“Have you taken a look lately?” That is the question the prophet Haggai poses time and time again for the people of God who have come back to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon. Hopefully by the time we reach the end of our study this morning you will hear the voice of God saying to you, “Consider your ways?”
Let me set the scene for you because during our last study of the Minor Prophets, our study of Zephaniah, Judah was still the southern Kingdom and Jerusalem was still inhabited by the people of God. It may have only been one week since we studied Zephaniah, the book that comes right before Haggai, but there is so much that took place between those two books.
If you will remember, we were able to narrow the time of Zephaniah’s ministry down to the years between 639-629 B.C. As we move into our study of Haggai we leap forward more than 100 years to 520 B.C. So much has happened during those 100 years. The invasion of Jerusalem by the Babylonians actually began in 605 B.C. when Daniel and others were taken to Babylon. (Daniel 1:1-7) There was a second deportation of some of the citizens of Jerusalem in 597 B.C., but in 586 B.C. the Babylonians swept into Jerusalem and destroyed the city. They took many of the citizens captive and deported them to Babylon. We can read about what happened in 2 Kings 25.
1 So on January 15, during the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, (January 15, 588 B.C.) King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon led his entire army against Jerusalem. They surrounded the city and built siege ramps against its walls. 2 Jerusalem was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah’s reign. 3 By July 18 in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign (July 18, 586 B.C.), the famine in the city had become very severe, and the last of the food was entirely gone. 4 Then a section of the city wall was broken down, and all the soldiers fled. Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, they waited for nightfall. Then they slipped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden and headed toward the Jordan Valley. 5 But the Babylonian troops chased the king and caught him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. 6 They took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. 7 They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. 8 On August 14 of that year, which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard and an official of the Babylonian king, arrived in Jerusalem. 9 He burned down the Temple of the LORD, the royal palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem. He destroyed all the important buildings in the city. 10 Then he supervised the entire Babylonian army as they tore down the walls of Jerusalem on every side. 11 Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, then took as exiles the rest of the people who remained in the city, the defectors who had declared their allegiance to the king of Babylon, and the rest of the population. 12 But the captain of the guard allowed some of the poorest people to stay behind in Judah to care for the vineyards and fields. (2 Kings 25:1-12 NLT)
Can you imagine the horror of the people of Jerusalem who had smugly believed that, as they said in Zephaniah’s day, “The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad.” (Zephaniah 1:12 NIV)
Let’s fast forward once again to the year 539 B.C. when Cyrus the Great, the Persian king overtook Babylon, the city where God’s people had been reestablished once they were deported from Jerusalem. In the very next year, 538 B.C., Cyrus issued a decree allowing the Jewish exiles to return to Judah. We can read about it in Ezra 1.
1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: 2 “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: ” ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. 3 Anyone of his people among you–may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 And the people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’” (Ezra 1:1-4 NIV)
We read later in Ezra that a total of 42,360 people, plus 7337 servants and 200 singers, made the trip back to Judah with Zerubbabel and the other Jewish leaders. You have to remember that these folks were not the total number of Jews who were in Babylon. Some of the Jews, in the 50 to 70 years that they had been in Babylon, had become accustomed to life in Babylon. They had settled in and grown to like the Babylonian style of life. They did not want to leave and make the long trip back to Jerusalem so they stayed. For those who decided to leave Babylon and head back to Jerusalem, it was going to be a long trip. Albert Barnes, in his work called, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, writes,
The direct distance to Babylon from Jerusalem is about 520 miles; and the circuitous route by Carchemish and the Orontes valley, which was ordinarily taken by armies or large bodies of men, is about 900 miles. (Barnes Notes on the Bible)
That’s a long trek to get back to a city that had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. They had no idea what they were going back to, but those who left Babylon knew they had to get home. Once they got back to Jerusalem it was in ruins. The ruins didn’t diminish the joy experienced by the Jews who were back in the Holy City of God. They went to work among the ruins and began to rebuild the temple of God. By the time we get to Ezra 4 we find that opposition came riding into town to discourage the Jews from rebuilding the temple as well as the city. The work stopped.
That brings us to the year 520 B.C. when Haggai begins his ministry among the folks who had returned to Jerusalem. Remember, it had been eighteen years since the Jews were freed to head back to Jerusalem. Once back in Jerusalem they went to work on the wall, but then the work stopped. The Jews had laid the foundation and began offering sacrifices, but when the opposition arrived any further work came to an abrupt halt. All of this information sets the scene for us to now take a look at Haggai. Turn with me to Haggai 1 and let’s read together.
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: 2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built.’” 3 Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” 5 Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” 7 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD. 9 “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands.” 12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD. 13 Then Haggai, the LORD’s messenger, gave this message of the LORD to the people: “I am with you,” declares the LORD. 14 So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius. (Haggai 1:1-15 NIV)
It doesn’t take long to figure out what was on Haggai’s mind. In the second verse of his letter Haggai delivers a message from the Lord. More than a message it is a recitation of what was going through the minds of the people of Jerusalem. Read along with me.
2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built.’” (Haggai 1:2 NIV)
You might be led to believe that the Jews had a date set on their calendar when they were planning on resuming work on the temple, but that is not what is meant here. What is meant is this: the people just hadn’t found the right opportunity to get back to working on the Lord’s house. They started out strong. Once they got back to Jerusalem they set the reconstruction of the Lord’s house as their main priority. They went to work. They got the foundation set in place, they built an altar to offer sacrifices, the priests resumed their responsibilities, and it looked like they would get the job done. That is, until times got tough, the cheers of the crowd turned into jeers, and opposition made things difficult for them. When things got tough they left the job site and found other things to do.
That doesn’t describe what has taken place in any of our lives does it? God opened a door for us to serve Him, to take on something that we knew He was calling us to do and we jumped in with both feet. We started strong. Then the new wore off, the enthusiasm waned, criticism came, we got excited about something else, and we lost our passion for what God called us to do.
You have to ask the question, “If they weren’t spending their time working on the Lord’s house and doing what God had called them to do, what were they doing?” That is a great question and we can find the answer to it in verse 3.
3 Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” (Haggai 1:3 NIV)
So, what did they do when they stopped working on the Lord’s house? They went home to work on their own interests. Haggai took a look around Jerusalem and said, “Well, I see that you’ve found plenty of opportunities to work on your own houses. Isn’t it odd that the Lord’s house is in ruins while your houses are so magnificent?”
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve known through the years who use to volunteer in some ministry. Along the way they ran into criticism, or tough times, and they resolved in their minds, “If that’s the thanks I get then I’m never doing that again. This ministry stuff isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” They walked away and went back home to focus all of their attention, time, and money on their own business. Now if you ask them to serve they will tell you that they are just too busy to give any time to volunteer to help someone else, they don’t have enough time right now to serve the Lord through the ministry of the church. Funny thing is they always seem to find the time to do what they want to do. They can always find the money to do what they want to do, but when it comes to doing something that God wants to do they seem to always be running “short.”
Well, Haggai had a question for the folks in his day and I think it is a pertinent question for our day as well. Let’s focus on the situation in Jerusalem first and then we will get around to taking a look at our own situation. Haggai said,
5 Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” 7 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. (Haggai 1:5-7 NIV)
“Give careful thought to your ways.” This is a very interesting phrase in Hebrew and it keeps popping up in this little two chapter book. You will find it in Haggai 1:5, 7 and in Haggai 2:15; 18. We’ve already read the two instances in Haggai 1 so let me read to you where it appears in Haggai 2.
15 “‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on–consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the LORD’s temple. 16 When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. 17 I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not turn to me,’ declares the LORD. 18 ‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: 19 Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit. “‘From this day on I will bless you.’” (Haggai 2:15-19 NIV)
In Haggai 1, the Lord asks the people to consider their ways, to examine how things have been going. The same word is used in Job 1:8 where God invites Satan to “consider” His servant Job. God says,
8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8 NIV)
In Job, God encouraged Satan to examine His servant Job, but in Haggai, God invites the people to examine what has been going on in their own lives since they have returned to Jerusalem. After God urges the people of Jerusalem to consider their ways, He then lists what has been happening.
• You planted much but harvested little.
• You eat, but never have enough.
• You drink, but never have your fill.
• You put on clothes, but are not warm.
• You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.
It was not poverty that was plaguing the people of Jerusalem, but a lack of fulfillment. They had seed to plant, they had food to eat, they had something to drink, they had clothes to wear, and they were making a living, but it just wasn’t enough. It was never enough. God made plain to them what I am sure they had missed since they were so busy running here and there trying to better their own situation in life. James Montgomery Boice says,
Is this not a picture of our age? More cars, more houses, more furniture, more food, more television sets, more games, more vacations…Yet people are wretchedly unsatisfied. People have everything, but they are miserable. And some of those miserable people are so-called evangelical Christians. What is the cause of this? It is the work of God. God has sent emptiness so that His people might awake from their idolatry and turn back to Him. (James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets. Vol. 2. pg. 470.)
What the people of Haggai’s day forgot, and what many of us have never learned, is that God holds all of the keys to every door that needs to be opened in life. You need a bountiful harvest? Then go to God. You need more customers for your business? Then go to God. You need peace in your home, your neighborhood, city, or country? Then go to God. You need to figure out how to make ends meet in your monthly budget? Then go to God. You need answers to important questions about your future? Then go to God. Go to God. Go to God. God made it so clear to the people of Jerusalem why they were working their fingers to the bone and yet disappointed with their results. In Haggai 1:9 we read,
9 “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. (Haggai 1:9 NIV)
God’s “house” being in ruins was a symptom of a much deeper problem, a heart problem. We can look at our own lives and see symptoms of the real problem as well. What excites you most in life? Serving the Lord by serving His people? Worshipping God with His people on a Sunday morning? Contributing to some project that is going to honor God and bless His people? Attending Bible study when there are 10,000 other things you could be doing? Are these the passions of your life? Or is your passion something different? I can’t answer that question for you, but I will guarantee you that you know the answer to that question. You know the answer, but what will you do about it?
I can tell you what the people of Jerusalem did when the message came to them—they were stirred by the Spirit of God and they went to work. Read along with me beginning in verse 14.
14 So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius. (Haggai 1:14-15 NIV)
They didn’t say, “Well, Haggai I hear what you are saying and I know you are right, but let me finish this project I’m working on right now.” They didn’t say, “I know you are right, but right now I’ve got a lot on my plate.” They didn’t say, “You are a preacher. You’ve got time for that stuff. I’m living in the real world. I’m bustin’ it ten hours a day. I don’t have the time or the energy to do anything more than what I’m already doing.” They didn’t give excuses. They got their priorities right and made the Lord’s business their passion. Do you know what happened as a result of their decision? They heard from God once again. Read Haggai 2:19 with me.
19 Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit. “‘From this day on I will bless you.’” (Haggai 2:19 NIV)
In chapter 2, the people of Israel were reminded of how things were before they got their priorities right and then they were told to pay close attention to what would take place after got their priorities in order. In Haggai 2:19 the Lord said, “From this day on I will bless you.” That is the key isn’t it? Now, I understand that those who don’t serve the Lord believe that the key is gaining a great education from the right institutions of higher learning or working harder and longer than your competitors or making the right contacts, but I beg to differ. The key is the blessing of the Lord.
Before we leave here today I want to invite you to consider your ways. Look back over your life, the path you have been following, and consider. I remember many years ago I had the opportunity to do this with a young man I found sitting on a motorcycle in our parking lot real early on a Sunday morning. He made it to church before I did and I knew before he ever said a word that he was here because things weren’t going well for him. I invited him in and when we got to my office he began to tell me his story. It was rough and he had just gotten out of jail. When he got home his wife and kids were gone and he was all alone. I asked him if he was a Christian and he said, “No.” I said, “So you have been calling the shots for your life?” He just hung his head. I asked, “How’s it been going?” He said, “Not good.” I said, “I think you should hand the reins over to Jesus and let Him begin to direct your life.” That morning he prayed with me to accept Christ before church ever began.
I want to ask you to consider your own life this morning. How’s it been going? Are you fulfilled or do you always seem to be seeking something more, something better, something new? Won’t you ask Jesus into your heart this morning and let Him begin to fill you to overflowing?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 17, 2010
The experiences of your own life are experiences, which a providential God brings to you. Now, not all of our experiences which are bad are designed to discipline us for evil that we may have committed. Some of them are designed to educate us to deepen us in our spiritual life. No one can speak for someone else. I could not possibly say that God sent you some difficult trial or testing because you have sinned. Nor could you say that of me. Those testings come frequently to deepen our spiritual life. To deepen our relationship to the Lord, to cause us to get down upon our knees and pray more fervently, to cause us to run to the word of God and search the Scriptures for the comfort of the promises, and to prepare us for the life beyond this life, because this life is just a kind of anteroom to the life that is the great mansion of God beyond. And this is temporary, but that is eternal. But God does control our circumstances, and the things that happen to us, do happen to us with a purpose, and it is well for us in passing through all of our experiences. (S. Lewis Johnson, Haggai—Consider Your Ways. Haggai 1:1-14. http://alturl.com/zyrb3)