Summary: Lessons from the priests, from God’s Providence and from God’s plans
Limavady Reformed Presbyterian Church
Rev Robert Robb
Studies in The Book of Haggai
We come this morning to the last of our studies in the book of Haggai. Last week we considered the message that Haggai brought to the people on the 21st day of the seventh month, just four weeks or so after the people had recommenced their work of rebuilding the temple. It was a word that was intended to bring encouragement a somewhat discouraged people. This morning we move on a further two months to the 24th day of the ninth month when God gave his last two messages to the people through the prophet Haggai. In the first of these two closing messages God takes the people back over their experiences of the previous 16 years with a view to impressing upon them some important spiritual lessons and in the last message, directed particularly but not exclusively to Zerubabel the political head of the people God brings a message of comfort and assurance for the future.
Lets look then at these closing two messages. We begin by looking at verses 11-14 where we find
1) A Question For God’s Priests:
One of the major errors into which many of the Jews had fallen throughout their history was that of ascribing an inherent efficacy to the performance of religious ordinances. That is of thinking that as long as they observed the various outward rituals of religious worship everything was alright between them and God and that God would bless them. God wanted to correct such erroneous ideas and with that in mind he told the people to go and ask the Priests to give a ruling on two proposed scenarios relating to the Law. This of course was one of the responsibilities of the priests, to teach the people the law of Moses and to interpret how that law applied to specific situations. The specific situations that God wanted them to consider are set out clearly in v12 and 13. In the first instance the priests are to be asked “if a person carries consecrated meat in the fold of his garment and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine or oil or other food, does it become consecrated.” Or to put the question into much simpler language – “Can something that is Holy make something that is unholy, holy? And to this question the priests answered NO. The second question the priests were to be asked was “if a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things (that is something that has been consecrated, something that is ceremonially holy) does it become defiled?” Or once again to put it in simpler language – “can something that is unholy defile something that is Holy” And the answer the priests gave to that question was ‘YES, it becomes defiled.”
And the point that God was making here and the thing that he wanted his people to grasp was that Holiness is not communicable, whilst defilement is. A Holy ordinance cannot make an unholy person who is performing that ordinance holy. But an unholy person can and does transmit his defilement to all that he touches. Moral cleanness cannot be transmitted but moral pollution can.
This of course is a principle that we see working out in the realm of nature. You take a box full of rotten apples and put a good apple into the centre of it. What will happen? Will that good apple make the bad apples good, no of course it wont. But if you take a bad apple and put it in a basket of good apples that bad apple will cause those good apples to become rotten.
Or to use another example, a healthy person going into a room where someone is suffering from say the measles or from typhoid, cannot communicate his health to the person who is ill. But the person who is ill can communicate his disease to those who are healthy.
So this is the principle that God clearly establishes and the lesson that he wanted his people to learn.
So having established this principle God then goes on to apply the principle and that bring us to consider secondly
2) An Application To God’s People:
In v 14 drives home the point he is wanting to make. “Then Haggai said ‘so is this people in my sight, declares the Lord, whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.” God’s purpose in getting the people to go t the priests and ask them these two questions was not a mere academic exercise aimed at improving their understanding of the law, it was to challenge them with regards to the empty, defiled, unacceptable nature of their worship in those days when their hearts were not right with God; when they were self-centred and worldliminded and so on; when they were pursuing their own interests and neglecting God’s work; when they were more concerned about temporal things than about spiritual things. During that time the people were still bringing their sacrifices to the altar. They were still going through the outward forms of their religion. Public worship was still maintained. But although the people drew near to God with their lips their hearts were in fact far removed from him. Their relationship with God was not what it should have been. Now all the while the people were observing their religious duties, all the while they were going through the routine, the mechanics of worshipping God, they thought that God was pleased with them, that he accepted their worship and that such religious observance would secure his protection and his favour. God wants them to know that such was not the case. According to the first principle he wanted them to understand that the mechanics of worship, the actual ritual of worship has no inherent power in and of itself to make the person performing it holy. The elements of worship may have been holy things in and of themselves in that they were ordained and established by God to be part of worship but although they were holy things they could not impart holiness to those who used them. On the contrary, according to the second principle – namely that defilement can be communicated and can make that which is holy, unholy, these people being at that time unholy in themselves because of their sin were polluting the holy ordinances of God. And although they were bringing their sacrifices to God and engaging in worship God did not accept their sacrifices or their worship because it did not proceed from a pure heart.