SHAKING KINGDOMS (Haggai 2:20-23)
Haggai’s forth message comes on the same day as his third. This time the message is directed at Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah. It’s not only important for a prophet to hear messages from God, it’s also important for him to know who those messages are for... All the people needed to hear from God, but as a leader Zerubbabel especially did. He needed the encouragement found in these verses. Zerubbabel lived in difficult & dangerous times. The work had not been going well. The people had been discouraged. The building of the city walls had not even begun; therefore anyone could invade the city before the temple was complete. There were a lot of uncertainties & God’s people were vulnerable. As governor Zerubbabel carried the burden of responsibility more than anyone. This message is given primarily to encourage, strengthen & assure him.
V 20-22 “The word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother.”
GOD WILL SHAKE EVERYTHING
Zerubbabel was the grandson of King Jehoiachin, and therefore of the royal line of David. But instead of wearing a crown & sitting on a throne like many of his ancestors Zerubbabel was the humble governor of a struggling remnant, trying to complete the building of a seemingly inglorious temple. This was potentially a discouraging situation for a royal prince to be in! He could have complained about having a tougher lot than his predecessors, or thought that he deserved better, but instead he obeyed the word of God. So God gave him a special word of encouragement through the mouth of Haggai. While the nations around Jerusalem seemed larger & stronger he could rest assured that the Lord would care for his people as he always has.
The imagery of this final message is that of shaking kingdoms. The kingdoms around Zerubbabel may have looked strong & powerful but none of them were built to last. This was proven true. All the great empires that surrounded Israel in Bible times have fallen. This is also a reminder to us that only the kingdom of God is built to last forever. History has been full of kingdoms rising & falling. Even in more recent history we have seen empires rise & fall. Think of the British Empire... & the Soviet Union... The truth is every empire in this world has an expiry date apart from the kingdom of God. Much of what appears strong today will be gone tomorrow. In fact even at present we can see powerful (& not so powerful) nations shaking under economic pressure. In the face of this we should encourage ourselves that we are part of a kingdom that cannot be shaken. This is why it makes absolute sense to abandon our lives to building the kingdom of God in spite of the difficult it seems to bring at times. Everything else will eventually fall.
Empires can be as small as oneself or big enough to span the globe. So the main thing we need to grasp is the pointlessness of investing one’s life in something that will inevitably fall. When something is built on human personality or human strength & glory or anything other than the Word of God it is destined to expire. Jesus said in Matt 24:35; “Heaven & earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Isaiah 40:8 says; “The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
These verses in Haggai talk of God shaking the heavens and the earth & overthrowing human kingdoms. We need to make sure we are building on that which does not pass away. This is the second occasion Haggai has used this image of shaking nations in this chapter. Verses 6-8 talk of him shaking the nations & then here in this final message God brings up this idea of shaking again. The phrase heaven & earth highlights the fact that everything will be shaken. The writer of Hebrews uses this imagery of Haggai to refer to the end times. This helps highlight that there was an immediate & future application to these verses. Listen to what it says in Hebrews 12:25-29:
“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
So this shaking is to ensure that nothing but the kingdom of God remains. It’s part of the necessary preparation for the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom on earth so he can reign as King without any rival kingdoms. These verses warn us to be ready for this coming reality. They also encourage us to be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken & to respond with appropriate worship. Then the section finishes with a reminder that our God is a consuming fire in that he will burn up everything that is not part of his eternal kingdom. The images of shaking & fire essentially say the same thing...
In First Corinthians chapter three we find Paul addressing one of the issues in the Corinthian church. The particular issue arose because people were beginning to follow different personalities. Some preferred Apollos, some Peter & some Paul. So the potential was there for little rival kingdoms, built on the personality of good men, to develop within the kingdom of God. However Paul being a godly man refused to let this happen. He basically said that without God none of them were anything, for only he can bring growth & increase. Paul then shifted the analogy from a field to a building site, which is more in line with where we’re at in Haggai. Listen to what he says in verses 10-16;
“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
GOD’S UNSHAKABLE KINGDOM
The verses in 1 Corinthians make sure we understand there is only one eternal foundation—the person & work of Christ. There is no other foundation we should be found building on & we can only build with others who build on this same foundation. These verses also highlight that we need to make sure we are building with the right materials. These materials include right motives & they also challenge us to make sure we get the right materials from God’s eternal warehouse rather than the warehouses of this world, which is passing away in its current form. The verses also note that it’s not how much work we do that matters but what sort of work. They also highlight how there are promised rewards for seeking first the kingdom of God. So it’s not a case of us firing on ahead & building what we like. It’s a case of us building carefully under the direction of the Word & Spirit of God – this is the only way we can genuinely partner with God in building his unshakable kingdom.
Psalm 127:1-2 says: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that your rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
In this Psalm we see how God is the builder but that he also includes his people in the building work. We also see he is the one watching over the city, remember the walls of the city were not built in Haggai’s day so this particular Psalm would have been very comforting. In fact Zechariah paints an even more powerful picture of God being their protection. Zech 2:5 says; “And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the LORD, and I will be the glory in her midst.” This Psalm also seems to imply that if we need to miss a lot of sleep to build what we’re building, then we’re probably not building the kingdom of God. “For he gives to his beloved sleep” it says. The kingdom of God is not a kingdom built on anxious toil, it is a kingdom built on confident hope!
Let’s remember one more thing before we move on to the last verses of Haggai. Let’s not forget that what Zerubabbel & the people were building seemed like nothing compared to what it once was, it also seemed as nothing compared with the other kingdoms round about them. These kingdoms looked powerful & mighty but in reality they were but a few years away from falling. Sometimes we can be tempted to look at what we’re building & then look at other things being built in the world & think: “What is the church compared to this or that.” But remember, many of the things that appear strong today will be gone tomorrow. Things are often not as they seem! A. W. Tozer said; “We must meet the uncertainties of this world with the certainty of the world to come.”
We are part of the only kingdom that endures forever! Every other kingdom is passing away but the kingdom of God is still coming... It’s has already come in part but one day the King will return & on that Day we will fully see just how enduring & powerful his kingdom is. Until then we walk by faith & not by sight. Until then we cling to his promises with the hands of faith & confident hope. All the kingdoms of this world are shaking but the Kingdom we belong to is resting firmly on the sure promises of God.
Haggai continues “On that day, declares the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the LORD, & make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the LORD of hosts.”
GOD’S SIGNET RING
The signet ring was a stone carved with the symbol of the person in power. It was used by pressing into clay tablets to authenticate what was written on them. That is, it was much like a signature today. The signet was precious so it was kept on the ruler’s finger or on a cord around his neck so that. Though the nations & even heaven & earth should be shaken, Zerubbabel would remain safe on God’s hand. He would be kept secure until God has done all the things spoken about.
In these verses Zerubbabel is also called “my servant”, an exclusive title reserved for specially chosen people, & he was indeed chosen by God. His ancestor, Jehoiachin, had been rejected by God, but he was chosen. God was reversing the judgement & renewing his promise that the Davidic line would not die out, but would one day give the world a Saviour. That is why we find Zerubbabel named in the genealogies of Jesus (Matt 1:12; Luke 3:27”). He was near & dear to God & his family would continue until the Messiah came from it. Jesus of course is the ultimate signet on God’s right hand. For by him the reality of the unshakable kingdom of God was signed & approved once & for all! In him all the promises of God are yes & amen.
This message would have encouraged Zerubbabel to stay on the job & finish the work God gave him to do. He was special to God, chosen by God, the servant of God! He was as near & dear to God as a king’s signet ring & he was also part of something big & significant. These are things he needs to know, these are things we all need to know!
This is true for each one of us. We are all special to God & he wants to use our lives to stamp his mark on this world so that his unshakable purposes are accomplished in & through us. As you read the OT, you see how the history of salvation unfolds from age to age, always moving towards the fulfilment of the messianic promise. Many people played different roles in the story, but each of them was important. Abraham founded the nation, Isaac & Jacob built it. Joseph protected it & Moses redeemed it. Joshua gave them their promised land & David established the kingdom. In spite of sin, suffering, difficulty & failures, the Davidic line never ceased, & the day came when Jesus, the Son of David, was born to save his people & the world. We remember the ‘big names’ of the salvation story... but how often do we think of Zurubbabel? His story is a humble but very important part of God’s bigger story which he played faithfully as our OT record, which is all God asks of any of us...
Donald Miller says: “Every day you live is a page. Every year a chapter. Your life a book. What is it about?” Is the story of our lives about playing our part in building God’s unshakable kingdom? Or is it a story of trying to build a kingdom for ourselves? What is it honestly about? Are we living for what will be shaken to pieces, or are we living for what is unshakable?