Consider Your Ways!… Build the House – Lessons from Haggai
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 to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest…
In Scripture, especially in the Old Testament, names have extensive significance. For example, in the book of Micah, a reader of Hebrew would notice a number of puns regarding the names of the cities and their spiritual or physical state. One would notice irony in the fact that Beth-el (house of God) was a site of idolatry. And so, now we are presented with various names in Haggai’s prophecy and lessons to go alongside these names. They are names of men involved in the Temple, the house of God in the Old Testament; and when they are applied to the assembly (the house of God in the New Testament), we can learn great practical truths for our own lives in the assembly.
Darius the King
However, before we see the list of men connected to the house of God, we see this man Darius in his second year as king. This was not Darius of Daniel’s day, but rather Darius of 522 B.C. The context of building God’s house is in Darius’ reign and in Babylonian rule.
And so, the lesson for us is in the nationality of Darius and the nation of Babylon over which he ruled. Babylon is a picture of the world, the great system of idolatry and adultery and sin. It was the site where the languages were confused, because the people had compromised. It the area from which Abraham was called out of. Babylon in type is always a world system trying to disrupt the purposes of God – and the temple was being built at the time of Babylon’s rule. Imagine being the people of God in that atmosphere! Ah, but we are the people of God, and we are surrounded by the world, the great system of idolatry and sin. The only difference between us and the people of Israel is that the form of persecution and geography/culture are different.
What then are we to do? Are we to do what is easiest and bow to pragmatism – “do what ever works for you”? Are we supposed to compromise doctrine, make the world feel more comfortable, and lose grip of Scripture in our assemblies? That is what many in Christendom teach. But to those teachings we can answer emphatically “NO! We will stand upon the word of God.” Even in a foreign, corrupted atmosphere, the men of Haggai were concerned with building God’s house and building it right. In times like we are in, we must never compromise, but instead hold even tighter to truth.
The Word of the Lord (how vital!) came to Haggai, he preached it, and the hearers fulfilled it. It was as simple as that – no questions asked. Are we so faithful when the word of the Lord tells us what His assembly must be? Are we even concerned with being in a local assembly at all? If not, we are letting Babylon overcome us and allowing it to fulfill its purpose – to devour fruit for God and submerge any truth He illuminates to His people. Let us not give heed to Babylon! Let us be as Haggai, Zerubbabel, and Joshua. Let us build the house of God, even in the hardest of times.
In the list of names, we first of all meet the man Haggai. His name primarily means “festive,” but Hitchcock also interprets it “solemnity.” Can the two not be simultaneous in description of this man?
Let us draw a mental image of Haggai’s personality in our minds. He was a man who the Lord of Hosts had dubbed worthy to be entrusted with the Word of God. We can imagine him being overjoyed by such an honor! This would exhibit his description “festive.” Yet in that joy he realizes that this is no frivolous matter, but a solemn one – hence his description “solemnity.” He takes his duty seriously, which is why we have a book entitled “Haggai” at all in our Bibles. This must have been quite some man, for he knew the value of God’s Word.
Is this not what we also see in the Apostle Paul? He knew the importance of committing teachings of Scripture to faithful men (2 Tim 2:2). And now, for 2,000 years, the truth of God’s Word has been passed down and is now in our hands to uphold. First we must ask: “Am I a faithful man?” Then we must ask “Has God given me the responsibility to teach Scripture?” If He has, how do you react? Be a Haggai.
Here are things to consider regarding this man:
Firstly, the Word of God is to be received joyfully. Is this not what we see in Acts 2:41: “They that gladly received his word…”? Specifically dealing with the subject matter at hand, when God has passed down assembly truth to us through godly teaching, let us thank God; for what a privilege it is to have His Will revealed in His Word and in its teaching! When was the last time we simply reveled in the fact that we have assembly truth in God’s Word? Haggai was joyful, no doubt especially regarding revelation from the Lord. What about us?
Secondly, the Word of God is to be received solemnly. Yes, it is truly a joyful event to receive God’s Word, but let joy not overflow into carelessness. Let us not handle assembly truth flippantly, taking it for granted. Rather, in the preaching of the Word, we must be serious about the matter. We must be faithful about the matter. We must take the matter for what it is – a great responsibility. God does not give great responsibility to those who will not treat it as such. Therefore, when we receive the Word of God, let us receive it in Godliness and teach it in solemnity. When the Lord reveals Himself to His own, He does not do so frivolously; should we not accept that revelation in the same manner as He gives it?
Zerubbabel of Shealtiel
While the Word of God came by Haggai, it went unto Zerubbabel, whose name means “descended of Babylon.” Babylon, as we saw earlier, is a picture of the world and its idolatry; and here is a man who is native to that! He was identified with Babylon. Perhaps to the legalistic Jews he was the scum of the earth – useless rubbish. He certainly was of David’s line, but even then he had a Babylonian name, Babylonian birth, Babylonian teaching, and perhaps in some of his years Babylonian behavior. “He’ll never amount to anything!” “Look! The traitor!” But did God totally discount him? Not in the least!
Perhaps the reader is one without a godly background or heritage. Or most likely we at least know one who is not as spiritual as they should be – one who minimizes the preciousness of God’s house, of prayer, of the cross. Perhaps as Zerubbabel could have been, they were born in, bred by, and behaving like the world. But God may still use them, even in His house. In reality, many great evangelists, elders, deacons, teachers, etc. were first-generation believers. But God used them. God uses unprofitable servants! (See Lk. 17:10)
Notice the name of his father: Shealtiel, which means “[I have] asked of God.” Here is a man that did not let power overcome him. Though he was Judah’s governor, he was no doubt a humble man. We can look forward from this passage to another governor named Pontius Pilate – a man who live for military glory and gain, not the truth. He allowed the power and pressure overcome him, because he was not a man of prayer or a man of God. Thankfully, we can say otherwise regarding Shealtiel. It is this man we see (by the meaning of His name) praying. O if we would only have men in authority who prayed! Here was a man who did. But what did He pray for? Is it too much to say that he prayed for his son and the temple? Is this not what a godly man would pray for? If he did pray, God answered his prayer in greater ways than he would have imagined. His own son was used in the very rebuilding of God’s house. God works mightily, even in unexpected ways.
Today, there is still potential for a godly generation amongst God’s people, or even for individual laborers to be sent out into the harvest field. Do I pray for that? If I don’t, I’m missing the key! If there is a soul, whether still in his sins or in Christ, who is not living godly as he should, let there first be a godly concern for that soul and the house of God. Then let us pray. Let us pray fervently. If God used even the chiefest of sinners (Paul) to do great things amongst His assemblies, God can use “average” sinners! He can use those on our hearts and minds, as long as we pray. It is before the Throne of Grace that we receive mercy in a time of need: let us then go before that Throne to receive it.
Now as we come to Joshua, we must realize the meaning of his name: “Jehovah is Saviour.” Perhaps this man had a passion for the gospel, seeing Jehovah save in power. Perhaps he was much like the other Joshua’s in our Bibles: Joshua the son of nun, and the Lord Jesus (Yeshua) Himself. The first Joshua was a man who protected God’s presence in the Tabernacle; this second Joshua was used in rebuilding the more permanent temple (which would still be destroyed eventually); and we finally see our Lord Jesus who not only upheld holiness in his Father’s house (John 2) but made way for each local assembly through His blood and through His presence (which we will touch on later). These were all men (one of which was God Himself) who had passion for the house of God, and no doubt all of them had a passion for God’s salvation. We know our Saviour did – He did to the point of death.
The lesson, therefore, is this: we must realize how foundational the gospel really is in the local assembly. First Corinthians three describes Christ as the foundation of the local church, and the gospel is basically the doctrine of Christ. We can then come to this conclusion based on that truth: when we miss the gospel, we miss everything the local assembly is built upon. Let us never forsake, old-fashioned, Biblical gospel preaching. Let us never lose sight of the cross in any assembly meeting.
Furthermore, for our personal lives, we must remember Who the Lord uses for His work in His own house. He uses those closely linked with God’s good news – those with a passion to uphold it, preach it, and live it. How much does the person of Christ mean to me? How much of my day is related to Saviour-led, Saviour-glorifying activities? How does one expect to be used mightily amongst God’s people in His assembly if he does not even cherish the its foundation? May we seriously consider this question and settle it before God before we seek anything else.
The second aspect we see in Joshua is his exercise in his priestly role. In Ezra 2:2,3 we read regarding Joshua:
“Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD, even burnt offerings morning and evening.”
We furthermore see him building in unity and obedience in chapter 4:3:
“But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.” (See also 5:2)
Here is a man who knew what to offer and when to offer it; he also did it in harmony with the prophets and fellow Israelites. Can this in any way apply to us?
The principle that applies is the priesthood of all believers (Rev. 5:10 / 1 Pet. 5:5,9) in regards to offering in the house of God, the assembly. When a brother rises to pray, he gives offerings to God (praise and worship) and provides intercession for the people of God. This is prayer on behalf of the assembly (which is why collective pronouns such as “we” and “us” should be used, as opposed to “I” and “me”). That brother is, in the person of Christ, standing before the Throne of Grace, representing God’s people (just as the priest under Law represented the twelve tribes by the twelve stones on his breastplate); he is truly standing in one of the most dignified places on earth. Therefore, there is a great responsibility to pray/worship intelligently, considerately, collectively, heartily, and properly with reverence. Let prayer in God’s assembly (or anywhere) never be a mere show or speech of random words to God. Let prayer be as it was meant to be! Let us pray, knowing what to offer, knowing when to offer it, and in harmony with fellow believers (Matt. 5:24). And because we are priests, it is assumed that we know to pray at all. Do we do this?
Lastly, we see in Joshua a desire to see purity restored. In Ezra 10:10-18, his sons were in an unequal yoke with strange women. No doubt this was a grief to him… until he dealt with the matter: in that same chapter, we see the men being purged of their heathen wives and offering a lamb in repentance of their sin.
This man was used in the house of God, because his desire was to see purity amongst God’s people; but sadly today, many “churches” neglect to teach morality and neglect to enforce Scriptural assembly discipline when it is needed. Unlike the priest Eli, who did not constrain his sons, Joshua obeyed the Lord and was willing to deal with wickedness. He did not confront it legalistically, but obediently. If we as believers desire to do something in the house of the Lord, let us be separate from the world. And let us be usable and submit to God’s teaching. Submission is the highest calling in the eyes of Christ.
Where do these lessons from Joshua originate? It is rooted in his father, Josedech, whose name means “The Lord righted / the Lord has made just” or “The Lord is righteous.” Whichever meaning is true, we can learn the importance of upholding the Lord’s righteousness. This man was also a high priest and knew he belonged in God’s house. He was (1) a man dedicated to God’s presence and (2) a man devoted to God’s righteousness. Joshua, though raised in a world of filth and idolatry, was brought up with a father’s example of faithfulness; that example carried on in his own life.
And so, when it comes to the truth of God’s assembly, we see the need for God-fearing fathers and mothers who take their roles seriously, even in our worldly environment. Specifically with the father, the child must see the head of the home leading as the Father which is in Heaven. How can those who obey the head learn to live Godly if the head is showing the “body” an unfaithful example? When this is the case, it certainly leads to disaster, unless God’s grace intervenes.
Therefore, a child must be raised by a father’s example of steadfastness and righteousness, whether that be through attending the assembly meetings, participating in the meetings, praying for the meetings, upholding righteousness in the home, and many other such elements. Children who see their fathers with irreverent actions in the assembly, always criticizing other believers (see Jam. 4:11), pushing many meetings aside as optional, and not participating in/supporting/giving to the assembly activities will be taught that God’s house is not important and that is is optional, when this is so far removed from truth. We must never allow this to happen in our homes. “Every assembly is always one generation away from falling away,” said by one preacher, is something we must always keep in mind; for often it is the attitude of the fathers that defines whether this statement will be true of the next generation. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Pr. 22:6). How will this verse be applied in the assembly? Will we be Josedech’s who train our children in Godly fear, or will be as Eli and let them stray?
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.
We have concluded our meditations upon the names of those involved in the building of God’s house; and though there is much wisdom in those names, we are only one verse further into Haggai. In verse one, we saw Haggai’s list of people involved; in this verse, we see the Lord’s direct command to those mentioned in verse one. Those of us concerned with building His house – we should all be! – can learn great lessons from the Lord’s commands; will we pay attention to them?
This People Say…
The first phrase we read in this verse is “This people say…” What were they saying, and what attitude were they showing? They were speaking words from hearts of indifference. The Lord hates indifference, especially when it is towards His house. And sadly, “this people” was a majority in the land of Israel. God’s house was not primary, not secondary, but it was the farthest thing from the minds of “this people.”
We would probably unanimously agree that the world adamantly opposes the things of God, especially the things of God in His assembly. His assembly is a pillar and ground of truth; the world hates truth, because truth is in Christ. They try to push truth away by saying “There is no absolute truth.” We would say that Christ is the only way, when the world would say there are many ways to God. We would say that it is not of works by which we are saved, while the world says they can “buy” God’s favor. We are diametrically opposed!
But wait… “this people” is not Babylon (the world); it is God’s own people. Those who knew the laws regarding the temple and its significance were so desensitized by Babylon that the place of God’s presence had become a place of the past. “It’s not time to build God’s house; we are fine the way we are!” said God’s people.
Do we not find the same attitude amongst many of the Lord’s own blood-bought children? It is true. The place of the Lord’s presence has been reduced to “going to church.” When the subjects of assembly doctrine come up, many would push them aside as non-essential and old-fashioned. Many who know the truths of the assembly, whether part of it or not, would push them aside as secondary. But when is truth ever non-essential? Truth is truth. When does God’s Word ever become old-fashioned? And why is the assembly so often secondary when discipleship is always in context or connection to a local church?
Is our attitude one of making the Lord’s people and presence first and frequent and constant in our lives? This is not a weekend social event, but rather Sunday is the day when we give the Lord our first-fruits – it is the Lord’s Day (though every day is His and should be lived to edify the assembly). Let us not be this people which say “The time is not come, the time when the Lord’s house should be built.” Let us instead submit to His divine timing, which is now: this is our responsibility for which we will be accountable. In fact, we must redeem the time, even in these evil days (Eph. 5:16). Will we buy back the time? Or will we conform to Babylon?
In conclusion, let us remember the preciousness of His house. To Israel it should have been precious, especially considering their recent captivity. Should the thought of His presence itself not be a joy to our hearts, considering the bondage and captivity we have been bought from by His own precious blood? If we are taking the Lord’s assembly for granted, we have lost sight of what exactly we were. As believers, do we not realize that the assembly is one of the main entities we have been called to in salvation? It is not a mere matter of going to church when our schedule allows; if our schedule is more important than the assembly, we are literally saying “The time is not come…” We have then become no better than idolatrous Israel in our attitude. Let the assembly instead be everything to us; it means everything to God. How else will He collectively dwell with His people? The time is now; let us treat it as such.
Then came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying, “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?”
In verse two, we saw the attitude of God’s people regarding the timing of the temple, an attitude we must learn not to possess. In these verses, we see the Lord’s challenging that attitude in offering a comparison, a comparison between His house and their own.
While the temple still lay desolate, defeated, and destroyed, the people of Israel dwelt in their “ceiled” or “roofed” or “covered” houses – houses of luxury as it were. Imagine! The very house of God, the dwelling place of the Most High lay “waste,” while rebellious sinners (the same who were to live up to their covenant with God and build the house) lived in comfort. It is almost as if they not only allowed but embraced the idea of living in covered houses as if they were shutting out God’s truth, lest they be convicted and told to forsake that comfort for His sake. In their attitude of procrastination and idolatry (covetousness), Israel forsook the temple of God for earthly and temporal pleasures.
But while Israel said the temple should wait, God, in essence, replied “No! Now is the time to build. Enough with your arrogance and sin! Enough with your living in comfort when the Lord is given no honor!” Israel made the sad and sorry mistake of placing the temporal over the eternal. They allowed even simple possessions to be the root of their idolatry; they loved money and what it could buy – is this not a root of all evil? Truly, one should stand in awe: how dare they say the Lord and His purposes can wait, while they spent more time in their houses than they ever would have in the temple!
But are we not so often in the same position? Are we not too frequently of the same attitude? The apostle Paul fitly warns us in Colossians 3: “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:”
In Haggai and Zechariah, there are references to the Millennial Temple, and Zerubbabel’s Temple is a type of that future temple. And the ceiled houses of Israel are pictures of really just a house. In type, there is a choice between building the temporal or building the eternal, building for man and building for God. Who will we build for?
Perhaps our “house” may be a career; it is true – many have left an assembly because of a career and money. Perhaps our “house” may be relationships; it is true – many have compromised God’s assembly because of an unequal yoke. Or perhaps our “house” may be simple, yet devastating habits we choose not to deal with; and again we can say that it is true – many a discipline meeting has been rooted in small habits that turned into insurmountable addictions. Let us never place anything that perishes above God’s assembly! If a job requires one to work every Sundays, it should not even be considered if it takes away from the Lord’s assembly. If “friends” cause one to miss meetings, those are not healthy friends.
So many more compromises could be given, but the real issue is this: Am I replacing God’s assembly with mere temporal, worldly, vain glory? Enough spending time on our “houses” while God’s people suffer! Is there a need for gospel workers? Let us be active in local outreach. Is there a need for shepherding or service? May we pray that God will stir us up if it be His will for us to fulfill that need. Is there a need for participation in prayer, in Bible studies, in Sunday school? Is there a need for encouragement among the elderly? Is there a need for mere presence at the meeting? Let us not hide behind our “houses” as if they are legitimate reasons for compromise. Let us not hide behind our “houses” for fear of trial; the greatest trial is being out of fellowship with God. The greatest trial is having reason to doubt one’s salvation because he does not love the brethren (1 John 3:14). And so, may we be exercised about such matters; this is building upon God’s house.
Dear believers, now is not the time to live in luxury while God’s house is suffering. Now is not the time to be concerned with the temporal things of this world, for we are only nearing closer and closer to the end. We must be diligent to work: it will be time to go Home soon. Oh! how sad when when a believer turns God-given blessing (such as work, a house, friends, etc.) into a source of idolatry. Regardless of what many believers would say, God’s house is vital. Let our hearts not reflect the Devil’s contempt for the Lord’s presence. Let us resolve by the power of God’s Spirit to live for Him, especially in His house. May God teach us the futility of living for the Devil’s domain; may He help us to see eternal blessing by serving in His house rather than ours.
Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways. 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. Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.
Before we delve into the truth presented to us in this verse, let us notice the word “therefore.” Is it not true that where there is a reason to speak, the Lord does so? The people of Israel were cowardly when it came to building the house of God; they were covetous when it came to building their house of greed. This was not the first time (or the last) the Lord beheld Israel straying from His law; this was not the first time they broke His covenant. Jehovah had every right to forsake Israel; they had forsaken Him. But in grace, in His restoring mercy, He spoke in light of Israel’s condition. Perhaps restoration is needed in the lives of ones we know; let us not lose faith, for He is faithful. He can restore mightily. He can bring to remembrance the truth of His assembly to any believer away from God’s people. May we take hope in a restoring and gracious God.
Speaking of restoration, Israel was in dire need. Their bodies were in their land, but their hearts were in Babylon; their actions reflected their attitude. The Lord of Heaven’s armies commanded His people to consider; this was certainly no joking matter. Their motives, their attitudes, their actions, and their hearts – all were to be considered.
Why? What was the purpose of considering? Look at their ways, and the answer is clear. They reaped what they sowed in their self-conceited arrogance. Even though it appeared as if they lived luxuriously, the reality was quite opposite. They sowed time and time again, but reaped little. They constantly hungered and thirsted – unsatisfied. They tried to cover themselves, but the coldness of life’s cruel distaste still permeated their bodies. They earned money, but it was quickly lost. These were the ways of Israel. Truly these are ways to be reconsidered! They lost sight of God’s temple and survived with barely enough; the Lord will awaken those who have lost sight as in His dealings with Israel.
“But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” 1 Cor. 11:28. “Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the LORD he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else.” Deut. 4:39. “Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee.” Deut. 8:5. “O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” Deut. 32:29. “Therefore am I troubled at his presence: when I consider, I am afraid of him.” Job 23:15. “Hearken unto this, O Job: stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God.” Job 37:14. “When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee:” Prov. 23:1. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:” Heb. 10:24. “For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” Heb 12:3.
Truly, there is much to consider. But how often to we examine/consider our own hearts? And how often to do find those hearts considering the Lord and His assembly? Nearly all the passages can be related in some way to the assembly: do we consider? When we find ourselves looking to the world and its pleasures, truly it is time to consider our ways. When the assembly has become “boring” and undesirable, truly it is time to consider our ways. When we don’t see any souls being brought to Christ, perhaps it is time we get on our knees and consider our ways. The Lord gives this command in clear language twice over: it is time to wake up to His call.
But what if we fail to consider? Perhaps the world is worth it to live for. After all, the Lord did refer to the things we lay up on earth as “treasure.” He certainly did, but His command was to not lay it up. These are treasures corruptible and prone to theft. How foolish to even think of living a life for the world! It ends in vanity. O! how Solomon pleaded with his readers to live for God, for all things are vanity when fulfilled in worldliness. Truly, Israel serves as a prime example: even when living in apparent luxury, all was futile as we will see. It seemed that for a little while they were happy when away from God’s house, but it was all vanity. Let us not make the mistake of leaving God’s assembly.
“You have sown much and bring in little.” This is the epitome of vanity, when one gives everything for a cause yet leaves with nothing. In the world, one can work and work day and night and perhaps by the end of his life die with riches – riches towards men and not God, that is. At the Judgment Seat (if the man was truly saved), he will realize the utter folly of living for the world.
But notice what our Lord said: “Whosoever shall give you a cup of water in my name, because ye belong to Christ, truly I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” A reward for a cup of water? Absolutely – when it is done for Christ and to His people. In the world, we bring in little, regardless of how much we work; and in the end, we are forgotten. But in the assembly, where we gather unto His name and with those who belong to Christ, we will bring in much; and in eternity, we will forever live with the reward of a good and faithful servant. O to be a good and faithful servant!
“Ye eat and have not enough; you drink, but you are not filled.” Israel knew what the food of Babylon was like; and unlike Daniel, they no doubt indulged upon it. It was good for food no doubt and pleasurable to the eyes. But it didn’t satisfy! After living lives of riotousness and riches, many have passed into eternity, leaving behind words of fear and futility. Notice the last words of Sigmund Freud, a liberal psychiatrist: “The meager satisfaction that man can extract from reality leaves him starving.” No one has ever been satisfied without the one true God, as it was when Israel forsook Him for Babylonian ways.
Especially does the believer feel lost when he falls into sin. We can eat the “food” of the world and neglect the assembly, but we will only come out with regrets. It is only when we give our lives wholly to the work of the Lord in His house that Godly satisfaction is ours. Let our “meat” not be to do the will of the world, but let is be as was our Lord’s: to do the will of the Father (John 4:34).
“Ye clothe yourselves; but there is none warm.” The world tries to cover its despair, it’s coldness of heart, in various ways. But their coverings only reveal their need all the more. One can try to cover his past, but it will only return to haunt after his life has been lived. One can try to drown out the despair of depression by drinking, but it will only sting harder when the short-lived season of joy is over. One can try to run away from his sins, overcome them through therapy, confess them to a priest, or end those sins by ending life altogether. But Proverbs clearly says: “He that covers his sins shall not prosper, but whosoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy.” Sinners are talented in covering sin, but it ends the same – in wrath. Their lives are lived the same – in sorrow. There is never a solution to the shame and coldness they try to hide, except in Christ: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”
Truly we will taste of that coldness when we experiment with the things of the world. Our labor will be futile, unless done for Christ. Let us therefore dwell in the secret place of the Almighty – His presence – His house – His assembly.
“He that earns wages earns wages to put in a bag with holes.” A bag with holes is bad news for any who wish to store up wages. Only a fool would indulge upon using such a bag. Sadly, many in Israel played the fool; they allowed their treasure to be lost to worldliness. Israel’s mistake thankfully does not have to be ours.
Are we putting away money for spiritually useless things, while the laborers in the gospel suffer in physical poverty? How can we be so cold toward fellow believers? How can we be so indifferent to the cause of the gospel? While it is not sin by any means to spend money on fun, if that “fun” takes away from the Lord what He rightfully deserves, that is idolatry; thus we have become no better than Israel if that is the case. Let us rather store our treasure with our Father in Heaven Who never will allow those treasures to be lost. Let us not be so naïve to think that earth’s fleeting pleasures will last.
“Consider your ways.” And so, we now return to where we began: considering our ways. Repetition in Scripture means emphasis: we must therefore consider our ways. Let is be clear in our minds that our “luxurious houses” are only temporary illusions; let us not live for them as did Israel. But let us consider and live in zeal for the assembly God has privileged us with. The world is vanity, but living for God’s house will never leave us dry… that is, if they are truly in Christ. Why forsake eternal reward for temporary vanity? “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts: ‘Consider your ways!’”
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.
This is interesting: Israel wasn’t supposed to stop at considering their ways! They were to continue and build the way the Lord commanded. Our response must be two-fold: there must be a considering, and there must be a building. Sadly, many stop at the former, but this must never be so. This considering was meant to be the beginning of something great – renewed zeal, renewed focus, and actions that fulfilled God’s purposes in the way they were meant to be carried out. In the same way, our considering and examining our ways should only be the beginning of a life lived for God’s assembly in fear and humility. How will we respond?
As we examine this verse, let us bow before the Throne of Grace in supplication that we might build faithfully as God reveals truth to us. We will look at the verse as it easily divides: part one (our part in God’s house) and part two (God’s pleasure in His house).
Our Part in God’s House
Firstly, we are instructed regarding our portion of the building of God’s house; we are to Go, Bring, and Build. Many lessons are found in these phrases of verses eight.
“Go up to the mountain…” Israel would have been happy to stay where they were and live in their own houses. But after considering their ways, there was a revealed need for materials to build the temple. Truly, there can be no temple without laborers, and especially without materials. Would it be difficult going up to the mountain? Possibly. Would the wood be heavy? Perhaps. Did that matter? No, because the temple needed to be built. It was important for Israel to realize priorities when it came to God’s house.
What is the first word in the verse? Go! So often we get so comfortable with our own ways of how we say evangelism or assembly teaching should be carried out, and we forget to go. Are members of the world naturally going to come to us for truth? No. It is not their nature to seek the things of God. Why, then, are we waiting for them to make the first move so often? We must be active. One who is drowning cannot go to the lifeguard for help to be led to a safe foundation, especially when he does not even know he is drowning. It is the lifeguard’s duty to bring the victim to a firm foundation, as we are responsible to bring the spiritually dead to “the Rock that is higher than I.” The “materials” for the assembly are those who are saved and baptized. The harvest will not come to us, but it is white and ready. Let us therefore go into the harvest and gather for the Kingdom and for God’s assembly. There is a tremendous need for laborers to be sent into the Lord’s harvest. Are we willing to obey that call when it comes?
When the Lord does entrust us with a soul (assuming we are willing to be entrusted with them in obedience), what can we expect? Truly, just as Israel could expect a long, arduous journey only to bring back heavy, burdensome wood, we can expect trial. Perhaps the Lord will entrust us with a soul who constantly persecutes us from a cold and hardened heart. Perhaps the Lord will entrust us with a soul who only has a very short time left in his life. Perhaps the soul with whom we have been entrusted will need tremendous care, maybe for the cause of drug abuse, alcohol, a broken home, etc. How will we respond? O may we not cower in fear! May we stand strong in the Lord and live faithfully for the cause of the gospel. It may be difficult, but this is the very foundation of every assembly – the gospel and its results. It may be a long journey to procure contact and trust with another, and it may be a heavy burden to bring him to Christ. Let us expect this, yet let us live in the confidence of Christ.
We are commanded to go, but why up and why to the mountain? Why? Because the mountain was the source of the best material, as we could see with Solomon’s Temple and the cedars received from Hiram, King of Tyre. And so, when it comes to God’s assembly, we must go where He sends us: for it is there that the best “supplies” will be. While souls are certainly and infinitely more valuable than building supplies – and we do not wish to demean the preciousness of any person – the principles still apply. This principle is not that we give up on the stubborn, but rather that we be wise with where we sow the seeds of God’s Word. The principle is that we go where the Lord leads, for where He leads is where fruit is. We should not be afraid to reach out to richer and poorer alike. Many times the most zealous believers are those with extremely complicated backgrounds. Let us be wise in seed-sowing.
Matthew 7:6 “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” Matthew 10:14 “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” (cf. Mar. 6:11 / Luk. 9:5). Romans 15:20 “Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation:” Let us go up into the mountain, as it were, closer to the Lord, closer to His blessing.
“and bring wood…” It is assumed that Israel would go to the mountains, for it is only when one goes that he can bring. It should likewise be assumed that we will go. As for Israel, they brought their wood from the mountains of the north no doubt to the mountain of Jerusalem, where the temple was to be built. There are many lessons for us in this principle of bringing wood.
We have had the principle of going; now we have the principle of bringing. Wood is no good if it is left on the mountains; it must be brought to the foundation upon which it will be built. In the same way, God has not only saved souls from Hell and sin, but unto the Person of Christ and the assembly. If one were to read Acts 2:41,47, he would find that conversion was only the beginning; it was always followed by baptism and fellowship in a local assembly. Every believer should know that one of the main callings of salvation is gathering to the name of the Lord Jesus in fellowship with an assembly.
Therefore, after we have gone out to preach (“go the the mountains”), after souls have been saved, we must bring them from their mountains of sin to Mount Zion, the foundation of God’s house as it were. Every soul is called from the foundation which is sin to the Foundation which is Christ. Of what is the Lord foundation of? The assembly. Sanctification (being set apart) is never so complete on earth as when a believer is gathered to the name of the Lord, in the assembly, where Christ is all. The principle, then, is this: when we have the privilege of pointing a soul to Christ, we must do it all the way. Let us not only seek for a person to be born again, but let us seek by God’s unfathomable grace to make disciples. Let us point them to communion with God in private, and eventually to communion with God in public: the local assembly. Let us bring ‘wood’!
“and build the house…” Israel could have gone to the mountains and even brought the wood, but it would do no good to remain idle in use. The house must be built! But which house? The house – the only house that matters – the house of God.
If we have come to the point of “building the house,” in our Christian walk, let us be appropriate and thank God for His grace that brought us this far. Building into the assembly after seeing souls saved and gathered in His name is one of the greatest privileges on earth.
But how are we to build? The answer is simply this: allow God to give the increase to our work (of course, we must be sure our work is in His will first of all). Man built the temple, but it was ultimately God’s hand working to that end. It is no different in the assembly. Let us be faithful to build gold, silver, and precious stones – God will do with it what He pleases and will reward justly. As for what these precious stones and minerals are, we must look to Scripture – all of it. Everything Scripture says regarding discipleship, the assembly, our attitude – we must search out its truth and apply it. This is not something which can be fully exhausted on paper, but it is our own individual experiences in life and our personal communion with God which we must each live through to apply Scripture’s truth more fully. Therefore, let us simply be faithfully zealous, for it is a continual building we are part of until God’s purposes are complete – then there are eternal results. How precious it is to build! “But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.”
God’s Pleasure in His House
As for the second part of this verse, we see the Lord’s pleasure and His glory – “’I will take pleasure in it; and I will be glorified’, saith the Lord.”
“I will take pleasure in it…” Do we remember in detail what life was like before conversion? (Some may not). Regardless of our memories, we all have this common ground: we were lost sinners, but are now saved by God’s grace alone. What pleasure did we bring to God before conversion? None whatsoever. Proverbs 21:27 (see also 15:8) says “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord; and how much more when he brings it with a wicked spirit.” Though some of us may have been saved as children and without a past of “serious sins,” we had the heart and capability to do so. Let us never forget that, regardless of our how blameless our past may look.
Yet look at what the Lord says regarding His house: “I will take pleasure in it.” Imagine! Before, we were sinners, able to do nothing to merit God’s favor; but now our building His house brings a smile to His face as it were. Once children of wrath, we are now children of God, able to bring praise and worship in His assembly. That is the power of the blood of Christ! That is the power of His person. God takes pleasure in seeing His Son in us. In the assembly, to Whom do we gather? His Son. On what basis do we come? His blood/His Person. What compels us to come? His Son. By what means do we pray and in Whose name? His Son. It is no wonder that we are precious to God and that our gathering brings Him pleasure. O how He delights to be with His people! How He loves to hear them sing His praises! How it is precious to see simple obedience to His command “Do this in remembrance of Me.”! Because it is precious to Him, may it also be precious to us.
“I will be glorified…” And let us not forget that the assembly not only pleases Him, but it exalts Him. It is a main channel through which He glorifies Himself. But do we not read that it is our works that glorify the Father (Matt. 5:16)? Absolutely, and how much more when those works are done in His house and for the edification of His people. It is amazing to know that we have the privilege to bring glory to His both individually and collectively. But is God not complete in Himself? Truly, He is; yet in grace He allows us to give feebly the glory He receives from seeing His Son formed in us. Just as with His pleasure, it is all about His Son. And so, when we presence ourselves at our assembly’s gathering, may we not forget – it is not our gain we are there for but His glory. It is always about Him.
In conclusion, let us be encouraged, because the verse we have looked at is a statement from the Lord Himself. These verses were not and are not man’s formula for creating the house of God; it is our God’s ordained way. And if we are following His pattern, we can know for a fact that this glorifies and pleases God. Let us not turn to man’s ways of building; we were reminded in verse six that this does not work. We could attract more people if we turned the meetings into a concert – could we not? If we made the gospel less offensive by omitting words such as “sin” and “Hell” and “repentance,” would many more not profess salvation? If we allowed everyone, regardless of beliefs or behavior, into fellowship and the Breaking of Bread, would we not have many more partaking? Absolutely. But does it please God? Emphatically, we can answer “No.” Why? Because it is not what the Lord has said, and His Word is always the authority every assembly is built upon. If we cannot add “Thus saith the Lord” as it were to our doctrines and patterns, something is tremendously wrong. But gladly, we can take the simpler route and follow Scripture. And we can know this assuredly: God will be glorified! Amazing.
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. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. 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 labour of the hands.
No doubt Israel wondered as they not only brought in little but saw that little bit being blown away. Was the Lord cruel? Did the Lord find pleasure in withholding blessing from Israel? By no means! Yet is was done, because it was right. Israel lost sight of God’s house, and in pride they stayed in their own houses. They flocked quickly to their own home, leaving the temple (at least what remained) to fully rot.
They lacked spiritual fruit and suffered physical drought in virtually every aspect of agricultural life – they brought it upon themselves. They needed to be humbled and learn the solemnity of holding up truth regarding the house of God.
Perhaps in many of our lives, we are going through times when we wonder: “Is the Lord near?” At times it is the Lord’s working to test our faithfulness; and other times it is the Lord’s sending a wake-up call. Was this not the case in the famine in which the prodigal suffered? Do we need a wake-up call?
We have read about houses in verse four, finding that often we replace the man-made, temporal things for God-ordained, eternal things – how tragic! Here, however, we see, not dwelling in our “houses” but running to them and adding to them with our material “fruit” which we have gotten in the world. But perhaps after a while, we find that spending that extra time on a career or on a hobby or such just isn’t paying off. And life begins to turn dry and more dull and fruitless, both spiritually and physically. Hopefully, we will never get to that point, because it is avoided in a most simply way. Whether at that point in life or not, the Lord says to us: “You looked for much, and behold, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?” Why? “Because Mine house is laid waste.”
Perhaps through Scripture or life’s experiences God is trying to say to our hearts “Wake up!” When we devote days to building a career and devote hours to sleep, TV, etc., yet only give the Lord a few hours in the week only out of obligation, something is dreadfully wrong! We need, then, to wake up and to humble ourselves. Who are we to decide how important the house of God is? He decides – and He decided before the foundations of the world that the local assembly was precious enough to give His life for. Do we in essence call God a liar in His estimate of the assembly because of our attitude of carelessness about His house? May God teach us the humility to faithfully serve; for it is when we fail to serve that spiritual drought sinks in.
1 Corinthians 15:34 “Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” James 4:6-10 “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”
And so, as a result of what we have considered, may we now be more resolute in the putting aside of the temporal and in our taking God’s assembly seriously. It is a truly precious thing to glorify the Lord is doing some part (even if that part is small) in building the house. Many sins, much guilt, and a great deal of wood and hay and stubble can be simply avoided. How? “Consider your ways… build the house!”
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.
This verse marks the beginning of action on Israel’s part. God had spoken; Israel had listened. But thankfully they didn’t stop at listening! They actually went forth to fulfill the Lord’s purposes. O may this be typical of us! May we be a people who take action upon the light we have regarding God’s assembly. It is precious truth, and it is precious to God when we take action upon this.
A Challenge to Believers
At this time it is perhaps essential to challenge our hearts regarding our acting on these teachings. It is fine if one knows how we are to gather and why; but if he does not apply those principles, he must consider his ways. Perhaps one may not be in assembly fellowship, or perhaps one may be in an assembly yet doing little considering and less building. We will look at both possibilities in seeking by God’s grace to convict our souls if the Lord so desires.
If one is a believer yet not considering assembly fellowship, this is in most cases a sad circumstance. A legitimate reason for putting that fellowship off would be age or maturity: it is difficult to be part of an assembly when one can barely even read his Bible – this is obvious. Another legitimate reason would be uncertainty about salvation or unconfessed sin that is severely hindering spiritual growth. Seemingly legitimate, some would neglect being received into the assembly because of lack of knowledge/lack of spirituality; however, it too often stops there. There is too often no desire to resolve hindrances in the believers so life that he/she may be part of an assembly in the near future. It should not be so, but rather let there be action taken upon what we have considered. If you as the reader are not part of a local assembly, why not commit that matter to the Lord, desiring the right conclusions from above? Why not speak to trusted brethren or sisters regarding these matters? Why not desire to be part of that fellowship even in the near future? One must take action on God’s truth.
But perhaps there are some who are part of an assembly yet are doing little building. The meetings have become secondary options; participation is no longer important; and excuses are easily made for not supporting God’s people and fellowship with them. It this is the case, truly we can reiterate the Lord’s words “Consider your ways! Built the house.” Let us pray that the Lord may convict our hearts through His Word and His Spirit, for these matters are vital. Let us learn to act upon truth.
“All the Remnant of the People”
A majority of Israel was still in Babylon, forsaking God’s temple, living in the temporary comfort of the world. Only a few were willing to build the house according to the commandment. But thankfully, there were at least some who were willing to serve. Though few in number, there was unity; for Haggai could say “with ALL the remnant.”
Although written thousands of years ago, we read of the same problems we face today. No doubt Babylon had its forms of organized religion and compromised worship; no doubt Israel had opportunity to take part in that. It turned out that they were perfectly happy with that, perfectly happy with their compromise, while only a few were willing to return to Scripture’s clear teaching. Is that not the problem we face today? We see forms of organized religion (ecumenism, denominationalism, Catholicism, etc.) and compromised worship (the Charismatic movement, entertainment focus in the churches, etc.) – all in the name of God. Very few make an effort to find the Biblical pattern of the local church; few care about the literal interpretation of Scripture. And this only leads to compromise with things that totally oppose the name of Christ. It only takes a simple look around to see that there truly is only a remnant who care about God’s house as seen in Scripture. Am I one of the remnant? Have I turned my back fully on spiritual Babylon? Let us not be fooled by swaying with the majority. Let us instead be willing to live humbly and Scripturally, no matter the cost. It is worth it to be part of the remnant, for even in the remnant, we can be united in the Lord’s work. May we learn to be unified. Though we may be small in number, if we work in unity, we can bear great fruit.
“Obeyed the Voice of the Lord Their God”
It is one thing to be part of an assembly, but it is another thing entirely to sincerely obey. There are three elements of obedience in this phrase.
Firstly, obedience involves the voice of the Lord. How will we ever know obedience apart from His clear commands in the written Word? We will not. Therefore, do we devote time to quiet meditation with our Bibles? If not, how will the assembly ever rise to fruitfulness? We must obey the voice of the Lord.
Secondly, obedience involves general Lordship. Some would pervert the gospel by saying that one only must receive Christ as Saviour, not necessarily Lord. From Scripture, however, we understand that it is when one declares Jesus as Lord that he is saved (Rom. 10:9). In Haggai, we see the people obeying the voice of the Lord, which tells us obedience results from our realizing His authority. Therefore, when we miss the fact that Scripture is authority and must be obeyed because of its Divine Author, we miss the importance of obedience. And so, we must fear the Word and its commands, for they are from the Lord Himself.
Thirdly, obedience involves personal Lordship. This was not only the voice of the Lord, but it was the voice of their God. The Lord Jesus Christ is Lord over all; but He is personal when it comes to His people. We must not be afraid to claim Him as my Lord as opposed to the Lord Jesus, though both are equally true. Can we say He is our God? It is when we do that obedience results. Individual realization of personal accountability results in collective obedience. May it be so with us.
“The Words of Haggai, as the Lord Had Sent Them”
The words of Haggai were synonymous with the words of the Lord, because he was faithful to preach what the Lord had revealed to him. There are three main lessons we can learn from the principle set forth above.
The first principle is this: obedience must be rooted in Scriptural teaching. Regarding the assembly, this applies to the apostle’s doctrine particularly; and this is exactly what we see in Acts 2:42 – “they continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine…” Just as the people believed the inspired message of Haggai, so must we apply New Testament truths today. It is interesting when one tries to take the attitude of many congregations toward the New Testament and apply it to Israel in Haggai’s time. One can just imagine how silly it would be to see Israel saying “It is only figurative that the Lord told us to go unto the mountain and bring wood. He really only wants us to bring wood that is similar to the ones in the highlands. As for considering our ways, we are not really doing anything wrong.” Sadly, many dismiss such doctrines as Headship, assembly discipline, plurality of elders, the Lord’s Supper, and the Biblical gospel despite clear teaching in the Word of God. We must obey, for it is the Word of the Lord!
Secondly, faithfulness in preaching the Word is essential. Haggai could have: 1). Kept the Word to himself. 2). Preached the Word, but in a way that excluded the more offensive, awkward, or uncomfortable parts of God’s message. But he didn’t. The words of Haggai could be considered words from the Lord, because he was faithful in preaching them. Likewise, when a brother is teaching in an assembly, there must be faithfulness. Preaching the gospel – it must be complete. Teaching in the assembly – it must be Scriptural. But sadly some don’t follow the Word of God and its sufficiency, which is why the Bereans were wise in daily searching Scripture to see if what they were taught was consistent with truth. If in our assemblies we desire to obey Scripturally, we must first know if what we are obeying is Scripture. And any brother responsible for teaching must do so faithfully, because serving as the oracles of God Himself means tremendous accountability. We must be faithful.
Finally, as we somewhat discussed earlier, there must be obedience of the Word where there is preaching of the Word. Haggai was faithful to preach, and thankfully a remnant of Israel was faithful to respond. When we sit under the sound of convicting ministry of the Word, it is our responsibility to respond and obey. Teaching is of little use if it falls on deaf ears and lukewarm hearts. Let there not be another meeting pass by in our lives where, being convicted, we fail to act upon it. Let there be obedience amongst God’s assemblies. Let us be faithful to the Word!
“And the People Did Fear Before the Lord”
There was now an established dwelling place for the Lord, and surely there was great reason to fear. We will look at two aspects of this fear: the prompting and the place of fear.
Firstly, then, the prompting of fear. This actually deals with our estimate of Who God is. And really, “estimate” is a poor word, because it implies we can define or place a value on the Most High. We cannot, for He is infinite. And so, we must ask ourselves “What is my view of God?” Some would irreverently say “God is my buddy.” Those who have an idolatrous aspect of God would refer to Him with such phrases as “Big man in the sky” and like expressions – how degrading! Some, too, would still willingly use His name in blasphemy; some would also speak of Hell flippantly, though it is one of the utmost expressions of God’s holiness. Under the Old Testament, Nadab and Abihu were consumed because they offered “strange fire” Why? The root of their problem was a lack of fear – that lack of fear existed because of a false estimate of God’s holiness. Regarding the subject at hand, let us realize the need for fear in the house of God, in His assembly. Let us fear before the Lord in Godly reverence, for He is the Lord. Let us respect Him as such.
Secondly, the place of fear. Not only was this fear because of the Lord but before the Lord, fear in His presence. Our attitude in God’s presence reflects our attitude towards Him in every aspect of life. Therefore, in God’s assembly, do we fear? Do we truly embrace the truth that the Lord is in our midst? Let us pray in reverence. Let us sing in passion. Let us break bread in solemnity. The only attitude in the temple was one of fear, for that was the place God chose to manifest Himself. Is it any different in the assembly? Are we not as much in His presence when assembled in His name as were Nadab and Abihu – if not more? May we enter in fear.
Finally, let us remember that it is the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. A lack of fear, an attitude of disrespect, is therefore foolishness; and the thought of foolishness is sin (Pr. 24:9). Perhaps this will cause us to rethink our approach in His presence. Of course we are not under Law so that we should fear consummation; and one must never be legalistic about how reverence is shown, such as in the use of “prayer pronouns” or whether or not to chew gum or whether it is a sin to preach/pray with one’s hand in his pocket. But aside from legalism, how are our personal attitudes behind our smiling faces amongst God’s people? Is time in God’s presence free time to plan the next day’s events? Is it time to play on the smart-phone? Certainly not. There must be Godly fear, lest we should sin. “And now, Israel, what doth the Lord require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul?”
Then spake Haggai the LORD’S messenger in the LORD’S message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the LORD.
We are presented here with the Lord’s messenger with the Lord’s message unto the Lord’s people. Thankfully, Haggai chapter one didn’t end at verse twelve! We have another word from the Lord – a word of blessing. And it is no coincidence that He spoke after the people obeyed and feared. It will be no different today in our assemblies.
We considered earlier how the Lord brought famine when the people of God neglected His house: this is the negative aspect of Haggai’s prophecy. But now we are brought to the positive aspect of it: the Lord’s blessing upon the people. And the lesson is this: the Lord blesses and takes away according to justice. It is justice in the fact that God acted according to the actions of the people. Of course, the Lord is gracious when we fail; but as for the overall attitude of God’s people, the Lord will act accordingly upon that attitude. Do we not see this in the epistles to the churches of Asia Minor? The Lord works in justice.
And so, He not only desires to warn us to retreat from negligence in His house, but He desires to exhort us to further its building. Thank God that we serve One Who desires to see us continue on faithfully and Who gives us the strength to do so! He will always be there for His people. “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” As we desire the sincere mild of the Word and continue to grow thereby, the Lord will feed us. But we must first fear. It is when we fear that we hear His message regarding the house.
But now we see what His word of blessing was: I am with you, saith the Lord. This was a word of blessing indeed! This reveals to us a tremendous truth of the Lord’s presence in His house. We recall how in the previous verse that the people feared “before the Lord,” and now we have the Lord adding weight to that statement by His very Word. We would do well to look at the precious truths in that statement. We will look at the principle, promise, and presence seen in the phrase.
The principle is actually seen in the previous verse. It is seen in the obedience of the people, for it is the submission and accompanying fear that prompts the presence of God. In Laodicea, the Lord said “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” Why? The lukewarm church had no room for Christ’s presence. And for us, while we cannot fabricate the Lord’s presence, we can claim the promise of Scripture: “Where two or three are [having been] gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” It is that gathering under His authority as a company of believers which God chooses to bless by His presence. We do not force the presence of God by our offerings or ordinances, but we submissively acknowledge His authority and in fear receive His presence when we claim His promise. In the days of the temple, God would not presence Himself in any building called “temple,” regardless of its name or dimensions or furniture. But rather, He presenced Himself in the place where the people obeyed and in the place that was marked by the blood of sacrifices. So it is with the assembly: it is about the merits of His precious blood and our attitude towards it.
When we obey the principle, the promise is ours, which is this “I am with you, saith the Lord.” It is not a matter of chance that we are blessed with Christ’s presence in the assembly. It is a matter of claiming a promise of the One Who cannot lie – the promise that He will be where His name is exalted and gathered unto.
With this promise, we then must realize the reality of His presence. Since we have touched on this before, we will only look at a few brief words to take to heart: when gathered in His name, do we really believe the Lord is there amongst His people? Do we realize the preciousness of being able in a unique way Immanuel, that is, God with us? Do we fear as if in the glorified presence of God? We must fear.
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,
“And The Lord Stirred…”
There were two responses of the Lord toward the people building the house. We looked at the first one in the previous verse: the Lord said “I am with you.” But now we see the second response: “The Lord stirred…” There are three points we must observe.
Firstly, the stirring up of zeal is associated with the presence of the Lord. Why else would there be this statement immediately after the Lord’s promise of His presence? In the flow of these verses it actually seems as if the stirring came as a direct result of the people’s acknowledgment of it. But why is this important? Because too often we dismiss the truth of His presence, and we need to be emphatically clear on it.
Many would look at Matthew 18:20 and say “This is overused and has no value to the local assembly. Why cite this verse?” On the contrary, it is in assembly context as we see in verse 17 of the chapter. Furthermore, this is a promise from the Lord Himself. He did not say “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I may be in the midst.” He instead made His promise clear: “There am I in the midst.”
And so, as we look back to our attitude towards God’s presence, how is it? Do we realize the Lord is actually in the midst? If we truly did, no doubt reverence would increase. No doubt we would have more of a desire to focus on the meeting. It may even turn into a problem to fall asleep before His very presence. But why do we treat the assembly meetings so often as just another social event, and a lower class social event at that? Why are many of them optional if the Lord is truly there?
Now, as we look back at the subject of zeal, we must realize this: our attitude towards the Lord’s presence directly affects our zeal for His house. Is it not of Christ we read “The zeal of Thine house has consumed me?” (Ps. 69:9). Why was this said of Him? Because our Lord Jesus knew the truth that “the house” is the Father’s house, and reverence is the only attitude proper in it. No doubt we would take character from that zeal if we realized the truth of the very presence of Him Whose zeal was for God’s house. The reason for lukewarm attitude of any kind is as a result of forgetting His presence to some extent; for let us again remember that it was to the lukewarm Laodiceans Christ said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to Him and will sup with him and he with Me.” (Rev. 3:20). Let us, then, remember His presence, lest like Israel we become indifferent and in need of “considering our ways.” What is my attitude toward Matthew 18:20? Is Christ as real to me in the assembly as if He were visibly present? What a question!
Secondly, we see that this stirring was individual to each man’s spirit. The Holy Spirit took time to list again the names of the main men involved in the building of the temple, because He desired to show that He worked in each man individually. Interestingly, we see the same working in 1 Corinthians 12:11 – “But all these [gifts] worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man individually as He will.” It is no coincidence that He works the same in the Old Testament house of God as He does in the New Testament house of God – the assembly. He works individually.
And is the assembly not made up on individual members? Is this not the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12? This is Scripture’s teaching, because each member is individually accountable to God for how he uses his gift. Therefore, the key to collective testimony is a stirring in each believer’s heart and a submission in each believer’s heart when each in alone with God. How can we ever expect to use our gifts for God’s assembly if we do not spend extensive time alone with the very God of the assembly? Where is our focus?
God uses those who surrender all – everything. This comes from an individual conviction. This comes from a desire to grow in grace and a determination to grow by grace. When was the last time we prayed along these lines: “Father, I don’t have much to offer, but what I am, what I have, it’s Yours. Please use me to the glory of Your Son’s name…”? The Lord will stir those who will respond to conviction. How have our attitudes been to conviction lately? When challenged about personal communion, do we simply shake that uneasiness off? What about being challenges regarding assembly fellowship? Study of the Word? The Gospel? When will we take these things seriously? It is when we each, as individuals, decide to surrender all and live for God’s house that we can then collectively do something great by His grace. Let us allow ourselves to be stirred, and let us respond to it!
Thirdly, we notice that this stirring was authored by God Himself. We can preach eloquent sermons, pound the pulpit, articulate technical words, etc.; but it is ultimately God’s hand which is responsible to work in stirring God’s assembly (for it is His in the first place). This is why humble believers who know what it means to pray are vital, because they pray for God’s people. Rather than focusing concentration on results, they go straight to the Source of power – God Himself. And really, that is where our focus must be. If one is to preach for an hour, let him spend two in the presence of God pleading with Heaven that souls might live for the Lord Jesus.
Furthermore, let us be thankful that the Lord decides to stir us at all! We are stubborn, sinful creatures; we are rebellious by nature. Yet our Lord looks not at the lump of clay, but what it will become. He is abundantly merciful, and truly we can say from experience “He giveth more grace…” Let us look to the Lord for stirring, for it is then that we see a people raised up for God in power. May we learn to respond to the grace that desires to mold us into glorious vessels for Him!
“They Came And Did Work…”
Notice, first, that there was a coming to the Lord’s house before there was a working in it. Why did the people assemble? Because the Lord had stirred the people! There is no assembling and no working without the stirring of the Lord, and so if we ever want to see an assembly thrive, we must take these precious meditations to heart. Will we? What a truly blessed thing to see God’s people assembling because they responded to the great stir of God. We will spend some time looking at the word “come.”
The first observation should be obvious: the work was in a specific place. The people did not stay where they were; and in the same way, there is a place where we belong, a name we must gather to, and a people we belong with. Why do some claim that they are part of an assembly when they fail to support it in the meetings, fail to pray for the assembly, spend nearly the same time with the world as they do with God’s people, and have a reputation of always being somewhere else? That is not God’s pattern! We have a place to be: let us be there. When one is received into the fellowship of the assembly, he assumes a role of consistency and faithfulness. Now, of course, one must never be legalistic in saying that one has greatly sinned for missing one meeting because of unforeseen circumstances. But for our own souls, do we assemble in the place we belong?
The second observation we see is that there could be no work in the house if there was no coming to the house. How do we expect to be used in the assembly, if we do not make it a point to be there? If what we just considered is pushed aside, very little work will be done, the assembly will suffer, and the Judgment Seat will reveal a great deal of wood, hay, and stubble.
But perhaps there is a believer who desires to serve in the assembly, yet finds little opportunity. The Biblical exhortation to such a one would be this: simply stay faithful in supporting the assembly in presence, participation, and prayer. The other responsibilities will come with time. Whether as believers with many or few responsibilities, let us learn that our love for and faithfulness to the name comes before labor for Him.
The third observation is this: the man of God finds comfort in God’s house. Notice how Haggai by the Spirit said that they “came” (not “went”) and worked. Haggai was clearly at the Lord’s house in the use of his grammar. Of course, this could also be applied to the Godhead being present in His house in that it was the Holy Spirit breathing the words of Scripture. Either way, Godliness was manifested in the house of God. Therefore, in our lives (not looking at others in the assembly), how close are we to the people of the Lord and the presence of Christ? Do we look forward to dwelling in holiness with the believers? If not, could it be that we in our personal lives are not dwelling in holiness? Haggai was used, because he was Godly; he knew that the world (Babylon) was not for him. How closely do we resemble Haggai? Where do we feel at home? Heaven (where the Lord is) is our eternal home, and the closest we come to that on earth is in the assembly. May we dwell closely to the presence of God.
Finally, there was a weight given to the name of the Lord. It was the temple of the LORD of Hosts. It was the place of the name. Do we hold the place of the name highly? Is our meeting-place a place of honor and glory to us, because we know that it is in that place where Christ dwells? Where do we go to work for the Lord? Do we realize the gravity behind the mark of God’s house?
But let us now meditate not on the coming but on the working. We will focus on the duty and then the dignity of the work.
First, the duty of the work. What does work imply? It implies labor and difficulty. Assembly life in Scripture is never said to be easy. At times, there will be strife. At times, there will be divisions. At times, there will be persecution. We must realize that being part of a local assembly is a great joy, but also a great responsibility and perhaps even a burden at times. But it is this difficulty in working that makes us strong if we stand for the Word of God in grace. Let us not settle for “easy work” and desert the assembly when a little problem arises. What are we willing to endure for God’s assembly? Persecution? Peril? Famine? Death? We must be willing to endure; we must be willing to go as far as the Love of Christ goes – nothing can separate us from His love (Rom. 8:35-39).
Not only does work imply difficulty, though; but it implies watching (Luke 12:37,43). While the passage in Luke applies to the Second Coming of Christ as opposed to directly applying to the Rapture, we can still take a challenge from it, because the same principles can be found in 1 Thessalonians – the epistle about the Rapture. Do we wait and watch and work in anticipation of our soon coming Lord? If not, we will endure far less than we should. If not, our work will be done halfheartedly. Do we wish to compromise fruit because of our watchfulness (or lack thereof)?
But why should we watch? Because work implies reward, and that reward will be ours in the Day of Christ – the Rapture. All of our toils and prayers, our faithfulness and care, or whatever we may do for God’s assembly – it comes with reward. What would we be willing to give to say with Paul “ I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”?
Secondly, we notice the dignity of the work, for it is work done in the house of the Lord of Hosts (of armies, of many), our God. Let our work not be done in drudgery! This is building eternal fruit into the assembly which was made possible by the precious blood of Christ. This is work in the presence of God Himself, the Most High. Shouldn’t we count it a great and tremendous privilege to work in His house, let alone being part of it at all? May we realize that this is a precious and personal assembly, for it is the assembly of our God. We serve a powerful God in His own assembly. Why would we ever belittle the value of working in it? Do we habitually criticize the elders in our assemblies? The deacons? The laborers? The sisters? The brethren? The young people? God forbid. We are all working in God’s house together, and we all have a dignified role in it. Let us never belittle that. But rather, may we adjust our attitude to one with zeal for the assembly. The work of the Lord is a precious work: let it be done in dignity and in desire to see Him glorified. This is what it’s all about.
In the four and twentieth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.
This verse tells us that the remnant of Israel began work in the Lord’s house twenty four days after the commandment came. Why was there a delay? 1). Because with God, there is no time. 2). The Lord had to work in the hearts of the people first. As a conclusion to these lessons from Haggai, we will look at these two truths.
Firstly, with God there is no time. And this is actually vital for laborers in the gospel to grasp, because as believers, we easily grow impatient. In fact, it is vital for every believer to grasp who has at least some concern for the gospel. Let’s use our imaginations for a moment: could it be that Haggai was anxious to see the house built and that those three weeks seemed like years to him? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Whatever the circumstances in Haggai’s day, we know today that laborers may actually labor for years before seeing an assembly gathered. It is a difficult and perhaps at times a depressing work; but it is also a dignified work which the Lord will bless – in His time. Let us be willing to work, yet let us also be willing to leave the results in the hands of the very Author of salvation. God looks for laborers who will labor, not those who will act on their own time and will. He will see it through that there be fruit if it be His will.
Perhaps, though, there is an assembly that needs stirring. Perhaps there is an assembly that needs strengthening. In all these things, we must wait upon the Lord, because it is in His timing once again. Perhaps the principles put forth in Haggai will take time to develop; during that time, will we be faithful?
Lastly, the Lord’s working in the people’s hearts needed to occur before the people worked. This was another reason for the delay in building. There were preliminary needs before the temple itself received help. And in the same way, one must be wise in knowing foundational principles of growth in the assembly. For example, there is no point preaching assembly truth if the people do not have a firm grasp of the gospel and the doctrine of Christ. There is no point in preaching on zeal if one has not first prayed for zeal to be stirred. We must allow the Lord to work as we see in Haggai – He must first stir our hearts. Will we patiently submit ourselves to His working?