Haggai 1, “Consider your ways”

Intro: This morning I want to begin our study of the book of Haggai in the Old Testament. There are many applications to be made from the words of the minor prophets (as we have seen), but they come easily and readily from the words of Haggai. Let’s take a closer look.

I. Haggai, the prophet – The name Haggai means “festival” or” festive” (possibly because he was born on the day of a festival). Our knowledge of the man is limited. He is mentioned only Ezra 5 & 6, and here in this book that bears his name. There are some who suggest that he was an older man, in his eighties, who had seen the Temple in Jerusalem before it was destroyed by the Babylonians (2:3). Others suggest he was born during the captivity and thus was much younger. His home and occupation are also unknown to us. He is simply characterized as Haggai, the prophet (1:1)

II. The Background to Haggai’s Message – Haggai identifies the date of his prophecy. Haggai 1:1In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. This places his words at 520 B.C.

A. Exile in Babylon: A number of years have passed since the prophecy of Habakkuk. Just as prophesied, the nation of Judah was overrun by Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. Many of the Jews were relocated to Babylon in three separate deportations. Daniel & Ezekiel were two of those taken to Babylon, and God spoke to His people through them. God promised to restore a remnant to the land after 70 years of exile. God’s discipline was being administered just as He had promised.

B. Cyrus, My Shepherd: The Medes and the Persians conquered the Babylonians, and a Persian king named Cyrus came to power. He was unlike the kings of Assyria and Babylon in that he permitted all the peoples who had been taken captive to return to their own lands to rebuild their temples and call upon their gods. He has been called the “great liberator”. The edict of Cyrus concerning Jerusalem is found in 2 Chronicles 36 & Ezra 1.

1. Cyrus’ benevolence was predicted by Isaiah 150 years earlier in Isaiah 44:28 – Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, And he shall perform all My pleasure, Saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built,” And to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.”‘ Zerubbabel led about 50,000 Jews back to Palestine for the purpose of rebuilding the altar at the temple in Jerusalem, and rebuilding of the temple itself.

2. The foundations of the temple were laid, and materials were gathered for this project, beginning in 537 B.C. But because of opposition from the Samaritans the builders became discouraged, and the work ceased for 15 years. Ezra 4:24Thus the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem ceased, and it was discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

III. Haggai’s Message – (consider only part today – more later) Haggai’s message was simple – Rebuild the Temple! Homer Hailey focuses on Haggai’s main idea in the following words: “Haggai was a man of one paramount idea. Without eloquence or flights of oratory, but in simple, earnest warning and urging, his message was-build the temple! The hope of blessing from Jehovah rested upon accomplishing this task for which they had returned.” Haggai’s work was primarily to awaken the people to their responsibility to the work. He addresses the reasoning for their idleness and its moral implications. He restores the power of God’s promises. His message both rebukes and encourages.

A. Despite the shortness of his prophetic work (4 messages within 4 months) Haggai is successful. Within 24 days of his first message the work resumes. Why was Haggai’s message so successful?

1. “Thus says the Lord” – His written prophecy is unlike his predecessors. He does not have the rhythm of Nahum, or the poetic phraseology of Habakkuk. His words seem more subdued and ordinary. But there is one striking feature of his chosen words. He constantly pointed to their source. Phrases such as “Thus speaks the Lord of hosts”, “says the Lord”,” the word of the Lord”, etc. appear 26 times in the 38 verses of his message. Haggai adamantly affirmed that Jehovah was the one sending the message he was speaking. The people received his message as it was delivered – As God’s word. In v. 12 they “obeyed the voice of their God”; “as the Lord their God sent him”… v. 13 – the Lord’s messenger spoke the Lord’s message to the people…” Paul said of the Thessalonians, “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also works in you that believe” (1 Thess. 2:13).

IV. Consider Your Ways – Read Haggai 1:2-11: Haggai’s call to work involved a rebuke of their attitude. There was a reason why they had stopped building. He challenges both their indifference and selfishness. God’s word calls on them to consider their ways. The word consider literally means to “set your heart” on your ways. Give it heartfelt (serious) consideration.

A. “the time has not come”(v. 2) – Haggai rehearses before them their own thought and perceptions. “This people”, as opposed to my people, may reflect God’s unwillingness to claim them as His own. They had convinced themselves that it was not the right time to build the temple, implying that a better time would come in the future. They were procrastinators. As all procrastinators, they no doubt had their reasons: “economy was bad, enemies opposed them, they could build a better one if they put it off.”

1. First recognize how absurd this must have seemed to God since He had clearly predicted the time of their return to Jerusalem (70 years) and had caused the circumstances that now existed for them.

2. The high expectations and hopes they had for themselves when they returned to their city some sixteen years earlier had not materialized. Again God calls for them to consider their situation… Your crops had not been fruitful, you do not have enough food, clothing, and even the meager wages you have earned may be described as disappearing like money put in “a bag with holes?” (1:6) Why was this so?

B. “Because My house lies in ruin…”(1:9) God answers the question for them by saying in 1:9You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?” says the Lord of hosts. “Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. They were waiting for a time when things would be better to build God’s house (do His work), when in reality, things would only get better when they chose to do God’s work first. Paterson points out: The very facts which they adduce to excuse their remissness are shown by the prophet to be the result of their failure to discharge what should have been their first and main concern. They have failed in the business of life because they have failed in their duty to God. (224)

1. Haggai’s words are emphasized in Jesus’ statements on anxiety: “Seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33)

2. The message was a reflection of what God had already told His people. Through Moses, nine hundred years before, He had said that if they forsake Him that “the Lord will make the rain of your land powder and dust...” (Deuteronomy 28:24) Haggai’s point in vs. 11 is that the drought was God’s doing; “And I have called a drought on the land…” (Haggai 1:11). The answer to the problem? To get busy with God’s work; “Go up to the mountains and bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,’ says the Lord.” (Haggai 1:8). It may be that the reason God would chose to discipline them through withholding His blessings is that they were acting out of selfishness and materialistic motives.

C. “while every one of you runs to his own house.” (1:9) The problem was not simple neglect or a lack of time. They found time for their own houses. They were selfishly motivated to not do what God wanted. Many today allow their perception of the “right time” to do God’s work to become a selfish exemption for constant neglect. They will always have time to do what they want to do, and it will never be the right time for spiritual work.

1. In v. 4 the prophet spoke of their “paneled houses” indicating that they were not impoverished, but simply chose to put their resources into their own homes. We have to make choices and prioritize about all aspects of our lives. Doing God’s work is no different. The key is to put God before our own interests, and spiritual success ahead of material success.

2. Haggai’s point is not just about the primacy of God’s house over our houses. But also that the ability of us to be satisfied and fulfilled in this life hinges upon doing God’s work first. The covenant promises God made to Israel was dependent upon the fidelity and priority of the people toward God Himself. Although the problem addressed by the prophet is no longer idolatry specifically, it is the same struggle (self vs. God) and the same solution – “You shall love the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve”

V. The People’s ResponseHaggai 1:12-1512 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him; and the people feared the presence of the Lord. 13 Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, spoke the Lord’s message to the people, saying, “I am with you, says the Lord.” 14 So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month, in the second year of King Darius. Within twenty-four days after the prophet first had spoken God’s word to them, the people began work in building the house of Jehovah.

A. Isn’t it encouraging to see such a response to the prophet’s simple preaching and teaching through the authority of God? It is this type of preaching that is successful in moving the conscience and “stirring up the spirits” of God’s people.

B. But notice the immediate and appropriate response of God to the decision of the people to go back to work in vs. 13 “I am with you says the Lord”. This is just what they needed to hear. God is always with us when we chose to do His work and put Him first. Jesus’ marching orders to the apostles must have seemed overwhelming and daunting –

    • “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” How could God ask that? How could they put this charge above every other concern in their lives?
    • “…lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” (Matt 28:19-20)
    • “if God is for us, who is against us? (Rom. 8:31)

Conclusion: Is it time for you and I to consider our ways – (take a close look at the path we are traveling)?