“I Am With You People”
“The messenger of Jehovah went on to say: . . . ‘“I am with you people,” is the utterance of Jehovah.’”—HAGGAI 1:13.
1. To what prophetic parallel for our day did Jesus refer?
WE ARE living at a momentous time in history. As evidenced by the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, since 1914 we have been in “the Lord’s day.” (Revelation 1:10) You may well have studied this subject, so you know that Jesus compared “the days of the Son of man” in Kingdom power to “the days of Noah” and “the days of Lot.” (Luke 17:26, 28) The Bible thus indicates that this is a prophetic parallel. Yet, there is another parallel that deserves our serious consideration.
2. To what role did Jehovah assign Haggai and Zechariah?
2 Let us consider a situation that existed back in the days of the Hebrew prophets Haggai and Zechariah. What message did those two faithful prophets provide that has pointed application for Jehovah’s people in our time? Haggai and Zechariah were ‘messengers of Jehovah’ to the Jews after their return from captivity in Babylon. They were commissioned to assure the Israelites of God’s backing in rebuilding the temple. (Haggai 1:13; Zechariah 4:8, 9) Though the books that Haggai and Zechariah wrote are short, they are part of “all Scripture [that] is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.”—2 Timothy 3:16.
They Should Concern Us
3, 4. Why should Haggai and Zechariah’s messages be of interest to us?
3 Certainly, the messages of Haggai and Zechariah were beneficial to the Jews of their day, and their prophecies had a fulfillment back then. Why, though, can we be sure that these two books should be of concern to us today? We find a clue at Hebrews 12:26-29. There the apostle Paul quotes from Haggai 2:6, which speaks of God’s “rocking the heavens and the earth.” The rocking would ultimately “overthrow the throne of kingdoms and annihilate the strength of the kingdoms of the nations.”—Haggai 2:22.
4 In quoting Haggai, Paul states what is to happen to “the kingdoms of the nations” and speaks of the superiority of the unshakable Kingdom that anointed Christians will receive. (Hebrews 12:28) You can see from this that the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah point to a time that was still future when the book of Hebrews was written in the first century of our Common Era. There still is on earth today a remnant of anointed Christians, who are heirs of the Messianic Kingdom with Jesus. Hence, Haggai and Zechariah must have import for our time.
5, 6. What was the background of Haggai and Zechariah’s service?
5 The book of Ezra provides some historical background. After the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon in 537 B.C.E., Governor Zerubbabel and High Priest Joshua (or Jeshua) supervised the laying of the foundation of the new temple in 536 B.C.E. (Ezra 3:8-13; 5:1) While that was cause for great rejoicing, before long, fright began to come upon the Jews. Adversaries, “the people of the land,” says Ezra 4:4, “were continually weakening the hands of the people of Judah and disheartening them from building.” Such enemies, particularly Samaritans, made false accusations against the Jews. These opposers induced the king of Persia to ban the temple construction work.—Ezra 4:10-21.
6 Initial enthusiasm for the temple work waned. The Jews turned to personal interests. However, in 520 B.C.E., 16 years after the foundation of the temple was laid, Jehovah raised up Haggai and Zechariah to stir up the people to renew the work on the temple. (Haggai 1:1; Zechariah 1:1) Roused by God’s messengers and having clear evidence of Jehovah’s backing, the Jews resumed the work on the temple and completed it in 515 B.C.E.—Ezra 6:14, 15.
7. The situation in the prophets’ day has what parallel in modern times?
7 Do you know the significance of all of this for us? We have work to do in connection with the preaching of the “good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 24:14) That work took on special emphasis after World War I. Just as the ancient Jews were released from literal captivity in Babylon, so Jehovah’s modern-day people were freed from captivity to Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion. God’s anointed ones applied themselves to the work of preaching, teaching, and directing people to true worship. That work continues today on an even greater scale, and you may be sharing in it. Now is the time for it to be done, for the end of this wicked system is just ahead! This God-ordained work must continue until Jehovah intervenes in human affairs at the “great tribulation.” (Matthew 24:21) That will clear away wickedness and allow true worship to flourish fully on earth.
8. Why can we be confident of God’s backing on our work?
8 As the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah show, we can be certain of Jehovah’s backing and blessing as we share wholeheartedly in this work. Despite the efforts of some to suppress God’s servants or ban their assigned work, no government has been able to halt the progress of the evangelizing work. Think of how Jehovah has blessed the Kingdom work with increase over the decades following World War I and right up to our time. There is still, though, much to do.
9. To what ancient situation should we give attention, and why?
9 How can what we learn from Haggai and Zechariah stir us even more to obey the divine command to preach and to teach? Well, let us take note of some lessons that we might draw from these two Bible books. For example, consider a few details that relate to the temple-building work that the restored Jews were to carry out. As noted, the Jews who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon did not persevere in their work on the temple. After they laid the foundation, they slacked off. What mistaken viewpoint had developed among them? And what can we learn from that?
Getting a Correct View
10. The Jews developed what mistaken view, and with what result?
10 The restored Jews were saying: “The time has not come.” (Haggai 1:2) When they began the temple-building work, laying the foundation in 536 B.C.E., they were not saying that “the time has not come.” But they soon allowed opposition from neighbors and interference from the government to affect them. The Jews began putting more emphasis on their own houses and their own comforts. Given the contrast between their private homes paneled with fine woods and the uncompleted temple, Jehovah asked: “Is it the time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house is waste?”—Haggai 1:4.
11. Why did Jehovah have to counsel the Jews of Haggai’s time?
11 Yes, the priorities of the Jews had shifted. Instead of keeping in first place Jehovah’s purpose to have the temple rebuilt, God’s people became focused on themselves and their dwellings. Work on God’s house of worship was neglected. Jehovah’s word recorded at Haggai 1:5 encouraged the Jews to ‘set their heart upon their ways.’ Jehovah was telling them to stop and meditate on what they were doing and to consider how they were being affected by not keeping the temple-building work in first place in their lives.
12, 13. How does Haggai 1:6 describe the situation of the Jews, and what does that verse mean?
12 As you can imagine, the misplaced priorities of the Jews affected them personally. Note God’s view expressed at Haggai 1:6: “You have sown much seed, but there is a bringing of little in. There is an eating, but it is not to satisfaction. There is a drinking, but not to the point of getting intoxicated. There is a putting on of clothes, but it is not with anyone’s getting warm; and he that is hiring himself out is hiring himself out for a bag having holes.”
13 The Jews were in the land that God had given them, yet it was not producing as they would have liked. Jehovah was withholding his blessing, as he had forewarned. (Deuteronomy 28:38-48) Without his backing, the Jews sowed seed but had a meager harvest, not enough food to satisfy them. Lacking his blessing, they were unable to clothe themselves with warm garments. It even seemed as if the money they earned went into a bag full of holes, with no benefit to the wage earners. What of the expression: “There is a drinking, but not to the point of getting intoxicated”? It could not imply that getting drunk would have shown God’s blessing; he condemns drunkenness. (1 Samuel 25:36; Proverbs 23:29-35) Rather, the expression is another reference to the lack of God’s blessing on the Jews. Any wine they could make would be limited, not being enough to produce intoxication. The Revised Standard Version renders Haggai 1:6: “You drink, but you never have your fill.”
14, 15. What lesson do we learn from Haggai 1:6?
14 The lesson we should learn from all of that is not about home design or decorating. Long before the exile, the prophet Amos had rebuked wealthy ones in Israel for their “houses of ivory” and for their “lying down on couches of ivory.” (Amos 3:15; 6:4) The fancy houses and decorated furniture did not last. Those things were plundered by enemy conquerors. Yet, years later, after an exile of 70 years, many of God’s people had not learned from this. Will we? It would be fitting for each of us to ask: ‘Frankly, how much emphasis do I put on my home and its decoration? What about arranging for extra education to advance a career, though doing that would take up considerable time for a number of years, crowding out important aspects of my spiritual life?’—Luke 12:20, 21; 1 Timothy 6:17-19.
15 What we read at Haggai 1:6 should bring home to us our need for God’s blessing in our lives. Those Jews of old lacked that, to their detriment. Whether we have an abundance of material things or not, if we fail to receive Jehovah’s blessing, it will definitely be to our spiritual detriment. (Matthew 25:34-40; 2 Corinthians 9:8-12) Yet, how can we receive that blessing?
Jehovah Helps by Means of His Spirit
16-18. In its ancient context, what does Zechariah 4:6 mean?
16 Haggai’s fellow prophet, Zechariah, was moved to highlight the very means by which Jehovah motivated and blessed devoted ones back then. And this shows how he will bless you too. We read: “‘Not by a military force, nor by power, but by my spirit,’ Jehovah of armies has said.” (Zechariah 4:6) You may often have heard this verse quoted, but what meaning did it have for the Jews in the days of Haggai and Zechariah, and thus what is its import for you?
17 Recall that the inspired words of Haggai and Zechariah had a wonderful effect back at that time. What those two prophets said reinvigorated the faithful Jews. Haggai started to prophesy in the sixth month of 520 B.C.E. Zechariah began to prophesy in the eighth month of that year. (Zechariah 1:1) As you can see from Haggai 2:18, work on the foundation resumed in earnest in the ninth month. So the Jews were stirred to action, and they obeyed Jehovah with confidence in his support. The words at Zechariah 4:6 relate to God’s backing.
18 When the Jews returned to their homeland in 537 B.C.E., they had no military force. Nonetheless, Jehovah protected them and guided them on the trip from Babylon. And his spirit was directing matters when they started the work on the temple shortly thereafter. Once they began to work wholeheartedly again, he would back them by means of his holy spirit.
19. God’s spirit overcame what strong influence?
19 Through a series of eight visions, Zechariah was assured that Jehovah would be with his people, who would faithfully carry the temple work to a finish. The fourth vision, recorded in chapter 3, shows that Satan was active in resisting the efforts of the Jews to complete the building of the temple. (Zechariah 3:1) Satan would certainly not be pleased to see High Priest Joshua perform services in behalf of the people at a new temple. Although the Devil was active in hindering the Jews from building the temple, Jehovah’s spirit would play a major role in removing obstacles and energizing the Jews to move ahead until the temple was completed.
20. How did holy spirit help the Jews to carry out God’s will?
20 It appeared as if there were an insurmountable obstacle of opposition, coming from government officials who had been able to get a ban placed on the work. Yet, Jehovah promised that this seeming “mountain” would be removed and become “level land.” (Zechariah 4:7) And that happened! King Darius I made an investigation and discovered Cyrus’ memorandum that authorized the Jews to rebuild the temple. So Darius rescinded the ban and authorized that money from the royal treasury be given to the Jews to help pay the expenses of the work. What an astounding reversal! Did God’s spirit play a role in this? We can be sure that it did. The temple was completed in 515 B.C.E., the sixth year of the reign of Darius I.—Ezra 6:1, 15.
21. (a) In ancient times, how did God “rock all the nations,” and how did “the desirable things” come out? (b) What is the modern-day fulfillment?
21 At Haggai 2:5, the prophet reminded the Jews of the covenant that God established with them at Mount Sinai when “the whole mountain was trembling very much.” (Exodus 19:18) In the days of Haggai and Zechariah, Jehovah was going to cause another shake-up, as described in the figurative language of verses 6 and 7. The state of affairs in the Persian Empire would become unsettled, but the work at the temple would move ahead to its completion. Non-Jews, “the desirable things of all the nations,” would end up glorifying God along with the Jews in that place of worship. In a major way in our time, God has ‘rocked the nations’ by our Christian preaching, and “the desirable things of all the nations” have come in to worship God alongside the anointed remnant. Truly, the anointed and the other sheep together are now filling Jehovah’s house with glory. Such true worshippers await with faith the time when Jehovah will ‘rock the heavens and the earth’ in another sense. That will be in order to overthrow and annihilate the strength of the kingdoms of the nations.—Haggai 2:22.
22. How are the nations being ‘rocked,’ with what result, and what is yet to occur?
22 We are reminded of the upheaval that has occurred in different elements pictured by “the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry ground.” For one thing, Satan the Devil and his demons were hurled down to the vicinity of the earth. (Revelation 12:7-12) Additionally, the preaching spearheaded by God’s anointed ones has certainly rocked the earthly elements of this system of things. (Revelation 11:18) Despite that, “a great crowd” of the desirable things of all the nations have joined spiritual Israel in serving Jehovah. (Revelation 7:9, 10) The great crowd work alongside anointed Christians in preaching the good news that soon God will rock the nations at Armageddon. That event will open the way for true worship to be brought to its perfected state earth wide.
Do You Recall?
• When and under what circumstances did Haggai and Zechariah serve?
• How can you apply the message that Haggai and Zechariah conveyed?
• Why do you find Zechariah 4:6 to be encouraging?
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Haggai and Zechariah’s writings assure us of God’s backing
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“Is it the time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house is waste?”
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Jehovah’s people share in reaching ‘desirable ones of the nations’