Haggai 1 – Getting Priorities Straight
A. God rebukes the returning remnant for their misplaced priorities.
1. (1) Introduction.
In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying,
a. In the second year of King Darius: The prophecy of Haggai gives us several specific chronological marking points (Haggai 1:1, 1:15, 2:1, 2:10, 2:20). Here we learn that the prophecy began in September, 520 B.C.
i. This makes Haggai the first among the post-exilic minor prophets. Of the 12 minor prophets, the first 9 spoke before Judah was carried away captive – exiled to Babylon. The last 3 minor prophets (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi) each spoke to those who returned from the 70-year exile.
ii. “Gone was the glory of the former kingdom and temple. Gone was the great population. All that was left was the rubble of Jerusalem, the remnant of the people, and the task of restoration.” (Boice)
iii. In 538 B.C. King Cyrus of Persia allowed the exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem after 70 years in captivity. Two years later (536 B.C.) construction on the temple began, led by Zerubbabel. The work stopped after two years (534 B.C.). After 14 years of neglect, work on the temple resumed in 520 B.C. and was finished four years later in 516 B.C. (Ezra 6:15).
iv. We notice that the dates are reckoned by a pagan king because there was at that time no king over Israel. Yet the date was still important to God. “There is a set time for each of his messages to come to men, and God would have them give heed to every message as soon as it is delivered to them. If they do not, he keeps count of the days of their delay.” (Spurgeon)
b. The word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet: In the difficult years of the return from exile God spoke to His people through the prophet Haggai.
i. Haggai is also mentioned twice in the book of Ezra, the priest who oversaw the work of rebuilding the temple:
Then the prophet Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophets, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. So Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them, helping them. (Ezra 5:1-2)
So the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. (Ezra 6:14)
ii. The name Haggai is probably an abbreviated form of the phrase, festival of Yahweh. Some speculate that he was born on the day of a major feast in Israel.
c. Zerubbabel…Joshua: Haggai introduced us to two leading figures in Jerusalem during these difficult days of rebuilding the temple. Zerubbabel was the governor of Jerusalem, and a descendant of the last legitimate ruler of Judah, Jeconiah. Joshua was the high priest.
2. (2) An excuse for not rebuilding the temple.
“Thus speaks the LORD of hosts, saying: ‘This people says, “The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.”’”
a. The time has not come: Haggai gave this first word in September, 520 B.C. At that time the exiles had been back in Jerusalem for 18 years – but the work of rebuilding the temple lain idle for the last 14 years.
i. The work started gloriously: When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. (Ezra 3:10-11)
ii. Despite the glorious beginning, after two years the work stopped, mired in discouragement and derailed by a lack of focus. When Haggai prophesied the foundation of the temple was laid and the altar was rebuilt but the temple wasn’t yet rebuilt.
b. This people says: God’s people – the citizens of Jerusalem – told themselves that it wasn’t yet time to resume work on the temple. There were some good reasons why they might say this, and why the work of rebuilding the temple was hard:
· The land was still desolate after 70 years of neglect.
· The work was hard.
· They didn’t have a lot of money (Haggai 1:6) or manpower.
· They suffered crop failures and drought (Haggai 1:10-11).
· Hostile enemies resisted the work (Ezra 4:1-5).
· They remembered easier times in Babylon.
c. The time has not come, the time that the LORD’s house should be built: The people made their excuse sound spiritual. They couldn’t speak against the idea of building the temple, so they spoke against its timing. They said, “It isn’t God’s timing to rebuild the temple.”
i. Because of the great obstacles against the work, God’s people began to rationalize and decided that it wasn’t time to rebuild after all. “If it’s so hard, evidently, God doesn’t want us to do it – at least not anytime soon.”
ii. They may have said “the time has not come” because they thought that the 70 years of captivity mentioned in Jeremiah 25:11-13 and 29:10 had not yet been fulfilled. According to Usher’s chronology of these events, they were in the 69th year since the last siege of Jerusalem.
iii. Even in this, the people of God lacked faith. There were three “waves” of captivity – 605 B.C., 597 B.C., and 587 B.C. In Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9, he was bold enough to ask God to take the earliest starting point to determine the 70 years – and God did. Unbelief made these returned captives think that God’s mercy might not come to Israel until 18 years later.
d. This people: We never like to hear God speak to His people this way – saying, “this people” instead of “My people.” He said this because He saw their excuses and their poor priorities and noticed that they were not living like His people.
i. We should remember that these weren’t “bad people.” They were the remnant that returned from Babylon. Hundreds of thousands of people went into the Babylonian captivity and only about 50,000 returned. Those who did were the most committed to the LORD and to the restoration of Jerusalem.
3. (3-4) Haggai exposes their wrong priorities.
Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?”
a. Then the word of the LORD came: God saw and heard their excuses and poor priorities – and He had something to say to them through Haggai the prophet.
b. Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses: The people said that it wasn’t time to rebuild the temple. In their actions, they said that it was time to live in nicely rebuilt houses.
i. “Solomon first built a house for God, and then for himself.” (Trapp)
c. And this temple to lie in ruins: This was the real problem – not that God’s people lived in paneled houses, but that they lived in such personal comfort and luxury while the temple was in ruins.
i. The problem was simply wrongly ordered priorities. They were content to let the cause of the LORD suffer rather than give up their comfort. Instead, they should have felt no rest until the work of God was as prosperous as their personal lives. They should have been as willing to sacrifice for the work of God as they were for their personal comfort and luxury.
ii. It is easy to see how this happened over 14 years. At first, the work is stopped because it is so difficult and some obstacle in the construction prevented progress.
· “We can’t get much done at the temple, and I’m tired of living in a wreck. Time to start the remodel at home.”
· “God wants me to give attention to things at home – home comes first.”
· “I would fund more construction at the temple, but all my money is tied up with my home renovation.”
· “I’m not living extravagantly – look at the other houses in my neighborhood! Look at the chariots in their driveways!”
· “Someone should get to work on the temple. I hope someone steps up to the job – I’ve got to finish paneling my living room.”
· “The temple hasn’t been open for business for more than 50 years – a little while longer won’t matter.”
· “This isn’t the right time – later will be better.”
· “The altar is there, and we can at least sacrifice to the LORD. We’re getting by.”
iii. The excuses sound familiar – but God saw through them in the days of Haggai, and He sees through similar excuses today. The prophet Haggai was like an alarm clock: unwelcome but necessary.
iv. “Many Christians are like those ancient Hebrews, somehow convincing themselves that economy in constructing church buildings is all-important while at the same time sparing no expense in acquiring their personal luxuries.” (Alden)
v. Houses: “It seems to intimate some of them had more than one house, a city and a country house, and whilst God’s house lay waste; they thus lavish out their wealth on private worldly conveniences, but grudge their charge against God’s house…. Do you owe so much to yourselves, and so little to your God?” (Poole)
4. (5-6) Consider your ways and the result of them.
Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: “Consider your ways!
You have sown much, and bring in little;
You eat, but do not have enough;
You drink, but you are not filled with drink;
You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm;
And he who earns wages,
Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.”
a. Consider your ways: The Hebrew figure of speech for this phrase is literally “put your heart on your roads.” Haggai asks God’s people to consider what direction their lives were heading and if they really wanted it to continue that way.
b. You have sown much, and bring in little: The cause of their financial difficulties was their wrong priorities. They suffered setback after setback because the blessing of God wasn’t on their pocketbook.
i. Haggai described a double curse. Instead of much, little was reaped; and the little that was brought home melted away without doing any good (earns wages to put into a bag with holes). “I do not know of any passage in the Bible that better describes the feverish yet ineffective activity of our own age.” (Boice)
ii. These judgments were a fulfillment of promises God made hundreds of years before in the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 11:16-17). The people of Israel were being judged and they didn’t even know it – they probably wrote it all off as bad luck or tough economic times, but God was trying to tell them something.
iii. Sometimes our priorities are out of order and we seem to suffer no financial hardship. In such times we should never presume on the mercy of God – we should turn to Him and re-order our priorities before He needs to use a crisis to get through to us.
c. You drink, but you are not filled with drink: If our priorities are wrong, nothing will satisfy us. Each accomplishment soon reveals that there must be something more, something that can really satisfy. Nothing fills the God-shaped void in our lives except putting Him first.
i. “Had your little been as the righteous man’s little, you might have lived on it, and rejoiced in it; but it had not such a blessing upon it; it was blasted, and so was weak, and empty, and profited little.” (Poole)
5. (7-11) What they must do: rebuild the temple.
Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,” says the LORD. You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?” says the LORD of hosts. “Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. For I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”
a. Go up to the mountains and bring wood: God called them to work. Sometimes God’s cause needs work, work that is supported by prayer, not work that is neglected because of in pretense of spiritual service.
i. They were not supposed to think, “Someone else will do it.” William Carey (1761-1834) was a groundbreaking missionary to India. When he proposed the idea of going to India to reach the lost at a gathering of fellow British pastors, a well-known minister named John Ryland told him: “Young man, sit down. You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your help or mine.” This is not the case at all – God will do it, and He wants our participation. As far as we can perceive, God often will wait for our participation. William Carey had the right idea; his motto was “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”
b. That I may take pleasure in it and be glorified: It was time for God’s people to start being concerned with pleasing Him instead of themselves. In their nice houses and prosperous lives they took pleasure and were glorified; now it was the LORD’s turn.
i. God was also telling them to do it with the right kind of heart; a heart that wanted to please and glorify God
c. You looked for much, but indeed it came to little: When God was neglected, nothing worked right. They were able to accomplish some things (like building their own houses), but it didn’t bring the satisfaction that it should have.
d. For I called for a drought on the land: We can imagine the people of God were depressed and discouraged because of the drought. They probably thought it was all an attack of Satan, and prayed fervently against what they said was Satan’s plot. Yet it wasn’t Satan’s doing at all, but it was the LORD who called for a drought on the land. The problem wasn’t Satan, but their priorities.
e. On the grain and the new wine and the oil: Because they neglected the LORD, He neglected to bless their three basic crops.
B. The response to Haggai’s prophecy.
1. (12) They obeyed God and feared His presence.
Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him; and the people feared the presence of the LORD.
a. Then Zerubbabel…and Joshua…with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD: Obedience had to begin with the leadership. This wasn’t a sermon just for the people, but also for the highest leaders among God’s people.
b. The voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet: The voice of God was expressed through the words of Haggai. This is the principle of the inspiration of the scriptures in action. God literally speaks, but through a man’s words.
i. “For the word of God is not distinguished from the words of the Prophet, as though the Prophet had added anything of his own.” (Calvin)
ii. In pointing out both, Haggai is distinguishing between the Author of the truth and the messenger of the truth.
c. The words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him: Their respect for Haggai was based on his office (prophet) and his commission (God had sent him).
d. The people feared the presence of the LORD: Their fear of God prompted obedience. This was more than basic respect; it was recognition that God is a judge who deals with us righteously.
2. (13-15) God responds to His people.
Then Haggai, the LORD’s messenger, spoke the LORD’s message to the people, saying, “I am with you, says the LORD.” So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month, in the second year of King Darius.
a. I am with you, says the LORD: God was there to encourage them, and to strengthen them for the work. He always empowers and encourages us to do what He commands.
b. So the LORD stirred up the spirit: We long for such a stirring of spirit among His people today. This stirring began with the leadership (Zerubbabel…Joshua) and extended to the people (all the remnant of the people).
c. They came and worked on the house of the LORD: The stirring of spirit didn’t come and go just as a spiritual experience. The stirring of spirit flourished into a stirring for the work.