Haggai – Restoring the Glory Series
Honoring God from the Heart – Haggai 2.10-19
Currently we are looking at the four prophecies found in the book of Haggai with the desire to restore the glory of God in our lives. Haggai’s prophecies are part of the Post-Exilic prophetic books (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). These prophecies were the last messages of God before the coming of Christ.
As we begin this morning I would like us to consider a brief summary of Old Testament history. God’s Word tells us that the Lord chose the nation of Israel out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His instrument to fulfill His plan of redemption through Christ. (Dt.7.6-8) The Lord had called them out as His people, gave them a land, and also gave them His civil, ceremonial, and moral law. God gave them His civil law to kept them healthy, safe, and relational together. He gave them His ceremonial law to establish signs, symbols, and sacrifices that pointed to the fulfillment of His redemptive purposes through His Messiah. And He gave them His moral law to instruct them how to worship and obey Him as well as how to love others.
But Israel was persistently disobedient towards God and the Lord disciplined Israel by sending the Babylonians to invade Jerusalem, destroying the city, burning the Temple to the ground, and taking the people into captivity in Babylon for 70 years.
After living as exiles for 70 years the Persians overthrew the Babylonians and a new world leader came into power, Cyrus king of Persia. Cyrus was sympathetic to the Jews and sent a proclamation throughout the world declaring that the Jews were to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. (Ezra 1.1-4) So with the king’s edict, about fifty- thousand exiles enthusiastically returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. (2 Kings 25.9; 2 Chron.36.19; Ezra 2)
The returning exiles were energized and full of vision to return and rebuild. They immediately repaired the altar so that sacrifices would resume and then got busy digging the foundation for the new Temple. But soon their enthusiasm shifted away from rebuilding the temple to building for themselves elaborate homes. (Hag.1.1-4) And as a result the construction of the temple stopped for sixteen years. After sixteen years of complacency the Prophet Haggai comes on to the scene and on August 29th, 520 BC issued his first prophecy calling the people to reject spiritual apathy and return to rebuilding the Temple. (Hag.1.1a) The people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and began clearing the worksite. (Hag.1.12-15) But after three and a half weeks (Hag.1.15; 2.1) the people became discouraged and disillusioned by the overwhelming amount of work they had to do and the lack of resources. So on the last day of the great feast, October 17, 520 BC, the Prophet Haggai issues his second prophesy encouraging the people to stay on task and to have confidence that their work was not in vain. (Hag.2.1-9; I Cor.15.58)
It took two months for the people to finish clearing the Temple site from all the rubble and debris that had been lying in ruins for eighty-six years. Now it was time to actually start the construction phrase of the rebuilding project. The people were preparing to start building the walls of the Temple by setting stones upon the foundation. The Prophet Haggai had been walking among the people during the clean up and watching them as they gathered the materials to begin construction. The Spirit of the Lord was stirring the Prophet’s heart as he watched and listened to the people.
So, on December 18, 540 BC the word of the Lord came to Haggai the prophet. (Hag.2.10) Hear now the Word of God, Haggai chapter two verses ten through nineteen.
10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Haggai: 11 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Ask the priests what the law says: 12 If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’” The priests answered, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?” “Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.” 14 Then Haggai said, “’So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the Lord. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled. 15 “‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on—consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s temple. 16 When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. 17 I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord. 18 ‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: 19 Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit. “‘From this day on I will bless you.’”
This is Haggai’s third prophecy. On the positive side the people were working and had not given up. But on the negative side, their hearts had drifted away from honoring God with genuine faith in the Messiah to come. What we will see from today’s text is that the people were relying on the religious acts of the ceremonial law to make them holy in the sight of God instead having true faith in the Christ to come. As we have seen in Haggai’s first two prophecies, God always knows our hearts regardless of how hard we try to hide or cancel our true thoughts and feelings from Him.
Haggai’s third prophecy begins with some “sovereign sarcasm” saying, “This is what the Lord of Hosts says: Ask the priests for a ruling.” (Hag.2.11) I call this “sovereign sarcasm” because there really was no reason to ask the priest because every one knew the answers. But the Lord wants to make a point.
Let’s take a look at question number one. The Lord issues His first question to the priests though the Prophet Haggai asking, “If a man is carrying consecrated meat in the fold of his garment, and it touches bread, stew, wine, oil, or any other food, does it become holy?” The priests answered, “No.” (2.11-12)
The Old Testament priests were the ones who offer the offerings and sacrifices from the people to the Lord. Like the Temple itself the Lord instituted these offerings and sacrifices as signs and symbols that pointed to the reconciliation and redemption fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Even though these offerings and sacrifices had been set apart or consecrated to the Lord, they were not holy in and of themselves and therefore they could not transmit holiness.
The consecrated meat would have been prepared as an offering to the Lord. (Lev.6.25; Num.6.20) The priest would carry the consecrated meat in the fold of his garment as he made his way to the altar for sacrifice. This was a common sight because the altar was in the courtyard right in the middle of where the people had been working clearing the land and gathering the materials for the Temple for the last two months.
Everybody knew that every part of the priestly garment was holy set apart unto the Lord. (Lev.16.32) Everybody knew that the consecrated meat was holy set apart to the Lord. So the Lord wants to make a point by asking the priests, “If a man is carrying consecrated meat in the fold of his garment, and it touches bread, stew, wine, oil, or any other food, does it become holy?” The priests answered, “No.” The point is confirmed. A holy thing cannot transmit holiness. Why, because it is just a symbol or type. It has been set apart yes but the consecrated thing does not have any power of holiness in it. So whatever the holy thing might touch along the way to the altar doesn’t make the thing that was touched holy.
So with question number one answered the Lord moves on to question number two.
Then Haggai asked, “If someone defiled by contact with a corpse touches any of these, does it become defiled?” (Hag.2.13a) Everybody knew that the Old Testament Law taught that anyone who touched a corpse was defiled and unclean. And whatever the defiled person touches whether it was the priest’s garment, the consecrated meat, bread, stew, wine, oil, or anything else those things become defiled. (Lev.11.28, 22.4-7) So when Haggai asked, “If someone defiled by contact with a corpse touches any of these, does it become defiled?” The priests answered, “It becomes defiled. (2.13)
Understanding the Questions and Answers
Ok then the conclusion of the matter is that a holy thing cannot transmit holiness but a defiled thing can transmit defilement. I want to make sure you understand the two questions and the answers. Many Christian are not familiar with Old Testament ceremonial law. So allow me to use an illustration to help you understand by asking you a couple of questions. I’m going to want a verbal response. So be ready. First, can a healthy person transmit health to another person? And the congregation answers, “No.” Correct, a healthy person cannot transmit health.
Ok so far so good. So allow me to ask you another question. Can a sick person transmit sickness? Or to make the question very 2020, can a person with COVID transmit COVID? And the congregation answers, “Yes.” Correct, a diseased person can transmit disease. Notice the answers to my questions are the same answers the priests had in Haggai’s day. A holy thing cannot transmit holiness but a defiled thing can transmit defilement. Just like a healthy person cannot transmit health but a diseased person can transmit disease. Got it? Good!
Making the Spiritual Point
As I said before the priest’s answers would not have shocked anyone in Haggai’s audience. Why because everyone knew the answers. But what would have been shocking is what the Lord says next through the Prophet. Then Haggai replied, “So is this people, and so is this nation before Me”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “And so is every work of their hands; even what they offer there is defiled. (Hag.2.14) What?! The Lord is applying these two questions directly to Haggai’s audience about their current spiritual condition. The Lord is telling the people and the priests that they are defiled. And since they are defiled every work of their hands; even what they offer there is defiled.
The real question is what has caused the people and the priest to become defiled.
Remember these are the ones who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. They left the comforts of Babylon to return to a land decimated and destroyed. Yes, they had their ups and downs but now they were experiencing some success with the rebuilding project. The Temple was being rebuilt and sacrifices were being offer.
But then the Lord tells them that He considers them to be defiled and that every work of their hands and even what they offer as defiled. Why? What have they done?
I first want you to notice that the Lord calls them “this people” instead of “My people” and “this nation” instead of “a holy nation.” (2Chron.7.17; Ex.19.6) The people have done something to cause them to fall out of the special relationship the Lord desires to have with them. The Lord is using the questions as a riddle. The people believe that being around holy stuff like the Temple and the sacrifices caused to them be holy. But in reality these way of thinking had caused them to be defiled in the Lord’s eyes and therefore everything they touched became defiled.
This people assumed that because they were offering sacrifices to God upon the altar that this outward action would make them holy, secure God’s divine protection, and receive the blessings of God. But remember a consecrated thing CANNOT transmit holiness, protection, or a blessing. But the people had grown to believe that offering sacrifices to the Lord (the holy thing) would transmit holiness to them. And the Lord is reminding them that a holy thing CANNOT transmit holiness.
The sacrifices were to be offer unto the Lord as an act of gratitude for His grace not to get something from God. The sacrifices were only signs and symbols pointing to the Christ to come and did not have any power of holiness in them. The only One who can make a person holy is the One for whom the sign and symbol pointed to, Jesus Christ. This people assumed that because they were working on God’s holy Temple they would automatically become holy themselves. Remember how I told you the last two weeks that the temple and everything in it were signs and symbols appointed by God that pointed to redemptive fulfillment through His Messiah, Jesus Christ. Remember how I told you that every part of the Temple, every piece of furniture, every instrument used by the priesthood, and even the priesthood itself pointed to the finished work of Christ. The Temple and everything in it were signs and symbols that God would send His Messiah to fulfill the redemptive plan of God. But the problem with this people was that they were placing their faith in the sign, symbols, and sacrifices instead of what the sign, symbol, and sacrifice represented. Brothers and sisters, to place faith in a sign, symbol, or sacrifice is nothing more than idol worship, even if God Himself prescribes it, and this is what defiled this people. Brothers and sisters, observing religious rituals, even religious rituals ordained by God, does not make a person holy. What made this people defiled is that they placed their faith in a thing and in actions instead placing their faith in actions of the One who would come, Jesus Christ. To use New Testament language this people believed in a works based righteousness.
This people were wrong to think that offering sacrifices or building the Temple would make them holy in the sight of God. No religious act will make a person right with God. King David understood this when he said to God, “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Ps.51.16-17) David understood that the heart of the worshipper was more important than the act of worship and that God is not pleased with any act of worship that doesn’t come from a broken and contrite heart. Again David said to the Lord, “Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired … Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required. I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.” (Ps.40.6, 8) David is declaring that a true worship is not bringing a sacrifice, or meal offering, or burnt offering, or sin offering. True worship begins with a sincere desire to do the will of God. True worship begins with God’s Word being written on our hearts.
Samuel the Prophet told Saul, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. (I Sam.15.22) The Prophet Samuel is explaining that a heart of obedience is better that any religious act. And Christ Himself quoted the Prophet Hosea two times during His earthly ministry saying, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6.6; Mt.9.13, 12.7) You see a burnt offering that was offered in faith in the Christ to come was a pleasing aroma to the Lord. But a burnt offering offered because of a religious ritual stunk in the nostrils of God. And let me say that the people in Haggai’s day were stinking the place up.
Instead of faith in the Christ to come the people were functioning out of religious ritual, which caused the work of their hands and what they were offering to be defiled towards God. Every work of their hands; even what they offer there is defiled. (Hag.2.14b) The Lord said that not me. Therefore every stone they were going to set in the walls of the Temple would be defiled because their hearts were dead towards God. Every bit of mortar they would slap between the stones was defiled in the eyes of the Lord. They might had been honoring the Lord with their lips but their hearts were far away from Him. (Is.29.13; Mt.15.8) Every sacrifice they offer was defiled because their hearts were not honoring to God. They were defiled and therefore they were transmitting defilement to everything they touched.
With the truth being told about their spiritual deadness, the Lord calls the people to reflect back to the days before they started working of the temple. “Now, reflect back from this day: Before one stone was placed on another in the Lord’s temple, what state were you in? When someone came to a grain heap of 20 measures, it only amounted to 10; when one came to the winepress to dip 50 measures from the vat, it only amounted to 20. I struck you—all the work of your hands—with blight, mildew, and hail, but you didn’t turn to Me”—this is the Lord’s declaration. (Hag.2.15-17) The Lord reminds them that their previous spiritual apathy had eventually brought the Lord’s discipline upon them. (Hag.1.2, 9-11) Remember in Haggai’s first prophecy of how the people’s spiritual apathy had resulted in the Lord’s bringing a drought that caused a financial hardship to come upon them. So the Lord is asking them, “Is this what you want to do back to?”
Turn to Me
If not, “turn to Me – this is the Lord’s declaration.” Turn away from these dead works and turn to Me. The Prophet Zechariah, Haggai’s contemporary, was also calling this people to repentance saying, “Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.” (Zech.1.4) If you and I had the opportunity to observed this people we would probably conclude that they we really were good people. They didn’t worship foreign gods. On the most part they weren’t immoral. They didn’t attack other nations.
But the call of God from His prophets was to “turn to Me, turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.” Brothers and sisters, this is how the Lord looks upon a person doing goods works thinking that you are going to receive forgiveness and a right standing with God. The Lord looks at doing good works as an attempt to gain God’s favor as evil ways and evil practices. Why does God speak so harshly? Because thinking you can earn God’s favor by doing good works robs God from the glory He receives through the merit of His Son, Jesus Christ. If man can earn favor from God by offering a sacrifice or building a special sanctuary then Jesus die for nothing. And this runs contrary to the Gospel. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph.2.8-9)
The sin that caused this people to become defiled was a works based righteousness that was devoid of the glory of God through Christ. That’s how scary works based righteousness is, you can look good on the outside and be dead and defiled on the inside. This reminds me of what Jesus told the Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Mt.23.27-28)
Therefore the Lord declares through Haggai, “Consider carefully from this day forward; from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid; consider it carefully.” (Hag.2.18) Therefore the Lord declares, “Consider carefully your ways!” Examine your heart! And don’t just examine your heart today but examine your heart from this day forward. From this day forward consider carefully what you are placing your faith in. Consider if you are placing faith in some act of religious ritual or are you placing faith in the coming of Christ. From this day forward consider carefully if you are trusting in the type or do you have faith in what the type represents. I am asking each of us to respond to the Lord’s call today and consider carefully if you have placed you faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ or have you place your faith in cultural Christianity, a Christianity that holds to the form of godliness but denies the power of Christ. (2Tim.3.5)
An Agricultural Analogy
Following Haggai call to turn to God in true faith and to consider their ways carefully it seems the people responded with repentance. The Lord concludes Haggai’s third prophecy by using an agricultural analogy to call them to be genuine people of faith. The Lords asks, “Is there still seed left in the granary? The vine, the fig, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yet produced. But from this day on I will bless you.” (Hag.2.19)
The Lord knew the reason they trusted in the Temple and the sacrifices rather than the coming Christ was because they lacked genuine faith. It was easier for them to trust in what they could see, the Temple and the sacrifices, than trusting in what they could not see the coming of Christ. However, genuine faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb.11.1-2, 39-40)
So the Lord asks, “Is seed left in the barn?” The people respond, “No.” “Where is it?” “We planted it in the ground.” “Why did you plant it in the ground?” “So we would have a great harvest.” Then the Lord asks, “Has the vine, the fig, the pomegranate, or the olive tree produced yet?” The people respond, “No.” “Why?” “Because it is wintertime and the trees will not produce fruit until spring.” The Lord is uses these agricultural analogies to show the people that they have the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen when it comes to planting seeds and waiting for the fruit trees to bear fruit. So why don’t they have faith in the assurance that Christ will come?
The Lord is using an agricultural analogy to make the point that He will bless those who have genuine faith in the One to come. The Lord is telling this people that He has planted the seed of the His redemptive purposes in the ground and it will eventually produce a great a harvest. The Lord is telling this people that He has planted His trees of righteousness and they will eventually bear the fruit of righteousness through the coming of Christ. The Lord is telling this people that He is not slow about fulfilling His promise as some count slowness. (2 Pt.3.9) The Lord is telling this people that in His time the One who is greater than the Temple will come. The Lord is telling this people the One who the signs, symbols, and sacrifices represents will come. The Lord is telling this people that even though they might not see it now, the Lord has placed the seeds of redemption in the ground and it will produce a plentiful harvest that it will include people from every tribe, people, and tongue. (Rev.5.9) The Lord is telling this people that He has planted trees of righteousness that will produce fruit at His appointed time. The Lord is telling this people that they need to have genuine faith from this day forward. The Lord is telling this people that starting on the eighteen day of December 540 BC and onwards He will bless them saying, “I will bless you.”
This is a promise totally unmerited. This is God’s grace! And He will bless us today! Let’s turn to the Lord today. Let’s consider carefully if we have place our faith in the finished work of Christ.
As we consider Haggai’s third prophecy let’s remember that the Lord knows our hearts. The Lord does not want us to honor Him with religious actions. He desire for us the honor Him from the heart not out of religious duty.
I will conclude with a portion from Psalm 24. Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. They will receive blessing from the Lord and from God their Savior and righteousness from the God of their salvation. (Ps.24.3-5)
Brothers and sisters the Lord has planted the seed of the Gospel in our hearts and we should expect a great harvest of His grace in our lives. The Lord has planted His righteousness in our hearts so we should expect to bear forth fruit. The Lord desires to bless us so let’s be the people that honor Him from the heart!