Fear Not The Facemask, Fear the Lord

Haggai 1:7-2:9

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.” 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. 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? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!’ “For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. ‘And I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations; and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts. ‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and in this place I shall give peace,’ declares the LORD of hosts.”

If one does a quick survey of the Bible, does one not see and assume that the rebuilding of the temple in Haggai is actually an exercise in futility? There is no Ark of the Covenant in the second temple and even God himself says that the glory of the second temple pales to the glory of Solomon’s temple. In a relatively short time compared to human history, the temple they rebuild will be destroyed. The latter glory of the temple, the Bible and history tells us, won’t happen until less than 70 years prior to its destruction and it will be done through the wicked Herod, an Edomite by birth. Why then does God want them to rebuild the temple only to destroy it again? The answer is in the context. The Lord says, “Go up to the mountain, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified.” 

What does that mean? Let’s see if we can figure it out by carefully considering the context, aspirations of the author, genre, examples and dividing rightly the word of truth. The greater context of Haggai is that many people have returned from captivity to the land surrounding Jerusalem. In Ezra and Nehemiah we see the rebuilding of the temple and walls of the city, amongst opposition but with a decree. However work has apparently stalled, once again. We have read in Haggai that the people focus more on themselves than the Lord and his temple–a common, age-old problem. Nevertheless the Lord explains to the people through the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, that he is with them in an effort to rebuild the temple but against them in their futility of self service. He even goes so far as to tell them that he has called for a drought because of them. Unlike most other prophets, the people actually listened to Haggai, eventually. We can reasonably assume that they listened to Haggai because they felt the sting of the words. They were going through the motions and probably didn’t think things were too bad, until they heard the words and took the time to consider their ways and their situation.

“‘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.'”

The acts and motions of the people at this time were already somewhat futile. Everything they did, all their self-centered works, seemed to have yielded little. Yet the command to build the temple also seems futile because we know that the temple will be toppled during Christ’s generation. I have driven through Northfield, Massachusetts, almost every day for the past two weeks. I also have driven through Gill, Massachusetts, on several of these occasions as well. The most direct route from where I stay during the work week to my current (I am considered “essential”) jobsite is through Gill and Northfield. To the average christian in America, the names of these towns probably mean nothing and don’t ring any proverbial bells or seem significant. Even in the region, we forget the significance of these two sleeply, little towns. But recently I have been reflecting on the history of evangelism in Western Massachusetts, that has all but faded away. Nevertheless, a remnant of the evangelism exists and I suppose that I am part of that remnant. As I drive by Moody street, I think of how D.L. Moody’s sowing still bears fruit, though he is all but forgotten on Mount Hermon. Moody founded two christian academies in the adjacent towns of Northfield and Gill. The Northfield School for Girls in Northfield and Mount Hermon School for Boys, in Gill. However, today, little of his evangelism exists on these two campuses, especially in Gill. Northfield is now a catholic college, funded by donations and not the Roman Catholic Church–a far cry from Moody’s theology but much closer than one would find in Gill, which is the exact opposite of what Moody believed. Like Harvard and Yale, there is no resemblance to the theology of the founders. Does this mean that Moody wasted his time? Of course not, Moody publishing still exists as does the Moody Bible Institute and there’s this little church in Leverett, Massachusetts, founded by Moody’s protege, called, Moores Corner Church. A church of which is still there, preaching the gospel to an extremely oppositional society. The people in Haggai were not wasting their time either.

Ironically, as I drove through Northfield and Gill, reflecting on the influence of which D.L. Moody once had in the region, I was listening to a dogmatic dispensationalist on the radio who was teaching, “how to survive in these last days.” When did the evangelical church switch from striving to thrive, to, how to survive? Perhaps we are more like the people in Haggai than I am willing to admit. If we think we are here to survive, grinning and bearing our current cultural climate, awaiting the rapture, we have to reexamine the Biblical narrative. Even in Haggai, there was work to be done, on a temple that paled in comparison to its former glory. God was so serious about rebuilding the temple, that he caused a drought on the land. So serious was God about rebuilding the temple that he even told them that it would please him and bring him glory. “‘Go up to the mountain, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,’ says the LORD.” In an effort to motivate them, the Lord caused calamity on their lives. “‘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.'” On account of the peoples’ actions towards themselves, and inaction of rebuilding the temple, the Lord sent a drought on the land.

Ideally, taking an idealistic approach, one can say that the Coronavirus exists to stir up the church to be more about the father’s business. What one cannot say, is that God sent the Coronavirus to be a sign of his coming or that God is judging the world through the Coronavirus or that christians caused the Coronavirus because they were too busy being about their own business and not God’s. We simply don’t have the evidence to make any of those claims. What we do have is a pattern in the historical narrative in which we see the ways in which God works. Be wary of pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers who claim to know the specific reason for the Coronavirus. Haggai is not here to give us specifics, neither are there apostles. We live in a time where God speaks to us through his written words. In order to understand his written words, we have to consider the context. Haggai was written to a specific people in a specific epoch. Therefore what applied to their situation specifically, may not apply to us at all. Nevertheless, we learn about the Lord and his dealings with his people through their specific situation. However we cannot rely on Haggai alone to steer our ship, because while we certainly see some similarities, we also see significant differences and distinctions. The most glaring being that sickness is not mentioned in Haggai and they lived under temple worship. In many ways, Haggai doesn’t look like our situation at all.

“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. 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? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? But now take courage, Zerubbabel,” declares the LORD, “take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,” declares the LORD, “and work; for I am with you,” says the LORD of hosts. “As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!”‘”

The dogmatic dispensationalists, Methodists, New Covenant, Covenant, Episcopal, Lutheran and every other theological position and denomination believes that the glory days of the church have passed, except for possibly the Presbyterians. That’s actually a joke, to those who study the positions and eschatology thereof. The irony about asking an individual when the glory days of the churches were, is that the answer is always the same. The glory days, according to the individual, were when  the individual was a young person, yet old enough to be involved and have a voice in the decision making. “When I was in my late twenties and early thirties, the church was singing good songs and preaching from the pulpit great sermons. The Bible was preached and everyone loved it. I have horrible news for you; one shouldn’t love great preaching. Great preaching should bring tears to the eyes, knees to the ground and faces to the floor. Then we worship because we see the price paid on the cross. Then we work for the kingdom. Then we see God for who he is and cling to him rather than our own understanding. Then we place our faith in the Savior and our hope in him who created us and redeemed us. We don’t place our faith in facemasks and our hope in hand gloves.

I am sorry that I am such a miserable misfit. I went to the grocery store last night and saw and old friend who yelled at me, “six feet, man!” And I wasn’t within twelve feet of anyone but I suppose he knows me and what I would eventually do. He was right, in a way. In my defense, the arrows on the floor contradicted themselves. When two half-aisles come together into one aisle, and they are labeled in opposite directions…you get my point–I was lost. Therefore I started ignoring the arrows on the aisles. Not only that but also this; I was one of maybe three shoppers without a mask or gloves. Before you jump to any conclusions I have no problem with people wearing masks and gloves for protection. And there is no but about it. Yet, it does make me think.  Three weeks ago the claim was that masks don’t help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. But now, they are considered all but essential and are indeed deemed essential in entire states. That is, whether hiking an abandoned trail in the Adirondacks or shopping in midtown Manhattan, one must wear a mask. An example of extraordinary ordinances in which the government mandates objectively and not subjectively. The letter of the law is enforced rather than the spirit of the law. But even this is not my point. If the Bible said to wear a mask and gloves when congregating, would these people do it? If the Bible said to maintain social distancing, would they do it? If the Bible had a prescriptive package against spreading disease, would these arrow following, mask wearing, hand sanitizing people follow it? We all know the answer is no. I don’t want to take the time to look at Levitical Law, but it is ironic how we follow legalistically but not gracefully by the spirit of the law. Leviticus has a prescriptive package of which alleviates the ability of disease to spread and resembles greatly our current cultural climate and mandates.

I always say, “consider the context.” Yet sometimes it is helpful to notice what the context doesn’t say. In Haggai, there is very little mention of Levitical Law. The focus is on rebuilding the temple and God being with the governing authorities and the people. We are told that the drought is due to the people running to their homes and not building the temple. Unlike Isaiah, where the focus is on the New Moon Assemblies and the multiplied sacrifices, In Haggai, the Lord deals with the returning remnant’s self-centered behavior concerning building or lack thereof. God has specific instructions for the returning remnant, and he also has a promise to them.

“‘But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!'”

Number one most uttered command in the Bible: “Do not fear.” I can’t figure out why that is (he wrote sarcastically). Number one sin: pride. Number two sin: fear. We trust in ourselves and not the Lord and we are fearful in it. I try to spread positive words of encouragement during these days of uncertainty; to my clients, to family, to neighbors and friends. But I have found that people love to be afraid. Expository exegesis of examples enlightens us to why they would be afraid in Haggai. Because it seems like a simple task compared to the Coronavirus. That’s only because we don’t know history and are brainwashed in the present. But before we look at an example of why they would have fear, look at the cross and only then the Coronavirus is put in its context.

Ezra 4:4+5: “Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.” Then, after this, the provocateurs sent to the king to put a stop to the rebuilding as well. Then the king issued a decree. “Then as soon as the copy of King Artaxerxes’ document was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their colleagues, they went in haste to Jerusalem to the Jews and stopped them by force of arms.” We would call that, armed occupation with the threat of war. They were like the British Redcoats during the American Revolution. In the midst of this, God tells them to rebuild and not to be afraid because he is with them. Which would you rather have, the Chinese military or the Coronavirus? There’s a third option and the people present opted for that.

“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.” Rather than fear men and armies, they feared, or revered the Lord. Stirred up by the Spirit, the people present began to rebuild, again. We cannot forget that they abandoned the building, under threat of violence. This is why I write, expository exegesis of examples enlightens. There’s always more to the story and it helps clarify the context.

“‘But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!’ “For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. And I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations; and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts. ‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and in this place I shall give peace,’ declares the LORD of hosts.”

Enter the prophecy part. But we will have to wait until next time to examine this. But when we do, lord willing, I am certain that we will consider the context, aspirations of author, genre, examples and divide rightly the word of truth. We will remember at what point in history Haggai wrote and the situation of the people present. In the meantime, read the Bible for all its worth by considering the context, aspirations of author to his audience, genre, examples and divide rightly. The Coronavirus is minuscule compared to the cross of Christ. Actually, if the highlights of world history were recorded in a book, our generation wouldn’t even make an honorable mention. “Unprecedented?” Crack open a book, preferably the Bible. To the prophecy pundits, consider the possibility that we are not even a blip on the proverbial, prophetic radar. The number one sin is pride and the second is fear. The prophecy pundits play on both of these sins to sell books. Meanwhile, Jesus is making all things new.

What does God mean when he tells the remnant that he will be glorified by the rebuilding of the temple? Simple; the people followed what God had instructed. It’s not brain surgery to do what God says, yet we follow our own thoughts and the thoughts of others. Nevertheless, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts because his thoughts are perfect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s