Lesson 1: The Priority of God in our Lives Haggai 1:1-7
With so many responsibilities, pastimes, and necessities surrounding us every minute we are awake, it becomes hard to keep our priorities straight. We multitask, overextend ourselves, and take breaks so we can recuperate and escape the overload. It is all too easy to forget the priority of God in our lives.
When we put our own interests above those of our Savior we forfeit great blessings and offend the One Who gave Himself to redeem us. The prophesy of Haggai centers on this problem.
The Historic Background of the Prophesy of Haggai
God’s Israel had been taken into captivity as God’s judgment for their disobedience.
Haggai 1:1-2, In 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, saying, “Thus speaks the LORD of hosts, saying: ‘This people says, “The time has not come, the time that the LORD’s house should be built.” ‘ “
In 539 BC the Persians defeated the Neo-Babylonians.
Cyrus, ruler of the empire, Issued a Decree permitting the Jews to return to Jerusalem. About 50,000 of them returned to the land God had once promised them before they rebelled and were taken away into captivity (see Ezra 2:64-67). Their civil leader and governor was Zerubbabel. A man named Joshua became their spiritual leader, and leading priest.
When they arrived back on promised soil, an Altar was set up to resume their long absence from biblical worship. The sacrifices resumed, and work was started on the project of rebuilding God’s Temple. The original one had been destroyed when they were over-run by pagan captors. In the second year of their return the foundation of the Temple was completed.
Trouble came from the Samaritans (see Ezra 4)
Those who lived in Samaria, the neighbor of Israel to the North, had changed the writings of Moses. They modified it to support a counter-culture to God’s Covenant People, the Jews. They had their own writings, and had abandoned Biblical truth.
When the Samaritans heard that the glorious Temple in Jerusalem was being rebuilt, they wanted to have a part in it. Wisely, Zerubbabel and the Elders of Israel refused their offer. It would have been a dangerous compromise that would bring unbiblical teachings and immorality into Israel. Samaria persuaded Persia to issue a temporary restraining order against the Temple construction. That brought the project to a halt for sixteen years.
In time, the Covenant People became apathetic.
After seventy years in captivity no one alive remembered what it was like back in Jerusalem. They had no memories of the glorious Temple where God was worshiped. Then after another sixteen years with just a foundation laid for the new Temple, they had lost their concern for getting the job done.
The pressures of daily life crowded out what they had come to think of as unimportant. Poverty and failing crops gave them more excuses to use their materials, time, and money to improve their homes and expand their businesses. Their own material prosperity and personal comfort became their priority. Finishing God’s place of worship so they could fully resume the ceremonies mandated by God through Moses was procrastinated indefinitely.
In 520 BC the Lord spoke through Haggai the Prophet.
It was in that setting that Haggai addressed the people telling them what Jehovah told him. The people were saying, “The time has not come, the time that the LORD’s house should be built.”
This message from their God came in late August in the second year of Darius of Persia (521-486 BC). It was the first prophetic word since Ezekiel and Daniel delivered God’s words during the captivity. Two months later Zechariah would also speak in this same period of Israel’s history.
“Haggai” is one of the most commonly mispronounced names in Scripture. The name in Hebrew is “Khag-GAI” (חגּי). The accent on the second syllable which rhymes with “die”. It comes from a root word meaning, “Festive”. The book contains four messages from the Lord to His people.
The Lord rebuked them for their neglect.
Haggai 1:3-5, Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: “Consider your ways!”
If it wasn’t time to work on God’s house, what time was it then?
Was it time for their houses to be improved, while God’s house lies in ruins? That was their attitude. The people “paneled” their houses covering the inside walls or inlaying them with costly wood-work called “sephunim” (ספונים). This wasn’t inexpensive paneling designed only for looks. It was the best decorative material available. Meanwhile God’s house was left in disrepair. It was only a foundation laid sixteen years ago.
In the time of Moses God had instituted a Tabernacle as the place for Israel to worship. It was a tent that fit their nomadic nature until their representation of God’s Kingdom became clearer by establishing the permanent house of worship in Jerusalem, the Temple built by King Solomon. The Temple was the center of the sacrificial system.
This central worship place was to be where the Covenant between God and his people was administered. It served as a visible sign of God’s presence among them. There they met with God and one another through the rituals of the Levitical system. It was there that the bond-in-blood of the Covenant of Grace was perpetuated in the sacrifices, and the majestic glory of God in the purity of Holiness was shown.
Though they could sacrifice at the temporary altar, the unfinished building did not provide for all God demanded. It was not a full picture of Christ’s yet future redeeming work. Therefore its unfinished condition was a distortion. The structure barely satisfied God’s demands. There may even have been some temporary, make-shift structures constructed. But they were not the ones God had prescribed in his word.
Their neglect and apathy presented the wrong image of God’s covenant people. Instead of declaring to the world that they were redeemed by grace, they didn’t seem transformed by God’s redemption at all. They had some sacrifices going on which they assumed were all that mattered. They were not committed to honoring their Creator and Redeemer in the special way God prescribed. Even the pagans at that time took more care in the worship of their false gods and idols. Perhaps the Jews would come to the Temple foundation now and then, but after their visit their personal lives were proven to be their real priority. They saw God as having little importance in their daily lives.
So, the Lord said, “Consider your ways.”
Literally the Hebrew text says, “set your heart upon your ways.” That is, “take your ways to heart.” God was telling them to take inventory of their lives. Compare them with what God instructed in his word. Things were not as they should be. God wanted His glory and sovereign Lordship to be seen in their lives. Worship is not to be some “value-added bonus” in the lives of the redeemed. It is what we are created for, what Jesus died to restore, what the Temple sacrifices, ceremonies, and furnishings were supposed to mean to them.
They suffered covenant cursings
because of their disobedience
Haggai 1:6-7, “You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Consider your ways!”
A Double curse was upon them.
They took in little, and had little pleasure in what they did have.
Verses 9-11 adds more of the suffering God had brought upon them because of their disobedience, “You 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. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. For I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”
God explained the judgment behind their struggles, “Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house.” They were not running to the Lord’s house to take care of it when it stood in need. Therefore, heavens were withholding the dew. It was because of their self-centered behavior. They had forgotten the One who causes their crops to flourish. The very things they chose over God’s worship were being effected. Their focus was on their own prosperity, so God kept those things from prospering. They had little for all their misdirected efforts, and they were not finding pleasure or satisfaction in the things they did have.
Long ago Deuteronomy 28 had warned about the blessings and cursings of the Covenant God made with them. There is a moral principle that links our obedience and our blessings. While the obedience of some in Israel was a work of grace, the disobedience of the rest revealed latent sin that needed repentance and faith in the promised Savior. Jesus brought this basic principle into the New Testament era in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
The rebellious of Israel had forfeited the blessings of God’s gracious covenant, and had offended the God who called them to be His own.
What hypocrisy! They certainly had enough to panel their own homes. Perhaps things were not as bad as they perceived or reported. They said they didn’t have enough to work on God’s Temple. As for their own homes, they were not willing to be satisfied with anything but the best they could find. An unfinished foundation may be okay for the house of God, but not for their own homes. They put up their nice interior paneling, but they could not find satisfaction in what they put above honoring their Creator.
They pleaded that there were exceptions that kept them from work on the Temple. They said the times were rough, their resources were low. So they withheld their tithe, their time, their work, their obedience. They allowed the work of the Lord to struggle along.
Sadly, many still today reason that if they first make themselves prosperous, they will be able to better serve the Lord as He deserves. God doesn’t ask us to give as prosperous people. He calls us to give, to serve, and to worship, as His people, and to do that faithfully.
We must make the work of God the true priority in our lives.
Today, the Church God set up by his Apostles is the outward structure of God’s Kingdom. It must not be allowed to lie waste. Worship in union with the risen Jesus Christ must take priority over all other things in our lives. That is the work of God’s people. We need to faithfully provide what is needed for proper worship and the various ministries of the church. We care for its facilities and resources so it can carry out its heavenly assigned work.
We are not called to build extravagant temples, but ones which are able to be good centers of worship and education. They must not be shabby while we raise our standards for our own homes and properties.
We need to supply our churches by faithful giving to support its mission to one another and to the millions living in secularism, superstition, and under oppression in foreign lands. We are called to expand God’s Kingdom into the dark recesses of a growingly godless society.
The work of the church and its agencies for missions and Bible education are important. They should not take second place to the many things we do for our own pleasures. Do the agencies of God’s Kingdom struggle, lying in waste, while we indulge ourselves with the resources God has provided for us? Yet what wonderful pleasures await those who engage in and supporting the work of the Lord.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 tells us that we belong to our Savior, we are not our own. The redeemed have been bought with the price of their Savior’s death. Their primary duty in life is to glorify God in body and spirit. They are God’s.
Heidelberg Catechism Question #1 asks, “What is your only comfort in life and death?”
Answer: “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that, without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation: and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him.”
(Bible quotations are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)