A Time To Build Haggai 1:1-15
Writer: Haggai is the writer of the book (1:1), and his name means festive or festival.
Recipients: Haggai directed his prophecy to Zerubbabel the governor, Joshua the high priest (1:1; 2:2, 21) and the people (1:13:2:2) of Judah.
Date: The date of Haggai’s prophecy is firmly fixed; he wrote in the second year of Darius I (520 B.C.).
Style: Haggai wrote in a straightforward prose, attributing his message to the Lord (1:1, 3, 5, 7-8, 13). The prophet used various methods to bring Judah to a place of commitment and service.
Theme: Building the Lord’s house.
Key Verse and Words: Key words: “the LORD’S house,” “this house,” “mine house” (8 times) “consider’ (5 times). Key verses: 1:14: 2:9
The country is in a building boom. Houses are springing up like mushrooms, dotting major expressways and rolling farmland, with price tags unimaginable to past generations. No longer is such a purchase simply for shelter; it is a major luxury investment as a hedge against inflation and taxes.
No expense, time or effort has been spared to provide the right house in the proper neighborhood. Families are mortgaged to the hilt for both houses and furnishings in order to have a slice of the American dream. Many have a second home where weekends are spent to recoup from the mental struggles faced in the corporate world five days a week.
More often than not, Christians find themselves caught in a similar lifestyle. Drained mentally, physically and financially by his progressive lifestyle, the Christian has little time, interest and energy for the Lord’s work.
Lest one think this characterization is unique to those in twentieth-century America, think again. In 502 B.C. the people of Jerusalem were living a materialistic lifestyle with little interest in spiritual things or financial help for God’s work. ·
This is the atmosphere in which Haggai thundered on the scene with a straightforward prophecy calling the people to renew their commitment and service to God. Failure to do so would bring about complete removal of the little prosperity which they had enjoyed upon returning to Jerusalem.
RECIPIENTS OF THE PROPHECY
“In the second year of Darius, the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month” (v. 1), or on September 1, 520 B.C., Haggai began to deliver the message God had for Judah.
This date is significant for a number of reasons. It provided the exact time of Haggai’s prophecy. It is taken from the reign of a persian king, indicating that the “times of the Gentiles” was in progress (Lk. 21:24). It was in the sixth month (Elul), indicating that less than one month earlier Judah had remembered the destruction of her Temple by the Babylonians (Av 9, 586 B.C.). The people would have had their hearts prepared for Haggai’s prophecy. It was on the first day of the month, a holy day, time of the new moon, when all work would be suspended as on the Sabbath. A special burnt offering would be presented to the Lord (Num. 28:11-15), and the people would listen to the prophets (2 Ki. 4:23).1 Haggai had a captive audience for his captivating prophecy!
The prophet left no doubt that he delivered the message of the Lord and that the people were to respond accordingly (1:1-2, 7, 13; 2:4, 6-9, 11, 14, 23). Before addressing the people, Haggai directed his words to the leadership in Judah, Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest (v. 1).
After Cyrus’ decree in 539 B.C. (Ezra 2:1-2) the first group of exiles returned to Judah under the leadership of Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel was heir to the Davidic throne since he was the grandson of King Jehoiachin (called Jeconiah in 1 Chr. 3:17-19; cp. Mt 1:12). This meant that Zerubbabel was in the messianic line, a thought picked up by Haggai at the conclusion of his prophecy (2:20-23).
Zerubbabel is called the “son of Shealtiel” (v. 1) and the son of Shealtiel’s brother Pedaiah ( 1. Chr. 3:17-19). This problem is solvable if seen in the light of a levirate marriage (Dt 25:5-10). This meant that Shealtiel took Pedaliah’s wife to be his after his brother’s death; most likely Zerubbabel was then born. Zerubbabel means seed of Babylon which is a reference to the country where he was born. He is referred to as Sheshbazzar, “the prince of Judah” (Ezra 1:8, 11), and the “governor” (Ezra 5:14) of Judah, appointed by Cyrus.
Joshua was the son of Jehozadak (v. 1), the high priest, who was taken into captivity by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. (1 Chr. 6:15).
Notice, Haggai presented his message to the political and religious leaders first. If he could ignite their vision to rebuild the Temple, they would inspire the people to finish the task
REBUKE FOR PROCRASTINATION
Haggai wasted no time in dealing with Judah’s excuses for not completing the Temple: “This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD’S house should be built” (v. 2). The rebuke comes from “the LORD of hosts” (LORD of armies, v. 2), a phrase used by the
post-exilic prophets to describe an all-powerful God who will accomplish what He has decreed. This is a stern rebuke to a procrastinating people, especially when God would remove any hindrance to enable the people to finish the Temple. Notice, God does not refer to them as “His people” but as “this people” (v. 2), showing His displeasure over their disobedience.
Haggai pinpointed the reasons for Judah’s procrastination. The people found time to build their own houses but not God’s Temple: “Is it time for you… to dwell in your paneled houses, and this house to lie waste?” (v. 4). The prophet revealed four sins of the people. The first was their selfishness. They had time and money to construct their own houses but not God’s. Second, people had become indifferent to the Temple because they had worshipped without it for seventy years in Babylon. Third, hostile neighbors had disillusioned them from constructing the Temple. Fourth, they put their own wants ahead of God’s will.
The people were living in “paneled houses” (v.4) which indicated luxury, “usually associated with royal dwellings such as the palace built by Solomon” (1 Ki. 7:3, 7;cp. Jer. 22:14).
2 Haggai does not state the type of paneling used, but Zerubbabel purchased cedars from Lebanon to construct the Temple (Ezra 3:7). Could it be that this wood was used to decorate houses of the wealthy rather than to build the Temple?
3 God was not rebuking the people for building such fine houses for themselves but for building their own houses while totally neglecting the Lord’s house. They were putting self-interest above the Lord’s will. How different the attitude of David; although he resided in a cedar house, David was totally committed to building a glorious temple for God (2 Sam. 7:2).
Many Christians worship in buildings inadequate for the congregation or in great need of repair while claiming they lack the finances to upgrade the church building. Yet these congregants spare no expense in beautifying or upgrading their own houses along with all the creature comforts available. Like Judah, many Christians are unaware that their actions have cut short the blessing God has for them.
REASON FOR POVERTY
Haggai awakened Judah to their plight with the words, “consider your ways” (v. 5) or set your heart upon your way (cp. 1:7; 2:15, 18). The prophet is saying, Give very careful thought in reflecting on your priorities.Make the proper adjustments and follow after the Lord’s will.
Haggai reviewed the material blessings God had removed because of the nation’s disobedience. First, their agriculture failed: “Ye have sown much, and bring in little” (v. 6). Although they planted much seed, the harvest was a disaster (cp. 1:10-11; 2:15-17). Second, the economy of the land was not sufficient to meet the people’s needs: “ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe yourselves, but there is none warm” (v. 6). Third, inflation was spiraling out of sight because of famine and scarcity of goods: “and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes,” (v. 6) said the prophet. There just was not enough money to meet the needs of daily life. One is reminded of the bumper sticker that says, “My take home pay will not take me home.”
This chastening was direct from God because of their disobedience. Moses had predicted these very judgments centuries earlier (Lev. 26:18-20; Dt. 28:38-40). The secret to Judah’s personal blessing depended upon obedience to God–putting the Temple construction before their own welfare. Christ spoke to this very issue when He said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33).
Once again, Haggai called Judah to consider their ways (v. 7) and gather more timber in order to build the Temple (v. 8). In other words, they should repent of their sins and get on with the renewed task of reconstructing the Temple. In so doing, God would take pleasure (v. 8) in the Temple and be glorified (v. 8) or honored through its completion. This in turn would be a sign to the surrounding nations that God had restored Judah to her previous state, and she was now in a position to receive His blessing.
REVIEWING THEIR PLIGHT
If Judah refused to build the Temple, it would mean a total collapse of her economic system. The people might plant an abundance of seed with great hope of a plenteous harvest, but little would be produced and even that would be blown away by God (v. 9). Why? “Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house” (v. 9), said God. In other words, the people were busy constructing their own houses but had no time or interest in working on God’s Temple. Thus, the Lord would remove all prosperity as a judgment upon them.
The same is true today! Christians find time in their busy schedules to spend hours on constructing a new house, whether it be time spent choosing the right lo making sure blueprints are drawn properly, picking out paint, carpet, fixtures or watching the building go up to make certain nothing is done wrong. But when it comes to building the church, the opposite is often true; the cheapest materials are used, and the lowest bidder is contracted for the work. When members are asked to help with inside finishing work, few respond, and those who do give little time to the project.
God intervened directly in the affairs of Judah to cause an economic disaster. Tremendous drought set in when He withheld “the dew” (v. 10). Heavy dew was needed in Israel, especially in the dry season, in order to acquire a bountiful summer crop. The drought affected everything, the grain (barley and wheat), new wine and oil (olive oil used in food, medicine and ointments) [v. 11]. Such crop failure would devastate man and animals, depriving them of the needed sustenance to live. Those laboring in the field toiled in vain since their effort would come to nought (v. 11).
Although most Americans do not acquire their livelihood through farming, God has used other methods to cause economic disaster. During the writing of this article the stock market took the largest plunge in its history, sweeping away the fortunes of many. The corporate world was shocked into seeing how vulnerable they were to quick economic disaster. Could it be that God is starting to shake the economic foundation of America because of its gross materialism and spiritual callousness? Remember, no nation, state or individual is exempt from such disaster when they refuse to heed God’s warning.
RENEWAL OF THE PROJECT
The response of Judah was immediate. She “obeyed the voice of the LORD… and the words of Haggai… and the people did fear before the LORD” (v. 12). Lest one think it was easy for Judah to make such an about-face, remember that they had been disobedient for some sixteen years. Such a self-serving life would be hard to turn away from, but when the piercing Word of God penetrated their hearts, change took place immediately.
Upon witnessing Judah’s repentance, renewal and reverential respect for the Lord, the tone of Haggai’s message changed from judgment to comfort. God’s comforting word is short and encouraging, “I am with you” (v. 13). Need anymore be said? Here is divine assurance that God will empower, protect, guide and accomplish His task through the people. Such a word of encouragement should drive out all fear of the enemy and fortify them to finish what God required.
The Lord’s “I am with you” has encouraged God’s men through the centuries: Isaac and Jacob (Gen. 26:3; 28:15); Moses in delivering Israel (Ex. 4:12); Joshua leading Israel to Canaan (Josh. 1:5); Jeremiah at his call (Jer. 1:8); Israel during times of tribulation (Isa. 43: 1); the disciples at their commission (Mt. 28:19-20); and Paul in going to Corinth (Acts 18:10). If God was with these men of old, will He not be with the Christian today? Of course! He has promised to be with all those who are obedient to His voice (Rom. 8:31; Heb. 13:5). The Christian needs to grasp the “I am with you” of God and act accordingly.
Haggai’s prophecy “stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel…Joshua … and … the people; and they came and did work in the house of the LORD” (v. 14). First, the leadership was stirred from indifference to obey God’s voice. A people can only rise as high as the leadership is willing to take them.
Second, they were not just stirred for the moment but stirred to build the Temple. Paul told Timothy to “stir up the gift of God” which had been bestowed on him (2 Tim. 1:6). Christians have a responsibility to continually stir themselves and use their God-given gifts for His glory.
Third, “they came and did work” (v. 14). There was no more murmuring and complaining that they could not afford to build, that it was not time to build, or that they did not need the Temple. They were ready and eager to get on with the God-given task of constructing the Temple.
The same should be true in the church, but all too often Christians shrink from being stirred to the work because of timidity, a sense of inability, lack of faith, recession or just plain apathy.
On September 24, 520 B.C., just twenty-three days later, the work was begun on the Temple. Judah had responded at the hearing of Haggai’s message but took three weeks to plan the work and prepare the materials for construction–a very short time considering that the project had lain dormant for sixteen years. When God calls, there is to be prompt obedience even though there may be intervening time before one actually begins God’s work.
Like Judah, many Christians need to take spiritual inventory and ask some very penetrating questions. Has my spiritual vision been dimmed by materialistic pursuits? Has commitment to my profession consumed both time and energy so there is none left for the Lord’s service? Am I so caught in the web of financial debt that my giving to the Lord’s work is at best insufficient or almost nonexistent? Judah had to rethink her priorities and draw a new blueprint for her spiritual life. Some of us need to do likewise. It is time to build. Build a life which will please God!
- Herbert Wolf, Haggai and Malachi: Rededication and Renewal ( Chicago: Moody Press, 1976), p. 13.
- Ibid., p. 16.
- Ibid. , p. 17.