A Context of Discouragement
May 26, 2024

A Context of Discouragement

Preacher:
Series:
Passage: Haggai 1:1-2

Dealing with Discouragement

This afternoon, we’re going to be starting a new Bible Study series working through a small book in the Old Testament called Haggai. Haggai was a prophet of God, sent to the people of God in the midst of some pretty significant discouragement. And I trust as we work through this book, that you and I will be encouraged to engage in the good work God has for each one of us to do. So please open your Bibles with me to Haggai, Chapter 1. I’ll be reading from Haggai, Chapter 1, verses 1 and 2. But before I read the text, please pray with me.

[PRAY AND READ TEXT]

For many of you, this may be the first time you’ve spent a significant amount of time working through the book of Haggai. There are other parts of the Bible you may be more familiar with – like the Gospel of John, or the book of Genesis. But I’m guessing that many of us wouldn’t be all that sure where Haggai fits in to the picture.

So as I introduce the book of Haggai tonight, I plan to do two things. First, I want to provide the Historical Background of this book. I expect this will give you a better understanding of how the Bible fits together and will also bring you up to speed with the discouraging situations that the people of God were faced with in those days. But, second, I want to point out from these two verses how God gives reason for Hopeful Expectation. So these will be my two points tonight: 1) Historical Background and 2) Hopeful Expectation.

Historical Background

So first, some historical background. Haggai was the name of a prophet of God. And as a prophet, he was sent by God with a clear, divine, inerrant message. Verse 1 confirms that Haggai received his first prophetic message from God “in the second year of Darius, the King, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month…”

And it’s worth highlighting that when we’re talking about the historical background of this passage, we really are talking about real-life history. The events recorded in Scripture aren’t myths or allegories. But the Bible contains family genealogies, and references to real kings and kingdoms, because it is historical. The day referred to here during the reign of the Persian King Darius is an actual day – August 29, 520 BC. So when you read the Bible, remind yourself that these events involved real, flesh and blood people. The events recorded here in Haggai occurred in the same world that you and I inhabit. And it’s worth your time to try to understand what God has done, and what God is doing, over the course of human history.

Yet if we’re going to understand the historical background of Haggai, we can’t just start in verse 1. We need to go back a bit further. Because Haggai was being sent by God to a certain group of people – the people of Israel. And the Israelites and their forefathers had shared a unique history with God that stretched back for more than a thousand years.

See, much earlier in the Bible, back in Genesis 12, God called a man named Abraham and made promises to him – this was around 1900 BC. This special relationship God initiated with Abraham and his descendants – it’s called a covenant. And as part of this covenant, God promised to give Abraham the land of Canaan, and to establish his descendants there as a great nation – and over time, God kept his promise, and Abraham became the Father of the nation of Israel.

Yet this didn’t happen immediately. For a season, Abraham’s descendants were slaves under the Egyptian Empire. But God provided Moses to lead the people out of their bondage. And through Moses, God confirmed that he wanted to maintain his covenant with them – a distinct, devoted relationship, in which he would be their God, and they would be His people. He articulated the Ten Commandments as his moral standard. He specified that his people should be different from the pagan nations around them in how they ate, dressed, and worshiped. And God even laid out plans for a sacred space – called the tabernacle – that would be a sign of his blessing and presence among the people.

After those days, the people of Israel settled in the land God had promised to Abraham. And God raised up a King for them, named David. In those golden days of Israel’s history, God made a promise to David in 2 Samuel 7, that he would raise up one of David’s descendants and establish his kingdom forever. Initially it seemed like David’s son, Solomon, might be the great king God had spoken about. Solomon demonstrated his piety by building a temple to God in Jerusalem to replace the tabernacle. And from those days onward, the temple became the sign of God’s blessing and presence among the people.

But late in Solomon’s life, he experimented with false religion, and the whole nation quickly went downhill. Many of the people began worshipping foreign idols from the nations around them. And over hundreds of years, their spiritual unfaithfulness intensified in ways that became increasingly offensive and evil in the sight of God.

This continued until, finally, as a consequence, God brought disasters and foreign armies against them. This reached its climax in 586 BC, when the armies of the Babylonian empire ravaged the kingdom of Judah. The Jewish royal family was stripped of all its power. Many of the Jews were killed. Many others were carried away into exile. And on top of all this, the Babylonians destroyed the temple of God, which had once confirmed the blessing and presence of the Lord with his people. The Jews who survived all these calamities were left wondering – is this the end? Is God finished with us? Is there any hope of revival, or restoration?

Well, within a few decades after this, the Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Persians. And a Persian king came to power named Cyrus. (This King Cyrus was predicted hundreds of years earlier by the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 45.) And this king, Cyrus, was friendly to the people of Israel – to the Jews. There’s another book of the Bible you can read – called Ezra – that explains what Cyrus was doing at this point. He allowed many of the exiled Jews to return to their homeland. This included Zerubbabel and Joshua, who are both mentioned here in Haggai 1, verse 1. And he even promised to provide resources for rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem.

So the Jews started the work. They built an altar. They laid a foundation for the temple. It seemed like maybe, just maybe, God was going to restore them and their nation. But after Cyrus died in 529 BC, some enemies of the Jews raised a complaint. And the new Persian king ordered the Jews to stop rebuilding. The morale of the Jewish people was once again crushed. Imagine the discouragement!

Reasons for Discouragement

The people of Israel would have been dealing with formidable discouragement in the days leading up to Haggai, Chapter 1. But there are three matters here I want to highlight in which the people would have faced discouragement.

First, the nation was lacking a robust prophetic ministry. Ever since returning to their homeland, they had no word from the Lord to confirm they were on track, or to correct them. When Persia stepped into shut down the rebuilding of the temple, this may have raised questions for them. Did we do something wrong? Does God still want us to rebuild?

It’s important to realize here – whenever heaven seems silent, there are two ways people tend to respond. Either people will go back to what they know God has revealed in the past, and meditate on it, and seek to put His Word into practice today – OR they’ll just go ahead and do what seems best in their own eyes, making their own plans and priorities. And sadly, it seems that most of the Jews went this second route. Again, we can see the discouragement of the people in verse 2 – the people were saying, “the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.” The circumstances made it seem like the opportunity for rebuilding was now gone. They figured they should just focus on their own affairs and households. But this wasn’t a word from God. This was a conclusion that the people developed for themselves. And as we’ll see more next week, it seems pretty clear that their conclusion wasn’t right.

But this helps us to understand the confusion and disillusionment that the people were experiencing without a robust ministry of God’s Word in their midst.

But second, the people would also have faced discouragement due to the lack of a robust priestly ministry. The functioning of a sacred priesthood in the designated holy place – in the temple – these things functioned as signs of God’s blessing and favor and presence for the nation. And that’s why the destruction of the temple was so devastating for the people of Israel. The temple being destroyed strongly indicated that God’s favor had been withdrawn – that the people were under God’s judgment. The absence of a robust priestly ministry in a rebuilt temple was a real discouragement, especially for people who longed for confirmation that God was still willing to make his people clean.

Finally, the people would have been discouraged by the lack of a robust kingly ministry. I’m not saying the people didn’t have any king at all. The LORD speaks to Haggai here in “second year of Darius the king.” Darius was their king. But Darius was a foreign king, committed to false gods. And this likely would have stung, because not too many years earlier, the Jews had their own kingdom, with a king of their own flesh and blood to represent them. Yet now they were subjected to the decisions of leaders who had totally different convictions. These people were aware that they lacked a robust kingly ministry, and these people ached for everything to be set right. They yearned for the day that God would, perhaps, raise up a descendant of King David to once again sit on the throne of Israel.

Hopeful Expectation

And though these discouragements were heavy, here in the beginning of Haggai 1, the Lord provides reason for his people to have Hopeful Expectation. This is my second point: Hopeful Expectation.

I want you to notice, in these opening verses: God identifies a prophet, a priest, and a king who will be involved in his work of restoration and rebuilding.

First, verse 1 reminds us that the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet. God isn’t giving them the silent treatment. He will not leave them in darkness, or give them over to their misplaced priorities. But God stoops down to their level to further reveal and confirm His intent to have them rebuild and be restored. And he does this by raising up his appointed prophet.

You’ll notice, also, in verse 1, that when the word of the Lord comes, it comes to two people who are mentioned by name: to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and to Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. This second man, Joshua, is identified here as the high priest. And this again is a confirmation that God is aware that the people need a robust priestly ministry. He will not leave his people in fear and doubt, wondering whether they’ll ever be able to enjoy God’s blessing, favor, and presence. But God has provided his appointed high priest for the people, who will lead the way in rebuilding what was lost.

Yet this other man, here, Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel – he’s described here as the governor of Judah. But Zerubbabel is more than this. Zerubbabel here is part of the royal line of King David. He’s the grandson of one of the last kings of Judah, King Jechoniah. And the fact that Zerubbabel is alive, and that he has returned to Judah in a position of authority – it indicates that God has not forgotten his promise to enthrone a descendant of David as the King of an everlasting kingdom. The worldly, foreign government over them today is temporary. And God will restore his people under the leadership of his appointed king.

In the midst of destruction that follows the peoples’ sin – in the midst of the people’s discouragement and despair – God raises up a prophet, priest, and king to bring restoration to the nation.

Here in Haggai, the prophet, priest, and king were three separate people. Yet by raising up these three men, God was giving a preview of an even greater work of restoration that was still to come. Because God’s ultimate plan of redemption is focused, not on three men, but on one man, who carries all three offices – the man who is the Prophet of Prophets, the Priest of Priests, and the King of Kings. Jesus is the one who steps into our context of sin, death and destruction. He’s the one who confirms God’s grace to his people, who rebuilds what was lost, and who once again secures God’s blessing and presence for his people.

So though you may face significant setbacks and discouragement as you seek to walk with God in a fallen world, you can face all these things with hopeful expectation. The great one who leads God’s people into new life forever has come. The great day to engage in spiritual work to the glory of God has arrived. And if you place your hope in this man, Jesus, you will not be disappointed. He can bear the load of your discouragement.