Haggai – “festivals of God”

I. Background

Prophet Haggai’s name means “festive of God,” or “festivals of God”. He is one of the twelve so-called minor prophets. He was the first of the three prophets whose ministry belonged to the period of Jewish history which began after the return from captivity in Babylon. Zechariah, a contemporary of Haggai, and Malachi, who was about one hundred years later, were the other two. Scarcely anything is known of his personal history.

During the captivity of Israelites in Babylon, Babylon fell to the Medo-Persian Empire in 539 B.C. Because the Israelites were largely settled in Babylon, the fall seemed to add a great uncertainty to captivity.

But the fall of Babylon turned out to be an opportunity for Israelites exiled in Babylon. God had a purpose in the change of the course of history.

A year later, God stirred up the heart of Medo-Persian King Cyrus to issue a decree allowing the Israelites to return to Israel. This marked the beginning of the great Return of Israelites from Babylon to Jerusalem.

Only a remnant of Israelites returned. But those who returned did with a singular purpose: to rebuild the Temple of God that was destroyed.

By 536 B.C., the first group had arrived and soon laid the foundation of the Temple. They came back under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua. The circumstances in which the Temple was rebuilt were recorded in detail in historical books in the Bible, particularly Ezra and Nehemiah.

God was with His people. The returned remnant was moved by God to do the impossible. Saying it was impossible is no exaggeration.

Although the second Temple isn’t as great as the first one built by Solomon, it was built under entirely different circumstances. The first Temple was built in a period of great peace and prosperity, while the second Temple was built in a time of total humility in terms of what the Israelites possessed, and under extreme adversarial environment which further made the conditions many times worse.

The children of God were constantly attacked by various enemies in forms of both assaults and deception. Soon they were overcome by frustration, and the work on the Temple stopped (see Ezra 4.4-5).

But God was not to give up. 16 years later, God raised up Haggai and Zechariah to again stir up the hearts of the revenant to complete the reconstruction project.

Over a four-month period in 520 B.C., Haggai delivered four messages concerning this effort. The first and third messages brought down admonishing words of the Lord warning that the land’s lack of productivity was because the Temple lay in ruins and the land was still spiritually unclean. But each of these two messages was followed by words of reassurance that God was with them and the rebuilding of the Temple was to be accompanied by great blessings.

The people quickly responded to the call, and the rebuilding of the Temple was completed in 515 B.C.

II. Return from captivity

God called Israelites to return from Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem. The Return from captivity to Jerusalem has a very different spiritual meaning from the Exodus from Egypt.

The Exodus is the representation of God’s saving His people from the world. The entire nation of Israel was brought out of Egypt. God did not leave a part of the Israel perishing in the world. The salvation is categorically applied to God’s people.

In contrast, in the Return from Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem, the call was given to everyone who was in captivity, but only a remnant returned.

Spiritually speaking, the Exodus represents the justification of one who has received the redemption in the Lord Jesus. Once a person makes the decision of receiving Jesus as his personal savior, the justification (escaping from the judgment of eternal death) no longer depends on his action.

But justification isn’t the completion of God’s salvation. It is only the beginning. God wants a people who are not merely justified in position, but are actually sanctified (pure and set apart for God) and ultimately glorified.

In time and on earth, there is such a condition in which the people of God are unsanctified! There is also such a condition in which a child of God is in captivity, not in the worldly Egypt, but in the religious Babylon.

How does a child of God end up in such a condition? He desires it, seeks after it, craves for it, and gives in to his idolatrous heart.  Eventually God gives him away. That is exactly what happened to the Israelites, God’s people in the Old Testament time.

Remember that the Jews went to Egypt because of a provision of God, not because of a sinful act on their part (not that they were good, but sin wasn’t a premise for Israelites’ sojourning 400 years in Egypt). The Egypt was a cradle, strange as it may seem, chosen by God for His people. At the due time, God brought His people out of Egypt.

In contrast, the Jews were exiled as captives in Babylon because of their repetitive and long-lasting rebellious and idolatrous condition.

They rejected the only true God but desired to worship idols because the idols had a stronger appeal to their heart and satisfied them more.

In today’s language, idols were “cool” to them.

At the end, God decided that the only way to cure the heart of His people is to allow them to be captured by a nation that is full of spiritual idolatry.

But a time was set, by the mercy of God, for them to return. When the hearts of those who are toward God were fully prepared and crying for a return, God called them to return.

Only a remnant listened and returned, but thank God that the Remnant did return.

The lesson for us is that the way of returning to the true spiritual worship is a narrow way even among those who are redeemed by the blood of our Lord Jesus. It is a dangerous condition to feel complacent about being “merely saved.” If one hears the call to return, he must follow the path of the remnant, not the crowd.

III. Rebuild

Yet the Return was more than just an end of exile for the remnant. In other words, God didn’t mean the Babylonian captivity to be merely a temporary punishment such that when the sentence is served, God would end their captivity without further attachment of a deeper purpose.  Not so.

The remnant didn’t just return, they returned with a purpose, and only one purpose, which is to rebuild the Temple.

Now this is the unity between God’s work and His people’s work. For God, rebuilding the Temple represents recovering the true testimony of Jesus Christ. For God’s people, being motivated to rebuild the Temple is the mark that distinguishes the hearts of the remnant from that of the others.

Today, we hear God’s call to return, and desire to respond to the call. But those who truly belong to the remnant don’t return for their own sake. They return with only one purpose, which is to recover the testimony of Jesus Christ.

For young brothers and sisters today, it might be difficult to grasp the meaning of these types (spiritual allegories), but a basic truth should take root in everyone’s heart: being a child of God, becoming a part of the testimony of the Lord isn’t merely one of the many “Church things” or “Christian things” to do. It is an essential part of the meaning of his life.

IV. Festival

Speaking of building, we all think of labor. Under the circumstances which forced the returned remnant to stop building, picking up the hard work was particularly difficult. Yet God’s messenger to deliver the message was Haggai, the “festivals of God.”

Certainly God saw something different from what the circumstances showed.

God had already seen the completion of the Temple.

In fact, God not only foresaw the completion of the physical Temple that was to be rebuilt by the remnant, He saw the completion of the final Temple in heaven, the spiritual city built in Christ, by Christ, and for Christ.

Had God only had His hope set upon the physical Temple, He would be disappointed. The rebuilt physical Temple was a disappointment even by human standard. The elders of Israelites cried when the foundation of the new Temple was laid because it was nothing compared to the original Temple built by King Solomon.

But God has set His eyes on “a latter house” and declared “the latter glory of this house will be greater than the former.” Haggai 2.9.

The latter house is the spiritual Temple in heaven.

Here is an important illustration. Just as the new Temple built by a weak and feeble people surrounded by adversaries is not comparable to the original Temple built by the mighty King Solomon in total peace and prosperity, our testimony today in its outer appearance will not be comparable to the spiritual Temple built in heaven by the King of kings, Jesus Christ our Lord. But still, our testimony is a true representation of the testimony in heaven.

The first Temple was marvelous, but it represented the riches of the King not the people. Although it is true that the first Temple was also a result of many people’s labor, the work of the people was not the point and was barely mentioned by the Holy Spirit in God’s Word. After it has served its purpose of illustration, God allowed the first Temple to be destroyed and then a new Temple be rebuilt by a weak people, so that God’s testimony is worked through His people.

For this reason, God did not think of the new Temple as a setback. He called it a Festival instead.

No matter how little, insignificant, and unimpressive our testimony may appear, if it is genuinely a part of God’s rebuilding and recovery of the testimony of His Son, we are part of the Festival to be celebrated.

V. Consider

When we aren’t making the necessary effort to build the testimony of the Lord, we need to ask ourselves why.  God used Haggai to remind the people to “Consider your ways.” Sometimes it may be because of our own laziness in not following the Lord faithfully. It is easy to get caught up in the routine of our own things and forget about the purpose of the Lord.

VI. And Consider

When we are making a great deal of effort but still don’t see the result, we also need to ask ourselves why it is so. God not only asked Israelites to stir up the hearts and become diligent, He also asked people to rid of uncleanness among them and among the offers they bring. God loves His people. He never uses them as mere tool to accomplish something that is separated from His people.

In the end, it’s the people and the testimony of the people that He is establishing. God will not bless the work in our hands unless we are sanctified and set in a proper condition to receive the blessing.

VII. “I am going to shake the heavens and the earth,” twice declared the Lord (Haggai 2.6, 2.21)

Even before the rebuilding of the Temple was complete, the word of God came through the prophet Haggai to the people quickly to announce His ultimate purpose for the Temple.

“I am going to shake the heavens and the earth,” twice declared the Lord (Haggai 2.6, 2.21).

We often think that God probably made such a declaration just to encourage His people to continue the work of rebuilding the Temple. Although the word of God definitely encouraged the people, the purpose of God’s declaration of shaking the heavens and the earth isn’t just about assisting the completion of the Temple, but is more about the ultimate meaning of the Temple as a testimony.

Think about it. All things of the heavens and earth will be shaken away but only the heavenly Testimony will stand after the shake. This is what the testimony is about.

Would the Lord declare that He will shake the heavens and the earth if He weren’t sure something that belonged to Him would certainly remain after the shaking?

Of course not. God already saw all the eternal testimony that will be definitely established through the obedience of His people, and for this reason He declared with confidence that He will shake the heavens and the earth.

God knew that the heavenly testimony would withstand the shaking and thus declared to His people in His eternal purpose concerning the Temple.

It is almost as if God couldn’t wait to make this declaration.

The book of Haggai ended with a glorious prophecy concerning the coming Messiah, revealing the true blessing that is to come to God’s elect.

When we follow God’s will in faithfulness and obedience, He is eager to reveal Himself and His eternal purpose to us. He will also provide what we need to enter into that purpose.

I am with you,” the Lord has promised (Haggai 1.13).

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