Haggai: When First Things Come Second
Minor Prophets Series #10
Haggai and Zechariah were contemporaries. Haggai opens his prophecy by dating it in the second year of Darius the king. This makes it 520 B.C. The people of Judah had spent 70 years in captivity counting from the date of the first deportation in 606 B.C. This had been in accordance with the prophetic timetable announced by Jeremiah generations before. It had been Cyrus who had issued the edict that Jerusalem and the temple be rebuilt. We can read of his edict in Isaiah, who had predicted it over one hundred years previously, even naming Cyrus who had yet to be born.
God's appointed timetable had decreed that the nation of Judah would be taken into captivity for their wickedness and disloyalty. When this period was up that a small remnant would return and rebuild. It was during this rebuilding process that Haggai prophesies. Sixteen years earlier (536 B.C.) about 50,000 Jews had returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel and had offered sacrifice to God on the site of the destroyed temple. Ezra, the priest, was the spiritual leader, and Nehemiah also plays a prominent leadership role in the rebuilding. Both the books of Nehemiah and Ezra give a lot of background information about this time period.
Now, sixteen years after the initial return, work on the temple had stalled due to the people's indifference and preoccupation with other matters. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah encourage the people to rededicate themselves to the service of God and the rebuilding of the temple and not to allow themselves to become distracted by other things. It seems that then, like today, it is easy to push spiritual things aside when we are busy with material things. There are several good lessons that fit wonderfully well into our own world today. While the prophets we have looked at up to this point had given warning of the coming captivity due to the people's lack of faith, Haggai comes to us from this side of the captivity which has already passed. The time of destruction has given way to a time for rebuilding.
STOP NEGLECTING WHAT OUGHT TO BE THE FIRST PRIORITY
"Thus says the Lord of Hosts, 'This people says, 'The time has not come, even the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt." ... Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house (the temple; J.Q.) lies desolate?'... 'Consider your ways!" (HAGGAI 1:2,4,7). The problem was procrastination. The people had plenty of time to get the things important to them accomplished. They were living in their own paneled houses which they had repaired and rebuilt. It seems as if they had time to take care of everything but the things of God. Had they forgotten so soon the lessons of captivity? While there was no more idolatry, it seems as if houses and possessions were becoming their idols.
The Lord's reaction was in accordance with His promises and warnings in the Law. The last several seasons had seen productivity go down as a result of drought. 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..." along with other warnings about physical blessings becoming more scarce as a result of their infidelity (Deuteronomy 28:24). Please understand that indifference and neglect destroy just as much as outright rebellion. Haggai points out that the land is already beginning to suffer because of the people's indifference. "You have sown much, but harvest little ... you put on clothing but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes." (Haggai 1:6). That last statement sounds familiar; a lot like our bank account; there's got to be a hole in it somewhere that keeps swallowing up our earnings! Haggai's point 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).
People who lack a spiritual dimension in their lives will always feel that something has been missing; at least when they allow themselves to think about it. The people responded to Haggai's message by renewing their efforts to rebuild the temple; "So the Lord stirred up the spirit of ... all the remnant of the people; and they came to work on the house of the Lord of Hosts, their God." (Haggai 1:14).
DO NOT LET IT GET YOU DOWN
"Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison?" (Haggai 2:3). This next message comes between three and four weeks after the first message. The people had been busy rebuilding the temple but were becoming discouraged. It had been sixty-six years since the temple built by Solomon had been destroyed by the Chaldeans. The present temple could not compare to the grandeur of that one. The older ones in the group could remember the old temple, but the people did not have the resources that Solomon had used.
The Lord's answer; "But now take courage, Zerubbabel,' declares the Lord... and all you people of the land take courage ... and work, for I am with you,' says the Lord of hosts." (Haggai 2:4). The most important thing to consider in any work we undertake is whether God is with us. If so, then that is enough. It matters not what others say or what comparisons we make, if the Lord is with us then we have every reason to be secure in that fact. On the other hand, even if others praise us and we feel we compare favorably, if the Lord is not with us then we are failing.
Haggai then makes an interesting prediction: "For thus says the Lord of hosts, ' Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth... and I will shake all the nations ... and I will fill this house with glory ... and the latter glory of this house will be greater than the former ..." (Haggai 2:6-9). This parallels well with other prophecies concerning the Messianic kingdom. The nations were shaken; empires fell and were replaced by others; and the physical temple was exchanged for a new. spiritual house not made with hands and consisting of the redeemed faithful of all nations. This is the application the book of Hebrews makes (Hebrews 12:28).
CORRUPTION HARMS THE WORK
"Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'Ask now the priests for a ruling; If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold ... will it become holy?' And the priests answered and said, 'No.' Then Haggai said, 'If anyone who is unclean ... touches any of these, will it become unclean?' And the priests answered and said, 'It will become unclean.' Then Haggai answered and said, 'So is this people. And so is this nation ... and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer their is unclean." (Haggai 2:11-14). Three months after the work began came this third message through Haggai. The first part of the message consisted of two questions asked of the priests. Something holy touching something common will not make the common thing holy. However, something unclean touching something common will make it unclean. The priests answered correctly and the point is made that because of their previous indifference blessings were slow in coming. Returning to God with a full heart will result in full blessings (vs 19).
MESSIANIC HOPE TO BE FULFILLED
"On that day,' declares the Lord of hosts, 'I will take you, Zerubbabel ... My servant ... and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you." (Haggai 2:23). The promise made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and then to Judah concerning the coming Saviour and King was renewed to David. The throne of David came to symbolize the Messianic throne of Christ. It is to Zerubbabel, a descendant of David, that the promise is carried further. In the gospel of Matthew we find that Jesus is the heir to the throne of David, tracing His lineage back to David through Zerubbabel (Matthew 1:12,16).
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 4.10; October 1997