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Rev. Hanko is minister in the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington.

The First Prophecy (cont.)

7.Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.

8.Go up to the mountain and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord.

As in verse 5, the Lord again admonishes His people and calls them to self-examination and repentance with the words, “Consider your ways.” All too often because we are so sluggish the Word of God must come repeatedly before we are roused from our sloth and begin to do what God requires. In this also we are no different from Judah. That God does continue to send His Word and its admonitions is itself an evidence of His faithfulness and mercy. Instead of saying, “Enough is enough,” He continues to call.

In this second call we see another side of repentance and conversion, that it is not only a turning from sin, but a returning to God’s ways and to God Himself. God shows this here by calling the people back to the work of building His house and by promising that He will bless them if they do turn.

We may never think, though, that God’s call, this or any other, implies that we have in ourselves the ability or power to do what God says. There are those who draw that conclusion, but the biblical doctrine of total depravity, that we can of ourselves do no good, and the words of Scripture in Galatians 6:17, prove that it is not so, not even with Christians. Of ourselves we can do nothing.

The power to obey is in the command, and it is there because the command comes from Almighty God. Augustine showed that he understood this when he said that the command was the grace. That is an important truth for us all. It is important for the preacher and elders, lest they begin to think that the power of their preaching and admonitions lies in themselves, or the power to obey in his hearers. Then they will begin to preach unsound doctrine, use unbiblical practices, and think themselves more than they are. It is important for those who hear the Word, that they look to God for the grace and help they need.

Here God calls Judah both to make the necessary preparation for their work by going into the mountains to gather timber, and to do the work of building His temple. For us, however, that house is not made of timber and stones, but it is a spiritual house. The work and the tools, therefore, that belong to the building of that spiritual house are also spiritual. Nevertheless, to think of the church as a building helps us to understand how it is that we fulfill our calling to build.

When Scripture describes that spiritual house, the church, it tells us that the foundation is sound doctrine, the doctrine of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20-22). The cornerstone is Jesus Christ Himself. Believers are the living stones out of which the house is built (I Pet. 2:4-8) and the love of the brethren the cement that binds the stones of that house together (Col. 3:14).

Building that spiritual house means, therefore, that we insure that the foundation is well laid in relation to Christ the chief cornerstone. That foundation is laidthrough the preaching of the gospel, through prayer for the ministry of the gospel, through our hearing, receiving, and submitting to the truth of the gospel, and through reading and studying the Word of God both publicly and privately. In that way every member has a firm foundation for his faith and for his relationship to the other members.

That is, however, only the beginning of the work of building. Also through the gospel, as well as by worship, prayer, and Christian fellowship, by admonition, the sacraments, and church discipline every member of the church is cut and shaped like timber and stone and himself built up in faith and holiness, and all the members are built up in relationship to one another. To this work belong both the instruction of the church’s children and the work of evangelism, including both the gathering and teaching of new converts. It is not at all difficult to see that these are essential to the work of building the church. Through them the church has the assurance that she is not only well built for the present but will continue to be well built in the future.

To the building up and rebuilding of the church belongs also the work of the elders and deacons, each in their offices. When properly carried out, their work of ruling the church and of caring for the needs of the widows, the orphans, and the poor builds up the congregation in which they perform their labors and becomes another means by which each member grows and all grow together, so that the church is strong and faithful and stands like a fortress against the assaults of Satan.

Ultimately, even the work that is done by godly parents in the home fulfills the calling that God lays on His people here in Haggai 1, as Paul so eloquently shows in the last chapters of Ephesians. In that book’s great description of the church as the body of Christ, the closing chapters, which have to do with marriage and family life as well as with our daily work and walk in the world, are not unconnected to the rest, but part of what the Spirit has to say about the church. The man who fears Jehovah and walks in His ways will not only experience family blessedness and happiness, but will see the good of Jerusalem, the church (Heb. 12:22, 23Rev. 21:9, 10), all the days of his life, and peace on Israel (Ps. 128:5, 6).

When the church has fallen into ruin and when its foundations are crumbling, then the church needs to be rebuilt in the way of church reformation, whether that comes through purifying a church or through leaving an apostate church for one that is not apostate. That happened in the sixteenth century through the work of Luther, Calvin, and many others. It has happened on a smaller scale at other times. It is a constant need. It is very much needed today.

The word edification, used so often in connection with the preaching and teaching of the church, means “building up” and refers to the strengthening and blessing of each individual believer, so that through him the whole church is built up, strengthened, and blessed. Everything that is done in the church must be for “edification” (Rom. 15:2I Cor. 10:23I Thess. 5:11).

That calling in all its different facets belongs to every believer. Even the preaching of the gospel and church discipline are the responsibility of everyone, not just of the leaders. All are to be builders in the house of God. None may leave the work to others or be too busy with his own affairs to have time for God’s house.

This call God urges upon Judah and upon us—upon Judah in its Old Testament typical form, and upon us in its New Testament reality. He urges that call with the promise that He will take pleasure in the house and be glorified in it. For Judah, that was the promise that He would reveal Himself in the temple they were building as He had done in the days of Moses and in the days of Solomon—that He would be present in all of His power and grace and goodness as the Savior of His people.

For us, that promise is the promise that the church will be the place of God’s covenant, where He is the God of His people and is worshiped and glorified as God—the promise that the church will serve the purpose for which God chose her and saved her, the glory of His own great name. It is also the promise that He will rejoice in His people and they in Him, thus fulfilling the promise to be their God and Father.

Such encouragement we always need. By such encouragement God Himself draws us into and along the way of obedience, not as dumb beasts, but as those who have learned to know Him and love Him.

9.Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man to his own house.

10.Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit.

11.And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labor of the hands.

In this closing section of the first prophecy, God elaborates on what He had told the Jews in verses 4-6. He reminds them once again of their sin, now described as a running of every man to his own house. That is really no different than their living in ceiled house, only it emphasizes Israel’s complete abandonment of the work God had given them to do. That they had forsaken God’s house for their own materialistic endeavors to establish for themselves a place in Canaan and to become prosperous. A similar expression is found in Proverbs 1:16 and in Psalm 119:32. In the Hebrew, however, the verb “running” is in the present tense, indicating that at the time God spoke they still had not turned from their sins. They were still running every man to his own house.

Certainly we may learn from this how difficult it is for us to see our sins. By nature we are blind especially to our own sins. We can see them only when they are repeatedly pointed out by God. That is the result of our natural depravity, and it ought to be remembered whenever our sins are brought to our attention, whether it be by others or by God Himself through His Word.

In the same way God speaks in more detail of the troubles they had suffered for their sins. It is here that He explains their lack of material prosperity by telling them that the drought they had suffered was from Him. Later on He speaks of other judgments (2:17), but apparently it was a drought that was the chief cause of poverty and starvation among them. The word “drought” is a play on words not evident in English. The word so translated is the same word used to describe the ruined condition of God’s house in verse 9. In effect God says: “My house lies waste, and therefore I have called for a waste upon the land,” thus connecting the punishment with the sin and showing how the one fits the other.

God even suggests in a figure of speech that the heavens and earth agree with Him concerning Judah’s sin. Literally verse 10 says: “The heavens over you refrained from dew and the earth refrained from its fruit,” as if the creation itself understood Judah’s sin and willingly held back its gifts from an ungrateful and unrepentant nation. It was as if the creation had more regard for God than did His own people. May we not be so spiritually insensitive to the admonitions of the gospel here in Haggai that even the creation becomes a witness against us by its desire to glorify God where we have none.