Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD. Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD’s message, “I am with you, declares the LORD.” And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, the governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.
Haggai 1:12-15 ESV
In our study of Haggai, we’ve seen that the first eleven verses form the primary message of the book. After fifteen years of not rebuilding the temple, the LORD sent Haggai the prophet with a message for the people to continue building God’s house. In the oracle, God called the people of Judah to consider how their lives had become an uphill battle as they continued to busy themselves with their own homes to the neglect of the temple. As we now conclude Haggai’s first chapter, we will see how the people responded to God’s message.
AND THE PEOPLE FEARED THE LORD // VERSE 12
To be honest, if you spend a lot of time reading the Bible, this verse can be a little unexpected. Through the historical narratives, we find God’s people in a near constant state of disobedience. Even from the beginning, such titans of the faith like Noah and Abraham fail to walk in perfect obedience. Noah’s sin is depicted as a sort of second fall after he gets drunk following the flood, and Abraham, the man of faith, lied twice about Sarah being his sister to save himself and impregnated Sarah’s servant, Hagar. Of course, Israel’s history continued to be littered with disobedience, which culminated in the Babylonian Exile as an act of discipline from the LORD. And as we have seen, even after returning from their captivity, the people still fell into disobedience once more.
Indeed, since Adam and Eve’s first rebellion, disobedience is the default state of the human heart, which makes the message of verses 2-11 a necessarily common matter throughout the Scriptures. God’s Word through various ways of speaking repeatedly calls us to reevaluate our priorities and to center them upon God’s glory. We need these “wake-up calls” because it is all too easy for us busy ourselves with our own houses to the neglect of God’s house as the people of Judah were doing. Thus, their sin was not surprising, but verse 12 kind of is.
In response to God’s oracle through Haggai, Zerubbabel, Joshua, and all the people obeyed God’s message. Notice that they received Haggai’s prophesy as the Word of God. Through this prophet, they recognized that God had spoken to them, and they received the LORD’s rebuke, responding with obedience.
This is a beautiful portrait of repentance. Although we are not told that the people prayed a prayer of confession before the LORD, their obedience to the LORD displays the reality of their repentance. Keep in mind that repentance means turning away from sin toward God. Thus, when Jesus began His ministry by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), He was calling all people to turn away from their sins and their devotion to lesser kingdoms and embrace instead the kingdom of heaven which had come upon them. Repentance is both rejection of former ways and a new beginning. True repentance, therefore, requires obedience.
Consider Jesus’ powerful conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24–27)
While Jesus did not verbally call for repentance in the Sermon on the Mount, the entire sermon beckons for us to follow the upside-down nature of God’s kingdom. We value strength, riches, power, and possessions, but Jesus tells us that God favors the meek, poor in spirit, persecuted, and the pure in heart. We are called to reject our former notions of how life and religion function and to devote ourselves to the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus’ final analogy is, therefore, fitting. Many will hear the words of Jesus. Many will hear the news that the kingdom of God is at hand. Many will hear the message that prioritizing work on God’s house above our own is a sound investment of eternal proportions. But not all will obey.
In many ways, Haggai’s descriptions of the people’s circumstances in verses 6, 9, and 10-11 fit the foolish man who built his house on sand. Although they were busy with their own houses, nothing was working because in their disobedience, they were building on sand.
But no longer. God spoke, and they displayed their repentance through their obedience. They set themselves to build God’s house.
Verse 12 then concludes by giving us a key insight as to why the people were now obeying the LORD: And the people feared the LORD. I don’t believe it’s possible to overstate the importance of this statement. In Ezra, we saw that whenever the people returned to their land, they obeyed the LORD by rebuilding the altar, offering sacrifices, and keeping their feasts and festivals as commanded through Moses. Yet their obedience was fueled by their fear of the peoples of the land. Their obedience came from a hope that the LORD would protect them from their enemies, so it was no surprise that when they faced adversity from those same enemies, their obedience faltered.
However, fifteen years later, their obedience is finally rooted in its proper foundation: the fear of the LORD. As Proverbs declares, the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Worldly wisdom rooted in the fear of men, of course, warned the people that it was not yet safe to build the temple; therefore, they simply needed to focus on fortifying their own homes. But once the people understood that God is more to be feared than men, they were able to see the true wisdom of obedience to the LORD.
Indeed, as we learned in Ezra 4, the adversaries to the people of Judah did not stop harassing them even after they finished the temple. The opposition continued for nearly a century into the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, where the peoples of the land tried to prevent the Jews from rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. The stark reality is that obedience to God is often an invitation for further adversity rather than an escape from it. After all, didn’t Jesus warn His disciples that we would be persecuted for His sake? And didn’t Paul and Barnabas encourage the faith of the disciples in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch by “saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
If all of this is true, if obeying the LORD often invites adversity, why is it wise to obey Him regardless of the cost? The next two verses will help us to answer that question.
I AM WITH YOU // VERSES 13-14
Following the people’s resolve to obey, the LORD gives Haggai another message, a much shorter yet crucial message: I am with you, declares the LORD. Here God gave to His people an assurance of His presence with them. Of course, the people could not escape the presence of the LORD as was evident in the first verses of this chapter. Even though the people neglected God’s house, the LORD did not forsake His people, yet His presence was one of discipline. He brought drought upon them in order to turn their hearts to Him again. Whatever they gathered, God blew away. In their disobedience, God appeared to be against them.
This promise to be with them is different. His presence is no longer disciplinary; rather, it is to be a comfort to His people. The people of Judah should recognize this promise from the account of God speaking to Isaac, saying, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake” (Genesis 26:24). Or perhaps for God’s promise to Jacob: “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15). Or as God spoke to Joshua: “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you” (Joshua 3:7). Or as God told Israel through Isaiah: “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
Or perhaps they thought of God’s words to Moses after the people of Israel worshiped the golden calf. God told Moses to take the people away from Sinai and that He would send an angel before them into the Promised Land to drive out all the peoples of the land but God Himself would not go with them. Moses responded to the LORD with this prayer: “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth” (Exodus 33:15-16)?
God’s presence among His people is what differentiates them from all other peoples of the earth. Even though Israel was once “the fewest of all peoples,” the LORD set His love upon them and chose them as His holy people (Deuteronomy 7:7). “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). God repeatedly uses the weak, the foolish, the poor, so that through them His glory and grace might be more clearly seen. Their exile may have been over, but they were not as they once were.
And this should have been good news for the people of Haggai’s day because twice in our verses they are called “the remnant of the people.” These Jews who returned from exile were but a fraction of their pre-exile numbers. Even though they were home, they were a scrap of their former selves. They were no longer a kingdom, only a territory. They no longer had their own king, only a governor.
Yet God was with them. He rebuked them in order to guide them back into obedience, and now in their obedience, He is speaking tenderly to them once more. Now that their fear was properly upon Him “who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” they were empowered to no longer fear those who can only kill the body (Matthew 10:28). To answer our previous question, even though building the temple would surely bring further persecution, God was more deserving of their fear than their adversaries. This fear of God is supremely wise because who is worthy of more fear than the infinite, holy, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly righteous God? Furthermore, if this same God has united Himself to us for our good, what else is there to fear? As Paul wrote to the Romans, “if God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31)?
Yet also notice how the LORD follows His message: And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. Fueling their obedience was the LORD causing them to desire to obey. As God’s presence was with them, He Himself ignited the fires of their devotion. If this sounds strange, consider the beauty of God’s promise to Israel through Jeremiah: “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (Jeremiah 32:40).
For us today, this promise still stands. For we who are followers of Christ, we have the promise of God not only with us but within us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, our sin has once for all been defeated and forgiven, so that all who place their faith in the grace of God in Christ alone are no longer under the condemnation of sin. Or as Paul continued to say, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). For us, God the Son has sent God the Spirit to dwell within us and strengthen us for obedience even as the Son also intercedes for us to God the Father. It was an act of grace for the LORD to stir up the spirit of the people of Judah, but for us today, we have the very Spirit of God who enables to walk in obedience to Christ.
Consider this: why would we not desire to obey such a God who loving corrects whenever we stray, who gives His presence to His people, and who enables His people to obey by His very own strengthen? Truly this is God is worthy of our fear and of our love. He is worthy of our devotion and of our obedience.
AND THEY CAME AND WORKED // VERSES 14-15
The first chapter of Haggai ends simply by telling us that the people came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king. Twenty-four days after Haggai’s original message, the people were working on the temple. Again, notice that their repentance following the LORD’s rebuke was evident by their response of obedience. God commanded them to build His house (v. 8), and they quickly began working on the LORD’s house.
Brothers and sisters, let us learn by example from the people of Judah’s repentance. There is a subtle temptation today to use conviction of sin as a sort of balm or even penitence for the guilt of sin without ever actually following through with obedience. We may even seek out convicting sermons, articles, or books. Yet conviction alone is not the goal. Conviction of sin is always intended to lead into the killing of sin and walking in further obedience to Christ. As we said earlier, many are hearers of the Word, but without obedience to the Word, we merely deceive ourselves (James 1:22).
And remember that the people of Judah already had their altar built, so they could have made a great display of offering sacrifices for their sin. And while they certainly may have offered sacrifices for their sin, its lack of mention here shows that the people knew that God delight more in their conformity to His Word than in going through the religious motions. God told them how He would be pleased, through the building of His house, so they built His house. In the same way, as the LORD convicts us of sin, let us follow by actually putting to death our sin.
None of this is to say that our salvation depends upon our obedience. Even the rebuke of Haggai 1:1-11 displayed that God had not forsaken His people. Their obedience was stirred up by God’s Word to them. Their work on the temple was in submissive response to the LORD who had bound Himself to them by covenant. Likewise, we are called to obey, and we are commanded to work. But our obedience and good works are in response to our salvation by grace through faith in Christ. We obey in loving fear of the God who sent His only Son to ransom us from the debt of our sin.
By this very study of Haggai, we have each heard the Word of God. By the hand of Haggai, God has spoken to us today. The command still stands: build the house of the LORD, seek first the kingdom of God, devote your time and resources to God as your highest priority. And now we’ve seen the example of the people of Judah who responded by obeying the Word of the LORD and working on God’s house.
How, therefore, will you respond? Do not be satisfied with being merely convicted of sin; instead, obey the LORD and begin to seek His kingdom before all things. In what ways will you shift from busying yourself with your kingdom to building the kingdom of God? Whether its Bible reading, prayer, the weekly gathering, giving, evangelism, or perhaps submitting to Christ as Lord for the first time, make God’s kingdom more important than your kingdom, focus more on building God’s house than your own. Repent of neglecting God’s kingdom by turning from sin and obeying the Word of the LORD.
May we follow the example of the people of Judah by walking in swift obedience to the LORD. May we trust not in our own ability to obey but instead place our faith in the Triune God who is placing the fear of Himself within us. And as we know that disobedience is always around the corner for us again, may we be quick to repent of sin and do the work of the LORD.
- Why does Haggai refer to the people of Judah twice as the remnant of the people?
- What is the relationship between repentance and obedience?
- Why is the people’s fear of the LORD so significant? Could you say that you also fear the LORD?
- What is the importance of God declaring that He was with the people of Judah? In what way is God present with us today?
- What is the relationship between the LORD stirring up the people’s spirit and their obedience? How does God effect our obedience to His Word today?