Summary: The prophet Haggai gives the returned exiles of Judah a wake-up call because of their complacency and recalls them to faithful service to their God who has done some much for them.
CONSIDER YOUR WAYS
A prominent person, I believe it was Henry Ford, is reputed to have said, "history is bunk". Why he said that, I can’t think, because if we don’t learn from the mistakes of the past, we’re sure to repeat them. That’s the story of the world and is especially true for the Christian. A large part of the Scriptures is the historical account of God’s people, Israel, often falling away from God because they neglected to learn the lessons of previous generations. History is really "His-story" - that’s "God’s Story".
The Old Testament prophets often gave their listeners "a wake up call" when they were in danger of neglecting their God. The minor prophet Haggai is a good example. Here’s a snapshot of the scene 2,500 years ago when he made an impassioned plea to the nation of Judah to "give careful thought to your ways" (1:5,7). In other words he was saying "watch your step, be careful, watch it!" The nation at that time had become disobedient to God’s commands. The people had stubbornly resisted warnings sounded by several prophets and inevitably God’s punishment had come. The means that God used was the Babylonian army that swept over the land, ravaging its cities and Jerusalem in particular. The temple was plundered and partly destroyed, its treasures being carried away to Babylon. It was the policy of the conquering nation to keep their conquest in subjection by deporting the educated and business classes, leaving only the peasantry, leaderless and in utter poverty.
For seventy long years the people suffered captivity and began to learn the hard way, lessons they had failed to learn in their homeland. In the goodness of God a new ruler arose who authorised the exiled Jews to return to their own land and to rebuild the temple. But what a forbidding sight that greeted them on their return to the beloved city! The Babylonian army had used a "scorched earth" policy. Everything of value had been torched and left to decay for seventy years. You can get a picture of the scene by recalling what happened when the Nazis invaded Russia or the Russian army fought to regain control of Chechnya.
The returning exiles from Babylon had a commendable spirit and they enthusiastically set to work. The focal point of their worship of Jehovah, the altar, was soon rebuilt, a restoration fund opened and a dedication service held. So far so good and in fact all might have gone well had it not been what Haggai called the "people of the land" (2:4). These were the peasantry who had been allowed to remain in Judah while the bulk of the nation was exiled. This remnant had never had their heart in the faith of their forefathers. It’s been well said, "God has his children but no grandchildren". Faith in God isn’t something passed on automatically from one generation to another. Of course, God is willing to accept all that come to him in repentance and faith, but there must be a response to his call. He won’t force himself on anyone.
These "people of the land" had done nothing for the worship of God in the intervening years. And now they were a positive hindrance to the returning exiles. They at least had a spark of faith in Jehovah or otherwise they would have never made the four-month journey across the desert back from Babylon to their homeland. But such is human nature that the returnees soon allowed themselves to be overcome by the taunts of their jealous neighbours and discouraged by natural hardships. Their enthusiasm for the restoration work in the temple soon evaporated, and the reconstruction programme came to a halt.
What are we to make of this story? The apostle Paul tells his readers that the events recorded in Scripture are to be regarded as examples for our instruction and to prevent us from making the same mistakes (1 Cor 10:6). The apostle James compares the word of God to a mirror where we see a picture of ourselves. It’s not a matter of comparing ourselves with those we read about in Scripture but rather to learn from their experience. Let’s take a closer look at what Haggai made of the situation. The chapter heading is "A Call to Build the House of the Lord." That’s history, but it’s recorded as a parable for today’s Christians in building God’s Kingdom.
Haggai’s message is summed up in three words, "consider your ways." "Wait a moment, listen to me," Haggai tells his countrymen, "there’s something gone wrong in your relationship with God, and I’m going to reveal the insight that God has given to me." "Consider your ways": the instruction is to think long and hard about our motives and actions, and the consequences that flow from them. Haggai’s word from the Lord can be summarised in three questions. The first is: