We all believe we should live a righteous life and keep the commandments YHVH provided for us in His Torah. We also believe we should love our neighbor as ourselves. If we study the scriptures a bit more we see that this may not be enough. We should learn from Haggai that we need to do more than follow the law. The message Haggai had to take to the remnant clearly shows that we need to ensure that we are obedient to YHVH and that His will is always our number-one priority. Again, Haggai explains to the people that our responsibility does not stop with our own righteousness. We need to go even further than that.
Before we can understand the message of Haggai, we need to have the context of his message. Thus, it is important that we start the story a bit earlier. The people of Israel and Judah were sent into captivity because of their sin, including not giving the land it’s rest as commanded. As a result of this, Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the nation of Judah was taken off to Babylon. With the fall of the Babylonian empire, Cyrus became the ruler of Babylon and the nation of Judah.In the first year, during his reign as the king of Babylon, he issued a decree that allowed the remnant of Judah to return to the land. He also gave them the treasures of the temple and provided gold and silver to allow the temple to be rebuilt. As a result of this around 50,000 people returned to the land to rebuild the temple of YHVH under Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest (Ezra 2:64-65). Within a year of returning the people started to rebuild the altar and then restarting the daily sacrifices. Two years after returning from Babylon the work started on the temple. They met some opposition from the people that had remained in the land. These people did all sorts of things to stop the rebuilding of the temple, including a letter from Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe to King Artaxerxes. As a result of this letter Artaxerxes issue a new decree that stopped the rebuilding of the temple until he issued a further agree ( Ezra 4:8). He was not allowed to annul the decree made by Cyrus, but he could put the work on hold for an indefinite time. This instruction caused the rebuilding of the temple to be stopped for 16 years. To encourage the remnant to restart the building of the temple, YHVH sent two prophets to His people, Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1). Haggai was the guy with his feet on the floor, a very practical outlook and a will to get things done. On the other hand, Zechariah was more philosophical of mind and could be described as a dreamer with his head in the clouds. It seems almost as if YHVH used the carrot and stick method to get His people back to their task.
What message did YHVH give Haggai?
Haggai is the second shortest book in the Tanach, spanning a total of 38 verses. In these 38 verses the prophet, Haggai delivers four messages to the people that returned to Jerusalem. In the first message, delivered on the 1st day of the six month of Darius Hystaspes, Haggai brings a very strong message to his people wherein he incites the people to resume the building of the temple. The message is directed at Zerubbabel and Joshua. The message is clear:
Haggai 1:2–5 2 “Thus says YHVH of hosts, ‘This people says, “The time has not come, even the time for the house of YHVH to be rebuilt.” ’ ” 3 Then the word of YHVH came by Haggai the prophet, saying, 4 “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?” 5 Now therefore, thus says YHVH of hosts, “Consider your ways!
The people kept on finding excuses not to rebuild the temple while, at the same time, they have built for themselves comfortable houses to dwell in. Haggai refers to their houses as paneled houses to indicate it was more than just the basic requirements. Another theory is that he could have been referring to the Cedar wood, purchased 16 years earlier from Lebanon, that has now ended up in homes rather than being used in the temple. Although the people were living righteous lives, coming to the temple (the altar and the foundations of the Temple were already built, therefor sacrifices were possible) for the feasts (1st day of the month was normally a temple gathering for Rosh Chodesh) and offering the daily sacrifices, they were not blessed. The remnant came from Babylon in obedience to the calling of YHVH. They most likely expected to see His hand and blessing in their work. However, they were cursed rather than blessed.
Haggai 1:6 6 “You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.”
Their crops were a disaster, and they were really struggling to make ends meet? If they were in the place that YHVH had wanted them to be, and they were following His commandments, why were they cursed and not blessed?
Haggai 1:9 9 “You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?” declares YHVH of hosts, “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.
YHVH is clear in His message: they are not receiving the blessing, because His house lies desolate. Thus, they are suffering not because they sinned, but because they do not have obedience to YHVH as their number-one priority. Personal comfort and well being are far more important and most likely also easier than executing the will of YHVH. Remember, if they wanted to rebuild the temple, they would need to get the decision of Artaxerxes overturned. YHVH’s will is in this case in conflict with the decree from the king. It is simpler easier to sit back and say that the law must first change before we can be obedient to YHVH. This attitude is what caused them to end up with the curses rather than the blessing that they had hoped for.
The result of Haggai’s message
When the people realized what was happening and what was causing this to happen, they very quickly got into action to remedy the situation. It took them around three weeks to get themselves moving.
Haggai 1:14–15 14 So YHVH stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of YHVH of hosts, their Elohim, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.
Once again, it did not take long for them to attract attention. Tattenai, the governor over the province beyond the River, and Shethar-bozenai arrived wanting to know who had allowed them to build the temple. When they did not receive the answer they wanted, another letter went off to the king. This time to Darius, who after finding the decree of Cyrus, decreed that not only must the temple be rebuilt, but gold and silver must be taken for the rebuilding and for the cost of the animals for the sacrifices.
Ezra 6:8–10 8 “Moreover, I issue a decree concerning what you are to do for these elders of Judah in the rebuilding of this house of YHVH: the full cost is to be paid to these people from the royal treasury out of the taxes of the provinces beyond the River, and that without delay. 9 “Whatever is needed, both young bulls, rams, and lambs for a burnt offering to the Elohim of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine and anointing oil, as the priests in Jerusalem request, it is to be given to them daily without fail, 10 that they may offer acceptable sacrifices to the Elohim of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons.
It did not take long for them to lose their interest in this building project, even though they did receive a word of encouragement from YHVH in Haggai’s second message to them. To months after the rebuilding of the temple restarted, Haggai brought his third message to the people stating that YHVH sees them and their offers as unclean.
Haggai 2:13–14 13 Then Haggai said, “If one who is unclean from a corpse touches any of these, will the latter become unclean?” And the priests answered, “It will become unclean.” 14 Then Haggai said, “ ‘So is this people. And so is this nation before Me,’ declares YHVH, ‘and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.
Because they are unclean, the offers they bring before Him is also considered as unclean by Him. During this day (24th day of the ninth month) the foundations of the temple were laid again (Ezra 3:10 it was laid the first time). Haggai conveyed the fourth message that they would be blessed from this day onward.
Haggai 2:18–19 18 ‘Do consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month; from the day when the temple of YHVH was founded, consider: 19 ‘Is the seed still in the barn? Even including the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree, it has not borne fruit. Yet from this day on I will bless you.’ ”
The work on the temple was completed after more than 4 years.
Ezra 6:14–15 14 And the elders of the Jews were successful in building through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they finished building according to the command of the Elohim of Israel and the decree of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. 15 This temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar; it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.
What should we learn?
Except for the interesting history on the temple, what else is there that we could learn from these parts of scripture? I believe that we can take at least three major lessons from this:
- We attract the curses of YHVH on ourselves, even if we follow YHVH’s commandments
- YHVH must always be our number-one priority
- The people around us do have an impact on us
Let us examine each of these statements in a bit more detail to see what special messages these scriptures contain.
We attract the curses of YHVH on ourselves, even if we do not sin
The scripture does not give us any reason to believe that these people, who had packed up everything they owned to come and live in a desolate land when called by YHVH, were living a life of sin. Sin is defined as transgression of the law (1 John 3:4) but yet we do not see any transgression of the law or commandments being mentioned here. We do find that the only reason that YHVH provides for the curses on these people is “Because of My house, which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.” However, it is very clear that this is the reason why YHVH has not blessed them.
Haggai 1:10–11 10 “Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 “I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands.”
Thus, it is a matter of obedience to what they were expected to do. It is not their keeping of the law or commandments that would eventually provide them the blessings. They needed to go further than that. They needed to be completely obedient to Him, even if it was in contradiction to the decree from the king. Are you doing all the things you know that YHVH wants you to do? Not only, the instructions that He has given you in His word, but also the things that He has specifically put on your heart. Those things that you know you need to do but, either do not have the time for or do not feel comfortable to do? Are you obedient in every way?
YHVH must be our number-one priority
Saying, we are followers of Y’Shua and keepers of His commandments, we imply that we are living a righteous life and that His will is our number-one priority. If we examine the Scriptures, we see this was not the case here. The people most likely found several good excuses for why they could not start with the rebuilding of the temple.
Haggai 1:2 2 “Thus says YHVH of hosts, ‘This people says, “The time has not come, even the time for the house of YHVH to be rebuilt.” ’ ”
Had YHVH and His will be their number-one priority, I am sure, they could have sent the letter to Darius to ask for permission to continue with the work. Why didn’t anybody go back to Artaxerxes to ask when he would make a final decision? The law of the Medes and Persians was very specific, no decree done by the king could be revoked. Was it simply a matter of everybody being too scared to stick their neck out? Can you honestly say that YHVH is consistently your number-one priority? Is it always easy to get up early to spend some time in His word, even in the cold and dark winter mornings? I know how difficult that can be.
What the people around us do have an impact on us
When the doubters started showing up again after two months, YHVH used a very direct way to get this point across to the people. He did this by explaining the pattern of transferring of ritual cleanliness as it is explained in the Levitical laws. The Hebrew pattern of explaining and answering by asking even more questions, is also very beautifully illustrated in these verses:
Haggai 2:12–13 12 ‘If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold, or cooked food, wine, oil, or any other food, will it become holy?’ ” And the priests answered, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If one who is unclean from a corpse touches any of these, will the latter become unclean?” And the priests answered, “It will become unclean.”
Let us analyze the questions and answers a bit. If something holy / righteous comes in contact with another subject that is not holy (righteous) the holiness cannot be transferred. If something that is unclean (unrighteous) comes in contact with another object, it will transfer it’s uncleanliness. What does have to do with the people or us?
Haggai 2:14 14 Then Haggai said, “ ‘So is this people. And so is this nation before Me,’ declares YHVH, ‘and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.
The people were allowing the negative attitudes of some people to spread among themselves. This led to a point that even the sacrifices they brought were now being considered unclean by YHVH. Is this different to the world we live in? Do we not sanction the unholiness of the people around us? By allowing this, the probability is high that their unholiness makes our sacrifices unclean before YHVH. If we want to be His people, we need to ensure that we keep ourselves set apart, but also that we make an effort to keep those in our communities and countries righteous.
What should we then do?
How can we turn these lessons into concrete actions in our lives? The first step would be to ensure that we set YHVH as our first priority. This means we may need to stick our necks out for things we know He wants us to do. Alternatively, for things we know that He does not want among His people. We have our governments making new laws that we know is against His will. What are you doing to stop that? Are your getting involved in the opposition? Are you sending letters to the king? Just recently we have seen Agenda 21come to the forefront a lot more aggressively. They call it population control for the sake of sustainability; YHVH calls it murder! To quote the official document:
Thus according to them, men and women now have the right to give or take live! I read my Bible a bit differently. Your local council most likely already has a Local Agenda 21 (LA21). Slowly but surely they are putting these things into law without us even noticing it. Look at the momentum organizations like ICLEI is gaining world wide. Do you even know what their plans are? At the same time, we also have no problem with our local schools taking the Bible out while putting gay rights, evolution and Islam into the curriculum for our children. Are you doing anything to stop this? Is giving your children a sound Biblical education your number-one priority? Why are so many governments across the globe fighting so hard to ban home schooling? You may not be able to undo the abortion laws, but are you helping to provide an alternative? We may not be required to build a physical temple, but there is more than enough for us to do to build a set apart community. We always need to strive for more righteousness in our own lives, but we also need to take a couple of steps wider. Our kids, our family, our community. All of these people need to work together to have the temple of YHVH rebuilt in our midst.
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