Once a year, our church holds what we call our World Outreach Celebration. This is one week in the year in which we focus intensely on the issue of global missions. It is a defining week for us, a time in which we put our money where our mouth is. Or, in biblical terminology, it is a time in which we put our treasure where our heart is. It is the week in which we make a financial commitment–over and above our tithe–for the next year’s missions ministry. We call this a faith promise offering. It is a promise that we, as individuals and families, make to God that we will fulfil on a monthly basis. It is a promise to give out of what we have been given by God.
From these funds we provide monthly support to three of our own local church missionaries, as well as a monthly love gift to the pastor of another church in our city. And from these monies we also fund some of the expenses pertaining to our benevolence ministries, as well as our printing ministry.
But in addition to this, the church was also recently challenged by the pastors to raise extra funds, which will be earmarked for a special project for the ministry of one of our missionaries. A rather large sum of money is necessary, but with a church as blessed as ours, the eldership believes that the project is doable. And we believe that the key to overcoming any hesitance regarding this investment in God’s kingdom is threefold: We must consider our ways, we must consider God’s Word, and we must consider our faith.
We call our missions giving a faith promise offering because faith is its basis. We give sacrificially, believing that God will resupply. And more than ever, we will require a strengthened faith if we will sacrificially give to the special project mentioned above.
In our two previous studies in Haggai, we have examined the first two considerations. In this study, we turn to Haggai 2 and consider our faith. There are four things highlighted in this chapter which, when properly considered, will help to strengthen our faith. We do not have the time in this study to consider all four things, but we will at least begin, and conclude in a future study.
May God enable us to have such a glorious vision of Him that we will believe Him and thus overcome unhealthy comparisons and unholy conduct and to rest in His unchanging covenant and His unstoppable Christ. May each person reading this, as never before, invest in God’s kingdom for His glory.
We have seen in our previous studies that some 50,000 people had returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel from Babylon at the decree of Cyrus the Persian. They had promptly begun work on the temple, but had eventually left it alone in order to build their own houses. Through the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah, they had been driven back to the project, and so chapter 1 ended with the right people, in the right place, at the right period, investing in the right project.
We should note that the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah was not designed to produce guilt in the lives of God’s people. Instead, it was designed to show God’s glory to them, in order that they might be driven to obedience. This, of course, is the goal of all biblical preaching. The preacher’s task is to show his people the glory and grandeur of God in order that God’s people will invest in His kingdom for His glory. That is precisely what happened in Haggai 1.
But as we turn to the second chapter of Haggai’s prophecy, we encounter a further problem. In this case, the problem was one of unhealthy comparison, which became a hindrance to faith.
In the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month, came the word of the LORD by the prophet Haggai, saying, Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and to the residue of the people, saying, Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?
One month after the people had obeyed Haggai’s preaching, they had again grown discouraged, and had laid down their tools. The reason for their discouragement was an unhelpful comparison of what they now had with what they previously had. That is, they were comparing the temple that they were working on to the temple that Solomon had built many centuries earlier.
It is significant to note that this was not the first time that this particular problem had plagued the people. This discouragement was simply a repeat of the discouragement that had happened many years earlier.
Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of the LORD. Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to set forward the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the Levites. And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.
The younger generation of Jews had nothing to which to compare the temple on which they were working. The older generation, on the other hand, had seen Solomon’s temple, and it was quite clear to them that the new temple did not compare with the previous one. It was to them a day of “small things,” but they only wanted to experience great things (Zechariah 4:10).
Some 15 years later, Haggai is sent to the people because they have fallen prey to precisely the same temptation. And yet it is interesting to observe the message that God sent to His people through Haggai: “You are right. This house does not compare to the house that Solomon built for Me!” Nevertheless–as we shall see–it was an unhealthy and unhelpful comparison. Consider the evidence.
Whilst Solomon employed tens of thousands of labourers in his building project, there were only about 50,000 people who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. Many of those were women and children and thus we can estimate that only 25% to 50% of the returnees could get involved in the building. Solomon imported skilled craftsmen for the work, but the returnees of Haggai’s day were the imported craftsmen.
In terms of building material, Solomon had at his command some $1 billion worth of gold and silver. Zerubbabel, on the other hand, had access to a comparatively measly $4-5 million. Solomon used the finest material for his building, importing it when necessary; whereas Zerubbabel’s crew had access to some good material, they had to cut it down and bring it to the site themselves. Solomon’s temple was far larger than Zerubbabel’s.
Throughout the project, Solomon had nationwide support, but most of the nation in Zerubbabel’s time had chosen to remain in exile rather than support the work on the temple. Under Solomon, Israel was the dominant political force; but this time Israel was under Gentile rule.
Clearly, this project did not appear to have the same prospects as did Solomon’s project. In a nose-to-nose comparison, their situation just did not match up. There was no comparison. Probably, the attitude of the people was, “What’s the use? We’ll obey, but we don’t have much hope.” They exhibited a hopeless, joyless, faithless obedience. Resignation had killed their faith; to them, the cup was half empty. My youngest daughter recently offered me some witty advice, “Always borrow money from a pessimist–he never expects to get it back!” This is pretty much where the people were in Haggai’s day: they expected very little from their obedience. They were the right people, in the right place, at the right period, now involved in the right project, with the right priority. Now, however, they seemed to lack the right perspective and passion.
As noted, God responded by facing them with the facts. They were absolutely correct. There was no comparison. The temple had seen better days. There was a time when it was far larger and more glorious. It indeed appeared that these people lacked the resources of Solomon and thus they were certainly facing more difficult times. In many respects, their comparison was a fair one; it was legitimate. Nevertheless, it was an unhealthy comparison, for even though the facts were against them, God was for them.
Before we go any further in our text, let us face the facts of our own day. At least in the western world, we live in a society that appears to be post-Christian. The older generation speaks of “the good, old days,” and can remember times when all shops were closed on Sunday in honour of the Lord’s Day. They speak of full churches and a sacrificial attitude in general. The church at large seems to have little direction and even less impact. “Where are the Pentecostal blessings?” we might ask.
We live in a global village, but that village seems to have far too many closed gates concerning the gospel. We are quick to point out that the church of New Testament days did not face the onslaught of Roman Catholicism on one hand and Islam on the other, not to mention the rampant atheism and agnosticism of our day. We wonder where the Whitefields and the Wesleys are–the Reformers of old–and ask what happened to the age of missions.
On a personal level we wonder why others appear to be growing spiritually and experiencing God’s blessing, but we do not. We wonder why other churches seem to be booming. We complain that our financial challenges are mounting. Our pension fund does not look as if it will sustain us, and interest rates are climbing all the time. Perhaps we even object that our church is smaller than many churches who don’t give to missions, and thus we cannot be expected to give more.
If we are entirely frank, we will admit that these facts are true. But they are not the only factors in the equation: we must look beyond the facts to the Father. In the words of Haggai, we must realise that God’s work is accomplished “not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Therefore, let us not despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10), for we have no idea of what is yet around the corner. We have a great God and thus, although we might with great sadness compare things of today with things of yesterday, we should remember that He has not changed. This leads directly to our next consideration.
The Unchanging Covenant
Having faced the facts–and the facts having been corroborated by God–it was time for the people to face them with faith.
Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts: According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not. For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts.
God now tells the people to expect more. He knows their limitations, but He has none Himself. He made a covenant with them, and He will establish His purpose. He had made a covenant with Abraham and had confirmed it to Moses. The covenant was that Israel was His people, that the Lord Jesus Christ–the true temple–would one day come through their race. Thus, even though they were way behind in their obedience, they needed to understand afresh that their God was one of covenantal faithfulness, and that what He promised He would indeed fulfil.
Now, consider for a moment what these people heard. They understood well that they did not have anywhere near the resources that Solomon had had for his building project. And yet, despite this obvious fact, Haggai boldly declared, “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts” (v. 9). I am quite sure that they had a hard time believing that the temple they were building would be “greater” than Solomon’s, and yet it was an issue of faith: they were required to believe God’s Word.
God was thus saying, “Be courageous because of My character. I made a promise and I plan to keep it.” The principle is simply that God’s covenantal faithfulness assures us that what we see is not always only what we get. Or, stated another way, we walk by faith, not by sight. Thus, we can go forward, investing in God’s kingdom because we trust God–in light of who He is–to provide for all our needs.
God’s character is the reason that our comparisons are oftentimes–perhaps even usually–unhelpful, if not downright unhealthy. This is not to say that we must be unrealistic. We ought to acknowledge that we live in tough times, that we are not experiencing the blessings that earlier eras of Christianity experienced in our culture. But in the midst of facing these facts, we must realise that we have a God greater than our circumstances, who has made a promise that He will build His church. Therefore, because of the character of God, we can believe that all the nations will be discipled. There are at least three things here on which we must reflect if we will be faithful.
Reflect on God’s Presence
As Haggai points the people to God’s covenant faithfulness in the midst of changed circumstances, his refrain is, “Be strong” (v. 4). And why did he command them to be strong? “For I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts.” There was no need for fearful lethargy, for God was with His people.
One application we can draw from this is that, because we have God on our side, we can afford to give. Consider the early new covenant believers in Acts 2, who gave to meet the needs of others because they knew God was on their side. When word came to the Antiochan saints of an impending worldwide famine, they gave to meet the needs of the Jerusalem saints (Acts 11:27-30). They understood that God was on their side and that He would provide to meet the needs of His people.
It is a fascinating study to trace throughout Scripture God’s commands for people to be strong. Consider some of the references:
- Deuteronomy 31:6-7–“Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the LORD hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it … And he gave Joshua the son of Nun a charge, and said, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou shalt bring the children of Israel into the land which I sware unto them: and I will be with thee.”
- Joshua 1:6-9–“Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”
- Joshua 10:25–“And Joshua said unto them, Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage: for thus shall the LORD do to all your enemies against whom ye fight.”
- 1 Chronicles 22:13–“Then shalt thou prosper, if thou takest heed to fulfil the statutes and judgments which the LORD charged Moses with concerning Israel: be strong, and of good courage; dread not, nor be dismayed.”
- 1 Chronicles 28:20–“And David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed: for the LORD God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the LORD.”
- 2 Chronicles 32:7–“Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him.”
- Isaiah 35:4–“Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you.”
- 1 Corinthians 16:13–“Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.”
- Ephesians 6:10–“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”
- 2 Timothy 2:1–“Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
In changed circumstances, changed economies and changed political scenarios, God persistently challenged His people to be strong and of good courage. Consider again God’s encouragement that He is with His people:
- Genesis 48:21–“And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers.”
- Jeremiah 42:11–“Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom ye are afraid; be not afraid of him, saith the LORD: for I am with you to save you, and to deliver you from his hand.”
- 2 Thessalonians 3:16–“Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all.”
- 2 Chronicles 15:2–“And he went out to meet Asa, and said unto him, Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin; The LORD is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you.”
- Zechariah 8:23–“Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.”
- 2 Chronicles 20:17–“Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the LORD with you, O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed; to morrow go out against them: for the LORD will be with you.”
- Romans 16:24–“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”
- 1 Corinthians 16:23-24–“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.”
Because God is with us, and because He will meet our needs, we can be sure that we can afford to sacrifice in obedience to Him. One striking illustration of this can be found in the ministry of Elijah:
And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee. So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand. And she said, As the LORD thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die. And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth. And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah.
(1 Kings 17:8-16)
God had commanded this widow to feed His prophet, and when she sacrificed in order to do so, He met her needs. In similar fashion, we can trust that as we obediently invest in God’s kingdom for His glory, He will meet our needs. We can be strong and be done with fear when we realise that God is with us.
Reflect on God’s Power
In His continuing address to the people, God now speaks of His power to enact political turmoil: “For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts” (vv. 6-7).
Things may have seemed pretty hopeless to the people. As noted above, when Solomon constructed his temple, Israel was the political ruler of the Middle East. Now, the Jews were in bondage to Persia. But God now reminds the people that it is in fact He who has all power in heaven and on earth. He reveals that in “a little while” He “will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land.” He “will shake all nations.” At that time Darius was the leader of the most powerful nation in the known world. But within 15-20 years, Persia would be at war with Greece. In 490 BC, Darius would be soundly defeated at Marathon. Just ten years later, Darius’ successor Xerxes, with his naval force of 1.8 million, would be defeated at Salamis, and the following year he would suffer another defeat at Plataea. This left him absolutely humiliated and sent him scurrying back to his homeland.
The Greeks gained the ascendancy in Middle Eastern politics after the defeat of Xerxes, and this was accompanied by the sweeping Hellenisation of the known world under Alexander the Great. But at his death in 323 BC, Rome came thoroughly to fame. Thus, within just a couple of centuries of Haggai’s ministry, the political world was indeed turned on its head. As James Montgomery Boice correctly notes, “If there was ever a shaking of the nations and a redistribution of powers, it was during this period.”
Though it seemed impossible, God promised that “the glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former” (v. 9). When Herod the Great was instituted as the Jewish king by the Romans, he immediately set about renovating the temple (15 BC). These renovations would only be completed some time after his death, and involved more than 46 years of intensive labour (John 2:20). When it was finally completed, it was indeed far more impressive than Solomon’s temple had ever been.
Reflect on God’s Purpose
God added through Haggai that “the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts” (v. 7). In his Messiah, Handel defined “the desire of all nations” as Christ. With all due respect, I believe he was wrong. I believe that there are two possible explanations for “the desire of all nations.”
First, the word “desire” could be translated as “treasures,” and thus the prophecy may be of the treasures of all nations being given toward the completion of the project. Historically, this is precisely what happened under Darius, Artaxerxes and then as Herod performed his impressive renovations on the building.
Second, and I believe far more likely, is that the “desire of all nations” speaks of the people of God–those whom He has chosen–from all nations. Thus, the prophecy is that those from all nations who are the object of God’s desire will fill His true temple, which is the Lord Jesus Christ. Simply stated, this is most likely a prophecy of the new covenant church, those who are in Christ by faith. God is in essence saying, “You do what you are supposed to do right now, and let me take care of the future. I assure you that your investment is a worthwhile one. It is sure.”
Haggai’s contemporaries were called to reflect on the fact that God can move heaven and earth in order to meet the needs of His kingdom. And we need to believe as God’s people that we can do (what seems as we look at the visible to be) the impossible, because of the powerful hand that dwells in the invisible. And so, when we hear God’s command to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20), we do not leave the task for a future generation: we obey now, trusting the One who has all authority in heaven and on earth. I have no idea what the ministry of the gospel will produce in our generation, but I know that God has promised that the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will one day cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Thus, even though everything may now be visibly against the Great Commission, we can trust that our powerful and faithful God, who has given us His command, will meet our needs as we obey.
God’s purpose is that the Lord Jesus Christ will be glorified through His church, and this purpose ensures our victory in the building program. If our purpose is aligned with His purpose, then we can be assured of success.
My father-in-law and pastor always taught our church as I was growing up that we must learn to let God be our banker. When my wife and I went to him for premarital counselling, he offered the same counsel. He explained that there is nothing wrong with investments, but that investments in the world can and often do go sour. But God, he added, will always meet the needs of His people. Investing in His kingdom is a sure investment, for things never go sour with Him. Therefore, let us heed the words of Jesus: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Are you hesitant to give of your abundance, fearing that you will lack in a time of need? Let God be your banker! Trust Him to meet all your needs! And this brings us to an important point.
Reflect on God’s Provision
Since these people had a relationship with God, they had all they needed for their project. They simply needed to believe God for the supply, and to resupply what they gave. “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts” (vv. 8-9). At this point, we must consider two texts which highlight the truth of God’s statement here. I urge you to read these in full.
The first text concerns a decree concerning the building of the temple made by Darius, king of Persia:
Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon. And there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a roll, and therein was a record thus written: In the first year of Cyrus the king the same Cyrus the king made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, Let the house be builded, the place where they offered sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid; the height thereof threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof threescore cubits; With three rows of great stones, and a row of new timber: and let the expenses be given out of the king’s house: And also let the golden and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is at Jerusalem, and brought unto Babylon, be restored, and brought again unto the temple which is at Jerusalem, every one to his place, and place them in the house of God. Now therefore, Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shetharboznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence: Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place. Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered. And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail: That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons. Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this. And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed.
The second text also concerns a decree by a Persian king concerning the building of the temple, but this time the king is Artaxerxes:
Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the LORD, and of his statutes to Israel. Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time. I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee. Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counsellors, to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand; And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem, And all the silver and gold that thou canst find in all the province of Babylon, with the freewill offering of the people, and of the priests, offering willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem … And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily, Unto an hundred talents of silver, and to an hundred measures of wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine, and to an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much.Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons? … Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem: And hath extended mercy unto me before the king, and his counsellors, and before all the king’s mighty princes. And I was strengthened as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me.
(Ezra 7:11-16, 21-23, 27-28)
God owned (and owns) all the silver and gold in the world, and all that was needed was for Him to relocate it where it was needed. It is astounding to think that God moved in the heart of pagan kings to provide for the building of the temple, and to protect His people throughout the project. Surely that is proof of God’s sovereign ownership of all things!
There is a wonderful principle here for today’s church: God has given us everything we need to fulfil the Great Commission–we simply need to relocate it. The problem with the people in Haggai’s day was that they had relocated God’s wealth into the construction of their own houses. And, to be quite honest, we often do precisely the same. I am not suggesting that it is wrong to invest in a house or a new car, but when we take the money that we owe to God–our tithe, for example–and use it for these purposes, then we have relocated our treasures wrongly. God can certainly still use pagan rulers to supply the needs of His kingdom–and that seems to be happening in certain places in our world–but most often He chooses to relocate the means that He has given to His people in order to meet the needs in His kingdom. As Randy Alcorn has noted, God does not increase our prosperity to increase our standard of living, but to increase our standard of giving. Giving is a faith issue: we must trust God to resupply. Knowing that God provides should make us more generous in our giving, for He provides for others through us.
Like many in churches today who do not give faithfully to God, the people to whom Haggai ministered were not fundamentally dishonest. Instead, like many today, they simply lacked the faith that God would resupply. “If I give,” people object, “I will not have enough to meet my needs.” But let me urge you to give and trust God to supply your needs! The silver and the gold all belongs to Him! Your new car and house belong to Him! Your career and paycheque come to you only by His grace. Thus, we must all seek to relocate–by God’s leading–what He wants us to invest in His kingdom.
There is a man at another church in our city who is heavily involved in an evangelistic ministry. He drives a rather old vehicle, which has the tendency to break down quite frequently. I once asked him whether he grew frustrated at the continual mechanical problems that with which he had to deal. He replied that he did not, but that every time the vehicle gave problems, he simply prayed, “Lord, your car has broken down again.”
Oh, what a burden is lifted from our shoulders when we realise that we own nothing! God owns it all: we are simply His stewards. We can trust Him to meet our needs when we invest in His kingdom for His glory. To His people, God said, “Go to the mountains–which I own–and bring the wood–which I own–and build my house.” And God says precisely the same to us: “Invest what you have–which I own–in my kingdom for my glory.”
My goal is never to move people to give by guilt. Instead, my goal is that we would see the glory of God, see that He is trustworthy, and therefore invest in His kingdom for His glory, courageously and without fear, knowing that He is with us and that He will meet our needs.