Bib Ref: Hag 1:1-15
The future will be better than Haggai can imagine, but we all live in our own frame of time and like Haggai we should know that how we view the future will shape how we live now. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness – Jesus speaks these words in his sermon on the mount. We know that it is something that Christians are to do and to understand. In other words the priorities of the Christian life are set by Jesus. It’s no different in the day of Haggai. The message of Haggai is seek first the kingdom of God but the people are preoccupied.
Haggai’s message is that the people have been allowed to return to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon to rebuild the temple. We know this because of all the dates which appear in this short book. The message of Haggai is occurs over four periods of time, so not only does it tell us where it comes in history, which would be 520bc, it also tells us that it was a Persian king, Darrius that allowed the people to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.
Why is that significant? Well it’s significant because he allowed them to return to do the work on God on earth, build the temple. But what happens is that they return and they become preoccupied with anything but the will of God. Imagine it like this, you neighbour knows that Jesus taught that you should love your neighbour – and your neighbour knows whether or not you’re doing it. The people in the day of Haggai proclaim a message through their preoccupations that God doesn’t need to be listened to.
Haggai brings the word of the lord to the people; it’s a message of challenge to priorities v1-4. Then tells these people to pay attention, how they have sown much but harvested little v5-8. The he explains the reason why this is the case, it is because God has frustrated you work because they don’t prioritise the building of the temple v9-11. When the people realise the connection between their personal frustration in life and work and the work of God, they obey God and they fear Him again v12. Finally the people are then stirred by God to work v13-15.
Seeking the work of God first is a believer’s delight and duty, too often the attitude can develop of I have done my stint and then our priorities take over. But seeking the kingdom first is the occupation of the believer for their life time, like serving God but too often what we want to do takes over or we end up trading what we do for attendance at worship. The issue here is simple to understand, the people of the day are taking care of their own houses, with the emphasis being on panelled houses while the temple lies in ruins.
In other words the people have made sure that not only do they have somewhere to live but have panelled these houses, taking great care over how they look and feel – while God remains homeless. The fact that the temple has not been rebuilt is a consequence of the real issue – which is the spiritual condition of God’s people.
Panelled houses – the time and concern the people of God have here for their own appetites is greater than their desire to see the temple rebuilt. They don’t think it’s time to rebuild – says Haggai but is it time to for you yourselves to dwell in panelled houses. One of the great sins I think that has occurred in this day is that houses are no longer considered as shelter but as an asset. It’s the modern day version of panelled houses, treating the house as more than what it should be, to the point where people own two or three houses. You know Jesus said that if you have two – one of them belongs to you, the other belongs to the poor.
Haggai demonstrates to us here that our spiritual condition and relationship with God is always reflecting in how we live, in what we put first. It’s been said that you can’t hide money, it turns up in what you buy, wear and live. The same is true say Haggai of your spiritual condition reflected in your priorities – it’s witnessed in those things you attend to.
The people here work hard v5, they have sown much but they have harvested little, they eat but they don’t have enough, they have clothing but no one is warm and their wages seem to disappear – and so they are told v7 to consider their ways, in other words make the connection between you circumstances and your priorities. Collect wood and build the temple that God may be glorified. To say this another way – put the work of the Lord first, that’s the conclusion you should come to when you consider your ways.
The people here haven’t made the connection between sowing hard and harvesting little and not building the temple. God explains through Haggai. That because they have not put the work of the lord first, God is keeping his covenant which teaches that poor harvests will follow; there will be insufficient food and clothing. All these things happen because God’s people have failed to keep the covenant (lev 26 / deut 28). When there is no keeping of the covenant there is in its place an anti-covenant, there is dysfunction. The reason for the economic hardship is because they have not put the work of the Lord first.
The people get the connection
Once the people see the connection between their circumstances and their misplaced priorities, they turn and obey the Lord, they fear the lord. They begin again to listen to God and God’s messenger.
God’s desire has always been to renew the relationship and a renewed covenant relationship is witnessed by the temple. That God is dwelling with His people, that his presence is with them in a favourable way but as long as the work of the Lord is neglected all that it indicates is relationship breaking down. The people are to realise that their actions either way, in obedience or disobedience have real influence over how God’s deals with us – our choices matter. Our faithfulness to God matters because God has chosen particular ways to work out his purposes on earth and one of those ways is through his people, so again we see that our choices and actions matter.
The turn around
Once the people begin to obey, God stirs up the spirit of the people and they come to work on the house of the Lord. God enables the people to work – the people through their reordered priorities are now available in ways that they were not previously and are made able by the Lord to do the work. But unless we forget this is not about service, Haggai gets to that, rather this is about attending to your relationship with God.
One of the temptations when listening to an Old Testament book is to believe that it is old and irrelevant, even though the New Testament affirms the importance of all scripture and even drawing our attention to the Old Testament for lessons to be learned (cor). The question before us is does this same kind of covenant applies today in the church, where blessing follows obedience – the answer is yes.
John in the book of revelation shows us that the church must always consider how Jesus is dealing with them. Take for instance the church in Sardis who are called to wake up from their spiritual decline, in other words their not yet beyond the point of no return but neither are they far off.
So yes – the church’s choice today, matters. The Lord can choose to frustrate the plans and desires of an individual believer and therefore a church. Can believers today be preoccupied with something other than seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness – of course and in much the same ways as the people of Haggai’s day did.
Don’t think of this in terms of differing interests but rather as- what’s more important, a good relationship with God or our pursuit of others things that hinder our walk with God. One of the reasons why the people of Haggai’s day did not make the connection between what was happening to them in life and their relationship with God was because they did not know, or remember what the scriptures taught. This is why again and again throughout the message of Haggai we hear those words “thus says the Lord”.
So that people’s lives and conduct are being directed by the word of God. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness is a direction, in which our spiritual condition cannot be hidden, for either we will or we won’t but whatever it is it will not be hidden, because God has made us to be witnesses on earth. So by God causing this restoration in relationship he causes in the people a good witness. To what it is to live your life in light of the kingdom of God.