FROM THIS DAY ON (Haggai 2:10-19)
It’s been almost three months since the people begun work on the temple again. Around this time they would have been hoping for the early rains, but as yet things didn’t seem much better than previous years. It’s at this time that God gives Haggai a third message for the people to encourage them to keep going. Fresh messages from God are vital for keeping the hearts of God’s people right & their minds on the task... The message is not talking so much about the state the people were currently in; but the state they had been in before the work on the temple resumed. So the intention is to highlight that blessing follows true repentance & lasting obedience just as a lack of such things withholds blessing.
God wants to teach the people that keeping their hearts right is as important as getting their hearts right in the first place. In other words it’s not enough to respond positively to God momentarily & then slip back into old ways. That’s not real repentance. Momentary obedience is not really obedience at all. Our response needs to last if we are to see God’s blessing realised in our lives. This is why Scripture encourages us with words like. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). Living for oneself will always ultimately be in vain, but living for God is never in vain. “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised (Heb 10:35-36). “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains (Jam 5:7). From these verses we gather that the obedience we are called to as God’s people is a steadfast, immovable, abounding, confident, enduring, finishing & patient obedience. This is the kind of obedience that releases the blessing of God.
V 11-13 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it before holy?” The priests answers and said, “No.” Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.”
This third message is primarily a message about holiness as well as the importance of true repentance. It’s a message about how to become & remain holy; about what holiness is & why it brings blessing. The verses we just read highlight how something becomes holy in contrast to how something becomes unclean. This in turn helps us to understand how important it is for God’s people to walk in holiness. The basic meaning of holiness is to be set apart for God. In this sense the temple & everything in it was holy to the Lord. Tim Keller says; “To be holy is to wholly belong to God.” This is how we should view ourselves as Christians, as people who wholly belong to God. 1 Cor. 6:19-20 says; “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God. You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” So we are temples of the Holy Spirit! We have been set apart for the glory of God by the precious blood of Jesus! This means we wholly belong to God.
In the message God tells Haggai to ask the priests two questions regarding the law. The priests were experts regarding the details of the law. When an animal was presented on the OT Altar as a sacrifice, the meat was considered holy; that is, it belonged to God & was set apart to be used according to his will (Lev. 6:8-7:38). This is the context to the first question. So the priests are asked; “If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy.” The answer of course was “No”. The holy meat only made the garment in direct contact with it holy, but the garment itself could not transfer that holiness on to other things. Holiness could only come from direct contact with what was holy.
As NT believers we see all the OT sacrifices as signposts pointing to the true once & for all sacrifice for sin. Jesus of course being that sacrifice! This means there’s an important point of application for us here: Having contact with someone (or something) that has been in contact with Jesus does not make us holy. Holiness cannot be transferred this way. Only some kind of firsthand contact with Christ can make us holy.
Let me illustrate this principle from another angle using a story from the gospels. In Matthew 8:1-4 we read the story of a leper coming to Jesus. According to the law lepers were unclean & whatever they touched they contaminated. For this reason they had to go around shouting “unclean, unclean” wherever they went... The leper in the story however came to Jesus, the only one who is perfectly holy. When Jesus touched the leper immediately the man became clean of leprosy. It was when Jesus, the holy one, touched him that he became clean. Now let me ask a question: Did the leper then have the power to go & make other lepers clean by simple physical contact? No, the only hope for his leper friends was for him to lead them to the same holy Son of God who touched his life! It’s the same for all of us, the only way we can be cleansed from our sins & made holy for God is if we come to Jesus ourselves & let him touch our lives directly. Today Jesus does this by putting his Holy Spirit within people...
This story also helps lead us on to the second question asked to the priests. “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” Again under the law if a person touched a dead body they became unclean, then anything they touched became unclean. Unlike holiness sin is contagious like a disease; it can be transmitted from one person to another. Think about this, we can catch a cold or flu off each other quite easily, but we don’t catch health each other, do we? It’s similar with sin & holiness. Sin makes holy things unclean like flu’s make healthy people sick, but holiness cannot be transmitted as easily. This is what God wants his people to understand. So he continues... V14 “Then Haggai answered and said, “So it is with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the LORD, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean.”
The reason God brought this whole thing up was to make this point: The people working on the temple could not impart any holiness to it, but they could defile it by their sins. They could defile it if their hearts, attitudes & lives weren’t right. Not only was it important for them to offer the required sacrifices & get on with rebuilding the temple, it was also important that their hearts remained pure & devoted to God. God’s point is that the people’s disobedience & wrong priorities made everything they did unclean. That is how it had been with Israel until they got their priorities right & began working on the temple again. God is highlighting this to them so they do not fall into the same apathy & self-centredness as before. Their wrong priorities had contaminated God’s place & they had to guard their hearts against it happening again. Holiness is important to God!
This is important for us to realise. Holiness is much more than general morality, though it is not less than that. In includes our attitudes, life & priorities. Are our attitudes holy? Are our lives holy? Are our priorities holy? Unholy attitudes & behaviour includes selfish ambition, evil suspicions, self-righteousness, gossip, pride, lust, sexual immorality, un-forgiveness, coveting, idolatry, apathy, bitterness, envy, being judgemental, partiality etc. It’s not just the obviously immoral sins we need to beware off, it’s the whole package. Being judgemental is as unholy as sexual immorality. Selfish ambition is unholy like murder. Think about that. These are all things that can potentially defile the church of God. For Israel it had been their apathy, self-centredness & wrong priorities which had defiled God’s place. What is there it our hearts & lives that might be defiling God’s place? We don’t want to contaminate God’s place with our selfish agendas, bitterness, stubborn mindsets, gossip or evil suspicions...
I was chatting to someone a while back. Their church had just moved into a new building. I was commenting on how great the building was (coveting it a little to be honest). He said to me “Yea it is a great building, problem is you have all the same old attitudes.” As a church we hope to be moving to a new place, but are there attitudes, habits & wrong priorities we need to repent off & get right before we do. Because it’s not a new building that’s going to bring God’s blessing, it’s repentance from wrong attitudes, wrong living & wrong priorities. A new building has no power to change hearts, but repentance towards God does! It’s always been that way! When Solomon dedicated the original temple in 2 Chr. 7 in verses 13-15 it says; “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.” Repentance & obedience guarantee God’s blessing like nothing else. Haggai continues...
V15-19 “Now then consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the LORD, how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the LORD. Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid, consider. Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.”
God wants the people to really consider the fruit of their prior disobedience before releasing his blessing. He knows such a powerful contrast will help keep them motivated & faithful until the temple is complete. So again Haggai calls on the people to think carefully & compare their old situation with the new situation of “from this day on.” While they neglected the temple, their barns & wines vats were only half full. God says “I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me” (17). He tried to get their attention in order to turn their hearts back to him. But the people were stubborn & unresponsive. “Turn to me” is the language of repentance since the basic idea of repentance is returning God... But the people had refused to turn back to God until their hearts were moved by the preaching of God’s word...
Refusing to repent is the worst sin of all, for it eliminates all hope of forgiveness & salvation. However what difference repentance makes! When we turn to God & make him our priority, hope & focus we find all we need in him. This is why repentance is one of the most positive ideas in the Bible. To turn to God is to turn away from lack. To turn to God is to live for something bigger. To turn to God is to stop going down a down dead end route & run into a wide open space of freedom & blessing. Repentance is giving up all our failed attempts in order to know the blessing of God.
God wants to bless us, but often wrong priorities, attitudes & disobedience get in the way. So he withholds his blessing to remind us that life only works fully when he is first in our hearts. He takes no pleasure in holding back blessing, but he will wait until our hearts are turned towards him.
God wants his people to see that true repentance guarantees his blessing. He saw that their repentance was real because of the change in their priorities & actions. They returned to work on the temple. He saw that their response to Haggai’s preaching wasn’t just an emotional moment that didn’t last, but something that genuinely turned their hearts to obey God. Any decision we make in response to God’s Word needs to be followed through with our whole lives, lives lived in repentance & faith towards God... This is challenging, especially in an age when we almost demand instant results. This is why God has assured us of his presence & why he has graciously given us many promises in his word. He knows we need incentives to keep going & there are plenty of them to find if we only turn to his word.
As of yet the people had not seen any visible evidence of God’s blessing, but now that God has seen their repentance is real he promises “from this day on I will bless you.” The main point being that when we genuinely put God first his blessing follows. God almost seems to put out a challenge to the people by encouraging them to consider the difference in the fortunes from this day on. Are we bold enough to accept such a challenge? Sometimes we can be afraid of anything tangible like this, perhaps we don’t really believe God will bless us if we prioritise him & his kingdom. So we retreat into spiritual talk. Someone asks us, “How are things going?” And we reply “God is good, he’s certainly blessing us spiritually,” no one can question that. If we claim to be spiritually blessed who can prove us wrong? (Of course we are spiritually blessed in many ways...)
However what if we reply, “We’ve determined with God’s help to put him & his kingdom first. Therefore we’re counting on him to bless us in obvious, tangible, visible ways as he has promised.” For example we could determine today we are going to let God search our hearts for attitudes, habits & wrong priorities which we are going to repent of so we can truly prioritise God & his kingdom for this day on. And because of this we are expecting God to provide us with a new building for the work of his kingdom because God has promised to bless true repentance. You really put your faith on the line, don’t you? People will be waiting to see what happens. It’s something both you & others can see, & the issue is whether God is real or not, & whether or not he is true to his word.
God is saying to us today; “Consider you way’s, change your priorities & attitudes if you need to & put me to the test. I want you to turn from the way you’ve been living to begin living as a Christian should live. I want you to seek first my kingdom & righteousness & see if ‘all these things will be given to you as well.’ Three months from now, or a year from now, I want you to look back & ask: ‘Am I a God of my word or not? Does Christian faith work or doesn’t it? It is better to live for yourselves or me?”
God isn’t afraid of that kind of test. Are we? He puts the challenge to us directly. But remember it all starts with genuine repentance & loving obedience.