Haggai – Encouragement and Caution

“’Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work.  For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt.  And my Spirit remains among you.  Do not fear.’” (Haggai 2:4-5)

The prophet Haggai had been sent to the people of Israel to stir them up into action.  They had been delivered from exile and returned to their homeland, only to look first to their own affairs rather than trusting God and honoring Him by rebuilding the temple.  Their fear kept them from following His Word – fear that He would not provide for their needs.  Also, they became complacent; satisfied with themselves because they figured that by simply inhabiting the Holy Land once more they themselves were now holy.

First of all, God reminds these people through Haggai that nothing can succeed without His blessing, and nothing can fail with His support.  No matter how hard they worked the land, it would never produce in abundance if God Himself did not provide the harvest.  God had kept the land from being bountiful because the Israelites needed to understand that success in anything starts with God alone.  So He told them, “Work! – do those things that will serve and honor Me, and don’t worry about having ‘enough’ of everything else!”

This word of encouragement is true enough for us today.  As we worry about the economy and fret over personal finances, retirement funds, and a well-stocked pantry, God’s work is pursued half-heartedly at best.  We say, “I’d love to give more, but I need to take care of myself and my own family first.”  God says, “Let Me worry about the future, and you do what is needed today.”  We say, “I’d give more time to God’s service if my life weren’t so busy.”  God says, “Put away these foolish idols and live abundantly by walking with Me daily.”  We don’t have to fret over the future and fear for our well-being, because “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

Along with this encouragement, Haggai brought a message of warning to the Israelites:  Living in the Holy Land does not in itself make you holy.  Holiness requires faith in the mercy of God to forgive and redeem, purchased through the sacrifice of innocent blood.  While “uncleanness” spreads easily from one vessel to another through contact, holiness does not; it requires direct contact with the sacrifice itself.

As Christians gradually become more and more worldly, we have a tendency to think we are made holy by our membership in a certain church or by our attendance record at worship.  We somehow believe that our relationships with the ungodly are a great service – that our own “holiness” rubs off on them.  We think, “I’ll change them; I’ll show them how they ought to live.”  The truth is, our own holiness comes not from anything we ourselves are or do, but only from the Sacrifice – the One Sacrifice for the sin of the world, Jesus Christ.  The holiness we have is a garment from Him, and it will not rub off on others simply by rubbing elbows with them.  They need direct contact with the Sacrifice – they need to know Jesus.  If this is not the crux of our interaction with them, chances are more likely that their “unclean” thoughts, words, and deeds will simply infect our own lives.

As we set to doing the Lord’s work first and foremost – telling the world about what He has done for us in Jesus Christ – we will reap a greater harvest than ever before.  We will sow peace, hope, and love, and gather more joy, more goodness, and more earthly and eternal blessings than we would have ever thought this dusty land could produce.  Rather than emptying ourselves into a defiled world and becoming infected with sin, we will bring anything unclean into the presence of God’s Atoning Sacrifice where it can be made pure and holy.  God’s Spirit is with us yet today; He will give us the courage and strength to do this.

“’Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’” (Malachi 3:10)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank You for blessing me with wealth enough to meet all my bodily needs and much, much more – help me to use it to further Your kingdom and tend to Your sheep.  I thank You for blessing me with an able mind and body, with health and well-being – help me to use my life in service to You and to my neighbors.  I thank You most of all for the blessing of righteousness and holiness through the atoning sacrifice of Your Son – help me to bring everyone I meet into contact with Him, that they too may be made pure and holy through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.