Haggling over Haggai

Haggai 1:1-11

In the second year of Darius the king, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘This people says, “The time has not come, even the time for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt.” ’ ” Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?” Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, “Consider your ways! 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.” Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the LORD. “You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?” declares the LORD of hosts, “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house. “Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And 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.”

Can we take this Old Testament passage and apply it to our lives today? Can we look out our windows and stare at the situation surrounding us, absorbing the manipulative media’s mien and apply this passage to our lives in this time? Using an idealistic approach, one can absolutely see themselves in this passage–I do. I see how God interrupts my interests in order to remind me why and how I am here. We will get back to this. But contextually speaking, does the literary language apply to us? I’m not so sure. In fact, I’d be weary of anyone who claims that it does.

I am holding back; I want to unleash my libertarian spirit for freedom with my proverbial pen. Know this; if I were a pastor of a church, I would have closed the doors for Sunday services and other gatherings. Know this also; the government wouldn’t make the decision for me. Just a juxtaposition to consider which gives the reader a hint as to my state of mind. I want things to go back to normal, but what did that do for us? Have we prayed more this month or last month? For those reading this in the future, in February 2020, we were flourishing financially but at the end of March we are surrounded by sickness of body, mind and finances. And I am holding back. Tom Brady has signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bernie Sanders is fading in the polls, Joe Biden is, still Joe Biden and the Coronavirus has sent shockwaves throughout the globe. And every day I try to write, but something else always comes first.

It sure seems similar to what we see in Haggai 1:1-11. It feels like we’re in a severe drought, in the cold, with holes in our purses and wallets. History does repeat itself and although everyone is claiming that we live in unprecedented times, contextually speaking, negatively, nothing could be further from the truth. That is, most politicians and preachers, pastors and prophecy pundits push us towards the remarkably negative and not towards the unprecedented positive. We are not dealing with anything new. Tom Brady is off to play for another team after a historic tenure, just like his favorite quarterback growing up did. Bernie Sanders is losing his foothold on the democratic nomination after a strong beginning, just like Howard Dean did. Joe Biden is still Joe Biden, just like Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. And like it’s cousin SARS, Covid19 is making many people sick and killing the most vulnerable. What is unprecedented is the response to these things, not these things. And all these things happened within my lifetime, still short of half a century.

Yet each situation is not identical to another but rather resemble each other closely. Therefore while many may look to Haggai for answers in our troubled times and certainly see similarities, it is not necessarily applicable in our age. The book of Haggai is specifically situational and absolutely occasional. Nevertheless, this particular passage in our Old Testament tutor is indeed indicative for us, in that, God was graciously getting their attention. We are able to see in the New Testament that we are the temple of Christ and we always have the need to build the temple. We are, according to John, a kingdom of priests and in this kingdom, there are usually things in our lives of which we need to repent as we see in the seven letters to the seven churches. In America, at this time, I see in the mega-churches some similarities, especially in Laodicea and Sardis. Only rather than be thankful that they live in a wealthy country, they want more wealth and health. Yet I see some of these things in myself. I want and pray for things to go back to normal, not realizing that the situation in which we find ourselves is seasonal, yet normal (taking a long view of human history). And the more severe the situation and suffering, the more people will come to Christ, hopefully. After 9/11, we saw a mini revival but it was short lived. Can I really, in the Spirit, pray for a quick end to this particular Coronavirus outbreak? Do I even fathom what the Lord is doing in these allegedly dark days?

I don’t write for the present time as much as I write for future generations. People assume that this is how the Bible was written as well. But much of the Bible is occasional and situational in its writings. It boggles my mind how I could have once believed that John wrote to the seven churches in Asia but it applied to me and not them–and then a future generation after I was raptured. I believed that when Jesus spoke to his twelve disciples, in Matthew 24, it didn’t apply to them but it applied to us. I believed that Paul telling Timothy that difficult times will come, applied to me, even though Paul  writes specifically to Timothy and explains that those opposing him won’t make further progress. Yet 2000 years later, I expected them to make further progress. We are guilty of ripping verses, which weren’t in the original writings, out of their context. Verses of which the unbelieving use against us, such as, “love your neighbor.”

In these times of tribulation, governments have over stepped their bounds. Constitutionally, in the United States, people have the right to assemble (few are as Libertarian as I). Many pastors are making media headlines because they are still gathering their congregations. And as I see these things, with a mindset of libertarianism, I am disgusted with these pastors. “I may or may not have a timebomb in my backpack, let’s meet together anyway because God said, ‘don’t forsake the gathering.'” And it’s the unbelieving who have to remind them that Jesus said, “love your neighbor as yourself.” It came as no surprise to me that the most notorious pastor to open the doors of his “church” building, is a dispensational/pentecostal/mega-church pastor. We have to understand the context of the Scripture and the first clue to someone not understanding the context is that of one insist on speaking in tongues. Because the context of speaking in tongues is that it was judgment against apostate Israel. In the only epistle of which we read about tongues, Paul explained to the extremely immature church, that tongues were given in judgment. He also set strict guidelines of which the Pentecostal church often ignores or, in highlighting their hypocrisy, follow legalistically to the letter. That is, they speak in exactly 2 or 3 and never 1 or 4, with an interpretation–a little too perfect for my tastes.

Therefore, when a pastor promotes speaking in tongues after presumably studying Acts and 1 Corinthians, his judgements are clouded, in my mind, from word go. Again, I am a libertarian because the second a right is taken away from one, it is easy to take rights away from all. Nevertheless, if safety and common sense agree with a government mandate, one should obey the government mandate; Romans 13 could not be more clear on this. I agree with the dogmatic dispensationalists that governments are trying to replace God but ignoring mandates of little magnitude in times of trouble doesn’t help matters, rather it makes christians look crazy–more crazy. Nevertheless, keep a close eye on those who want to continue quarantine after a reasonable amount of recovery.

It has taken me weeks to write this because I am not like most people. I find mandated seclusion troubling even though I seclude myself for hours a week. Rather than write in seclusion I listen in seclusion; to radio, YouTube and podcasts. Rather than critique or criticize the majority of people who think that the Coronavirus is a sign of the end, I would like to delve deep into the context of Haggai so that we see it was specifically situational and then learn about God from their situation and apply it to ours.

“In the second year of Darius the king…” from the very beginning we see that their situation has a specific time–it is dated during Darius’ days as king. Darius’ reign is, and even Darius himself existing is questioned by scholars. Some think he is Cyrus, others believe he was the predecessor to Cyrus and most think he is a figment of Haggai’s imagination. First, why would Haggai make him up? Second, the context clarifies, as always. But on does need to know the history of Israel and Judah, found in Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1+2 Samuel, 1+2 Kings, 1+2 Chronicles, Esther, Ezra and Nehemiah. Then the context of Haggai is quite clear. For time’s sake we will see a very brief summary.

God brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt but the people sinned. God gave them a the Law but the people sinned. God made them wander the wilderness but the people sinned. God brought them into the promised land but the people sinned. God gave them judges but the people sinned. God sent them Samuel but the people sinned. God gave them a king but the people sinned. God gave them a better king but even the great king and the people sinned and it was all downhill from here, even though they built a temple to God at this point. A thousand years of history and the temple is only to stand for a few hundred years and then it is destroyed and the people are dispersed because of the sins of the people. Does the temple remind you of anyone? But God is gracious to them and some return after a 70 year period without a pause of 2000 years and they are told to rebuild the temple. But they didn’t do a good or fast job of it, rather focusing on their own houses and careers. Does this remind you of anyone? Much more time in history has been without the temple than with the temple. And when they had a temple to build, they were focusing on their own interests. Without a temple they longed for the temple but now that the temple is to be rebuilt they couldn’t be bothered.

“In the second year of Darius the king, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “This people says, ‘The time has not come, even the time for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt.'”‘ Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet saying, ‘Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?’ Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Consider your ways! 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.'”

Continuing in the history of Israel; because of their sin God sent Assyria to sack Shechem and Samaria (the northern tribes of Israel and then sent Babylon to Jerusalem to destroy the temple. For 70 years Judah lived in Babylon but by a decree prophesied by Isaiah, Cyrus, the new king of the region, sent some of Judah back to Jerusalem. Amongst opposition people began rebuilding the walls of the city and the temple. But because of opposition and selfishness the people focused more on themselves than the rebuilding of the temple. Enter king Darius: nothing is noted about Darius but I believe that he is mentioned for timing. He is not Cyrus and that is why he is mentioned. A decree to rebuild is a far cry from completion. Haggai is pointing out to the people present that time has elapsed from the decree to rebuild and their present position. And in their present position, like their fathers, they are not focused on the Lord so that he causes them distress.

In a slightly similar way, time has elapsed since I began writing in late March and it is now resurrection day. We see some Easter objections in the air. I object to calling it Easter because that’s a pagan holiday, like Christmas, captured by Christmas and slightly converted. Yet most are in dismay that Easter services are canceled. As I write today, the Coronavirus has made mass gatherings not only unsafe but also against executive orders. While I wouldn’t attend a gathering in these times, I do hope that people take this to the supreme court. These executive orders while smart, are completely unconstitutional. Many may find my opinions ironic but it’s a slippery slope. The government will broaden its definition of crisis to defeat its competitors. Nevertheless, with so much to say about the current cultural climate, I sit writing to the sounds of a dozen generators because we have been without electricity for 3 days, early morning Good Friday to Resurrection Sunday and I can’t help but continue to consider the context of Haggai. Money is short, it’s cold in the north east and even without the Coronavirus, few in these parts would be going to church today because there are powerlines down everywhere from a mid-April blizzard. It seems as though God doesn’t want us to go to church. I see the similarities between us and them. Our focus is wrong in America as it was in Israel/Judah. And while the similarities are small, God is determined to get people’s attention. Yet Haggai prophesied to a specific people at a specific time.

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the LORD. ‘You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?’ declares the LORD of hosts, ‘Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house. Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And 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.'”

Notice that God points his proverbial finger and places the blame on his people. “Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew, and the earth has withheld its produce.” Who do we blame for the Coronavirus? Some blame China, others cruise ships and still others the airlines. In Maine they blame New Yorkers and in New York they blame the President. I would be careful to assign blame. We are all in this together and everyone has dirty hands. However, I don’t think assigning blame to everyone is justified either. God blames his people in Haggai but in today’s current cultural climate, it’s best to understand that we all sin and all live in a fallen world. I often quote my favorite song by Jars of Clay; “I am the only one to blame for this.” We shouldn’t be looking outwardly at times like this but inwardly. God is not pointing fingers at anyone but ourselves.

“In the day of prosperity be happy, But in the day of adversity consider– God has made the one as well as the other So that man will not discover anything that will be after him.” It’s one thing to consider lyrics from contemporary music but it is much more helpful to consider what was written by the builder of the temple which would eventually topple. After this temple toppled, God waited 70 years and called his people back to the land and told them to rebuild the temple. Yet somehow we expect to see a third temple rebuilt in this generation based upon promises made to that generation because of signs we see out our windows and based on verses taken out of context.

Yes, I believe that God is trying to get our attention and I also believe he is demonstrating his power in these days. No, I don’t believe it is the beginning of the end of the world. I may seem cavalier to some but look at history and the sacred Scripture; this is normal. I am in awe of the prophecy pundits who say that the end is near because of famine, locust plagues, pestilence such as the Coronavirus, earthquakes, rumors of wars and severe and unusual weather events. Again, as I write we have no electricity other than a generator and tomorrow’s forecast calls for 70 mph winds. But I am not a prophecy denier, I am a context considering christian. Quite ironically to me, the prophecy pundits argue that the end is near because of these types of normal events. Watch this: “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.” Where is the increase?

“Russell P, you’re ripping that out of context.” Yes, to demonstrate that we ascribe our scenarios to their scenarios. Prophecy pundits proclaim an imminent rapture because of signs of which Jesus said to his generation were not the end. Actually Jesus told his disciples alone, that they would experience these things. He also told them that these things were not the end. How then are we at the end based upon similar situations? The answer from the prophecy pundits is that they see “these things” increasing. And since I am unable to convince anyone by considering the context or by quoting Solomon and Jars of Clay, let me appeal to you by quoting Cher.

“If I could turn back time, if I could find a way” to transport us back to the reformation, the holocaust or the bubonic plague, I still wouldn’t. We would probably die from the shock of the severity of those situations. Some have said that the Coronavirus is our World War Two. I get what they mean by that but they are dubios and smisguided choice of words. Certainly our lives have been impacted and changed, like in World War Two but not even close to the extent of the suffering that they experienced. The world was just emerging from a great depression, a terrible pestilence in the H1N1 Flu of 1918 which infected around 50% of the world’s population and killed 50,000,000 people, the roaring 20’s and the First World War. Essentially the world had seen devastation for a few years, peace and prosperity during the 20’s and in the 30’s and 40’s delved deeper into depression, famine and war. If that was not the end, how can this current pestilence be, if as according  to the prophecy pundits, “these things increase?” Even if the Coronavirus kills 7,000,000 people, it’s still a virus and not a handful of men attempting to wipe out an entire people group. I am not discounting lives of people who are affected by the Coronavirus–it is worldwide and we are all affected. Some will lose loved ones and nothing I write can show my compassion for them and the sadness they feel. It is a real and deadly disease. Yet it is not a mass murderer with a stupid little mustache. Again, I don’t want to appear as cavalier to the concerns of the Coronavirus killer. It is life changing and many have and will die because of it. But it is not the same as Nazi Germany because these were people killing people. In our lives though, this is devastating to some but it is far from comparable to the not-so-recent past. I am not here to argue the veracity of this virus but to awaken us to the context of the Bible.

Haggai points forward to the true temple in Jesus. Think of the grandeur of the temple complex in the days of Jesus when Herod’s refurbishment was finished and the disciples of Jesus pointed out this grandeur to him. What was Jesus’ response? “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” Think of it; the building which the people neglected was refurbished and embellished by Herod to what should have been one of the seven wonders and Jesus says that it will be torn down. Israel’s works weren’t good enough and Herod’s work was certainly not good enough compared to Christ. Haggai like all other prophets points to the need for a Savior.

Therefore we will study Haggai considering the context, aspirations of the author, genre, examples and divide rightly the word of truth, looking for Jesus in the context.

 

 

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