Rev. Hanko is pastor in the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington.
The First Prophecy (continued)
13. Then spake Haggai the Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the Lord.
The word of encouragement that Haggai brings to the people, who were now obeying God’s command to rebuild the temple, is simple and short, but contains all that the people needed to hear. It is for Judah the promise that the temple, though far less glorious than Solomon’s, would be the house of God Himself, who would live among His people there, bless them from that place, and keep covenant with them.
That God speaks in the present tense (the word “am” is not in the Hebrew, but that is certainly the idea here, as the KJV suggests) and says, “I am with you.” This does not only mean that now that they had obeyed and begun working, He would prosper their work and bless them according to all the promises, but it is also a reminder that their obedience itself was the result of His presence and grace. In no other way could they possibly have obeyed or been stirred up out of their sloth.
This Word of God is, throughout Scripture, the formula for the covenant. In that covenant, the relationship between God and His people, the covenant is always described in those terms, that God is the God of His people and is with them, and that He takes them as His people. That promise is, of course, realized fully in the new heavens and earth (Rev. 21:3), but even now it is realized in the church as the body of Christ and the house of God.
The Lord fulfilled that promise as well. Ezra tells us that theye of the Lord was on them to protect them from their enemies and to turn the heart of the king to favor their cause, so that the things they needed for the work were provided by His decree. God’s words of encouragement are not empty as ours are, but are the powerful, helping, saving words of the Almighty. These words are like the words of blessing with which many New Testament books begin. Like them, these words actually bring God’s richest blessing to His people.
The words that Haggai brought are the heart of every word of encouragement God gives us. He does not tell us what is ahead, He never tries to reassure us by minimizing future difficulties or by promising that there will be none. All He ever really says is this, “I am with you.” We must remember that in all our work and not judge the value and profit by visible results, by the lack of difficulties, or by our own perceptions of the work.
This encouragement is given especially for the church and is given because God loves His church for Christ’s sake. The Belgic Confession says this and states:
This church hath been from the beginning of the world, and will be to the end thereof… [and] is preserved or supported by God, against the rage of the whole world; though she sometimes (for a while) appears very small, and in the eyes of men to be reduced to nothing (Art. 27).
Let us notice, too, however, that this encouragement is given immediately upon evidence of repentance. God does not put His people on probation when they repent of their sins, but blesses them without delay, a great encouragement to repentance.
Haggai is called here the Lord’s messenger, and his word of encouragement the Lord’s “message.” The word “messenger” or “message” is, in the Old Testament, the same word that is often translated “angel” (Gen. 16:7; Gen. 19:1; etc.). It can, therefore, be used as a general term for any messenger or for those special messengers who live in the presence of God in heaven. That it is used here for Haggai is somewhat surprising, because he is always elsewhere referred to as a prophet. It must be used here to underline the fact that the encouragement given by Haggai comes from heaven, and is of the same order as the gracious messages of angels so often recorded in Scripture.
14. And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God,
15. In the four and twentieth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.
The date recorded is not merely a matter of historical record, but proof that the obedience of Judah was without delay, as all obedience to God and to men ought to be. Within a month’s time the people were once more busy with God’s work after a lapse of about twenty years. Their previous disobedience and sloth had proved them unwilling and unable to obey in and of themselves. The credit for their obedience must all be given to the grace of God, given through his prophetic Word, and worked by His Spirit in the hearts of His people. Haggai’s contemporary, Zechariah, speaks of that in chapter 4 of his prophecy: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (v. 6).
We must not miss the fact, either, that the people began the work before the decree of Art-axerxes was repealed. Tatnai, the governor of the territory in which Judah was found, investigated the news that they were building again and wrote the king, suggesting that it would be in his best interest to have the work stopped. He also reported the words of the people, who had said that Cyrus had sent them to rebuild the temple. When investigation was made in Babylon it was discovered that the Jews had spoken the truth. Cyrus had decreed the rebuilding of the temple and sent them to Judah to do it, and so Darius not only forbad the governor from interfering, but commanded him to give the people everything they needed for the work and for sacrifices. In that way God showed that He was with them. But the people did not wait for the matter to be investigated or for the decree of king Darius, but began and continued the work in obedience to God.
That is the nature of true obedience always. It does not wait for men, not even for kings and rulers, nor does it fear them and their decrees, but insists that God has spoken and that what He has said must be done, no matter what the consequences.
Such obedience is always the fruit of God’s own grace. That is evident from the testimony of these verses. The people and their leaders obeyed because God stirred up their spirits. He did that by His Word through Haggai and by the internal work of the Holy Spirit. His Word is always quick and powerful, the way in which He gives His grace to us, not only at the beginning of our Christian life but daily. May He so stir up the spirits of His people today to obey and to come and work in the house of the Lord their God, that is, in the church, which is also the pillar and ground of the truth.
We should note that a stirred up spirit is characterized by the fear of the Lord. Such fear is not the slavish terror of those who hate God and who come under His judgments, but a fear that trembles in awe and reverence before the presence of His majesty. Such fear is sadly lacking among Christians today and is the result of a lack of knowledge of God and His glory. Such fear is necessary if ever we are to understand the importance of His house and the urgency of our calling to work in His house.
Having such fear, according to Isaiah 8:13, means that we “sanctify the Lord,” and Peter adds that we do this in our hearts (I Pet. 3:15). To sanctify something is to make it separate and holy, and we sanctify God when we know in our hearts the glory of His holiness and esteem Him separate from all others in glory and power. We hold Him holy in our hearts when we are governed by a deep awareness of His holiness in everything we say and do.
Judah showed that fear of God when they once more put His glory and His house first and set it above their earthly concerns. They showed the fear of God when they turned to God in repentance and conversion, remembering the Lord’s holiness and turning from sin.
A stirred up spirit is also characterized by quick and ready obedience. That was so in the case of the people of Judah. It is the case also now. A stirred up spirit does not make excuses, does not procrastinate, does not continue idle, indifferent, and careless, but immediately does what God requires. Such stirred up spirits are a great necessity in the church of Jesus Christ, for without them, the people of God will continue to run to their own houses.
Such stirred up spirits are the work and gift of the Holy Spirit and are given when the Holy Spirit applies Christ and His work to God’s people. The Spirit, in other words, does not stir up their spirits by some secret and hidden operation but by showing them the loveliness of Christ and of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. God does that here by the promise, “I am with you,” a promise that is really the promise of Immanuel, God with us.
Stirred up spirits are much needed and seldom found in the church today. People are often stirred up, but by the wrong things and for the wrong ends. They will be much stirred up about turning the church into a soup kitchen, about entertaining the young folk, about speaking in tongues and miracles, but few are stirred up at the thought of fellowship with the living God, with a desire to see His house built and prosperous, to see Him worshiped there as He has commanded in His Word. These Jews, as we ought to be, were stirred up by a desire to obey God, to work in His house, and to enjoy once more the fellowship and blessedness of His covenant in that house. May God, by His Spirit, so stir up ours.
Finally, let us note that for the first time in the prophecy God identifies Himself as the God of His people, “their God,” not because His favor and relationship to them depend on their obedience, but because it is only in the way of obedience that His people know and can believe that He is “their God.” How wonderful, after all His former threats and judgments, to know that He once more looks with favor on His people and accepts them as His own!