Haggai 1: 1 - 4
Online recently - one site promised the “best procrastination joke ever.” When I clicked on the link - 2 words appeared: “Coming soon.” “Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday.”
Since Haggai is the 2nd-shortest book in the Old Testament (after Obadiah), it’s a bit difficult to find. It’s found between Zephaniah and Zechariah, which probably doesn’t help all that much. The easiest way is to find Matthew and then short left 3 books. If you’re using a mobile device it’s much easier to find.
In order to properly interpret and apply this brief book of just 2 chapters, we must understand its historical context. If you lock in, I’ll try my best to unlock some of the details in a way that is understandable and even interesting.
We begin with a man named Abraham. He came from a pagan country and was promised a place and a people by God. He and his wife gave birth to a son named Isaac. Isaac became the father of Jacob and he had 12 sons, who became known as the 12 Tribes of Israel. They ended up in bondage in Egypt for 400 years. Moses led them out and then God gave His people instructions for how to worship Him in a Tabernacle.
After entering the land of promise, they were given 3 kings, each of whom ruled 40 years. Their names were Saul, David and Solomon. David wanted to build a permanent worship structure but that honour was given to his son Solomon, who constructed a magnificent Temple. It was the centrepiece of the nation and the focal point of their worship.
But things went downhill from there. After Solomon died, Israel was split into 2 kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom had 10 tribes and was referred to as Israel. The Southern Kingdom had 2 tribes and was referred to as Judah.
Due to disobedience, the Assyrians attacked Israel and the northern tribes were scattered and became known as the “10 lost tribes of Israel.” Even though the southern tribes saw all this happen, they, too, continued to rebel against God. Many years later the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, decimated the Temple, and deported the Jews to what is now modern-day Iraq. This period of time is called the exile.
It was always God’s plan to restore His people to the land. Jeremiah 29: 10, 11 “This is what the LORD says: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Years later God allowed the Persians to conquer the Babylonians and he moved King Cyrus to make a decree to let some of the Jews return. And in 3 stages, they were allowed back to Jerusalem.
In the 1st group, 50,000 Israelites returned to Judah with Zerubbabel and rebuilt the altar and began offering sacrifices. There was a lot of excitement among the people and they worked hard. 2 years later they finished the foundation of the Temple. Unfortunately, they got discouraged and fell into some serious procrastination. God then sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to encourage them to finish the project. Ezra was also used to help restore their spiritual enthusiasm and Nehemiah rallied them to rebuild the walls.
Haggai’s message is clear: God’s purposes must have priority over our pursuits. We’re going to need to buckle up for this series because while Haggai is brief, he’s also very blunt. v. 1 - establishes the when, what and who.
• When - one of the most precisely dated books in the entire Bible. We not only know the year (second), we are certain of the month (sixth) and the day (first)! This is yet another reminder that the Bible is not a hoax but is set in history and is filled with verifiable facts not fables.
• What - Haggai is not giving some “Helpful habits to have a happy life” but rather he is simply the human instrument through which the Lord is communicating His message. This gives us insight into the doctrine of inspiration. The Bible is the “word of the Lord” delivered by the “hand of Haggai the prophet.”
• Who - this prophecy is for all the people and for us, it is directed first to 2 guys running the project. Zerubbabel - the civil leader. Joshua - the spiritual leader.
It’s essential for leaders to be growing in the Lord and receptive to His leading. I love serving on a team of pastors and elders alongside a group of devoted deacons.
Do you need a spiritual reboot? Has you devotion to Christ started to drift? If so, lean in and listen because God’s purposes must have priority over our pursuits.
1. Put God in His Proper Place
Acknowledge how awesome God is. v. 2: “This is what the LORD Almighty says …” The name for Lord is “Yahweh” and occurs 34 times in the book. Yaweh is the self-existent God who is personal, present, powerful and the ultimate promise-keeper. “LORD Almighty” references the Covenant Keeper as the commander of all the armies of heaven. It’s used over 270 times in the Bible and 14 times alone in this brief book! It’s fascinating that this name for God appears about 90 times in the 3 last books of the OT!
Psalm 33: 8 “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere Him.” Have you put God in His proper place? Do you approach Him with reverence and awe? God tells us what kind of people He is looking for - Isaiah 66: 2 “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
God’s purposes must have priority over our pursuits. The first step is to put God in His proper place. The second step is to –
2. Proceed without Procrastination
Even though the people faced some mounting problems, the God of the angel armies speaks urgently and authoritatively as He summarises their lame excuse in v. 2: “These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.” By referring to them as “these” people and not “my people,” God was indicating that they were not acting like his people because they had been spiritually adrift for 16 years! That reminds me of Hosea 1: 9 “Call his name ‘Not My People,’ for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”
If you’re a Christian, are you living like a Christian? If you’re saved, are you serving? Can people tell that you’re a follower of Christ before you tell them you’re following Christ?
If you had asked them why they had stopped working on Gods’ house they may have said something like this: “Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for rebuilding it but the time isn’t somehow right. It’s expensive and we’re in an economic downturn and there’s a lot of political uncertainty right now. The project is too big and there is too much opposition. I have other things to take care of first, like my farm and my house [and my kids have sports and activities and other events]. I’ll get around to making God a priority…I promise. Just not now.”
Their excuses sound familiar, don’t they? They even sound reasonable and realistic. Excuses always sound that way.
• I have too much going on to make it to church every weekend. After all, Saturday is my day and Sunday’s my only day to sleep in!
• People at church are hypocrites and I don’t like some of them. To which I often say, “Why don’t you join us and we’ll have one more!” • I’ll give more when I have more to give.
• I’ll surrender myself totally to the Lord after I finish school, or when I get some rest, or when I retire.
Someone said it like this: “If and when were planted and nothing grew.” Ecclesiastes 11: 4 “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.”
If you need a spiritual reboot, first make sure you’ve put God in His proper place and second, proceed without procrastination. Finally –
3. Prioritize God over your Pleasures
After all is said and done, more is said than done – v. 3, 4. The people were saying that they wanted to use their time, talents and treasures on themselves. When you read “panelled” houses, don’t think of cheap. This was cedar or expensive oak. It was typically only used in a palace like Solomon’s.
We know from Ezra that King Cyrus had provided money to buy hardwood to rebuild the temple; it’s likely that they used these expensive materials instead for their own homes. In contrast to what they were building for themselves, God’s house was “desolate and decaying.”
How can they say the time is not right after God had moved a pagan king to send them back to Jerusalem to do the job? Simply put, they didn’t care about God or His kingdom. They were much more into their own pleasure.
Do you catch the contrast between God’s desolate house and their decorated houses? They are not just spending time building their homes; they are now living luxuriously in them. Their attitude was the exact opposite of what King David said years earlier when he realized that he was living in a nice house but there was nothing built for God’s house.
They stopped doing the chief work that they had been commissioned to do! Likewise, our main job today is to bring glory to God by living out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as we gather, grow, give and go with the gospel! That’s why we’re here! We can all experience mission drift if we don’t stay on task.
These procrastinating people had become apathetic, indifferent, negligent and indulgent. Like them, our default setting is selfishness. If we give no thought to how we’re living we’ll automatically live for own agendas.
The bottom line is that the people thought they could do life without God at the centre. We’ll discover how this was working out for them. In a similar way, it’s very easy for us to live our lives without God in His rightful place. They thought God was nice; they just didn’t see Him as a necessity. He was something extra, not essential. They had settled in the land and settled spiritually as well.
We need to see ourselves in this picture. If you know Christ, there was a time you made a personal commitment to Him…at first; you were zealous for spiritual things. You read your Bible every day…and got involved serving…but perhaps your efforts met with difficulties. You had a personality clash with another Christian, or you were disillusioned…or you encountered personal trials that God didn’t remove.
Meanwhile, life moved on. You started a career and a family. You had bills to pay and other demands on your time. Church and the Lord’s work drifted into the background. You tell yourself that you just don’t have time to serve as you used to…without deliberately rebelling against God, you have drifted into putting your house above God’s house.
If you’re spiritually stuck or drifting due to disobedience, settle this truth right now: God’s purposes must have priority over our pursuits. We can live that out by… • Putting God in His proper place • Proceeding without procrastination • Prioritizing God over your pleasures
Because communion is so important, we don’t ever want to become complacent when we celebrate what Jesus has done for us. Please close your eyes: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” We are called to a time of honest assessment: “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Let’s examine ourselves silently…and refuse to make any excuses because God’s purposes must have priority over our pursuits.