Intro: Please turn to Haggai chapter one [P]. For those of you who are newer to this fellowship; I have, over the past few years, been working through the Minor Prophets. In fact, I note that it was in 2007 that I started with the book of Joel. So we have had a fair dose of doom and gloom and judgement. I mean, who would be a prophet?! What a miserable job! A prophet is a man who hears from יְהוָה and then faithfully proclaims that message to the people. And sometimes, in fact most times, the message was not that pleasant! Furthermore, the reception they got from the people was not that pleasant – they were hated, insulted, mocked, imprisoned, and killed. Jesus said [Matthew 23:29-35 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ “So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. “Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell? “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.] And in [2 Chronicles 36:15-16 we read: יְהוָה, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of יְהוָה arose against His people, until there was no remedy.] It is almost universal, this response of rejecting the message of יְהוָה’s message because they rejected יְהוָה Himself. It all gets a bit depressing. Now we come to the prophecy of Haggai – and it is more of the same, the rebuke of יְהוָה; but it stands out as different, refreshing and exciting – because the wonderful thing is, that the people actually responded to the prophecy, heeded what יְהוָה said, obeyed Him and His message to them. What a wonderful difference! Hallelujah! יְהוָה longs to bless but we prevent the blessing that could be ours by our obstinate disobedience [P]. I can testify from my own experience. I have told before of the wonderful change that the LORD made in my life when I was baptized – for years I had resisted, but when I simply obeyed, the blessing of the LORD flooded in. What fools we are not to respond to His word. So let us have a look at this word, this message that came to the prophet Haggai.
Historical setting: [read Haggai 1:1 In the second year of Darius the king, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of יְהוָה came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying,]. Oops, I have stopped mid-sentence! Well, before we look at the message, what יְהוָה said, we need to look at its setting, the context. Who was it to? When was it written? It makes no sense unless you understand the background. And that is what Haggai does – he fixes his message securely in a specific historical setting. How carefully and precisely this prophecy is fixed in history, right down to the exact day – it is just like an official document. It was the word of יְהוָה – a message from יְהוָה Himself! This is a thing of great moment and importance and it was set on record, an abiding witness. The date it was received is given and the political setting described. “The second year that Darius was king” – not only the year but the exact date: “the first day of the sixth month.” This is anchored precisely in a specific moment in history. We are quick to take Scripture to ourselves, but before we apply it we must understand its historical context. We have other historical characters: Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, who was governor of Judah; and someone called Joshua, who was son of Jehozadak, who was the high priest. We have a specific date and four historical characters. Who were they and what is their significance? Before we look at the prophecy, I need to give a little history lesson [P]. I hated history at school; I never took it as a subject because you had to write too much. I was lazy and preferred a subject where you could dash down a formula or an equation. But subsequently I have developed quite a fascination with history; perhaps because, with increasing age, I am becoming more historical myself. But history is important! Many books of doctrinal theses and systematic theology have been written – but not by God! Have you ever noted that when God wanted to reveal Himself to man He did not give a theological treatise. Here in the Scriptures we have the revelation of God, the only accurate, reliable and infallible record we have. All we know about God is here – and what is it? The majority of it is history! – A record of God’s dealings in the lives of His people. God acts in history [P], in the lives of human beings, through events – and through that interaction we come to know of His character and nature. Not by going to Bible college, not by studying doctrine, not by learning theology – but in the practical acts of everyday life. Last time I spoke about the earthquake – God acted in history – we need to discern what He is saying through His acts – so, a little history lesson. How far back do I go?
• Adam – disobedience brings death [P] Well, how about Adam? The first man in history was given a command by God not to eat from a certain tree. He disobeyed and sin and death entered the world. By a real incident in history we learn of God. We learn that sin, disobedience, brings death.
• Noah – God judges sin [P] Well, that sin passed down to all Adam’s of offspring, they became so corrupt that God decided to wipe out man, whom He had created. He preserved righteous Noah and his family. We see from a real event in history that God judges sin but preserves the righteous. We learn the principle that righteousness comes by faith.
• Abraham – יְהוָה’s call and promise [P] But again, man was corrupt, rejected God and the knowledge of God was all but gone from mankind. It would be lost altogether but God chose a man for Himself, to keep the knowledge of יְהוָה and pass it on to his descendants. He called Abraham. We see God’s sovereign grace. God made a promise to Abraham and a covenant. A promise to give him offspring and a land. A specific piece of real estate. I have a colleague at work who attempts to spiritualize the Bible and not take it literally – but you cannot get around the fact that the purposes of God center around a certain piece of land. Abraham believed God’s promise and it was credited to him as righteousness. From real life events in history, the sacrifice of God’s own Son was foretold. God reveals Himself through history.
• The Exodus – יְהוָה redeemed the nation Israel to Himself [P] From Abraham, miraculously, a line of descendants came. God called them and revealed Himself to them. He made a promise to give them a land and to make them a nation through which the world would be blessed. One of Abraham’s descendants, Jacob, went to Egypt with his family because of a famine, and there they remained. There they multiplied and grew in number. They were oppressed by the pharaoh and subjugated in slavery. But God never forgot His promise. He redeemed this people out of Egypt with mighty miracles. He purchased a people for Himself and made them into a nation – the people of Israel. So much of God is revealed – His loving-kindness, His covenant, the Law, redemption, His faithfulness, His power. God revealed who He is through acting in real life events in history.
• Conquering Canaan – יְהוָה gave the Promised Land [P] יְהוָה did mighty things for His people, not that they appreciated them – they were inveterate grumblers. But despite this, despite their disobedience, and lack of faith; יְהוָה faithfully kept His promise and brought them into the Promised Land. By His mighty power they conquered nations and יְהוָה gave them the land, the physical territory that He had promised to Abraham.
• Judges – rejection of God’s rule [P] Here they were a nation, with a land of their own, a plentiful land. God had done wonders for them and yet they rejected Him. They disobeyed His commands and mixed with the people of the land, embracing their idolatrous gods. Time and again they turned away; and patiently, mercifully יְהוָה would send deliverers. We see the obdurate, godless heart of man and the patience of God.
• Monarchy – establishing the Messianic line [P] Finally, they rejected God’s rule altogether and demanded a king. Yet still יְהוָה had not abandoned His people and He raised up a king after His own heart – David, from whose line the promised Messiah, deliverer would come.
• Israel/Judah – nation divided because of idolatry [P] All was on track, there was hope, it was the zenith of the nation! But this united nation, under the Davidic dynasty, only lasted 80 short years. The rot set in so quickly. David’s own son disobeyed, had many wives, many horses and embraced the idols of the nations. In the reign of his son it all fell apart. Israel as a nation was divided in two. There was the northern kingdom of Israel, consisting of ten tribes. And to the south there was the kingdom of Judah with two tribes. The northern kingdom of Israel was based on idolatry from its inception. Every king it had (with one possible exception) was evil and it was taken into captivity by the empire of Assyria.
• Exile – Judah failed to heed the patient warnings of יְהוָה [P] Judah, to the south, had some godly kings and some evil. Here was יְהוָה acting in history – you would think that they would heed the lesson, see what יְהוָה was saying: their brothers to the north were taken into exile because of idolatry – the cause was clear – יְהוָה had consistently sent His prophets announcing the cause. Did Judah learn? No, they followed the same course of idolatry, rejecting יְהוָה – and eventually met the same fate. They too were taken captive. The Babylonians invaded the land, destroyed their cities, their temple and carried the inhabitants away to Babylonia. יְהוָה had announced it all through His prophets whom He sent – even down to the length of the captivity. They would be in exile for seventy years.
• Return – יְהוָה remembers His promise and His people [P] True to His word – Judah was in exile for seventy years. Then יְהוָה caused the Medo-Persians to invade and conquer Babylon. He used the emperor Cyrus as His servant to restore His people to the land. Cyrus gave the decree by which the Jews could return to Israel with the temple treasures and rebuild the temple and the nation. That takes us up fairly close to when this prophecy of Haggai takes place. There you have the history of Israel condensed into 5 minutes.
Here it is 539 B.C., and Cyrus invaded Babylon and it fell to the Medo-Persian Empire.
• Cyrus decrees return to the land [P] It wasn’t long into his rule that Cyrus decreed the return of the Jews to their land. It was יְהוָה who caused him to defeat Babylon and He who prompted him to order their return. God is in control of history. [Ezra 1:1-2:2 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of יְהוָה by the mouth of Jeremiah, יְהוָה stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘יְהוָה, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. ‘Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of יְהוָה, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. ‘Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.’ ” Then the heads of fathers’ households of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and the Levites arose, even everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of יְהוָה which is in Jerusalem. All those about them encouraged them with articles of silver, with gold, with goods, with cattle and with valuables, aside from all that was given as a freewill offering. Also King Cyrus brought out the articles of the house of יְהוָה, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and put in the house of his gods; and Cyrus, king of Persia, had them brought out by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and he counted them out to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah. Now this was their number: 30 gold dishes, 1,000 silver dishes, 29 duplicates; 30 gold bowls, 410 silver bowls of a second kind and 1,000 other articles. All the articles of gold and silver numbered 5,400. Sheshbazzar brought them all up with the exiles who went up from Babylon to Jerusalem. Now these are the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away to Babylon, and returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his city. These came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua …. (plus a whole lot of others)]
• Altar built and worship restored [P] So some Jews returned, by 536 B.C. the first group had arrived , their first priority was to restore the worship of יְהוָה: [Ezra 3:1-3 Now when the seventh month came, and the sons of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel (? Sound familiar) and his brothers arose and built the altar of the God of Israel to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses, the man of God. So they set up the altar on its foundation, for they were terrified because of the peoples of the lands; and they offered burnt offerings on it to יְהוָה, burnt offerings morning and evening.];
• Temple foundations laid [P] They soon set about rebuilding the temple. [Ezra 3:7-11 From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to יְהוָה, but the foundation of the temple of יְהוָה had not been laid. Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and food, drink and oil to the Sidonians and to the Tyrians, to bring cedar wood from Lebanon to the sea at Joppa, according to the permission they had from Cyrus king of Persia. Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak (the same two leaders we read of in Haggai) and the rest of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all who came from the captivity to Jerusalem, began the work and appointed the Levites from twenty years and older to oversee the work of the house of יְהוָה. Then Jeshua with his sons and brothers stood united with Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah and the sons of Henadad with their sons and brothers the Levites, to oversee the workmen in the temple of God. Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of יְהוָה, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise יְהוָה according to the directions of King David of Israel. They sang, praising and giving thanks to יְהוָה, saying, “For He is good, for His loving-kindness is upon Israel forever.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised יְהוָה because the foundation of the house of יְהוָה was laid. Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the shout of joy from the sound of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard far away.] They were godly people with their heart set on יְהוָה – the secular and worldly ones never bothered to return from Babylon.
• Work stops [P] But because of the opposition from neighbouring peoples, work on the temple stopped [Ezra 4:4-5 Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building, and hired counsellors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.]
• Time passes, a new emperor [P] Time moved on, a new emperor came to the throne, Darius – in fact a series of kings: Cyrus ruled until 530 B.C. and Darius came to power in 521 B.C. Sixteen years had passed, so too had the crisis. Still nothing had been done on the temple. That brings us right up to the time and setting of this prophecy.
They had been distracted! I think there is a lesson for us [P]. It is easy to get caught up in the business of life. They hadn’t turned away from God, but there was difficulty, they got discouraged, they turned their attention to other things – they couldn’t work on the temple and they had to get settled and established in a devastated land – and those other things took over. They were legitimate things but they distracted them from what they should be doing. It is so easy to forget the reason we are here and just get distracted with all that we find placed before us to do. I know it full well! Our business is building the temple of God, His Church, preparing it for His return. So here we are; we have arrived at the time of Haggai. [P] And here we are presented with four men of the time:
• Darius [P] – emperor – The date was August-September 520 B.C. – we can fix it precisely because it was the second year of Darius the Great, a different Darius to the one in the book of Daniel. But he is archeologically famous – a character fixed in history. Although he himself held no direct ancestral claim to succession, he gained kingship by defeating a certain Gaumata who had usurped the throne. Being a humble sort of bloke, he didn’t let this go by unnoticed. He recorded his victory and it can be seen to this day! In Iran, in the Zagros mountains [P], 300 feet up there is a ledge [P]. He wanted everyone to be able to see it from afar. There on that ledge, Darius had carved a record of his victory. It is known as the Behistun Inscription. He had the record inscribed in three languages: like the Rosetta stone, it was important for working out hitherto unknown ancient languages: Old Persian, Elamite and Akkadian. The copying and decryption in the 1830’s by Henry Rawlinson is a fascinating and exciting story; hanging from ropes on the vertical face, perched on a precariously narrow ledge, making a cast of the tri-lingual inscription. This is history, Darius was king [P] – there he is! He was emperor over the Medo-Persian empire, of which Israel was a part. It was his second year, we can fix the time in history: 520 B.C. – around the time of Confucius in China. It was the first day of the sixth month - i.e. the month of Elul (August/September) – the date is given precisely down to the very day. [P] Darius was supreme ruler in the world, the king.
• Zerubbabel [P] – governor – But on the local level, there were appointed governors. Zerubbabel had succeeded Sheshbazzar as governor of the province of Judah under Persian over-lordship. We read in Ezra 1:8 how Cyrus had handed the temple treasures over to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah. He was of the royal line, Jehoiachin’s son. So he would have been Zerubbabel’s uncle because his father, Shealtiel, was also a son of Jehoiachin. Haggai and Zechariah invest him with messianic glory: he is called יְהוָה’s servant (“the Branch”; Zech. 3:8; 6:12-13) and is to become like a monarch’s “signet ring” after God has over-thrown the kingdoms of the world (Hag. 2:21-23) – so prophetically, he is a signifies the Messiah, Jesus ruling as King. So Zerubbabel is the civil leader of the returned exiles.
• Joshua [P] – high priest – He was the first high priest after the Exile. His son Joiakim was a contemporary of Nehemiah. The name Joshua, or Jeshua, is the Hebrew form of the Name “Jesus”. He too prophetically pictures Jesus – Jesus as the Great High Priest. So Joshua is the religious leader of the returned exiles.
• Haggai [P] – prophet – Jesus is Prophet, Priest and King, and the third Jew in this verse who returned was a prophet, Haggai. There was a civil leader and a religious leader – but something else was needed. Leadership had failed, things were not happening – what was needed was spiritual leaders. Someone to get the people back on track. As I said earlier, work on the temple halted, and was not resumed until God raised up Haggai and Zechariah sixteen years after the exiles returned, to preach the need to complete the reconstruction project. Over a four month period in 520 B.C. Haggai delivered four messages concerning this effort. His first and third messages explained that the land’s lack of productivity was because the temple lay in ruins and the land was still unclean. The message by the hand of Haggai was from יְהוָה to the governor of Judah and the high priest – i.e. to the civil and religious leadership – to those that יְהוָה had placed in authority. Haggai worked in conjunctions with Zechariah starting two months before him – Zechariah prophesied for three years but Haggai only for three months and twenty-four days. He was probably born at Babylon during the captivity. His name means “My feast”, and may have been given to him in joyous anticipation of the return from captivity. Sixteen years had passed since the return from captivity. The first thought and care of the people when they returned was the rebuilding of the altar and the temple; but difficulties cropped up. Eventually, political intrigues stopped the work, and the zeal and enthusiasm of the people died away in the face of these prolonged difficulties. But though the difficulties faded and passed, the workers did not return to their work. Then their came a season of distress – the harvest failed, there was drought and trouble and sorrow [Haggai 1:6 “You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.”,] There was frustration, everything was going wrong – again, יְהוָה is speaking through history! [P] [Haggai 1:9-11 “You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?” declares יְהוָה, (there is a reason, we need to listen to what יְהוָה is saying through the events that take place around us. [P] And this is the reason:) “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house. (They were taken up with doing their own thing, self-centered – and there was a consequence:)“Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. “I called for a drought on the land, (It is יְהוָה’s doing – He is acting in history) on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands.” ]. Things were bad, Haggai was sent to interpret the calamity. God speaks through events that take place around us, are we hearing His voice? [1 Chronicles 12:32 speaks of: the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.] Do we understand the times, the significance of God’s acts in the events that take place around us? There was God acting in history and these men of Issachar discerned His voice. Jesus expects us to do the same: [Matthew 16:2-3 He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.] We need to discern the signs of the times – what יְהוָה is saying to us through His acts. Haggai was God’s spokesman to interpret what God was saying in their circumstances – we will look at his message next time.