So, the setting of Haggai is this... the first waves of Israelites has returned to Jesualem from exile in Babylon. They began to rebuild the temple as a first priority but then gave up and stopped the work. Instead, they rebuilt homes for themselves... these are the "paneled houses" referred to in v. 4. So, Israel is re-establishing their life in Jerusalem, getting comfortable again, while the temple lies in ruins. What this is represents is Israel's willingness to rebuild their lives and reroot themselves with their worship of God as an afterthought. They feel the pinch of getting themselves in order, and they presume to do so without having hte hearts and their worship rightly ordered. And into that space Haggai is speaking.
And v. 5 and 7 give this exhortation to them, and I believe, to us. "Consider your ways," says the Lord. The first admonition is followed by a description of the futility of life without God at the center. This is such a pertinent word for us in the 21st-Century American church.
All of our hard work and dogged determination and economic investment and advancement; all of our fun and entertainment, our indulgence, opulence and satisfying of earthly appetites; all our dieting and exercise and obsession with health and insulate ourselves from exposure to hardship; all of our saving and accumulating of wealth; and yet we're depressed, anxious, lonely, fragmented and joyless. And into that space Haggai still speaks the word of the Lord, "CONSIDER YOUR WAYS."
God will not honor a people bearing his name but ignoring his glory. He will not bless a people openly identified with him who are not truly worshipping him. God declared then what remains true now... that he will not give himself to fleshly efforts to engineer earthly pleasures for the sake of personal gratification. This is so convicting as a Christian, and particularly as a pastor, that we can go about the Lord's work, as Israel was in some sense, returning to reclaim and resettle Jerusalem and rebuild the temple on their non-urgent time table. God does not smile on that.
We tend to think in the binary categories of doing the Lord's work and doing the work of the enemy... but Scripture breaks the first category into 2 categories... doing the Lord's work in an earthly or fleshly way, or doing the Lord's work in the Lord's way... and doing the Lord's work in a fleshly way is really a counterfeit version of the Lord's work... and what it really is, is a well masked way of doing the enemy's work. And that's why God calls them and us to "CONSIDER OUR WAYS."
It's dsitinctly possible to do the Lord's work in a way that dishonors him. We must do the Lord's work in the Lord's way. And the scariest thing in the world is that their are churches, and we could all fall into this at any point in the life of our church... but the scariest thing is that we could become a church that does what appears to be the Lord's work, with all the appearances of success and blessing from the Lord, and yet actually be leading people toward a sub-Christian, anti-Christian way of life that is wholly dependent on human effort and human wisdom and human strategies and human production. Beloved, we can build churches that Jesus wants no affiliation with whatsoever and which he will withhold himself from decidedly.
That's what Israel was facing in the late 6th century B.C. But praise God, the prophetic word of Haggai provoke Zerubbabel and Joshua, the governer and the priest, and through their leadership, the people were stirred in their hearts and returned to the Lord, and to His work in His way. They trusted the Lord and became consumed with obedience to Him and they enjoyed, v. 13 tells us, the power and peace that comes with the presence of God. This is the stuff of revival that we should all long for in our own generation... where the word of God is preached accurately, boldly, courageously, and then that word is responded to with conviction, repentance, faith, obedience and urgency, on a large scale. That's revival. When the Spirit of God brings a people low, and moves them out in radical obedience and submission and humility to do whatever the Lord calls them to with all their hearts.
Oh that he might do this in our generation... and perhaps even among us at Generations.
I love how the Lord's presence with Zerubbabel and Joshua and all the people doesn't free them from having to work... his presence and power compels them to work and energizes them for the work. Our efforts will always be insufficient to accomplish God's work. But God's work doesn't advance apart from our efforts. His work generates and sustains our efforts. God didn't just heap the stones back on themselves and reconstruct the temple magically. He supernaturally motivated, galvanized and made effective the work of the people to see the job through with urgency. And it was God's work, in them and through them.
And while they may have been aiming at a rebuild of an old building, God was imagining and moving them toward something greater, something new that surpassed the former temple. God was doing a new work in Israel even as he is always seeking to do a new work in our own hearts and lives. The glory of the new temple would go far beyond the glory of the former temple. And this is true in the physical sense, but also in the messianic sense. Haggai is pointing not just to physical place of worship and the beauty which it would display, but he's also pointing beyond the temple, to Jesus, who would be revealed as and who remains the focal point of all true worship. It's the beauty and glory of Christ to which the beauty and glory of the temple was pointing.
And it's in their obedience to turn their focus toward the temple, and to set their shared lives on the only firm foundation of God's promises and God's presence which the temple represented, that they receive forgiveness and healing and a new beginning. So it is with us... that it's in turning to Jesus, the one who brought God's presence near and fulfilled God's promises completely, that we find our new beginning. God's grace is pleased to wash over and remake and rebuild all those who give themselves to his word and his ways, with a humble heart.
Going back to yesterday... CONSIDER YOUR WAYS... this is the Christian life in a very short summary phrase... it's the willingness to continually lay our lives before the Lord and consider our ways before him, surrendered to what he shows us by his word, that we might walk in the obedience of repentance and faith an urgent pursuit of the newness of life that he leads us into.
Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai. In the introduction we see that his initial prophecy takes place in the midst of God's people rebuilding the temple. Haggai was really focused on the rebuilding of the temple as the place of worship for the Jews, while Zechariah is more focused on the their worship itself, and their return to the Lord. The first half of the book has a series of prophetic dreams or visions which Zechariah receives from the Lord, with some sort of bizarre images that may not seem important for us today, in the application sense. But there is some structure to them as we'll see along the way, and the book as a whole, is instructive for us even today.
v. 1-6 are just an introduction to the book which are a warning to the Jewish exiles who have returned to Jerusalem and are rebuilding the temple. The thrust of this warning is not to fall back into the pattern and cycle of behavior which their fathers did. God faithfully sent prophets to every generation of Israel and Judah, but their fathers would not listen and they hardened their hearts. So Zechariah is pleading with them not to follow in those footsteps, but to listen to the word of the Lord and obey, understanding that the exile from which they had returned was the result of past disobedience.
Then there are the first 2 visions which Zechariah receives...
First, there are these four horses, one of them with an angelic rider who speaks with Zechariah. And these horses represent God's watchfulness over the nations as they are said to have been patrolling the earth on God's behalf. And they are declaring that the earth is at rest, and the angel when the Lord will have mercy on Jerusalem... and the Lord responds that the 70 years of exile, which had been prophecied by Jeremiah, was coming ot an end. God reassured the angel of his love and zeal for Jerusalem, and that he was coming again in mercy to his people. While he was angry with Israel over her injustice, his anger with the Babylon exceeded his anger with Israel because their oppression exceeded hers. God is raising up Persia to deal with Babylon and God promises that Jerusalem will again prosper and enjoy the favor of the Lord.
The second vision is about 4 horns which represent the nations that had scattered Israel... namely Assyria and Babylon. But then these horns are themselves scattered by four craftsman, or blacksmiths, which represent Persia.
These visions and this chapter do not resolve anything. What they do however is serve as a reminder that God does not forsake his people or forget his promises. He deals justly with his people but he also remembers his covenant. God is giving Zechariah these little windows into what's coming, reassuring him and Israel that he is still in control, and his promises of a new kingdom and a messianic king remain intact. Despite the 70 years of exile and the helplessness Israel feels, God is overseeing the events of history and governing over the nations of the earth and the affairs of men to make sure that his plans and promises do not fail.
We are being reminded in Zechariah that God is never distant or far off. He did not create the world and then step back to watch things unfold. Neither does God occasionally get involved in the affairs of men to move things in a certain direction or to supernaturally intervene. God is always near, always watching and always active, moving around us and among us to advance his purposes. The biblical view of the world, and one which Zechariah reinforces clearly, is that there is an invisible reality running parallel to the visible reality we perceive. It's not that God sometimes gets involved in visible ways, it's that God is always involved and sometimes that becomes more visible.
The ultimate reality is the invisible one which we too often ignore or dismiss, but God is sovereignly engaged with the world and the events of our lives, both at the personal level as well as the national and international and even global level. Zechariah, if we'll let him, is enlarging our understanding of our God and helping us to more accurately see the world and our lives... let's pay attention.
The third vision of Zechariah is of a man measuring the city of Jerusalem. God presents this image to picture the rebuilding of the city and gathering his scattered people back to himself where the Lord himself will dwell among them and give them peace. The vision includes the many nations over the face of the earth also joining themselves to the Lord and to His people.
God is communicating to and through Zechariah his unwavering commitment to his promises to guard his people and to gather the nations to himself... to bless Israel and through them to bless all the nations of the earth. God is telling his people that his plans and intentions are unchanged. He will see the work of salvation through to it's completion. He will not let their enemies or even their own sin and rebellion undermine his plans or overrun his promises.
God is at work in the mess of their lives and in the chaos and confusion they find themselves in. He has not forgotten them nor has he forgotten his promises. And though no timeline is given, a reason to hope and hold fast is given... because God is ruling over the earth, and moving history toward it's climax and conclusion. Neither the earthly forces that threaten Israel and us, nor the internal forces which cause unrest in us, are strong enough to stand against God's resolve to bring salvation and renewal by the predetermined means he established.
Again, Zechariah and prophets are enlarging our view of God and giving us a more opened and accurate awareness of God's active involvement in the world and in our lives and the scale of God's sovereignty over all things. We need to see our lives as a small but significant reality, embedded in the larger reality of God's redemptive narrative unfolding in seen as well as unseen ways. We must nurture a mindfulness that God is powerfully at work in the global events of our time as well as personally involved even in the seemingly trivial things of our lives. And he's moving all those things and everything in between toward the grand end of his glory and grace made visible.
This 4th vision is a little easier to understand and interpret than some of the earlier ones. Joshua the High Priest is set before Zechariah wearing filthy garments while Satan himself accused him before God. The High Priest was a representative of the people of Israel. In this vision, his filthy priestly garments represent the guilt of Israel which Satan is prosecuting before the Lord.
Their sin and guilt are real. The enemies accusations are completely legitimate. But nonetheless, God rebukes and silences Satan, and raffirms that he has chosen Israel for himself, and that he would take away her guilt, and replace her filthy clothes with pure garments. Though they stood unworthy in God's presence, hew ould make them worthy.
And then the angel of the Lord tells Joshua that if he will keep his heart and ways pure before the Lord, God would make him and the priests of his day a sort of symbol of the coming messianic King. And pointing toward that messianic King, the angel anticipates a future day, when God's servant will come and remove the stain of sin on his people in a single day, and bring them forever under his protection.
The gospel is being preached here to and through Zechariah... Jesus, is the Branch, and he is the one who will remove the guilt of God's people in a single day, and bring them under us covering... he will give us shade from the heat bring refreshing to our souls. Zechariah is inviting Israel into something of that future reality in his own day. God was going to do among them something beautiful, restorative, and salvific, that would imperfectly but visibly reassure them of their coming redemption. And it's that redemption that we live in the midst of because of Christ's finished work...
Our union with Christ is what takes away our guilt and shame and gives us the refreshing that our suffocating and depleted souls need and long for. By hiding ourselves in him and under his branch, our wearied and withered hearts find shade and are reinvogorated and replenished.