In our latest in the series on Haggai, Ben takes us through Haggai 2: 10-19. In this passage the prophet Haggai, through a parable, discusses how the Lord will deal with the people's defilement.
I wonder whether you are familiar with the situation where you have spent a whole day not realising something embarrassing about your appearance, such as a piece of salad stuck in your teeth, or a piece of hair sticking up at the back of your head. Only those closest to you would point it out, as an act of kindness.
In the book of Haggai, God demonstrates such kindness to the Israelites who are blindly unaware of the mistakes they are making, but seriously need to be made aware of them.
As we have learned from recent sermons the Israelites have returned from exile in Babylon to Jerusalem which is in ruins.
As God’s people, privileged with his presence, their first priority should have been to rebuild the temple, but they were distracted by building their own homes first. They made their own plans and projects of more importance than God.
But the Lord rebuked them and stirred up their spirits to build the temple. He dealt with their distraction.
But they were soon discouraged, believing that the new temple would not match the splendour of the previous one. So again, the Lord spoke to them, reminding them that the temple building was only a symbol, not the reality of his abiding presence. So, God had dealt with their discouragement.
But a third problem needed to be dealt with. The sin of defilement. The Israelites worked with impure hands. And the same is true of us. No amount of hand sanitizer can cleanse us of our own sin. So, what did God do for the Israelites and what does he do with us? How does he deal with our defilement to make us worthy to build his temple?
A Parable for Priests
In verses 11 and 12 Haggai speaks a parable for the priests:
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Ask the priests what the law says: If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’”
The big question here is: Does the garment which is holy make other things holy?
And the priests answer correctly – ‘No’
The consecrated meat is what makes things holy, not anything else. Holiness has a fixed source.
Then Haggai goes on in verse 13:
Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?”
This refers to the law in the Book of Numbers where it clearly states
‘Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days’
‘Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean’ [Numbers 19:11, 22]
So the priests reply correctly again, “Yes, it has become defiled”.
So the priests have verified two facts: holiness is not contagious, but uncleanness is.
And at this point the Lord, through Haggai, states in verse 14 “‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the Lord. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.”
So, God has exposed the Israelites by their own laws. He is effectively saying they are spiritually rotting away because of their sin, so whatever they do, even building the temple and whatever they offer to the Lord is defiled.
God does not want mere lip service. He isn’t interested in outward actions alone.
1 Samuel 16:7 says “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
In the same way, the Lord does not look at all the church activities you’re involved in, or all the generous deeds you do. He looks at your heart.
This presents a major roadblock to the Israelites. How can they hope to build the Holy of Holies with defiled hands? But God has not exposed their sin to bring judgment. He has done it in his kindness that they might see their sin, and then recognise his mercy and grace.
Give Careful Thought
15 “‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on—consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s temple. When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord.
The Lord is drawing their attention to the fact that they should have recognised that the blight, mildew and hail were all warnings for them to cry out to the Lord in their need, before it was too late.
18 ‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.
Without the Lord, it is a barren wasteland. Their barns are empty, and the trees are bare.
Our problem today is that although we may be materially rich, do we recognise our spiritual barrenness? Have recent months found us less committed to prayer and bible study, and less committed to serving our brothers and sisters? Do we feel as though we are running on empty? We must give careful thought to what life is like when God is not at the centre. Recognise his kindness in the way he depletes your reserves as a means of bringing you back to him, causing you to cry out to him for salvation.
To those Israelites who were empty and had come back to him, the Lord said, ‘From this day on I will bless you’
And this is what he says to us.
Blessing in the Cornerstone
Through the prophet Haggai, God had gathered the people around the building site, for them to recognise it as a monument.
18 ‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid.
God wanted them to look back and see where they had come from, to consider their spiritual barrenness.
And he also wanted them to recognise this day as the day when God showed them his promise of future blessing on their lives.
Backwards- barrenness. Forwards – blessing.
They have now been made holy by God. Not by their own abilities or efforts, but because of the grace of the Lord Jesus who is the true consecrated meat.
Jesus is the Cornerstone of all God’s people. By his sacrifice we are cleansed. Backwards – barrenness. Forwards -blessing.
1 Peter 2:4 says As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Without Christ even your best works are defiled. But if you believe in him you will never be put to shame. You will be a living stone, part of the body of Christ and spiritual temple of God.
So, the day we are meant to look back on is not the laying of the foundations of the temple. That was just a shadow.
We are to look back on the day of the cross, which is the reality.
Jesus is the one you can build your life on. He is the one you can come to with defiled hands and, on the cross, he makes you holy and pleasing to God.
But if you do not set your eyes on Jesus, and see him only as a stumbling block, you will throw away your chance of life.
Psalm 127 sums up this message: ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain.’
If the Lord had not made a way to cleanse you of your sin, then all of your good works and service would be in vain. They would be the defilement of defilements.
But if the Lord is building the church then you become holy because he is holy. You are the fold of garment that has come into contact with the sacrifice. And he is establishing you on the cornerstone.
Consider these things: If you are a Christian has your time in Lockdown been a time of faithfulness to the Lord, or are you running on empty? Is the Lord warning you, in order to lead you back to him?
If you are not a Christian, recognise that you have defiled hands, but his promise is to bless you if you come to him. You don’t have to clean yourself up before you come to the cross of Christ. In fact, it’s impossible for you to clean yourself. Only Jesus the perfect sacrifice can do that and make you holy.
So, consider these things carefully. Look at the cross.
Don’t go backwards. Go forwards in blessing with Jesus.
Haggai 2:10 - 2:19
10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, 11 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: 12 ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” 14 Then Haggai answered and said, “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the Lord, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean. 15 Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord, 16 how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. 17 I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord. 18 Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid, consider: 19 Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.” (ESV)
Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Text provided by the Crossway Bibles Web Service.