Life is hard, unfair and sometimes overwhelming. Do not be discouraged. Be strong and very brave says the Lord to Joshua before Jericho and the Jordan in flood. [Joshua1] You can do it, even if it looks impossible. God calls us to greater works and impossible tasks. John 14:12:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.
This is the challenge of the Christian life – an adventure in the miraculous. He calls us to overcome the stumbling blocks and rejoice in super-natural solutions with deep, inner joy. Come with me on a journey, way back to the exiles returning home – around 500 BC.
Complete ruin, devastation and overwhelming destruction await the returning exiles. Their pride and joy, the heydays of 24/7 worship in the most spectacular building of the glorious Hebrew nation called Israel under King Solomon, are long forgotten, wiped out by the hardship of slavery and arrogance of the pagan power under whom they served in exile. They return to Jerusalem under the godly inspiration of Darius the Great (522 – 486 BC) around 536 BC. They need to do what it takes to rebuild and restore and they quickly loose courage and inspiration. The task is huge, the enemy active and their own interests become priority.
It is in circumstances like these that God’s Word is suppressed by disinterest, discouragement and dissatisfaction. God reveals Himself through His prophet that comes with prophetic encouragement for short and long-term solutions.
The nations of the ancient world had a very pronounced idea of God and gods. The pagan nations worshiped many gods, but strongly believed that they were all territory bound to an exact measure of earth. Many wars were fought to gain territory for a god. The people of Judah and Israel [the two kingdoms that contained the people of Israel after Solomon] also clung to this heathen deception about their God. They cursed the day that Ahab, the king of Israel, built a temple for Baal worship in Israel to please his Phoenician bride Jezebel. They believed he “imported” Baal into Israel.
Many prophets warned the backsliding kings and people of Israel to turn back to God after the reign of Solomon and after the kingdom was split into Judah and Israel. God’s grace and forgiveness were emphasized and illustrated in the ministry of numerous prophets. The exile was the result of stubborn persistence in idolatry and sin, despite clear and constant prophetic messages of warning.
Foreign forces came with mighty armies to conquer and take captive. Israel was resettled as captives by the Assyrian empire, located in the upper region of the Tigris River and Judah was taken by Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonians after a long, cruel siege of Jerusalem. They were taken far away from their own territory and into the land of foreign gods. When the word of God reached the exiles through prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel in Babylon, they realized that their God is not territorial and present in their midst, looking out for them, even while in a foreign country. The words of Jeremiah 29 [vv 5,6 and 7] have comforted so many people far away from what they regarded as home through all the ages.
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
The exiles rejoiced in this news. On the long, harsh journey into exile they were convinced God has forgotten them. The famous song of Boney M [By the rivers of Babylon] echoed the words of the exiles. Psalm 126: [The Message]
1-3 It seemed like a dream, too good to be true,
when God returned Zion’s exiles.
We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune.
We were the talk of the nations—
“God was wonderful to them!”
God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.
Daniel was amongst the exiles as a teenager and served no less than four emperors after Nebuchadnezzar II – a miracle in itself as so many new rulers killed the administrators of the predecessor because of mistrust, especially the Persian conquerors of Babylon, Cyrus the Great and his son-in-law, Darius. His jealous advisors who wanted to get rid of Daniel, tricked Darius into signing a law that he alone should be revered in Persia. This led to Daniel being thrown into the lion’s den and miraculously saved from death. [Daniel 6] Darius rejoiced in Daniel’s miracle.
Daniel realized the exile was almost over and started praying for the deliverance and return of the exiles. During Nehemiah’s service to Darius the Great of the Persian Empire, God moved in the heart of this pagan emperor to be astonishingly generous in his resettling of the exiled Judeans to Jerusalem, most propbably because of his dealings with Daniel. He even restored to them the valuables taken from the Temple in Jerusalem by Babylon and freed Nehemiah from service to set up the restoration of the ruins of Jerusalem. The exiled returned in 536 BC.
God will look after you and your belongings. He knows what you need. Surrender to Him and do not waste your worry on stuff. If you are dependent on Him, He will spoil you with the best, more than you can imagine.
The people returned rejoicing and started the rebuilding of the wall and temple with great enthusiasm. Sixteen years after their return, the work was not done. Construction ceased as enemies mocked their efforts.
For four months in 520 BC the prophet Haggai was called to renew their zeal. Through the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah, the work is completed in five years. The rebuilt temple was dedicated in 515 BC.
Haggai addresses three problems common to all people at all times.
- Disinterest [Haggai 1:1-15]
The people lost their enthusiasm for the temple and built beautiful houses for themselves, probably to blot out the memory of hardship and slavery. [1:4] They feel deserted by God as they struggle to rebuild the ruins of their lives, unable to build wealth. True and lasting wealth and prosperity are not possible without God’s blessing. Hear the words of Psalm 127:
Except the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; except the Lord keeps the city, the watchman wakes but in vain. 2 It is vain for you to rise up early, to take rest late, to eat the bread of [anxious] toil—for He gives [blessings] to His beloved in sleep.
God answers through the prophet:
Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
2. Discouragement [Haggai 2:1-9]
Some of the exiles remembered the magnificence of the temple of Solomon and was discouraging a “second class” rebuilt. They did not have the superior materials of the previous building. The older people discouraged the use of inferior materials. The wood of Judah could not compare with the cedars of Lebanon and the gold of Ophir. To this Haggai responds with God’s words:
8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,” says the Lord.
God expects nothing you do not already have. Use what you have and He will bless and multiply it. You do not have to wait for “better days” for your tithing, giving and service.
Other sources of discouragement can be negative people, your own body that is tired or ill and the enemy in attack mode to discourage your efforts. Consciously identify the source of discouragement and address it with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
33 But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides.
God will strengthen you. He promised in Isaiah 40: 28:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not faint or grow weary; there is no searching of His understanding. 29 He gives power to the faint and weary, and to him who has no might He increases strength [causing it to multiply and making it to abound].
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and [selected] young men shall feebly stumble and fall exhausted;
31 But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God] as eagles [mount up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired.
Be aware of your noble calling. You are unique and the task assigned by God to you, only you can do. The Word always emphasizes the variety of ministries. We are a team. You are an irreplaceable member of the high calling of this team.
35 Do not, therefore, fling away your fearless confidence, for it carries a great and glorious compensation of reward.
36 For you have need of steadfast patience and endurance, so that you may perform and fully accomplish the will of God, and thus receive and carry away [and enjoy to the full] what is promised.
For your immediate problems – be strong and work. Haggai 2:4,5:
4 Yet now be strong, alert, and courageous, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; be strong, alert, and courageous, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, alert, and courageous, all you people of the land, says the Lord, and work! For I am with you, says the Lord of hosts. 5 According to the promise that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit stands and abides in the midst of you; fear not.
This is the encouragement for the long term. Look to the future. The content of our future is God’s promises [2:9]
9 The latter glory of this house [with its successor, to which Jesus came] shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place will I give peace and prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.
- Dissatisfaction [2:10-23]
Do not expect immediate results. Sometimes the reversal of years of inactivity and neglect takes some time to turn around. Holiness is acquired. Uncleanness is infectious – holiness not. [2:11-13]
The Word from the Lord in 2:19:
19 Is the harvested grain any longer in the barn? As to the grapevine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree—they have not yet borne. From this day on I will bless you.
Blessing is not earned. You do not have to be good to be blessed. Grace is the unmerited favour of God. It comes from our gracious, giving, good God.
Ultimate blessing is God’s Son in person as the prophecy is given to Zerubbabel – [2:23] In Jesus we have the full measure of the riches of God.
Rejoice and shake off your disinterest, discouragement and dissatisfaction.
Vivit! He lives!