12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. 13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, “I am with you, declares the Lord.” 14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.
One of the most interesting and moving books I’ve ever read is a biography of J. Heinrich Arnold entitled Homage to a Broken Man. Heinrich Arnold was the son of Eberhard Arnold, the founder of a Christian group called the Bruderhof. Heinrich Arnold would become a leader of the Bruderhof after his father died. It was a group that began with a strong dedication to what mattered most in life: radical commitment to Jesus Christ and an intention to live out the life of Christ in the most literal of ways. It was, of course, an imperfect community, but it was truly trying to follow Jesus. However, in time, as always seems to happen, conflicts entered the community. Clashes of personality and agendas, hurt feelings, ego trips, and the like entered the life of the Bruderhof. As a result, the community drifted away from what matters most. They drifted away from the original purity of the movement, from their original sense of calling.
In the midst of these conflicts, Heinrich Arnold became seriously ill. While preparing for death, he had a moment of clarity and a realization that he must say something, that he must call the Bruderhof back to what mattered most. Peter Mommsen, his grandson and the author of the biography, explains what happened.
On September 29, Heiner took another turn for the worse. Not only was organ after organ failing, but he was also short of oxygen and had difficulty breathing. In the afternoon Cyril came into his hut, visibly shaken. “There cannot be much more time left,” he said.
The nearness of death transformed Heiner. His spirits rallied as if preparing for a momentous event. And he was. Life was running out, and before it was gone he must accomplish his mission. This was no time for caution: from now on, every moment had to count; every thread of his life must be reexamined and brought together. Above all, every task that had ever been placed on his shoulders must be taken up one final time – and fulfilled.
One of these stood out above all the rest: the community’s restoration to its early vigor and health. God would certainly require him to account for this. So would his father. But how could the people in Primavera find their way back to it? In a sense, he knew the answer. He knew that all of them desperately needed personal renewal – himself as well. They needed to rediscover the joy of their first love. Nothing less would be enough to save them. But how could such a renewal come about?
Heiner asked for the community to gather and had himself carried out of his hut on a stretcher. “Brothers and sisters,” he began, “I am not worthy of speaking to you. But because this hour is critical, I want to beg you: Repent. Each of us bears a guilt for what has gone wrong; I know I do. But let us turn away from all this evil! Only remorse for the past can give us courage to face the future.”
Heiner grew short of breath as he spoke but pulled himself together: “We have a promise—‘Behold, I make all things new!’ Everything can become new! Let us return to the calling that brought us here in the first place. Let us change our lives and love one another so that everything can become new!”
As the meeting broke up, joy swept the gathering; many embraced and asked each other’s pardon. “This is the gospel—this is what we need now!” “I have grown callous and cold. Forgive me.” “I have been far too wrapped up in my work.”
Faces streamed with tears. Karl, who had been weeping openly throughout the meeting, was now so deeply moved that he fainted. The hope they had lost in the bleakness of the last months was returning with double strength. At last their course had been reset.
For the rest of that week, the community was in upheaval. People met to set relationships straight and to rid themselves of longstanding grudges. Heiner heard a dozen, and then at least a dozen more confessions. Faces were cheerful and frank, and eyes shone. Exhaustion vanished.
I find this profoundly touching and moving. One person cries out above the conflicted community and calls them back to what matters most. The Spirit of God falls, the people repent, and they return to their original sense of community. I am particularly struck by the last two words describing what happened after the community repented: “Exhaustion vanished.”
Living life on your own terms is exhausting. Repentance and returning to God is refreshing.
I believe that the story of Heinrich Arnold and the Bruderhof at this point mirrors the story of Haggai and Israel in 520 B.C. And I believe they both mirror what happens whenever the people of God repent and return to a deep and sincere commitment to what matters most, to life in Jesus Christ.
Let us observe how this unfolded for Haggai and the people of God.
Repentance:the path back to what matters most.
Haggai finished his powerful message to Israel. He condemned their neglect of the house of God and he called them to repentance and to returning to building the temple. Now we see their reaction.
12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.
What we are seeing in these verses is repentance, Israel’s deep grief and contrition over their neglect of the house of God and a commitment to come back to God.
There is a telling clue that points to the way in which repentance serves as a path back to God. In verse 12, the people are called “the remnant of the people.” Ralph Smith points out that “the people had been called ‘this people’ in v. 2. Now they are called ‘the remnant’ (1:12, 14).” This is important, he writes, because this term “remnant” is used by Isaiah, Micah, and Zephaniah to refer to “a chastened, humble, obedient remnant that would return to be the people of Yahweh.” In other words, “Since these people have obeyed the voice of Yahweh and Haggai, they are now called ‘the remnant.’”
It is a powerful observation. “These people” is a descriptor that sounds cold and distant. “The remnant of the people” sounds covenantal and relational. Rex Mason defines “the remnant” as “the faithful nucleus of the people of God.”
Do you feel a distance between you and God? Do you feel as if you have moved further and further away from being a man or woman or boy or girl of God? Do you feel like “these people”? Then come back to God! Rejoin the remnant of God’s people in the world!
Notice the marks of Israel’s repentance:
- hearing the word of God
- obeying the word of God
- fearing God
This is repentance. It is turning back to God when one has had his back turned to God. It is coming home. It is leaving an obsession with one’s own comfort to return to what matters most: God’s person, God’s priorities, and God’s ways.
Life with God:what matters most.
When this happens—when God’s people repent and turn back to God—then something truly astonishing takes place. Observe:
13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, “I am with you, declares the Lord.”
What an unbelievably beautiful and profound word. “I am with you.”
Previously, Haggai had said that God was, in essence, against them because of their rebellion. As such, God had blown away their puny and frantic efforts at self-advancement. He had allowed them to feel emptiness and futility and frustration. They had looked for much but had come to nothing. God would not allow their efforts to come to anything. Rather, He desired for them to come home.
And now they had. Therefore, God said, “I am with you.”
Church, there is nothing sweeter than hearing the Lord say, “I am with you. I am here. I love you. I have not forsaken you.”
“The fact that God could now promise his presence and assistance is proof that their fear before Him was followed by sincere repentance,” writes John Peter Lange, “In their ultimate significance the words [i.e., “I am with you, declares the Lord.”] themselves contain the only explanation of the immediate revival of the community, political and religious.”
Let us make no mistake: if we will turn back to God, we will find Him standing with open arms. His desire is to be with His people!
This is precisely what Jesus said in Matthew 28. There, He gave His disciples what we call “the Great Commission,” His charge for them to take the gospel to the nations. But notice what Jesus said at the end of the Great Commission:
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Do you see? “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
“I am with you,” God said to Israel!
“I am with you,” God says to us!
Jesus Christ is the “I am with you” of God.
Obedience:living out what matters most.
Notice the final step of their repentance.
14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.
God moved. He “stirred the spirit of Zerubbabel…and the spirit of Joshua…and the spirit of the remnant of the people.” Verhoef explains that the “spirit (ruah) of man is associated with his mind (Ps. 32:21), disposition (1 K. 21:5), temper, and courage (Josh. 2:11).”God grabs hold of the hearts, minds, dispositions, tempers, and courage of His people!
They repent and then they work!
I have long felt that in our tradition we have reduced repentance to a purely insular and largely emotional and psychological act. In the name of avoiding works righteousness we now no longer work! But imagine if the people of God repented the way that so many of us “repent.”
Imagine that God speaks through Haggai, condemns His children’s neglect of His house, and condemns their obsession with their own houses and their own comfort while His house lies in ruins. Then imagine that He calls them to return to His own plans and priorities for them. Thenimagine that the people hear the message, weep, and cry out, “We hear you, oh God! We hear you and we are sorry! We are so sosorry! We repent! Please forgive us.”
Imagine they say all of these things with great emotion and great feeling…then return to putting nice paneling on their own houses and continue their neglect of God’s house.
Would that be repentance? Would it be repentance if they did not take even an initial step toward actual obedience? Of course not. Their lack of obedience would be evidence of the inauthenticity of their supposed repentance.
We do not work our way to God, but the heart that is truly broken before God will indeed desire to honor Him in acts of service.
I so love the end of our text:
14d And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.
James Montgomery Boice has made a beautiful and poignant observation about these words:
There is an interesting note in that last verse, where we are told that the people resumed the work on the twenty-fourth day of the month. If we compare that with the first verse of the chapter, where we are told that Haggai began to preach on the first day of the month, we find that the change came about in just twenty-three days. Haggai spoke on August 30, 520 B.C. The work began on the twenty-first of September.
I wonder if there is a date like that in your life or if today might possibly become that day. I do not mean the day of your conversion: you may or may not have a known day for that. I mean the day in which you finally got the priorities of your life straightened out and determined that from that time on you would put God and his work first in everything. You need to do that. You need to ask yourself these questions: “Is my own comfort of greater importance to me than the work of God? Am I making increasing efforts to get ahead financially but finding greater and greater disappointment in my life?” If the answer is yes, just turn around and get on with God’s business. Obey him. Put him first in your life.
Yes, maybe today is this day for you! Maybe this is the moment!
Repent and build the temple.
Mommsen, Peter (2015-04-30). Homage to a Broken Man: The Life of J. Heinrich Arnold – A true story of faith, forgiveness, sacrifice, and community (pp. 182-184). Plough Publishing House. Kindle Edition.
Ralph L. Smith, Micah-Malachi. Word Biblical Commentary. vol.32 (Waco, TX: Word Books, Publishers, 1984), p.154, 155.
Rex Mason, The Books of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The Cambridge Bible Commentary (New York: Cambridge University Press, ), p.17.
John Peter Lange, “Haggai.” Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Minor Prophets. Translated by Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1874), p.10.
Pieter A. Verhoef, The Books of Haggai and Malachi.The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), p.86.
James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets. vol.2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1986), p.471