Thinking God's Thoughts
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, January 8, 2006
Copyright © 2006, P. G. Mathew
God's Way of Blessing
The book of Haggai speaks about God's way of blessing. Five times in these two chapters God says "Give careful thought" (1:5, 7; 2:15, and twice in 2:18). This is a difficult command, especially in modern times, when subjectivity and emotion have been elevated to the level of authority. Rather than asking, "What is the truth of the matter?" today's journalists ask, "How do you feel about it?" But God is asking us to exercise our minds-to reason, analyze, and interpret reality in the light of God's revelation and his covenant with us. Thinking God's thoughts is the only way of blessing. So God commands us: Give careful thought!
Repentance means to abandon our own thoughts and ways, and think God's thoughts. To do this, we must look in the Scriptures, where the Lord of the covenant instructs his people how to live. If we obey God's stipulations, we will be blessed; if we disobey, we will be cursed.
It is the will of God that his people think his thoughts and be blessed always. Yet Israel refused do this, so they were exiled, first to Assyria and finally to Babylon. Amazingly, this was not the end of God's mercy to Israel. Through divine initiative, Cyrus was moved to allow a remnant to return to Jerusalem in 538 B.C., where they rebuilt the altar, offered sacrifices, and laid the foundation of the temple.
Whenever God's people turn to him in obedience and renew their covenant with him, God's enemies rise up against them. Ezra 4:1-5 tells us how this happened as the exiles began to rebuild the temple. How did the exiles respond to this challenge? Sadly, they gave up in 536 B.C. and began waiting for a time when there would be no opposition. Thus, the temple lay in ruins for another sixteen years, until God raised up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah in the second year of Darius the Great, the Persian king also known as Darius Hystaspis. Haggai began to prophesy on August 29, 520 B.C., bringing a word from God to rouse his people to rebuild the temple.
Though we may abandon God and backslide, our God does not abandon us. As God came seeking Adam after his disobedience, so also he came seeking this disobedient remnant of the Jewish nation. In the same way, he comes today to those who wander from his ways and thoughts. Jesus came to seek and save that which is lost. If you are wandering, you must understand that, true to his covenant, our Lord now seeks you in his grace.
The Covenant Lord
The prophet Haggai spoke in the name of the Lord Sabaoth. Haggai uses that title fourteen times in this short prophecy. By this he is deliberately declaring that God is not small. We tend to magnify our little problems while reducing our view of the great God. In fact, someone once aptly titled a book, Your God Is Too Small. When we have a small God, we become afraid. The prophet corrects this error by continually speaking in the name of the Lord Sabaoth: "This is what the Lord Sabaoth says . . ." (vv. 2, 5, 7, etc.).
Who is this Lord Sabaoth? He is the Lord of Hosts, the captain of the armies of heaven and earth. His vast, supernatural power overcomes all opposition to him and his people. He is the warrior who conquered Pharaoh and his army (Exodus 15:3-4) and the commander of the army of the Lord (Joshua 5:13-15).
When Israel sinned, she was defeated, as Joshua found in the case of Achan (Joshua 7). But when God's people remain loyal to his covenant, thinking his thoughts and going in his ways, the Lord of Hosts gives them victory. So a single angel killed one hundred eighty-five thousand of Sennacherib's soldiers in the days of King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah (2 Kings 19:35). Jacob also discovered this aspect of the Lord Sabaoth when two camps of angels came from God to protect him (Genesis 32:1-2). The servant of Elisha realized that "those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (2 Kings 6:16).
As they were sailing with Jesus on the Sea of Galilee during a storm, the disciples grew fearful, thinking that they would all drown (Matthew 8:23-27). They did not understand that the Lord Sabaoth was with them. But Jesus calmed the storm, and the disciples were amazed. They asked, "What kind of a man is this?"
Fear not, people of God: the Lord of Hosts is with us! With us are the heavenly armies. With us are the horses and chariots of fire. And when the Lord Sabaoth is on our side, victory is ours. As God's remnant people, we need to know this, just as Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the remnant Jews needed to know.
The Lord Sabaoth is able to defeat all opposition to fulfill his eternal purposes in history. It was his purpose to rebuild the temple so that his people could worship him; that he could dwell in their midst to provide for, protect, and guide them. It was his purpose to re-establish the sacrifices so that their sins might be forgiven. No nation or peoples can frustrate God's plans. Only the unbelief of his people had brought this temporary halt to God's plan.
Our God is the Lord Sabaoth, who shakes heaven and earth. He shakes the nations and destroys all his enemies. He overturns royal thrones and shatters the power of foreign kingdoms. He overthrows chariots and their drivers, as in the days of Pharaoh and Midian. He overturned Babylon and put down the Medo-Persian empire. He put down Greece and utterly defeated Rome. He sets up human kings and he puts them down. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
People of God, I exhort you to think God's thoughts! Think God's ways! Think God's covenant! Think God's plan for your life! Think correctly about the infinite power of the Lord Sabaoth unleashed for your salvation. Do not reduce God; but have a great God, and your problems will assume their proper proportion. Do not be afraid, O ye of little faith!
Through Haggai, the covenant Lord brought a charge against his people. For sixteen years they had ceased building because they were afraid. They were not thinking God's thoughts or considering his plan for them. They did not believe in the power of the Lord Sabaoth. So the Lord of Hosts rebuked them for neglecting their duty.
The people said, "It is not time to rebuild the temple. Just look at how much opposition there is! These nations do not like it when we build God's house." They were looking for a season without any opposition. But such a condition does not exist. The truth is, when we do God's work, there will always be opposition. The devil comes against us like a roaring lion to deceive even the elect and swallow them up, if possible. But God's enemies cannot defeat us, for the Lord Sabaoth is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Their excuse was: "It is not yet time to build." That was a lie. It was time to build; it had been time ever since 538 B.C., when the Lord first brought the exiles back to Jerusalem. It was for this very purpose that God had stirred up the heart of Cyrus as well as the hearts of these people, that they may return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. So God exposed their evil hearts through the word of Haggai.
Even today, God exposes the evil thoughts of our hearts by his word. Hebrews 4:12-13 says, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."
Thus Haggai spoke: "Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 'Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?'" (1:3-4); "My house . . . remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house" (1:9). The people said it was not time to build God's house, yet they had plenty of time to build their own paneled houses. So it is with many of us-we use our time, money, and talents for ourselves, while neglecting the work of the Lord.
Jesus warned us against focusing on worldly things. He said, "The pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:32-33). And he confronted apostle Peter on the shores of Galilee three times with this probing question: "Do you love me more than these?"
So Haggai warned the people: "Consider your ways! You have inverted priorities. You are like the Gentiles, running after your own desires. How can you say that you love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength? You are not seeking first the kingdom of God and its righteousness. You are not thinking God's thoughts and doing his will." These people had become lazy and self-centered. They were lazy in spiritual matters, though they were quite industrious in building luxurious houses. They had time and money for everything except God. They said, "God can wait" and put off serving him until a more convenient time. But by pursuing happiness in the wrong way, they ended up with misery.
When God's people fail to keep his covenant stipulations, the Lord of the covenant is displeased, and his people will experience, not blessing, but cursing. These people should have known this because Moses warned them about it (Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28).
In Amos 4 we read, "'I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me,' declares the Lord. 'I also withheld rain from you. . . . People staggered from town to town for water. . . . 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. . . . I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword . . . yet you have not returned to me. . . . I overthrew some of you as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah . . . yet you have not returned to me,' declares the Lord" (vv. 6-11). And Micah 6 says, "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 the wine" (vv. 13-15).
So too in Haggai 1:6 we see a curse coming on God's people because of their disobedience: "You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it."
In verses 9-11 God begins, "You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away." Notice, it is not the devil who is doing this. There are times when the devil is responsible for acts against the church. God himself declares, "I blew away." And then he reveals the reason: "'Why?' declares the Lord Almighty. 'Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 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.'" It is not wise to disregard the Lord Sabaoth. He is in total control and has total power.
A further description of the curse is given in Haggai 2:16-17: "'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." Again, note that God himself is doing this, not the devil: "I blew . . . I called for . . . I struck." The almighty, sovereign God is able to bring about economic troubles, health troubles, and every other trouble on his people. He gives us total dissatisfaction when we are self-focused and neglect his kingdom.
We read elsewhere what God does when his people seek material things first. Psalm 106:15 tells us, "So he gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them." Likewise, the apostle Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 11:30, "That is why"-because of their sin and covenant-breaking-"many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep." This does not mean all our suffering is directly due to our sin. But God does deal with his covenant people when they sin.
Haggai 2:10-14 reveals the true problem. The prophet asked the priests, in essence, "Is holiness contagious?" The answer came back: "No!" Then he asked, "Is uncleanness contagious?" and the priests answered, "Yes!" Then Haggai declared, "You are all unclean!" The reason God did not accept their worship and brought his curse upon his people was their own sin.
But God sends his curse so that we might repent. God uses two methods to bring about repentance. First, he may heap on us all kinds of goodness and mercy. Romans 2:4 says, "Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?" But if kindness does not work, God brings a curse. In Haggai 2:17 he says, "I struck all the work of your hands . . . yet you did not turn to me."
Amazingly, Haggai's mission was a total success. The people repented of their waywardness. Most prophets did not get such a positive response, but here the people changed their ways. Haggai 1:7 tells us, "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored.'" And verse 12 declares: "Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, 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."
In essence, the Lord was telling his people, "You are in trouble because you violated my covenant. Remember from where you have fallen! Repent, and do the work you did at first. Go and build my house, that I may dwell in your midst to rule you, provide for you, protect you, forgive your sins, and guide you."
In the same way, God says to each of us, "Go and build my house, that I may be pleased and honored." We must build God's house! This is the one imperative in this prophecy. We must desire God and his presence in our midst. We must desire his direction, his protection, his provision, and his salvation. (PGM) What is the chief end of man? It is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God wants to dwell in our midst, that he may bestow the blessing of Numbers 6:24-26 upon us: "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."
The people thought carefully and acknowledged their sins. They obeyed the voice of the Lord and responded to his word. That is true repentance.
What motivated them to repent? Was it something inherent in themselves? No. God worked by his word through the prophet and by his Spirit within them. Haggai 1:14 says, "So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel . . . and the spirit of Joshua . . . and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people." God's Holy Spirit works within his people, causing them to believe his word and repent. Both repentance and faith are a gift of God.
Philippians 2:12-13 explains: "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling"-that is our obedience, that is our response, that is our work. But then comes the secret: "for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." There is the word and there is the Spirit. It is true even today. The word comes through the preacher, and the Spirit of God works within our hearts, enabling us to repent and think God's thoughts, change our ways, and obey.
Moved by the Spirit, the leaders and the remnant feared and obeyed the Lord and resumed building God's house on September 21, 520 B.C. Yes, there was still opposition. The enemies wrote to Darius the Great. But his response confounded them: he told them to make sure they provided everything the exiles needed to finish the temple. The Lord Sabaoth rules all empires of the world. And the remnant finished building the temple in March, 516 B.C.
The Covenant Blessing
When we repent, God blesses us spiritually and temporally. On December 18, 520 B.C., God told the people, "Mark this date." Why was that date significant? Because two months earlier, on October 17, the first rain had come, and, as usual, the people had plowed and planted the fields, although there was no guarantee that they would get anything more than they had previously. At that time there was no fruit on the trees, because it was winter. But God now was guaranteeing blessing: "From this day forward-mark it!-you will be blessed." What caused this change? The people had repented.
The moment we repent and turn to serve God-at that very moment-God's blessing comes and rests upon us. In fact, God is so eager to bless us that he takes the initiative to turn us from our wicked ways to him. In kindness he sends his messengers, and the Holy Spirit moves us to hear the word, repent, and believe. God is ever eager to bless us today-not tomorrow, but today. The Bible says, "Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2, KJV). Even now, as we read this word, the Holy Spirit is moving in our mind, will, and affections, that we might repent truly and obey God with holy reverence. The Lord of hosts is with us, working among us, as in the days of Haggai and Zechariah, to fulfill his saving purpose in our lives.
What about you? How long will you live under his curse? How long will you run after happiness but find only misery? If we are God's people, we can never be happy when God is not pleased with us, when God is not honored, when God's house is not built, and when God is not dwelling in our midst. God wants his people to be truly happy. What is true happiness? It is conversion. It is repentance. It is knowing and serving God. It is total obedience to God. It is God ruling in us.
We want to look at seven points concerning God's covenant blessings:
The Lord Sabaoth is with us. In Haggai 1:13 and 2:4 we find this profound statement: "I am with you." Who is speaking? It is the Lord Sabaoth, the God of infinite power who is in total control of heaven and earth. This promise is our greatest reason for comfort and happiness. If God is for us, who can be against us? He is the Lord of Hosts, who always leads us in triumph. He is with us as our God, as our Shepherd, as our Physician, as our Savior, as our Warrior/Captain. And because he is with us, our enemies shall be defeated; our Red Sea shall be dried up; the waters of Mara shall be made sweet; the rock shall provide water; heaven shall give us manna; the Amalekites shall be defeated; the rebels shall be destroyed; the Jordan shall part; and the walls of Jericho shall crumble. Because the Lord is with us, we shall lack nothing, and we shall enjoy everlasting happiness.
Our God will never leave us nor forsake us. He did not forsake the remnant, even when they wandered. He did not forsake Israel when they were exiled; he brought his people back. He was with them always, just as he is with us today. Jesus promised, "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
His covenant is still in force. In Haggai 2:5 the Lord declares, "This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt." When God's people violate the terms of his covenant, he chastises them. Yet he is still our covenant Lord and we are his people. Though we break his heart and wander, he never breaks covenant with us. He is a covenant-keeping God. His compassions never fail; they are new every morning. Great is his faithfulness!
God's Spirit abides with us. In Haggai 2:5 God declares, "My Spirit remains among you." As the Spirit was with the Israelites, so God's Holy Spirit is with us and in us today. At times he is grieved, but he shall never leave us. He abides with us to make us holy. "'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord Almighty" (Zechariah 4:6).
We receive strength. God commanded three times in 2:4, "Be strong . . . Be strong . . . Be strong . . . For I am with you." It is time to take our eyes off of our small problems and look to the Lord of Sabaoth, from whom we can draw strength, comfort, and encouragement. God is saying to us, "Be strong, leaders! Be strong, people of God! What you fear shall not happen, for I am with you." As the apostle Paul encourages us, "Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" (Ephesians 6:10). God knows that we are weak and have enemies. But God is with us! His Spirit is with us, and he keeps his covenant.
We receive courage. In Haggai 2:5 God says, "Do not fear." Why are we not afraid? Because God is with us.
We have a great future. As the people rebuilt the temple, the older ones who had seen the former temple were weeping. To them, this small structure seemed as nothing when compared to the glory of Solomon's temple. But we have a great future, despite the seeming insignificance of the new work God is doing in us. Why? The Lord Sabaoth is with us! Haggai 2:9 says, "The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house." He said this, not because it would have more gold, but because the Messiah himself would come to it. "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory. . . ." (John 1:14). Simeon saw this glory in the temple as he took the Son in his arms, saying, "Now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation . . . a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2:29-32). And Matthew 12:6 says of Jesus, "One greater than the temple is here." Our future is bright because God is with us.
We receive peace. In Haggai 2:9 the Lord Almighty declares, "In this place, I will grant peace." Formerly, the remnant in Jerusalem did not have peace; instead, they lived in fear, insecurity, anxiety, and unhappiness. But now, with God's presence in the temple, there was shalom. It was a fulfillment of the Aaronic benediction: "The Lord bless you and keep you and grant you peace." There was prosperity and well-being. There was peace with God and the peace of God that transcends all reasoning. This peace was secured by sacrifices, which point to the one perfect sacrifice of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Our peace is accomplished by his death on the cross (Ephesians 2:14-18).
Peace is a gift from God. Paul tells us, "Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). Have you received his gift of peace?
In light of God's word spoken through Haggai, let us carefully consider the following:
God wants us to think. Have you thought carefully about what is happening to you? Have you interpreted your reality from God's point of view? Have you looked at your situation from the viewpoint of God's word and covenant, and drawn appropriate conclusions?
We must keep our priorities straight. The way to happiness is not by seeking material things first, such as food, clothing, and housing. We must seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to us.
Self-seeking people who neglect God are cursed wherever they go and whatever they do.
God knows how to turn his people around if they are not seeking him. His chastisement includes touching our health, our economic life, our family life, our business life, our psychological life, our married life, and even our children's lives.
Without God dwelling in the midst, there can be no forgiveness through sacrifice, no blessing, no guidance, no protection.
Blessing comes to us the moment we repent. Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.
Blessing and true happiness come only when we obey God. Satan only lies to us.
Though we backslide, God will not abandon us. If we are his children, he will bring us back to him through his gracious rod.
"Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit," saith the Lord. This Spirit of God abides with us and in us.
"This mountain shall be removed." This is speaking of powers of all time that oppose God. All mountains of opposition shall be leveled by the Spirit of the living God. Therefore, be strong, and fear not. Build the house of God.
Respect and respond to God's messengers who declare to you the word of God.
God especially blesses his leaders to do his work and gives them special encouragement in this prophecy.
We must study the Scriptures carefully to enjoy God's blessings always. Thinking God's thoughts is the only way to receive covenant blessings.
Our future is glorious! At his second coming, God will shake all things to manifest his unshakable kingdom-a kingdom into which we have been given admittance.
The house God is building is his church. Are we actively working on it? Jesus Christ, who said, "I will build my church," is the master builder, but we are his assistants. We are to build with living stones of people who have been made alive by the Spirit. What about our children? Are we assisting in building them as living stones into the church of their fathers and mothers?
I pray that even today we will think God's thoughts and follow his ways, for that is the only way to experience his covenant blessings. May we stop seeking our own interests and start seeking first the kingdom of God, and delightfully do God's will from this day forward. As we do so, may God's blessing rest upon us both now and forevermore.
Copyright © 2006, P. G. Mathew
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