Haggai 2: 1 - 9
“Satan’s only design is to hurt the cause of God.” To do his work, he has many weapons. He may at one time use greed, another time use anger or false accusation, another time use lust, evil desires, or the temptation to revenge. But of all his weapons, none is sharper than discouragement. If only he can get the saints of God to despair over their efforts, then his battle is already won.
Many struggle mightily with discouragement and disappointment. Perhaps you expected more from life and feel somewhat cheated by circumstances. It could be that you have been roughly treated by someone who promised to love you forever or perhaps you have suffered at the hands of your own family. Many feel mistreated by those with whom they work every day. It could be that you have had more than your share of sickness and calamity and now wish for a calm, sunny day but none is in sight.
Our text is a study in the causes and cure of spiritual disappointment. After returning from exile in Babylon, the Jews commenced rebuilding the temple, then ceased the work not long after, largely because of opposition from the Samaritans. 16 years later God raised up Haggai to call the people back to the task at hand. With his prodding, they began the work in September of 520 B.C. A month later the initial enthusiasm had waned again. This time they were overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the project and by the memories of how great Solomon’s temple had been. By comparison their efforts seemed embarrassingly small.
Building a Shack on the Ruins of the Taj Mahal
Such a small building could only call attention to the past with all its glories. Haggai now speaks to the willing but discouraged workers. Let’s look at the causes for their disappointment - and discover something about our own personal struggles.
1. The Causes of Disappointment
Most of the reasons revolve around the problem of a bad memory. They were guilty of dwelling on the negative and of forgetting the positive altogether. Memory can be a blessing or it can be a curse. For them it had become a burden than hindered their progress.
A. Good Memory of the Wrong Things v. 3a
It not impossible that Haggai was a young boy when the temple was destroyed. Certainly there must have been a few people over 75 who remembered the splendour of Solomon’s temple and mourned for what they had lost. When they spoke, they recalled the glory of the old days and remarked at how puny this new temple seemed by comparison. It hardly seemed like a temple at all. Where was the gold and silver of Solomon’s temple? It almost embarrassed them to see such a shabby structure erected where once the old temple had been. Perhaps it just wasn’t worth the effort. Maybe it would be better to simply live with the happy memories of the “good old days.”
Memory is a wonderful thing if you remember the right things. For some memory is a blessing. For the Jews of the day it was a curse because they not only remembered the past, they lived there.
B. Bad Memory of the Right Things v. 5a
The Jews had forgotten what God had done for them at the Red Sea. That amazing miracle seemed like a distant memory. They had forgotten how they were trapped with the Egyptian army behind them and the Red Sea before them. Moses struck the water, the sea parted, and they walked through on dry land. When the Egyptians followed them, the seas came together and swallowed Pharaoh’s entire army. Why did God remind them of this stupendous miracle? Because he’s the same God today that he was back then. He still works miracles today. v. 5: “My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”
Abraham is gone. Moses is gone. David is gone. Solomon is gone. But the Holy Spirit is still here! Fear not, be strong, pick your hammer and keep on working. Don’t look back to the past, don’t worry about who isn’t here. Focus on who is here: the Holy Spirit. He is with His people forever. Be encouraged. Keep moving forward. Don’t be afraid to tackle an “impossible” project. Don’t be intimidated by circumstances. God has promised to stay with us. His Spirit is the fulfilment of that unbreakable promise.
C. Playing the Comparison Game v. 3b
The old people remembered the glory of the ancient temple and wept when they saw how puny this new temple was. It seemed to represent all the failure of the past. It was living symbol of what they had lost 66 years earlier. They felt it wasn’t even worth the effort to rebuild because it would never be like the good old days.
The same thing happens to us whenever we play the comparison game. We compare our children and our wives and husbands. We compare what we used to have with what we have now. We remember the past as better than it really was so that the present seems worse than it really is.
The comparison game is foolish and dangerous because only God can make a proper comparison. I am reminded of that strange and touching story about Peter and Jesus. 3 times Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” 3 times Peter answered yes, and 3 times Jesus told him to feed the flock of God. Then Peter saw John following them and asked, “What about him?" - meaning, where does he fit in your plans? To which Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (John 21:22).
God isn’t obligated to treat us in exactly the same way he treats anyone else nor is he required to treat us today exactly as he did yesterday. Because God is God and we are not, he has the absolute right to do what he pleases. If you think about that fact, it renders all comparisons useless and counterproductive.
D. Living in the Past, Downgrading the Present and Forgetting the Future v. 9
Inevitable result. Because you live in the past, you look down on the present, you forget about God’s promises for the future. In this case, it meant missing God’s promise to bring even greater glory to the rebuilt temple than it ever had during Solomon’s days. Spiritual disappointment drains all our energy because we focus toward the past instead of moving confidently into the future.
2. The Cure for Disappointment
4 specific steps we must take to free ourselves from the swamp of self-pity and the slough of despond (to use John Bunyan’s famous phrase). First step is the hardest, most basic, and most important.
A. Let Go!
How often this lesson comes up in the spiritual life. We will never grow until we learn to let go of the past. The Jews had to let go of their fond memories of Solomon’s temple. Until they did that, they would never make any spiritual progress. For you it may mean letting go of some painful memory from the past that keeps you from moving ahead. It may mean choosing to forgive even though the other person won’t admit they did anything wrong. It often will mean deliberately choosing to let go of some dream you held onto for many years. No matter what it is - whether good of bad - if it’s holding you back, you’ve got to let go of it.
The lesson that God wants to impress upon us is that God always does a new and different work. The thing that is coming in the future is always better for our present situation than the past. We do not need to hang on to tradition. God is saying, “Keep on working, I am with you. And when I am in your midst you don’t need to worry about how it is going to turn out. It may be different but it will always be better.” As hard as it may be, you have to let go. Until you do, you can never move forward with God.
B. Look Up!
To look up means to get a new view of who God is. Haggai used one particular name for God 6 times in these 9 verses - “The LORD Almighty.” “He who is sovereign over all the powers of earth and heaven.” It’s an extremely strong name for God. You might even call it a “military” name because it means that He is the God who is greater than all the forces of earth and heaven.
No one can stand against him. No one can defeat his purposes. No one can hinder him in the least. When the LORD Almighty goes out to do battle on your behalf, you’re going to win because he’s never lost a battle yet. When David stood in the Valley of Elah facing that mighty giant Goliath, what name of God do you think he used? “I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty” - When your God is big, the task before you will be small. David’s God was so big that Goliath didn’t seem so big to him. The Jews of Haggai’s day had a small God so the task of rebuilding the temple seemed overwhelming to them. In the same way, your view of God radically affects the way you approach life. Take a good look at the God you worship. Is he big enough to handle your problems? If not, then you need to look up and get a new view of God—the LORD of Hosts, the LORD Almighty.
C. Look Ahead!
God only sends his people in one direction: Forward! He never sends them back to the past, and he never lets them stay in one place too long. The people of Haggai’s day had romanticized the past and completely forgotten about the future. What was that future? v. 6-9 make 3 specific promises about the future:
i. A time of international shaking is coming upon the world. He shook the earth when he gave Moses the law. Haggai said a day is coming when he is going to shake the earth again. But the next time he will shake the heavens as well. The day is coming when all the world will be shaken by God. A shaking greater than any earthquake. In that final great day everything manmade will be destroyed. Only eternal things will remain.
Don’t pin your hopes on the world system. It’s going down for good. It can’t last. It’s going to crumble and fall. The whole world and everything in it. If you live your life for this world, in that day everything you live for will be nothing but dust. Therefore, if you have some money……invest it for God. If you have some food….share it with the poor. If you have some clothes…..give to those who have none. If you have some water…give it to the thirsty. If you have some time on your hands….spend it with the hurting. If you have some good news….give it to the lost. God is saying something important to us. He is giving us an unshakeable kingdom. It’s ours. Guaranteed. So we can afford to share the things of this world with others. It can’t last much longer anyway.
B. The desired of all nations shall come. This is one of the titles of Christ: He is the Desired of Every Nation. His coming was expected by the nations. His salvation is needed by all people. He is admired in every nation because he has followers in every nation. He is desired by all who see him as he is. He will be prized by all in the end. He is the light of the gentiles and the salvation of the earth. All kings will one day bow before him. So he is—and will ever be—the Desired of All Nations.
C. The latter glory will be greater than the former glory. How can that be? Is this only wishful thinking? Solomon’s temple was so vast and magnificent and this temple seems so small and insignificant. For hundreds of years this prophecy would seem impossible. But the day would come when Jesus himself would walk through the temple precincts in Jerusalem. He is the “greater glory” that God promised to the people of Haggai’s day. Don’t miss the lesson. You never know what will come of your faithful service for God. Some little thing you say or do may vastly impact the world and touch many lives for Christ.
Wonderful antidote to discouragement. Be faithful because you never know who is watching and listening. You never know the lives you can impact through your faithful service for Christ.
D. Get Moving!
Final step in overcoming disappointment. Get up and get moving for God. Too many of us sit around stewing in our juices when the Lord says, “Get up, my child, and do the work I have called you to do.” That’s what the Lord said to the Jews. 3 times in v. 4 God says, “Be strong.” Rise up and do the work of God. Be strong in the face of difficult and do the work of God. Don’t let anything stop you. Be strong and work!
Sometimes the best therapy is rising from your seat of despair and tackling the job in front of you. So many people live in defeat because they can’t climb the steep mountain before them. Just remember this: You don’t have to climb the mountain. You just have to take the next step with God. He’ll take care of the rest.
Don’t Let Discouragement Drive You from God
Doubt is not a sin unless it drives you away from God - same is true for discouragement. We are all discouraged from time to time, but that need not be a sin unless we let it take us away from the Lord. It may just be that I am speaking to some very discouraged and disappointed people who wonder why God has allowed certain things to happen. Perhaps you’ve been through a series of events that has shaken you deeply. Whatever you do, don’t turn away from God. How will things get better if in your despair you reject the only fountain of hope? Let God speak to you and pray for ears to hear His voice clearly.
This applies especially to those sinners who do not know Jesus Christ. Your disappointment may be God’s appointment to bring you to the cross for forgiveness and salvation. Just as the Lord said, “My Spirit remains among you,” I declare that God’s Spirit is here today calling you to salvation. He can lead you to repentance and faith and give you new life. If you feel hopeless, congratulations. God specialises in saving hopelessly lost people. He lifts the fallen and encourages those who turn to him.
Run to the cross. Lay hold of Jesus. Rest your troubled soul in him. Do you want to be saved? If you have the slightest desire, you can be saved today because the Spirit of the Lord remains among us. He will save you if you cry out to Jesus with all your heart.
Seek the Lord while he may be found. Yield to him while the Spirit woos your heart. Open the door of your heart and Jesus himself will come in. May God grant you faith to believe in Jesus and give you everlasting peace and hope through his Spirit who remains among us this very day. Amen.