I had been wondering about what I should read next.  Then, a few weeks ago, at 7.00pm on a Thursday evening, I decided to tune into the online “Foundations Bible School”, using the Zoom App.  They were discussing the Book of Haggai.  In the enthusiasm of the evening I decided to make Haggai my next read.  They are immersed in studies in Genesis now.  Whether a new convert or mature in the Lord, I recommend the Bible School to anyone wanting to grow in their understanding of Scripture, and who enjoys searching out the Hebrew and Greek meanings of words.  There are no fees involved.  Learn more by going to the Saltshakers.com website.

There were several major figures during that period of restoration and rebuilding of the Second Temple.  Zerubbabel – meaning “Seed of Babylonia”, leads with Joshua (the High Priest) – meaning “God saves.”   Zechariah – “God remembers” prophesied along with Haggai.  It is possible that Azra is a shortened form of Azariah – “God helps”; Nehemiah – “God consoles”.  Reflected in the names are the hopes and excitement about this period of restoration.  Haggai is the first prophetic book dated by the reign of a foreign king (Haggai 1:1).  There wasn’t a Jewish king reigning at that time.

The Glory is departing

As a nation, in the last seventy-five years, Great Britain has willingly and increasingly trampled Jesus underfoot; then the dismantling of our Christian heritage began.  Those are the major causes of the affects we are experiencing now and will continue to do so.  These chaotic, turbulent times of unrest and uncertainty, the days of rage, days of violence and anarchy, are seeing our national heritage and history being torn asunder.  People attacking property often go on to attack, maim, and even kill people.  It is a criminal mentality that is let loose, with little to restrain it.  We are not yet at the point of 2 Thessalonians 2:6. But we are closing in on that time.  Those that are ripping apart the soul of the nation are mainly young, enthusiastic neo-Marxists – individuals that will be future leaders of the nation and its institutions.  Great Britain, having had an empire that reached across much of the world, is being whittled down to the size of a man.

Speaking to Twitter, BLM-UK opined:[i] “We said it: The UK is not innocent. We MUST be able to hold states accountable for their actions. Whether that’s Britain, the US, China or Israel. No state is above critique. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is illegal under international law. For Israel to move to annex it on 1st of July is an affront, and it is heart-breaking that Britain is shielding such horrific actions. We stand in solidarity with Palestinians, and all struggling with them.”   “Taking to Twitter, BLM-UK told its near 60,000 followers: “As Israel moves forward with the annexation of the West Bank, and mainstream British politics is gagged of the right to critique Zionism, and Israel’s settler colonial pursuits, we loudly and clearly stand beside our Palestinian comrades. FREE PALESTINE.”  The Jews had opposition at the time of the Second Temple, and Israel faces opposition today.  It is during such times of calamitous uncertainty that the bible prophets were raised up to deliver God’s words, words that are still relevant to us today; words that speak into our lives and situations; and words that are strikingly relevant to contemporary Jewish experience.  The glory experienced through the knowledge of the Gospel of the Kingdom has departed from the Western nations.  The Glory is returning from whence it came – Jerusalem!  Terrible times are to come before the Glory is visible to the natural, naked eye.  As the Jews return, so the Glory will return.  “A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to the people of Israel” (Luke 2:32).

Build the House (Haggai 1:8)

Although many Jews responded by returning to the Promised Land to rebuild the Temple, considering Babylon to be their home, most were comfortable in exile and chose to remain in the diaspora.  In their eyes it was ceainly preferable to stepping out into an uncertain future; not knowing whether God was for them or against them they remained in captivity.  Israel was no longer an independent nation with its own king.  Instead, it was a tiny vassal state within the vast Persian Empire.  The redemption the prophets spoke of was only partially fulfilled, and the people were unable to believe that God was with them.  In fact, they believed that God had rejected them at the destruction of the first Temple.  Haggai prophesied, making it clear to them that God was with them.  With God telling them to “build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured”, should have given them a clue as well.

In Jewish tradition, prophecy ceased with Malachi just a few generations after the initial return from Babylon in 538 BC.  According to tradition, Ezra and others with him laid the groundwork for the rabbinate, which led to the sages and Torah study in place of the prophets and prophecy.  The sages and Torah study were the new guides and conscience of the Jewish community.  Is this what God wanted?  It appears to have led to a form of godliness but denied its power (2 Timothy 3:5).  That appears to be the Judaism that developed from that time, but as we see in the New Testament, there were Jews, a remnant, that were looking for the consolation of Israel.  During this transitional period from the realm of prophecy to the rabbinate, most of the books of the Second Temple period were neglected, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther, Chronicles, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.  Despite all that Israel has suffered at the hands of men, God is still with them.  His son came to them as one of them.  He died for them, and He rose from the dead for them.  They are His brothers and sisters, and He will proclaim them in the great assembly.  Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers (Hebrews 2:11b-13).

Over the centuries Christians mistakenly believed that God has rejected the Jews because they had rejected their Messiah.  They have wanted to write the Jews off, and they have attempted to use Scripture to back up the prejudice; Scriptures such as Matthew 27:25 – “All the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’”  That was not all Israel speaking.  Like mobs that gather for a cause today, and riot, this was a mob incited against Jesus.  They were speaking for themselves, not for the nation of Israel.  There were Jews that already believed in Jesus, and others that were ready to receive the message of the Gospel; but the nation’s religious leaders, on the whole, were closed to the prophets and prophecy.   Leaders such as Obama encourage the destruction being caused by BLM; leaders are not faultless.  Scripture records that many thousands of Jews believed in Jesus (Yeshua), before and after the Crucifixion.  John came preaching and baptising, making the way straight for Jesus to begin His ministry on earth.  Interestingly the Book of ‘Hebrews’ opens with, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

Many Jews mistakenly understood the destruction of the First Temple and the Babylonian exile as the end of Israel’s singular covenantal relationship with God.  They thought it was all over, but it won’t be all over until Messiah comes to Jerusalem, to reign as King among His people, the Jews.  The belief that because they don’t sense that God is near, or because they couldn’t see the Shekinah on the Temple, therefore God has left them is a thought-pattern that still prevails.  Rabbi Matityahu Glazerson, a modern-day expert on Bible codes, claims that theoretically, Messiah could have arrived on a number of occasions, but didn’t.  He said that there are many times when the Messiah was supposed to come “naturally”, but that he was delayed due to the sins of the nation of Israel.  In 5775 (2014-2015) the Messiah was supposed to arrive – but didn’t – due to the sinful behaviour [of the people].  The same goes for 5776 (2015-2016).  This all comes from his bible codes studies.  According to the rabbi, another year for the Messiah to come was 5778 (2017-2018); but there was a lack of faith in God, (sexual) impurity and the desecration of the Sabbath.  Therefore Messiah didn’t come.  Now the prediction from his studies is that Messiah will arrive in the Jewish calendar of 5781, from the night of Rosh Hashanah on 18th September 2020 to the end of 5781 during the day of 6th September 2021.  The good rabbi will be disappointed once again.

Jeremiah and Ezekiel spent a great deal of time trying to correct this erroneous understanding that God had finished with the Jews (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10).  They were disheartened at the small proportions of the Temple, and the absence of the Ark; and they were disappointed by the lack of any sign that God was present with them.  Ezekiel prophesied about the dry bones (Ezekiel 37:11), and envisioned a detailed new Temple and the return of God’s presence (Ezekiel 40-48).  The writer of Israel’s “HaTikva” was inspired by this passage when composing the national anthem.  Ezekiel spoke of the people saying that, “our hope is gone (aveda tikvatenu).”  The anthem responds with triumphant sound, “We have not yet lost our hope (od lo aveda tikvatenu)!”  God sent His prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, to tell them that He is with them; and His word of prophecy tells us today that God is with the Jews.  The apostles and prophets affirm that the Jews are God’s people.  We deny this at our own peril.  As the world is building storm clouds over Israel, the world is being hit with drought, with earthquakes, with pestilence, with violence and civil unrest, and more besides.  Soon ethnic groups will arise against ethnic groups, there will be wars and great famine.

Blowing hot and cold

The Jews were both excited and demoralized.  They were excited about the restoration, but were demoralized by the activities of their enemies delaying the building process.  But when Haggai speaks, he does not address the matter of the enemies causing delays to the rebuilding of the Temple.  He rebukes the Jewish people for their neglect in building the Temple (Haggai 1:2-11).  They neglected to build God’s house and instead built their own houses (after all, isn’t that what Jeremiah told them to do? (Jeremiah 29:5-7); therefore God withheld the rain, and the earth withheld its yield and to drive His point home, God summoned fierce heat upon the land, upon the new grain, and wine and oil, upon all that the ground produces, upon man and beast, and upon all the fruits of his labour.  Apart from their neglect and laxity in building the people complained that because there was a drought, they could not afford to build a beautiful Temple.  God tells them straight; He brought the drought as a punishment for their laxity in building the Temple.  Once they resume building, the drought will end – A lesson for humankind today in all the pandemics etc.  The Government’s plan for recovery is to build! build! build! (houses – but not God’s House, not encouraging the Gospel to be built so that the Church grows and the Kingdom is being filled).  Using some wordplay, Haggai hits home – The people had brought their crops into their houses but they were not building a house for God (Haggai 1:8-9).  God’s house is destroyed, ḥarev (Haggai 1:4;9), so He summoned a fierce heat, ḥorev, causing a drought (Haggai 1:11).  Haggai depicts the people as being selfish, ignoring God’s will, and always looking for excuses not to build.  Finally, there is a positive response to the prophet’s messages (Haggai 1:12-15a).

The Heat is On

A recent headline read: “Is Europe heading for a drought? Satellite pictures show ground water running low after warmest winter on record and dry spring.”  Subheadings were:

  • Europe is facing a potential shortage of water for the third year in a row
  • Eastern Europe began seeing meteorological drought conditions in early spring
  • Meteorologists have predicted June, July and August will see below-average rainfall

The world has created a god called “Global Warming.”  To appease that god, we are encouraged to make some weird and not very wonderful changes to our lives.  If we don’t make those changes, this god might destroy the planet.  The Bible shows us that it is the God of the Jews that controls everything.  It was He that withheld the rain so that the Jews suffered a drought.  It is the same God withholding rain from Europe.  Europe ignores God, discounts God, denies God’s existence, and refuses to tend to God’s world in God’s way.  We will see more and more of God’s intervention in Europe and the world, as the world continues to rebel and to reject Him.

Who will pay?

The people had legitimate concerns about how the costs of rebuilding the Temple would be met.  There was the drought and the poverty that had caused.  Israel was merely a Persian vassal state.  Who provided the materials and built the first human body?  God did.  The human body has become the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  Who paid the price for the Body, the Church, to come into existence?  Jesus did.  God responds with the silver is His and the gold is His.  He will fill this house with glory.  Put your hand to the plough, God will do the rest.

“For thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land.  I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the Lord of hosts.  The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty” (Haggai 2:6-8).

This sounds somewhat similar to the happenings in Egypt, except that was occurring at a local level.  The Israelites left in the Exodus carrying the riches of Egypt – Gold and silver.  In what is termed the sin of Israel, they melted down the gold creating an idol, a golden calf, to bow down and worship.  This is not going to happen again.  God is going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.  There is nothing that will not be shaken.  He will shake the nations, and the Jews will come from the dispersion with the wealth of the nations.  This time it is not a golden calf that will shine brightly in the desert sun.  This time God is going to fill His house with glory.  The people were worried that the Temple would not have the glory and splendour of the First Temple, but God responds telling them, the silver is His and the gold is His.  In a way, we might say, the shaking is to bring out the silver and gold which are representative of believing Jews and Christians, from which God will build His Temple.  In Yoma 9b it says: “…Had you made yourself like a wall and had all come up in the days of Ezra, you would have been compared to silver, which no rottenness can ever affect.  Now that you come up like doors, you are like cedarwood, which rottenness prevails over.”  Out of all the peoples of the world, only believing Jews and Christians will remain; the rest are straw, hay, and stubble.  Those that are in Christ are in an unshakeable Kingdom.  The shaking to come in the last days will be a cosmic earthquake.  In the Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible, New Jerusalem (יְהוָה שָׁמָּה, YHWH-shammah, or YHWH [is] there) is Ezekiel's prophetic vision of a city centred on the rebuilt Holy Temple, the Third Temple, to be established in Jerusalem, which would be the capital of the Messianic Kingdom, the meeting place of the twelve tribes of Israel, during the Messianic era.  The prophecy is recorded by Ezekiel as having been received on Yom Kippur of the year 3372 of the Hebrew calendar.  However, my conviction about the Third Temple that is already in the planning to be built, is that it is not the Temple of Ezekiel’s vision.  This one will be a deception and will be occupied by the Antichrist, who will deceive many (Daniel 8:25).  Peace in our time?  Everyone wants peace in the Middle East – “and by peace [he] shall destroy many.”

Pay-back time

I will shake the nations:  Through the authorization of Cyrus, exiles had returned from Babylonia, but their material existence was meagre and their Davidic ruler was merely a functionary of the Persian empire.  It is against that background, according to Jewish understanding, that Haggai sees a grand triumphal time when all the nations will be shaken and their riches flow to Zion – a reversal of what happened when the Babylonians ransacked Jerusalem, when the Temple was destroyed and the precious vessels carried away by the conquerors.  Taking a glimpse of 2:21, we are reminded of how God destroyed the strength of Egypt, and the overturning of chariots and their riders in the Red Sea.  The destruction the Jews have suffered at the hands of the nations will be reversed.  Israel will be with the Lord for ever, and the nations will suffer destruction and the loss of riches.  “This is what the Lord says: “The products of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush, along with the Sabeans, men of stature, will come over to you and will be yours; they will trudge behind you; they will come over in chains and bow down to you. They will confess to you: ‘God is indeed with you, and there is no other; there is no other God.’”

The Book of Haggai ends on the promise to the faithful remnant of Israel that God will fulfil His unbreakable covenant with David by sending the future Son of David and by establishing His House, His Kingdom, and His Throne forever.  Messiah is coming to set up His Messianic Kingdom.

Blessings and shalom

Malcolm [03.07.2020]