Daily Bible Studies
|Series Theme: Studies in Ezra & Haggai - "Rebuilding the Temple"|
Chs.1 & 2
INTRODUCTION TO HAGGAI
The Historical Context of Haggai
Haggai is very easy to locate in history. He himself gives us dates of his prophecies (1:1, 2:1, 2:10) as the second year of king Darius of Persia, which is 520BC. Israel, you may remember, had been sent into exile in Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar, and Jerusalem and the Temple in it had been burnt to the ground.
Eventually, we saw in the book of Ezra the account of king Cyrus of Persia being moved by the Lord to issue a decree to the exiles to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1:1,2). This they do and start the rebuilding in 536/537BC. However they then come up against opposition and for the next five or six years nothing is done to the Temple (Ezra 4:24). Suddenly the word of the Lord comes to Haggai and Zechariah which provokes the leaders into starting up the building again (Ezra 5:1,2) This “book” of Haggai is the record of the prophecies that Haggai brought to the Jews to provoke the rebuilding.
We need to understand something of the significance of the Temple in the life of Israel. The Temple was the focal point for the people of Israel to come and meet with God. The Temple came to be synonymous with the very presence of God, which is why Ezekiel's prophecies of the glory of God departing the Temple (Ezek 10:4, 18,19, 11:23) were so devastating.
Thus when Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed in 587BC (2 Kings 25:8,9) it seemed like this was the end of Israel and their relationship with the Lord. However the Lord had decreed through Jeremiah that the exile would only last 70 years (Jer 25:11,12, 29:10).
The Temple rebuilding was completed by 517BC (Ezra 6:14,15)! The symbol of God's presence was absent for exactly the period God decreed for the exile. It was the time when the Temple wasn't there that counted! God has decreed that it will be seventy years and the enemy is stopping the returning remnant from rebuilding. Haggai is critical moving God's purposes on to fulfil His word.
Chapter: Haggai 1
Passage: Haggai 1:1-4
A. Find Out:
1. When did the word come? v.1a
2. Through whom did the word come? v.1b
3. To whom did it come? v.1c
4. What had the people been saying? v.2
5. What question did the Lord ask them? v.4
1. How would you summarise the recipients of this word?
2. What attitude had the people towards the temple?
3. What attitude did they have towards their own homes?
In the Introduction we have seen the historical context and now we start to see some of the detail of what was happening. The date is the 29th August 520BC. Suddenly Haggai senses the Lord speaking to him. We're not told anything about Haggai here beyond that he was a prophet, so we assume that he regularly heard from God and conveyed what he was hearing to the people. It is possible of course that he is given that title simply because he brings what we have in our two chapters.
The direction of the word is quite clear: it is to the two leaders of the people, the governor of the land and the high priest. In God's eyes they are both responsible. Leaders are who God starts with.
The subject of the word was the people's attitude towards the Temple. We have already noted that it was broken down and only partially rebuilt. There had been opposition so the rebuilding had stopped and the people had got on with sorting out their own homes. All OK you might think. Not so according to the Lord. His “home” is still in ruins and it is time to do something about it. Opposition is not an excuse, difficulties are not an excuse. The temple building today? Individual believers who make up the corporate temple, the church. Are we concerned about its state? Are we concerned about the name of the Lord? Perhaps God might have something to say to us.
1. Opposition to building is not an excuse to stop work.
2. Difficulties encountered are not an excuse to stop building.
Chapter: Haggai 1
Passage: Haggai 1:5-11
A. Find Out:
1. What does the Lord say they are to do? v.5
2. What 5 things does he point out to them? v.6
3. So what again does he tell them to do? v.7
4. What practical thing does he tell them to do? v.8
5. What had been happening? v.9a,b
6. Why? v.9c-11
1. How would you summarise v.6?
2. How would you summarise verses 10 & 11?
3. What was the cause of all this?
Those who say God is impotent and can't do anything in the world will be shocked by this passage! Twice in it, Israel are told to think carefully about what had been going on. What was that?
Put in its simplest form, Israel had been utterly frustrated at every turn and whatever they tried to do, hadn't come to anything. They planted by never harvested enough, they ate and drank but never felt satisfied, and so on. They expected a lot to happen and it never did. They must have been living in total frustration!
Why was it happening like this? Very simply says the Lord, you've been putting your efforts into the wrong things. The most crucial issue for Jerusalem and Israel is that the visible presence of God be restored – the Temple! And that just hasn't been happening. You've been working on your own houses but the Temple has remained in ruins. For Israel to exist as the visible people of God, it is essential for the Temple to be there, clearly visible in their midst, as the visible reminder that they are a people of covenant relationship with God. This is their channel of contact with God and it needs restoring.
Is it possible that the same could be said today? Do we put all our efforts into DIY or whatever other things we do to make our homes look good while the church continues to look bad in the world's eyes?
1. Christianity calls for right priorities – the honour of God first.
2. Are we concerned about our channel of contact with God?
Chapter: Haggai 1
Passage: Haggai 1:12-15
A. Find Out:
1. What was the response of whom? v.12
2. What did the Lord then say through Haggai? v.13
3. What did the Lord then do? v.14a
4. With what result? v.14b
5. When did this happen? v.15
1. What was the Lord's role in all this?
2. What was Haggai's role?
3. What was the ‘end product'?
Haggai has brought a strong convicting word of rebuke to the two main leaders but it is obviously in the hearing of the people for both the leaders and the people respond.
The order of events is worth noting: Haggai brings a word of rebuke, the people respond positively, and the Lord brings a word of affirmation, and the people then get on with the rebuilding.
First the rebuke: we need correcting, we need telling when we are veering from God's will. Second, the response: we are simply told the people ‘obeyed'. That is all the Lord asks for, a heart turning. As soon as that comes, there is instant affirmation by the Lord, almost an encouragement to just keep on once you've started. Finally there is the outworking of their obedience: they start rebuilding the Temple.
But there is more to it. We are told the Lord stirred up the spirit of the leaders and the spirit of the people. This is the outworking of a word of God coming. It isn't just that a word of God is spoken, it is that the Lord Himself then convicts or stirs the people about what they have heard. Between the bringing of the word and the starting of the work is three weeks. Throughout that time the Spirit of the Lord was using the word that had been spoken by Haggai to stir in the lives of those who had heard it until it came to boiling point – the rebuilding restarted.
1. If God asks you to speak, then speak and leave the rest to Him.
2. When God's word is spoken, His Spirit then works on it in people.
Chapter: Haggai 2
Passage: Haggai 2:1-5
A. Find Out:
1. When did the next word come to Haggai? v.1
2. Who was he told to speak to? v.2
3. What was he told to ask them? v.3
4. What threefold command was given first, with what end? v.4a,b
5. Why? v.4c
6. What further twofold encouragement were they given? v.5
1. What were they instructed to remember?
2. What were they instructed to do?
3. What encouragements were they given in all this?
A month passes after the start of the work and a further word comes from the Lord. The first part of it, that we look at here, is all about confirming and encouraging. Whereas the first word was just to the two leaders, this word is to them and the people there. In it the Lord helps them face their negative thoughts, for the Lord knows the thoughts of all men. They have been rebuilding for a little while and some of them have been realising the enormity of the task. There may be one or two really elderly men who were children when they were deported, and who can remember the size and glory of Solomon's temple and all its greatness. Now before them, all they have is burnt rubble and the beginnings of rebuilding. The enormity of it all can be depressing. It is into this situation that the Lord speaks.
His command to each of them is simply to be strong and work, because He is with them, just like He covenanted at the beginning at Sinai that He would be. His presence is vital for them to know. It is in that that they can then be strong, and being strong means they can press on with the work, even though the task looks so enormous for such a small group.
Chapter: Haggai 2
A. Find Out:
1. The Lord will do what, when? v.6
2. What also will He do and what will happen? v.7
3. What does He declare? v.8
4. What will be the outcome? v.9a
5. What also will He do? v.9b
1. Read Exo 19:17-19 What was the first shaking?
2. Read Heb 12:25-29 What is the second shaking?
3. How do you think the Lord intended to bring peace (v.9b)?
The Lord has just referred to His covenant at Sinai and now the prophecy continues as He says “Once more…” reminding them that when He came down and met with them at Sinai the very mountain shook. There is coming a time, He continues, when I will come and shake the whole of creation. What I am going to do through this place is going to have worldwide impact. Because I shake the whole world, I will also shake the peoples of the world and those I desire (v.7 and see Eph 1:4,5) will come to me via this place. You don't have to worry about enemy kings or enemy nations, this world belongs to me and I can direct its riches wherever I want. The outcome of all this is that the glory that will come to the later Temple will be much greater than the former one.
What is all this referring to? First it refers to God working out a worldwide plan whereby He comes to the later Temple and through what He does there, He will be able to grant peace (v.9b) to many from around the world. How? Only by the work of Jesus Christ. In Jesus He came to His Temple in physical form and did something – the death and resurrection of Jesus - that would shake people when they heard about it, all round the world. The church would be born that would be people from every part of the globe. People's insecurity would be shaken and removed and replaced by a new security in God's love as revealed in and through the work of Jesus on the Cross. What a prophecy!
1. God HAS perfectly fulfilled this prophecy.
2. We are the recipients of the outcome of this prophecy. Rejoice!
Chapter: Haggai 2
Passage: Haggai 2:10-19
A. Find Out:
1. When did this next word come? v.10
2. Who was Haggai to ask what, and what was the answer? v.11,12
3. What was he then to ask, and with what answer? v.13
4. How was that applied? v.14
5. What were they now to consider? v.15,18
6. How had things been? v.16,17, 19a,b
7. How will they be? v.19c
1. What point is the Lord making in verses 10 to 14?
2. How had that impacted them in the past?
3. Yet what does He say about the future?
Two months pass and a further word comes from the Lord through Haggai. First of all it comes in the form of questions for the priests, to establish some theological understanding. In verse 11 he simply asks, can holiness be passed on, and the answer is no. Why is that? Because people have to consecrate themselves before God – it IS an individual thing. Then he asks, can uncleanness be passed on, and the answer is yes. Why is that? Because sin contaminates and we have to take specific steps to avoid it, or to be cleansed from it when we have been in contact with it. Sin needs renouncing. That was why, up until now, they had not had material prosperity. There is always a direct link with sin and material problems.
But now the word comes from the Lord – from this time on things are going to change. Why? Because the Lord has decreed it, but also because, in line with the first part of the prophecy consecration is an act and the consequences of that act takes time. They had consecrated their lives by their acts of obedience, coming to rebuild at God's prompting. The fruit of that will come; it may take time but it will come, the fruit of their obedience. So take heart. Persevere!
1. Wilful sin means the withdrawal of God's blessing.
2. Repentance opens the way for restoration.
A. Find Out:
1. When did this word come? v.20
2. Who was Haggai to tell what? v.21
3. What will be the outcome? v.22
4. What will the Lord do for Zerubbabel? v.23
1. What echo is here of previous prophecies?
2. How will other kingdoms be affected?
3. How will Israel be affected?
Remember these words are coming from the Lord during the period of the early days of the rebuilding of the Temple, a time when there was opposition. Not only would the builders have been discouraged, but so also would their leader, the governor. Even more so perhaps, when Haggai had prophesied there will be a shaking (2:6), he may not have taken in the promise of glory for the Temple, and might be wondering, “So why are we bothering to rebuild?” This present prophecy is God's answer to such wonderings.
First the Lord reiterates that there is going to come a world wide shaking. This doesn't mean an earthquake but a change to world powers. We saw such a shaking at the end of the 20 th century with the downfall of Communism in Eastern Europe. Whereas the previous prophecy about a shaking indicated a spiritual outworking, this prophecy reassures the civic governor that this shaking will also have national consequences as well. Big powerful nations may arise but when God shakes no one is left standing. You don't have to worry about foreign powers is the message. But it's more than that! On that day of shaking the Lord will take Zerubbabel and establish him in the place of closest intimacy (a signet ring) and a place of authority in God. Whatever else this might mean, it means that Zerubbabel's future is assured with the Lord. There is no need for him to worry about the future – it is assured by the Lord. Be at peace, get on with the job!
1. God IS sovereign over ALL nations. He is the Lord!
2. We need to learn to rest in His sovereign purposes.
We have seen the following:
As we indicated at the beginning, the Temple was the symbol of God's presence, the place for meeting with God, bringing worship, bringing sacrifices. The fact that the previous Temple had been destroyed with the exile invasion devastated Israel. Yet when the Lord moved on Cyrus and Israel returned, the rebuilding of the Temple was of first priority – re-establishing relationship with the Lord is critical for the life of Israel.
What we have in these passages is a sense of the sovereign will of God being enacted and Israel's part in it. We see that people are a vital part of God's purposes for the earth, Israel are still a vital part in His plans for the earth, so He will keep on encouraging them to work within that plan.
The crucial lesson for us must surely be that God's plans and purposes are all important, especially His call on OUR lives to co-operate and work within it. It is vital that a) we understand our part and b) are not put off by the enemy. God could do everything Himself, but He chooses to involve us. That is what our salvation is all about – co-operating with the Lord of Glory as HE works out His purposes. We conform to HIS purposes. This is not to be a hard thing but a glorious thing. It comes with His constant encouragements. His ways bring our blessing.
As we come to the end of these studies in Ezra and Haggai, the following are some of the things we may wish to consider further:
1. God's Sovereign Plan
It is only a careless reader who can leave these portions of Scripture being unaware of the overall plan and purpose of the Sovereign Lord. If you read Kings and Chronicles and Isaiah and Jeremiah especially, you will see the awfulness of sin that contaminated the people of Israel to such a state that any hope of them ever being restored to be the real covenant people of God looked very slim! Then comes the Exile and you wonder is this the end of Israel . The Temple is destroyed and Jerusalem is destroyed. The Temple (for Sci-fi fans) is like a Star Gate, a way through to another world. It is the place of encounter with Almighty God – and it is gone! Year pass and first of all Cyrus and then Artaxerxes, both Gentile kings, open the door for the rebuilding of the Temple and the re-establishing of the Law respectively.
The people return and the Temple is rebuilt, being finished just 70 years after it was destroyed. The way to God is here again for the people of God who are in the process of being restored. Yet, the nation and Temple worship never seems to be restored to what it once was. So why so much time and effort going into all this? Because God has spoken about a coming one, one who is to be born into this people, who will act into their culture and life. It may be some 400-500 hundred years yet, but the nation will survive that time, Jerusalem will survive that time, there will be a temple there at that time. God is planning for the climax of history when He will release His Son to come from heaven into this people, into this culture, into this city, into the temple. THAT is the plan of God that must be behind all we have been reading here.
2. And Us?
So what does all of that say to us? How does all of this apply to our lives? The reality is that Ezra and all of the other returning Israelites would not have understood the long-term, deeper implications of all that was happening. That is probably true of us today. Yet, do we have a sense of purpose in our lives for the year to year living? Do we allow the written word and prophetic word to motivate us? Are we more concerned with God's ‘house' than ours? Glance back over these studies and check the keys things they have said to you. Don't lose them.