A Time to Bless
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, January 16, 2000
Copyright © 2000, P. G. Mathew
On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Haggai: "This is what the LORD Almighty says: `Ask the priests what the law says: If a person carries consecrated meat in the fold of his garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, oil or other food, does it become consecrated?'" The priests answered, "No."
Then Haggai said, "If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?" "Yes," the priests replied, "it becomes defiled."
Then Haggai said, "'So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,' declares the LORD. 'Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.
"'Now give careful thought to this from this day on-- consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the LORD's temple. When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not turn to me,' declares the LORD. `From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the LORD's temple was laid. Give careful thought: Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig-tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.
"'From this day on I will bless you.'"
If I asked you if you wanted to be blessed by God, I am sure you would say yes. Many of us will agree to such a question without giving it much thought and careful deliberation. But many of us do not realize that all of God's promises and covenants are conditional. There are certain requirements we must fulfill in order to be blessed by God, and not everyone may want to fulfill them.
I have good news to give to you from this passage. Our God is a God who yearns and longs to bless every person without discrimination--that is, every person who repents, confesses, and forsakes his sins, and who trusts in Jesus Christ alone and walks in obedience to him. These are the requirements for God's blessing.
As we study this passage, I pray that you make a commitment to walk in obedience to God and receive his blessing. If you do so, you can mark this date and see whether from this day forward you are blessed--spiritually, physically, economically, and socially. God is saying today that if you commit to walking in obedience to him, every conceivable blessing will rest upon you.
A Promise of Blessing
aggai 2:10-19 is the word of the Lord that came to the prophet Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the seventh Hebrew month, or December 18, in 520 B.C. This was the third message the prophet received from the Lord and gave to the people of God in Jerusalem. God gave the first and second message in the sixth and seventh months, respectively, and another message, which we find recorded in Zechariah 1, through the prophet Zechariah in the eighth month of the same year.
After Haggai's first two prophecies, the people of Jerusalem repented and prepared to rebuild the ruined temple of God. This third message conveyed what God would do for his people in the future in response to their resuming their work on the temple. In this message God was telling his people that because of their repentance and obedience they would have a bright future. God was pleased with his people and was planning to prosper them.
In verse 19 God said, "From this day on I will bless you." From December 18, 520 B. C. on, God said he would bless his people, and they could rely on this sure promise of God. Repentance and obedience always result in God blessing his people. God's people had experienced years of frustration as a result of their sin, but now a time to bless had arrived. God would lift all the curses from his people and surely bless them from now on.
This promise of God is for us this day as well. It doesn't matter how terribly you have sinned and grieved the Holy Spirit of God. If you truly repent today and begin to obey God, he will certainly bless you from this day forward. Mark this day on your calendar and see if God doesn't bless you! He will bless you spiritually, that your soul will delight in him; he will bless you physically, that you will experience divine health; and he will bless you materially, that you will have sufficiency to meet your need and share with others. This is the time for God to bless all his people who repent, confess, and forsake their sins and begin to obey God.
In this study we want to examine the curse of the past, the repentance of the present, and the blessings of the future.
The Curse of the Past
The third message of Haggai had a backward look. The underlying question was why had God not blessed his people, who came to Jerusalem about 538 B.C. according to his direction? God had stirred the hearts of these people, as we read in Ezra 1:5, to return to Jerusalem for the specific purpose of rebuilding the temple. They were also responding to the decree of Cyrus that whoever wanted could return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.
When the people arrived in Jerusalem, they built an altar right away and began to offer sacrifices. They laid the foundation for the temple, but when they faced opposition from the enemies, these people who had come back under the direction of God and in accordance with the decree of Cyrus to rebuild the temple, acted in unbelief and sinful fear, as we read in Ezra 4:24. They abandoned the temple construction and began to concentrate their attention on their own self-interests. This situation continued for sixteen years, from 536 B.C. to 520 B.C., until God raised up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to exhort the people to begin building again.
What were these people were saying during this period of self-seeking? "It is not yet time to build the house of God." They were saying, "It is not yet time to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. It is not yet time to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength."
But although these people were not building God's house, they were busy. What were they doing in the meantime? Building luxurious, paneled houses for themselves. Throughout this time, for sixteen years, they also continued to offer sacrifices upon the altar they had built when they first came. But these sacrifices were not accepted by God and the people were not experiencing God's blessing because of their disobedience.
Disobedience Renders Worship Unacceptable
God was not pleased with the prayers and worship of his people because they had abandoned the work on the temple. This is the teaching of Haggai 2:11-14. It says that holiness is incommunicable, but contamination is very communicable. For example, a father cannot communicate his health to his sick child, but his sick child can communicate his illness to the father. The meat of sacrifice cannot confer its holiness to anything that it touches, such as bread, wine, or oil., but an unclean person who touches a dead body can make these things--bread, wine, oil, or the meat of sacrifice--unclean.
Haggai applied this priestly wisdom to the lives of the people of Israel, to explain to them why God had not blessed them, and we must apply it to our own lives as well. When a disobedient and unbelieving person worships God, no matter how much he prays, his worship will not accepted by God because the evil of his heart renders that worship unacceptable to God. God abhors externalism and outward worship. He is interested in our hearts being right with him.
In Psalm 51:17 David speaks of the sacrifices desired by God: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." In other words, God will accept the broken and contrite heart. In Isaiah 57:15 God makes a similar statement: "I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite."
God is more interested in our hearts than in any external sacrifices. In 1 Samuel 15:22-23 Samuel told King Saul, "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king."
In Genesis 4 we notice that Abel and Cain both offered sacrifices to God, but God rejected Cain's sacrifice. Cain's heart was evil and he did not believe in God. Because his sacrifice was rejected, Cain became angry and his face fell. But God came to Cain in grace and told him, "You do the right thing. If you offer sacrifices according to my word and faith, with a good heart that loves God, they shall be accepted and your face will be lifted up. Just do what is right."
Cain knew what was right, but he refused to do it because he was a rebel and a wicked man. Even though God spoke to him in grace, he rejected God's counsel, and his refusal cost him God's blessing.
What about us? When God does not accept our worship, haven't we questioned him, saying, "Why didn't you accept my worship? Why are you not pleased with it? Why didn't you bless me?"--not realizing that the problem is our own disobedience.
Jesus spoke about this also in Matthew 5:21-24: "If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." Suppose you did something wrong to your brother, but then you go to worship in the church. Your heart is evil, but you pay no attention to it, and you begin to praise and pray to God. What does God say? "I will not accept your worship until your heart is right. Go and be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." The understanding is that once your heart is right, your gift will be accepted and you will be blessed.
May God help us to pay attention to this! Acceptable worship is worship that results in God being pleased and your being blessed. God desires that we offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, but that includes having clean hearts before God. Only when our hearts are clean can we worship God acceptably. Only then will he bless us.
The Chastisement of Curses
For sixteen years God's people refused to obey his command to rebuild the temple. Instead of experiencing covenant blessings, they experienced covenant curses of the type prophesied in Deuteronomy 28 and 29.
In Haggai 1:9 we read, "You expected much but, see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away." In Haggai 1:11 we read, "I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands." In Haggai 2:17 we read, "I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail." And in Haggai 2:16 we read, "When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten." That is only fifty percent of what they had expected. "When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty," or forty percent.
These people were expecting, calculating, and counting on a good harvest, but they encountered only frustration and disappointment. Who foiled their plans by striking the harvest? God himself. This was curse!
These people were experiencing the curses promised by God throughout the Old Testament to all who disobeyed his covenant. In Amos 4:9 we read about God dealing with his people the same way another time: "'Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards; I struck them with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you have not returned to me,' declares the Lord."
What was the reason for this frustration and lack of productivity? The sin of the people. In Micah 6:13-15 we read, "Therefore I have begun to destroy you, to ruin you because of your sins. You will eat but not be satisfied; your stomach will still be empty. You will store up but save nothing, because what you save I will give to the sword. You will plant but not harvest; you will press olives but not use the oil on yourselves, you will crush grapes but not drink wine."
Sin results in curse. This is true even in the New Testament, as we read in 1 Corinthians 11:30. There Paul says, in reference to sin, "For this reason many of you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep," meaning many had died prematurely.
The Purpose of God's Curse
What was the purpose of all the striking and blowing and blight and mildew and harvest and hail that God inflicted on his people? God himself gives the reason in Haggai 2:17: "I struck all the work of your hands . . . . yet you did not turn to me." This striking, this chastisement, this curse, this punishment, was a redemptive chastisement. It was designed by God himself to correct his people and cause them to turn to him.
How long did God apply this redemptive chastisement before his people responded to it? About sixteen years. It took that long for God's people to return to him.
What about you? Are you living in misery and wretchedness? If so, you can also respond to God and, like these people, eat and be satisfied. You can have a household that is blessed and children who will grow in the fear and knowledge of God. But to do so, you must turn to God.
The Repentance of the Present
The second point we want to examine is the repentance of the present time. As we said, Haggai prophesied twice, in the sixth and seventh months, and exhorted the people to resume work on the temple. (PGM) In Zechariah 1:1-3 we find the prophecy of Zechariah to the people in the eighth month: "In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo: 'The Lord was very angry with your forefathers. Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: "Return to me," declares the Lord Almighty, "and I will return to you," says the Lord Almighty.'"
What was God's promise? "Return to me and I will return to you." He was promising to bless his people--in other words, to repair, to mend, and to lift the curse--so that the hearts of his people would rejoice.
After sixteen years of misery, the people responded to the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah. Out of respect for the prophets and their word, they went up to the mountain, brought down timber, cleared the ruin of all rubble, and set their hearts on rebuilding the temple. I believe the day they really began to build was on the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. That day they began to set one stone upon another in obedience to God.
True repentance always results in doing the will of God, while phony repentance has no deeds to prove its authenticity. Faith without works is dead.
In Haggai 2:15 the prophet says, "Now give careful thought to this from this day on--consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord's temple." In other words, Haggai was telling the people, "Think carefully about the sixteen years that just went past, before you really began to do the Lord's work."
The people thought about the past and I am sure they were not proud. Oh, what misery, ruin, frustration, and disappointment! "But now," God was saying through the prophet, "you have begun to repent, to believe, and to build." And then he made a promise to his people: "I will bless you."
Let me tell you: From the time the Lord told the people to "go up into the mountains and bring down the timber and build the house so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored," the people began to build again. What was the result? God was pleased with them. "Build, so that I may take pleasure in your worship," God was saying. When they obeyed, the pleasure of God was expressed in certain, tangible blessings.
Why was God pleased with the worship of his people now, when he had not been before? Because now their hearts were right with God. They were no longer walking in disobedience and self-centeredness. They were concentrating on building the temple, which demonstrates God-centeredness. Their temple-building demonstrated their trust in God alone; their faith in God's atoning sacrifice; their communion with God in prayer; their total reliance on God to sustain them; and their total distrust of themselves. By earnestly engaging in building the temple, these people were repudiating their autonomy and self-confidence, and were expressing their trust in God and God alone.
The Present Beginnings of Blessing
The present is a time of repentance, acceptable worship, and new life. "Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation," Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 6:2. Now is the time for the prodigal to come to himself. Now is the time to think seriously about one's life in the light of God's chastisement. Now, church, is the time to come to the conclusion of the psalmist after being afflicted by God: "Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I obey your word," or "It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees," or "I know, O Lord, that your laws are always righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me" (Psalm 119:67, 71, 75). And now is the time to begin to experience the blessing of God in our lives.
As the people began to obey God and build the temple, God took pleasure in their worship. When God is pleased with our worship, his pleasure manifests itself tangibly. What does a father do when he is pleased with his children? He expresses his pleasure in some tangible way, perhaps by giving them gifts or hugging them.
Even so, when God is pleased with us, he expresses his pleasure tangibly. From the temple we will hear the benediction of the priest: "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace." You see, God was no longer frowning on his people. Frowning means chastisement and curse, but now God turns his face toward them in love and delight, and gives them peace.
Acceptable worship always results in God blessing us. Therefore, let us make today our day of repentance and beginning of blessing as we seek to obey God and walk in his ways.
The Blessing of the Future
The third point we want to examine is the blessing of the future. What a bright future the people of God have! They will never be frustrated, disappointed, and miserable. In Haggai 2:19 God says, "From this day forward I will bless you." He was not speaking about blessing for one day only, but "from this day forward," meaning from the day of repentance, from the day of rebuilding, from December 18, 520 B.C. on.
These people had experienced bad harvests of grain and other agricultural products for sixteen years. Every year they planted their seed around November, the time of the early rain, and hoped for a good harvest. But every year they experienced only frustration and disappointment as the crops failed to produce as they had hoped.
Are you one whose hopes have been dashed by God's chastisement? It was God himself who struck the crops of his people, sending them drought, mildew, and hail. But they did not think about it. For sixteen years these people did not try to figure out why they were not blessed, not relating their lack of prosperity to their own evil in the sight of God. Now, thanks to the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah, they understood their sin and repented. Now they could turn to God and began to do his will of rebuilding the temple.
God told his people through Haggai, "From this day forward I will bless you." When did he make this promise? In December. The people had already planted the seeds of next year's crops at the end of November. The seed was in the ground. Based on their experience of the past sixteen years, what should they expect? Frustration. But now the prophet was prophesying that in May and June of 519 B.C.--that is the time of the wheat harvest in Israel--they would reap plenty. What a change from previous years!
God was telling his people, "You have already planted your seed, but this year will be different. The years of curse and frustration are over. I have lifted your curse and stopped frowning upon you. I have turned my face toward you in love and approbation. You are my beloved remnant, my beloved children. Because you have obeyed me, I am pleased with you and will bless you, for I honor those who honor me. Mark this date. You have already planted your seeds and now I will give you the former and latter rain. There will be no more drought, mildew, or hail. I will bless you, and next year's harvest will be abundant."
This was a tangible blessing from God. Every day the people could look at their fields and see the plants growing. As they lived every day by faith, they could see things working according to God's promise. And such plenty would continue in 518, in 517, in 516 and so on, as long as they walked in obedience. As we read in Hosea 2:21, "'In that day I will respond,' declares the Lord--'I will respond to the skies, and they will respond to the earth; and the earth will respond to the grain, the new wine and oil. . . .'" When God blesses his people, there shall be plenty.
The Blessings of the Covenant
God wants to bless us also. If you want to obey God, I challenge you to mark this day and expect him to bless you. May you be blessed when you go out, blessed when you come in, and blessed in everything you touch.
We find an illustration of God's blessing in 2 Samuel 6. The ark of the covenant was sent to the home of Obed-Edom, a priest, after a fellow priest, Uzzah, had been killed for touching it. No one wanted to be near the ark, but Obed-Edom opened his home to receive it. What happened to Obed-Edom? In verse 11 we read, "The Lord blessed him and his entire household." In Obed-Edom's household, God was worshiped and honored. In such a family, there has to be blessing. It is the law of God.
We find another illustration in Genesis 18. Three men, one of whom was the Lord, came to Abraham's tent. Abraham showed them hospitality, and in verse 10 we read, "Then the Lord said, 'I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.'"
What was Sarah's reaction? "Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing." Sarah was a woman who had lived all her life in frustration. Every month she looked for conception, but it never happened. Now she was ninety years old and her husband was ninety-nine. Sarah had given up all hope of having a child.
But God showed up and said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son." In verse 12 we read, "So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, 'After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?' Then the Lord said, 'Why did Sarah laugh and say, "Will I really have a child now that I am old?" Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.'"
Now, this is not speaking about some kind of spiritual blessing which can not be verified. Anyone can make promises, but here God is promising to do something which can be verified in history. Here is the Lord saying to a ninety-year-old woman and a ninety-nine-year-old man, "I will bless you, and I will even give you a time when you can expect the blessing to manifest. Next year at this time Sarah, your wife--this ninety-year-old woman who has been disappointed and frustrated all her life--will bear you a son."
What was God telling Abraham and Sarah to do? "You live from now on as husband and wife, as you are supposed to be doing. I am going to rejuvenate your bodies, and you will feel it." Again, this would not be some ethereal feeling, but something that could be touched and verified. God was saying, "You are going to laugh every day, because you are going to feel something that you never felt for many years. All of a sudden Sarah will feel different and Abraham will feel different. Sarah's womb will feel different. There will be life, and in due time your son will be born."
God told Abraham and Sarah they would be blessed "next year at this time," but Haggai says what? "From this day forward." Yes, the son came the year after God made his promise, but I am sure the blessings began from that day forward in the lives of Abraham and Sarah.
Do You Want God's Blessing?
o you want to be blessed by God? Remember, every promise of God is conditional. If you want to receive God's blessings, you must first examine yourself and see if your frustration is a result of your sin. Then you must repent of your sins, forsake them, and begin to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. You must look to God, walk with him, and do his will. If you do these things, I urge you to mark down this date and see whether or not God will bless you.
Let me warn you: If you want God's blessing, you must be interested in true repentance and forsaking of sin. Don't tell God how complex your problem is--God is able to deal with it instantly. Don't tell him that you are ninety years old or ninety-nine years old and there is no hope. Don't tell him, "I have reckoned with my problem and am comfortable with it now--so much so that I don't even want to be changed."
God's plan always was to bless Abraham and Sarah, and God's plan from all eternity is to bless us. God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. He has chosen us before the foundation of the world, predestinated us; effectually called us, justified us, and is sanctifying us. Do we deserve God's blessing? No. But Christ died for sinners, for the ungodly, for his enemies, for those who were without strength. God's salvation has nothing to do with merit.
The question is, will you repent? Will you confess? Will you forsake and walk with Christ? If so, mark this day and see what God will do. He will bless you so that you will eat and be satisfied; you will expect and you will receive.
God's word tells us that he loves us and chastens us for our own redemption. May we, therefore, give careful thought to our ways, confess and forsake our sins, and place all our trust in Christ. May the Spirit of the living God stir and fill our hearts and lead us in the way of righteousness. May we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness from this day forward and receive God's blessing in our lives. Amen.
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Copyright © 2000, P. G. Mathew
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