I have recently been studying the Book of Haggai for a course I teach on prophecy. The message of Haggai begins by stating a problem: the Hebrews have returned from exile in Babylon in order to build the temple in Jerusalem. But the people are saying that ‘the time has not yet come’ (1:2).
They are saying that there must be a more convenient time to build God’s house; the time is not right for them. Even though they had been back in Jerusalem for sixteen years (1:1), they are still waiting for the right circumstances to erect God’s temple.
How like those Israelites we are! When it comes to contributing to God’s work on the earth, we share a similar attitude. We know we ought to evangelise our families, but this is not a good time. We know we should be conducting family devotions, but we will get to it sometime. I’ll start reading my Bible tomorrow. It never seems to be a good time for doing God’s work.
From Haggai 1:3-4, it is clear that the Hebrews would rather use their time and money to build their own houses, their panelled homes. The word for ‘panelled’ is a rare word in Hebrew and it refers to beautiful cedar planking.
They were providing for their own wants first, in the form of luxurious houses, that is, mansions on the earth. How often our own desires take precedence over God’s commandments!
How much easier it is to watch a movie than to study God’s Word! How quickly our lives fill up with secular duties so that we do not pray! How easy it is to find things to do on the Sabbath! Our hearts are more in tune with our wants than with God’s commands.
In Haggai 1:5-6, God evaluates the ways of the Hebrews. His first statement reads literally, ‘Set your heart on your ways’ — the Jews needed a period of self-examination. They ought to commune with their own hearts, and consider their ways and priorities.
Self-examination is good for all Christians! We ought to be thoughtful and continually ponder our condition before the Creator. We need to honestly evaluate what comes first in our lives — what are our priorities? Whom do we serve?
In verse 6, Haggai speaks of five specific areas that the Hebrews ought to think about. And all five point to one basic idea: hardships will befall those who are preoccupied with their own interests, who have not made the Lord the priority in life.
The situation is ironic. The Jews were spending all their time making money and caring for their own needs. But even with all their efforts, they do not have enough food, clothing, or money! They need to realise that these things are not ends in themselves, but come from the hand of God. He is the source of these things, and must be properly honoured as the one who gives them.
Let me illustrate. A few years ago I had a few students who came under great conviction regarding their need to honour the Sabbath day. However, they were very concerned about their studies and grades — that if they took off an entire day from work their work would suffer.
What happened was astonishing. Their study habits and grades actually improved. They became much more focused on the other six days, and looked forward to the day of rest. The result was just the opposite of what they had feared.
Another point of verse 6 needs to be underscored, namely, the lack of satisfaction and gratification for people who serve themselves first rather than God. They eat, but there is never enough to satisfy. They are never content. For people who are self-serving there is never enough!
Doing God’s work
In verses 7-8, Haggai provides the solution to the problem. Haggai tells the people to act — go gather wood in the mountains and use it to rebuild the temple of Yahweh. Oh, that we were like the Israelites in this respect! All our good intentions mean nothing unless we act on them.
We know we ought to read the Bible daily, and that we should evangelise and pray. But it is meaningless unless we actually do what we have been commanded. Verse 8 also explains what the motivation ought to be: simply to please God and bring glory to his name.
Like the Jews of Haggai’s time, we are inclined to please, glorify and honour ourselves. But that is bad motivation. What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.
Haggai speaks insightfully and incisively to the church today. As Christians, we need to consider our ways and gauge our hearts regarding our service to Christ. What place and position does he have in our lives?
We need also ask whether other things are more important to us. Are money, job, family, status our priorities? What is it we serve most zealously in our lives? If there is something we esteem more than God, we must repent and turn to him in obedience. We must do what he has commanded. Only then will we have true satisfaction, significance and identity.