Whose House Are You Building? (Haggai)
Have you ever felt like it is too hard to serve the Lord? Have you ever been too busy to serve the Lord? The book of Haggai finds God’s people in this same situation. This little book is one of the final Old Testament Prophets. The people have returned from captivity only to spend 20 long years discouraged and afraid. They were allowed to return by the mighty working of God through Cyrus, the king. Cyrus, himself, has commanded them to go and rebuild the temple of the great God who has given him all of his power. However, the devastation of the city is extreme, and the people are struggling to find the motivation to build. After two years they have a foundation to the temple laid, and all of those who saw Solomon’s temple in its glory are wailing over how small this is in comparison. Also, the people of the land are incredibly discouraging as they try to build the temple, hurling threats, and paying people to discourage their work. Imagine what it would be like to live in the towns surrounding Jerusalem with hardly anything, paralyzed in fear of what the surrounding people might do. God sends his prophet Haggai to encourage his people.
God’s Message Through Haggai
In the book of Haggai, we have only two chapters. In these two chapters, Haggai explains why refusing to build God’s temple is a big deal to God. Failing to complete the building reveals a lack of appreciation for what God has done and a lack of trust for what God is trying to do for them. God speaks in this small book great words of encouragement to help his people overcome their roadblocks and complete the work he has called them to do. We can divide this message into five sections. Let’s start by reading 1:1-11.
Chapter 1:1-11 - God’s first rebuke
In the first section of the book, God rebukes the people for saying, “The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.’” As it turns out, these people have become wealthy enough over the last 15 years to build their own, luxurious houses while God’s house lies unbuilt. In the face of great difficulty, they have chosen to focus on themselves and stop trying to build anything for the Lord. They are defeated and completely discouraged when it comes to serving the Lord, but they can focus on themselves and their houses. As a result of this, God is disciplining them to wake them up from their complacency. He tells them in verse 7, “Look at what’s happening to you! You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!” He continues saying, “You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins.” Taking care of themselves has taken priority over taking care of God’s house. This careless behavior makes us think that not much has changed since before the exile. They are still the same, self-centered and rebellious, people they have always been.
1:12-15 - God’s people respond
However, starting in verse 12, we see Zerubbabel and Jeshua step up with all of the remnant of God’s people and respond to God’s rebuke by building the house of the Lord. They heard the admonition of God, feared the Lord, and answered as they should. God then encourages the people by saying, “I am with you!” The hearts of the people are stirred up, and they become enthusiastic about the work. So they begin building on September 21st of 520 B.C.
2:1-9 - God’s Mosaic promise
After less than a month of building, God sends another message through Haggai in Chapter 2:1-9. The people are once again upset about the way the temple looks. There is a struggle inside of them because what they are building is nothing compared to what they have seen in Solomon’s temple or Babylonian temples. What they are making does not seem grand enough to house the God of Israel. Their eyes are still focused on what they see. However, they don’t understand that God has more in store for this building project in future generations. There is a more magnificent building coming and what they are making is going to open the door for that greater building to come. God reveals that he is planning to shake the nations so that the treasures come into his house.
Notice the phrase in verse 7, “I will fill this place with glory.” After completing the temple, God is planning to not only add beauty and splendor, but he promises to fill this temple with his glory as he did for Moses and Solomon. According to verse 9, it will be a greater glory than Solomon’s temple. So the people need to “be strong” and “get to work” (4) because “God’s Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt” (5).
2:10-19 - God’s second rebuke
The final section moves forward to December 18th. In 2:10-17, he gives a much deeper rebuke in the form of a parable. God tells Haggai to ask the priests if touching something with a holy sacrifice makes that thing holy. The priest answers, “No,” in accordance with the law of Moses. Then, he asks the priests another question, “If someone becomes ceremonially unclean by touching a dead person and then touches any of these foods, will the food be defiled?” The priest answers, “Yes” in accordance with the law of Moses. This is a parable of sorts saying that when we use a white glove to pick up mud, the mud does not get “glovey” and when we touch the mud on anything that was once clean it does become dirty. What does this mean, and why does he say that? Verse 14 says, “That is how it is with this people and this nation, says the Lord. Everything they do and everything they offer is defiled by their sin.” This is an astonishing rebuke. If that is the case, why is God having them rebuild the temple?
The people were working on the house of the Lord, obeying the Lord’s commands, but everything they were doing in their lives was full of sin. They are worshipping God with their lips and their hands, but their heart is far from him. The rebuke shows that God is not satisfied with external obedience. They are still self-serving and full of sin instead of having a heart full of love for God.
So in verse 18-19, God commands them to think. He wants them to take note of how they have not received any harvest for their labor. The drought and the famine have not let up. God has not blessed them as the prophets foretold because of the people’s sin. But God is about to change that. Even though his people have not loved him with their heart, and even though their sin still makes them defiled, he will show them that he can bless abundantly those who love him. He says in verse 19 that he is going to bless them.
2:20-23 - God’s Davidic promise
In verse 20, we read that on the same day, December 18th, God sends Haggai to Zerubbabel to prophesy directly at him. God is “about to shake the heavens and the earth to overthrow royal thrones and destroy the power of foreign kingdoms.” Then he says, “On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” This is such a fascinating way to end the prophesy because Zerubbabel probably did not live to see another king reign over the Persian empire. So why would he want to tell Zerubbabel this? This image, “a signet ring on my right hand,” is significant because, in Jeremiah 22:24, God said to Jehoiachin, “As I live… I will abandon you Jehoiachin, the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah. Even if you were the signet ring on my right hand, I will pull you off.” Here in Haggai, God says he would make Zerubbabel “like a signet ring on my finger (NLT).” When we do some digging in Chronicles, we find out that Zerubbabel is the grandson of Jehoiachin who descends from David.
What Would This Mean For The Returned Exiles?
This book is a beautiful encouragement of God’s people, and we see in Ezra that they do complete the temple, and eventually, their children do turn their hearts to seek God and repent of their sins 50 years later. So what does all of this mean to the Jews who had this prophecy in the years that followed? The Jews in the following centuries are supposed to see that their ancestors have refused to be careful and serve God with a whole heart and a willing mind even after the captivity. However, God has consistently loved them and desired to bless them. He has shown his love to his people by disciplining them and by blessing them beyond what they deserved. God even wants to provide all of the blessings promised in the Torah and to David in 2 Samuel 7. It looked like God had nullified those covenants with the sin of the people and the sin of Jehoiachin, but God is graciously bringing them back! Even though the people have failed again as returned exiles, God still loves them and is always planning something greater than anything they have ever experienced in the past. Haggai calls out the people for their failures, and he calls for them to stop serving themselves and start serving God faithfully. Why? This temple will stand as a reminder of God’s love, and over time, he will beautify it to become even more glorious than Solomon’s temple. The people are supposed to see that temple and recognize that their God desires them to trust him and do the work he has called them to do.
What Does This Mean For Us?
Why would we care about this prophet? Does a little book written 2500 years ago have any relevance to us today? I believe it does.
Their Problem = Our Problem
Do you remember what their problem was back in Chapter 1? God saved them from captivity to turn around and work for the Lord, but what did they do instead? They said, “It is not the right time to build.” Does this sound familiar to you? How many times have we put off doing some work for the Lord? How many times have we come up with excuses and refused to study our Bibles or refused to get serious about attending church services? How often have we put off speaking to someone about God because “now is not the time.” God has given us the task of bringing people to glorify his name on the earth. He wants us to be strong and do the work he has saved us to accomplish. We are here like Jesus to seek and save that which was lost. We are here to lift up what sin and Satan have demolished. We have the job of loving those who are unworthy of our love, building them up to mend their broken hearts, and helping them come into relationship with God. But are we willing to do this work, or are we too busy building our own houses?
We busy ourselves with many things in this life. I, myself, spent eight years pursuing bigger houses and financial security. We busy ourselves with hobbies, we busy ourselves with families, we busy ourselves with careers, and we busy ourselves with stuff. God asks us the question that he is asking through Haggai, “How is that working out for you?” All of this stuff is temporary and does not satisfy!
Alternatively, maybe we refuse to do the work like they did because it won’t amount to anything. We start saying things like, “I’m not going to waste my time trying to help people who don’t want help.” Our time and our energy become precious to us, and we don’t want to waste them on something that will only break our hearts and cause us tremendous grief and pain. Imagine how fragile these people are after losing everything for 70 years. Many of you lost much when you turned your heart to follow Christ. Now, it is a struggle to see much point in putting yourself out there. You are discouraged and beaten.
We all fall into this same trap and fail to do the work God calls for us to do for one reason or another. How does Haggai help us with this significant problem we face?
God’s Solution Is The Same
What is God’s solution for them? He tells them, first of all, to consider their lifestyle. As we look at what we are doing every day, we need to stop and think about whether we have put ourselves out there to do the work God has assigned to us. Now is the time to be building up what is fallen and strengthen the weak. Now is the time to reach out for the lost. If we have hobbies, are they being used to seek and to save or are we self-serving? If we busy ourselves with our projects, we see that God is going to make us feel empty in all of our vain pursuits. He is hoping that this will spark something inside of us and make us turn toward him.
Second, we see that God wants his people to want to do his work. He doesn’t want them to be upset about it or be thinking about their paneled houses while they are doing his job. God reminds them of his love for them and seeks their love in return. Even though they are defiled people who have not turned toward him, he is with them, and he promises to make them his covenant people. On top of saving them, he promises to give them all the blessings they need.
In Haggai, we see God motivating his people with the anticipation of a greater glory to come. God promises to shake the heavens and the earth and fill the temple with a glory greater than Solomon’s Temple. Then, he promises to overthrow thrones and establish his Messiah. All of this is pointing to Jesus. In John 1:14, we read that Jesus has revealed God’s glory, glory as of the only son from the Father. In Jesus, God himself became flesh and “tabernacled” among us! Jesus fulfills the promises that God made through Haggai, and now God promises to let us abide with them in heaven for eternity. We also have greater glory awaiting us.
We Have To Focus On God
The main thing he wants us to do is to stop being self-focused and start being God-focused in our lives. He wants us to consider whether we are living our lives for ourselves or him and make the decision to show appreciation and love for him through our work. The book of Haggai is a fantastic book to help us see that we are here to glorify him and he wants to help us do the work he has given us to do. God has saved us from our captivity and blessed us abundantly. So we must consider how God has blessed us. Consider how God has worked to discipline us and provide us with everything we need to love him. As we go out into the world and our work is before us (encouraging, serving, growing, and evangelizing) let’s consider the word of God that says, “I am with you… be strong… do not fear… do the work.”