Living on a Thin Line

Haggai Chapter One:

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.” Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him. And the people showed reverence for the LORD. Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke by the commission of the LORD to the people saying, “‘I am with you,’ declares the LORD.” So the LORD 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 the LORD of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.

Context is king, author’s aspirations to his audience enlightens, genre is the general, expository exegesis of examples enlightens, and dividing rightly either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. We call this the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics and utilize it here to unlock the CAGED Scripture, which has been CAGED by our traditions and teachings, presuppositions and preconceived notions. Unless you are learning for yourself, you only know what you have been taught. Haggai was written to a specific people at a specific time and we notice that time several times in the first chapter of Haggai. While much of Haggai is prophecy, much is also a historical narrative. We see this in the opening line of the book and throughout the book.

“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…and they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.” The context dictates the genre. Haggai has been divided into two chapters, but not by Haggai himself–the first is historical narrative and the second bounces back and forth between their present time and a future time; it’s a historical narrative and a prophecy that tells about the current events of their time and a future time. Nevertheless, there are many allusions and shadows cast towards the Christ in the historical narrative of chapter one. It also casts its shadow back to the “good old days of yore,” enlightening the people present and the reader on God’s promises. Haggai, although a short book, is an integral thread in the fabric of the Bible.

As most prophets do, Haggai has a contemporary prophet in Zechariah. Throughout the Scripture, the Lord demands and gives, the testimony of two or three witnesses. Therefore we see some significant similarities between Zechariah and Haggai. Both began prophesying in the second year of the reign of Darius and both deal with Joshua, the high priest and Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah. Yet there is something very interesting about the exact timing and the words of these prophets. At almost the exactly same time, taking a long view, and to the exact same people, Haggai and Zechariah prophesied similar yet distinct messages. Nevertheless, zooming in on the exact timing paints us a more complete picture. This is Expository exegesis of examples–to explore and to compare and contrast the two texts, seeing the sublime string. Taking a long view of Scripture often means one must also take the short view first and then expand and expound after zooming in. Too many times when we read prophecy, we want to apply it to ourselves. Let that go, for now, focusing in on the historical narrative.

Often times I am asked by competent christians who study the Bible and the less competent ones alike as to why God repeats many things and is extremely specific at times. The short answer is, so that we’ll pay attention. Today’s text displays this principle. Notice the last time in Haggai in which a date is given. “Then the word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month saying, ‘Speak to Zerubbabel governor of Judah saying, “I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. And I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations; and I will overthrow the chariots and their riders, and the horses and their riders will go down, everyone by the sword of another.”‘” Perhaps a bit more context is needed. As for specific dates in Haggai, we read the following: “In the second year of Darius the king, on the first day of the sixth month…on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king…on the twenty-first of the seventh month…On the twenty-fourth of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius…the word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month…” In Zechariah we read; “In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah…”

The point: Haggai was finishing his prophesying as Zechariah was beginning. There is an approximate, one-month overlap of the two prophets. While interesting, it is far from earth shattering. However let’s zoom in a little more. Haggai 2:1 reads; “On the twenty-first of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet saying, ‘Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people saying, “Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory?”‘” I will cut to the proverbial chase; everything written in Haggai chapter one happened before Zechariah prophesied. This will become important later–keep it in mind.

“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.'”‘”

I hope I wrote that correctly. I quote the book which quotes Haggai, he quotes the Lord who quotes the people=”‘”‘. Whether or not my grammar is correct should enable us to see the rhetorical reasoning used by the Lord. God knows the thoughts and attitudes of the people present and he let’s them know this. Notice that Haggai said, “thus says the Lord and then he stated, “thus says the Lord.” Whether or not the people believed that they had this attitude or thought these things, God instructs them that indeed they did. This is confirmed by Zechariah who prophesied only a few months later. What we ultimately notice is that the people present didn’t immediately heed Haggai’s words but it took a few days to begin and happened progressively with a constant reminder.

“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.”

Twice in this short section God tells the people present to consider their ways. God tells them to look around at their cultural climate and think about what they are doing versus what they were accomplishing. The have alcohol but are not drunk and a place to store their money but it seems like the money disappears before it is spent. The Lord tells them, in a somewhat parabolic fashion, that he is responding to their attitudes and activities. But there is something else hidden in this particular passage that can easily get lost, literally, in translation. Once again, I salute the translators of the Bible and prefer the NASB because of the ease of reference as it pertains to Old Testament quotes. In the NASB, Old Testament quotes are in all-caps, letting the reader know that expository exegesis of examples is in order. Nevertheless they did a poor job translating the following: “‘Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,’ says the LORD.” “Mountains” should have been translated, “mountain”–singular, not plural. What’s worse is that most modern translations make the same mistake. The KJV, however, recognizes  that it is singular and not plural. The context confirms this, notice; “Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple.” Why would they bring wood to the mountains? Remember, they have been instructed to rebuild the temple, which has but one eligible location–Mount Moriah. One doesn’t bring wood to mountains to rebuild the temple. One brings wood to “the mountain” to rebuild the temple. Literally, in the Hebrew, “mountain,” “mount” or “hill” is in the singular, why most modern translations have it in the plural boggles my mind–they added the s. Contextually and grammatically speaking, their translation makes no sense. One doesn’t go to mountains, bringing wood to rebuild a temple. I am a builder by trade. I don’t go to plural houses, bringing wood to rebuild the singular house. I bring wood from the lumber yard to the house to build the house. I don’t visit 5 different McDonalds’ bringing wood, to build a single house. Bringing wood to mountains makes little sense. Admittedly I never noticed the grammatical error before until I noticed something else I had missed in Matthew because I was taught wrong and because I didn’t take my own advice to carefully consider the context. To the NASB’s credit, they give the literal translation in the footnotes.

“Now in the morning, when He [Jesus, after his triumphal entry and justified temper tantrum in the temple] returned to the city, He became hungry. And seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it, and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, ‘No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.’ And at once the fig tree withered. And seeing this, the disciples marveled, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and cast into the sea,” it shall happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.'”

Now in dubious, dogmatic, dispensationalist discourse, the word “this,” usually means “that.” In Matthew 24, when Jesus says, to his disciples alone, “this generation,” the dogmatic dispensationalists demand that this means that. Clearly the grammar and the context agree that Jesus was speaking about his generation and not a generation 2000 years hence. Nevertheless, this doesn’t fit into that dubious dogma, therefore they have to change the plain grammar and definitions in the Olivet Discourse. The most difficult thing for a person to admit is when they are wrong. I used to be a dogmatic dispensationalist and I admit that I was wrong. That isn’t difficult for me because I don’t make a living spewing out dogmatic dispensationalism. But these prophecy pundits do, off of you. We buy their books and movies. But when they’re presented with the context they call the presenters antisemitic and mockers and scoffers.  Unable to change their minds because they are indoctrinated, they double down on their dubious dogma. Yet this should come as no surprise because they would make themselves irrelevant and nullify their ministries. Let’s look at our current cultural climate in the United States. If Dr. Fauci came out and said, “the Coronavirus is not going to be stopped until we build up a herd immunity, so get back to your lives.” He would have to fade off into the sunset. He would become irrelevant after becoming a household name for a few weeks. It is not going to happen. In the same way, after many books about blood moons and Israel being God’s prophetic timepiece, the dogmatic dispensationalists will not say that they were wrong these past 50 years. They would have to buy all their books back. Therefore they must double down, in their minds. They must stick to their belief that Jesus was grammatically challenged. They will continue to believe that “this” means “that.” We will not believe that “this” means “that” but will assume for argument’s sake that “this” means “this.” Now we will look at the context of Matthew again.

“Now in the morning, when He returned to the city, He became hungry. And seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it, and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, ‘No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.’ And at once the fig tree withered. And seeing this, the disciples marveled, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and cast into the sea,” it shall happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.'”

Jesus, speaking to his disciples after they saw him curse the fig tree, which the dogmatic dispensationalists argue is always Israel, marvelled. The same disciples who witnessed the miracles and healings, the feeding of thousands from a few fish and the calming of a storm, marvelled at Jesus withering a fig tree. This is the context in which Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it shall happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.” “This mountain” is not “that mountain.” As in Haggai, it’s the mountain on which the temple sat. Context is king and it is clear. Jesus cursed the fig tree and promised his disciples that they would curse and cause the temple to topple as they were witnesses to his New Covenant. Jesus is the new temple and the new mountain that we have seen in Daniel. Jesus is the cornerstone. Jesus is the king and high priest which brings us back to Haggai, where Joshua, synonymous with Jesus, is the high priest and Zerubbabel is the governor because there was no king in Judah and there was no Israel.

“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 mountain, 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.'”

There is a cause and effect in the Lord’s words to the people. We notice that they are going through the motions of life but the yield of these motions doesn’t correspond to their labors. Pragmatically speaking, this makes no sense. The people work and they plant. Not only do they plant but they plant abundantly but yield very little. They have money but they put it into purses with holes. They eat but it doesn’t satisfy. They have clothes but are still cold. We get the point; although they amass and consume, it somehow is not enough because the Lord is displeased with them going through the motions for their own sake and not for the Lord’s sake. Therein, their situation hits home for us. We certainly see ourselves in them as we ponder this pandemic which is happening in our time. Nevertheless, while 1 Corinthians 10 reminds us to learn from them, Haggai is situational and seasonal and directed towards them specifically.

We don’t live under a system of temple worship and sacrifice. We live in the glorious gospel of grace promised to the people–we have seen its fruition. Ironically enough, I should be in a certain communist country in the Caribbean as I write, building a church building. Yet due to the Coronavirus outbreak, of which I am certain I have already had, we were unable to go. God has closed the doors of travel and thousands of church buildings. It was not the devil. As in Haggai, before Jesus resisted the devil and then crushed him on His cross, God is sovereign and in complete control–over the temple in Haggai and the church in our time. If you think I have gone off the rails thus far, you haven’t seen anything yet.

There has only ever been one Covenant, pretty much. Yes, they were in an Old Covenant and we are in a New but the reality of the Covenant and the backbone is the same from the creation of man–believe God. Adam didn’t believe God but rather the woman and the serpent. After he sinned he believed God. “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” John the Baptist said that God could raise up children of Abraham to be sons. The difference between the two Covenants is that the Old Covenant could not save anyone but was a tutor to point to Jesus Christ, the one who fulfilled and completed the Old Covenant. And as Hebrews says, “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” Why would the first disappear if it was valid? If the first could save, it would still be in effect but it could not because it relied on man working for righteousness. The gospel of grace is the exact opposite, it relies on God working and man believing in the completed work of the cross, the resurrection as a receipt and new life in the Spirit. The temple is gone because the new Temple has come and for anyone to rebuild a literal, physical temple would be an abomination and idolatry. Remember when Peter wanted to build 3 tabernacles for glorified people? It was one of the craziest things Peter ever said. One doesn’t build the temporal temple when the eternal temple has come. Ironically, given the position of the prophecy pundits, John explained this in Revelation. “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

“Russell P, that talks about heaven.” Does it? For argument’s sake let’s presuppose that it does. Did not Jesus say to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” Let’s close today looking at a juxtaposition between the people present in Haggai and our current cultural climate. To them God said, “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountain, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified.” Yet to us God appears to be saying, “Stay home and don’t go to the church buildings or build church buildings.” Therefore, and I am going to get in a lot of trouble for this, we do fake church, online. “But Russell P, my church does everything the same online as it does in the building. We even take the elements of communion together, apart.” Yes, we live in amazing times but consider our ways. The service looks and sounds the same in a livestream as it does in person. The elders or deacons pray, the praise band plays and we sing along with them. A virtual offering is taken to remind us to send our offerings, even through our tablets and cellphones (mark of the beast?). Then the pastor preaches a sermon. I hope we can truly consider our ways because that is not the ecclesiastical way set forth by the apostles, in a church building or outside of the church building.

“Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him. And the people showed reverence for the LORD. Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke by the commission of the LORD to the people saying, “‘I am with you,’ declares the LORD.” So the LORD 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 the LORD of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.”

Remember that Zechariah prophesied at this time. “Then,” meaning “after these things,” the people began to build. Haggai is a super-short book but it covers 24 days in two short paragraphs. The temple was started and standing previous to Darius’ reign, but it had been neglected and was far from complete. And even when God gave them the call to continue to rebuild, work was not immediately begun. It appears to have started very slowly but we will consider this more next time, Lord willing. For now, consider the juxtaposition between Haggai and our current cultural climate. Are there really similarities? What could God possibly be saying to us through the Coronavirus? Remember that they were going through the motions and God instructed them to rebuild the temple, of which he would topple in a matter of a few hundred years. Then look at our motions and how our “virtual church” almost verbatim captures the essence of our normal church. The upfront people are still upfront. If church doors are closed but we can still do church, we have gotten something wrong.

 

 

 

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