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Walking and Working by Faith

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Haggai 1–2

In the book of Haggai, we see the people of Israel struggling to rebuild the temple after their exile in Babylon. They are discouraged and feel like they are not making any progress. But God speaks to them through the prophet Haggai, encouraging them to keep going. He promises that He will be with them and that He will bless their work.

The people of Israel are an example for us today. We too can be discouraged when we are trying to do something for God. But we need to remember that God is with us and that He will bless our work. We need to walk by faith, even when we don't see the results right away.

In this lesson, Stephen explores the importance of walking and working by faith. He looks at the example of the people of Israel and teaches how you can apply their story to your own life.

Watch or listen to learn more about the power of faith.


Walking and Working by Faith

Haggai 1–2


The apostle Paul once wrote to his coworker and spiritual son in the faith—the young pastor named Titus—and told him to “exhort and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15). Paul was reminding Titus that the work of the ministry involves boldly confronting people for their disobedience or indifference, but it also involves exhorting, or encouraging, people to keep going, to continue on in their service for the Lord.

The truth is, we need both in our lives today. In fact, God’s people have always needed both rebuke and encouragement as they walk with God.

We come to the little book of Haggai and find this prophet practicing those very things in his ministry nearly 600 years before the apostle Paul wrote his letter to Titus. Here is how the book of Haggai begins:

In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest.

There is a lot of information crammed into this opening verse, so let me try to simplify it. Darius here is the Persian king Darius II. The date is very specific; it is the first day of the sixth month in the year 520 BC. This tells us that Haggai’s ministry is taking place after the Babylonian exile.

Remember, the southern kingdom of Judah had been conquered by the Babylonians, and most of the people had been taken into exile in Babylonia. Well, the Persians eventually conquered the Babylonians and encouraged the Jewish captives to return to their homeland, after seventy years’ absence from the land.

The first group of people return under the leadership of Zerubbabel, whom the Persians appointed governor of the land. The book of Ezra fills in the details for us, telling how, under Zerubbabel’s leadership, the construction of a new temple in Jerusalem began.

It isn’t long before the surrounding people begin opposing this project, and work on the temple stops. Fifteen years go by, and the prophet Haggai begins to preach, calling on the people to get back to work on rebuilding the temple of God. And here we are, now, at the book of Haggai, which gives us the sermon transcripts of Haggai’s messages.

Haggai delivers four sermons, and the first one is a message of rebuke. The people are neglecting the temple construction; and here in verse 2 Haggai quotes the Lord, who says, “These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Verse 4 is a stinging rebuke, as God says, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?”

They decided that personal comfort was more important than temple worship. Worship should have been their priority, and the Lord is now disciplining them for their wrong priorities.

Verse 6 tells us they are suffering from lack of food, water, clothing, and money. God says that He “called for a drought on the land and hills” (verse 11). By withholding His blessing, God Himself is rebuking them for giving priority to paneling their houses, while ignoring the house of God.

Do we not see this same attitude today?

Now verse 8 sums up this first sermon from Haggai:

“Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord.”

Haggai actually has an audience that is receptive to his message. Verse 12 says the people “obeyed the voice of the Lord their God.”

Haggai’s second sermon, a month and a half later, is one of encouragement for those who have returned to the work. Listen to these words of the Lord Haggai delivers in chapter 2:

“Be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua . . . Be strong, all you people of the land. . . . Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts.” (verse 4)

I love the picture here. The Lord is cheering them on in their efforts; He’s encouraging them with the promise of His presence so they will not give up.

And with that, the Lord makes some amazing promises concerning the temple that are for the distant future. Indeed, they have yet to be fulfilled to this day. He begins in verse 6:

I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory . . . The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace. (verses 6-7, 9)

This is the promise of the coming millennial kingdom and the temple that will be rebuilt in that day. The Lord is encouraging these people with the assurance that this temple they are working on is not just for them. Ultimately, it points to the coming of Christ and His future kingdom of peace.

The third message of Haggai has a similar theme. It begins in verse 10 and reminds the people of the consequences of disobedience. Then in verses 12-17, He draws an illustration from the ceremonial system in which an unclean person pollutes everything he touches.

He is telling them to be careful of compromise and sin as they serve the Lord. It is especially easy to walk away from the Lord when you are discouraged by the lack of results. Here these people are, working on the temple, and they don’t see much progress at all. So, the Lord is encouraging them that while they do not yet see the reward of their labor, they need to press on with the promise from the Lord here in verse 19: “I will bless you.”

And that is a lesson for us all today: We walk by faith, and we also work by faith—even if sometimes we don’t see many results.

Beloved, here is something to remember: the work you are doing today for Christ, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem, is going to have an eternal impact for His glory. Frankly, most of the time it just seems like work and no glory; but God’s Word promises, in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

The fourth sermon is found here in the closing verses of the book of Haggai. God’s message through His prophet concludes in verse 23:

“On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant . . . and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you.”

Again, this looks to the future when Christ returns to earth—when the kingdoms of this world will be overthrown. But there is also a promise here to make Zerubbabel “on that day . . . like a signet ring.” A “signet ring” refers to the authority of a king.

But how will Zerubbabel have royal authority in the millennial kingdom? Isn’t Jesus Christ the one who reigns as king? Yes! Here is the answer: Zerubbabel is a descendant of David—he is in the royal family tree. Zerubbabel’s descendant is Jesus the Messiah. So, Zerubbabel is a representative of the royal, messianic line. This is a promise that Zerubbabel’s Descendant, the Messiah, will reign as Israel’s future king.

What an amazing prophetic encouragement to those rebuilding the temple in Haggai’s day. They are participating in something that will reach its final glory in the future rule of the Messiah.

The promises of God reach into eternity, but they motivate us to serve Him—as our King—today.

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