God wants to bless his people. This is a common teaching that we see through the scriptures. God wants to be with his people and he wants to bless his people. Jesus even opens his sermon by talking about the people that God blesses. But God’s people can look around and wonder why God does not seem to be blessing his people. If God wants to bless his people, why doesn’t he just do it? We noticed in Haggai 2:4 that God sent a message to the people that they needed to be strong because God was with him. But we need to remember the first message from the prophet Haggai as recorded in the first chapter. God was not blessing his people because they had the wrong priority. Rather than being busy with God’s house, they were busy with their own houses. So long as they were concerned with their own priorities rather than God’s priorities, God was not going to bless them. As we come to the end of the prophetic messages from Haggai, we are going to see that there was another reason why God was unable to bless his people.
Illustrating The Problem (2:10-14)
To help the people understand the problem, Haggai makes an illustration in Haggai 2:10-14. Here is the question. If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their clothes, and then that fold touches some other food, does that food become consecrated? The answer was no. The fold that touched holy food could not touch other things to make them holy. Holiness is not transferred to the third degree. In verse 13 God now asks another question. If a person is defiled because they touched a dead body and then touches some food, does that food become unclean? The answer is yes. The law did teach that uncleanness did transfer to another person or other items. Defilement and uncleanness are transferred.
So what is the point? Look at verse 14. “So it is with this people and this nation in my sight. Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.” God observes a problem with the people and with the nation. The people are defiled and everything they do is defiled. Now this seems quite shocking. Why are the people defiled? How could God say that everything the people do is defiled? How is it that everything they offered was defiled? What was wrong?
Before we consider God’s answer, I want us to think about this important spiritual truth. God says that all of their efforts and all of their offerings are defiled. I do not think that we should read this to be saying that there was nothing good that these people were doing. I do not think this is the point. Rather, the point is that any good acts they performed like making their offerings are useless because the people are defiled. Everything that you try for God is unclean because they were unclean.
Have you ever been so dirty from working in the yard or working on a car or doing some other activity that everything else you touch becomes defiled? You are so dirty that you do not want to get in your car because it will defile your car. You cannot go into the house because you will defile the house. We would have to deal with this when our kids were little. We would come home from the beach and you could not let them in the house because they would leave a sand trail everywhere. You have the carry them at arms length to the shower because anything they touched would become dirty. They might think they can fix it by trying to clean up the mess. But the problem is that every new step they take only makes more of a mess.
This is an important picture for us to grasp. Sometimes we can think that doing some good deeds before God while being defiled actually has meaning or impact with God. Please listen to God here. All of their works were tainted because they were unclean. Thinking that we can do some good works to reverse our defilement is false thinking. How often people think that if they go to church that this will reverse the sins of the week! Or some may think that if they take the Lord’s Supper that this will suddenly cleanse them and all of the defilements of the week are now clear! Please listen to God. All of your efforts, your works, and your offerings are defiled. It did not matter that they attempted some good works. Even the good works were defiled.
We often simply do not grasping the polluting power of sin. But God was trying to teach his people this truth through the clean and unclean laws. Our uncleanness only makes more uncleanness. God was teaching that unclean things touching clean things did not make the unclean thing now clean. Rather, unclean things make clean things unclean also. The polluting power of sin is powerful. How many times have we seen this where sinful actions only lead to more sinful actions? Sinfulness does not lead to holiness. Sinfulness leads to more sinfulness. Think about how this works in our relationships. How often does sin defile the relationship? The relationship does not become clean and holy but degenerates into defilement. One sinful action often leads to another person committing a sinful action which only leads to another sinful action. The polluting power of sin is like ripples in a pond that go out further than the eye can see. Our defiling hands just keep defiling. Relationships are destroyed because of this defiling spiral. One does something sinful so that person does something sinful back leads the other person to do something sinful again and on and on it goes. We cannot make our own defiling hands clean. Everything we touch just leads to more defilement and uncleanness.
Understanding The Problem (2:15-19)
So let us get back to the question. What has happened so that God considers everything that the people are doing to be a defilement? God answers the question as he goes further trying to show that he has been wanting the people to see their uncleanness. In verse 16 God says that he stunted their economic prosperity. In verse 17 he says that he struck the efforts of the people with blight, mildew, and hail. But look at the end of verse 17. “Yet you did not return to me.” You did not see that your difficulties were because you were unclean before the Lord. Life has been fruitless and unsatisfying because they did not see their spiritual condition. They did not understand that they were defiled before the Lord. What was missing? What was wrong?
God states the answer twice in this paragraph. Look at verse 15. “Consider how things were before one stone was laid on antlers in the Lord’s temple.” Look at verse 18. “Give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought.” Why were the people defiled? They were defiled because they did not have the temple. All of their works and all of their sacrifices were useless without the temple. This is what God was trying to show them by making their lives lack prosperity for 16 years. God was trying to show them that they were missing the most important thing. You are missing the temple. Without the temple, your efforts are in vain.
The people needed the temple. Until the temple was the priority and until the temple was built, there could not be any blessings from God. The temple was needed to reverse the condition of the people. The temple is the turning point in the lives of these people. The curse could only be turned to blessing because of the temple of the Lord. The people needed to see that they needed the temple to go forward. For 16 years the people did not understand this important truth. God made their lives difficult so that they would consider their ways. But for 16 years they missed this. They needed God’s temple in their lives.
It is not an accident that Jesus described himself as the new temple and the apostles described Jesus as the new temple for our lives.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19–22 ESV)
One of the pictures that Jesus was trying to show us by calling himself the temple is to help us understand that we need this temple if we are going to have new life and blessing. Listen to what Jesus said.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 ESV)
This is the same message that God was telling the people through Haggai. Without the temple, then all that you do is defiled. You need God’s temple and without God’s temple, nothing can be clean or holy. God wants us to look at life through this lens. Without Jesus, nothing is going to go right. Without Jesus, it does not matter what we do. We are defiled and he need him to reverse our curse and bless us. The only way for our defilement to be turned to cleansing is by going to Jesus. This leads us to the final message of reversal.
The Reversal (Haggai 2:19-23)
You will notice in verses 15 and 19 that God says from now he will bless. God is going to bring back blessings to his people. In verse 20 God says he is going to overthrow the order of things. God is going to shake the heavens and the earth. God is going to overthrow royal thrones and shatter the power of Gentile kingdoms. God is going to overthrow the chariots and their drivers. Horses and riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother. This language conjures up the imagery of the exodus where in Exodus 14-15 we read about God overthrowing Egypt, chariots and their drivers, and horses and their riders. Notice what God is doing by overthrowing thrones and powers. God says in verse 23 that he will make Zerubbabel like a signet ring because God has chosen him.
What does it mean for Zerubbabel to be God’s signet ring? This prophecy is a reference to the words of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 22:24-30 is a rejection prophecy as it speaks against Coniah, also called Jehoiachin in scriptures. God pictures Jehoiachin as a signet ring that God is taking off of his hand and hurled to the Babylonians. The message is that none of Jehoiachin’s offspring will sit on David’s throne, ruling Judah. Now God says that Zerubbabel is God’s signet ring. God will establish his own king and usher in the return of the Davidic king line. Zerubbabel is the restart of the king line and you will see his name in the lineage of Jesus in Matthew 1:12. Now we can read this and think that this prophecy is out of place with the prior prophecy that we just looked at. But you will notice that the prophecy as recorded in verse 20 was given on the same day as the one in verse 10.
But look at verse 19. Now that the temple is in process God says that he will bless the people. Up until now, their efforts have been fruitless. But from now on God will bless. Our help and our hope is only in Jesus. God says that from now on he will bless the people. Because of teaching abuses, we can shy away from the teaching that there are blessings for obedience. It is an important message in the book of Haggai. They were not blessed because they did not put God and his temple first. From this day forward they will be blessed because they have returned and are putting the temple first. The whole book of Proverbs declares that there are blessings for fearing the Lord and walking in the wisdom of the Lord. The false teaching is to say that if we serve and obey the Lord that the Lord is contractually obligated to do good to us and nothing bad will ever happen to us. But what God is saying is that if you will serve and obey the Lord, then you are removing the obstacles and opening the door for God to bless you. Defilement will only bring more defilement. We cannot clean ourselves. We need to stop, go to the temple who is Jesus our king, be cleansed by him, so that the curse and defilement can turn to blessing. God says to us that he will bless us. We need to come to the temple if we are going to be healed and blessed. There is no other place to go.