Studies in The Book of Haggai
The Causes and Consequences of Spiritual Apathy
Last week we began to study together one of the less familiar books of the Bible, Haggai, one of the minor prophets. We saw that Haggai ministered to the people who had returned to Jerusalem after 70 years exile in Babylon and the main problem that he addressed in his ministry was that of the people’s Spiritual apathy towards the work of the Lord. The specific work that Haggai had in mind was the work of rebuilding the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem which had been destroyed by the Babylonian armies under the leadership of king Nebuchadnezar. When Babylon itself was eventually overthrown by the Persians, their king, Cyrus, gave permission to the Jews to return to Jerusalem giving them specific instructions to rebuild the temple of the Lord. That was in 539BC. However some 18 years later the temple still wasn’t finished. In fact after an initial burst of enthusiastic work by the people of God during which time the temple area was cleared of the rubble, the altar was rebuilt and the sacrificial system of worship restored and the foundations of the temple laid, the work on the rebuilding of the temple came to a halt. Although the people met with opposition to their rebuilding project, the local Samaritans doing all that they could to stop them, the real reason why the building work came to a standstill was because the people of God had drifted into a state of spiritual apathy. They lost the initial vision and enthusiasm for the work. With the passage of time they got used to worshipping God amidst the rubble of the unfinished temple and succeeded in salving their conscience with regards to their neglect of the work by making what seemed to be a very plausible excuse for not continuing with the rebuilding project – “The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.” It’s not that we are against rebuilding the Lord’s house, no not at all, its just that we don’t think that now is the right time to do it.
And looking at this situation last week we identified three evidences, three symptoms of Spiritual Apathy – God’s Work is neglected; God’s people are Contented; God’s People make excuses for not doing what God wants them to do.
Having looked last week at the evidences of Spiritual Apathy we want this week to consider
The Causes of Spiritual Apathy:
What were some of the underlying causes of this spirit of indifference, this spirit of apathy towards the Lord’s Work, the work of rebuilding the temple, that prevailed among the people in Haggai’s day? Well I think we can identify three causes.
First of all the people were overcome with a spirit of
The people had tried to justify the fact that for over 16 years they hadn’t been applying themselves to the work to which God had called them, the work of rebuilding the temple, by saying ‘It isn’t the right time for the Lord’s house to be built. Well, through the prophet Haggai, God, with unsparing hands, tears away this thin flimsy veneer of an excuse with which they had tried to cover over their spiritual apathy and exposes the ugly reality of the self-centred disposition that lay beneath that veneer. V4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses while this house remains a ruin?” and again in v9 “my house remains a ruin while each of you is busy with his own house.” That phrase ‘each of you is busy with his own house’ literally reads ‘is continually running after his own house’ and it conveys the idea of being completely preoccupied with something to the extent that one devotes all ones time and ones energy and ones resources towards the thing that is their chief concern. It is to regard something as being of primary importance. To give something top priority over and above everything else. This is what the people were doing in relation to their own houses. The reason they had little concern for the house of God was because they were too concerned about their own houses. The reason they were not able to give time to God’s work was because they were so taken up and so focused upon their own work. When they first arrived back in Jerusalem from Babylon that wasn’t the case. Then the most important thing as far as they were concerned was to see the temple restored because the Temple was so central to their life as a nation. The temple was the visible symbol of the presence of God among His people – “the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for His dwelling. This is my resting place for ever and ever; Here I will sit enthroned for I have desired it…” It was also inseparably connected with the Covenant that God had made with his people – God through the prophet Ezekiel had encouraged them whilst they were in captivity by saying “they will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob … I will make a covenant of peace with them, it will be an everlasting covenant…I will put my sanctuary among them for ever. My dwelling place shall be with them. I will be their God and they shall be my people.” Then too the temple was also inseparably connected with the promised coming of the Messiah as the prophet Malachi was soon to remind them “See I will send my messenger who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple. The messenger of the Covenant whom you desire will come” says the Lord Almighty. Thus the people knew that the rebuilding of the temple was vitally important to the fulfilment of the promises of the covenant especially in relation to the coming of the Messiah. And knowing how central the temple was to their faith, to their divinely established system of worship and to the Covenant promises they initially gave this project top priority when they first returned to Jerusalem. But with the passage of time their priorities began to change and they started to give top priority to their own personal and domestic affairs and comforts with the result that the work upon God’s house began to slip down the list of things to do. Yes they still intended to do it but only after they had seen to their own personal affairs. In short they became self-centred instead of God-centred in their outlook. They put themselves first and God second and such a self-centred approach to life eventually spawned a spirit of apathy towards the work of God.