Archive for the ‘Haggai 1’ Category

The Call to Work: Haggai 1

Today we begin a series on the book of Haggai. Haggai is one of the 12 so-called minor prophets. They are called “minor” because they are shorter. And by this reckoning he is really minor since his is the second shortest book among these prophets.

But, as we will see, being brief is no obstacle to being a good word from God. And there is much that we can learn from his messages.


Last week, among other things, we overviewed the time period of Haggai. And today I have given you a handout on the historical background of the book – Haggai Background. You can look at that. For now, let me just give the basics:

  • The exiles have returned from Babylon to Judah
  • They had begun to work on the temple, but then stopped
  • By 520 BC, the work had ceased for 16-17 years

That’s a long time! And it is after this long delay in 520 that Haggai gives his messages, focused on building the temple.

Haggai has the distinction of being the first post-exilic prophet. Nothing is really known about him personally. What is recorded of his messages in this book only cover a 15 week span of time.

In verse one, we get some basic information about his first message. It’s delivered on August 29, 520 BC – v. 1. Haggai is quite precise about his dates all throughout this book. The message is given to Zerubbabel the regional governor and Joshua the high priest. These two together are giving leadership in Judah. But he is also speaking to the people of Judah, for they would have been gathered together on this day to celebrate the new moon festival.

This first message is presented as a dispute between God and the people. First we hear –

The people’s point of view

God articulates this in v. 2: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” If initially 17 years ago, the work on the temple stopped because of opposition from locals, as Ezra 4 tells us, now it is related more to the people’s own choices.

We learn in several verses that they were in tough economic times. v. 6: says, “You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.” They have their basic needs, but things are slipping backwards for them. They can’t get ahead. Things are getting worse.

So from their point of view this is a bad time to take up working on the temple. It makes perfect sense to them. It would be better to wait until the economy improves. After all, putting time and resources into building the temple would take away from their resources. So nothing was being done. Next comes –

God’s message

The first thing God focuses on is a disturbing contradiction. vs. 3-4: “Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, ‘Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?’” The people complain about times being tough? They are waiting for a better time to build the temple? Their houses look pretty good. At least some of them were living in paneled homes – a sign of luxury in those days. They seem to have enough to take care of their needs; their houses. Yet God’s house, the temple, “lies in ruins” – v. 4. As the Lord reiterates in v. 9: “My house . . . lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.”

God is saying, and this is the contradiction, if the times are too tough to build my house, why are your houses built – some of them quite nicely?

They had put themselves and their needs and desires ahead of God. They had their priorities all wrong. And God is challenging them on this. He says in v. 5: “Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways.” Think about what’s going on here.

Next a new perspective on their situation is revealed, which is that God has brought about their hard times. vs. 9-11: “You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”

The people are saying: times are bad so let’s delay work on God’s house. In other words, bad times are an excuse for not doing God’s work. God is saying the exact opposite: times are bad because you delay work on the temple. In other words, it’s because of your disobedience. So the solution is not further delay, but rather to work on the temple.

Now, a note here. Just because we experience bad times, doesn’t mean we are disobedient. There is no simple one to one correlation. The evil do prosper. And Jesus, who didn’t sin, was murdered. But sometimes God points out a correlation, as is the case here.

What God is doing in this case is disciplining them trying to get their attention to correct them. And he is doing so according to his covenant with them – the agreement the Israelites entered into with God. And one of the stipulations is that they will have hard economic times if they are disobedient to the Lord – Deuteronomy 28:38-40.

What should they do? vs. 7-8: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord.” Their circumstances are a wake up call for them to do what they should have been doing a long time ago.

Now perhaps you are wondering –

Why was the temple such a big deal?

The temple was an expression of God’s love for them, a place where he could be present among them. As the Lord says in Exodus 25:8, “Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.” It was a gift of grace to them (Alec Motyer). And through their actions, whether intentional or not, they are spurning that gift; they are dishonoring God.

The people’s response was vigorous

  • They obeyed the voice of the Lord – v. 12.
  • They showed reverence to God – v. 12.
  • They worked on the temple – v. 14. They began three weeks later, on September 21st. Haggai tells us that the Lord “stirred” them up and “they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.”

And God encouraged them saying to them through Haggai, “I am with you” – v. 13.

Considering our ways

Haggai told the people to “consider your ways” two times. And we also need to think carefully about where we might have a wrong perspective on things.

1. Are you ignoring the gift of God’s presence? God was offering the gift of his presence to them once again. But they were caught up in the everyday tasks of surviving – working and trying to get by.

Do you do the same thing? We are so busy, going in several directions at one time, stressed out, chasing after food and clothing; trying to get ahead, keeping up with family activities and obligations.

We, as individuals and the church are God’s temple now and his presence dwells in us. But do you work at allowing God to be present in your life – putting in the time and focus needed to receive this gift?

2. Are your priorities right? Like in this passage you can find out what your priorities are by looking at how much you busy yourself with your house and your work versus how much you busy yourself with God’s house and God’s work.

  • You say you don’t have enough money to give to God’s work. But your needs are taken care of (not desires mind you, but your needs).
  • Perhaps, you don’t use your talents to serve God, but you use them to provide for your needs.
  • You don’t have time to invest in your church – which is called “the temple of God” in the New Testament, but you have time to do all of your activities, both regular and extracurricular.

Your house is fine, but God’s house is pretty shabby by comparison. Your work gets done, but God’s work doesn’t. If this is true in your life, your priorities are wrong. You have put yourself ahead of God; giving God the leftovers; the scraps. And like the people of Judah you need to make some changes.

3. We are to do God’s work even when times are bad. The people of Judah rationalized not doing God’s work because things were hard. But God calls us to have faith in him, right? And to trust that if we give ourselves to do God’s work, he will take care of us. When we prioritize him, he will make sure to provide for us.

It is like Jesus said in Matthew 6:33. Instead of following the world focusing our lives on getting ahead, he tells us, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” When we seek God first we set our priorities right and then God provides for us, he supplies our material needs.

Don’t say I will wait until I have all I need and then I will do serve God; I will wait until my house is in order. Serve God first and above all. And trust that God will take care of you even as you give him the best of your time, energy and resources.

William Higgins

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