This is one of the easiest books of the Bible to date. Haggai prophesied in the 2nd year of king Darius of Persia. His first prophecy came in the 1st day of the 6th month of the 2nd year of his reign. That works out to be 29August 520 B.C. - 2500 years ago. 520 B.C. is very near the end of OT history—the only books that come later are Nehemiah and Malachi. Haggai and Zechariah were contempories who prophesied about the same time.
To understand the message of this book, we need to grasp a few important points of biblical history. When Solomon was king of Israel, he built a magnificent temple in Jerusalem. It was constructed of such expensive material that people came from throughout the ancient world to gaze upon it. The Jews rightly regarded it as the greatest national treasure. They revered the temple because it was the place where God dwelled with man.
In the centuries after Solomon the people repeatedly turned away from God in favour of idolatry. As a result God used the Babylonians to judge his people and to purify them from their sin. 586 BC - the Babylonian army, under King Nebuchadnezzar -defeated Judah, destroyed the walls of Jerusalem, laid waste to the city, and utterly destroyed Solomon’s temple. Nothing was left when the Babylonians were finished.
The Jews were taken into captivity in Babylon. There they “hung their harps on a willow tree” and wept for the city of Jerusalem. 50 long years passed and then God raised up Cyrus of Persia who permitted the Jews to return under the leadership of a man named Zerubbabel. 538 BC - he led about 50000 people back to Judah. There they found shocking devastation. Nothing had changed since the defeat some 50 years earlier.
Immediately they set about rebuilding the temple. They re-laid the foundation with great celebration. Then the Samaritans (who hated the Jews) began to oppose them. Because of their constant opposition, the Jews stopped the rebuilding process and never got started again. There was plenty of other work to do—they were trying to restart a nation from scratch. As the years passed, slowly but surely Jerusalem came to life again. Homes were built, shops opened, commerce established, fields planted, crops harvested and life began to resemble something of a normal pattern. There was only one problem. The temple foundation still lay in ruins -
Overgrown With Weeds
Every time the Jews passed it, it stood as a reminder of their failure to take care of God’s house. 16 years pass - summer of 520 BC. Enter Haggai - God raises him up to deliver 4 brief messages in 5 months - from August to December 520 BC. The message is clear: It’s time to finish rebuilding the temple. Haggai’s words are blunt, plain-spoken, direct, vivid. He pulls no punches - Haggai is the foreman of the OT. I see him with a hardhat and a tool belt walking around the construction site giving orders left and right. He has only one goal: Get that temple rebuilt and do it now!
God Speaks to Misplaced Priorities
His 1st message - takes up all 15 verses of chapter 1.
A. A Bad Excuse v. 2
They were simply making excuses. They truly intended to build God’s house, but they just hadn’t got around to it yet. They were frozen by fear, stifled by selfishness and paralyzed by presumption. They were afraid of the Samaritans so they selfishly built their own homes, and then presumptuously claimed to know better than God when the temple should be rebuilt.
Let’s think of some excuses they might have offered for their delay: God wants us to take care of our own families, doesn’t he? The job is too big. We’ll never finish it. Not our fault so it’s not our job. Someone else will do it if we don’t. We need to pray about it some more. I don’t think we need a temple. The time just isn’t right. Our motives are good, but we’re just too busy!!!
It’s always easy to make excuses when you don’t want to obey God. God’s reputation was at stake in the rebuilding. The pagans would draw wrong conclusions if the temple were never rebuilt. They would assume that the Jews didn’t care about their God. How could they if they left his temple in ruins? At the same time the Jews were also teaching their children that God doesn’t matter. So rebuilding the temple was a major issue to God - and should have been to the people.
B. A Penetrating Question v. 3. 4
Please understand. There’s nothing wrong with having a nice home. This isn’t an attack on riches or big houses. But it’s wrong to own a nice home while God’s house lies in ruins. It’s a matter of misplaced priorities. Most people lived in tiny stone houses, but evidently the Jews were building large panelled homes -which just made the situation worse.
C. A Pointed Judgment v. 5, 6, 9 - 11
Here is a sobering reminder that what happens in your heart effects every other part of your life. Because the people had pushed God out of the centre of life, they were now suffering in every other area. They had … Fields without produce - Action without satisfaction - Labour without profit - Fruitless toil - fleeting riches - unsatisfied hunger -futile defences.
This is the Law of the Unproductive Harvest. It happens to us over and over until we learn that God will not be mocked. Why would God do this? He allows us to suffer the results of our wrong choices in order to get our attention, to convict of sin, and to lead us to repentance. God knows where you live and he knows how to reach your private line any time he wants.
D. A Call to Action v. 7, 8
In all of life there is a time to talk and a time to act, a time to consider and a time to stop talking and starting doing. This was a time to act. Because they had not honoured God, every area of life was suffering. The only remedy was to stop making excuses and start doing what God had told them to do 16 years earlier.
E. A United Response v. 12
All great movements must start with the leaders. First Zerubbabel and Joshua committed to obeying God and then all the people followed their lead. Everything rise and falls on leadership. That principle is still true today.
F. A Positive Promise v. 13
God honours those who do his work. Here’s an important insight that many Christians never discover: God is on the hard road. He’s not sitting with the couch potatoes. The hard road looks difficult and daunting. All of us would rather be on the easy road. God is calling you to stop making excuses and get in the game.
Ironic thing between the easy road and the hard road - easy road looks easy but once you get on it, it turns into the hard road. The hard road looks hard but once you do the hard thing in life, it turns out to be the easy thing. The easy road is deceptive. It is the way of destruction, poverty, starvation and desperation. It is the way to wasted days, wasted weeks, wasted months, and wasted years. The hard road which appears to be so difficult is ultimately the road of blessing, fulfilment and lasting spiritual growth. It is the road that leads you to the top. The easy road takes you down to the bottom. The only road that goes to the top is the hard road. It is tough, but it is the only one that goes where you want to go with your life. God honours those who stop making excuses. He promises to be with those who dare to take him seriously.
G. A Good Beginning v. 14, 15
Haggai preached one message and 24 days later the people began to rebuild the temple. It happened because the Lord stirred up the spirit of the people. Reminds us that God’s work ultimately depends on God. He must give the orders, he must give the energy, he must give the desire and then he must stir up the spirits of his people before anything good will be done. “To God alone be the glory.” In the end God has arranged the moral universe so that he alone gets the glory for any good that is accomplished. Everything depends on him, yet he holds us fully accountable to do his will, yet without his enablement his will will never be done. This is not only a mystery, it is also a great encouragement because in the final analysis everything depends on God.
Abiding Lessons for Discouraged Carpenters
1. Putting First Things First
Jesus said, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and yet lose his own soul?” The people of Haggai’s day were so busy trying to gain the whole world that they were in effect losing their own souls. They made every excuse in the book for not doing God’s work. Not all the excuses were wrong, but they were all sinful because they caused the people to push God from the centre to the circumference of life.
We make precisely the same mistake today. I’m sure that many people truly intend to give generously to the Lord’s work. Each month they sincerely intend to give something to God. But first they pay the bond or the rent, then they pay the electricity, then the food, then the credit cards, then they set some aside for savings and some for recreation. Pretty soon that stack of notes just disappears. And so does the money they intended to give to God.
It’s sad that sometimes it takes losing everything to realise that it all belongs to God. None of it belongs to us. We’re just in temporary possession of the things we call our own. Happy is the man who understands that everything belongs to our Heavenly Father. Happy is the man who holds lightly what he values greatly.
2. Getting Started Again
I find tremendous encouragement in this story. After all, it’s hard to get started after 16 years. I’m sure the Jews never meant to let the temple lie in ruins that long. But after a few months the weeds began to overgrow the site and at that point, it was easier just to let it go. Maybe they felt guilty, and I’m sure that over the years they established several committees to study the problem and make recommendations. But despite their good or not-so-good intentions, nothing ever happened.
I know that some of us feel stuck today. You need to get started again, you need a new direction in your spiritual life, you want to begin again, but you don’t know how and you don’t know where and you don’t know what to do.
Often it’s our guilt over the past that holds us back. Sometimes it’s our frustration with the way life has been that keeps us striking out in a new direction.
This week a simple thought has come to my mind more than once. It goes like this: I can’t go back - I can’t stay here - I must go forward. You can’t go back to the past—not to relive the good times or to seek revenge for the bad times. But you can’t stay where you are either. Life is like a river that flows endlessly onward. It matters not whether you are happy in your present situation or whether you seek to be delivered from it. You can’t stay where you are forever. The only way to go is forward. Forward!
3. Immediate Obedience
The people of Haggai’s day meant well but good intentions don’t matter when it comes to obeying God. Remember: It’s always easy to find excuses when you don’t want to obey God. When God says, Build the temple, he doesn’t mean tomorrow or next week. He means, Build it now!
Procrastination is a sin if it keeps you from obeying God. We all have our excuses for not doing what we know we ought to do. So we never write that letter and never make that phone call. We don’t get out and look for a job. We never get around to witnessing to our friends. We don’t apply and we never start the savings account. That’s why we don’t lose weight and we don’t save money. Our excuses keep us from the hard road of obedience. But you know what an excuses is, don’t you? It’s the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie. Once we stop making excuses, we’re then ready to obey God. Until then, we’re doomed to be stuck in spiritual neutral.
When God calls, we must obey - not tomorrow. Today. God’s work must be done now. Not next month or next year. Now.
What is keeping you from obeying God? Where is the moral paralysis in your own life? What is God calling you to do that you are resisting right now? Do you see where your resistance is hurting yourself?
Rest easy, my friend. There’s a steady hand at the helm and he doesn’t need any help from you. But you’ll never know until you give him full control of your life.