In Part 1 of this blog, I asked you to read Haggai Chapter 1 and to spend some time reflecting on what it said. If you would like to go back and read this chapter of the Bible, you can do that here.
From our reading of Haggai 1, there is one verse that really stood out to me and that was Haggai 1:12. Let’s look at that verse again.
Haggai 1:12 (NIV)
12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.
They obeyed God because they feared God.
From the leaders of the people in Jerusalem, the message of Haggai went out to all the people: We have sinned by caring more about our own desires than the pleasure and glory of God, and He is standing in the way, in judgment against us!
The people, in response, feared the Lord. Now there’s something we don’t hear much about these days – fearing the Lord. In many ways we have made God in our own image, focusing on Him as our Big Benefactor, our Constant Comforter, or our Soul-saving Savior, according to whichever of these seems to be more important to us at any given time. In the process we have minimized or forgotten certain aspects of the character of God. We have forgotten His righteousness, holiness, justice, discipline, and might.
God humbled the people of Jerusalem in Solomon’s day when, through the prophet Asaph, He rebuked them for thinking that He was just like them. This is found in Psalm 50. Let’s take a look at that Psalm.
Psalm 50 (NIV)
A psalm of Asaph.
1 The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
2 From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.
3 Our God comes
and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.
4 He summons the heavens above,
and the earth, that he may judge his people:
5 “Gather to me this consecrated people,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
6 And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
for he is a God of justice.
7 “Listen, my people, and I will speak;
I will testify against you, Israel:
I am God, your God.
8 I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices
or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.
9 I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every bird in the mountains,
and the insects in the fields are mine.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
14 “Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
fulfill your vows to the Most High,
15 and call on me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”
16 But to the wicked person, God says:
“What right have you to recite my laws
or take my covenant on your lips?
17 You hate my instruction
and cast my words behind you.
18 When you see a thief, you join with him;
you throw in your lot with adulterers.
19 You use your mouth for evil
and harness your tongue to deceit.
20 You sit and testify against your brother
and slander your own mother’s son.
21 When you did these things and I kept silent,
you thought I was exactly like you.
But I now arraign you
and set my accusations before you.
22 “Consider this, you who forget God,
or I will tear you to pieces, with no one to rescue you:
23 Those who sacrifice thank offerings honor me,
and to the blameless I will show my salvation.”
Anybody who thinks God is just like them, or that He exists primarily to meet our needs, or is at our beck and call according to our whims, had better get ready to know the Lord’s opposition to their puny, selfish schemes.
And now that the people of Jerusalem in Haggai’s day had their selfishness exposed and been informed that God was standing in their way in judgment, they responded by fearing the Lord. They feared the Lord precisely because they understood that He is capable of doing what the prophet had said, and that they were just the sort of people against whom God might take such disciplinary action. What more might this mighty, angry God do to get them to repent?
Typically in Scripture, people express the fear of the Lord in predictable ways. They hide their faces in shame, fall down on the ground weeping and pleading for forgiveness, and beat their breasts or throw dust on their heads as a sign of their repentance. Then they change their ways. Conviction of sin leads to the fear of the Lord; the fear of the Lord leads to seeking Him in prayer and repentance; and seeking the Lord leads to finding grace and renewal.
This is precisely what we see here. When the leaders of Jerusalem, convinced by the Word of God, went to the people, their conviction and earnestness must have been evident to all. The people were cut to the heart and immediately sought the Lord for renewal. God stood ready to forgive and revive them, and He did.
There’s a formula here that we need to consider for our own day. The Word of the Lord is clear: seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Pursue holiness in the fear of God. Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Obey what God has written in His Word. Seek first His Kingdom.
This is the Word of the Lord. The question then becomes; will we receive it?
Can we see that He is frustrating our lives, He is holding back His blessings, He standing in our way and calling us to repent and seek Him? Because until we see this, admitting our compromise and sin and pleading with the Lord for renewal, all we’ll ever know in this life is the same old uninspired, watered down, powerless Christian faith we’ve known thus far.
The fear of the Lord – repenting, seeking Him, calling out to Him for renewal – is the tipping point in a process that begins with the Word of the Lord and ends in obedience and renewal. We need to face up to our failure to take seriously the Lord’s mandate and plan. We need to hear the Word of the Lord with open hearts and minds. We need to realize that God, Who is even now bringing us to fruitlessness and frustration, stands ready to turn the screws even more, until we repent.
The only ones holding us back from living the lives that God has designed for us to live is ourselves.
I think we all need to heed the advice that Morgan Freeman playing the part of “Red” game us in the timeless classic movie, Shawshank Redemption; “We need to get busy living or get busy dying.” Which will you choose?