Part I. THE FIRST ADDRESS: EXHORTATION TO BUILD THE TEMPLE AND ITS RESULT.
§ 1. The people are reproved for their indifference with regard to the erection of the temple, and admonished that their present distress is a chastisement for this neglect.
In the second year of Darius the king. This is Darius Hystaspes, who reigned over Persia from B.C. 521 to B.C. 486. He is called in the inscriptions Daryavush, which name means "Holder," or "Supporter." Herodotus (6:98) explains it as "Coercer" ( ἑρξείης). Hitherto the prophets have dated the time of the exercise of their office from the reigns of the legitimate Hebrew monarchs; it shows a new slate of things when they place at the head of their oracles the name of a foreign and a heathen patenlate. The Jews had, indeed, now no king of their own, "the tabernacle of David had fallen" (Amos 9:11), and they were living on sufferance under an alien power. They had returned from exile by permission of Cyrus in the first year of his occupancy of the throne of Babylon sixteen years before this time, and had commenced to build the temple soon after; but the opposition of neighbours, contradictory orders from the Persian court, and their own lukewarmness had contributed to hinder the work, and it soon wholly ceased, and remained suspended to the moment when Haggai, as the seventy years of desolation drew to an end, was commissioned to arouse them from their apathy, and to urge them to use the opportunity which was afforded by the accession of the new monarch and the withdrawal of the vexatious interdict that had checked their operations in the previous reign (see Introduction, § 1; and comp. Ezra 4:24). The sixth month, according to the sacred Hebrew calendar, which reckoned from Nisan to Nisan. This would be Elul, answering to parts of our August and September. In the first day. This was the regular festival of the new moon (Numbers 10:10; Isaiah 1:13), and a fitting time to urge the building of the temple, without which it could not be duly celebrated. By; literally, by the hand (as in verse 3), the instrument whom God used (Exodus 9:35; Jeremiah 37:2; Hosea 12:11; Acts 7:35) Haggai the prophet (see the Introduction). Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel; Septuagint, εἰπὸν πρὸς ζοροβάβελ τὸν τοῦ σαλαθιὴλ, "Speak to Zorobabel the son of Salathiel." The temporal head of the nation, the representative of the royal house of David, and therefore with the high priest jointly responsible, for the present state of affairs, and having power and authority to amend it. The name, as explained, and rightly, by St. Jerome, means, "Born in Babylon," and intimates the truth concerning his origin. He is called Sheshbazzar in Ezra 1:8; Ezra 5:14, which is either his name at the Persian court, or is an erroneous transliteration for a synonymous word (see Kuabenbauer, in loc.). The name is found in the cuneiform inscription, as Zir-Babilu. Shealtiel (or Salathiel) means, "Asked of God." There is a difficulty about Zerubbabel's parentage. Here and frequently in this book, and in Ezra and Nehemiah, as well as in Matthew 1:12 and Luke 3:27, he is called "son of Shealtiel;" in 1 Chronicles 3:19 he is said to be the son of Pedaiah the brother of Salathiel. The truth probably is that he was by birth the son of Pedaiah, but by adoption or the law of the levirate, the son of Salathiel. He was regarded as the grandson of Jehoiachin, or Jeconiah. Governor (pechah). A foreign word, used in 1 Kings 10:15, in Isaiah (Isaiah 36:9) and frequently in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, to denote an inferior satrap or subordinate governor. Strassmaier (ap. Knabenbauer) notes that in Assyrian the word is found in the form pachu, that pichatu means "a province," pachat, "a district." It seems natural, though probably erroneous, to connect it with the Turkish pashah. But see the discussion on the word in Pusey, 'Daniel the Prophet,' p. 566, etc. Instead of "Governor of Judah," the LXX. here and verse 12 and Haggai 2:2 reads, "of the tribe of Judah." One of the house of David has the government, but the foreign title applied to him shows that he holds authority only as the deputy of an alien power. Judah was henceforward applied to the whole country. The prophecy in Genesis 49:10 still held good. Joshua. The highest spiritual officer (Ezra 3:2, Ezra 3:8; Ezra 4:3). This Joshua, Jehoshua, Jeshua, as he is variously called, was a son of Josedech who, in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, had been carried captive to Babylon (lCh Joshua 6:15), and grandson of that Seraiah who, with other princes of Judah, was slain at Riblah by the Babyloniaes (2 Kings 25:18, etc.). The parentage of Zerubbabel and Joshua is specially mentioned to show that the former was of the house of David and the latter of the family of Aaron, and that even in its depressed condition Israel retained its rightful constitution (see note on Zechariah 3:1).
The Lord of hosts. Haggai, as the other prophets, always uses this formula in enunciating his messages (see note on Amos 9:5). Trochon justly remarks that this expression is not found in the earlier books of the Bible—the Pentateuch, Joshua, and Judges. If these books were contemporary with the prophets, the phrase would certainly occur in them (see a valuable note in the Appendix to Archdeacon Perowne's Commentary on Haggai, in 'The Canibridge Bible for Schools'). This people; populus iste (Vulgate), with some contempt, as if they were no longer worthy to be called the Lord's people (Haggai 2:14). It looks as if they had often before been admonished to proceed with the work, and had this answer ready. The time is not come; literally, it is not time to come (comp. Genesis 2:5), which is explained by the new clause, the time that the Lord's house should be built. The versions shorten the sentence, rendering," the time for building the Lord's house has not come." The excuse for their inaction may have had various grounds. They may have said, reckoning from the final destruction of Jerusalem, that the seventy years' captivity was not complete; that there was still danger from the neighbouring population; that the Persians were adverse to the undertaking; that the unfruitful season rendered them unable to engage in such a great work; and that the very fact of these difficulties existing showed that God did not favour the design.
Then came the word of the Lord, etc. The formula of Haggai 1:1 is repeated to give more effect to the Lord's answer to the lame excuses for inaction. This emphasis by repetition is common throughout the book.
For you, O ye; for you, yourselves; such as ye are (see Zechariah 7:5). He appeals to their consciences. You can make yourselves comfortable; you have time and means and industry to expend on your own private interests, and can you look with indifference on the house of God lying waste? Your cieled houses; your houses, and those cieled—wainscoted and roofed with costly woods (1 Kings 7:3, 1 Kings 7:7; Jeremiah 22:14), perhaps with the very cedar provided for the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 3:7). Septuagint, ἐν οἴκοις ὑμῶν κοιλοστάθμοις, "your vaulted houses," or, as St. Cyril explains, "houses whose doorposts were elaborately adorned with emblems and devices." They had naught of the feeling of David (2 Samuel 7:2), "I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains."
Consider; literally, set your heart upon (so Haggai 1:7; Haggai 2:15, Haggai 2:18). Your ways. What ye have done, what ye have suffered, your present projects, and the consequences thereof.
Their labours for years past had lacked the Divine blessing. Though they had fine houses to dwell in, they had been visited with scanty harvests and weak bodily health. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; but to bring in little (Hebrew). And this infinitive absolute is continued in the following clauses, giving remarkable force to the words, and expressing an habitual result. We see from Haggai 2:15-17 that these unfruitful seasons had visited them during all the continuance of their negligence (Deuteronomy 28:38). But ye have not enough. The food which they ate did not satisfy them; their bodies were sickly and derived no strength from the food which they took (Le 26:26; Hosea 4:10) or from the wine which they drank (see note on Micah 6:14). But there is none warm. Perhaps the winters were unusually rigorous, or their infirm health made their usual clothing insufficient to maintain their bodily heat. To put it into a bag with holes. A proverbial saying. The money gained by the hired labourer vanished as if he had never had it, and left no trace of benefit. Comp. Plaut.,'Pseudol.' 1, 3, 150—
"In pertusum ingerimus dicta dolium; operam ludimus."
§ 2. The prophet urges the people to work zealously at the building; only thus could they hope for the removal of their present disasters.
(See note on Haggai 1:5.) The repetition of the call to reflection is needed (comp. Philippians 3:1). Former experience opens the way to the injunction in Haggai 1:8.
Go up to the mountain. The hill country in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, whence by their own personal exertions they might procure material for the building. The temple mount is certainly not meant, as if they were to bring wood from it. Nor can Lebanon be intended, as in Ezra 3:7; for the injunction looks to an immediate actual result, and in their depressed circumstances they were scarcely likely to interest the Sidonians and Tyrians to provide cedar for them. There was abundance of wood close at hand, and the "kings forest" (Nehemiah 2:8) was in the immediate neighbourhood of Jerusalem. There is no mention of stone, probably because the foundations had long been laid, and the ruins of the old temple supplied material for the new one; and, indeed, stone was to be had in abundance everywhere; or it may be that the prophet names merely one opening for their renewed activity, as a specimen of the work required from them. Not costly offerings were desired, but a willing mind. I will be glorified; I will glorify myself by showering blessings on the house and the people, so that the Hebrews themselves and their neighbours may own that I am among them (comp. Exodus 14:4; Le Exodus 10:3; Isaiah 66:5).
He shows the real cause of the calamities that had befallen them. Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little. Emphatic infinitive, as in Haggai 1:6. "To look for much, and behold! little." They fixed their expectations upon a rich harvest, and they reaped less than they had sown (Isaiah 5:10). And when they had stored this miserable crop in their barns, I did blow upon it; or, did blow it away, dissipated it as if it were mere chaff, so that it perished. Doubtless, as Dr Pusey observes, they ascribed the meagreness of their crops to natural causes, and would not see the judicial nature of the infliction. The prophet brings the truth home to their conscience by the stern question, Why? And he answers the question for them, speaking with God's authority. Because of mine house that is waste. The reason already given in Haggai 1:4, etc; is repeated and enforced. And (while) ye run. Ye are indifferent to the miserable condition of the house of God, while ye haste with all diligence to your own houses for business or pleasure, being entirely absorbed in worldly interests, or eager only to adorn and beautify your own habitations. Or, your zeal is all expended on your own private dwellings.
Over you. This would be a reference to Deuteronomy 28:23. But the preposition is probably not local, but means rather, "on your account," i.e. on account of your sin, as Psalms 44:22. This is not tautological after the preceding "therefore," but more closely defines and explains the illative. Is stayed from dew; hath stayed itself from dew; withholds not only rain, but even dew (comp. Zechariah 8:12). On the importance of dew in the climate of Palestine, see note on Micah 5:7. The dews generally are remarkably heavy, and in the summer months take the place of rain. Dr. Thomson speaks of the dew rolling in the morning off his tent like rain. The earth is stayed from her fruit; hath stayed her fruit; according to the threat (Deuteronomy 11:17).
I called for a drought. So Elisha says (2 Kings 8:1) that "the Lord hath called for a famine." There is a play of words in the Hebrew: as they had let the Lord's house lie" waste" (thatch) (Haggai 1:4,Haggai 1:9), so the Lord punished them with "drought" (choreb). The Septuagint and Syriac, pointing differently, translate this last word "sword," but this is not suitable for the context, which speaks of the sterility of the land only. The land, in contradistinction to the mountains, is the plain country. Nothing anywhere was spared. All the labour of the hands (Psalms 128:2, etc.). All that they had effected by long and wearisome toil in the cornfield, the vineyard, etc. (comp. Hosea 2:9; Joel 1:10).
§ 3. The appeal meets with respect and attention, and for a time the people apply themselves diligently to the work.
All the remnant of the people (Haggai 2:2); i.e. the people who had returned from the Captivity, who are technically named "the remnant" is being only a small portion of all Israel (Isaiah 10:21, Isaiah 10:22; Zechariah 8:6; Micah 2:12). Others, not so suitably, understand by the expression, all the people beside the chiefs (Haggai 1:14). Obeyed; rather, listened unto. The active obedience is narrated in Haggai 1:14. And the words. The prophet's words are the voice of the Lord; and the people heeded the message which the Lord had commissioned him to give. Did fear. They should that true religion which the Bible calls "the fear of the Lord." They saw their faults, perhaps dreaded some new chastisement, and hastened to obey the prophet's injunction (Ezra 5:1, Ezra 5:2).
Then spake Haggai. God hastens to accept their repentance and to assure them of his protection. The Lord's messenger. Haggai alone of the prophets uses this title of himself, implying that he came with authority and bearing a message from the Lord (comp. Numbers 20:16, where the word "angel" is by some applied to Moses). Malachi's very name expresses that he was the Lord's messenger, and he uses the term of the priest (Malachi 2:7), and of John the Baptist, and of Messiah himself (Malachi 3:1). In the Lord's message (1 Kings 13:18). In the special message of consolation which he was commissioned to deliver. The Septuagint rendering, ἐν ἀγγέλοις κυρίου, "anong the angels of the Lord," led some to fancy that Haggai was an angel in human farm, which opinion is refuted by Jerome, in loc. I am with you (Haggai 2:4). A brief message comprised in two words, "I with you," yet full of comfort, promising God's presence, protection, aid, and blessing (comp. Genesis 28:15; Genesis 39:2; Joshua 1:5; Jeremiah 1:8; Matthew 28:20).
The Lord stirred up, etc. The Lord excited the courage, animated the zeal, of the chiefs of the nation, who had themselves succumbed to the prevailing indifference, and had suffered their ardour to be quenched. They came and did work. They went up to the temple and began to do the work which they had so long neglected.
In the four and twentieth day of the sixth month. The first admonition had been made on the first day of this month; the three intervening weeks had doubtless been spent in planning and preparing materials, and obtaining workmen from the neighbouring villages. The note of time is introduced to show how prompt was their obedience, and the exact time when "they came and did work in the house of the Lord" (Haggai 1:14). Some, on insufficient grounds, consider this clause to be an interpolation from Haggai 2:10, Haggai 2:18, with a change of "ninth" to "sixth month." In the Latin Vulgate, in Tischendorf's Septuagint, and in many editions of the Hebrew Bible, the whole of this verse is wrongly annexed to the following chapter. St. Jerome arranges it as in the Authorized Version. It is possible that, as St. Cyril takes it, the words, in the second year of Darius the king, ought to begin Haggai 2:1-23. The king's reign has been already notified in Haggai 2:1, and it seems natural to affix the date at the commencement of the second address.
I. SELECT THEIR OWN TIMES. These are:
1. Often unexpected. In the present instance this was probably the case. The band of exiles who, availing themselves of Cyrus's permission (Ezra 1:3), returned to Judah and Jerusalem—nearly 50,000 persons in all (Ezra 2:64, Ezra 2:65), though Pusey estimates the company of immigrants at 212,000, counting free men, women, children, and slaves—had for sixteen years at least not heard a prophet's voice. The last that had fallen on their ears had been Daniel's in Babylon (Daniel 9:1), which had predicted the going forth of a commandment to build and restore Jerusalem, and the coming, "seven weeks and three score and two weeks" thereafter, of Messiah the prince (Daniel 9:25). Now, in the second year of Darius the king (Ezra 4:24), i.e. about B.C. 520, the interval of silence terminated, and the lips of a new prophet were unsealed. That God reserves in his own hands "the times and seasons" of his special supernatural interpositions in human history, while it should keep men alive to every movement of the Divine presence in their midst, ought to guard them against presumption both in making and in interpreting prophecy.
2. Always appropriate. The interpositions of Heaven are never post horam. The clock of eternity always keeps time. When the hour comes, so does the man. Man often speaks at an inopportune moment; God, never. When Haggai stood forth among the Jews who had returned from Babylon, they were in urgent need of such a messenger from heaven as he proved himself to be. Sixteen years at home in their own land, for a year and a half they had been disheartened about the building of their temple, and had even discontinued work. Some had even begun to lose interest in the restoration of the sacred edifice (verse 2). Hence they much wanted rousing from indolence and rebuke for unbelief, as well as comfort in sadness and succour in weakness; and all this they received from the new monitor from Jehovah that bad arisen in their midst. So have God's revelations ever been as suitable to men's necessities as to time's urgencies. Notably was this the case with his showing of himself to Moses at the bush (Exodus 3:2), and his disclosure of himself to mankind in the Person of Christ (Galatians 4:4).
3. Sometimes suggestive. This was so in the case under consideration. First, the year in which Haggai appeared was suggestive of the people's sadness; having no more a king of their own to count from, they reckoned the date as that of the second year of Darius, i.e. of Darius Hystaspes (Darajavus of the cuneiform inscriptions), who reigned from B.C. 521 to B.C. 486. Next, the month—the sixth of their ordinary Jewish year, and therefore towards the close of harvest—ought at least, by the comparatively barren fields they had reaped, to have reminded them of their chastisement (verses 10, 11), and so induced in them a spirit of humility. Lastly, the day of the month, the new moon's day, which the Law had directed to be kept as a day of special sacrifice (Numbers 28:11), which their forefathers had observed as a popular festival, and marked by religious gatherings at the local sanctuaries (Isaiah 1:13, Isaiah 1:14; 2 Kings 4:23), and which probably they also celebrated as a holiday, might have spoken to them of their sin in preserving the outward forms of religion while neglecting its inward spirit, and perhaps also of their duty, to attend with true docility to the admonition which proceeded from the new prophet's lips.
II. FIND THEIR OWN INSTRUMENTS. These also are:
1. Mostly humble. Only once did Divine revelation find an organ that was truly exalted, viz. when he who, as the only begotten Son, had been in the Father's bosom, made him known (John 1:18)—although even then it was needful that that Son should empty himself of his glory and. veil his Divinity behind a garment of humanity before he could properly accomplish his work (Philippians 2:6, Philippians 2:7). But in all other instances the instruments selected by Jehovah for the transmission of his will to mankind are humble and lowly in comparison with him whose will they bear (Isaiah 40:18), even when they are angels; how much more when men, as they mostly are! And of these it is seldom the most exalted in rank or wisdom that he selects, but most frequently the lowliest—persons in obscure stations, like Moses when a stranger in Midian (Acts 7:29-31), like Elisha when holding the plough (1 Kings 19:19), or like Am when amens the herdsmen of Tekoa (Amos 1:1); and persons of unknown family, like Elijah the Tishbite, or Nahum the Elkoshite, or Habakkuk, of whom almost nothing is known.
2. Always suitable. Men frequently err in choosing instruments to execute their will; God, never. He can always discern spirits, while men only think they can. Men judge according to appearance; he, according to the heart. Haggai was, perhaps, not such a vehicle as man would have pitched upon to be the medium of a Divine communication. But for God's purpose he was fitted beyond most. Though not absolutely certain, it is most probable he was an old man of eighty years (Ewald, Pusey), who had seen the first temple in its glory (Haggai 2:3), and who could therefore speak with greater emphasis and solemnity as one standing on the confines of eternity, who knew the vanity of earthly greatness, and could appreciate the superior excellence and desirability of things inward and spiritual. Besides, his very name—Haggai, or "Festive"—fitted him to be the bearer of a message to desponding builders. What they wanted was inspiriting incitement, encouragement, and hope; and of that there was a promise in the old man's designation—Haggai, or "The Festal One"—especially if this only expressed the habitual disposition of his soul.
3. Generally efficient. "It has been the wont of critics, in whose eyes the prophets were but poets," writes Pusey, "to speak of the style of Haggai as 'tame' and destitute of life and power; but, for all that, it was adapted to the object sought to be accomplished. Haggai had no need to complain, as the eloquent Isaiah (first or second), "Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" (Isaiah 53:1); of him it is recorded that his words awoke an immediate response in his hearers' hearts, and "they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God" (verse 14). Man cannot always say of his instruments, however finely polished, that they will never fail; God can always predict of his, however rude, that they will certainly succeed.
III. CHOOSE THEIR OWN RECIPIENTS. These are commonly diverse, as in the present instance. Haggai's message was directed:
1. To Zerubbabel; concerning whom may be noted:
2. To Joshua; who also is described by his ancestry as the son of Josedech, who had been carried away by the Chaldeans to Babylon (1 Chronicles 6:15), when his father Zeraiah had been put to death by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:18-21; Jeremiah 52:24-27), and by his office as the high priest of the young community that had returned to Judea and Jerusalem. As Zerubbabel was their cirri, so was Joshua their religious, head; and "together they are types of him, the true King and true Priest, Christ Jesus, who by his resurrection raised again the true temple, his body, after it had been destroyed" (Pusey).
3. To the people. Though Haggai's words were directed in the first instance to Zerubbabel and Joshua, they were in the second instance designed for the whole congregation; and that the whole congregation received them, whether directly from the prophet's own lips or indirectly through those of the prince and the priest, is expressly stated (verses 12, 13).
1. The possibility of revelation.
2. The human medium of inspiration.
3. The greater privilege of the Christian Church in having as a revealer of the Divine will, not a human prophet merely, but the incarnate Son.
4. The higher responsibility which this entails.
The mistakes of the temple builders: a warning.
I. THEY FAILED TO DISCERN THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES. They imagined the time had not come for them to build the Lord's house, whereas it had fully arrived.
1. What led them to suppose or say so, though not stated, may easily be inferred.
2. The indications that the time had fully come were so plain that they should hardly have been misread.
II. THEY WERE TOO EASILY DAUNTED BY OPPOSITION.
1. The nature and source of this opposition is described in the Book of Ezra (4). Prevented from taking part in the building of the temple, the Samaritan settlers first "weakened the hands of the builders," next "hired counsellors against them," and ultimately obtained an interdict commanding them to cease. It was certainly annoying, but:
2. They should not have been so easily discouraged. No enterprise of any moment was ever carried through without encountering difficulties and frequently hostilities, and without calling for patient perseverance in well doing. How otherwise would Israel have been brought from Egypt at the first, or Judah from Babylon a few years before?
3. The same mistake is committed still by those who imagine the spiritual temple of Jehovah, either in the individual soul or in the Church as a whole, can be built without difficulty, without experiencing resistance from enemies within and without, or in any other way than by indomitable perseverance.
4. "Never despair" and "Never give in" should be the twin mottoes of every one engaged in temple building for God—of the individual believer, of the Christian minister, of the foreign missionary.
III. THEY PREFERRED THE MATERIAL AND TEMPORAL TO THE SPIRITUAL AND RELIGIOUS. The ordinary occupations of life had more attraction for them than the duties of religion. To assert that they cared nothing for religion would, perhaps, be wrong, since what had brought them back from Babylon, where for the most part they had comfortable settlements, was a true feeling of piety no less than an ardent spirit of patriotism. Yet were they not long back upon their much loved ancestral soil before they showed they had brought back with them from Babylon a passion stronger than even their love for religion, namely, devotion to the earthly and material pursuits of life. Their zeal in temple building was quickly damped, but not so their enthusiasm in ploughing and sowing their fields, in working for wages, in erecting magnificent mansions, sumptuous palaces like those they had seen and perhaps lived in in Babylon, with walls of polished stone and roofs of cedar. With much case they could see that "the time for building God's house was not come," as they supposed; they had large difficulty in perceiving it was not the season to attend to their ordinary avocations. So do many on becoming Christians carry over with them into their new life "passions for things material and temporal," which, while religious feeling is fresh, are kept in abeyance, but which, the moment this begins to abate, assert themselves to the hindrance of what is properly religious work, and to the detriment of the soul's religious life. This constitutes a third mistake against which Christians should be on their guard.
IV. THEY FOLLOWED THEIR OWN INTERESTS RATHER THAN THE GLORY OF GOD. One cannot help thinking that, had the building of the Lord's house been a matter that concerned their own glory, comfort, or interest, they would not have suffered it to lie waste as they did; but only the honour of the Deity was involved, and what was that to their material advantage and temporal felicity? Was it not of greater moment that they themselves should be well housed, well fed, well clothed, than that even God, who dwelleth not in temples made with hands, and requireth not to be worshipped as though he needed anything, should be well lodged? If it came to the worst, they could do without a temple altogether, could worship in the open air, as they had done since coming from Babylon, but they could not well do without well stocked farms and finely celled houses. And so they let the work, which had only God's glory as its motive, drop, and applied themselves to that which contemplated man's or their own material good. Is it wrong to find in this a parable for Christians? Is not the essence of Christianity just this—that a man, like Christ whom he follows, shall seek, not his own glory, but God's; shall do, not his own will, but the will of him who hath sent him into the world? Yet among professing Christians are those who cannot see beyond their own little selves, and who imagine that a man's chief duty upon earth, even after having become a Christian, is to do the best he can for himself, whereas it is to do the best he can for God. Acting on the former principle leads to spiritual blindness, to cowardice, to this-worldism, all of which are deplorable mistakes; acting on the latter.principle terminates in no such disastrous results, but brings with it to the individual so acting spiritual insight, moral courage, and heavenly—mindedness three qualities which ennoble all by whom they are possessed.
1. The duty of discerning the signs of the times.
2. The necessity of combining courage with forethought.
3. The propriety of guarding against the disturbing influence of supposed self-interest.
Haggai 1:5,Haggai 1:7
Considering one's ways.
I. AN EXALTED PRIVILEGE. The faculties of introspection and reflection, which enable man to consider his ways, constitute a lofty endowment, which places him incontestably at the apex of creation.
1. It distinguishes him from the lower animals. These may Do possessed of capabilities which enable them to perform actions in some degree resembling the fruits of intelligence—it may even be conceded are, in some instances at least, endowed with faculties of memory, imagination, and judgment; but they are wholly devoid of the powers of self-introspection and reflection here ascribed to man. Of the noblest of brute beasts it still remains to be proved that it ever said to itself, "I communed with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search" (Psalms 77:6); or "I thought on my ways" (Psalms 119:59).
2. It sets him in the neighbourhood of God. The Hebrew psalmist conceived the ideal man as a being only a little short of Divinity (Psalms 8:5); and though the basis on which he rested this conception was man's manifest dominion over the creatures, yet this arose, as he well knew, out of the fact that man, as distinguished from the lower creatures, had been made in the Divine image (Genesis 1:26); which again, in part at least, consisted in his capacity to consider his ways, or to look before and behind in whatever way he was treading. "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18); "He declareth the end from the beginning" (Isaiah 46:10); and though the Preacher affirms that "no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end" (Ecclesiastes 3:11), yet to each man has been granted the ability to consider the way in which he himself goeth (Ecclesiastes 5:1), and in this high capacity of pondering the path of his feet he possesses an endowment that in him a finite Doing corresponds to the omniscience of the infinite God.
II. AN URGENT DUTY. The consideration of one's ways required by two things.
1. Divine commandment. In addition to the twice-repeated exhortation here addressed to the builders, the admonition frequently occurs in Scripture (Psalms 4:4; Proverbs 4:26; 1 Corinthians 11:28; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 6:4) to commune with one's own heart, to search and try one's ways, to examine carefully into one's spiritual condition. And this to a good man is enough to constitute an imperative obligation. "Where the word of a king is"—much more where the word of the King of kings is—"there is power."
2. Present safety. No one can travel long securely or comfortably along the path of life who does not ponder well at the outset from what point the course he is pursuing starts, who does not frequently pause to notice whither it is tending, and who does not always have an eye upon the where and the how it shall terminate. The man that lives purely by haphazard, that rushes on blindfold into whatever enterprise he takes in hand, whether in business or religion, is sure to come to grief, if not to fall into the ditch.
3. Future responsibility. There might be less need for attending to this duty if the issues of our ways and actions always exhausted themselves on earth and in time. But they do not. "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and give an account of the deeds done in the body, whether these be good or whether they be bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10). The ways of every man project themselves into the unseen beyond. Every man is making his future by the, ways he is travelling and the deeds he is doing in the present.
III. A PROFITABLE EXERCISE. Apart altogether from the duty of it, the advantages to be derived from it should go far to recommend this practice.
1. Self-knowledge. No one will ever attain to a trustworthy or valuable acquaintance with his own heart who does not frequently undertake a review of "the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:1-27 :28) that proceed from it. Yet next to the knowledge of God and Christ, which constitute the essence of "life eternal" (John 17:2), the knowledge of self is the highest attainment to which one can rise.
2. Moral discernment. The power of distinguishing between right and wrong, which belongs to all as an intuitive endowment, is nevertheless susceptible of improvement or deterioration, according as it is exercised or neglected. It may be clarified, intensified, quickened, strengthened; or it may be dulled, darkened, weakened, deadened. Through diligent personal culture the soul may become sensitive to nicest distinctions of right and wrong as an aneroid barometer to smallest variations in the atmosphere; or, through want of use, it may become hard as a fossilized organism or as a petrified log of wood.
3. Spiritual improvement. No one is likely to make progress in religion without an intimate acquaintance with his own ways. Without this one may even not suspect that his religion is defective. In proportion as one knows what in himself is dark and needs illumining, or feeble and requires strengthening, or low and demands upraising, or deficient and calls for supplementing, or wrong and wants correcting, will one advance in moral and spiritual attainment.
1. The dignity of man.
2. The responsibility of life.
3. The duty of circumspection.
I. A FREQUENT OCCURRENCE. Poor harvests and profitless trade, famine and idleness, lack of bread and want of employment, nothing to eat, and nothing to do. The two commonly go together. Examples of famines were in ancient times those which occurred in Canaan (Genesis 12:10), in Egypt (Genesis 41:54), in Samaria (1 Kings 17:2; 2 Kings 6:25), in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 52:6); in modern times those which have taken place in India, China, and other parts of Asia.
II. A SORROWFUL EXPERIENCE. When the husbandman has laboured, and, perhaps through long continued drought, has obtained an altogether insufficient return for his labours. When through deficient harvests the people of a country are reduced to a state of semi-starvation. When through this failure in the sources of wealth the wheels of a nation's industry are stopped. When strong men who would willingly work can find no work to do. When wages already scanty are eaten up by exorbitant prices.
III. A PROVIDENTIAL JUDGMENT. Hard times:
1. Are of God's sending. To say that bad harvests and dull trade are the results of natural (physical and social) laws does not show them to be disconnected with God. The Almighty is behind both nature and society, Jehovah claimed that the state of matters in Judah after the exile was his doing.
2. Have their occasions, if not their causes, in sin. Haggai's countrymen had been made to suffer because of their indifference to religion and devotion to self-interest (verse 9). Were modern nations to reflect more deeply, they might discover connections between their characters and their conditions, their sins and their sufferings.
IV. A SALUTARY DISCIPLINE. Intended as all chastisement is:
1. To arrest attention. Inconsiderateness a principal sin of men and nations.
2. To convince of sin. A remarkable proof of depravity that moral perceptions require to be awakened by physical corrections.
3. To excite repentance. Though confessions under the lash are not the same thing as penitence, yet they may and should be, and often are, accompanied by penitence.
4. To promote amendment. Though punishment is not exclusively reformatory in its character, yet it is mostly (on earth at least) inflicted with design to benefit the sufferer.
1. Religion in individuals and nations the best defence against hard times.
2. Repentance and prayer the best resort in bad times.
Ancient temple builders.
I. UNIVERSAL ACTIVITY. "They came and did work"—all of them: "Zerubbabel the governor, Joshua the high priest, and all the remnant of the people." There was not an idler amongst them. Every person was engaged at something in connection with the building, The spectacle was:
1. The reproduction of an old scene, when in the wilderness of Sinai, orders having been issued for the construction of a tabernacle, "as many as were willing hearted came, both men and women," and contributed their aid to the work (Exodus 35:20-29).
2. The foreshadowing of a later scene, when the infant Church of the New Testament was assembled in the upper room, and "there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, which filled all the house where they were sitting," and "they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and all began to speak with tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4).
3. The picture of a (possibly) present scene. What is wanted is the carrying over of this scene of universal activity into the Christian Church, and the spectacle of every professing disciple of Jesus Christ contributing his quota of work to the building of that spiritual edifice which is today being erected on the foundation of the apostle and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Cornerstone, for the inhabitation of God through the Spirit Ephesians 2:20-22). "The kingdom of heaven is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work" (Mark 3:34).
II. CHEERFUL WILLINGNESS. "They all came." Not one required to be coerced or in any way dragged forth against his will. Nobody skulked or came forward with a grudge, but each was readier than his neighbour. So was it in the erection of the tabernacle; so should it be in the building of the Christian Church. Yet how to realize this ideal in the latter case is one of the problems o
from a depressed condition of religion in the soul. The cure for the first may be found in the grace of God (2 Corinthians 12:9); for the second, in a high conception of God's ability (Philippians 4:13); for the third, in doing the first thing that comes to hand (Ecclesiastes 9:10); and for the fourth, in a quickening of the soul by the Holy Ghost (Psalms 80:18).
2. The forwardness of Christians to engage in Christian work might be expected on many grounds. Gratitude to God, if nothing else, should constrain them (Psalms 116:12). Love to Christ might impel them (2 Corinthians 5:14, 2 Corinthians 5:15). The nobility of the work might attract them; it would be walking in the footsteps of Christ (Acts 10:38). The splendour of the reward might induce them (Daniel 12:3; Matthew 25:40; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 14:13). The clamant need there is for such work might move them (1 John 5:19). The good it would do might urge them (Titus 3:8).
III. ARDENT ENTHUSIASM. They came and did work. Not merely "putting in the time," as the workmen's phrase is; or simply dragging on with heartless indifference; or hurrying up the job with utmost, speed and in careless fashion, anxious to get it done, no matter how; but toiling honestly and earnestly, with a business like energy and determination, doing good work, and doing it with a will. Such had been the manner in which the tabernacle makers worked; such should be the style of working in the Christian Church.
1. The Founder of the Christian Church was an enthusiastic Worker. From the commencement of his ministry (Mark 4:23<