Another topic that I left unexplored in my recent sermon from Haggai is that of God’s covenant promises. Haggai 2:4-5 says:
Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.
Commenting on this, I wrote:
God adds that this presence among his people is nothing new, but a promise he made in the Old Covenant. Ever since the days of Moses, God has pledged to be among his people. At that time it was especially signified and realized at the Ark of the Covenant and the Temple building.
What I’d like to note now is the contribution of other prophecies that speak of God’s covenant promises.
The Voice of Isaiah
To begin with, Isaiah 60 gives a beautiful picture of the prosperity of God’s people through the wealth of the nations pouring in. This draws upon Gentiles-in-the-Temple imagery that I discussed in that sermon, and also sets up Isaiah 61 which begins with the famous words:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor…
Please read on, though, as the whole chapter is a beautiful prophecy of the restoration of God’s people. What’s particularly special about this, though, is that Jesus himself read these verses in a synagogue and declared “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” So when we read the promises of God in Isaiah 60 & 61, we are to see these images of prosperity and restoration as the work of Christ, bringing salvation to sin-sick souls lying in ruins.
This is in line with Haggai’s words in 2:7 (and beyond) “And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.”
The Voice of Jeremiah
Towards the end of Jeremiah 32, another wonderful promise is made.
I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
These, and the verses around them, proclaim a restoration of God’s people (like Isaiah did) but add a particular emphasis on the closer relationship between God and his people. Just as Haggai reminded his audience that God’s Spirit was “in their midst” and God would “fill this house with glory,” Jeremiah also spoke of the presence of God as a covenant promise. This, too, we see fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus Christ, though more especially do we see it at the Church’s Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes to indwell all the believers with power.
The Voice of Ezekiel
Perhaps most impressive of all is the vision of the Valley of Dry Bones that Ezekiel had in chapter 37 of his book. There we find a picture of God’s people as dead: a collection of dry lifeless bones which God first covers with flesh and then reanimates with the Spirit. This classic picture of receiving new life, or new birth, or resurrection, has long been enjoyed by Christians as a favorite picture of the Gospel.
This is reinforced in the latter half of the chapter where we find promises such as these:
I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd….
I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them.…
My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.
Knowing that the eternal perfect God-given King and Shepherd is Jesus Christ, we can again see the New Covenant, the New Testament, promised here in the Old. We can again see a promise of the Gospel – the gathering of God’s people together into one people, one Body, one Church where God’s lordship will never falter nor fail. And with his sanctuary in our midst forevermore, there is a promise of permanency which we as Christians can begin to enjoy even now in this life, while we watch still for what the Apostles’ Creed calls “the life of the world to come.”
When Haggai promised of the Temple, “the latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former,” chances are he didn’t know what sort of Temple God had in mind in the long run. Nevertheless, God’s covenant promises of restoration, prosperity, purification, and togetherness were an enormous source of consolation and comfort to God’s people in such times of trial as Haggai’s generation experienced.
The New Covenant
And even now we, as Christians, can continue to benefit from the knowledge of these promises; first because we can see their fulfillment already begun in the ministry of Jesus and the Day of Pentecost; and second because “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed,” knowing that the same God who spoke these promises hundreds of years before Christ is the same God who rose Jesus from the dead and the same God who is among us in the person of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, the last of the twelve Apostles, St. John, also had a prophetic vision repeating the same covenant promises of God. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God,” we read in Revelation 21. God’s presence among his people is explained in verse 22: “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” As I mentioned in my previous post, the new creation will not need a Temple building, because the entirety of creation will be the Temple! Heaven and earth will be synonymous. God will be all in all, and nothing will ever come between Him and his people – not the Devil, not worldly needs or cares, not sin. Ah, what perfection and beauty God has promised!