Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Little Book of God: Haggai

Is this as good as it gets? How do you balance reality today with the prospect of something greater to come? How do we live today in the light of God's spoken promises to his people?

The scene is set in Jerusalem, God's people having been exiled in Iraq are back home. The city is flattened and they're sent home to rebuild God's house (see Ezra 1). Life amongst the ruins was not easy, and into it comes this book and also the book of Zechariah.

These are the kind of questions the 38 verses of the book of Haggai seek to answer. It is written in the time of the return from exile, documented in Ezra 3 particularly. Reading through the book we're encouraged four times to "Consider" (1v5,7,2v25,18)... we're told of God's people being unfruitful, and twice of a time when God will shake the earth. Its dramatic stuff!

Part 1. The priorities of God, his pleasure and his glory
1v1-15, 01/06/02 (Year of Darius)
The people are delaying the task they've been given. They were sent home with the express purpose of rebuilding the house of the LORD their God (Ezra 1v2). Instead however they've built their own homes. They find themselves repeatedly thwarted by the LORD (v6). They are unsatisfied and unfruitful.

Into this situation the LORD speaks to tell them what is going on! His message is simple - build the house of the LORD. Do so for his pleasure and his glory (v8). The priorities of God ought to dominate the people of God. He seeks to be happy - and what happens on earth has a bearing on that! As at the return to the land (Ezra 1v1,5) the LORD moves them to respond. They are stirred and get on with the building work.

The LORD works through his people for his pleasure and his glory to establish his place with them. He is the happy God and he will be seen to be big amongst them. The ultimate locus of God's pleasure and glory of course centres upon Jesus. (John Piper writes excellently about this in The Pleasures of God, about the Pleasue of God in his Son.)

Part 2. There is greater glory to come
2v1-9. 21/07/02
Seven weeks later God speaks again. An enquiry is made: who saw the previous temple? How do you feel when you see this new effort. God acknowledges their disappointment. This rebuild is a mere shadow of what went before. But, the LORD will act in accordance with his prior promises to his people. He rescued them from slavery in Egypt and remained with them. He will shake the earth, treasures will come from the nations and the temple will become most glorious. This latter glory will far outstrip the former glory.

Generations later as Messiah Jesus comes we see the truly glorious representation of God with his people. In a person. Through him, in him, is formed the true people of God - the church. A people adorned by the work of the Holy Spirit to be more beautiful than any gold or silver. A glory that comes to people from all nations.

Part 3. Defiled by sin, but a new day comes
2v1-19, 24/09/02
One holy item does not make everything holy (2v12). One defiled item makes everything sinful (2v13). So it is with God's people. They are sinful and so is their work and their offerings. Everything is defiled by their sin against God. I find this very challenging - to see how serious and infecting sin really is.

Their good works are unfruitful and blighted by the LORD (2v17a). It is him who blights them. And yet they have been unrepentant. God acted to get their attention but they did not respond (2v17b). Now the foundation of the temple is laid and a new day comes.

Sin is truly bad, pervasively staining everything. Only the work of God can end its defilement. Change only comes by God's work - and as the foundations of his place are laid it is he who changes the situation. It is he who brings blessing - when ultimately the temple is rebuilt (see Jesus, in John 2?).

Part 4. The Lord's servant is safe
2v20-23. 24/09/02
The LORD is about to shake the earth - just as he promised. This shaking we know will bring in treasures from the nations - but it will also be destructive. But, the LORD says, his ruler Zerubbabel, will be kept safe. Previously, in Jeremiah 22v24, the leader of God's people was cast off in the time of judgement. Now God's ruler will remain. The tide turns. At last God's leader is pleasing to the LORD. And when King Jesus comes - a greater leader still, God will find the one who is truly pleasing to him - one whose every act brings glory to God's name.

Haggai is a short sharp message to look to the LORD's pleasure and glory. A jolt to self-centredness to look to the LORD's bigger plans for the nations. It stands as a rebuke, a challenge and a message of hope of what is sure to come. There is better than this still to come.

Daniel is talking about gospel-centred Bible study... of Matthew 18v15-20, take a look. Daniel links to here and to beginningwithmoses.org so we like him!