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by Hamilton Smith
Haggai, The Messenger and His Message.
The prophet Haggai has the distinction of being called "the LORD'S messenger," and of delivering "the LORD'S message unto the people" in a day of ruin and outward weakness. His messages were addressed to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and to Joshua, the high priest, clearly proving that the prophet was sent to the remnant of the Jews that returned to Jerusalem in the days of Cyrus, king of Persia, as recorded in the book of Ezra ( Ezr_3:2 ).
To understand the significance of these messages it is necessary to recall the special circumstances of this remnant. Seventy years before their return, the prophet Jeremiah, who lived in the closing days of the kingdom of Judah, had foretold that judgment would overtake the nation. Because of their wickedness they would be carried into captivity at Babylon and their land would become a desolation. Nevertheless, it was prophesied that after seventy years the LORD would cause them to return to their land ( Jer_25:12 ; Jer_29:10 ; Dan_9:2-3 ). The history of this return is recorded in the book of Ezra, which opens in the first year of Cyrus, the king of Persia, or seventy years after the Captivity. At that time, in order that the word of the LORD by Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, who issued a proclamation to the people of God setting them at liberty to return to the Land to "build the house of the LORD God of Israel."
This proclamation became a test of the moral condition of the people of God. On the one hand, it raised the question, were their affections so set upon their land, their God, and the house of God, that in simple faith they were prepared to face trials and difficulties, opposition and reproach, in order to answer to the mind of God and carry out His will? Or on the other hand, Did they prefer to remain in Babylon with its ease and material comforts? Alas! the vast majority of God's people preferred to remain in the easy circumstances of a humiliating captivity, rather than face the trials and reproaches entailed by carrying out God's will.
To realize the significance of the charge to build the house, it is well to recall the great place that the house of God has in the counsels and ways of God. The first mention of the House of God is in Gen_28:17 ; the last, in Rev_21:3 . From the first Book to the last - from the present creation in time right on to the new heavens and earth in eternity - the house of God has a very great place in the purpose of God. The composition of the house may vary at different periods - in the Old Testament days it was formed of boards and curtains, or later of stones, while today it is formed of believers, or living stones - but the purpose of the house is ever the same, namely, to form a dwelling-place for God amongst men.
It follows that everything in God's house must take character from, and be consistent with, the One Who dwells in the house. Thus the first characteristic of God's house is holiness, as we read' "Holiness becometh thine house, O LORD, for ever" ( Psa_93:5 ). Further, every one in God's house must be dependent upon God, and subject to His will. This dependence finds its expression in prayer; so we lead, "Mine house shall be called the house of prayer for all people" ( Isa_56:7 ). Further, if, in God's house, all are dependent upon God, then all in that house will be blessed by God; and the house in which man is blessed will be the place where God is worshipped.
Thus, we learn from Scripture, that it is God's desire to dwell in the midst of His people; and that His dwelling is marked by holiness, by dependence upon God and subjection to God; by blessing for man and worship to God.
In connection with these great truths, and in order to build the house of God, a remnant had been set free from the corruptions of Babylon and brought back to God's land. The proclamation of Cyrus definitely stated that he was charged to build Jehovah "an house at Jerusalem." His appeal to any among God's people is to "go up to Jerusalem . . . and build the house of the LORD God of Israel." Those who remained in captivity were exhorted to help with a "freewill offering for the house of God that is at Jerusalem." In response to this appeal there came forward a remnant "whose spirit God had raised to go up to build the house of the LORD which is at Jerusalem" ( Ezr_1:15 ).
With these Scriptures before us it becomes abundantly clear that the one great object for which the remnant had been set free to return to God's land, was "to build the house of God at Jerusalem." "Upon this," as it has been said, "hung all their fortunes, and as it was prosecuted or neglected, their prosperity ebbed or flowed."
It has, however, been invariably found throughout the history of God's people that whatever has been the will of God for the moment, has always been the special object of the enemy's attack. So the returned remnant found in their day. Two years after their arrival at Jerusalem they take in hand the special work for which they had been brought back to the Land; as we read, they "set forward the work of the house of the LORD," and "laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD" ( Ezr_3:8-10 ). For two years the enemy had left them in peace; but directly they took up their proper work, according to the will of God, the enemy raised opposition ( Ezra 4 ).
Moreover, it is deeply instructive to note the character of the opposition. The adversaries do not at first condemn this godly remnant for building the house; on the contrary, they say, "Let us build with you" ( Ezr_4:2 ). It is only when the people of God refused to be associated in the work of the LORD with those who worshipped God after a human fashion, that the storm of opposition arose. Alas! in the presence of this storm, which the holy spirit of separation had raised, their faith gave way, and for twelve years the work for which God had brought them back to Jerusalem was in abeyance.
The people had failed, but God never gives up His purpose, nor forsakes His people because of their failure. So it came to pass, in the mercy of God, at the end of fourteen years after their return to Jerusalem, the prophet Haggai - "the LORD'S messenger," is sent with several definite messages from the LORD.
Before examining these deeply solemn and instructive messages, we may pause to inquire; Is there anything in these days that is illustrated by the history of the returned remnant as recorded in the book of Ezra? Looking back over the history of the professing Church we cannot but recognize that for long centuries the professing Church has been completely under the dominion of the world. There have been, indeed, a great number of true believers who were faithful to the light they had, and in the day to come they will walk with Christ in white, and have their bright reward. Nevertheless, the professing Church, as a whole, was, and still is, enslaved in Babylonish captivity. Then, in the early part of last century, there was a very distinct work of God by which the great truths concerning Christ and the Church were recovered for the people of God.
As a result of this work a number of God's people, in order to answer to the truth, separated from the systems of men which, in different measures, set aside the truth of Christ and the Church. They abandoned the traditions and customs of men, and all the rites and ceremonies of man's invention, and, refusing every human head, and acting on the sole authority of God's word, they met together seeking to give Christ His place as Head of the Church, and the Holy Spirit His place as dwelling in the midst of God's people. They separated from the corruptions of Christendom in order to walk in the light of these great truths under the leadership of Christ, and their spiritual prosperity wholly depended upon their maintenance of these truths.
Alas! the spiritual energy of that revival has not been maintained. Many, indeed, awakened to the increasing corruptions of Christendom, have separated from the systems of men, like the remnant who escaped from the corruptions of Babylon, but have become little more than companies of believers separate from that which is grossly evil and condemned by the word of God, but falling far short of positive care and concern for the principles of God's house as revealed in the word of God. As in the days of old the building of the material house was neglected, so again, though we may be delivered from the gross religious corruptions of Christendom, we, too, may fail to maintain the great principles of the spiritual house of God, and cease to walk in the light of the many truths recovered to us, which are our privilege and responsibility to maintain, and with which our blessing and prosperity are wrapped up. We may "go forth" from the corruptions of Christendom "without the camp," and entirely fail to "go forth . . . unto Him without the Camp." Thus we become merely independent believers meetings, and fail to walk in the recognition of the One Body of which Christ is the Head, and of the House where the Spirit dwells.
Let us remember that "building" is a positive thing. However right it is to separate from that which the word of God condemns, it is at best a testimony against that which is wrong. If God directs us to depart from iniquity, and to separate from vessels to dishonour, it is in order that we may "follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart." Thus walking in the practice of the great truths of the house of God - holiness, dependence upon God, subjection to God - we shall become a positive witness to the grace of God, and be able to worship God in spirit and in truth.
If then we realize, in any measure, our failure, the word of the LORD by the prophet Haggai will surely have a voice that speaks to the conscience and appeals to the heart.
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29