“Live Pure Lives”
Lesson Text: Haggai 2:10-19
Background Scripture: Haggai 2:10-19
Devotional Reading: 1 Peter 1:13-21
Haggai 2:10-19 (KJV)
10In the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying,
11Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Ask now the priests concerning the law, saying,
12If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy? And the priests answered and said, No.
13Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean.
14Then answered Haggai, and said, So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith the Lord; and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean.
15And now, I pray you, consider from this day and upward, from before a stone was laid upon a stone in the temple of the Lord:
16Since those days were, when one came to an heap of twenty measures, there were but ten: when one came to the pressfat for to draw out fifty vessels out of the press, there were but twenty.
17I smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the labours of your hands; yet ye turned not to me, saith the Lord.
18Consider now from this day and upward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid, consider it.
19Is the seed yet in the barn? yea, as yet the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree, hath not brought forth: from this day will I bless you.
To understand that your relationship with God will affect the quality of the fruit produced in all areas of your life.
To understand God’s instructions about purity and its impact on the rebuilding of the temple.
To examine our own lives for impurities and ask for God’s His help in these areas.
Some Assembly Required
I’m not much of a handyperson, and the three words some assembly required strike fear into me more than they do most people. Not being very mechanically minded, I find even the simplest instructions on how to put something together to be quite a challenge. My husband is much more proficient at such tasks; so whenever one of our grandsons comes to me with a request to help assemble something, I have just three words: Go see Grandpa. Thankfully, God’s instructions to us on how to live lives pleasing to Him are “user friendly.” We can see clearly in Scripture what He requires of us.
Today’s lesson continues our studies of Haggai’s challenge to God’s people to complete the rebuilding of the temple. Of course, following a plan is essential in rebuilding a temple (or any structure for that matter). But God’s people also needed to embrace His plan for rebuilding their lives and shaping them according to His master design. Leaving captivity in Babylon to return to the promised land was an important step; leaving spiritual captivity to return to God was another.
Time: 520 B.C.
As was the case with last week’s lesson, today’s Scripture text begins where the previous week’s ended. Therefore the lesson background of those two lessons is the same for this one, so that information need not be repeated here. Instead, we will take a brief look at the wider context of the Persian Empire of Darius I (reigned 522-486 B.C.), within which the Judeans of today’s study lived.
According to the Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 B.C.), Darius gained the Persian throne by intrigue and assassination following the death of Cambyses. As a result, the leaders of various provinces in the Persian Empire viewed the kingship of Darius to be illegitimate, so the years 522-518 B.C., during which time the prophet Haggai ministered, saw Darius occupied with putting down rebellions.
With so much going on at the time, it’s easy to imagine that Darius was not in the mood to have “just one more thing” on his plate when he received the letter described in Ezra 5. His strongly worded response in Ezra 6 left no doubt regarding his viewpoint on the rebuilding of the temple: it had to proceed! The royal treasury was to support the project; anyone found opposing the effort was subject to the death penalty. (We take care to note that Darius I is not the same Darius of Daniel 5:31-6:28.)
The True Nature of Holiness (Haggai 2:10-14)
1. What was the timeline of today’s lesson in relation to God’s message for His people? (Haggai 2:10)
Each of our texts from Haggai thus far in this unit has included a dating of the time when the events recorded occur (Haggai 1:1, 15; 2:1). The date in the verse before us computes to December 18, 520 B.C. This is just over two months after Haggai’s second message to God’s people (2:1) and about three months after work on the temple resumed (1:14, 15). The winter crops had been planted, and God used that time to remind His people of their past poverty. He also promised them future blessings as a result of their obedience to the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant.
About Purity (Haggai 2:10, 11)
2. Why was it significant that God told Haggai to direct His questions to the priests concerning ritual uncleanness (Haggai 2:11)?
To this point, Haggai’s messages from the Lord have been directed to the leaders (the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua) and to the remnant who have traveled to Judah to rebuild the temple (Haggai 1:1; 2:2). Nothing has been said until now about any priests besides Joshua. It is clear from Ezra 2:36-39, 70, however, that many priests were among those who came back from Babylon. Their role as spiritual leaders of God’s people is still a very necessary one in Haggai’s day.
While priests are often associated with officiating at the animal sacrifices that are carried out in accordance with the Law of Moses, they are also appointed as teachers of that law (Leviticus 10:8-11). The Lord (through Haggai) now addresses the priests as He probes their understanding regarding a question about holiness or purity.
3. What did Haggai ask the priests to explain? (Haggai 2:12)
Haggai went to the priests, who were the authorities on this subject, and asked them two simple questions, not for his own education (he certainly knew the law) but for the benefit of the people who were present.
A hypothetical situation is presented regarding the transfer of holiness when certain things come in contact with one another. Holy flesh is sacred or consecrated meat; the skirt of his garment refers to the edge of clothing that can be folded back to form a kind of pouch for carrying that meat; pottage is stew. The issue presented to the priests by means of these images is essentially this: can holiness or purity be passed along to other items (such as bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat) by secondary contact?
The law declares that various holy objects make other items that they touch to be holy as well. For example, anything that comes in contact with a consecrated altar becomes holy (Exodus 29:37; compare Matthew 23:19). All of the objects within the tabernacle were set apart to be holy, and anything they touched became holy (Exodus 30:29; compare Ezekiel 44:19).
According to the Law of Moses, consecrated meat makes a garment holy by contact with it (Leviticus 6:24-27). But secondary contact—such as between that garment and anything else—will not make another object holy in turn. Holiness cannot be passed along by further contact, therefore the priests correctly answer no to the Lord’s question. We could say “holiness is not infectious.”
4. What was Haggai’s second question? (Haggai 2:13, 14)
Suppose somebody touched a dead body and became unclean, Haggai said. Could that person touch another object (or person) and make it (or him) unclean? The answer was obviously, “Yes.” Haggai had made his point: you can transmit defilement from one thing or person to another, but you can’t transmit purity or holiness through contact (v. 12). The same principle applies in the area of health: you can transmit your sickness to healthy people and make them sick, but you can’t share your health with them.
“What is Haggai driving at?” the people no doubt were asking, so he told them. The returnees to Judah thought that the temple sacrifices would make them holy. The people working on the temple couldn’t impart any holiness to it, but they could defile it by their sins.
The early part of this book tells us the people had responded to Haggai’s messages and resumed their work on the temple. Prior to that, they had woefully neglected that project, which should have been their first priority. Apparently, they were being religious in their works and in their offerings; but their hearts had not been right with God. This meant that all their works and all their sacrifices came to naught. Their contaminated hearts rendered unclean their service for God, as well as their worship,
Even though the people had been bringing their offerings while neglecting the rebuilding of the temple, their offerings had not been acceptable. Their sin had caused their sacrifices to be contaminated and ineffectual. And their good works, their offerings, could not transmit cleanness. In other words, sin is contagious, righteousness is not.
What Do You Think?
How does tending your relationship with God affect the quality of the fruit produced in all areas of your life?
Lack of Abundance (Haggai 2:15-17)
5. What did God tell the people to consider? (Haggai 2:15-17)
God’s called upon the returnees to “consider” (Haggai 2:15) their recent past.The Lord’s evaluation of the people thus far leaves much to be desired! How do we harmonize such an assessment with the encouraging, more positive tone that we saw in the text of last week’s lesson? There we noted God’s challenge to the people to “be strong” (Haggai 2:4) and His assurance that His Spirit remains among them (v. 5). Thus they are not to fear (v. 5). Those words were spoken approximately two months before the situation described in today’s text (comparing Haggai 2:1 with 2:10). Has something changed since that time?
Perhaps over those two months God’s people have drifted back into some of the apathy that Haggai addressed in his first message (Haggai 1:2-11). As we will see in the upcoming verses in our text today, there apparently has been little change in the people’s material prosperity since restarting the building effort. This may contribute to the return of a disinterested spirit.
At any rate, God’s people need to understand that their obedience to Him is not to be governed by the level of their material well-being (Haggai 1:5-7). They are not to obey God simply on the basis that they expect life to get better if they do. Such an “unclean attitude” translates into unclean or unacceptable worship, affecting any offerings the people may bring.
The prophet proceeds to speak of how the people’s circumstances were from before a stone was laid upon a stone in the temple of the Lord (Haggai 2:15). As in his first message, Haggai again connected the poor harvests of the past with the people’s waywardness. Previously, when any workers came to a pile of grain and expected to harvest 20 “measures” (Haggai 2:16), they obtained only 10. Likewise, when they tried to draw 50 “vessels” of wine from a vat, they found only 20. In short, the grain harvest was only 50 percent of what they expected, and the grape harvest was even worse. Such poor yields were no accident. They were God’s way of telling the people that something was wrong. The Lord declared that He had sent “blasting and with mildew and with hail”(v. 17) upon the crops. Amazingly, even then the inhabitants of Judah did not turn to Him in repentance (see Deut. 28:22; Amos 4:9).
A Promise of Abundance (Haggai 2:18, 19)
6. How did God challenge His people to conduct their lives? (Haggai 2:18)
Twice in these verses God told His people to “consider” to their situation. This time, however, He wanted them to look back as far as the day thatthe foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. God is describing what has transpired in the people’s recent experiences. The people have become increasingly discouraged over the lack of productivity in their land. God was issuing a call to repentance, and with that call leads to the promise of the next verse.
7. What did God promise His people? (Haggai 2:19)
In the verse before us, Haggai encouraged the people to trust God to reverse that condition and provide abundance for His people once more. Had the workers been devoted to the Lord when the foundation of the temple was laid, God’s blessing would have followed immediately; but the people were sinful at heart, and their sin grieved the Lord and defiled their work. “Is the seed yet in the barn?”he asked his congregation (Haggai 2:19); and they would have had to answer, “No.” It was late December and the men had just plowed the fields for the winter crops. Haggai was calling on them to trust God for the future harvest. It was another example of Matthew 6:33: put God’s interests first and He’ll take care of the rest. “From this day will I bless you”(Haggai 2:19).
POINTS TO PONDER
From a New Testament perspective, apart from the Savior, the best of human intentions and actions are still stained in God’s sight. Hebrews 11:6 reveals that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” Furthermore, as John 15:5 states, apart from an abiding relationship with the Lord Jesus, believers cannot do anything of eternal value. The implication is that our actions do not make us right before the Father. It is only when we are joined to the Son by faith that we are able to offer acceptable worship and service to the Father (see Rom. 12:1-2). Additionally, our works can be holy only if they result from a right relationship with the Lord.
Purity Then and Now
Impurity seems to flourish in so many areas of life today. One of the great ironies of modern society is that people can become so passionate about keeping water, air, and food free from contamination, yet exhibit an alarming apathy regarding moral and spiritual purity. God has always been concerned that His people—whether in Old or New Testament times—live pure lives. But when we come to a text such as today’s and read about the purity laws reflected there (especially in Haggai 2:11-13), we may wonder about the reasoning behind such laws. How can purity or impurity depend on what someone touches? Aren’t those qualities matters of the heart (Mark 7:1-23)? Why did God enforce such strict requirements?
To address this question, we must go back to the covenant that God made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. There He declared Israel to be His “peculiar treasure... above all people” and His “holy nation” (Exodus 19:5, 6). The principle of holiness was taught to the people through every detail of life (examples: Leviticus 11:1-12:8).
Even so, some of the laws may seem to make no sense to us today. Possible examples in this regard are Exodus 23:19 (prohibition against cooking a kid [a baby goat] in its mother’s milk); Leviticus 11:6, 7 (prohibition from eating hare [rabbits] and swine); Leviticus 19:27b (prohibition against trimming one’s beard in a certain way); and Deuteronomy 27:5 (use of iron tools forbidden when constructing an altar). Why such commandments? In many cases, God was concerned that His people not imitate the practices and traditions of the surrounding peoples—imitation that could have opened the door to involvement with pagan religious practices.
Purity in Modern Times
The principle of spiritual purity by separation is emphasized in the New Testament as well, even though Christians are not subject to the laws of the Old Testament as the people of that era were (Colossians 2:14). James tells us that one aspect of “pure religion” is keeping oneself “unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Paul sets forth separation principles to the Corinthians, who had their own issues with matters of purity (1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1).
God wants His people in the new covenant age to be as passionate about spiritual purity as He wanted the Israelites to be under the old covenant. Jesus offered a vivid challenge in this regard when He said to pluck out one’s right eye should it become offensive (Matthew 5:29). We are not to trifle with sin or compromise with it! Like a gangrenous infection in one’s body, sin must be dealt with in one way—complete, total elimination.
Purity is that important.
Heavenly Father, the psalmist teaches us, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word”(Psalm 119:9). In a world increasingly impure, help us maintain purity in every part of life. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Purity must be intentional.