A Call to Construction of the Temple
Haggai takes us back to the time when the Babylonian captives were permitted to return to their homeland. In 538BC, the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the prediction the people from Judah and Jerusalem will spend seventy years in captivity (Jeremiah 25), “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and put it in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the Lord His God be with him, and let him go up!’” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4).
Cyrus returned the articles taken from the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, in 605 (Daniel 1:2), in 597 (2 Kings 24:13), and in 586 (2 Kings 25:14-15; Jeremiah 27:16-22), the temple furniture was destroyed in 586 (2 Kings 25:13; Jeremiah 3:16). The neighbors of the Jews were ordered to support their return to Judah and Jerusalem with silver, gold, goods, and cattle, and a freewill offering (Ezra 1:5). About fifty thousand Jews took advantage of the proclamation (Ezra 2:64-65), returning to Judah in 536BC, under the leadership of Zerubbabel, who Cyrus appointed governor of Judah.
Zerubbabel, Joshua, the high priest, and men from all the cities in Judah rebuilt the brazen altar and in the seventh month, the beginning of the Feast of Trumpets (Numbers 29:1-6) they offered burnt offerings to the Lord, and celebrated the Feast of Booths, which lasted from the fifteenth to the twenty-second of the seventh month. The foundation of the temple was laid in 535BC. The Levites, twenty years and older, were appointed overseers of the restoration of the temple (Ezra 3:7-13) and restoration of the temple began.
When the Samaritans, the descendants from the intermarriages of Israelites and foreigners who were transplanted to Samaria by the king of Assyria in 669BC heard the temple was being restored offered their help in restoring the temple. When the offer was rejected, they began harassing the workers and did whatever they could to hinder the restoration of the temple, which included obtaining an injunction prohibiting the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem that was torn down by the Babylonians.
When Darius ascended to the throne of Persia, he confirmed Cyrus’ proclamation and overturned the injunction. Instead of returning to the restoration of the temple, the people began to make excuses why they were not restoring the temple. They claimed this was not the right time to restore the temple because they were in the sixty-eighth year of the seventy-year captivity predicted by Jeremiah (chapter 25). They were busy building houses for themselves, planting crops, tending their flocks and vineyards.
The work stoppage caused by the injunction, although it only applied to the building of the wall, was understandable. Now that the injunction was overturned, even though the Samaritans continued to harass the workers and do whatever they could do to hinder the restoration this was no reason for not resuming the restoration of the temple.
Like many professing Christians today, the Jews were using their situation as an excuse for not obeying the will of the Lord. They are too busy doing their own thing, which is temporary and will come to no good end rather than doing what is eternal and will bring joy and happiness.
The Lord will do what He did before the Israelites went into captivity. He will explain to them why they are in the situation they are in just as He revealed through Ezekiel why they were taken into captivity.
Verses one and two – “In the second year of Darius the king of Persia, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel…governor of Judah and Joshua …the high priest, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘This people says, “The time has not come, even the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt.”’”
The Lord of hosts does not call the exiles “His people” because they were ignoring His will. His will for the people is the restoration of the temple. They say the time is not right to restore the temple. They use the injunction against the rebuilding of the wall as an excuse for not restoring the temple. They use the harassment of the Samaritans as an excuse for not restoring the temple. Now that the injunction has been overturned and the harassment by the Samaritans has declined, they are using the need to build houses for themselves and their families and providing food and clothing for themselves and their families as an excuse for not restoring the temple.
These people did not say they would not restore the temple. Like many Christians today, they did not say they would not obey the will of the Lord. They said this was not a convenient time to do it. We often hear professing Christians or those who know they need to turn from their sinful ways and sinful deeds use time as an excuse for not doing what they know and admit they should be doing.
The word of the Lord speaking to Zerubbabel and Joshua through Haggai implies as the civil leader and religious leader they were not doing what they should be doing, that is setting an example for their people, even if they do not follow it. Those who are leaders in the church need to set a proper example for those that come under their care. Parents should set a proper example for their children. Why should the children attend church services if those who hold positions in the church find something more important to do on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night or whatever other night is set aside for the worship of the Lord and the fellowship of the family of God? Why should children attend church when their parents attend when it is convenient for them? Serving the Lord demands sacrifice and sacrifices. The harvest fields of the Lord often lack laborers because the laborers put off working in His fields because it is not a convenient time.
There is a natural tendency in the human nature to misinterpret God’s will for our lives. We often fail to see the opposition we face when we are called into the service of the Lord is a test of our faith.
It is bad enough we neglect doing what the Lord has called us to do, charging our neglect at His doorstep is an insult. He has kept His promises and we must keep ours.
Verses 3 and 4 – “Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?”
Listen closely to what the Lord is saying to these people and what He has to say to us when we put self ahead of Him. You say it is not time to build My house, My kingdom. But it is the time to build your houses, plant your crops, tend your flocks, vineyards, do your thing. What is even more shameful, you are using the gifts that were given to Me to build My house, to build your houses, buy seed, and food.
The word of the Lord through Haggai is speaking not only to Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the people of his day, he is speaking to the leaders and people of this century when He tells them, .
Verse five – “Consider your ways.”
Evaluate what you are doing. Compare what you are doing and what you are not doing. Consider this, what have you gained by seeking to satisfy your desires over My desires. Where are you? What you are doing and what are the results?
Verse six – “You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; You drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.”
You have not prospered seeking self-satisfaction. You thought you could escape poverty by not restoring the temple and keeping the resources that have been given to you to be used to restore the temple and spend them on what you thought would bring you comfort and happiness. Instead of cheating the Lord, you have been cheating yourself. Crop failure has dragged you deeper into poverty. What you earn you are unable to keep because the cost of living is constantly increasing. The word of the Lord through Haggai is saying, “Compare what you have done and what you are suffering.
It is important to remember there are those who suffer because someone or some group has done something to cause the suffering or has not done something that would have prevented the suffering. I believe there were a few faithful who were trying to restore the temple. But their progress was hindered by the actions of those who should have been working alongside them.
This people were neglecting the restoration of the temple. They are misusing the gifts that were given for the restoration of the temple. Did they prosper? No. What have they gained? Nothing. Are they better off than they were in Babylon? No.
The word of the Lord through Haggai gives a remedy to the situation in Judah and Jerusalem.
Verse seven – “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Consider Your ways!”
The cedar wood that was purchased for the restoration of the temple from Lebanon (Ezra 3:7) you used to build your houses. Now the wood must be replaced. The Lord will not stir up the spirit of the king of Persia or the neighbors as He did when the proclamation was sent through out the land requiring the people to give gifts of silver and gold and a free will offering to the captives that were returning to Judea and Jerusalem. Now they must provide the material to restore the temple. They are told:
Verse eight – “Go up to the mountains, bring wood and restore the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified, says the Lord.”
In verse nine to eleven, we find the judgments for neglecting the restoration of the temple. The Lord will not send the nation into captivity again. He will not bring a foreign enemy against them. He will deal with them. They will sow much and what they sow will produced little. They were expecting a harvest that would meet their needs, be able to sell some of the harvest, and save some of it.
Our expectations from what we do are often frustrated when they are the highest. We expect a great return from our labors and the return is nowhere near, what we expect. They were asking themselves why they were in this economic situation. The Lord was displeased with what they were doing and He was sending a wakeup call. Their situation was not merely a matter of chance. The One who controls the clouds shut them up and withheld the dew and rain. He turned the heavens into brass and the earth iron. What grain broke through the iron like ground and promised a plentiful crop was parched by the rays of the sun and withered away. Not only did the Lord withhold the dew and rain He ordered the weather to be extremely hot. The scorching heat burned up the fruits of the vine and trees. Nothing is more beneficial than the heat of the sun. If its heat is permitted to go out of control, the benefits are lost.
The drought the Lord called for was universal and its effects were felt by every creature on the earth and in the air above the earth. There was no grass in the pasturelands for the cattle and sheep. The extreme heat had a deadly effect upon the elderly and children. It drove the patience of men and women beyond their control. It brought disease upon the cattle and sheep and they died. The drought caused a shortage of food and fur and wool used to make clothing.
Lest we forget, the wealth that men accumulate in this life can be wiped away in seconds. But the treasures that we lay up in heaven are safely kept.
The drought was a warning to those who provoke the Lord. There comes a time when His blessing are withheld and His judgments are poured out on the land. We may try to candy coat the message the word of the Lord through Haggai has sent to Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the people of Judah and Jerusalem, but the truth is clearly revealed in this first of four messages the word of the Lord delivered through Haggai. Disobedience results in punishment.
The Reaction of the People
Verse twelve – Then Zerubbabel…and Joshua…with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people showed reverence for the Lord.” All those who heard the word of the Lord through Haggai received it in the love it was sent to them and were convicted by it. Zerubbabel, the governor who had been useful in the service of the Lord did not plead his past merits as grounds to ignore the message. He accepted the reproofs for his past mistakes and failure to obey the commands of the Lord. Joshua the high priest, whose responsibility it was to teach the people was willing to be taught and instructed. The remnant of the people bowed before the Lord and accepted the yoke that was placed upon their neck. The Lord said, “go work in my vineyard (temple) and they said we go.” They not only said we go, they had said that before and did not go. Instead of delaying, they went immediately.
The people Haggai delivered this message to looked up to him as the Lord’s messenger and the message he delivered was the Lord’s message and not the words of a man. What they heard was the word of Almighty God and they obeyed the words of Haggai.
When we listen to what the ministers of the Lord say, we must be aware of who has sent them, receive them for His sake, and not honor the messenger. Someone speaking for the Lord was something new to these people. There has not been a messenger sent from heaven in their midst for many years. Now that there was one they paid attention to what he had to say. They were not like their fathers who did not listen to or heed the words of the prophet and misused them.
Sometimes it is a good thing when good preaching is missing. It creates a desire in the heart to hear good preaching. Too often in this present age men and women want to hear only what makes them feel good and does not violate their comfort zone. The words Haggai was given to deliver to civil leader, the religious leader, and the remnant of the people did not make them feel good. It violated their comfort zone and they were able to see themselves as the Lord sees them. What they saw stirred up their spirits and they turned from whom they were to what the Lord wanted them to be. They applied themselves as vigorously to the task the Lord had given them, according to their capabilities or abilities.
The consideration of the Lord’s sovereign dominion in the world, His providence, and His relationship with His people by His grace should stir up our spirits to obey Him and advance the interest of His kingdom among men to the utmost of our power.
Haggai brought the message from the Lord on the first day of the sixth month and on the twenty-fourth of the same month, a little over three weeks later they were busy restoring the temple. Their return to the restoration of the temple revealed their shame for neglecting the restoration of the Lord’s house and they were determined to no longer delay. They set about the work of restoring the temple while they were still under conviction.