Let Your Hands be Strong

By Elder Enoch Ofori Jnr

Text:

“In the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month, came the word of the LORD by the prophet Haggai, saying,

“Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and to the residue of the people, saying,

“Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?

“ Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts:

“According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so My spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.

“For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land;

“And I will shake all nations, and the desire [or “precious things” ASV] of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts.

“The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine, saith the LORD of hosts.

“The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:1-9). 

 The Only Time Heaven’s Cheer is Loudest!

As we all know from experience, when a work is supervised by an absentee or lackadaisical manager it hardly progresses at a desirable pace or attains the desired success.

As a people called into the service of the LORD, God takes more than a casual interest in our work. He is at the centre of it. He empowers us and endows us with the right talents and abilities for the successful execution of His work.

Yet we are not passive partners in the work. The one attitude that will prove most harmful to the work and derail it all is to let our hands be weak (i.e. lose courage) or allow doubts to interfere in it.  This is where God is most concerned and where we must not fail Him!

In Haggai 2, God urges the people and leaders of post-exilic Judah to take courage in rebuilding the temple because He was with them to empower them with His Spirit, supply all their needs and bless them. 

Got it? God Himself is our cheerleader in His work assigned to us.    

 God Encourages His People

In communicating His message of encouragement, we notice that, God, through His recognized spokesman Haggai, speaks first to the leaders and then to the rest of people. This pattern of communicating divine messages first to leaders and then the people is consistently practised in the Bible because it’s often the case that leaders tend to cause the people to err. In Isa. 3:12, God complains: “O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err” . In Matt. 15:14 Jesus spoke of the Pharisees as “blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch”.

In sending forth His word, God clearly identifies those to whom He addresses His message: “Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the residue of the people” (v. 1).  God has an intimate knowledge of His people. His message about His work is not impersonal; He addresses you and me.

‘I Know Your Mind’

In the introduction to His message, God reads the minds of His people, discerning their attitudes, fears and concerns (v. 3). We read in Ezra 3:12-13 that the older folks who saw the glory of Solomon’s temple  actually wept when the foundation of the post-exilic temple was laid because it stood no comparison with Solomon’s . The elderly folks had ‘good’ reason to wail! Who were they—poor former captives from Babylon—to  build a temple on the scale of Solomon’s?

 The building of Solomon’s original temple was no poor people’s project. Great provision was made for it mainly by David (who was forbidden to build it because he had shed much blood, 1 Chron. 28:3). He not only drew up plans for the building (1 Chron. 28:11) but also acquired in copious amounts the materials for the work (1 Chron. 29:1-9). And this was topped up by Solomon when he became king (2 Kings 5:1-9,13-18). But here were poor returnees from Babylon; here were ex-slaves who depended solely on the generosity of Persian kings (Ezra 1:1-4).

Yet God said to them, ‘build My temple’. The returnees would soon learn that God was not instructing them as a faraway, absentee God but a God who was very much with them and involved in the work.

It’s time we realized that God is not just the invisible Head of the work, but our co-worker in the context of His salvation work of reconciliation and shared ministry entrusted to believers (2 Cor. 5:18-6:1; 1 Cor. 3:9). Hence His grace which has been given to us as His co-workers should not be misused (1 Cor. 3:10; 2 Cor. 6:1-2) but put to good use.

As with the Jewish returnees, God reads – in fact knows—our minds as we work with Him. (See Ps 139:1-2). Do we believe in the work? Are we doing it with the right motives? Do we trust Him to be with us at every stage of the work?

So that we might not fall short, God prescribes the way we should do His work: it should be done without grudging (2 Cor. 9:7; 1 Pet 4:9), from our hearts and with goodwill (Eph. 6:6-7; Col. 3:23). A careful study of the approach adopted by the infamous couple Ananias and Sapphira towards God’s work shows that they failed on all points. They sold their land and presented part of the money to the apostles all for show (Acts 5).

“Be Strong and Work”

God told His people to “work”, not simply because they were idling time away (Hag. 2:4); they faced a real challenge (both external and attitudinal).  First, their enemies had schemed to have the Persian authorities stop them from working because the Jewish returnees refused their offer of cooperation (Ezra 4:1-6, 11-14). The work was brought to an abrupt end at the foundation level (Ezra 3:8-10).

 Second, in the lull following the ban on the rebuilding, the people had sunk into despondency and somehow grown weary of God’s work. They were busily engaged in their own activities. Their glib excuse was that “the time has not come for the house of God to be built” (Hag.1:1-4). After all, was there not an official ban on temple reconstruction? The consequence of neglecting God’s work was a curse on the people (Hag. 1:5). And the remedy was nothing but to “work”—“Go up the mountain, bring wood and build the temple” (v.8).

The work ceased for 16 years (536 -520 B.C.) until God stirred the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to stir the leaders and the people back to work (Ezra 5:1-2). This time the people continued to work even in the face of fresh opposition from their detractors (vv. 3-5). Miraculously, the detractors backfired in their attempt to stop the work again and actually got the Persian king Darius to officially lift the ban, even as he warned all the opposition to keep off on pain of death (Ezra 6:6-16).

In Acts the early church was forbidden by the Sanhedrin from using Jesus’ Name, but they didn’t comply, insisting “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 4:17-19, 5:29). The lesson is that under no circumstances should we neglect God’s work. The apostle Paul exclaimed, “… woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16).

Simply put, we must be consumed with zeal for God’s work (Ps 69:9). We must abound in the work (1 Cor. 15:58). For those of us who labour in the Word (1 Tim. 5:17), the instruction from Above is that we must “be ready in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). The LORD will accept no excuses. When a prospective disciple asked for permission to bury his dead father, Jesus replied him, “Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God”.  To another who asked to say farewell to his folks, “Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:59-62).  Even when we feel we lack the material resources, we must still do the work; He will supply without fail (Luke 22:35; Php. 4:19).  The secret is that the ability does not come from us.  God has called us to work in His vineyard according to the ability He has given to each of us (1 Pet. 4:10-11; cp Matt. 25:14-15). So we really have no excuse to duck out of God’s work.

‘I’m with You in Spirit as Your Protector, Financier and Source of Your Glory’

When God told the people to work, He didn’t mean He would stand aloof while they worked. He assured them He will personally be with them and provide all their needs. Hence they were not to fear.

God being with His people makes a world of difference for them (Rom. 8:31; Acts 10:38). It made a world of difference for David. Despite the hatred and opposition he encountered from Saul and others, the scriptures report that “David went on, and grew great, and the LORD God of hosts was with him” (2 Sam. 5:10).

Thus God reminded Zerubbabel and the rest of the returnees of His ever-presence promised in His covenant made with Israel shortly after the exodus from Egypt. That promise remains true, the Lord reassured the people, as you work (Hag. 2:5; cp Neh. 9:20; Mark 16:20).

Church, as we work, let’s keep in mind that we are not alone. Emmanuel is with us, so there is no cause for fear. The enemy will threaten us, seek to derail the work at every turn. But because of He who is with us, we shouldn’t fear “even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). 

But more than just His presence, God says I have absolute power over all things (evidenced by the shaking of the heavens, earth and the sea). And I will soon demonstrate this power (“shake nations”) by marshalling resources from afar for the glory of My house (deemed inferior by you) (Hag. 2:6-7). 

This shaking of the universe is also a prophetic allusion to the second coming of Christ when He will literally shake the heavens and the earth prior to the Millennium (Hag. 2:21-23; Heb. 12:26-27). But primarily it refers to a demonstration of God’s mighty power in which nations/places holding wealth will be shaken to release them for His work (see Isa. 45:3, 60:9-11).

In verse 8 of Haggai 2, God explains why He will be able to bring “the precious things of all nations” for the building of His temple in Jerusalem (see Psalm 68:29). It’s because “The silver [of all nations] is Mine, and the gold [of all nations] is Mine, saith the LORD of hosts”.

The Psalmist wrote, “The earth is the LORD’S and the fullness thereof” (Ps 24:1; cp 1 Chron. 29:14-16; Isa. 60:17). The Lord Jesus proved the truth of this when He asked Peter to get money out of fish (Matt. 17:27). Thus the ‘no money’ excuse is untenable, and we only make this excuse to betray our disbelief in God “who cannot lie” (see 1 Jn 5:10; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18).

We realize that God’s declaration that all the money was His was fulfilled when after the initial contribution/financial support received from Cyrus, other Persian kings followed with more gifts of money and other offerings after the people returned  to work (Ezra 6:7-10; 7:15-23; Neh. 2:8).

The truth to believe and rely on is that God supplies our needs in the course of doing His work (Rev. 3:7-8). His grace abounds while we do His work (2 Cor. 9:8-11). At His ‘last supper’ with His disciples, Christ asked them, “When I sent you forth without purse, and wallet, and shoes, lacked ye anything? And they said, Nothing” (Luke 22:35).

‘Work for My greater Glory’

As He works with and through us, His goal is that we move from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18). Hence “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts” (Hag. 2:9). We are “a crown of glory in His hands” (Isa. 62:2-3). The lesson is that when we care for His work He also cares for us (“give you peace” and not a curse as when they stopped working). 

This is the Time to Work!

Dear brothers and sisters, it’s time to be strong for God’s work. Let’s make His work paramount in our lives. We have no one but God Almighty Himself for a Co-worker! We don’t want to be dilly-dallying beside Him. Remember, He both assigns the work and gives the reward—as He works with us (Eph. 6:8; Rev. 22:12).

So let us address all areas of weakness (in our character, etc) for the final sprint to victory “lest that which is lame be turned out of the way” (Heb. 12:12-13). The least we would wish to do is to be lazy at this stage in the work. Although God is not unjust to neglect to reward us, we must be diligent “so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end” (Heb. 6:10-12 NASU).

Of late, we have been conducting evangelistic meetings as a church, both far and near in different parts of the country. Let’s not relax in that endeavour. Although we have made some progress, we have not covered even a quarter of the target we have set for ourselves, which is to preach in every town where we already have an Assembly in an effort to strengthen  their membership base before the year is out. And we have yet to revive our gospel radio programme which we have set for the middle of the year at the latest.  Meanwhile, our ‘tottering’ literature distribution ministry is in dire need of funding.

The challenges are huge, but God says we must ‘work’! He’s not leaving us alone. He is with us, and He will use our simple faith to do great and mighty things we could never have dreamt of! Late last year when we started our evangelistic tours we were hiring buses for the trips, but I prophesied by sheer faith that the LORD will provide us with vehicles for His work. Today we are all living witnesses to the faithfulness of God: He has graciously given us two buses at absolutely no cost to us in less than seven months! And believe you me, other goodies are on the way. He certainly will do what He has promised us in His word as well as by direct divine revelation (1 Thess. 5:24).

So let us work. The time has come for us to do the work. Let us scale the mountain (difficulties and challenges) and bring wood for the building. The scriptural word of motivation is that we can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens us (Php 4:13). Amen!