Rev. Hanko is pastor in the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington.
The First Prophecy (cont.)
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.
God is showing the Jews that the drought they suffered was His judgment for their sins. Not only are all things from God, who by His providence controls and directs even the forces of nature, but they are used to accomplish His sovereign purpose. In this case He had specifically called for a drought upon them and upon their land that they might learn to obey and to see that only through obedience could they enjoy the blessing of God. This drought had been so severe that all the produce and work of their hands had been affected by it. How long it had lasted we do not know,but it had affected the cattle as well as the crops and even the work of those who did not live as farmers and herders.
Haggai expressly mentions the fact that this drought was a result of God’s call. The call he speaks of is not the call of the gospel, but what is known in theology as the vocatio realis, the call of God through the things that are made. That call of God in the creation is one of the ways in which He makes Himself known even today. Paul is speaking of that call in Romans 1 when he says:
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse (vv. 18, 19).
As we learn from these verses and in the word of God through Haggai, that call and witness of God in the creation is a witness against the wickedness of men and has no saving power. Apart from God’s grace and the saving work of the Holy Spirit, that call only leaves men without excuse. Here, that His people might not only be reminded of their sins, but that they might obey and turn from their wickedness, that call of God through the creation is accompanied by the call of the gospel, which comes in the prophecies of Haggai.
For us in the New Testament church the drought spoken of is not a lack of dew and of the fruits of the ground, but a spiritual drought and famine, such as the Word of God describes in Psalm 106:15 and in Amos 8:11:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.
This kind of famine and drought came on the church of the Old Testament in the period between Haggai, Zechariah, and the coming of Christ. For 400 years the word of God was not heard in Israel. It comes also on the church today when she does not heed God’s Word and has no care for His house.
Such famine is common in the church. There was a long spiritual famine in the years before the Reformation. There have been periods of famine in more modern times, especially in the nineteenth century, when apostasy and liberalism held sway in the church. It is not uncommon today, for the Word of God, read, sung, and preached, is hardly to be heard in some places. Sermons, even where they are not open heresy or the words of men, are no longer biblical—no longer God’s Word to His people. The Bible is little read and less studied and its fountains of living water little desired. So dull are we and so unspiritual at times, that few even realize that the days of famine prophesied by Amos have come. Certainly they do not see that it is the judgment of God for disobedience and neglect of His house and covenant.
All this is summed up in the opening words of verse 9: “Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it.” How true that is in these last days. Every Christian expects much when he reads the promises of God’s Word, but how little profit and blessing there really is. How little peace and happiness, how little knowledge of God, how little enjoyment of the riches of grace and salvation! How little godliness and piety, how little blessing in family life and in marriage! God blows upon our spiritual harvests and leaves us impoverished and hungry.
Insofar as the Word of God is still heard and read and prayer offered, little comes of it because, for the most part, the church is disobedient to God and almost completely disinterested in seeing His house built up. God will not allow us to enjoy the blessings we do have and the spiritual privileges that still remain if we neglect His house and the glory of His name in that house.
12.Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him, and the people did fear before the Lord.
This historical notice, the first of two in the book of Haggai, is the occasion for the second prophecy, the shortest of the five. The obedience of the people to the word of God through Haggai is recorded in this verse and is the reason for the four words of encouragement (two words in Hebrew) that follow.
Zerubbabel and Joshua are mentioned first because they took the lead in obeying God’s word. This Ezra indicates in Ezra 5:2 when he does not even mention the people but these two men only. Their leadership, however, is not only an example of what every leader in the church—minister, elder, or deacon—ought to do, and how he ought to lead the people in obedience to God, but also a reminder of the fact that ultimately it is Christ Himself who leads us in obedience to God, not only by His own example, but by giving us the grace of obedience. These men, in their offices, are pictures of Christ as the king and priest of God’s people, who atones for all their disobedience and sends them His Spirit that they may be led by the Spirit in the way of obedience.
We should note that the name Joshua is really the same name as Jesus, Joshua being the Hebrew version of the name, and Jesus the Greek version. And we should remember that Zerubbabel was of the royal line of David and an ancestor of our Lord. Also as governor of God’s people he foreshadows Him who governs the church in perfect righteousness.
The people are referred to now as the remnant, not as “this people.” In that way God shows that He still cared for them as He had when He brought them back from Babylon. For us, however, that name “remnant” not only reminds us of their small numbers—fewer than 50,000 had returned from Babylon—but also shows us that the church is always but a remnant among men, and that her size and insignificance do not in any way excuse her from her calling to be built up a spiritual temple and a dwelling place of God. It reminds us, too, that the word of encouragement that God sends through Haggai was necessary because of their small numbers and other discouragements.
That God speaks to the people as well as to the leaders is a striking reminder of the calling that every believer has towards the church. Very often the attitude of the members is that the work of the church is solely the responsibility of the leaders, and the members are content merely to fill the pews and go along with whatever the leaders decide, or to blame them when things go wrong. Especially in the New Testament, and because we are all priests and kings (Rev. 1:6), we are all equally responsible for the life and work of the church.
A good example is church discipline. Long before sins come to the attention of the elders and through them to the attention of the whole congregation, it is the responsibility of every member to be busy admonishing his fellow believers and to be heeding their admonitions. Even when a particular sin comes under the formal discipline of the church it is the responsibility of every member to be praying for the errant brother and admonishing him to turn from his sin and repent. If that is not done, discipline is incomplete, even if the elders fulfill their responsibility and the sinner is excommunicated. Indeed, if it is not done, there is little chance that the elders will continue to do their work in admonishing, censuring, and excommunicating the wayward.
The fact that all the people are commanded to be busy with this work of building is striking because in the Old Testament, generally speaking, the ordinary people of God were far less responsible than we are. For the most part, the work of the Old Testament church belonged to the kings, priests, and prophets that God gave them, and the people were largely passive spectators in worship, prayer, sacrificing, and serving God.
God emphasizes the fact that the command was His and the duty owed to Him, not only by telling us that it was His voice the people obeyed, but by reminding us that Haggai, through whom God’s voice was heard, was himself sent by God. That remains true today. Those whom God chooses to use to bring His word must be sent. Romans 10:15 asks, “How shall they preach, except they be sent?” Unless they are commissioned and sent by God Himself, they have no right to expect that the people will listen to and obey the word of God through them.
In the New Testament, that commissioning is not direct, as it was in the Old Testament, but is through the church. Paul and his fellow laborers did not begin their work as missionaries until they were sent by the church in Antioch, and by the Spirit through the church. Those who are not so sent have no commission from God.
That the people feared before the Lord means that they understood that God was speaking through Haggai and that they must obey Him or perish. This fear is not the terror that the ungodly experience when they come face to face with God’s wrathful judgments, but an awe and reverence of God, mixed with the love of God, that recognizes one’s own sin and creatureliness and the great glory and holiness of God, and trembles before Him.
Obedience to God is always rooted in the fear of God. The reason why obedience is such a rare virtue in the church has to do with the fact that God in all His glory is not known, nor his judgments understood. He is viewed for the most part, if known at all, as one like us, who can be spoken of as we speak of our fellows and who can be met and talked to as one meets a casual acquaintance in the street and speaks to him as an equal. Only when the fear of God is born again in the hearts of God’s people will obedience to God follow.
This fear of God has His approval and blessing. He proves here what He says in Isaiah 66:2:
To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.
The fear of God is pleasing to Him because it is always the fruit of His own grace. He cannot and never does despise His own work in His people.
That obedience and fear are produced by the Word of God. Just as the word “then” suggests this in English, so the “and” in Hebrew does the same. The Word of God has that power because it comes from God. Its power is the same as the power of God’s creative word, by which He called the things that were not as though they were (Rom. 4:17). That is always a reason why the whole Word of God must be preached. It is its own power and produces that which it requires.