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 “Obey the Lord”

Lesson Text:Haggai 1:1-11

Background Scripture:  Haggai 1:1-11

Devotional Reading: Luke 19:41-48

 

Haggai 1:1-11 (KJV)

 

1In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, saying,

2Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.

3Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying,

4Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?

5Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.

6Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.

7Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.

8Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord.

9Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.

10Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit.

11And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.

OBJECTIVES

To learn bring our priorities in line with God’s purposes and plans.  

To explain why the people had not made the rebuilding of the temple a priority after its reconstruction was halted following the return from exile.

To examine our hearts daily.

INTRODUCTION

Sleeping Through Life

   “Rip Van Winkle” is American author Washington Irving’s humorous short story about a man who hikes to the mountains one day to get away from his nagging wife. He lies down to take a nap—and doesn’t wake up until 20 years have passed! When Rip returns home, he finds that his wife has died, his children have grown, and many other changes have taken place. Eventually, he realizes what has happened and that he has indeed slept through 20 years of his life.  

   The focus of the ministries of Haggai and Zechariah was to challenge God’s people to wake up from 16 years of spiritual slumber, years that had left God’s house unfinished and the people themselves unfulfilled. Thus their problem (unlike that of Rip Van Winkle) was not that of confronting changes that had occurred during that time; rather, their problem was that nothing had changed because they had neglected to make the completion of God’s house a priority.

LESSON BACKGROUND

Time:520 B.C.

Place:Jerusalem

   Haggai and Zechariah lived in the post-exilic period of Old Testament history. The “exilic” part of this phrase refers to the tragedy of the Babylonian exile. That deportation occurred in stages, culminating in 586 B.C. when the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city of Jerusalem. Palestine had been under Babylonian domination for some two decades preceding that tragedy (example: Daniel 1).

   In 539 B.C., Cyrus of Persia conquered the Babylonians, and Persia became the dominant power in the ancient Near East. Soon afterward, Cyrus issued a decree that allowed Jews who so desired to return home and rebuild their house of worship (2 Chronicles 36:22, 23, same as Ezra 1:1-3). It is worth noting that the prophet Isaiah had predicted the rise of Cyrus (by name) and described what that king would do on behalf of God’s people (Isaiah 44:24-45:6). That was about 150 years before Cyrus ever appeared on the stage of world history!

   So in 538 B.C. some 50,000 Jews traveled to Judah to begin the task of rebuilding the temple (Ezra 2:64, 65). Within two years of their arrival, they had completed the important step of setting the foundation in place.

   But then opposition to the rebuilding effort surfaced, and the people’s enthusiasm began to wane. This opposition originated with those who already resided in the territory when the Jews arrived back—people who had moved in and taken up residence in the land after God’s people were exiled. They did not welcome the return of God’s people, so these opponents “weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose... Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:4, 5, 24).

   The temple remained unfinished for 16 years. As time passed, it became easier and easier to let the task remain undone. It seemed more practical for the people to focus on rebuilding their own homes and pursue their own interests.

   The prophets Haggai and Zechariah appeared on the scene in the midst of the people’s complacency (Ezra 5:1). These men were raised up by the Lord to shake the people out of their lethargy, to stir them to act in order to finish rebuilding the temple. Although the book of Haggai is placed within the Minor Prophets because of its length (only Obadiah is shorter), Haggai played a major role in conveying God’s message to a people who had become indifferent to His work.

 

The People’s Neglect (Haggai 1:1-4)

Commissioning of Haggai (Haggai 1:1)

1. At what time point in Judah’s history did Haggai minister? Why was it significant (Haggai 1:1)

  Not all prophetic books begin with such precise dating information! The Darius mentioned in this regard is Darius I (also called Darius Hystaspes or Darius the Great). Reigning from 522 to 486 B.C., he is the third ruler during the Persian period. Combining the second year of Darius the king (compare Ezra 4:24) with the first day of the sixth month yields a date of August 29, 520 B.C.

   The timing of the word of the Lord as it comes to Haggai is important in various ways. The sixth month is important because this is the time of year when certain crops are harvested; the problems the people have been having in this regard is a topic Haggai will address shortly. The first day of a month is the day of the new moon, a day for special sacrifices (Numbers 28:11-15). First Samuel 20:18-24 records a feast marking the occasion, and some students find it noteworthy that Haggai, whose name means “festival,” receives his prophetic revelation on a festival day. Furthermore, 2 Kings 4:22, 23 indicates that the first of the month (new moon) is considered an appropriate time to consult a prophet. Thus the time is right for a prophet to come forward and speak the Word of God.

   The recipients of the Lord’s word, the governor and the high priest, are also mentioned. These men are the two primary leaders of God’s people during the first return of captives from Babylon (Ezra 5:2). Each man has a specific role to fill: Zerubbabel as governor is the political leader, and Joshua as high priest is the spiritual leader.

2.What message from the Lord did Haggai give to the people? (Haggai 1:2)

   Haggai gets to the heart of the Lord’s message right away. The Lord’s words begin by quoting the people’s words: “The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.” As noted in the Lesson Background, 16 years have now elapsed since the foundation of the temple was laid by those who first returned from exile in Babylon. The enthusiasm that characterized the beginning of this noble task has long ago been replaced by an apathetic “It’s just not the right time to build” attitude.

What Do You Think?

   How do we recognize when strategic delay has become procrastination in the church today?   How do we overcome this problem or prevent it from happening in the first place?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

   In changing/updating a program or format | In adding a staff member

   In starting a new Bible study class

   Notice the Lord revealed His displeasure with the inhabitants of Judah, referring to them as “this people” rather than “my people” (v. 2). 

3.What point was Haggai making when he compared the Lord’s house to the people’s homes? (Haggai 1:3, 4)

   Haggai exposed the reason why the work of rebuilding the temple wasn’t finished by comparing the people’s homes to God’s house of worship (Hag. 1:3-4). He now confronts the people by drawing attention to their actions. They seem to have plenty of time to build their cieled houses. They have invested much time and expense to make sure their homes look their best. The word cieled brings to mind the word ceiling; the Hebrew word means “cover” and may refer not just ordinary dwellings, but “paneled houses,” the kind that kings built for themselves (1 Kings 7:3, 7; Jer. 22:14). Whatever the specific reference, it is clear that the people’s houses are finished while the Lord’s house—the temple—is not.

   Of course, the issue here is not really a matter of having the time to complete the temple; it is, rather, a matter of being willing to make the time to do so. If the people had really wanted to complete the Lord’s house, they would have done so long before now. The problem is simply one of misplaced priorities. The people’s own houses are completed because that is where the people’s priorities have been focused.

What Do You Think?

   How do you determine which tasks are most important? What role do others have in helping you set priorities?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

   Regarding personal needs (Matthew 6:33)

   Regarding the needs of immediate family members (1 Timothy 5:8)

   Regarding the needs of fellow Christians (Luke 6:42; Acts 6:1-4)

   Regarding the needs of the congregation as a whole (Revelation 3:1-3)

 

The Divine Summons (Haggai 1:5-11)

4. What circumstances did Haggai invite the people to examine? (Haggai 1:5-6)

   Haggai proceeds to offer the Lord’s message to the people about an issue that goes much deeper than the houses to which the prophet has referred. The challenge is brief but compelling: “Consider your ways.” The Hebrew for this phrase is most insightful: literally, it may be rendered as “Set your heart upon your ways.” It is repeated in verse 7. The problem is the condition of the people’s hearts. Their hearts are not passionate about the Lord’s work. Their hearts are consumed by the pursuit of their own agendas rather than the Lord’s. It was time for the people to do some serious self-examination before the Lord.

   Since the people are so concerned with the material side of life, Haggai challenges them to consider whether that aspect of life is really worth the priority time and attention that the people have been giving it. The prophet observes that the peoples’ investment in the necessities of life (food, drink, and clothing) has yielded inadequate returns—they have sown much but bring in little. Haggai’s words describe the condition of all too many today who are doing the same. Isaiah addresses this issue as well: “Wherefore do ye spend ... your labour for that which satisfieth not?” (Isaiah 55:2).

   In addition, whatever wages the people receive from their labors is used up so quickly that it seems as if each person’s bag has holes in it. We can identify with owning purses or wallets that seem to have such holes! There is a specific reason for these circumstances in Haggai’s time, which the prophet addresses in the next section.

   God’s covenant stated clearly that He would bless them if they obeyed His Law and discipline them if they disobeyed. The blessings and curses associated with the Mosaic covenant provided the theological explanation for Judah’s lack of abundance (see Lev. 26; Deut. 28). The Lord, through Haggai, wanted the returnees to Judah to understand that the Exile in Babylon had been God’s judgment for Israel’s sin. In order for the remnant to continue experiencing God’s forgiveness, restoration and blessing, they had to remain faithful to the stipulations of the covenant. This included their unwavering commitment to finish the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple.

5.What did God want the people to understand about His chastisement? (Haggai 1:7, 8)

   It was proper for the Lord to withhold His blessings. After all, His people had lopsided priorities in which they crowded out God. In light of these facts, Haggai again told the people to consider their ways (Hag. 1:7). Then he urged them to swing into action. Once they admitted their unwise decisions, they would be ready to rebuild the temple. They would recognize that further delays would be self-defeating and dishonoring to God.

 

   The people had gone to the hills to get timber for their houses. Now it was time for them to gather lumber for the temple (v. 8). Gathering timber from the forests would show obedience and initiate the rebuilding process. The Lord then declares through Haggai a result of the rebuilding efforts: when the house of the Lord is completed, He will take pleasure in it and willbe glorified.Completing the temple will ultimately be an act honoring the Lord. God delights in the obedient service of His people, and His name is glorified when we sacrifice for Him and serve Him.

 

6. “Why” did the Lord say these situations occurred? (Haggai 1:9-11)

 

   For emphasis, Haggai elaborates on the frustrations described previously in verse 6. Why have these situations occurred? This is not a matter of “bad luck” or a random “bad year” for crops. It is, rather, because God’s people have not made His house a priority; instead, each of them has been preoccupied with his own house. They failed to recognize that God was judging them for their disobedience, in accordance with the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant (see Lev. 26:20; Deut. 11:8-15; 28:29, 38-40).

   It is noteworthy that Haggai pictures the people as “running” (literal Hebrew) to their own homes. This captures the sense of urgency with which the people have been treating their own affairs. “Let’s get the work on our houses done; let’s not waste a minute’s time” is their attitude. But concerning the Lord’s house, their pace is zero.

  The prophet’s explanation of the people’s hard times focused on their agricultural economy. When they brought their harvest home, God blew it all away (Hag. 1:9). This circumstance served as a reminder of the transitory nature of all human accomplishments (see Isa. 40:7). As long as the returnees to Judah continued to delay rebuilding the temple, it would prove to be costly.  

   During the dry summers, farmers in Judah relied on dew to water their crops (see 2 Sam. 1:21; 1 Kings 17:1). The air, full of moisture from the Mediterranean Sea, condensed during the cool nights and usually provided enough water for the crops. Also, being good farmers, the people planted with high hopes of reaping an abundant harvest. God, however, kept back the dew, which in turn brought withered crops and widespread famine (Hag. 1:10). Moreover, the Lord sent a severe drought that affected everything-the fields and terraced hillsides; the grain (most likely, barley and wheat), the grapes (used to make new wine), the olives (used for food, ointment, and medicine), and all the other crops; and the people, livestock, and all that they labored to produce (v. 11).

   Ultimately, the people suffer in every aspect of their lives as a consequence of neglecting the Lord’s work. A curse on the ground followed sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:17-19), and the series of events noted by Haggai is tied to the people’s disobedience to the covenant between God and Israel. The good news in the midst of all of this distress is that the God of the covenant can and will reverse the conditions of His people. But first, the people must reverse their priorities. The covenant promises of blessing have not been revoked! There is hope—but the people will have to make serious changes.

 

POINTS TO PONDER

   Like the remnant of Haggai’s day, we also need God’s admonition to put His priorities first. He challenges us to grow spiritually and deepen our commitment to Him and His Word. The foremost goal is that what we undertake will bring glory to Him (see Matthew 6:33; 1 Corinthians 10:31).

 

CONCLUSION

Room for Caution

   Today’s study notes the link between obedience to God and material prosperity that was a vital part of the covenant relationship that existed between God and Old Testament Israel. We should be cautious about carrying over such a link and applying it to God’s people today (Christians). Nowhere does the New Testament establish the kind of strong connection between obedience and material prosperity that we see evidenced, for example, in today’s text from Haggai.

   As with many such topics, balance seems to be a worthy goal. Yes, God will take care of His people (example: Matthew 6:33). But we are also told that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). The lack of material prosperity rather than its abundance may, in some cases, be an indication that one is serving God faithfully. Even so, the issue of priorities still confronts us today (Luke 17:7, 8).

 

PRAYER

   Heavenly Father, the unbelieving world beckons us with so many urgencies that at times it becomes difficult to make spiritual matters a priority. May each of us consider our ways and seek to align our priorities with Yours. In Jesus’ name, amen.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER

   Now is the right time to do what God desires.

 


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