Summary: As Haggai called Judah to work on the Temple, so we are called to work on our Temple, the Temple that is comprised of God’s people.
A call to work
Zerubbabel the governor was facing an economic crisis. He was watching the decline as surely as politicians and leaders are watching it today.
The reasons were different. Today we have a crisis in banking and high financial institutions. Zerubbabel’s crisis was one of diminishing profits. His land had fallen on agricultural hard times.
In these hard times, a prophet came on the scene and brought a message to interpret the problem.
Several sentences reveal the symptoms:
You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it." (Haggai 1:6 TNIV)
Again later in the message:
"You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away ... because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands." (From Haggai 1:9-11 TNIV)
It did not seem to matter how hard they worked, how responsibly they spent, they were always putting two coins in their bag and pulling only one back out.
God is clear, this crisis is of His making. The natural question to ask is, "why is God doing this?" God answers with a thought provoking command:
Consider your ways
or in the words of a more contemporary translation
Give careful thought to your ways
Ask yourself what you are doing and why.
In other words, there is a divine cause and effect going on. God is doing something in response to what they were doing. What is it?
This is what the LORD Almighty says: "These people say, ’The time has not yet come to rebuild the LORD’s house.’" Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: "Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?" (Haggai 1:2-4 TNIV)
Remember, their temple had been demolished nearly a century before, and they themselves were in exile. They came back with the particular goal in mind of rebuilding the Temple. Then they were thwarted by jealous and petty local rivals, and stopped by the king.
You can almost hear the people,
Well it isn’t our fault. The king made us stop. The local people were against us. We tried, but it just didn’t work out. It is too early to try again.
It was 16 years since that command. It has been 11 years since that king died. Another king has come and gone, and they now have a brand new king. The rule of law was not the same then as now. The word of the king meant everything.
It is important to note that God does not scold them for building their own houses, or for obeying the law of the land. There are three negative factors at work:
• Work on His house is unnecessarily delayed
• Work on their own houses has progressed to the point of luxury
• The people’s motivation has gone to sleep
It is significant that Haggai is not calling only the governor to task, but also the High Priest. This is a social problem and a spiritual one. The governor might easily become distracted, but the Temple was Joshua’s responsibility. He needed to give it attention.
A story is told of a Native American boy who is being initiated into manhood. He is released into an unfamiliar forest to live for a time on his own wits.
As he begins scouting the area, he sees a white wolf, and he imagines the status of the prize. To return not only successful, but with the pelt of a white wolf across his shoulders would surely bring him great respect and acclaim. He begins tracking the wolf.
As the sun begins to set, the wolf has eluded him and he sees the folly of his ways. A real warrior would have taken care of fundamental needs on his first day. He would have found water, built a simple hut and killed a simple rabbit for his meal. But he had wasted his day pursuing a prize and has to spend the next day catching up.
This is the dilemma of the newly returned Jews. They are decking their houses with luxury even as they neglect their basic spiritual needs. Their need for worship goes lacking, while their desire for status is fed.
We might wish to protest. How could God expect people who were already struggling to get by to give to this huge, expensive project?