21 Aug Haggai Is for Hope
Majoring on the Minors
Haggai Is for Hope
Haggai 1:7-11 and 2:1-9
August 18, 2019
M. Michelle Fincher
Calvary Presbyterian Church
With the conclusion of the prophet Zephaniah, who we read last week, the Minor Prophets take a sharp turn. Up to this point the prophets had been tasked with calling Israel to turn from their sin and turn back to God. They warned that persistent rebellion would result in catastrophic loss for Israel, and indeed, that is exactly what happened, as we know. Israel was divided and conquered, then carried off to exile.
But the last verse of Zephaniah reads, “At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord” (3:20). And so, for the remaining three of the twelve Minor Prophets, rather than focusing on sin and judgment, the focus shifts dramatically to Israel’s hope and future restoration.
Scripture has a lot to say about the restoration of God’s people, but the problem for us as modern-day readers is that while it is a major theme, the clues about what that restoration will look like are spread all over the place. Think of it like Legos. I don’t know about you with your children or grandchildren, but Legos were a huge deal in my house. For the better part of two decades, birthdays, Christmases, Easter baskets, and every long car trip meant a new Lego set. We had the Bat Cave and Star Wars space stations and spaceships and Hogwarts Castle from Harry Potter, and on and on.
Like a lot of parents, I had something of a love/hate relationship with Legos. I loved that David and Emily were creatively engaged, but the thing about Legos is that they end up everywhere. Little pieces in the carpet, down in the couch cushions, under the table, in the bathtub. They end up everywhere. So, imagine that everybody in the house carries around a plastic bucket, and when you stumble upon a Lego somewhere random, like your sock drawer or inside the stackable Tupperware bowls, you drop it in your bin. Eventually, you’ll put them with all the other Legos, and they’ll fit together somehow.
The theme of restoration in the Bible is a lot like that. You have your own bucket, and as you read, especially in the Old Testament, whenever you stumble on a restoration piece, you drop it in. The pieces all fit together, but you’re not really sure how. By the time you get through most of the Minor Prophets, you’ve collected quite a few pieces, and it’s starting to look like something. And then, just before you get to Haggai, Zephaniah say, “Okay, get your restoration bucket and spread the pieces out on the table. You need to see this.”
The whole need for restoration, of course, is because something is broken. We’ve seen this in detail over the past two months. God had chosen Israel to be a covenant people through whom God would bless the entire world. But over and over again, Israel blew it. They turned from God, worshiped idols, mistreated one another, tolerated corruption and injustice. They were a broken people in a broken world, but rather than just punish them and be done with them, God promised to restore them. God promised to make them new, to gather them together from all the places where they had been scattered, to heal their brokenness, and ultimately, to heal the brokenness of the entire world. That’s what Israel’s restoration is about.
So, how do we make sense of the pieces in our bucket? There are three main categories for our pieces, three things that God’s promised restoration will most certainly include. First, the Messiah comes. Second, God dwells with his people. And third, God’s people are transformed. We’ll look at each of these more closely.
First and foremost, God promises a Messiah. There are pieces scattered all over the Old Testament about this promised Messiah. From 2 Samuel 7:12-13: “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
Jeremiah 23:3, 5: “Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to the fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply…Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
Ezekiel 34:22-24: “I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them; he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.”
Isaiah 9:6-7: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
So, this restoration will come by the Christ, the son of David, on the throne of David, and he will be both priest and king. Normally in Israel the offices of a priest and king were different. The priest was the one who tended to the temple and cared for the spiritual needs of the people while the king was the one who led the people and represented them among the nations. But this coming Messiah is going to do both of these things. He will shepherd the people and rule a kingdom.
The second category of building blocks related to the restoration is that God promises to dwell with God’s people. “At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart” (Jeremiah 3:17)
Ezekiel 37:26-27: “I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and I will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
So, God will be in Jerusalem but more than that, God will dwell with his people wherever they are and for always. In other words, there is no place or time where God will not be with those who love him.
The third category of restoration blocks is that God’s people are brought together and transformed. From Jeremiah 24:6-7: “I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.”
And Ezekiel 11:19 adds: “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”
The Messiah will come. God will dwell with his people. And the people will be brought together and transformed. All these “restoration pieces” are dumped out on the table when a new prophet appears. By the time of Haggai, there was a remnant of Jews who had been allowed to return from exile to Jerusalem. One of their first tasks is to rebuild the Temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians 50 years earlier. For a few years, they make progress toward this goal, but then, they quit. Maybe they got disillusioned or discouraged, or just tired, but they quit. And for about a decade, they focused on other things, their own things. You know, they needed some downtime, some “Me” time. So, they built their own homes—gated-communities, golf courses, a pool, a Wegman’s.
Haggai comes along with a message from God that essentially says, “Hey, what gives? You’ve been building your own houses but not my house? Maybe you need to rethink your priorities.”
God helps the Hebrews along by recruiting a leadership team for this rebuilding project. Two men, Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the priest, are both from David’s tribe and are meant to remind us of the coming Messiah’s twin functions as priest and king. God also explicitly names his presence among the people. “Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, ‘I am with you, declares the Lord’” (1:13). “Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts” (2:6). “My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not” (2:5)
So, a remnant of Israel is working together to rebuild the temple, and God is with them, and they are doing it under the leadership of Zerubbabel, who is a ruler like David, and Joshua, the priest, which reminds us of the Messiah. But there is a problem: the people are still not spiritually right. Haggai says they are “unclean.” Haggai does not elaborate about the cause of this lack of cleanliness; we’re simply told that the people are dirty at a heart level, thus rendering the rebuilding work they are doing dirty. Which means, the people are not transformed. Their hearts are not different.
God responds by saying, “the day is still to come. A little while out I’m going to shake the heavens and the treasures of all the nations shall come in, and the future glory of this house will be greater than it has ever been.” In other words, we’re not there yet. The restoration is still in the future. To go back to our Lego image for a minute, we’ve gotten all excited about all the Lego pieces spread out on the table, but they still don’t quite fit together. There are pieces still missing. And that’s what Haggai is saying about Israel’s hoped for restoration: “almost but not yet.”
It’s exasperating. We’ve come so close. We’ve assembled so many pieces, and Haggai comes in and gets us all excited, gets us back to the work on the temple, reminds us of the coming restoration, and then it all falls short. Why?
Isn’t this frequently exactly how it is? God tells Abraham that he’s going to bless him and make him a great nation and give him a special land, and through his descendants, bless the whole world. God tells Abraham the what, but God didn’t tell him when or how.
Joseph. Moses. David. They all had to wait, to wait hopefully and expectantly on God. And, so do we. It’s hard and we don’t like it, but God knows it is actually better this way. In the waiting God shows us more of who he is, reveals his character and glory, his love and mercy. In the hoping and waiting we learn to trust. If you are in a place of waiting right now—if you are struggling with a situation that you want desperately to see resolved but it’s not; if you are seeking clarity on what to do next and it hasn’t come; if you’re feeling worn down by suffering but nothing seems to be changing—know this: you’re in good company. You are not an anomaly and you’re not alone. You are exactly in the place where God is working out God’s good and eternal purposes as we hope and await Christ’s return when all of our waiting will finally be at an end.
Thanks be to God. Amen.