Rev. Hanko is pastor in the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington. December 15, 2004, p. 131.
The Third Prophecy (cont.)
2:14. 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.
God now comes to the point of this lesson from the law. The people, in spite of the fact that they often thought otherwise, were not holy by virtue of their contact with the ordinances and types in which the holy things of God were wrapped up, the sacrifices, the priesthood, the worship of God in the temple, even the temple itself.
God is especially concerned, however, with the “work of their hands.” That work includes their agricultural labors. It also includes their religious labors, especially the work they were doing in the temple. Unholy themselves, they would certainly pollute everything they touched. The people had to learn that they were not acceptable to God by virtue of anything in them or by their own works.
There is an important principle here. Without holiness of heart and life, even our ordinary labors are polluted and defiled and unacceptable to God. That is the other side of the biblical principle that all things must be done for His glory. How much more, then, the efforts we put forth in religious and spiritual matters. Holiness is not optional. It is essential, and a lack of holiness among Christians is without doubt the reason why the work of the church so often does not prosper, but fails.
That leaves the question, however, how they could be holy. That question is not directly answered by Haggai, but only implied. Holiness was necessary, for unless they were made holy, their polluted and unclean hands would defile and make unholy everything they touched, including the house of God they were building and the sacrifices that would be offered in that house.
How might they be holy? The answer is implied in what God says about their sacrifices. Those sacrifices had no value in themselves and could not make the worshipers holy (Heb. 10:1, 2). Nevertheless, God had commanded them and required them because they pointed to the one sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, a sacrifice that not only justifies (provides forgiveness), but also sanctifies (Heb. 10:10). Only by that sacrifice is the work of our hands holy and acceptable to God, and that includes the work we do in His house as builders.
The answer is further implied in the last verse of this prophecy, to which we will come in due course. There God promises His blessing, and it is by that blessing alone that we have anything at all, including holiness. That blessing comes, though, through the sacrifice of Christ, offered once for all. It is the payment for sin and the purchase price of every blessing of salvation, including holiness. That we need that holiness is evident, for without it no man can even see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
15. 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:
God tells the Jews to look back to the time four months before when they were still neglecting the house of God and the work of building the house, to the time before one stone had been laid on another in the temple, when only the foundations had been laid and nothing more done. He is telling them not only to think back but literally to “lay it to heart.” He is going to remind them once more of the judgments they had experienced and suffered through drought and crop failure, and He is going to give them material things once again as signs of His blessing.
He wants them to know that disobedience brings wrath and that His favor and blessing come only in the way of obedience. That is a perennial problem with God’s people who think they can have it both ways. They think they can enjoy the blessing and favor of God while continuing in ways that are displeasing to God. They think that their salvation and status as people of God guarantee them uninterrupted enjoyment of God’s goodness.
It is not so. Salvation itself cannot be lost, but the enjoyment of it can be and is lost when we disobediently and hard-heartedly go our own way and refuse to hear the warnings of God’s Word. The lack of true happiness and peace that are the lot of so many Christians today, the terrors of conscience they suffer, their troubled lives, mental anguish and coldness are more often than not the result of the fact that they do not lay to heart what God says here.
That He says it again is due to our forgetfulness and constant inclination to backslide and to return to our old ways. Never does it happen that God’s people are without the need for the admonitions and warnings of God’s Word. By those admonitions He draws them on in the way of obedience and does not let them fall back into neglect, carelessness and sin.
16. 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.
17. 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.
God speaks here more fully of the judgments that He had sent Judah, making it clear that they had not only suffered drought, but inclement weather and various diseases of their crops that had left them unable to maintain themselves in the land. Harvests that were half or less than half of the expected amounts would have made it nearly impossible for them to live. God speaks especially of the grain and the wine, the two staples on which they subsisted, and of the fact that even these harvests had failed.
He speaks in more detail because the Jews now recognized that the drought, the mildew, and the hail had all come from Him as judgments. He reminds them of those judgments, first of all to warn them against backsliding, but also by way of contrast to the blessing that would follow. He would give them an abundance, that in contrast to their previous poverty and struggle would very obviously and clearly represent His blessing and prove to them beyond doubt that their obedience was the way of blessing.
God reminds them, too, of their former blindness and insensibility under His judgments, not because they were again guilty of these sins, but because there was always the danger that they lapse again into them. That this is always the tendency of God’s people the long and sad history of the Old Testament church abundantly proves. Yet, by the grace of God they had learned their lessons, and God, who is merciful, does not hold their former sins against them, but promises those things that they needed.
We learn these same lessons, not so much when God sends drought and crop failure as when He sends spiritual drought and a dwindling harvest of souls, and storms of trouble in the church and in our own lives. The nation here is the church, and the blessings of God are no longer represented by national prosperity, but by spiritual prosperity and wealth.
18. 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.
19. 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.
The twenty-fourth day of the ninth month was the date of this prophecy, at the beginning of the work that was being done on the temple. The day that the foundation of the temple was laid was the time, many years previous, when the work on the temple had first begun. God mentions these dates through Haggai to remind the people that the building of His house was the most important work they had to do, work that had been long neglected.
He reminds them of this also to show that the sufferings they had endured in the land were all due to their failure to build the temple — that He could not bless them as long as they did not finish that work. The temple, after all, was His house, the place where He revealed Himself among them as their covenant God and Savior. And, though God does not dwell in temples made with hands, yet in the Old Testament, because the true temple had not yet been built in Christ and in His death and resurrection, this earthly house was the symbol of His presence so much so that without it He would not and could not dwell with them.
He speaks to them at a time when the harvest had not yet been gathered. The question about seed is a rhetorical one, through which God reminds them that the seed was not yet gathered in. Nor was the produce of the vines and the fig trees gathered. Yet God promises to bless them, and to bless them from the day that they had begun to work in His house. This prophecy would have been delivered in December, just after the early rains and the sowing had taken place, so there would have been no evidence as yet of God’sblessing on the fields, and, in the light of previous year’s experience, little hope for a good crop.
He would not let them forget the close relationship between His house and their blessedness. Nor may we. Though the church of God is nothing like she was in former days, and is often despised and forsaken by her own members, she is still the place of God’s covenant, the place where our great God reveals Himself as the God and Savior of His people. No more, then, than the Jews can we be blessed when the house of God lies in ruins. Then we do not have the preaching of the gospel as the food of our souls, nor the shelter of His gracious presence from the storms that threaten to destroy our spiritual prosperity, or the spiritual diseases that corrupt the means that God has provided to care for our needs.
We need not expect that the church will ever again be as glorious as she was in the days of the Reformation or in the days of the apostles, though we may certainly pray that she will be. The book of Haggai emphasizes the lesser glory of God’s house in the latter days, as does the prophecy of Zechariah (4:10). Yet our calling to labor in building and rebuilding does not cease until Christ comes and builds His everlasting and glorious kingdom in the new heavens and the new earth. To neglect that calling is to neglect the command of God, and to show that we care little for His gracious presence among us.
Let us, then, labor faithfully and diligently, each in the place God has given, in prayer, in the preaching of the gospel, in the reading and studying of God’s Word, in the instruction of our children, in missions, and in all the others ways in which God’s spiritual house is built, its stones gathered and shaped and fitted into place, and it built up as an habitation of God through the Spirit. We have the promise of God’s blessing to encourage us and to show that He is pleased with the labors of our hands. We have that blessing in the outpouring of the Spirit, who comes as rain upon dry ground to refresh our souls. We have it in the great harvest of the blessings of salvation, in the fields white for harvest, in shelter from the winds of change that blow in church and state, and in protection from the enemies of the church.
What an encouragement! Well may we sing the words of Psalm 126 as we wait for the harvest God has promised us:
Although with bitter tears the sower bears his seed,
When harvest time appears he shall be glad indeed;
For they that in the sowing weep
Shall yet in joy and gladness reap.