“So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,” declared the Lord. “Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.”
Haggai’s third message to the people was one of condemnation. They had obeyed God and begun rebuilding the Temple, but their heart was not in it. They were plodding along in the work, but without joy and enthusiasm. They did not realize their hearts were defiled. They thought their devout actions, their sacrifices and their work in rebuilding would make them acceptable and pleasing to God.
Haggai gave them an object lesson from the Mosaic ceremonial law (vv. 10–13) which taught that holiness is not transferable, but defilement is. That is, holiness can not be transmitted to someone but defilement can be passed on by contact, like a contagious disease, just as health cannot be passed on by contact, but sickness can.
Haggai then applied the lesson: Could the work of rebuilding the temple make the people holy? No. Could the temple, the holy sanctuary of the Lord, make them holy? No. Could the holy land make them pure? No. If the people were unclean, could the works of their hands be pure? No. Haggai contrasted their inward character with their outward life.
How often we make the same mistake the lsraelites did; we assume we are pure and holy because of what we do for God. This is, in fact, one of the biggest problems in the church today. There is so much activity! But so little holiness!
Does not the Lord’s work demand clean instruments, separated from sin? God said, “Whatever the people do and whatever they offer is defiled.” The people’s hearts were defiled and this uncleanness was communicated to all they did.
Could it be that the church today is so ineffective because its “instruments” are not clean? If our hearts are defiled, everything we do and everything we offer is defiled too. Our hearts must be pure, wholly consecrated to God. No amount of activity or “good works” can take the place of holiness. We cannot pacify God or persuade Him to accept us by giving money, or by pious talk, or by church attendance. He looks not on outward things but on the heart.
We can’t catch holiness; it is God’s gift to those who dedicate themselves completely to Him. Our good works will not atone for our sinfulness. Only repentance and faith in Christ will save us and make our offerings of praise and worship acceptable in God’s sight.