“Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia,” (Ezra 4:4-5, ESV).
That’s how the book of Ezra described the problem that Haggai was dealing with in his time. The people were afraid and frustrated. Neither the feeling of fear nor the disappointment of inaction are easy hills to climb. They are not simple victories. And yet they are feelings with which Haggai was faced and with which the people were dealing.
Ever feel that way? Ever feel afraid? Maybe like the people in Jerusalem, you have been bullied into submission. Maybe there is a task that you are being called to perform but all the “what ifs” are getting in the way. Maybe there are no what ifs. Maybe you are quite sure what the result will be. You don’t like the result, so you don’t want to do what you are being called to do. Fear. It’s so powerful. It’s so paralyzing. It paralyzed the people in Jerusalem for nearly 20 years.
Maybe your plans have been frustrated. God has called you, but it hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s downright impossible it seems. Nothing is going right. Murphy’s Law is working overtime: If it can go wrong, it will go wrong. You’re on your own; no one will help. Rather than encouraging you in your efforts everyone is down on them. They don’t have your vision; they don’t see what you see. And all your efforts have been frustrated and thwarted.
Maybe you’re not the one fearful or frustrated; maybe you’re seeing other people this way and it breaks your heart. You are tired of seeing God’s people afraid and disappointed. How do we get them to see that there is no need for either feeling?
Haggai was a man who dealt with these emotions and he is calling the people to rethink; He is calling on them to rethink their fear, rethink their faith, and rethink their flame. This week we are dealing with rethinking fear. Next week I’ll deal with faith, and in three weeks, I’ll write on the flame.
Here was the God, Yahweh—the God of the Covenant—who was powerful enough to control their income and the product of their hands and minds; He truly was sovereign, controlling all things. For nearly twenty years the people had been fearful of what others would do to them, to the point of paralysis. Their focus had been on how others would react, rather than how God would react. There was an unhealthy fear of man in their hearts and a lack of healthy fear of God. But now, that was all changing.
“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,” (Haggai 1:12, ESV).
There are two quick thoughts I want to share about this verse:
- Notice that God’s covenantal name is used three times in this one sentence. Haggai is calling on the people to rethink God. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. He is the God of Moses. His covenant is thrust upon the people by the covenantal name Haggai used.
- Notice that obedience is linked to the fear of the LORD. This kind of fear though isn’t your every day, run of the mill fear. This fear is the awe-filled fear. This is that feeling of standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and at one and the same time you are amazed at its immensity and tinged with the fear of slipping. The tinge of fear comes from the unbelievable depth and expanse of the canyon’s greatness. So it is with God. The people had finally woken up to the fact that God’s depth and expanse is so great that they never wanted to misstep again.
We don’t think twice of mistepping when we are walking along the sidewalk or in our homes or while grocery shopping. If we happen to misstep there are no great consequences: a little embarrassment, maybe a twisted ankle, or at worst a broken bone. But put any of us on the edge of the Grand Canyon and our steps become much more deliberate. So it is when we think of God as not far off, but near—not to be dismissed but stood in awe of with that tinge of fear due to the depth and expanse of His greatness.
Too often we are like children who run away fearful of a bug that is 1 millionth their size, that is easily squashed by the power that they possess. Except in this case, the bug are those situations and those people who stand in our way, and the power is the power of God in us. As believers, we need not fear man. As Jesus said, “Do not fear those who can kill the body, but he who can kill both body and soul.” That’s not a mean or harsh statement; it is an incentive, an encouragement. Don’t let trivial matters paralyze you with fear; take the power of God with you and conquer. If you are truly doing as God has called, then nothing can stop you. Remember the words of Gamaliel, “if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God,” (Acts 5:38b-39a, ESV).