, with a resultant moral carelessness on the part of believers, so is there also a corresponding abandonment of moral standards in the mere professing church, the "land." Her power to preserve at least an outward form of godliness is fast disappearing, and with ordinary morality gone, society is falling apart.
But the evil ripple effect of the disobedience of genuine faith goes further even than the harlot church. There was a drought also upon the ground in Haggai's day, and the spiritual equivalent is seen also today, for while the earth represents genuine faith; and the land, mere profession; the ground seems to represent society in general. It makes no profession. It is indifferent to spiritual things. And who will deny that there is "a drought" upon "the ground" today? The true Church's abandonment of godliness has led to the false church's abandonment of morality, with the result that there has been a complete breakdown of the whole social structure, so that in government, business, education, the arts, etc., the effects of "the drought" are sadly evident. There is crookedness and corruption everywhere. The state of the world is in no small measure due to the disobedience of God's people, for we have failed to be the "salt" to retard the general corruption; we have failed to be the "light" to relieve the spiritual darkness. The "drought" upon the "land" and upon the "ground" is the result of our having "stayed the dew" (quenched and grieved the Holy Spirit) by our disobedience.
Do we wonder at the state of the world, and of the professing church? Do we lament the fallen state of the true Church? Do we hypocritically ask, "Why?" God answered that question twenty-five hundred years ago, "Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house."
We have seen in earlier studies that mountains represent kingdoms or rulers, so that the drought upon the mountains represents God's withholding blessing in the sphere of rule, nor should we forget that elders are rulers.
Corn represents the Word. It too is affected by the "drought." Disobedience having cut off the ministry of the Holy Spirit, there is no longer His enlightenment when we read, so that the Scriptures are deprived of their ability to nourish our spiritual lives.
Since the "new wine" represents the Word as that which God has given to cheer the heart, the drought upon "the new wine" declares that disobedience has robbed Scripture of its capacity to fulfil its God-appointed function. The comfort of the Scriptures, enjoyed by other generations, is largely denied us today because of our disobedience.
The oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, so that the drought "upon the oil" becomes the symbolic announcement of the truth that disobedience adversely affects every sphere of His activity.
Since "the ground" appears to represent society in general, the drought "upon that which the ground bringeth forth," declares that every activity of society feels the evil effect of our disobedience.
"...upon men ... cattle ... all the labor of the hands." Adam's disobedience brought a curse upon all creation, Ge 3:17. Achan's disobedience brought death to thirty-six Israelites, and defeat to the whole nation, see Joshua, chapter seven. The principle still operates. Nothing is exempt from the blighting effect of believers' disobedience.
Surely this knowledge ought to impel obedience, and beget a dread of quenching and grieving the Holy Spirit.
1:12. "Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Josedech, 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, and the people did fear before the Lord."
It was noted in our study of verse one that in Zerubbabel the civil head, and Joshua the religious leader, God reminds us of our tendency to divide our lives into two parts, one secular, the other, "religious," but in His consistent mentioning of Zerubbabel first, He appears to be emphasizing the need to have our workday lives governed by the same standard as that which regulates our spiritual activities. Here in verse 12 we find that the ministry of the prophet has accomplished God's purpose, and it is the obedience of Zerubbabel that is mentioned first. Since the work week constitutes the larger part of our lives, it is there that reformation must begin. It isn't difficult to be a Christian on Sunday when we are surrounded by other believers. It is from Monday morning till Saturday night that there is the greatest need of vigilance to live by heavenly, rather than earthly standards.
Happily there was reformation among those to whom Haggai had been sent, and it was no partial reformation. All "obeyed the voice of the Lord their God." Only when there is the same whole-hearted response on our part - obedience in secular things as well as in spiritual, on the part of elders and people alike - will there be blessing.
A lesson, never more needed than today, is being taught in the announcement that they obeyed "the voice of the Lord their God," and also "the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him." Some of God's sternest rebukes resulted from Israel's response to the prophets He had sent to instruct them. More often than not the instruction was refused, and the messengers themselves mocked or stoned. The same rebellious attitude abounds today, the only difference being that an "enlightened" Church employs more sophisticated methods in dealing with the "problem." Unwelcome ministry is now silenced, not by stoning the messenger, but by denying him any opportunity to deliver his message. One of the more subtle strategies employed by a church often wiser in the ways of the world than of God, is to select the subject or Scripture upon which the servant may speak, and if that proves unsuccessful, care is taken to ensure that he receives no further invitations to minister.
The servant's ministry is not to be judged by whether it is pleasant or popular, but by whether it is validated by Scripture. The man may be rejected only when his ministry is unscriptural, or when it is apparent that he lacks spiritual qualification for the work he is attempting to do.
"And the people did fear before the Lord." In Ps 111:10 it is written, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." There is very great need for that same reverential fear to govern the lives of believers today.
1:13. "Then spake Haggai the Lord's messenger in the Lord's message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the Lord."
All that was needed to bring the assurance of God's presence, and therefore blessing, was repentance and an obedient return to the work abandoned years before. It is no different today. Genuine repentance, and a resumption of the work of building God's house, are all that is needed to bring the same assurance to us. It is the height of folly to believe that the answer to the Church's problems lies in the grandiose schemes of men, schemes which involve much human organization, much human "wisdom," human education, the formulation of intricate plans, the compilation of impressive statistics, the activity of "experts" to direct all this busy bustle.
How different is God's "easy, artless, unencumbered plan"! All that was needed by that once delinquent, but now repentant and obedient remnant, was His assurance, "I am with you." That is all that has ever been needed. That is all that is needed today. With Him in the midst of His obedient people, the need of human organization, wisdom, education, planning, statistics, expertise, etc., disappears. With an ungrieved, unquenched Holy Spirit free to control each believer, educated or otherwise, God's work will be done according to His Own great plan, and all the present busy activity will be revealed for what it is - a glittering facade invented by human ingenuity as a substitute for departed spiritual power.
In connection with the original construction of Solomon's temple it is significant that we find it written, "And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building" (1 Ki 6:7). The literal silence that prevailed, the absence of hammer, axe or any iron tool, as those prepared stones were set in place, is the symbolic revelation of how the Holy Spirit builds God's house today. As there was no place in that great work for the methods used in the construction of an ordinary house, neither is there today any room for the methods that are legitimate in the world. Those stones, prepared before being brought to the temple, represent those foreknown by God, the living stones of which His house is built today. The Holy Spirit works as silently, as mysteriously, and as effectively, now as He did then. He has need, not of human schemes, but of obedient hearts.
1:14. “And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.”
First there was obedience, accompanied by a reverential awe of God, on the part of Zerubbabel the governor, of Joshua the high priest, and of all the people, as recorded in verse 12, reminding us that until there is the same obedience and reverent awe of God in our secular as well as in our religious lives, there will be no stirring of His Spirit in our lives. He will not use a disobedient believer, nor will He use one whose dedication to the things of God is less than complete.
It is to be noted further that it wasn’t sufficient for only the civil and religious leaders to obey and reverence God: all the people must follow the example of their leaders. A truth not sufficiently grasped today by God’s people is that the disobedience of even one member of a local church hinders blessing for all the members. Consider, for example, the case of Achan in Joshua chapter 7. Because of his sin Israel were defeated and thirty-six of them slain in their attempt to take the little city Ai. The great weakness of the Church today is that sin goes unjudged, both in our personal lives, and corporately. Known sin is all too often swept under the rug in spite of the clear command of God given in 1 Tim 5:20 “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” See also 2 Tim 4:2; Tit 1:13; 2:15. Fear of offending men all too often results in our offending God, and thereby robbing ourselves of His power and blessing. In a day of diminishing congregations a potent factor prompting this delinquency is the fear of losing members, because we have forgotten that God is not dependent on numbers. It is better to have a congregation of ten obedient believers than of a hundred where some are disobedient, because in proportion as there is obedience there will be blessing, and vice versa.
It was the Lord Who stirred up the spirits of leaders and people, reminding us that until there is that divine stirring in our individual lives we will know nothing either of God’s power or His blessing. Nor should we fail to note the result of the Lord’s stirring: “... they came and did work.” There may be a great deal of busy religious activity in the life of an individual or a church, but such activity should never be mistaken for that which is the result of the Holy Spirit’s stirring in a believer’s life. Work done apart from the direction of the Holy Spirit will produce nothing of worth for eternity.
1:15. “In the four and twentieth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.”
It had taken only twenty-four days of Haggai’s ministry to transform that returned remnant from a state of disobedience, apathy, and discouragement, to one of joyful obedience, fervent zeal, and eager anticipation. The days are divided into four, the scriptural number of earth and testing; and twenty which may be factorized as 2 x 10 or 4 x 5. Two is the number of witness or testimony; and ten, the number of God as Governor of all things, just as twelve is the number of those under that government. Four, as already noted, is the number of earth and testing, while five is the number of human responsibility. The overall lesson of the twenty-four days therefore is that they were the witness to God’s governmental dealing with a disobedient people, that divine testing awakening them to a realization of their responsibility to obey and be blessed, or to continue in rebellion and be punished still further. It would be well if the exhortation of God’s servants produced the same quick repentance and obedience on the part of believers today.
In concluding our study of this first chapter we note that it wasn't just the leaders who were involved - it was all the people. Each believer has been given a spiritual gift which is to be used in the building of God's house. None can say, There is nothing for me to do in this great work.