Summary: When God makes a promise, He WILL fulfill it -- even if He never tells you when.
The sport of boxing is unique, in that it seems like you’re not really a part of a team. You are the only one in the ring with your opponent. Every success or failure -- whether you win or lose the fight -- is completely dependant on you. At the end of the fight, only one person has their hand in the air -- and the other person knows that he didn’t lose the fight because a teammate made a mistake, or because his team wasn’t working together like they should have been. He lost because he made mistakes.
This is only true on the outside, though. When you’re watching a boxing match, all you see is the two boxers in the ring. What you don’t see, though, is the coach. When their boxer goes down, that coach is standing in their corner, shouting at them, “Get up! Get up! Get up!” It’s that encouragement that helps them ignore the pain, get back on their feet, and get back into the fight.
For the past several weeks, we’ve been discussing some of the minor prophets. So far, all of them have had one thing in common -- they’ve all spoken about God’s impending judgement upon the people. God has repeatedly gotten angry with the Israelites, Judeans, and Edomites because they’ve repeatedly chosen to ignore His laws, and therefore, ignore His love. But God’s smart. He made us, so He understands how our minds work. He knew that He couldn’t just keep throwing punch after punch after punch and expect us to listen. Whether we deserved it or not, God knew that sometimes His people just needed some encouragement.
The book of Haggai is different that most of the other prophetic works of the Old Testament in that it is almost entirely composed of encouraging words that God sends to His people. Let’s start with a little history -- remember a few months ago when I spoke on Nehemiah? Nehemiah was the man who helped the Israelites return to their homeland and rebuild the city wall. Haggai comes along after Nehemiah. The city wall is finished, and the people have even built the foundation for a new temple. But sixteen years later they get discouraged, and give up on the new temple in favor of trying to rebuild their own lives. At this point God sends two prophets -- Haggai and Zechariah (We’ll speak on him next week) to encourage them to resume work on the temple.
1In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak the high priest: 2This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘These people say, “The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.”’ 3Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 4‘Is is a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?’ 5Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways. 6You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.’ 7This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways. 8Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. … 12Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.
Let’s break this apart a bit here. We can see that Haggai has an interesting personality quirk -- he is huge on detail. We know when this happened, to the day. Thanks to surviving Persian records, we know that Haggai said this on August 29th, 520 BC. Haggai also mentions that this word is for the leadership of the time, by name -- Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest. Finally, and this is probably the most obvious example, he repeatedly mentions “This is what the Lord Almighty says”. Haggai wants to make sure that the people knew who sent him!
So what does the Lord Almighty say? Well, God is encouraging His people, though it may not seem that way at first. First, in verse 2, God makes it clear that yes, He knows what’s going on. What the Judeans do isn’t hidden from God. In verse 4, God makes His point -- the Judeans were being selfish. They were more concerned about their own comfort than ensuring that there was a place to worship. In verses 5-7, God reiterates that He knows the problems that they’ve suffered. He tells them to “Give careful thought to [their] ways”. He says it twice! Then He tells them what they need to do to “fix it” -- go to the mountains, get lumber, and rebuild the temple.