Consider Your Ways | Haggai 1:2-11

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.” Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.

            Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.

Haggai 1:2-11 ESV

Having previously established the context of Haggai, we can now proceed to study the book itself. Our text, verses 2-11, form the first oracle of the LORD as communicated through the prophet. Furthermore, these verses constitute the main message of Haggai, while the remainder of the book centers upon this oracle. The final four verses of chapter one will describe how the people respond to the LORD’s message, and then they (and the three oracles of chapter two) offer encouragement to the people to obey God without fear of men.

THE TIME HAS NOT YET COME // VERSE 2

Note before anything else who is speaking: Thus says the LORD of hosts. Haggai is the prophet, the messenger, but he is not the speaker. These are not Haggai’s words. They are words given through Haggai. God (the King over all of heaven’s hosts), therefore, is intervening into the affairs of His creation by speaking to His people. Through His prophets, the LORD warned them of the exile beforehand, continued to speak to them throughout their exile, and even still beyond their exile. The LORD is anything but inactive and silent. Indeed, especially today with the full revelation of Scripture before us, many seem to find God guilty of speaking too much (the Bible is an intimidating book, isn’t it?) or at least of not speaking what they wanted Him to speak. Yet whether we listen or not, accept it or reject it, God’s Word is before us. He spoke these words to the people of Judah 2540 years ago, and through Haggai’s pen, they are for us today as well.

These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD. Recall what Ezra taught us about the context for this message. The Jews had returned to Jerusalem at the edict of the Persian King Cyrus, and they very quickly rebuilt the altar and laid the foundation for the temple. Yet when the peoples of the land who did not desire to see Jerusalem rebuilt or the house of the LORD complete began to harass them, the people of Judah ceased working on the temple until the second year of King Darius (which, of course, is when Haggai delivered these oracles). The time period between the Jews’ return and Darius’ second year as king was about fifteen years. God’s opening statement is, therefore, highly accurate. After fifteen years with a foundation and no further work being done on the temple, evidently their conclusion continued to be that the timing just wasn’t right.

As we saw from Ezra, the root of their work’s cessation is the fear of men. Michael Stead offers a few excuses that they may have told themselves for not finishing the temple:

Perhaps the people believed their current circumstances were a sign of still being under the curse of God because their “seventy years” of judgment had not yet ended (cf. Jer. 25:11; Zech. 1:12).[1] Perhaps they did not want to be like King David, who, seeing his own house of cedar, presumed to take the initiative to build a house for the Lord before being told to do so (cf. 2 Samuel 7).[2] Or perhaps it was simply pragmatism. In circumstances where resources were scarce (cf. comment on Haggai 1:5-8), were they simply giving priority to their own material needs?

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Regardless of what excuses they used, the fact remained that rebuilding would be met with opposition, while waiting to rebuild meant that they could devote their time and resources toward building their own houses. After all, doesn’t that make the most sense anyway? How could they properly devote themselves to the LORD if they were worried about their own homes? Yes, wouldn’t it be much better to establish themselves first and then they could truly focus on rebuilding the temple?

Have you ever used a similar thought process? Perhaps you’ve avoided giving (either as a regular church offering or to a particular need) by telling yourself that you’ll make up for it whenever your circumstances improve. Maybe you have a time for reading the Word and prayer, yet you decide to do something else instead, promising to catch up later. Both scenarios are slightly different ways of saying, “the time has not yet come.” We may load them with plenty of reasonable excuses, but the LORD will eventually peel them away, as we will see in the following verses.

CONSIDER YOUR WAYS // VERSES 3-6

Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house remains in ruins? This is almost as if God said to them, “So you guys didn’t need to wait to rebuild your homes, just my house?” Here He is piercing through any excuses that they may have constructed as barriers to hide behind, and He is painting for them an accurate portrait of what is happening. God is exposing the root behind why the temple went untouched for fifteen years: selfishness. The people’s adversaries didn’t stop them from all rebuilding projects. The threats of the peoples of the lands did not stop them from rebuilding their kingdoms of self, only from rebuilding the physical representation of God’s kingdom, the temple. Indeed, they were very much still restoring what was most important to them: their possessions.

We would expect such a cutting question to followed by a blistering rebuke. The LORD, however, goes in a different direction. He says, “Consider your ways.” Here God is telling them to stop for a moment and to think about how the past fifteen years have gone. A statement like this is necessary because it is all too easy for us to pass through life without spending time to consider our ways. We pass along well-grooved habits as though they were paved roads through a forest. Our patterns become so ingrained that we say we could do them in our sleep, which is an apt analogy. Much of our time is spent essentially sleepwalking through life. We turn on auto-pilot, like when you are so absorbed in thought while driving that you can’t remember any details of the road or landscape for the last several minutes.

Or perhaps we could compare our behavior to inebriation. While sobriety may appear to be our default state of mind, we often live as if we are trying to prove that statement wrong. We tend to enjoy intoxication much more. Now please understand that by using the words sobriety and intoxication I am not referring exclusively to the effects of alcohol. Alcohol is a drug that induces an intoxicating effect upon the body, yet because we are sinful creatures, we possess the ability to use virtually anything as a drug for intoxication. Classic stories like Romeo and Juliet reflect upon the inebriating effects of infatuation. The love of money, likewise, can cause people to behave in their own kind of drunken stupor. But perhaps the most significant source of intoxication today is entertainment. After all, it is well attested that the brain is more active while sleeping than while watching television. If that is not a form of drunkenness, then I don’t know what else it could be!

The Bible repeatedly warns us against such coasting through life. If we think of it as sleepwalking, God calls us to stay awake, to be watchful.[3] If we think of it as a kind of intoxication, He calls us to be sober-minded.[4] This is not like the world’s fascination with mindfulness and meditation, which merely beckon us to be in the moment. Instead, the LORD calls us to be awake, to be alert, and to pay attention because life matters. Eternal realities are always before our eyes, but we fail to notice for lack of consideration.

But what is the LORD’s reasoning here for telling the people of Judah to consider, to paid attention, to ponder over their circumstances? What does He expect them to notice? He points out five things to them: “You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.” Each indicates that something is wrong. Seeds are supposed to yield a crop. Food and drink are supposed to be filling. Yet the phrase a bag with holes, I believe, describes the whole situation perfectly. Whether they fully realized it or not, nothing was working properly. All of life had become even more of an uphill climb than usual, but they seem not to have noticed because they hadn’t considered their ways.

BUILD THE HOUSE // VERSES 7-11

After repeating the command to consider your ways in verse 7, the LORD then presents the heart of His message to the people in verse 8. The verse is composed of three quick commands, followed by two effects of their obedience. The three orders all culminate in the final one. Going to the hills and bringing wood both serve the purpose of building God’s house. They know well the work that remains to be done; therefore, God commands them to do it.

The LORD then lists two outcomes of their obedience to building the temple: that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified. First, the language used for God’s taking pleasure in the rebuilt temple is the same wording that is used numerously in Leviticus to describe offerings being acceptable to the LORD. Therefore, the completed temple would be pleasing in God’s sight as a proper sacrifice was pleasing to Him. Second, the finished house of God would bring glory to Him. God is glorified whenever He is worshiped as He is, that is, as God. Since the temple was the place of God’s presence on earth and the central place to worship Him, a reestablished temple would again be a beacon of God’s presence and be a physical symbol of the Jews worship of the LORD as God. In other words, the purpose of the temple was to worship God as God; therefore, its completion would glorify God by promoting His worship among the people. Indeed, this form of worship, which constitutes true sacrifices and offerings, is pleasing to God precisely because it glorifies Him.

If verse 8 gave the people of Judah their primary command (build the house), verse 9 summarizes this oracle as a whole. First, the LORD reiterates the message of verse 6 by saying, You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Next, He asks the all-important question, Why?  The answer: Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Notice that the people are busying themselves with their own homes.[5] The whole message of the LORD is that all of their effort is proving to futile. They aren’t making real progress. They aren’t truly establishing themselves in the land. They are truly making themselves secure and prosperous. All they’re doing is being busy. They are busying themselves with a life under the sun that cannot satisfy. Their energy is spent upon limited and temporal efforts, so the outcomes can be nothing more than limited and temporal as well.

Yet all of this is tragic because they are neglecting the Infinite and Holy One in order to commit themselves to their own little kingdoms. The LORD of heaven’s armies has chosen to be their God and to have them as His people, yet they are content to leave His house incomplete for fifteen years.

Our text ends with God declaring that the drought upon their land is due to their neglect of His house. The consequence is thereby raised from the general notion that life was not operating as it should in verse 6 to a blatant withholding of the rain from their land. In short, through Haggai, the LORD decisively informed them that the time had come to build His house.

GOD’S GLORY & OUR GOOD IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Although this oracle is certainly a rebuke, it is also permeated with grace. The LORD explicitly stated that the rebuilt temple would glorify Him, yet the whole tone of the message is for the people to consider that their best interest is found in glorifying and exalting God. Their blessing and prosperity would only come through placing the LORD before themselves. Their good would be achieved as they committed themselves to glorify God first and foremost, specifically here by rebuilding the temple.

Nowhere do we find this connection between God’s glory and our good more evident than in the person and works of Jesus. We see both in the titular verse of our series: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Whenever God’s glory (seeking His kingdom, building His temple) is our most sought-after effort, the things for our good will be added to us (in Matthew 6’s context those things are specifically food, drink, and clothing).

Our good is secured through caring more about God’s glory than our own good. Such is the upside-down nature of God’s kingdom. If you desire to save your life, you must lose it. For if you attempt to save your life, you will certainly lose it (Matthew 16:25). To be exalted, you must humble yourself, for “whoever exalts himself will be humbled” (Matthew 23:12). Self-denial for the sake of God’s kingdom leads to glorification, whereas self-exaltation ends only to destruction.

Nowhere is the upside-down nature of God’s kingdom more visible than in the crucifixion. Throughout history, kings conquer by killing their enemies, yet when the King over all kings appears, He conquers His enemies by allowing them to kill Him. Although the cross was the supreme symbol of humiliation, it resulted in Christ’s total exaltation. Through His death, Jesus forgave our sins by “canceling the record of debt that stood against us… nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). Therefore, this tree of torture made for breaking bodies has become to us the source of life as on it our Savior has restored us to the Father. In dying, Jesus defeated death and gives us life. The cross is the ultimate reversal, being ultimately both for God’s glory and our good. For these reasons, the cross is rightly either folly or the power of God. There is no middle ground.

Yet we must continue further. As Jesus’ disciple, we are also called to imitate Him. To follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we must each carry our cross. Through dying, we live. The path to life is death. We are called to do this daily, to each day crucify ourselves. The process of Christian maturity is for self to decrease while Christ increases, to glorify Him rather than self, to promote His kingdom instead of our own.

Yet this self-denial is for our joy because Jesus is infinitely better. As much as we claim to love ourselves, we are notoriously bad at treating ourselves well or of knowing what truly satisfies us. We are experts at placing our wages into bags with holes and at chasing after the wind. Christ, however, loves us better than we love ourselves, and He is truly, purely, and infinitely satisfying because He is God. Therefore, loving, serving, worshiping, and glorying Christ above all things is also in our best interest. There is nothing of higher value and worth than this pursuit! Our greatest good is found in giving Him all the glory.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, consider your ways. What are you pursuing? With your time, energy, and resources you are advancing a kingdom, is it your own or is it God’s? Are you busying yourself with your own house to the neglect of building God’s home?

May we be a people who glorify the LORD through seeking His kingdom. May we find our blessing in elevating the things of God above our own kingdoms. May we consider our ways, and when we find that we have turned aside toward our self-interests, may we repent and pursue His glory again.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What verse or verses would you describe as the heart or thesis of this passage?
  • Why does the LORD tell the people of Judah twice to consider their ways?
  • Why was rebuilding the temple both pleasing and glorifying to the LORD?
  • With our time, energy, and resources, we are all building a kingdom. Does how you spend these things reflect that you are building God’s kingdom or busy with your own things?

[1] Interestingly, since the destruction of the temple and the third (and largest) deportation to Babylon occurred in 586 BC, the temple’s completion during in the sixth year of Darius (516 BC) means that it lay in ruins for seventy years.

[2] As for potentially seeking to imitate David, God’s response to David in 2 Samuel 7 seems to indicate that David’s initiative to build the LORD a temple still found favor with God. The LORD even reverses David’s goals by promising to build David’s “house”, his dynasty, forever.

[3] Examples include Matthew 24:24 and 25:13, though there are many more.

[4] 1 Timothy 3:2, 11; 2 Timothy 4:5; Titus 2:2; 1 Peter 1:13, 4:7, 5:8

[5] The NASB gives the more literal rendering of this phrase as while each of you runs to his own house.

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