In the years 600 to 589 BC the Babylonians began a campaign of deporting Jews from Judah, namely Jerusalem. It was in these early campaigns that the prophets Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezra, and many others were exiled to the ancient city of Babylon. In 587/6 under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonians attacked and sieged the city of Jerusalem thus completely destroying the city and laying waste to Temple. Only the poorest were left behind to tend and watch over the land.
Fast forward a mere 50 years later to 539 BC when the Persians launched an attack on the ancient city of Babylon and easily took possession of the city. In the year 538 BC the Emperor Cyrus II “the Great” issued a decree stating that the Jewish exiles in Babylon could return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1:2- 4). About 50,000 people returned with Zerubbabel the appointed governor. The people settled in and around the city of Jerusalem and began the restoration process. They ambitiously cleared the Temple mount and replaced the altar so they could start daily sacrifices repaired the walls around the city and a year later they had laid the temple foundation.
Hostility began to arise with neighboring tribes and King Cyrus “the Great” died in battle, this caused the work to stop in Jerusalem. When the work ceased, the people began to focus on their own private affairs and worshiping in the ruins of the rubble of the Temple became the norm. The desire to rebuild died out and 15 or so years passed. In 520 the prophet Haggai came onto the scene and he challenged the people to continue the work of rebuilding the Temple.
Today, we are beginning a new four-week series in the book of Haggai titled “When God Builds”. I have given the background information as a way to set the stage for this series. It is in this short account that we will look at how when we get on board with what God is doing, we will see great things happen for the glory of God and for His Kingdom.
The book of Haggai is considered a minor prophet book. Now the word minor does not entail that the book is less important, it simply means it is a short book. We do not know much about the prophet Haggai. We do not know who his father is, we just know him as “the prophet” as he is name in both in his own book and in the book of Ezra.
So, here we are around 520 BC… A large remnant of Israelites are living in and around Jerusalem and we can deduce (according to chapter one of Haggai) that the people’s spiritual priorities were not in the right place. They had become complacent and even selfish in their daily lives. They were fine worshiping God among the rubble of a destroyed temple. Their priorities were set on themselves and not God as they began rebuilding their own homes and focusing on their livelihood. It is safe to say that they had their priorities in the wrong place. They were not being rebellious, just complacent.
What makes this interesting is that the “remnant” (these are the 50,000 people who returned, not the whole nation of Israel) to whom Haggai is speaking is the group who originally had a special devotion to the Lord. They were allowed to return to Jerusalem so they could rebuild the Temple and begin the process of restoring Jerusalem to her former glory. When they returned they zealously began the rebuilding process and worked joyfully night and day. Now, we do not want to paint this remnant out to be bad people. Yes, their priorities were a bit mixed up. However, they needed to build homes to live in, create livelihood, schools, shops trade etc. These were necessary and valid pursuits. However, it was the Temple that brought them to Jerusalem and now they were neglecting it.
(Read Haggai 1:1 – 5)
Vs 1: We have already established the background of this book. The timeline puts us in the “second year of King Darius”, who was the successor to Cyrus “the Great”. It was in the sixth month of his second year (probably August) that the word of the Lord came to Haggai. His message was to the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua (not the same Joshua in Exodus).
Vs. 3 – 5: Haggai speaks for the Lord by first rebuking the remnant, “Is it time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses while this house (the Temple) lies in ruins?” God is speaking to the people and rebuking them because of how they have let their complacency replace their zeal. They once had the passion and desire to see the Temple restored to its future glory, but now their passion has turned to complacency. This is a sad state to be in. The LORD tells the people to “think carefully about your ways”. This is God’s way to put into perspective why they are facing what they are facing. In one-way God says, “You are frustrated because you are not in line with my will.”
(Read Haggai 1:6 – 9)
Vs. 6: The frustration – You plant and reap little. You eat and are never satisfied. You drink you remain thirsty. You clothe yourself but remain cold. You work hard and make no money. I think we all can understand how these people are feeling. Maybe you feel this way today. You do a lot, but you see little to no return.
Vs 7 – 8: The LORD tells them to once again, “consider their ways” and then tells them what they should do. Get your priorities straight and resume the work. Get the lumber and resume building. When they do this then they will be able to please God and enjoy the benefits of the land.
Vs 9: God tells them the reason for their frustration. The people never found satisfaction because they were not in line with Him. In fact, it was God who caused all the frustration. He was the one who ruined the harvest. He was the one who caused all the dissatisfaction. Why? He answers, “Because my house still lies in ruins, while each of you is busy with his own house.”
He says, “You were so consumed with you, that you forgot Me.” Their failure was that that they failed to put God first. Instead of having God first, they put affluence first. They became more concerned about self-preservation and less with doing what God had called them to do.
(Read 1:12 – 13)
Vs 12 – 13: These are key verses… They obeyed the LORD. In the initial rebuke the LORD reveals His disappointment with the remnant, and they could have responded in one of two ways.
Vs 14 – 15: “The LORD roused (Hebrew word is ʿuwr /oor which means “wake up”) the spirit.” This was a revival of sorts. The LORD roused the people to do the work. Notice this… The LORD roused… This is key. If you want to see the movement of God, it must be initiated by God. Once the LORD roused the spirit of the people, the work could begin. In this we see the mercy and grace of God. He could have very easily said, “I am done with these selfish, complacent and lazy people! I am going to destroy these people and start over!” Fortunately, God does not do this. Instead He rouses the people and they are renewed in Him to do the work.
So, what does this all mean for us today? We are not the remnant of Jerusalem and as far as we know we have not received a mandate to go and forsake our livelihood, homes, schools and businesses to rebuild a Temple. I am reminded of a very famous quote by Henry Blackaby in his book EXPERIENCING GOD where he writes, “Watch to see where God is working and join Him in his work.” God is at work in this world, this church and in your life. So, I think it is important for us to observe and to find out what the LORD is doing and get on board with Him. We are to do as the LORD says, through the prophet Haggai… consider this.
Take some time today and think about your relationship with God. Are you in a place of spiritual dullness, complacency or even rebellion? Then think on these things...
So, in conclusion let us think on these things. But let us not stop just at thinking. May we be proactive in identifying our complacency, frustration, efforts, convictions, and passion for God and allow Him to arouse our spirits so we may be about His work and in establishing His Kingdom here on earth.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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