Haggai; First Things First – Part 1

First Things First Series
July 29, 2018

Haggai is the first prophetic voice in Israel following their exile and captivity in Babylon, which lasted for about 70 years – from 605 to 536 B.C. The post-exile prophets, the men who spoke to the Jewish people after their return to Israel, includes: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi – the last three prophets of the Old Testament. Some scholars include John the Baptist in that list, because Jesus said in Matt. 11:13, “All the law and the prophets were until John,” but he’s a New Testament figure, who came along about 400 years later, so most scholars do not think of John as a post-exilic prophet. Haggai is in the position of wanting to encourage faithfulness in the Jews that have come back to Jerusalem from captivity. Their release came about by the sovereign hand of God working through the Persian king, Cyrus, and it would be good for us to note here what it says in Isaiah 44:28. When you hear this, remember that Isaiah was prophesying about 160 years before the time of Cyrus. Now look at what he writes at the end of chapter 44: “He [God] says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem ‘let it be rebuilt, and of the Temple, let its foundations be laid.” God fulfills that very specific promise all these years later and raises up King Cyrus, who issues the decree and sends 40-50,000 Jews back to their homeland under the leadership of a man named Zerubbabel, who was appointed as their Governor. As we come to the context for this prophecy, it has been 16 or so years since they returned from Babylon. Initially when they returned, in 536 B.C., the Jews started working on rebuilding the Temple, and they got the foundations laid, but then the work got stopped because of opposition from some Samaritans, and the Jews became apathetic and complacent about the project. They were disheartened, and apparently the hearts of Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest were broken as well, because they allowed the work on the Temple to come to a standstill. So God raised up the prophet Haggai to challenge His people to carry on with the work of reconstructing His house. This prophecy is a short one – it’s the shortest in the Old Testament except for Obadiah – and it takes place over a period of just 3 months. Haggai spells out the dates in the book, so we know - to the day - that he started prophesying around the beginning of what is our September, and gives his last prophetic message on the 24th day of our November. And in that 3-month period there is an incredible change, so although the whole prophecy is only 38 verses long, it has tremendous depth and significance for the people of God – both then and now. For God to bring about the great change that happened in this short period of time says something about the powerful anointing that must have rested on this man, Haggai.   His challenge to the people to resume rebuilding the Temple must have been like a word to them from God Himself… which, of course, it actually was! Okay, let’s jump in to the text. The year is now 520 B.C. Verse 1 says, In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. I read names like that of the Governor here and I think to myself, ‘What puts it into the mind of a mother or a father to look into the precious face of their newborn baby, and say, ‘Oh, we’ve got to name him Zerubbabel!’? Can you imagine what the kids on the playground at school did with that one? “Hey bubble-head!” His name literally means “sewn (like sowing seed) in Babel,” (like the Tower of Babel) in case any of you are interested. So Haggai identifies the two key leaders of the people – the civic or political leader, Zerubbabel - and the spiritual and religious leader, Joshua. Look at verse 2 now: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.’” Things are hard for the people. They’re facing some adversity, and they were disheartened about the conditions of their country, and the Holy City. We understand this well, don’t we? I mean, we haven’t been over-run by a foreign nation and been taken captive for 70 years, but we get disheartened looking at some of the conditions in our nation, don’t we? Or it could be some adversity that comes upon us personally, like a health crisis, or some family problem that seems overwhelming to us, and we get discouraged about it. This is normal for people. The task of rebuilding this enormous temple must have seemed so costly and so far-reaching that the Jews had given up all hope of it getting accomplished. Look at vs 3-5: “Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: ‘Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses while this house remains a ruin?’ Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: Give careful thought to your ways.” We have to understand that, for the Jewish people, the Lord’s House was to be the center of the nation – the most significant building and place in their entire public life. Everything in the social and religious and even political life of Israel revolved around the Temple, because their entire legal system flowed out of the laws given to them by God. If God was not at the very center of their life then there wasn’t anything that would be blessed, because everything flows from God. They couldn’t expect God to prosper them physically and materially if they were relegating the Lord to a secondary place, and choosing something else to be their god. And that makes this a very relevant book, because it’s no different for us today! In the book of Deuteronomy (ch. 28) the Lord makes very clear that blessings follow obedience, and putting Him first. And, on the other hand, curses or punishments will follow disobedience. This has always been the way of the Lord, and we understand how it works. We tell our kids to eat their vegetables, not because we hate them and want to make life miserable for them, but because we know that eating vegetables helps keep them healthy, and we want them to be blessed with good health. We tell our kids to do their homework, not because we want to put undue burdens on them, but because we know that learning and growing in knowledge will help them in life, and we want them to have the blessings of a good education. Blessings follow obedience, and God is going to challenge the Israelites here by holding His holy standard up against what they are doing with their lives. Their priorities have gotten all out of whack. The specific problem here was, it’s been 15 or 16 years since they’ve even lifted a finger to repair God’s house. And God indicts them with the words, “You’re working on and enjoying your own houses while My house, which should be a higher priority to you, is lying in waste.” Some scholars believe that the cedar lumber that had been gathered to rebuild the temple, and the people had taken some of that wood and used it to panel their own houses. If you remember, Solomon’s Temple had extravagant amounts of cedar in it, imported from Lebanon, and they were replacing that with new cedar. Just imagine if we were doing a building project here in this church, but you also had some work you wanted done around your own house, so you came by the church one day and said, “Hey, I could use some of that for my project,” and you just helped yourself to the building materials. That would be outright stealing from God! Haggai’s challenge to the people is You are FAR too wrapped up in thinking about your-selves, and providing for yourselves. You have forgotten the Lord! This was not a new or strange problem among the people of God, and it’s not unusual for it to happen to any of us today. We see the problems coming upon us in the world, with wars in the Middle East and elsewhere, and the rise of Islamic terrorism, and outbreaks of old and new diseases…and we grow concerned. We look at the trouble there is in Washington D.C., and the rise of our national debt, and the teetering of our whole economy, and the lack of agreement and common sense that seems to prevail over those making decisions affecting our national life…and we get anxious. We hear about the problems going on right here in our own State, with companies and cities going bankrupt, and violence and murder in our streets, and schools closing for lack of funding…and we worry. The natural tendency is for us to “hunker down” and grab for all that we can, to protect our assets, and protect our families and our homes. “We’ve got to take care of ourselves,” we say. “If we don’t, there won’t be anything left.” And, of course, the devil is doing everything in his power to subtly convince us not to expend any of our precious resources for God’s work or the church because you may need it for yourself. “That’s not selfish,” Satan will say, “that’s just being smart. That’s just taking care of business, so you can survive.” But God is saying, “You have forgotten ME. You have abandoned My house. It’s time to do some critical self-evaluation. It’s time to give careful thought to your ways.” As I was preparing this message this week it really came upon me as a convicting word, because even though I try to live with open hands and to give the Lord His due in all things, I know there are areas in my own life where greed and selfishness and misguided priorities exist, and I need to examine myself too. Haggai’s words should convict ALL of us here in some way. Don’t we need to check how absorbed we are in our own pursuits, and the ways in which we can get side-tracked from the Lord by the things of this world? Isn’t it appropriate for God’s people to periodically take inventory of how we’re spending our money, and spending our time, and what we’re doing with our lives for God? Most of us have lived long enough to realize that the need for the material and temporary things of this world never ceases. Day after day, and week after week, the things of life press upon us, and they so easily distract us from the most important things of God and our discipleship for Christ. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just get very frustrated with that…with how the demands of my physical existence can just take over, and over-shadow the essential things of my faith, and living in intimacy with the Lord Jesus. Again, the pressing things in life are not the most important things. But they take our focus to be dealt with, don’t they? The tire on the car is going flat again; the dog just threw up on the living room carpet; the baby’s got a temperature; you don’t have the ingredients in the house to make dinner; the boss yelled at you today; you smell cigarette smoke (or worse) on your 13 year-old; another utility bill just showed up and it’s worse than last month…and etc. Those are all things that can “run us ragged,” and they’re important matters, that have to be dealt with somehow…but are those really the most important concerns of your human existence? Are those the most crucial matters of your soul and spirit? Of course not! And yet, how many times are we in the midst of praying about the salvation of lost people or the healing of those who are physically broken, and these thoughts start pervading our time with God, “Oh, I’ve got to get to the car wash and get that dirt off my car,” or “Oh, I’ve got to stop at Gemmen’s Hardware and pick up that part I need to finish the project in the garage.” How did I get from heaven to the garage? What happened here? Do I have brain trouble? Sometimes I wonder!! But it’s just the condition of our lives, isn’t it? The pressing things – no matter how little they might seem – can absorb us. And the truly important things, like having devotions with your spouse or with your kids, are EASY to put off. “We’ll do it tomorrow, honey.” Will you really? And what about the day after that? We have to look at the challenge that Haggai is putting to the people here to “consider your ways,” and say, “This is for ME…right here, right now… this is a challenge to ME.” I’m reminded of King David who once said, “I will not give sleep to my eyes, or slumber to my eyelids until I have found a place for the Lord’s house, a habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.” David said he couldn’t rest, even as he was sitting in his huge palace, and he would wander the hallways at night, and pace back and forth, because there was not yet a good home for the ark of the Lord. He looked out and saw the tabernacle in a tent while he occupied this kingly mansion, and it tortured him to think that God was getting so little while he was getting so much. David did not get to be the one to build a glorious Temple for the Lord – that fell to his son Solomon – but David spent his life trying to prepare for it, and to pre-fabricate it. And why? Because it mattered! It was IMPORTANT. God should get the first place, and the best place, and the highest place in our lives…not the leftovers! David found no real pleasure in his paneled house, knowing that God was not getting His due. And that’s the bottom-line question that each of us needs to ask ourselves: “Am I giving God His due?” Please understand that that is not merely a financial question – a question about your tithes and offerings. That’s a question about your whole life…your time, your talents, the ordering of your priorities – your everything! God asks, “Is this a time for you to live the way you want in your houses, and not give the kind of attention to My house that it needs? Consider your ways, My people. Consider your ways. Turn to Me. Do what I have called you to do. Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Related Sermons

First Things First – Part 3

Rev. Paul Burmeister / August 12, 2018

Haggai: First Things First – Part 4

Rev. Paul Burmeister / August 19, 2018

Haggai: First Things First – Part 2

Rev. Paul Burmeister / August 5, 2018