This sermon was preached two months after that in the former part of the chapter. The priests and Levites preached constantly, but the prophets preached occasionally; both were good and needful. We have need to be taught our duty in season and out of season. The people were now going on vigorously with the building of the temple, and in hopes shortly to have it ready for their use and to be employed in the services of it; and now God sends them a message by his prophet, which would be of use to them.
I. By way of conviction and caution. They were now engaged in a very good work, but they were concerned to see to it, not only that it was good for the matter of it, but that it was done in a right manner, for otherwise it would not be accepted of God. God sees there are many among them that spoil this good work, by going about it with unsanctified hearts and hands, and are likely to gain no advantage to themselves by it; these are here convicted, and all are warned thereby to purify the hands they employ in this work, for to the pure only all things are pure, and from the pure only that comes which is pure. This matter is here illustrated by the established rules of the ceremonial law, in putting a difference between the clean and the unclean, about which many of the appointments of the law were conversant. Hereby it appears that a spiritual use is to be made of the ceremonial law, and that it was intended, not only as a divine ritual to the Jews, but for instruction in righteousness to all, even to us upon whom the ends of the world have come, to discover to us both sin and Christ, both our disease and our remedy. Now observe here,
1. What the rule of the law was. The prophet is ordered to enquire of the priests concerning it (Hag 2:11); for their lips should keep this knowledge, and the people should enquire the law at their mouth, Mal 2:7. Haggai himself, though a prophet, must ask the priests concerning the law. His business, as an extraordinary messenger, was to expound the providences of God, and to give directions concerning particular duties, as he had done, Hag 1:8, Hag 1:9. But he would not take the priests' work out of the hands of those who were the ordinary ministers, and whose business it was to expound the ordinances of God, to teach the people the meaning of them, and to give the general rules for the observance of them. In a case of that nature, Haggai must himself consult them. Note, God has given to his ministers diversities of gifts, and calls them out to do diversities of services, so that they have need one of another, should make use one of another, and be helpful one to another. The prophet, though divinely inspired, cannot say to the priest, I have no need of thee, nor can the priest say so to the prophet. Perhaps Haggai was therefore ordered to consult the priests, that out of their own mouths he might judge both them and the people committed to their charge, and convict them of worse than ceremonial pollution. See Lev 10:10, Lev 10:11. Now the rules of the law, in the cases propounded, are, (1.) That he that has holy flesh in his clothes cannot by the touch of his clothes communicate holiness (Hag 2:12): If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, though the garment is thereby so far made a devoted thing as that it is not to be put to common use till it has first been washed in the holy place (Lev 6:27), yet it shall by no means transmit a holiness to either meat or drink, so as to make it ever the better to those that use it. (2.) That he that is ceremonially unclean by the touch of a dead body does by his touch communicate that uncleanness. The law is express (Num 19:22), Whatsoever the unclean person touches shall be unclean; yet this Haggai will have from the priests' own mouth, for concerning those things that we find very plain in our Bibles yet it is good to have the advice of our ministers. The sum of these two rules is that pollution is more easily communicated than sanctification; that is (says Grotius), There are many ways of vice, but only one of virtue, and that a difficult one. Bonum oritur ex integris; malum ex quolibet defectu - Good implies perfection; evil commences with the slightest defect. Let not men think that living among good people will recommend them to God if they are not good themselves, but let them fear that touching the unclean thing will defile them, and therefore let them keep at a distance from it.
2. How it is here applied (v. 14): So is this people, and so is this nation, before me. He does not call them his people and his nation (they are unworthy to be owned by him), but this people, and this nation. They have been thus before God; they thought their offering sacrifices on the altar would sanctify them, and excuse their neglect to build the temple, and remove the curse which by that neglect they had brought upon their common enjoyments: “No,” says God, “your holy flesh and your altar will be so far from sanctifying your meat and drink, your wine and oil, to you, that your contempt of God's temple will bring a pollution, not only on your common enjoyments, but even on your sacrifices too; so that while you continued in that neglect all was unclean to you, nay, and so is this people still; and so they will be; on these terms they will still stand with me, and on no other - that if they be profane, and sensual, and morally impure, if they have wicked hearts, and live wicked lives, though they work ever so hard at the temple while it is building, and though they offer ever so many and costly sacrifices there when it is built, yet that shall not serve to sanctify their meat and drink to them, and to give them a comfortable use of them; nay, the impurity of their hearts and lives shall make even that work of their hands, and all their offerings, unclean, and an abomination to God.” And the case is the same with us. Those whose devotions are plausible, but whose conversation is wicked, will find their devotions unable to sanctify their enjoyments, but their wickedness prevailing to pollute them. Note, When we are employed in any good work we should be jealous over ourselves, lest we render it unclean by our corruptions and mismanagements.
II. By way of comfort and encouragement. If their hearts be right with God, and their eye single in his service, they shall have the benefit of their devotion. God will take away the judgment of famine wherewith they have been corrected for their remissness, and will restore them great plenty. This they are called to consider, and to observe whether God would not be to the utmost as good as his word, and by his providence remarkably countenance and recompense their reformation in this matter. To make this the more signal, let them set down the day when they began to work at the building of the temple, to raise the structure upon the foundations that had been laid some time before. On the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month they began to prepare materials (Hag 1:15), and now on the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month they began to lay a stone upon a stone in the temple of the Lord; let them take notice of this day, and observe, 1. How they had gone behind-hand in their estates before this day. Let them remember the time when there was a sensible waste and decay in all they had, Hag 2:16. A man went to his garner, expecting to find a heap of twenty measures of corn, so much he used to have from such a piece of ground, or so much used to be left at that time of the year, or so much he took it for granted there was when he fetched the last from it, but he found it unaccountably diminished, and, when he came to measure it, there were but ten measures; it had run in and dried away in the keeping, or vermin had eaten it, or it was stolen. In like manner he went to the wine-press, expecting to draw fifty vessels of wine, for so much he used to have from such a quantity of grapes, but they did not yield as usual, for he could get but twenty. This agrees with what we had, Hag 1:9, You looked for much, and it came to little. Note, It is our folly that we are apt to raise our expectation from the creature, and to think tomorrow must needs be as this day and much more abundant, but we are commonly disappointed, and the more we expect the more grievous the disappointment is. In the stores and treasures of the new covenant we need not fear being disappointed when we come by faith to draw from them. But this was not all. God did visibly contend with them in the weather (Hag 2:17): I smote you with blastings, winds and frosts, which made every green thing to wither, and with mildew, which choked the corn when it was knitting, and with hail, which battered it down and broke it when it had grown to some maturity; thus they were disappointed in all the labour of their hands, while they neglected to lay their hand to the work of God and to labour in that. Note, While we take no care of God's interest we cannot expect he should take care of ours. And, when he thus walks contrary to us, he expects that we should return to him and to our duty. But this people either saw not the hand of God in it (imputing it to chance) or saw not their own sin as the provoking cause of it, and therefore turned not to him. They were a long time incorrigible and unhumbled under these rebukes, so that God's hand was stretched out still, for the people turned not to him that smote them, Isa 9:12, Isa 9:13. They might easily observe that as long as they continued in neglect of the temple work all their affairs went backward. But, 2. Let them now observe, and they should find that from this day forward God would bless them (Hag 2:18, Hag 2:19): “Consider now whether when you begin to change you way towards God you do not find God changing his way towards you; from this day, when you fall to work about the temple, consider it, I say, and you shall find a remarkable turn given for the better to all your affairs. Is the seed yet in the barn? Yes it is, and not yet thrown into the ground. The fruit-trees do not as yet bud, the vine, and the fig-tree, and the olive-tree, have not as yet brought forth, so that nothing appears to promise a good harvest or vintage next year. Nature does not promise it; but now that you begin to apply in good earnest to your duty, the God of nature promises it; he has said, From this day I will bless you. It is the best day's work you ever did in your lives, for hence you may date the return of your prosperity.” He does not say what they shall be, but, in general, I will bless you; and those that know what are the fruits flowing from God's blessing know they can desire no more to make them happy. “I will bless you, and then you shall soon recover all your losses, shall thrive as fast as before you went backward; for the blessing of the Lord, that maketh rich, and those whom he blesses are blessed indeed.” Note, When we begin to make conscience of our duty to God we may expect his blessing; and this tree of life is so known by its fruits that one may discern almost to a day a remarkable turn of Providence in favour of those that return in a way of duty; so that they and others may say that from this day they are blessed. See Mal 3:10. And whoso is wise will observe these things, and understand by them the lovingkindness of the Lord.