Summary: Put the past behind if you want to move ahead.
Don’t Look Back
Rev. Brian Bill
How many of you can remember the “good old days”? Do you find yourself longing for what used to be and lamenting how things are today?
50 years ago, the top discipline problems in high school were talking, chewing gum, making noise, running in the hallways, getting out of turn in line, wearing improper clothes and littering. Today we have drugs, alcohol, robbery, assault and guns in school.
Recently I listened to someone in his 70s (he doesn’t attend here) reminisce about the glory days in Pontiac forty years ago. The life he described back then was a lot different than life today. But he didn’t just compare, he also went on a tirade about how terrible things are today, taking potshots at both people and places. He was so sour that he couldn’t see anything to celebrate in the here and now.
In our passage for today we’re going to see that we must put the past behind if we want to move ahead.
Last week we learned from the closing verses of Haggai 1 how God’s Spirit had stirred up the people to do God’s work. Like them, we must hear and obey and fear and not delay. When we make ourselves available to God, His presence is with us and His power awakens us. In chapter 1 Haggai addressed the people’s indifference to God’s work; here in chapter two he is addressing their anxiety about doing God’s work.
Let’s briefly recall the circumstances behind this brief book. After returning from exile in Babylon, God’s people have been tasked with rebuilding God’s Temple. They eagerly laid the foundation but because of opposition and their own selfish priorities, they stopped working for 16 years. Haggai was called on the scene to mobilize the people to get back to work. After putting God back at the center of their lives, they went to work doing what they were called to do. That’s how chapter one ends.
Haggai 2:1 gives us the setting for Haggai’s next sermon: “On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai.” This book has a number of time markers in it so we can figure exactly when something occurred and how much time has elapsed from the previous message. In Haggai 1:15, we read that they began to work on God’s house on the “twenty-fourth day of the sixth month,” so we know that about a month has gone by and they are already discouraged.
It’s important to note that the seventh month was a pretty busy time on the Jewish calendar. We know from Ezra 3 that the sacrificial system and celebration feasts had been reinstituted when the altar was reconstructed. There were three big feasts in this month called Tishri, which correspond with our months of September and October:
• The Feast of Trumpets took place on the first day of the month.
• The Day of Atonement was on the 10th.
• The Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated on the 15th through the 22nd.
Maybe they had a hard time staying focused on the work because of all the feasts going on. It’s a little bit like how we feel in the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Or perhaps these celebrations reminded them of how lame their labor was.
We know from verse 1 that Haggai is going to speak to them on the next to the last day of this feast, which celebrated the harvest. As they looked around their harvest was nothing. This particular celebration reminded the people of the time their ancestors lived in tents during the wilderness wanderings. It was a yearly reminder that the people longed to be in the Promised Land. It was supposed to be a day of joy and praise. The people in Haggai’s day were no doubt reliving this as they had just been allowed to return to the land. Back then, their people were many; now they were just a remnant. The people of old were on their way to the land flowing with milk and honey; now they were struggling to even subsist on the land.
This day also corresponds to another key date in Israel’s history. 430 years earlier during this same festival on this exact day, King Solomon had dedicated the first Temple (1 Kings 8:2). As the people recounted the splendor of that building, they became discouraged by the puny plans in front of them.
Friends, it is very common to experience discouragement and even despondency after starting out strong with something. Many of us could give testimony to this as we try to remember what our New Year’s resolutions even were. It’s easy to get married but tough to work at it. A good example of this is Elijah, who after experiencing an incredible power encounter on Mount Carmel, ended up running for his life and later wanted God to take his life. I’m sure the 75 students who went to Cedar Lake the last two weekends went from a mountain top experience to the valley pretty quickly.