1 In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest:
2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”
3 Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
5 Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
7 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord.9 “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”
(Haggai 1:1-11 NIV)
As we begin our journey through the Old Testament book of Haggai, let’s recall a bit of the Jewish history that provides the background for today’s text.
King Cyrus became king of Babylon and commissioned a group of Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. Zerubbabel led a group of Jewish exiles from Babylon (where he was born) to Jerusalem (where he had never been or lived). We see this history recorded in Ezra chapters 1 – 3.
When Zerubbabel and the other exiles arrived in Jerusalem, their neighbors opposed the rebuilding of the Temple, taking up physical threats against the Jewish people. Discouraged, Zerubbabel and the Jewish people stopped the rebuilding and went back to their everyday lives of scratching out a living in a new land.
In Ezra 5:1, God raises up Haggai and Zechariah to speak to Zerubbabel the governor of Judah and Joshua the high priest. About 15 years had passed since the rebuilding had stopped to where our text picks up today.
This news of God speaking to His people via a prophet was a really big deal. This was the first time that God sent a prophet since the Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem.
God calls Haggai to speak to Zerubbabel and Joshua (v. 1), with God referring to the Jewish settlers as “these people”. Normally God refers to the Jews as “My people”. God was not disowning them; rather He used the term to show His displeasure with them.
God begins by reflecting the common belief of the Jewish people that it was not the right time to rebuild the Temple (v. 2). This was hard work, and there was much opposition. And this rebuilding effort was on top of having to earn a living in a harsh land.
Can you and I relate to their excuses?
God responds to their statement with a question: Is it then time for you to build your luxury houses while My house is still unfinished? (v. 4)
These were not basic homes that provided shelter from the elements and protection while they slept. These were mini-palaces, tiny castles they had built for themselves. When God said “you yourselves”, He was pointing out their self-centered way of thinking and living that left Him completely out of the equation.
In verses 5 and 7, the Lord says, “Give careful thought to your ways.” In other words, “stop and think about what you’re doing.” All the effort they were expending to earn a living, put food on the table, wine in the cellar, clothes on their backs, and money in their bank accounts was not satisfying – it was never enough (v. 6).
There was a reason for this – the people were honoring themselves and dishonoring God who brought them back from Babylon to Jerusalem to begin with (v. 7).
So what was God telling them to do? Go up in the mountains, cut down trees, and build His Temple as He had commissioned them and brought them out of Babylon to do. God wanted to be preeminent in their lives again, to bless them and receive their praise. But the people had to do their part.
God reiterates the cause-and-effect of the people’s current hardship. They were working really hard but had nothing to show for it (v. 9a). Why? Because they had neglected God and focused on themselves (v. 9b). And until that changed, God had limited everything that they were striving for (vv. 10-11).
What is our priority in life? Is it to put food on the table, clothes on our backs, a roof over our heads, and money in our bank?
Or is it to seek after God first and foremost?
Jesus talked about this in Matthew 6:19:34.
And what was Jesus’ conclusion and command?
31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
(Matthew 6:31-34 NIV, underlines mine)
When we put God in high regard, when we put Him first in our lives, He provides everything else for our needs.
May we step into that deeper way of following Jesus today.