Consider the Future (Haggai 2:11-23)

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One day, no doubt, BBC will embark on a building program to expand the size of our auditorium. As the numbers continue to increase, we will have no choice but to do this. But the fact of the matter is that we are currently involved in a building program, which by God’s grace, will make the expansion of the church hall a necessity. For we are involved in the building up of the Body of Christ, both here and abroad. As we continue to do so, we will see more and more conversions and thus less and less capacity to house the souls. I am assuming, of course, that we will continue upon the path on which God has graciously placed us.

We thank God that we are making progress in our investing in His kingdom for His glory. We are increasingly appreciating the priority of God’s temple, the church (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:21; see 1 Peter 2:1-5). The result is that we are seeing the necessary priority of investing our muscles, our monies and our minutes into the ministry of the church. And we are experiencing God’s blessings as we do so, for God blesses obedience. He blesses a people who have proper priorities.

The remnant church in Haggai’s day learned this lesson. Though they were the right people, in the right place, with the right project, at the right period of time, they succumbed to wrong priorities. After a grand start, they faced difficulties, which resulted in their disobedient response. Hence, for 16 years, they found themselves zealously involved in another building program, but he wrong one. They became selfishly consumed with the building of their own houses, while God’s house lay in ruins.

The pagan neighbours may have marvelled at the glorious homes of these industrious Jews but they would have mocked the “supposed” glory of God. After all, He must not be too great if His people treat His worship like this. Perhaps they would have concluded that He did not deserve much priority, and thus His “worshippers” gave Him little of it.

But, praise be to God, things changed!

God sent two prophets–Haggai and Zechariah–who called upon the returned remnant to consider their focus to repent and to refocus. Haggai’s first message called upon them to consider their focus, and to repent of their self-centred ways (1:1-15). His second message was for them to consider their faith (2:1-9). They were to realise that their Father could do anything and that they thus needed to believe Him rather than being controlled by their circumstances.

These initial messages were delivered over a seven-week period, between the 1 September and 20 October 520 BC. God “stirred up” the spirit of the people and they began to work. And yet it appears that their labours were half-hearted. They were not single-minded in their devotion to God and to His work. And, of course, this would impede their dedication to the all important work of investing in God’s kingdom for His glory. Thus, God once again sends Haggai to exhort them to consider their ways in light of the Person, plan and promises of God. He does so on 18 of December of the same year.

There are in fact two messages that Haggai is called upon to deliver, one public and one of a more personal nature. And yet they are in fact two parts of one overriding message, namely a message from God exhorting His people to consider the future. God tells them through Haggai that they are to consider the fact that what they are involved in is of immense significance, and that their investment is absolutely sure. Hence they are to repent of half-heartedness (which is the sin of a divided heart) and to begin to worshipfully work on their building program for the glory of God. And, by all accounts, they did this, for some four years later the temple project was completed, (Ezra 6:15).

As we begin our exposition of this two-in-one message, may I remind you that our involvement in the building up of the church–both local and universal–is also of immense significance. In fact, if it was significant for the Jews of Haggai’s day to build the “shadow,” how much more significant it is for us to be building the substance!

We need this reminder, for without this perspective we will tend toward half-heartedness in our investment in the kingdom of God. Though we may give our treasures, our time and our talents, will it be a worshipful involvement, a worshipful offering, a truly worshipful sacrifice? We are often easily tempted to forsake our ministry for Christ when we see no immediate fruit, but it is at such times that we need to hear loud and clear the message of Haggai 2:11-23. For, like the Jews of old, if we will invest wholeheartedly in the kingdom of God, we can expect great blessings from our glorious God.

As we consider these questions in this study may we be encouraged through God’s Word to whole-heartedly build for the glory of God. To do so, let us be honest to God in considering our folly (vv. 10-17), and hopeful before God as we consider our future (vv. 18-23).

Let Us Honestly Face Our Folly

If we will avoid the temptation to half-hearted obedience, we must first of all assess the reality, sincerity and integrity of our worship, realising the possibility that our worship may indeed be folly. This was Haggai’s public charge to the people of Israel:

In the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Ask now the priests concerning the law, saying, If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy? And the priests answered and said, No. Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean. Then answered Haggai, and said, So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith the LORD; and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean.

(Haggai 2:10-17)

This message came to the people of Israel during the Middle Eastern winter of 520 BC. By this time, the people had already sown their seen in anticipation of a great harvest to come in the following spring. As we will see in a moment, the previous year’s harvest was rather disappointing. Now, they had planted everything that they had in hopeful anticipation of a better harvest the following year.

Sadly, their expectations of a great harvest were not very optimistic, for they had already had a disappointing harvest earlier that year. That winter was doubtless bleak and depressing, and although work on the temple continued, it was merely half-hearted. Yes, they continued to worship, they continued to sacrifice, but these things were done with nothing but doubt and pessimism. God thus sends a stinging message to His people at the mouth of Haggai in order to stir them to wholehearted obedience.

The Folly of Unacceptable Worship

The first part of Haggai’s public message took the form of two questions directed to the priests in Jerusalem. These illuminating questions concern “the law” (v. 11), for it is by adherence to God’s law alone that our worship is acceptable to Him. The two questions concern holiness and defilement.

First, Haggai asks the priests, “If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy?” Unanimously, the priests agree, “No” (v. 12). The law on which this question rested is found in Leviticus 6:25-27:

Speak unto Aaron and to his sons, saying, This is the law of the sin offering: In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the LORD: it is most holy. The priest that offereth it for sin shall eat it: in the holy place shall it be eaten, in the court of the tabernacle of the congregation. Whatsoever shall touch the flesh thereof shall be holy: and when there is sprinkled of the blood thereof upon any garment, thou shalt wash that whereon it was sprinkled in the holy place.

(Leviticus 6:25-27)

As you can see, anything that the holy meat itself touched would automatically be considered holy; not inherently holy and thus to be revered, but set aside for the worship of God. Thus, as the priest bore the “holy flesh in the skirt of his garment,” his garment was automatically considered holy. But Haggai’s question did not concern the holy meat touching anything, but the garment, which had been made holy by the meat, touching something. Did the now-holy garment have the power to transmit its holiness to “bread or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat”? The unequivocal answer to that question is no.

I will explain the relevance of this question momentarily, but let us first consider the second question directed to the priests, “If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean?” This time, the answer was in the affirmative, “It shall be unclean” (v. 13). The law in view here can be found again in the book of Leviticus:

  • Leviticus 11:27-28–“And whatsoever goeth upon his paws, among all manner of beasts that go on all four, those are unclean unto you: whoso toucheth their carcase shall be unclean until the even. And he that beareth the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: they are unclean unto you.”
  • Leviticus 22:4-7–“What man soever of the seed of Aaron is a leper, or hath a running issue; he shall not eat of the holy things, until he be clean. And whoso toucheth any thing that is unclean by the dead, or a man whose seed goeth from him; Or whosoever toucheth any creeping thing, whereby he may be made unclean, or a man of whom he may take uncleanness, whatsoever uncleanness he hath; The soul which hath touched any such shall be unclean until even, and shall not eat of the holy things, unless he wash his flesh with water. And when the sun is down, he shall be clean, and shall afterward eat of the holy things; because it is his food.”

The holiness of the garment in the previous question was not transmittable to other persons or things, but the uncleanness spoken of in the second question most certainly was transmittable. But what do these questions have to do with the specific circumstances of the Jews in Haggai’s day?

The simple principle being set forth by these questions is that, whilst holiness is by no means contagious, defilement most certainly is. When Alexander Litvinenko suddenly fell ill and was hospitalised (1 November 2006), it was discovered that he had fallen foul of acute radiation syndrome, induced by lethal polonium-210. He died three weeks later. During his illness, fears arose that his condition might be contagious. Though this was eventually ruled out, it is interesting to note what a stir was caused at the possibility that his radioactive illness might easily be passed onto others. It is equally interesting that, although Litvinenko was surrounded by healthy individuals, it did not make him one whit healthier than he was.

Those of us with children will understand this principle well. If your child goes to a crèche (nursery) where there is a sick child, your child’s health is not contagious to the ill child, but the illness of that child is often contagious to your child. Clearly, health (holiness) is not contagious, but illness (defilement) most certainly is.

Again, we must ask, what is the point that Haggai is making with these questions? The answer can be found in v. 14, “Then answered Haggai, and said, So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith the LORD; and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean.” In other words, the people must not assume that they were holy simply because they were at work on the holy house of God. The mere presence of the temple did not automatically make them holy; their defilement, however, was quickly and easily spread amongst them.

You will notice that, although the Jews were God’s people, the Lord addresses them, not as “my people,” but as “this people.” It is as if God is speaking of “this defiled people,” from whom He as a thrice holy God must separate. Because the people were defiled, so their offerings were defiled. The mere presence of the temple did not ensure holy, acceptable worship, and God would most certainly reject the “unclean” sacrifices that they offered to Him. In the same way that the priest’s garment which contained holy meat was considered holy, so the temple building was considered holy because it contained that which was holy. And yet the holiness of the temple was being compromised by unclean worshippers, who seemed to believe that they were holy by virtue of the temple that stood in their midst.

Whilst the Jews believed that they were like the priest’s garment (made holy by their contact with the temple), God told them that in fact they were defiling the temple sacrifices by their defilement, just as a person who touched a dead body defiled all that he touched. Michael Bentley has summarised Haggai’s message well.

God could see into their inmost beings and he observed their half-heartedness in the task of rebuilding …

Why was there a barrier between God and the people? It came about because the people, who were offering sacrifices upon the altar, were contaminated: “Whatever they offer there [i.e. upon the altar] is defiled.” The people assumed that because they were offering sacrifices to God upon the altar, (which had been used for many years) this outward action would make them holy and secure the protection and blessing of God for them. They assumed that because they were working on a holy building they would automatically become holy themselves; but they were defiled, said the Lord (2:14).

Why were the people unclean? Their lethargic attitude had made them unclean. Their love, their loyalty, their enthusiasm for God’s work had all begun to diminish. They thought that their good work in offering sacrifices upon the altar would make up for their lack of zeal for God’s house. They thought their devout actions would make them acceptable in God’s eyes. They believed they were pleasing God by offering sacrifices to him. But the psalmist said of the Lord,

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
O God, you will not despise.”
(Psalm 51:16-17)

What did God think of the Jews’ attitude to the rebuilding work? God was saying, in effect, “It is no use. The builders of my house must have pure hearts.” What God was saying through Haggai was this: “You can’t catch holiness. It is God’s gift to those who commit themselves completely to him and to his service.”

Indeed, God saw their heart and consequently rejected their worship.

I say this reverently: this God of the Jews is a hard God to please. After all, the people had obeyed Haggai’s initial message (chapter 1). They had gone to the mountains, collected wood, and were involved in the building of God’s house. They were the right people, in the right place, at the right period, involved in the right project: what more could they possibly offer to God? Of course, the answer is that they could add internal obedience to their external obedience. The work in which they were involved could be exercised wholeheartedly. In short, their motive mattered to God.

Recently, over a several-week period, our church was challenged to give money to a project which is essential to the ministry of one of our missionaries. We needed to raise a large sum of money to meet this particular need and, by God’s grace, by the end of the allotted time, we had raised far above what was needed. God had obviously performed a great work of grace in the lives of those who gave so freely, but now the challenge is for us to remember that such giving, whilst it is good and edifying, does not make us acceptable to God. For that gift to be acceptable to God, it must come from a right motive.

Baptist preachers are oftentimes accused of preaching only about money, and perhaps one reason for this is that there are so many charlatans out there who do preach constantly about money with a wrong motive. Many times, the plea for material offering is presented as: “Give R1,000.00 and God will give you R1m in return.” Thus, the motive becomes one of greed and covetousness; we first demand to know what we will get in return before we sacrifice.

But if our giving of monies, investing of time or offering of talents is done from a wrong motive, we should not expect God to accept our worship. We must have a Christ-centred motive in all that we do for and offer to our God. Indeed, our God is hard to please. The only thing that pleases the Lord is holiness. David wrote, “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psalm 103:1). Again, we are exhorted to “worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96:9). And David showed in Psalm 15 just what is expected from those who will please God:

LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the LORD. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.

(Psalm 15:1-5)

The standard is indeed utter holiness, but how far we all fall short of it! Yet there is One who met this standard, who may abide in the Lord’s tabernacle, and that is Jesus Christ. Jesus lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death, and rose a victorious resurrection on the behalf of those whom He came to save. His worship alone is acceptable to the Father, and thus the only way our worship can be acceptable is if we come to God through Christ.

The Jews were half-hearted in their work and in their worship. Even though we may be genuine believers, we sometimes fall into the same trap. We may offer God our time, talents and treasures, but it may perhaps be for selfish reasons: we want more in return than we offer to Him. Or perhaps we do it to be seen of men: we want others to consider us as spiritual leaders, or as active ministers for God. But our worship will only be accepted if it is offered as a sacrifice to and through the Lord Jesus Christ.

I recently had the providential opportunity to spend several hours with an unbelieving man, with whom I have been acquainted for some time, witnessing to him. Pointing to a nearby tree, he told me that he did not believe there was any difference between a human being and that tree. When I asked him whether the tree had a soul, he agreed that it did not, and reluctantly conceded that there is indeed some difference between humanity and vegetation. He did, however, insist that he could please God by simply taking care of that which God had entrusted to him. Though he was unsure if he could earn God’s favour by his own merit, he did believe that he could please God by caring for creation.

Having discussed the issues pertaining to God’s creation, I moved the discussion to a more pointed issue. I asked him whether it was fair to say that, in order to please someone, we must obey their wishes. He agreed that is necessary, at which point I immediately interjected, “But then how can you claim to please God if you do not obey His command to repent of your sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?” You see, apart from obedience to that command, this man could not please God in any other area, regardless of how much he cared for creation. The foundation for pleasing God is not doing nice things, but faith in His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the only basis for acceptance before God.

There is no doubt that the Jews to whom Haggai ministered were offering sacrifices and performing deeds commanded by God. But their wrong motive meant that their offering was rejected by God. My exhortation is simple: if we want to experience the blessings of God we must have a Christ-centred motive in all that we say and do.

Even as a pastor, I am well aware of the temptation to half-hearted obedience. There are times when I do not feel like preaching on a Sunday. Perhaps I am just tired, or have had a particularly bad morning (even though I make sure I am up early to leave the house alone before the rest of the family awakens!). Whatever the reason, I find that there are times when I must stir myself up to do what I am called to do. Whether I feel that the sermon will soar, or whether I feel it will crash and burn, I must realise that I am appointed to a task by and because of Christ. There may be a very real chance that the sermon will crash and burn, but I can nevertheless offer it in the name of and with my focus on Jesus Christ. If I do so, I can be sure that it is acceptable to God.

The Futility of Unfulfilled Expectations

Having pointed to the fact that Jewish worship was unacceptable, Haggai now moves to the result of such unacceptable worship. He calls the people to honestly face their disappointing existence.

And now, I pray you, consider from this day and upward, from before a stone was laid upon a stone in the temple of the LORD: Since those days were, when one came to an heap of twenty measures, there were but ten: when one came to the pressfat for to draw out fifty vessels out of the press, there were but twenty. I smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the labours of your hands; yet ye turned not to me, saith the LORD.

(Haggai 2:15-17)

The basic message of these verses is that, in all the intervening years of disobedience and half-hearted worship, they had received far less than they expected. Even though they had “faithfully” given their offerings, they had been disappointed with life, causing them to wonder, “Where are the blessings?”

The word “upward” in v. 15 is a Hebrew word for which there really is no English equivalent. The word has the idea of a signpost, a marker from which the observer can look either forward or backward. Thus, the Lord is really telling them to, from their current vantage point, look back into the past and forward into the future. We might say it this way: “Look what has happened in the past, how it is affecting you now, and how it will continue to affect you in the future.”

God loves His people, and because He loves His people He will sometimes chasten them. In Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, God pronounced covenantal curses upon His covenanted people if they disobeyed Him. As you read these chapters, you will soon notice that the judgements described in vv. 15-17 are God’s direct judgement upon His people for their sin. As an agrarian people, the Jews depended heavily on good crops for their welfare, and God’s judgement upon them for disobedience was, among other things, a poor harvest. Their half-hearted worship resulted in a poor harvest, with which the people were less than fulfilled. The folly of their worship had resulted in futile labour; not that the effort they exerted was in any way minimised, but the fruit of their labour was far less than expected.

The gauge of their worship was an unfulfilled life. This is not to promote a prosperity gospel. The Bible nowhere teaches that if you faithfully serve God you will become a multi-millionaire. What God is saying is that unholy worship creates a gnawing sense of emptiness in one’s life. If you feel a sense of emptiness, even when you are “actively” and “faithfully” involved in worship and ministry, it is a sure sign that your worship is merely half-hearted.

The man mentioned above, with whom I spent several hours conversing about the gospel, is a wealthy man in terms of worldly wealth. He has just about everything that the world desires; everything that they claim will make them happy. Yet as we sat in the car, it was as if he was chomping at the bit to ask me the many questions that he did. Whenever there was a break in the conversation, he just sat there thoughtfully contemplating what had been discussed. Though he lacks nothing materially, he is empty and he knows it. That is precisely why he was so eager to discuss things pertaining to the gospel of Christ.

Perhaps you are reading this and acknowledge that you are in the same boat. You may not have the material wealth of this man, but perhaps you are more or less content in worldly possessions. As you survey your life, you may realise that you seemingly have every reason for joy–a loving and supportive family, a stable career, trustworthy friends–and yet you still somehow find that you are not quite fulfilled. If that is how you feel, let me assure you that you are not lacking something, but Someone: the Lord Jesus Christ.

Perhaps you faithfully attend church, but do you feel as empty when you leave as when you came? Perhaps you read your Bible several times a week, but are you just as empty afterwards as you were when you picked it up? The only way that you can worship God acceptably and thus live a fulfilled life is through the Lord Jesus Christ. Listen to these words by Mark Dever, which drive home the point well:

Now, God had sovereignly regathered his people. What should happen next? The returned exiles should have immediately rebuilt the temple as a symbol, visible sign, of God’s presence with them. They should have made this a priority in their lives.

But they didn’t. So God used a drought and this preacher/prophet Haggai to draw their attention to their sin of self-indulgence and of God-neglect.

What about you? How are your investments going? Are they sound? Think about this for a moment. You are investing in something–right now, in fact. And all this month, you invested in something. You have been placing your life on the line, giving it away, hour after hour, day after day, month after month, even year after year. My question to you is, what are you investing your life in? Also, what will your return be on this life investment of yours?

Let Us Hopefully Face Our Future

The assumption in these messages is that the people heard the Word of God and repented. They did not simply shrug it off and move on, but they dealt with the problem of which they were made aware. The proof that they dealt with it is that things changed for the positive, as recorded in the verses that follow.

In vv. 18-23, the Lord tells the people to biblically face the promised possibilities if they acceptably worship and do the work of the Lord. The principle is simply that God blesses repentance. He is loving, gracious and merciful. The future is as bright as the promises of Go–if we will consider, confess, convert and then claim those promises.

The Future is One of Undeserved Productivity

Again, as in vv. 15-16, the Lord tells the people to consider their past, present and (promised) future:

Consider now from this day and upward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the LORD’S temple was laid, consider it. Is the seed yet in the barn? yea, as yet the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree, hath not brought forth: from this day will I bless you.

(Haggai 2:18-19)

The promise here–based on the assumption that things have changed–is that the Lord will bless His people. From that day, from 18 December 520 BC, things would change.

There seems to have been a twofold concern amongst the people of God. Clearly, they were concerned about a poor agricultural return, for “the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree, hath not brought forth fruit.” But the Lord also asked, “Is the seed yet in the barn?” Here, the question seems to pertain to any potential surplus seed that they might have for further sowing. In other words, they were banking on a good harvest and on the well-being of their planted crops because they had no seed left in the barn should some disaster strike that which they had already sowed. They had invested everything they had, and things simply must work out for the best.

Humanly speaking, that might seem a lot to bank on, but there was really no risk involved at all, for the Lord promised them, because of their repentance, that He would bless them. They could be assured of a healthy harvest the following year because they had God’s Word on it. God had graciously granted them repentance and now cursing turned to blessing.

If we wholeheartedly worship God, then we can expect a harvest of blessing from our labours, from our work. I am not necessarily suggesting that we work harder–indeed, many may be working quite hard enough!–but I am suggesting that we work wholeheartedly.

I cannot imagine coming to the pulpit week after week, preaching only “because it’s my turn, and I have to.” That would be a miserable experience for me and, I am sure, even more miserable for the congregation! Though I certainly have times when I am tempted to half-hearted ministry, my desire must be to preach wholeheartedly for the glory of God, and thus to expect that ministry to bring blessings to my life.

If our motive in evangelism is the glory of Christ then we can expect God to give the increase. We understand that God is sovereign, and that He may choose to bless some churches with thousands of converts and other churches with but a handful of converts. We know that wholehearted evangelism does not guarantee that everyone we ever witness to will come to Christ. In fact, with the apostles, we can expect a good dose of persecution for wholehearted evangelism. However, if our ministry is wholehearted, we will find when we go to the winepress that we are satisfied because our worship has been offered to God wholeheartedly.

God blesses churches that are wholehearted in their worship, and this is a virtual guarantee of church growth, for healthy things grow!

Our personal sanctification in a materialistic world will be blessed as we are wholehearted in our worship. This truth is wonderfully stated by Dever in an allusion to the life of John Wesley.

In his closing years Wesley was greatly concerned about what he perceived as the growing worldliness of Methodists. Wesley lamented what seemed to be the insoluble problem of people’s conversions leading to higher levels of industry and frugality, leading in turn to higher levels of wealth, which then let to pride, anger, and love of the world. The only answer Wesley could resolve upon was “Give all you can!” Give that money away. Sign your checks as a declaration of independence from the power of the world over your life.

Of course, we are far more at home with wealth today. We sanguinely think that we have tamed it and can keep it as a domestic pet, using it without danger. But let me ask, when was the last time you increased the percentage of your income that you give to the church? When was the last time you even considered it, or had a conversation with your spouse about it? I don’t say this because I want you to give more to our church, per se. You can give your money someplace else. Rather, I am saying this for you own soul’s sake, to help you compare your bank balance with where your heart it. Haggai says we should give ourselves for the Lord’s work. In what sense is the Lord’s work your life-dominating aim, goal, or perspective?

At age 84, Wesley wrote,

If you have a family, seriously consider, before God, how much each member of it needs, in order to have what is needful for life and godliness. And, in general, do not allow them less, nor much more than you allow yourself. This being done, fix your purpose, to gain no more. I charge you, in the name of God, do not increase your substance! As it comes daily or yearly, so let id go: otherwise you lay up treasures upon earth; and this our Lord as flatly forbids, as murder and adultery. By doing it, therefore, you would treasure up to yourselves wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. But suppose it were not forbidden, how can you, on principles of reason, spend you money in a way, which God may possibly forgive, instead of spending it in a manner which He will certainly reward? You will have no reward in heaven, for what you lay up: you will, for what you lay out. Every pound you put into the earthly bank is sunk; it brings no interest above. But every pound you give … is put into the bank of heaven; and it will bring glorious interest; yea and such as will be accumulating to all eternity.

One more area of blessing worthy of mention, if we will acceptably and wholeheartedly worship God, is in the realm of worldwide missions. As we worship our God in spirit and in truth, our reach will extend and the kingdom of God will grow in this world. In biblical terminology, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Is it not a joy to share the gospel with others? Sometimes, we are tempted to look at evangelism as just something that we have to do. The Bible College I went to was very conservative, and every week you were required to fill out a form with various questions, including a question concerning how many people you had witnessed to the previous week. I remember times when I thought, “I must find someone to witness to before Monday,” simply so that I could fill out the form in the expected manner. It was only on rare occasions that I could joyfully complete that part of the form. The fact of the matter is that as we wholeheartedly worship God, and find our joy in Him alone, we will want to talk about Him, and evangelism will be quite natural for us.

At one point in the discussion with my friend mentioned above, the conversation died, and we both sat in silence for a few minutes. As I sat there, I wondered whether I should bring the conversation back to the gospel, or whether I should rather talk about something else. Initially, I am sad to say, the temptation was to speak about something else, because I did not want to offend the man. But then I realised afresh that Christ is worthy, and I steered the conversation back to the gospel, which opened discussion for another few hours.

As we wholeheartedly worship God we experience joy in our lives. As we thus continue to worship God, we are not controlled by the size of the crowd, by the response of people, or by anything other than the glory of Christ. This is the prosperity that we both need and can expect as we wholeheartedly worship our great God.

The Future is One of Unfailing Promises

Haggai brings his writing to a close with a fourth prophecy, on the same day as the third, this time to an individual rather than a congregation.

And again the word of the LORD came unto Haggai in the four and twentieth day of the month, saying, Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth; And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother. In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the LORD, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the LORD of hosts.

(Haggai 2:20-23)

These verses bring us to the focal point of the importance of the building program. They bring us to Christ, to the Promised One in whom all the promises of God find their Amen. The promise made to Zerubbabel points us to the promises that are ours in Christ, promises that give us hope in the work of the Lord. Our work is not futile, it is eternally fruitful!

When the Lord speaks of shaking the heavens and the earth, we are not to take His words with wooden literalism. He is speaking in prophetic language of the overthrow of kingdoms. Such language is used time and again in Scripture of such political overthrow. This is made clear by the words that follow, “I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother.” Thus, the prophecy is one of approaching military and political upheaval, of international conflict and turmoil. Haggai speaks of a coming time of war, with its attendant fearfulness.

As noted in our previous study, this is precisely what had already begun to unfold, and what would continue to unfold for a few centuries to come. The Medo-Persian Empire had already overthrown the Babylonians, and Alexander the Great’s Grecian kingdom would soon conquer the Persians. The Grecian conquest of the Persians would be followed by the Roman overthrow of Greece. Indeed, it was perhaps the most politically tempestuous period in all of human history, a direct fulfilment of God’s prophecy to Zerubbabel.

Yet in the midst of such upheaval, God offered a glorious promise to Zerubbabel: “In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the LORD, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the LORD of hosts.” Zerubbabel is called, by God, “my servant.” What a glorious epithet for the believer! Surely there is no greater compliment for the believer?

And yet God adds a further blessed promise: “I … will make thee as a signet.” A signet spoke of a king’s royal authority and ownership. It was the most important and precious possession that he had. He wore the signet either on a ring, or on a chain around his neck, and always kept it close at hand as a stamp of authority.

Amidst the political turmoil that God had promised, Zerubbabel had nothing to fear, for he was God’s signet, a most precious possession, guarded intimately by the King of the universe Himself. There was no cause for Zerubbabel to panic, for he was divinely preserved by God.

In order to understand the significance of this signet promise, we must understand something of the man Zerubbabel. He was the grandson of King Jeconiah (Coniah, or Jehoiachin), whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried of into exile. In Jeremiah 22:24-25 God pronounced words of judgement upon Coniah: “As I live, saith the LORD, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck thee thence; And I will give thee into the hand of them that seek thy life, and into the hand of them whose face thou fearest, even into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of the Chaldeans.” Notice: even if Coniah was a signet upon God’s finger, God would be done with him. This may create something of a problem in our minds, for Coniah was in the line of David and was ultimately an ancestor of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:12). If Coniah was cast off by God, surely that would mean the end of the Messianic line? But no, because decades later Coniah’s grandson, Zerubbabel, is placed again on God’s finger as a signet, and through Zerubbabel Jesus Christ would ultimately be born. According to Matthew 1:13 and Luke 3:27, Zerubbabel was an ancestor of both Joseph and Mary, the (earthly) parents of our Lord.

Significantly, we have no knowledge of what happened to Zerubbabel. For all we know, he may have been killed in battle, yet that would not nullify God’s promise to him. For the promise was not so much one of protection as it was of preservation! Regardless of what happened to Zerubbabel during the time of political upheaval, the line of Christ, which ran through him, would be preserved by God, and the proof of that is in Christ’s descendency from him. He was a chosen key in God’s purpose of bringing the Seed into the world.

Though the world may seem to fall to pieces, though the church’s enemies are fierce, God is faithful to His promise. The chosen church, God’s chosen covenantal people will be preserved. We are on the finger of God’s mighty hand! We are preserved by “the LORD of hosts.”

Perhaps one reason that people do not wholeheartedly worship the Lord is because they don’t believe that He is worthy of wholehearted worship. But if we believe that He is faithful to His promises, we will have little problem with wholehearted worship, even though the world may be shaking around us. We will cling to the God of unfailing promises even when we see the world, as it were, going to hell in a hand basket. We will wholeheartedly worship, give, witness and invest in God’s kingdom for His glory when we understand that He is worthy and faithful!

There is a bumper sticker which claims, “This car is protected by Psalm 91.” On the other hand, we all know of Christians who have been the victim of horrific crimes. A good Christian friend of mine, a faithful servant in his local church, was brutally murdered some years ago. Do such terrible crimes befalling God’s people nullify the promise of preservation? Not in the least, for even if we lose our life on this earth we are immediately ushered into eternity, where we are forever preserved in the very presence of our covenant-keeping God.

This is no pie-in-the-sky promise. Though God may choose in His sovereign, loving wisdom to allow some dreadful things to befall His people, He never ceases to preserve His church. Even though crime is on the increase and wars are raging, God is faithful to His promises of preservation.

In light of the above, let us remember that we have a glorious present of peace, because we have the promise of God’s future preservation. Our investment is thus a sure thing; so be faithful in investing in God’s kingdom for His glory.