John Foster: The day of small things

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John Foster: The day of small things

So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. “What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’” Then the word of the Lord came to me: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. “Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?” Zechariah 4:6-10

“Consider the tendency in men to indulge contempt for good things, in the littleness and weakness of their beginnings and early operations.

I. There is much of a disposition to undervalue, “despise,” the small beginnings and slow, early stages of a good work. (1) It comes from not duly apprehending the preciousness of what is good, in any, even the smallest portion of it. (2) In the indulgence of this disposition it is left out of sight how much in many cases was requisite to be previously done to bring the small beginning into existence at all; it did not start into existence of itself. (3) Another thing is, that we are apt to set far too high a price on our own efforts and services. Our self-importance cannot endure that so much of our agency, ours, should be consumed for so small a result. (4) We over-measure our brief span of mortal existence. We want to contract the Almighty’s plan to our own limits of time, and to precipitate the movement, that we may see clearly to the end of it.

II. In the religious and moral department things that as yet are small are to be estimated, not according to their present dimensions, but according to their principle, and according to what they are to become. We are to recognise in them a Divine principle; that God has put in them His will, His power, His Spirit. This includes (1) the progress of education; (2) the progress of Christianity.

III. Pride, sluggishness, and covetousness have all something to do with the temper which leads men to despise small things. But the good cause of God, of Christ, of human improvement, is certain, is destined to advance and triumph. The awful mystery why this triumphant ascendency is so slowly achieved, so long delayed in this world, will, it is reasonable to believe, be one of the subjects for illumination in a higher state of existence, where enlarging faculties will have endless duration for their exercise. It may then be seen that the whole course of the world, from the beginning to the end, was “a day of small things,” as compared with the sequel, only as a brief introduction to an immense and endless economy.”

John Foster in “Lectures” 2nd series, p. 365. as recounted in The Sermon Bible (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1900) 424-425.

I had to post a picture of a brook trout that I caught while fly fishing on Saturday because after reading this I pondered how awesome “a day of small trout” is! Don’t ever despise that!

God chose Zerubbabel to lead the work of rebuilding the house of God. It would be accomplished not by His greatness but by the power of the Spirit at work in Him.

He should not think of himself more or less important than any other person, but merely play his part in God’s bigger story. And as Foster notes, we should do likewise.

And his task (like the ones we undertake) could have been viewed as small or insignificant or as big and overly important. With this view, we can become sluggish on the one hand or prideful on the other.

So, the lessons for those who desire to grow in generosity are clear: the Spirit is the one who empowers us to do any good large tasks, and yet, no task is too small.

In God’s bigger economy, the small things are of equal importance to the big things.

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Merrill F. Unger: Please and Practices

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 ancestors. 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. Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors? “Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.’” Zechariah 1:1-6

“That the prophets despite their faithful zeal used tact and grace is also indicated by the employment of the polite particle na’ (“if you please” or “please”) with the imperative. Return (repent), please.

There was authority of divine command, but there was also the urging constraining love of the Spirit in their stern utterances to the people to forsake sin manifested in their evil ways and evil deeds.

Their evil ways constituted the common everyday “course” of their lives, their general “manner of living.” The Hebrew word derek means a “road,” a “way,” or a “path.” Here it is used figuratively of the “road of life” or “path walked in everyday activity.”

Merrill F. Unger in Zechariah: Prophet of Messiah’s Glory (UBC; Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2014) 14.

Zechariah served as contemporary to Haggai and prophesied a similar message. We won’t go through the entire book like we did with Haggai as it is 14 chapters, but we will hit some highlights from it.

We must not miss two key nuances associated with his call to return to the Lord. Unger notes them for us. It has a gracious “please” tone and it refers not to outrageous activities but to everyday “practices.”

The Lord saw the behavior and choices of the past generation and beckoned His people through Zechariah with a gracious tone to “turn” from the path they were on which ignored God.

Unger helps us drill down and see that their practices were not so much ugly and horrible, but rather simply like the “manner of living” of the world around them.

On both levels, this oracle also relates to us.

The Lord sees our stewardship and generosity or lack thereof and wants us to handle money like His Word teaches not because we have to but as a gracious invitation to take hold of life and to experience related blessings.

So, to abandon evil practices comes into view not so much as ceasing unspeakable sins, but simply as choosing the path of obedience which amounts to living differently from the world.

The Lord wants us to live, give, serve, and love for Him.

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Michael P. V. Barrett: Signet Ring

The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother. “‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:20-23

“Haggai’s final sermon, the second of the day, sounded a note of triumph. His first sermon of the day announced the beginning of blessing; his final message declared its consummation, the ultimate reality. The prospect of blessing was good, and the best was yet to be. Up to this point, Haggai’s focus has been on the completion of the temple, a crucial component in God’s redemptive plan leading to the fulness of time when Christ would come in what we know to be His first advent.

In this last address, he details events that we know accompany Christ’s second advent. We have a time advantage over Haggai’s congregation enabling us to make that distinction. But awareness of the time gap was not essential to grasping the significance of the message: The success of Christ’s kingdom was certain. Like his other sermons, this last one was short and to the point. Unlike the others, this was addressed directly to Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel was the civil leader and the chief supervisor of the temple reconstruction. He was the civil authority and even of the tribe of Judah and descendant of David, but he was not the king.

David’s throne was still vacant, and there was no immediate prospect of a sitting king as the nation was still under foreign domination even though the exile was past. Babylon gave way to Persia, and then there would be Greece and Rome. It appeared there was no hope for a Messianic kingdom, and that situation potentially could jeopardize the temple construction yet again. So, God gave them a look at the future to encourage them for the present. Haggai declared that the kingdoms of this world would fail, and that the kingdom of Christ would prevail.”

Michael P. V. Barrett in Haggai (The Gospel Coalition Commentary) notes on Haggai 2:20-23.

I love how Haggai ends.

In the first sermon of the day, Haggai proclaimed blessing on the people. As they focused on rebuilding God’s house, they could anticipate blessing. And, in the second sermon of the day, Haggai announced a message to Zerubbabel. His work in his day, had a purpose in God’s bigger story that was unfolding that would ultimately result in the establishment of the eternal kingdom of Christ.

That’s what we need to remember and notice how it relates to us.

We serve like Zerubbabel. We play a part in God’s unfolding story. We do this by using all we are and all we have to make Christ known to the nations before the second advent. In that sense, we are right in the middle of the story. What part will we play? Like Zerubbabel, He will make us His signet ring when we give careful thought to our ways and give everything we’ve got to building His Church.

When look to the future we do find encouragement to grow in generosity in the present.

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Robert Fyall: Necessary response

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 someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive 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 return 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.’” Haggai 2:10-19

“To understand truly the times in which they were living, more than a hasty look is needed. Give careful thought, says Haggai, and consider how things were. He is now moving from an unfolding of the situation to a necessary response to it.

Once again the everyday circumstances and amenities of living are a window to the larger purposes of God and the big picture; for what the prophet says here is that these are a direct consequence of the fact that God is Creator and has revealed Himself in His Word. The truth of the unity of life both ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ had been underlined in verse 14, and now here it is spelled out. The building of the temple was related ultimately to the way the Creator had make the universe, and the failure of their material prosperity and the weather conditions were the external signs of the failure of the devotion of their hearts to the Lord.

Any possibility of this being coincidental is ruled out by verse 17: I struck all the world of your hands with blight, mildew, and hail. These events were already a message to those who had read the Torah where such calamities were predicted for failure to obey the covenant (see especially Deuteronomy 28:22). But it needed a prophet to show to that generation, just as Amos had done to an earlier one (Amos 4:9), that God’s words were living and always brought about what they said whether in judgment or in blessing.

We should not ignore the phrase from this day on in verse 18 and repeated in verse 19. God’s Word is no vague and disembodied entity; it comes at precise moments, which can often be specifically dated, and this is common in the prophets, especially in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. A definite and considered response is needed to this word of God or its effect will be lost. Again the failure of the harvest is linked with the failure to continue with the rebuilding of the temple. None of this is obvious on the surface of events; careful thought and determination to act on the prophetic word are vital.

Truly to believe in the biblical doctrine of God as Creator is far more than simply acknowledging the existence of the first cause. That is deism and has no effect on our thinking and living. But the biblical doctrine of a Creator who is intimately involved in His creation and to whom we owe everything we are and have, and who is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:27). This has a radical effect on thinking and living and sees the whole of life as of concern and interest to the Lord.”

Robert Fyall in The Message of Ezra & Haggai (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010) 165-166.

This was a long post, so I will be brief.

Three times the Lord calls His people to give careful thought. From this day forward He wanted them to live differently in all aspects of their lives, which often become separated into ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ areas. In return, He promised to bless them.

How does this relate to us in our situations?

Do we acknowledge God for who He is, and yet live a life focused on ourselves, hoping to gain a rich harvest to fulfill our dreams? Or will we give careful thought and use all we are and all we have to advance His purposes?

Give careful thought. The choice is ours.

Let’s chart a new course with actions that show our devotion. Guided by the Spirit, let us “consider how things” have been and how we can take a step today to change howe we use all we are and all we have to build the global church.

And if you are looking for a place to give to do that, support GTP here.

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Anthony R. Petterson: Shake

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:6-9

“There is a long tradition going back to the patristic period that interprets ‘the desire of all nations’ to refer to Messiah. While there is arguably a strong hope expressed in the prophets for a future Davidic king, the Hebrew syntax does not support this interpretation here. The verb ‘will come’ is plural but the singular verb would be expected if ‘the desire of all nations’ is an individual. Furthermore, the immediate context suggests it refers to the wealth of all the nations that will be collected when Yahweh shakes them. In this case it is what the nations desire (wealth) that ‘will come’ and ‘fill this house with glory’. Other prophets express the hope for the wealth and riches of the nations to be given to God’s people (cf. Isaiah 60:5, 11; 61:6; 66:12, 20; Zechariah 14:14).”

Anthony R. Petterson in Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi (AOTCS 25; Downers Grove; IVP, 2015) 70.

Read today’s Scripture again and notice the warning from the Lord Almighty. What will happen in a little while?

God desires that His people rebuild His house and He will shake the earth to fill it with wealth. Petterson explains that the Lord proclaims that ‘the desire of all nations’, that is, silver and gold, will come to it. God will make it happen.

While this related to God’s people in ancient times, think about the application for us today. Will we be among those people who give generously to God, or among those God shakes to make it happen?

It reminds me of the rich fool. He was blessed and kept it for himself so the Lord shook him. He could have joyfully distributed but instead he was relieved of his duties. Each of us will give an account for our stewardship.

Start giving generously to God now or be shaken later. Each steward must make that decision for himself/herself. What will you decide?

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Mignon R. Jacobs: Be Strong

On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ Haggai 2:1-5

“The rationale for the encouragement indicated by the clause that introduces the formula “I am with you.” thus the whole text offering encouragement is: be strong and work because Yahweh of hosts is with you. The exhortation is similar to the use of the formula elsewhere in its focus on alleviating people’s fears or providing reassurance of deliverance in the face of adversity.”

Mignon R. Jacobs in The Books of Haggai and Malachi (NICOT; Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 2017) 80.

Three times the group coordinating the rebuilding project receive the exhortation to be strong. Remember the context. They had cared for themselves but forgotten God’s house. So why be exhorted repeatedly to be strong?

It’s easy for us to pivot toward generosity and selfless service as a one-time act but not as a lifestyle. They needed to follow through. They needed to get the job done. The structure seemed like “nothing” to onlookers.

The same is true for us in modernity. God says to give careful thought to our ways and we do it for a day or a week or a month, then we revert. God wanted them to finish well, and He wants that for us today. We can, because He is with us.

That means He will empower our efforts and enrich us for generosity. He will help us do the work that He has called us to do. Fear comes into view as the limiting factor. He answers that with the promise of His presence.

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Matthew Henry: With You

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. Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month. Haggai 1:12-15

“How God met them in a way of mercy. The same prophet that brought them the reproof brought them a very comforting encouraging word (v. 13): Then spoke Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, in the Lord’s message, in his name, and as from him, saying, I am with you, saith the Lord. That is all he has to say, and that is enough; as that word of Christ to his disciples is (Mt. 28:20), “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. I am with you, that is, I will forgive your neglects hitherto, and they shall not be remembered against you; I will remove the judgments you have been under for those neglects, and will appear for you, as I have in them appeared against you. I am with you to protect you against your enemies that bear ill-will to your work, and to prosper you, and to give you success in it—with you to strengthen your hands, and bless the work of them, without which blessing those labour in vain that build.” Note, those that work for God have God with them; and, if he be for us, who can be against us? If he be with us, what difficulty can stand before us?”

Matthew Henry in Haggai 1 – Matthew Henry Bible Commentary.

Notice the progression in only 15 verses.

God alerted the people that they had paneled their own houses but forgotten about His house. They had not used properly all God supplied. So, though Haggai, the prophet, God called them repeatedly to give careful thought to their ways.

Now we see them obey and get to work on God’s house.

We must do the same today. This refers not so much to pouring the resources we steward into a physical building but rather in to God’s building, God’s people. God wants us to use what we have to shift from building a fancy house to building His global Church.

What part will you play?

Even as they marked the day, we can make it today. For me, I have my GTP quarterly board meeting today. We will make decisions that shape the future. We hear the “with you” posture of our God calling us to bold faith as we use His resources to build His Church.

If you want a place to give to build the global Church, make it GTP!

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Charles Haddon Spurgeon: Proper Use

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 olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.” Haggai 1:10-11

“We are dependent upon God for everything, and sometimes He makes use of the ordinary laws of nature to be a chastisement to those who forget Him. If we will not be reminded of Him by His mercies, we shall be reminded by His judgments; and if, as stewards, we do not make a proper use of that which He entrusts to us, He can easily take it all away.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon in Spurgeon’s Verse Expositions of the Bible.

As I soak in the words of Haggai in light of God’s desire for us to serve as generous stewards, it seems that He will work through the forces of nature, if necessary, to get our attention.

In fear and reverence of His power, let us humble ourselves and be reminded by His mercies so we don’t have to be jolted by His judgments. Let us consider the “proper use” of all we have.

Wealth is not to be stored on earth but in heaven. Riches are not to be stockpiled for ourselves but enjoyed and shared with others. Possessions are not owned for personal purposes, but stewarded for God’s purposes.

Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. Consider what you have and how you might need to change to make a proper use of all that you have. Follow His leading in humility and generosity.

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Andrew E. Hill: Disdain and Disappointment

“You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.” Haggai 1:9

“The people had little to show in proportion to the investment of time, energy, and capital… this may refer to the bulk of the grain harvest kept by the worshipper after the first-fruits sacrifices had been made… the context favors the notion of disappointment among the people in the harvest yields that they brought to their own homes. The ambiguity may be intentional, indicating God’s disdain for their sacrificial worship given the ruined condition of the temple precinct, as well as the disappointing reality of how quickly the scanty harvest disappeared when the people brought their portion of crops home.”

Andrew E. Hill in Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary (TOTC; Downers Grove: IVP, 2012) 68.

God saw what His people did with the first-fruits. He also sees what we do.

In this text, God expresses disdain and His people experience disappointment because they kept for themselves what God desired for them to return to Him. While times change, circumstances remain the same.

In the days of Haggai (and today), God’s people tend to keep for themselves what belongs to God, and in the process, they (or we) do not experience the anticipated return. What’s the lesson for those who desire to grow in generosity?

Make God’s priorities your first priorities with all He supplies! He sees and will honor your faithful distribution of His resources and provide unfathomable returns rather than disappointment.

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Richard A. Taylor: Give and Take

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. Haggai 1:7-8

“Once again the prophet calls attention to the fact that it is the Lord who is speaking through the prophetic message. And once again he urges the people to consider their ways. The implication is that proper reflection on their past course of action should lead to a change of behavior for the future.

Now the people are urged to go up to the mountain to secure the necessary timber for construction… It is timber that is emphasized, since the stone also needed for the project was readily available in the immediate environs of Jerusalem… As a result of their efforts, the Lord assures them, He will take pleasure in the rebuilt structure and will be glorified in it.”

Richard A. Taylor in Haggai, Malachi: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (NAC 21; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2004) 128-129.

Give and Take. God’s people are to give careful thought amending their ways, and in turn, God promises to take pleasure in their work. This again is not the kind of giving most of us think about.

We tend to think that giving more is better. God wants us to give careful thought to living differently and to take action to show He is our top priority. In this case they were to go get timber.

What might you need to go get to do whatever God is calling you to do? And how might you put to work what you go get to advance His purposes? The good news is that He promises to take pleasure in your actions.

With Haggai, let us “give careful thought to our ways” and know that when we do, the Lord will move us to action and we can rest assured that He will be pleased. What are we waiting for?

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