Studies in The Book of Haggai
The Lord Jesus once told a parable about a farmer who went out to sow some seed in one of his fields. Although he sowed out the whole field there were places here and there where the soil quality differed and because of that some of the seed that he sowed, the seed that feel on the hard impenetrable soil of the man made pathway through the field, the seed that fell into the rocky soil and the seed that fell into the soil that was still full of thorns and briars, didn’t produce any crops. However the seed that fell into the good soil, soil that had been well ploughed up and cleared of anything that would hinder germination and growth, that seed produced a harvest for the farmer.
In explaining that parable the Lord Jesus said that the seed was the Word of God and the soil was the human heart and the main point of the parable was that only in those hearts which have been properly prepared to receive the Word will their be a positive response that will bring fruit to the glory of God.
Last week in our studies in the book of Haggai I pointed out that Haggai was one of the few O.T. Prophets who had the joy of seeing his ministry actually bearing fruit in the lives of those to whom he ministered. The people had been in a state of spiritual apathy for many years and had become so self-centred and worldly-minded in their outlook that the work of God (that is the rebuilding of the Temple) was being completely neglected. However as a result of Haggai’s preaching and the powerful work of God the Holy Spirit upon the hearts and minds of the people whereby the people were brought to the point of giving serious consideration to the message they heard and responding to the message in the way that God desired that they should respond to it there was a spiritual awakening, a spiritual revival among the people.
Last week we considered the CAUSES of that Spiritual awakening. This evening we want to consider the EVIDENCES of it and we find four such evidences in vs 12-15 of this first chapter.
The first evidence that a spiritual awakening was taking place among the people is seen in
1) The People’s Attitude Towards God:
And we find that at the end of v12 where we red these words “the people FEARED the Lord”
Prior to Haggai’s preaching the unfinished temple spoke volumes concerning the people’s attitude towards God. The fact that for over 15 years they couldn’t be bothered doing the work to which God had specifically called them, namely the rebuilding of the Temple, showed that the people had little concern for God glory and little reverence and regard for His person. Had they loved God sincerely, had they held him in reverence they would not have been so quick to abandon the work on the temple in favour of their own domestic building projects. But over the years their attitude towards God had changed. Instead of fearing God they began to adopt a much more laid back attitude towards Him. Their sense of the holiness and the power and the majesty and the authority of God became increasingly dulled, so much so that they were not troubled by the fact that they were putting all their time and energy and resources into their own personal projects while God’s house was lying in ruins.
Now however, after Haggai had delivered his first challenging message to them, we see a radical change in the people’s attitude towards God. Now the people “feared the Lord.” That is they were brought to the point where they once again saw God for who He was – The Sovereign, Holy, Righteous, Just, Almighty God upon whom they were totally dependant and to whom they were subject and accountable for their conduct. They became impressed once again with a sense of God’s greatness on the one hand and their own nothingness on the other. With a sense of God holiness and their awful sinfulness. With a sense of God’s goodness and their ungratefulness. And as they thought about such things their attitude towards God changed. The laid-back, couldn’t care less, disrespectful, irreverent attitude that had developed over the past 15 years was replaced by an attitude of reverence and respect and a healthy fear of God. One of the main reasons why they had been living the way they were living, one of the main reasons they had been sinning against God in ardently pursuing their own selfish desires while neglecting the work of God was because they no longer feared the Lord as they had once done. If ever there was going to be a change in their conduct before God there would first have to be a change in their attitude towards God. As a result of Haggai’s preaching and the work of the Spirit such a change in attitude came about. “The people feared the Lord.”
Solomon tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” And wisdom in the scriptures in general and in the book of Proverbs in particular is very much related to moral and ethical personal conduct in the realm of daily life. In other words what Solomon is saying is there is an inseparable connection between a persons views of and attitude towards God and the way in which that person will live their life. Proper views of and a proper attitude towards God, i.e. ‘fear of the Lord, reverence for God, are essential to and will produce godly living.
You remember how Nehemiah rebukes the rich in Jerusalem for taking advantage of the poor and says to them “What you are doing is not right, shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God.” In other words if you truly feared the Lord and took into account what he has to say about how to treat the poor you would not behave the way you are behaving.
Later on in that chapter Nehemiah bears testimony to the fact that even though previous governors of Jerusalem had placed heavy tax burdens on the people and Lorded it over them he, having been appointed to that position didn’t act like that. Why? Because he feared the Lord. “The earlier governors, those preceding me, placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But, because I feared the Lord, I did not act like that.”
Paul in 2 Cor 7/1 draws a direct connection between holy living and the fear of the Lord when he says that as believers we are to “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for (KJV in the fear of) God.”
And just as an attitude of reverential fear of God is essential to and will inevitably produce godly living so too where a person does not have a fear of God, there you will inevitably find a life that is characterised by sin.
The Apostle Paul in Romans 3 10ff describes something of the awful sinfully depraved state into which the human race has fallen and he gives a number of examples of the sort of sin that is common among mankind – “their throats are open graves, their tongues practice deceit, the poison of vipers is under their lips, their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; The do not know the way of peace.” And he both sums up and gives an explanation for their behaviour with this statement taken from Psalm 36 “there is no fear of God before their eyes.” They were neither in awe of God’s person nor afraid of his judgements. They acted as if there was no Go; No One to whom they were accountable for their conduct. No One who had the power and authority to bring them into judgement for their sinful way of life. This lack of the “fear of God” is the very root of wickedness. John Calvin wrote “All wickedness flows from a disregard of God…since the fear of God is the bridle by which our wickedness is held in check, its removal frees us to indulge in every kind of (sinful) conduct.”
Pharaoh is another classic example of this fact. You remember his response to Moses when Moses said that God had commanded Pharaoh to let the Children of Israel leave Egypt – “Who is the Lord that I should obey him and let Israel go. I do not know the Lord (that is I do not pay any attention to and will not submit to this God).” Pharaoh did not fear the Lord. Even after the Egyptians had suffered through seven of the ten plagues Moses said of Pharaoh in Ex 9:30 “I know that you and your officials still do not fear the Lord.”
We are going to see that the conduct of the people in Haggai’s day with respect to the work of the Lord changed as a result of Haggai’s preaching, but that change in their conduct was but the outworking of the change that had already been wrought in their hearts and minds in relation to their attitude to God. Now they “feared the Lord.”
You know I think that this is something that is missing in many Christians today. A genuine healthy Fear of God. God has been so moulded according to people’s own ideas that many people do not any longer stand in awe of him. They have so concentrated upon his love and his goodness and his kindness and so on that they no longer think too much, if at all, about His Holiness and His righteousness and His justice and His hatred of sin and His power.
They know nothing of the experience of Isaiah who when he was confronted with the sight of the glory and majesty and holiness of God in the temple cried out “woe is me for I an undone…I am a man of unclean lips…” And the lack of fear and reverence for God usually manifests itself in the way a person lives. Because they don’t fear God they are more inclined to indulge sinful patterns of behaviour and go on doing their own thing even when challenged and rebuked about such sinful behaviour by God through the preaching of His Word. John Murray once wrote “It is the essence of impiety not to be afraid of God when there is reason to be afraid…the scripture throughout prescribes the necessity of this fear of God under all circumstances in which our sinful condition makes us liable to God’s righteous judgements.”
And friends there are many Christians, maybe even some here today who need to recapture that attitude of being filled with a healthy, life transforming and life controlling fear of God. Notice I said a HEALTHY fear of God. A fear of God which whilst it does not terrify it does nevertheless have a positive impact upon the way and person thinks and behaves. Where such a fear of God has been absent for some time and where through the preaching of the Word such an attitude is restored there you have the beginnings of a renewed spiritual awakening taking place in the life of that individual or that group of people.
The people feared the Lord.
Well if the first evidence of spiritual awakening is seen in the People’s attitude towards God the second evidence of such an awakening is seen in
2) The People’s Attitude Towards God’s Servant:
As I mentioned in one of our earlier studies Haggai was the first prophet God raised up to minister to the people since their return from Babylon. After over 14 years of spiritual apathy God determined to speak to His people with a view to challenging them about their spiritual condition, and awakening them from their spiritual slumber. God had spoken to them by way of reproof in the realm of daily providence by causing their crops to fail through lack of rain and also through the resulting economic instability and hardship that inevitably followed on from that. However the people didn’t seem to hear God’s voice in these chastening events. They didn’t as it were draw a connection between their hard times and their sinful spiritual condition. So in order that the people would be in no doubt as to what God thought of their spiritual apathy and in order that they would be in no doubt as to what God required of them if they were to experience blessing once again he raised up one who would be His spokesman to the people and sent him to them with a very clear message. The message he brought was straight to the point and hard hitting. When proclaimed no-one was in any doubt as to what Haggai was saying. He didn’t beat about the bush and leave people thinking ‘now what exactly did Haggai mean when he said such and such…’ How did the people react to the message this man brought to them? How did they view this preacher? Did they regard him as a sort of religious enthusiast, a religious extremist who was simply giving vent to his own personal opinions and whose rantings and ravings were beat ignored. Did they do to him what their forefathers had done to other men who had the nerve to speak out publicly against them and point the finger at them and rebuke them? Did they lay hold of him and throw him in prison. Did they stone him? Did they try to get rid of him and tell him to shut up? Well in v12 & 13 we discover the attitude of the people towards Haggai. “They obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai because the Lord their God had sent him…Then Haggai the Lord’s messenger…”
It is clear from these words that the people acknowledged two things concerning Haggai. First of all they acknowledged that in speaking to them he was doing so in his capacity as the divinely appointed prophet, the divinely appointed spokesman of God. The recognised his divinely appointed office. He was “The Lord’s Messenger” “The Lord their God had sent him” Secondly they recognised that in speaking to them he was not expressing his own opinions and views on the spiritual state of the people and the spiritual need of the hour but rather was merely the human means through whom God was speaking to them. In other words they recognised his message to be divinely inspired. The hard hitting, challenging message he brought to them was what God had to say about these things. “they obeyed the VOICE OF THE LORD THEIR GOD.” They took what he had to say seriously because they knew that God was speaking to them through this man. And the fact that they recognised and respected the office to which this man had been called, a prophet of the Lord, the Lord’s spokesman; and acknowledged that in the message he brought God was speaking to them, is evidence that a spiritual awakening was occurring among them.
And you know brethren when God the Holy Spirit begins to work in a persons heart, when He begins that work of spiritual stirring, that work of spiritual awakening whereby he is going to bring a person into the way of repentance from sin and obedience to God, one of the first evidences of such a work is seen in that persons attitude to the minister of the gospel and the message that he proclaims. They no longer see him as just some man who has taken up a job as minister of the congregation of which they are members, but rather as God’s chosen and appointed spokesman in their midst. They recognise that as a man he is as human and as sinful and as fallible as anyone else but they also recognise that God has sent him into their midst. They recognise that he has a divine commission and that in his office as a minister of the gospel he has been sent to bring to them the Word of God. Thus as they listen to him accurately expounding the scriptures, giving the sense and meaning of the passage under consideration, and then making a practical application of the spiritual principles involved to relevant areas of personal character and personal conduct, they acknowledge that what they are hearing is not the voice of man but the voice of God speaking to them.
You remember what Paul writes in his first letter to the Church at Thessalonica in ch 2:13 “we also thank God continually because, when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the Word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God…”
When Paul and his fellow missionaries came to Thessalonica they preached the gospel to them. Paul was just an ordinary man But he had been chosen and set apart to preach the gospel and when he did so he knew that he was not communicating a mere human message but rather that he was the human instrument through whom God was speaking to the men and women he addressed. And the people in Thessalonica who came to believe the gospel recognised that the word he preached was not the word of man but the word of God. One commentator says of the people of Thessalonica’s response to Paul’s preaching “…they felt the godhead drawing near to them in the Word of Life…they therefore accepted the preached word for what it was, the Word of God.”
I wonder brethren how do you view my ministry among you, or indeed the ministry of any preacher who occupies this pulpit and who preaches to you. Do you regard such a one as God’s appointed spokesman? One whom God has sent into your midst in order through the faithful and accurate exposition and application of the teaching of the Bible, to communicate His mind and will to you. That brethren is what happens when God’s Word is faithfully preached. The human instrument is undoubtedly weak and sinful and full of faults and failings and there is none who knows that better than himself. The treasure is brought in earthen vessels as Paul says. But the amazing thing about preaching is that in spite of the imperfections of the human instrument God chooses to speak to us through such weak instruments as they open up the scriptures to us. Let me ask you. Do you come here on the Lord’s day believing that God is going to speak to you through His Word? When it comes to the reading and the preaching of the Word in this place each week is your attitude that of the Psalmist “I will hear what God the Lord will say” “show me your ways O Lord, teach me your paths.” Is it that of Samuel “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”
You know the way in which a person responds to the preaching of the Word is a reliable indicator of that persons attitude towards both the messenger and the message.
As the people living in Jerusalem in 520 BC listened to what Haggai had to say they recognised Haggai to be “The messenger of the Lord” and that being the case they accepted what he had to say as “the voice of the Lord their God”
But not only so we see the evidence of a spiritual awakening taking place among the people as we observe their Attitude to God and their Attitude to The God’s Servant & the message he brought, we also see it in
3) Their Attitude to God’s Word:
Through Haggai God not only challenged and reproved the people for their sin, He also called them to turn from their sin and apply themselves once again to the work that they had been neglecting for so long. “Go up into the mountain and bring down timber and build the house so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured says the Lord.” So God was calling for a change in their existing attitude, a change that would be seen in a corresponding tangible verifiable change in their conduct. You used to be self-centred, worldly-minded, ungrateful, put away such attitudes. Be God centred in your thinking; spiritually minded in your outlook and thankful for all that I have done for you. Turn from your sinful ways and demonstrate that you have turned by doing what you should have been doing all these years, start applying yourselves to the building of the temple. How did the people react to this very clear command to recommence the building work on the temple? We read in v12 “Then Zerubabel son of Sealtiel…READ
And in 14b – “they came and began work on the house of the Lord Almighty their God.”
Having heard what God wanted them to do, they OBEYED. They didn’t just feel sorry and bemoan the fact that they had neglected God’s work for so long, they did something about it. They put right the wrong. They made the changes that were needed in both their attitude and conduct to bring them into line with god’s revealed will. Notice that the obedience was both Universal and Prompt. It was universal – everyone obeyed. We don’t read of any exceptions. The leaders are mentioned specifically, probably because they led by example. Their obedience was prompt. Twenty three days after Haggai procalimed the word of the Lord the work on the temple of the Lord began. No doubt those 23 days were spent preparing the sight, getting timber and so on. And when everything was ready they all began the work. It was prompt obedience. Here was a clear evidence that God was working among this people.
And you know brethren this is third evidence, obedience to the Word of God is the most important, most telling evidence of all as to whether or not spiritual apathy is giving way to spiritual awakening. The person concerned not only recognises the voice of God speaking to them through the scriptures, they obey that voice. They do what God calls them to do. They forsake their sin and they make those changes in their life that are necessary to bring their life into line with God’s will for them. God says to them ‘you should be more disciplined in your attendance at Church. You should be out at the Sabbath evening service of worship. You should meet together with other believers for prayer. You should be involved in some form of practical service for me in the Church. You should be witnessing for me. You should be reading your Bible each day. You should be giving more to the work of my kingdom. You should not be going out with that fella/girl. You should not be watching that television programme. And when God thus speaks as he does do, and as he has done to some of us in the past, our duty is to obey. One commentator says “When God speaks, failure to act is nothing but practical atheism.” Friend when God speaks to you through his Word if you don’t obey him, you are behaving like an atheist. You are saying “God says I should do such and such. So What I don’t care. I am going to do my own thing.” That is practical atheism. Your conduct is a mockery of your professed belief in God. The person in whose life the Holy Spirit is at work. A person who perhaps for a period had fallen into a state of spiritual backsliding, spiritual apathy, such a person when they hear the voice of the Lord their God will under the gracious awakening influences of the Spirit, obey that Word.
All of our hearts need such a stirring and some need it more so than others. It is my prayer that God would stir us up. That every one of us who name the name of Christ and even those who as yet do not profess faith, might truly fear the Lord, that we would hear and recognise His voice speaking to us through the reading and preaching of His Word and having heard God’s voice that we would respond in obedience to it.
“Oh that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down. Oh Lord, will you not revive us again”
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