But now I will not treat the remnant of this people as I did in the past," declares the LORD of Hosts.
Haggai 1:2-6; Haggai 2:15-19) respecting Heaven's displeasure at their apathy in God's work and their eagerness in their own. In the words we have a Divine call to a Divine work. This call is urged on two considerations.
I. THE WRETCHEDNESS CONSEQUENT ON THE NEGLECT OF DUTY. "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Let your hands be strong, ye that hear in these days these words by the mouth of the prophets, which were in the day that the foundation of the house of the Lord of hosts was laid, that the temple might be built." The "prophets" here referred to were undoubtedly Haggai and Zechariah (see Ezra 5:1, 2). The words which they addressed to the people were words of stimulation and encouragement to arise and rebuild the temple. The prophet here reminds them, as an inducement to set in earnest to the work, of the wretched condition of the people before the work began. "For before these days there was no hire for man, nor any hire for beast; neither was there any peace." That is, "before the days" the building commenced: They were then destitute of three elements essential to the well being of any people.
1. Industry. "There was no hire for man, nor any hire for beast." The people were purposeless, lazy, and in a state of general lethargy and collapse. No great project inspired their interest, engrossed their intention, enlisted and marshalled their powers. The lack of industry is a curse to any people; it is an injury to health, as well as an obstruction to material and social progress.
2. Peace. "Neither was there any peace to him that went out or came in because of the affliction." The lack of earnest occupation naturally led to intestine broils and contentions. Nothing is more natural and more common than for people without employment to wrangle and dispute with one another. "Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do." Men who are full of business have no time to quarrel
3. Social unity. "For I set all men every one against his neighbour." In biblical phraseology, the Almighty is frequently represented as doing that which he only permits. It would be unreasonable and even blasphemous to suppose that the God of love and peace exerts himself in any way to inspire his human creatures with hostility towards one another. But for reasons known to himself, and which we are bound to regard as wise and kind, he often allows these feelings to rise and express themselves in malignant recriminations and bloody wars. He originates good, and good only; and the evil which he permits, he overrules for good, and for good only. The general truth here taught is that, so long as duty is neglected by men, certain terrible evils must ensue. Hence the Divine call, "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Let your hands be strong." Go with courage and energy into the work which is Divinely enjoined.
II. THE IMPROVEMENT WHICH ENSUES ON THE RESUMPTION OF DUTY. "Blot now I will not be unto the residue of this people as in the former days, saith the Lord of hosts. For the seed shall be prosperous," etc. This means, "But now, as you have resumed the work and rebuilt the temple, I will Bless you." There are three blessings here promised.
1. Temporal prosperity. "For the seed shall be prosperous; the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew." Material nature is in the hands of God, and he can at any moment make it a curse or a blessing to man. Here he promises to make it a blessing. "Godliness is profitable unto all things," etc.
2. Social usefulness. "And it shall come to pass, that u ye were a curse among the heathen, O house of Judah, and house of Israel [comprehending the whole of the Jewish people]; so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing." The expression, "a curse among the heathen," may mean either that they were "cursed" by the heathen - objects of their denunciation - or that they were a curse to the heathen by the influence of their corrupt example. The latter seems to me the most likely idea. (See another explanation of the phrase in the Exposition.) The whole of the Jewish people, prior to the Captivity - with a few exceptions - were sunk into almost the lowest depths of moral corruption. But now it is promised that on the resumption of the great duty which Heaven had enjoined upon them, they should be a "blessing." So it ever is; the disobedient are a curse to any community; the obedient are evermore a blessing. "No man liveth to himself." We must either bless or curse our race.
3. Divine favour, "For thus saith the Lord of hosts; As I thought to punish you, when your fathers provoked me to wrath, saith the Lord of hosts, and I repented not: so again have I thought in these days to do well unto Jerusalem and to the house of Judah: fear ye not," Where there was Divine displeasure there would be Divine favour.
CONCLUSION. On these two grounds men may always be urged to duty. Duty neglected brings misery on a people; duty resumed and faithfully prosecuted will utterly reverse the experience, turn the distressing into the joyous, the destitution into abundance, the discordant into the harmonious, the pernicious into the beneficent. Listen, then, to the voice of Heaven! "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Let your hands be strong," etc. - D.T.
But now I will not be unto the residue of this people as in the former days
I. A MESSAGE PROM GOD TO THE CHILDREN OF MEN.
1. The immediate agent by whom the communication is made — the Spirit of God. It is this Holy Spirit who is the author, the immediate author, of all communications from God to man. It should give a great solemnity to all that is addressed to us, to recollect that it comes to us by the immediate agency of the Holy Ghost.
2. There are instruments appointed for the communication of this message. "By the prophets." The ministration of fellow men — ancient prophets, apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
3. The nature of the communication thus made. It is a message of instruction, conviction, consolation, and warning.
II. THE RESISTANCE AND OPPOSITION WHICH IN EVERY AGE US BEEN MADE TO THE MESSAGE. Mark the varied forms in which this opposition is here described. When is it that resistance may be said to be made to the Spirit, in the Word?
1. When men estrange themselves from the means of grace and salvation, and place themselves beyond the reach of those means, it may be justly feared that they are in the state of those who refuse to hearken. How many do place themselves in such situations!
2. When men perversely act in direct contradiction to the light they have received. All sin is heinous in the sight of God. But that is especially heinous which is committed in direct opposition to the light we have received, whether that light have been communicated by the instructions of an earlier age, by the ministrations of the prophets, or by means of any of the various institutions which have been set on foot in our day.
3. Where there is a determination to persevere in a course of sin, against the remonstrance of conscience and the Word of God. This is surely pulling away the shoulder, and stopping the ears, and hardening the heart.
4. When to the impiety of unbelief is added the iniquity of scorn and contempt, and when ridicule is poured by men of determined minds on things sacred.
III. THE TREMENDOUS CONSEQUENCES TO WHICH SUCH CONDUCT INEVITABLY EXPOSES. To the wrath of God; the Divine displeasure. Here presented as "great wrath"; and "great wrath from the God of armies, the Lord of hosts." Lessons —
1. Admire and adore the condescension, patience, and grace of God the Holy Spirit. Condescension in that He visits our world with the messages of mercy, and brings home to our ears and to our hearts the sounds of reconciliation and salvation. Patience, in that He still visits us and waits to be gracious; still strives in the hearts of the unregenerate — still visits His people with the dews of the heavenly grace.
2. This subject affords a clear demonstration of the depravity of human nature. If I could find no other proof of human depravity, I should find it in this enmity of man to all that is good and gracious.
3. Learn the debt of gratitude you owe to the Son of God. For you would still have gone on in the way of enmity if He had not visited you. It was the sovereignty of God's distinguishing grace which gave you eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to feel.
4. We tremble for some of you. Because you have heard these things again and again; you have seen the Cross of Christ reared in your midst — and some of you are still stopping your ears and hardening your hearts; instead of yielding up to the convictions of your minds, you are struggling against them.
I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things
I. THE POSSESSIONS. The people will be distinguished by that which they are to possess.
1. The city of freedom, the new Jerusalem. There is no sense in which in this possession freedom is not implied. The Jerusalem that is above all is free for us all. The first feature is freedom from sin.
2. This Jerusalem shall be a city of truth. This truth, that from first to last we are saved entirely by the grace of God. This grace is entirely by the Lord Jesus Christ. The second thing to be careful upon is that regeneration is one part of the work of grace.
3. This city is called "the mountain of the Lord." So called because the Lord is there.
II. HOW THE PEOPLE ARE BROUGHT TO POSSESS THESE THINGS. The Jews in their return from captivity, and coming back to their land, and the Lord making the land fruitful, are the things indicated here. It was on Christ's account, — that was the deep foundation reason why they came back from captivity at all. And how is it you return to Zion? It is because God chose you in Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world. By virtue of the secret relationship existing between you and Jesus Christ you are brought to possess these things.
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