Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 586BC and many Jews lived in exile in Babylon.
Around 538BC, Cyrus came to the throne in Persia and offered some relief, permitting some Israelites to return to their land.
As the Israelites return, they have major projects–they have to rebuild, beginning with the temple complex.
They started rebuilding but then stopped and there was a 16-year halt in the rebuilding process.
This is where Haggai comes in to offer four oracles encouraging the completion of the rebuilding projects.
The short book can be split this into these sections:
“With the Babylonian exile now history and a newly returned group of Jews back in the land, the work of rebuilding the temple can begin. But sixteen years after the process is begun, the people have yet to finish the project, for their personal affairs have interfered with God’s business. Haggai preaches a fiery series of sermonettes designed to stir up the nation to finish the temple. He calls the builders to renewed courage in the Lord, renewed holiness in life, and renewed faith in God who controls the future.” (1. )
The remnant was to go back and repair the temple complex, and they didn’t.
The underlying issue is spiritual indifference.
How will you return to work after COVID-19? How will you ramp back up? You’ll probably look to get your things in order. The remnant was no different; they came home to Jerusalem and tried to get their own homes in order, and God’s going to call them out.
- Haggai is mentioned 9 times in the book.
- The book boasts an indisputable timestamp in Haggai 1:1, the dating precise, August 29-December 24, 520BC
- Haggai 1:1-2 – Haggai’s message is clear. He speaks for God to a governor and a prophet who are to lead God’s people.
Reminder: as you read the Bible, look for repetition. In Haggai, some repetitions are:
consider, word of the Lord, declares the Lord, thus says the Lord, and says the Lord. In summary, pay attention.
Recall that David the king had wanted to build a house for the Lord, and God said no–David was a man of war and had too much blood on his hands, so his son Solomon would build the temple.
This tells us about David’s heart for God–that He loved God, loved God’s law.
The tabernacle complex was an elaborate structure built per God’s detailed instruction.
David, knowing he can’t build the temple, decides to gather the supplies needed instead. In the meantime, he builds his own house – his palace – while simultaneously gathering all the materials necessary for Solomon to later build the temple complex.
By the time we come to the New Testament, the temple doesn’t matter anymore. Christ has fulfilled the law and is the new temple (consider John 2:19).
But let’s bear in mind what the temple was in Haggai’s time, and what it meant to New Testament believers.
Listen to what Stephen says about the temple complex: Acts 7:46-50.
The temple was the place that God ordained where sacrifice and worship would be conducted.
Lessons from Haggai:
1. To neglect the temple was to neglect God.
The temple was an elaborate, involved system of worship that was ordained by God. The Israelites needed to rebuild the temple, but Haggai 1:4 tells us they prioritized their own homes.
An aside: churches and ministries will misapply this verse to encourage building programs and campaigns. For the record, don’t do that. This is not the same. There is a principle here without question, if we neglect God by spending more time on ourselves than with Him, we reveal our true priorities. But a church building today is not a “sacred place,” nor the “house of God.” Now, when God’s people gather we are, in ways we can’t grasp, the people of God, “God’s house,” but it is not the brick, mortar, wood, stucco, or other building materials that are somehow sacred.
We are to worship in community, no question. But we are not bound to worship in a singular, sacred space as the Israelites were.
2. When we neglect time in the Word, we are neglecting God.
You can’t neglect time in the Word and have an intimate relationship with God. Over and over I’ve encouraged that we must spend time in the Word daily–not because we have to, but because we can. Not because you’re a better person if you do and a worse person if you don’t, but because we get to spend time with God in His Word. When we neglect the Word, we’re neglecting our relationship with God. It’s a cultivation of relationship.
If you don’t communicate with someone, you don’t have relationship with them.
3. It isn’t all about me.
God cares deeply for us, He loves us…but I think western Christianity appears to have become absorbed with self.
The “I, me, my” pronouns have become more important than the, “He, Him, His.”
Perhaps we have become consumer Christians rather than committed Christians. How do I consume Christianity in order to make my life better?
Guilt and shame don’t help. They make you feel bad, but don’t affect real change. For me, maybe not you, it has to start with: this isn’t all about me.
We must be committed to worshiping Him, adoring Him, drinking deeply from His Word, aligning with His Spirit.
Less of me, more of Him.
4. Material prosperity can contribute to spiritual poverty.
Why do you think God doesn’t bless more Christians financially? – Howard Hendricks
Most of us can’t handle it. If we were super wealthy, most of us may not steward it well.
A good question for self-evaluation: As I grow in health financially, am I also growing in health spiritually?
If I gain financial wealth at the expense of my spiritual health, the financial wealth doesn’t matter.
5. When you and I have our “God priorities” straight, most things fall in line.
This isn’t difficult to apply, it’s just a matter of trust. Do you trust Him?
It’s easy to get our priorities out of line. Who would prefer suffering over comfort, poverty over riches, troubled relationships over great friends?
Yet alignment is so important. Part of the dilemma of wealth in the west is that we’ve gotten comfortable.
If there’s one lesson we can take from all of this COVID-19 time period, it’s that you and I aren’t in control of anything. He’s in control. He’s sovereign.
When we live generously, aligned with God’s value system, we position ourselves to receive blessings from Him.
Perhaps God does not bless us more because our priorities are misaligned?
By a choice of will, of faith, of laying down our obsessions; we can learn to trust Him.
Finally, we in the Church Age also struggle with unnecessary fears from time to time. The enemy looks strong. We look or feel weak. Things have not have changed since antiquity. But our duty is to be patient, to remember, and to believe the promises that the Lord will return and balance the scales of justice one day (2 Peter 3:8-13).He will establish His kingdom on the earth. Our duty now is to be single-minded and to work. (2.)
Rebuild, cultivate, realign your spiritual life with Christ–your foundation–and watch the rest fall into place. Maybe not in the way you’d want or hope, that’s where faith comes in.
Do you trust that God is better at controlling the world than you are?
- Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa, Talk Thru the Bible(Nashville: T. Nelson, 1983), 282.
- Adapted from G. Campbell Morgan, Living Messages of the Books of the Bible, 1:2:303-15