Build the House of God
Key Verse 1:8
“Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored," says the LORD.
In studying the books of the Bible, one of the ways to find out the point of the message each book is to consider the meaning of the human beings (like the prophets) through whom the word of the Lord came to be canonized.
This method applies to the book Haggai as well. In Hebrew the name Haggai means "festival" which in turn hints the point of his message: "festival." A festival is a time of celebration marked by special observances. On normal days people go about their businesses according to regular schedules. But when a time of festival arrives they stop and take a break from their daily routine. They get into a party mood. The word festival conjures up in our minds all the good and fun stuff, like music, dancing, drinks, B.B.Q, sports, games, arts, crafts, and much more.
Imbedded in the heart of every person is the desire to see the times of their lives filled with what is good. The same was true with the people of Haggai’s day - the [early] returnees returning from the Babylonian Exile back to their homeland. Now that Darius had issued an order to go back home, some of the devout Jews did go back home. Now that they successfully made their journey back home, using all the job skills they accumulated in Babylon, they started to build their lives in their homeland. But the Prophet Haggai saw that there was a problem. What was it? And what was the solution to their problem?
I. You expected much, but it turned out to be little. Why? (1:1-11)
Let us read 1:1-11. In verse 9 the Lord asks a question saying, "Why?" The returnees desired to build a good life. They made plans and they worked hard on those plans. But their plans had many holes. The problems they had remind us of the people in the U.S. building up retirement accounts only to see the monies sitting in the accounts (like the investments in stocks, bonds, IRA accounts, real estates, etc.) going down the tube or slipping through fingers through medical bills.
The main cause was to build their lives without the Lord. Their plan was flawed. The Bible shows us the framework for "quality" (or blessed) life. The Lord incorporated this blessed framework in the house of the Lord. In the Book of Haggai the word "house" [of the Lord] is repeated 9 times.
In what respect does the house of the Lord represent the divine framework for a blessed life? What does this house teach us that we can have life to the full? We can find the answer to this question in two words: pleasure and honor.
1) The Lord's pleasure.
Verse 8 says that the house of the Lord is the source of the Lord's pleasure. "Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored." The word "pleasure" (in Hebrew ratsah) denotes a state of satisfaction (or gratification), a state of joy and comfort, the state which is enjoyed on God's level. By definition God is infinitely perfect. So built in the house of the Lord is the framework for ultimate satisfaction where nothing is lacking, for all components that guarantee man's perfect happiness for total satisfaction are found in him. In Psalm 16:11 King David found this to be the case, when he sang, "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."
This finding raises a question: "Why is it that it is only in the Lord's house that the Lord ‘may’ find ‘pleasure’ in it?" Before answering the question, let us think about the Lord being displeased with his people. In the book of Haggai the Lord is displeased with his people that he interferes with people's efforts to build life on their own. (Read 1:10 and 11, for example.) However, as the Lord God repeatedly urged the returnees to build the Lord's temple, the Lord promised to change his position towards his children when they diligently work on the house of the Lord until completion. Why?
We find the answer to this question in the meaning of the word "pleasure" for in Hebrew the word ratsah means "to be propitious," "to appease," or "punishment accepted as satisfactory." We find the same usage of the word in regard to Jesus for when Jesus was coming out of the water after being baptized by John the Baptist, a voice was heard from heaven, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." The house of the Lord is symbolic of Jesus, the Savior to come. Why then did the Lord find pleasure in Jesus? Why is God so "pleased" with Jesus the Son? Again we find the answer to this question in what John the Baptist testified, because before baptizing Jesus he looked at Jesus and said, "Look the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world".
This observation indicates that at the heart of the framework for a blessed life is the need to have man's sin problems resolved. Sin destroys festivity.
2) The Lord's honor.
"Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored," says the LORD." Other translations of the expression, "I may be...honored," include: "I will be glorified" (RSV), and, "[I shall take pleasure in it and] manifest my glory there" (New Jerusalem Bible). "Honor" and "glory" are associated with each other for if God is honored (or God's name is glorified) it is because God's glory becomes manifested. For the same reason in the book of Haggai, the prophet mentions God's glory associated in the house of the Lord when he referred to the glory of the former house vs. the glory of the present house, or the glory of the house to come as in the expression, "I will fill this house with glory" (2:7).
The word "glory" characterizes the state of God’s creation that is divinely perfect. While the "pleasure" of the Lord refers to the cause for a quality life, the "glory" of the Lord denotes the manifestation of God’s nature. Supporting the same idea, King David said in Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." The heavens and skies are collective terms for the universe and everything in it, for the universe and all of God's creation (except the fallen men) reflect God's excellent qualities. The sun, moon, all the stars and their movements reflect God's glory. When we look around ourselves we see myriads of creatures exhibiting God's glory like the birds of the air, butterflies, bees, fish in a pond, and all sorts of flowers blooming season after season. Just think about a creature like a fly. Can you make a machine that flies as niftily as a fly? Despite all the technological advancements, the U.S. military was not able to make a helicopter as nifty and nimble as a fly.
The quality life comes with a quality person. The problem with a man desiring a quality life is the quality of the person so desiring. No matter how much one desires a quality life, when the quality of a person remains questionable, no matter how sophisticated a plan he may come up with for the betterment of his life, the plan for a good life is not going to fly.
The Prophet Haggai saw this being the case with the returnees of his day. They lived in Babylon for a prolonged period of time. As they were about to build a good life in their homeland, they should realize that the problem exists "inside," so that no matter what they do for a better life, unless they deal with the problem (or problems) that is inside they are not going to get what they really want.
II. The people obeyed (1:12-2:9)
Thanks to the Haggai's prodding and encouragement, the returnees started working on the house of the Lord.
There are three classes of people who worked on the house of the Lord: the governor, the priest, and the remnants. The governor (Zerubbabel) was a political leader, the priest a spiritual leader, and the remnants the work crews.
Verse 12 reads, "Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God." Here "the whole remnant of the people" refers to a small group of faithful people who chose to live in close proximity of the Jerusalem temple (Cf. Isaiah 4:3). In Downey some live several hundred feet from the Downey center, some within several miles. Living closely to the Jerusalem temple was critical to getting the work done. Imagine the Downey center remaining in ruins so that a prophet shows up on one Sunday and rebukes the people to restore it. What will happen? Who will do the work? In the case of the people of the day of Haggai, they needed to go up to the mountains and bring down timer and build. In our day, probably we need to make lots of trip to big boxes like Home Depot or Lowes. In working on the entertainment center for the children next door, several coworkers made lots of trip to Home Depot. And we were able to do the work in a relatively short period of time, for several of us, especially Samuel Seon, live closely to the Downey center. The same was true with the remnants. In obedience to the Lord's call they went up into the mountains nearby and brought timber. In those days they did not have any pick up trucks air compressors or chainsaws. Yet with hands and feet and other primitive tools they worked hard on the project.
At first the work seemed overwhelming. Progress was slow. Yet as they started obeying the Lord started helping them out as Haggai 1:14 says, "So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God..."
The work began in the second year, 6th month, 24th day (Haggai 1:15). In less than a month the people's enthusiasm wore out so the Prophet Haggai encouraged the people to persevere (2:1). In so encouraging, it is interesting to note that Haggai stimulated the workers to think about the greatness of God's "glory" to be revealed. Let us read 2:2-9.
In a modern society where there are lots of attractive distractions, the promise of Glory to be revealed [in the life of a gospel worker] comes as a viable source of encouragement, for in this information age an increasing number of enemies stand up against the knowledge of God. The generation may change but God's way does not. The way to build God's house in the hearts of all fallen men never changes. In our generation we are called to build God's temple with prayer and the word of God, with the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Although an increasing number of enemies arise against the gospel message, we must take heart and keep working to build God’s house, for God’s word is powerful enough to help man realize his sin, repent, and turn to God for God’s glory.
Another important point of encouragement is the promise for the Lord to once more shake the heavens and the earth (2:6). This shaking will coincide with the time of the Lord's coming again. On his return the Lord will shake nature as well as all "nations." When this happens what the Scripture says in Hebrews 12:26-29 will come true. This promise of shaking (only to reshape what is to be shaken) is encouraging for when the shaking becomes complete, the kingdom of God will emerge so that the remnants will see God's glory revealed fully in their persons inside out.
III. From this day on I will bless you (2:10-23)
Thanks to the Prophet Haggai's encouragement, within a period of about three months the work on the house of the Lord progressed (2:10). Most likely the Prophet saw that people overcame difficulties and committed themselves to bring the work to completion. [According to Ezra 6:15, the work was completed in the 6th year, 12th month, and third day.] To further encourage them to work till completion the Lord gave them the promise to bless their work.
What does the blessing consist of? There are two categories: internal blessing (2:10-19) and external blessing (2:20-23).
Internal blessing is featured with God's “holiness.” In vs. 10-14 the Lord asked the priests two questions on defilement. The questions and answers indicate that it is so easy for a man (and his possessions) to be defiled, while it is so hard to reverse what has been defiled to go "undefiled" (or "holy"). Here the word “defiled” is synonymous with the word “unholy.” The word defile means: "to make unclean or impure; to corrupt the purity of perfection of; to violate the chastity of; to make physically unclean especially with something unpleasant or contaminating; to violate the sanctity of." The meanings of the word indicate the consequences of man sinning, that is, becoming ineffective, counterproductive, useless, or harmful.
"From this day on I will bless you!" Here the word "you" refers to one's person (the inner qualities). God wants to bless one's "person" and then his possessions. For those who work faithfully on the house of the Lord, the Lord will reverse the situation, so that a defiled man will be transformed to a man of God's blessing. This promise is nothing new, for after leading the Israelites out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai, the Lord God called them to be a kingdom of priests and a "holy" nation (Exodus 19:5-6).
In vs. 20-23 the Lord promised to make Zerubbabel like God's signet ring. A signet ring is a royal seal (the way to sign and ratify the word of the Lord). Zerubbabel is symbolic of the Savior to come and all those who belong to him, those who are faithful to serving the Lord's kingdom purpose. They are the ones to inherit the perfected kingdom to come.
In conclusion, as the returnees came back from the Babylonian exile to their homeland, the Prophet Haggai encouraged them to work for God's house first, for getting right with God is the key to living a blessed life. The Prophet Haggai carries a very important message for people living in the electronic age. In this age where the love of many has grown cold and the generation becomes increasingly wicked and adulterous, it is imperative for us to hold onto the call to build the house of the Lord as a matter of first priority.
1. In Hebrew Haggai means _____________________.
2. In Leviticus 23 the Lord asked the Israelites to keep seven "feasts" (or festivals). What does this command indicate about the Lord's will for his children? __________________________
3. The work of the house of the Lord began on _____________ and was completed on ____________.
4. The people (the returnees) said, "The time has not yet come for the house of the Lord to be built." What was wrong with their argument? ___________________________________________
5. Describe in your own words the works that might have been involved in building a "paneled" house or the house of the Lord "in the day of Haggai." _______________________________________
6. Which one came first, "obedience" (to the command to build the Lord's house) or the Lord "stirring up the spirit" (to build the house)? ______________________________
7. Where did "whole remnant of the people" [who obeyed] live?
8. In the book of Haggai, the Savior to come again is called “the ___________ of nations.”