Rev. Hanko is minister in the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington.
We have seen in the previous article that the book of Haggai contains four prophecies, each introduced by the date on which it was delivered. The first prophecy is a call to be busy with the work of building the temple, accompanied by a warning against further neglect of the work. In that warning God points out the sins of His people and shows them how He was punishing them for those sins. Though they did not recognize the fact, many of the troubles they were suffering in Judah were God’s chastisement.
Attached to that first prophecy is a historical notice of the people’s obedience to God’s Word and a further word of encouragement to them in their work of rebuilding the temple. Haggai does not tell that part of the story, but the Jews, to the consternation of their enemies, obtained a decree from the king allowing them to build and providing them with the necessities for building and for the worship of God in the temple (Ezra 5:3-6:13).
The second prophecy, found in chapter Ezra 2:1-9, is the most important of them all. In it God addresses the discouragement of the people, who could see, now that the work was progressing, that the temple they were building was not much in comparison to Solomon’s temple. God not only encourages them with the promise that He would live in the temple as in old times, but also points them forward to the coming of Christ, to the building of the true temple, and to its glory, which would be far greater than the glory of Solomon’s temple. This second prophecy, therefore, concerns the future history of the temple and carries us all the way to the end of the world, to the day when all things will be shaken and destroyed and only the true temple remain.
The third prophecy is a reminder to the people, through an example taken from the law of Moses, that because the work was God’s work, they must be holy and work with holy hands. That warning is reinforced in chapter 2:13-19, with a reminder of God’s former judgments and a promise of future blessing.
The fourth of these prophecies speaks again of the coming of Christ as the one in whom all the promises of God concerning the temple would be fulfilled. Christ is spoken of in the figure of Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and under that figure God not only promises His people complete deliverance from their enemies, but also speaks of His great and eternal love for them as the motive for all His dealings with them.
These prophecies, then, take us into the New Testament and have to do not only with Old Testament events, but with those things that are now taking place between Christ’s coming as the Desire of all nations and His return to shake all things. The book of Haggai is quoted only once in the New Testament, in Hebrews 12:26, but is very much a book for New Testament believers, a book that may not be neglected and forgotten, a book that concerns the church of Jesus Christ in the world and the calling of believers in relation to the church.
The First Prophecy:
1. In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the
irst day of the month, came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, saying,
This first mention of Darius is a reminder that the Jews, at the time of Haggai’s prophecy, were no longer an independent nation, but under the dominion of foreign and heathen kings. They even dated events now by the reigns of these strange kings who ruled from far-off Persia. The fact that this king is not the same king who sent them back to Judah is a reminder that many years had passed and the work of the temple was not yet finished. It was Cyrus who had sent them back, and now another king, named Darius, was on the throne of Persia, and the temple was still in ruins. It was also a reminder that circumstances had changed once again and that they could no longer use the hostility of former kings as an excuse for their neglect of God’s house, as Haggai points out in verse 2.
There is some controversy about whether the sixth month is the sixth month of the reign of Darius or the sixth month of the Jewish year, but the question seems of little significance. The main reasons for carefully dating each of the prophecies are threefold: (1) to show how long the people had been remiss in their calling; (2) to show their quick obedience to God’s command when rebuked for their sloth and indifference; and (3) to show God’s faithfulness in encouraging them and helping them in the work. He is always quick to encourage their willingness to work and quick to see their troubles and discouragements and to assist them.
This first verse, then, reminds us that the word that Haggai brings, whether a word of rebuke or of encouragement, is God’s word, literally “the word of Jehovah,” Israel’s covenant God and the one whose covenant faithfulness never fails. The phrase “saith the Lord” is found over and over again, as often as three times in the same verse (2:4, 23). Judah had to know that their calling to rebuild the temple did not depend on the whims of earthly kings, however great they might be, but came from the King of kings himself. Nothing and no one might stand in the way of their obedience. God, not Cyrus or Darius, had commanded the building of His house.
That reminder is very important today. As we shall see, the calling to rebuild God’s house is for us the calling to labor faithfully in and for the church. That we will do, as Judah did, only when we are certain that the calling comes to us from God Himself and concerns His house. If we do not understand that the calling is from God, we will be as neglectful and indifferent as Israel was before the word of God came to them through Haggai.
A quick glance at the book of Haggai will show that God most often identifies Himself in the book by the name Jehovah, and that Jehovah is used many times in this very short book. It is used 34 times in 38 verses and very often appears as “the Lord of hosts” or, more literally, “Jehovah of hosts.” In comparison, the only other name used is the name “God,” and that only three times.
God uses His name Jehovah to remind us of the fact that the temple, called here His house, is a part of His covenant with His people. It is in that house that He chooses to dwell with His people, to reveal Himself as their God, and to take them as His people. That dwelling together is what His covenant is all about, and so He uses His covenant name time and time again.
This first word of God is addressed especially to Zerubbabel the governor (also called Shesh-bazzar inEzra 1:11; Ezra 5:14, 16) and Joshua the high priest (also referred to as Jeshua). That does not mean that God is not speaking to the rest of the people. He addresses them all through these leaders. Zerubbabel was a descendant of King David, the grandson of Jehoiachin, the second to last king of Judah, and would have been king himself if Judah had been an independent nation and if the throne of David had not fallen from its former glory. He is mentioned also in I Chronicles 3:19, Ezra, Nehemiah, Matthew 1:12, and Luke 3:27. In Matthew and Luke he is identified as one of the ancestors of Jesus. Joshua was a descendant of Aaron and is mentioned also in the prophecy of Zechariah 3:1-9; Zechariah 6:11).
The mention of these two men is evidence of God’s faithfulness to Judah, a faithfulness that makes Judah’s unfaithfulness all the more inexcusable. God had preserved both the line of David and of Aaron through the awful years that led to and followed the Babylonian captivity. He had preserved those lines, not because there was any merit in the house of David or of Aaron, but that His promises, especially the promise to live with His people and be their God, might not fail.
More importantly, however, these men in their offices of priest and governor represent Christ Himself. It is really through Him and from Him that this word of God concerning the temple comes, and it is by His grace that the word of God through Haggai bears the good fruit of obedience in the hearts and lives of God’s people. Even in the Old Testament He was the great temple builder, and nothing could or would be done without Him.
Christ, then, is the governor or king by whom the true temple of God is built. It is as King that He describes the building of the true temple in John: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (2:19). He is also the great high priest in the house of God (Heb. 3:1-3;Heb. 8:1,2), through whom and in whom God is worshiped in His temple and the worshipers themselves sanctified. Through Zerubbabel and Joshua, then, as figures of Christ, this word of God comes to God’s people to insure their obedience.
It is possible, as some suggest, that this first prophecy was made in the temple area, since the first of the month was a Jewish feast or holiday (Num. 28:11-15). This would have meant that Haggai had a large audience and could point to the unfinished temple itself as evidence of the people’s failure to honor and obey God.
2. Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.
To understand the book of Haggai and its relevance to the New Testament church, we must see that the Old Testament temple, called here the “Lord’s house,” prefigures the instituted church, or what is sometimes called the visible church. The instituted church is the church on earth as we find it in different congregations and denominations. It is the church organized according to the rules of God’s Word with its pastors, elders, deacons, and members—the church busy with the work of the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments, and church discipline, worshiping God and living together in fellowship.
That this church is identical to the Old Testament temple—the spiritual reality of which that temple was a figure or type—is clear from the witness of the New Testament. It is clear from the passage we just quoted in John 2, where Jesus says that the true temple is His own body (John. 2:22), which body is further identified as His church in Ephesians 1:22, 23. Even clearer proof is found in I Timothy 3:15, where the instituted church, the church in the world, is given the same name as it is here in Haggai:
But if I tarry long, that though mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
We know that Paul is speaking of the instituted church in I Timothy 3:15 because he recommends proper behavior in the church, in this case the church or congregation of Ephesus, where Timothy was minister. That church, not the building but the members and officers organized according to the rules of God’s Word, like the temple in the Old Testament, is the house of God. Of that church Haggai is speaking when he speaks prophetically of the house of God.