The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah hang together. In Ezra, we get the temple built and worship restored; in Nehemiah, the restoration of the city; Haggai opens out the secret of the hindrances to the work; in Zechariah we have truth presented by which God strengthened the hearts of the remnant.
Truth meets persons in our days in external things; it is common to see Christians opening the Scriptures and being struck with the fact of how unlike the things there presented are to what they see around them. Man would set to work to put things in order. God's remedy is to meet practical departure in oneself, to begin with self. We have "the word of the Lord."* Are we bringing our consciences to it, not asking for increase of light, increase of power, but more honest, holy obedience to what we know, just doing that, in all our weakness, which God teaches us to be right? I read (Phil. 2:13), "It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure;" if I am waiting for more power, before I work out that which it is His will I should do, I am denying that He is working in me to accomplish it by His power, to will and to do.
*There was a moral appeal to conscience in the Jew "You know what Moses says, and you have departed from it." "How came you Jews out of the land?"
We are to walk, step by step, as God gives the light. Some will say, "Yes, when the door is opened, as it was for the Jews - when power is put forth, as it was for, the Jews, then we will go forth, not seeing that, when the Jews walked disobediently, God raised up enemies from without, standing by to sanction their captivity." The Jew could say, "We must be in bondage until the years of the captivity be ended." Not so the Christian. God has set him free from all captivity, in Christ. If he get into bondage, through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, or the pride of life, the moment God gives him light to see where he is, that moment the word to him is, "Cease to do evil, learn to do well" The question at the Reformation (and so now) was, "Is the word of God to be obeyed or not? The Lord hath spoken, and shall not we obey" It is for God to see in us obedience to His word, so far as we know it, and more knowledge will be given? "To him that hath shall more be given."
But here it is necessary for us to see that conduct may go beyond faith. If it does, it will break down. Right conduct on a wrong motive must fail. In Ezra 3 we have the Jews working for God, and that from the written word; for what Moses commanded, they observed (v. 2), and what David did, they set themselves to do. (v. 10.) But they failed. The adversaries of Judah came and stopped the work. (Ezra 4.) Looking at the outward form, we should have said, "Now here is obedience." But God's eye saw through it all. Self-complacency was there; the corrupt heart was there. Haggai furnishes the key. The heart was unpurged. These adversaries, what were they? The remnant had escaped, had got into the land, had begun to build; and why did they not go on? God was using the adversaries of Judah, as the occasion to show the cause of their failure. Circumstances bring out the cause of failure; but occasion and cause are constantly confounded. The cause of failure was not in the adversaries of Judah, but in the hearts of the people, which were set upon their own things, and not upon the things of God - upon their own ceiled houses, and not upon the house of the Lord. And so we find through the whole of the word of God, the occasion one thing, the cause another. That which is not done to the Lord, is not done in faith.
Have we a purpose? Jesus had a purpose to which He ever turned. Oh how little purpose of soul have we for God! The Jews had plenty of thoughts; but when difficulties sprang up, they had no purpose. God, therefore, had to teach them purpose, to teach them whether it was His energy or their own they were walking in, to teach them to trust in Himself. Action, in the time of difficulty, is what God expects from us, as knowing and acting in the strength we have in Him - to go forward in the purpose of God, as the channels for His energy to flow in, to show that there is strength and energy in Him, far beyond all the hindering circumstances which may come to try our purpose.
Divine energy will never lose its purpose for God. Human energy will say, "The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built" (Haggai 1:2), and will be amusing itself with its vineyards, and fields, and houses; squandering the time, instead of carrying on with untiring energy the settled purpose of the soul, amidst all the difficulties and dangers which may threaten or oppose.
In Haggai I find God acting; and there I get a lesson for myself; for I have to do with God. I see the hypocrisy of man doing a right thing; but not doing it to God, doing it from a wrong motive. Whatever is not done in faith to God will fail. As soon as there is confession, when the people "did fear before the Lord," there is the gracious answer, "I am with you, saith the Lord."
Thus we have three great points brought out
1st. Are we walking in what we know, up to the light we have?
2nd. The course of conduct the light brings into will not do for the flesh to walk in, but the energy of faith alone.
3rd. Whatever connection the circumstances of Providence may have with the things of God, they are not of power in the work of God. The providence of God may open the prison door, lead the people out, raise up Cyrus, Zerubbabel, etc.; but when they want power for action, we find the Spirit of prophecy opening their eyes to see their departure from God, telling them what was in their own hearts, and then telling of the grace in God's heart towards them, and the glory that awaited them. (See Ezra 5:1, 2.)
By the mercy of God, the government of this country is favourable; the quietness we enjoy, the privilege of meeting together without fear of interruption or violence, has been the boon (under God) of the government. This, to us, is a great responsibility. But there is nothing of real power in service, but a "thus saith the Lord." There is no power in the floating topics of religion; it must be the truth of God in our own souls - knowing the truth of God as God's truth, and then our action, action for God. Are we searching the word of God to find, God there? What is the value of seeing all the scenes pointed out in Scripture, things past, or things to come, and not seeing God in them? There are two marks of spiritual experience in Scripture - lst: Having studied such a portion, have you seen God as presented in those circumstances? have you met God there? If so, you have been bowed down and humbled; and if humbled, have got rest. 2nd: A spiritual reception of Scripture will ever produce corresponding action, a going forth, a "Here am I." If one say, I cannot understand, when the Spirit is teaching, He takes us to what we can understand. Power for service is learned in the presence of God, and there alone; for in the presence of God we get humbled, and rest in His grace.
Is my study of Scripture a drawing out of God's word of what I am, and of what God is?