Summary: Continuing a series on the minor prophets
When we come to the prophet Haggai we come to a new era in prophecy. The prophets we have read and listened to up until now have all been prophets of an independent kingdom, be it Israel or Judah. These men preached to the Israelites, as they were masters of their own land so to speak. And so we heard words of condemnation directed at political leaders and priests, words directed at nations which had turned away from God, and turned to foreign idols. And they all spoke of the day when the nations would be destroyed.
Well that time did come. In 722 the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell at the hands of the Assyrians. And then in 606, the kingdom of Judah fell also, this time to the Babylonians. And thus began the great tragedy of the exile, the most pivotal event in biblical history since the exodus. All the leading citizens of the kingdom were taken away, and led into the city of Babylon. The Temple in Jerusalem was completely destroyed and the nation became divided. Its independence was gone. Its place of worship was gone. And they lived in this condition, this sense that God had punished them, for 70 years.
But eventually the Babylonians were defeated and conquered by a new empire, the Persians. The Persians did not have a policy of exiling the leading citizens of conquered lands, so they offered to the exiles a choice. They could remain where they were, as they had grown into a quiet comfortable life in many parts of Babylon. Or they could embark on the journey home, where they would be allowed a measure of self-government, and would be permitted to re-build their temple.
It was a comparatively small number of the exiles who made the return trip to Judah. They knew that it would be a difficult journey, and that it would be a difficult life in the impoverished land. But those who returned saw it as the opportunity God had given them, an opportunity to be part of the remnant of the new kingdom of Israel. And so they returned, as God had promised to the prophets, they returned with grand visions in their heads. Those grand visions stayed with them as they began their work in their homeland. The temple was begun, and a new life was started. But eventually things began to get difficult and the focus of the people turned from the temple to other things. And the temple was left unfinished on mount Zion.
And into this era comes the prophet Haggai, the first of the post-exilic prophets. He comes about 16 years after the arrival of the returnees, and he notices that the temple remains unfinished. And as God speaks to him, he recognizes the importance of the temple, and that is his mission, in this short book. Rebuild the house of the Lord.
After a detailed description of the place and time of his prophecy in verse 1, Haggai turns to what God has told him. And it begins with a look at what God has heard his people say, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘This people says, “The time has not come, even the time for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt.”’” (Haggai 1:2). The time has not come. How often do we hear that? These people had waited for 70 years, waited in a foreign land, waited for the promise to be fulfilled. And now they offer these words, The time has not come. And we offer that as an excuse. The time has not come. If not today, then when. When am I supposed to begin preaching? Because if the time has not come, I do not want to waste my time. If the time
Has not come, then I might as well preach up here from the telephone book or the dictionary, for it would be of as much use. What do we wait for? Do we sit and say to ourselves, the preacher made a good point today, but I really can’t start working on that now.
The Haggai turns to what the Lord has said to those people, his answer to those who say the time has not come. “Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, ‘Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?’ Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Consider your ways! You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.’ (Haggai 1:3-6). Consider your ways. Consider what you are doing in your lives today. Consider your ways; consider what you are doing. The people had turned from God to themselves. And he says that they need to look at what they are doing. You yourselves dwell in your paneled houses while this house, the house of the Lord, lies desolate and you say that the time has not come. Sown much harvest little. Eat, but it is not enough. Drink but it is not enough. Wear clothes, but it is not enough. Earn, but it is not enough. And the more that the people saw that their lives were not as fulfilled as they wished, they turned more and more to their own lives. Consider your ways.