Help from Haggai, Verses 1. 1-11
J. B. Hewitt, Chesterfield
Chapter One. Indolence, Instruction, Inspiration. Haggai is not known outside Ezra and this book. He was a prophet working in conjunction with Zechariah. His name means, "My feast" or "Festive", and may have been given in joyous anticipation of the imminent end of the captivity. He was the first prophet to speak after the captivity. The book of Ezra, especially chapters 4, 5, and 6, should be read in order to understand the significance of these messages. For fifteen years the house of God lay desolate. God sent Haggai to rebuke the remnant, and Zechariah to encourage them.
The Condition of the Temple, vv. 1, 2. Through Indifference. The message is dated the second year of Darius I the Great, a king appearing in profane history. This was about sixteen years after the decree by Cyrus, Ezra 1. 1-4.
The sixth month is our August- September. The first day would be the time of the new moon, when special offerings were presented to God. The message is addressed to the two leaders who are partly responsible for the low moral condition of the people of God. Zerubbabel means "sown in Babylon". The governor was of the royal line through David, 1 Chron. 3. 17, 19. Shealtiel — "I have asked of God" — is called Salathiel in 1 Chronicles 3.17; Matthew 1. 12.
Zerubbabel's Chaldean name was Sheshbazzar, which implies that he was appointed Persian governor over Judah, Ezra 1. 8.
Joshua, "Jehovah is salvation", was the high priest. In these men we have the prophet to rebuke our conscience,
the governor to rule the will, and the priest to refresh the heart. These offices find their complete fulfilment in our Lord Jesus Christ who never failed God or man. Ezra gives us the political reason for cessation of work, opposition from without. Now Jehovah gives us the moral reason, that is, frustration and apathy — "The time is not come", v. 2. The title "Jehovah of hosts" is common to the last three prophetic books of the O.T., being used about 90 times in these books. The title implies that the hosts of heaven are the possession of Jehovah. It declares that His sovereignty for universal dominion belongs solely to Him. Condemnation by such a Monarch should be heeded with trembling earnestness.
The people were indifferent to the house of God. Here is God's appraisal of the nation, not My people, but "this people", a contemptuous expression. Their attitude was indefensible; their indolence inexcusable. Their enthusiasm ebbed dramatically; their zeal had evaporated with the resultant blight on their spiritual and national life. Today, instead of carrying out the principles of the house of God, our energies have sometimes been diverted to "all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's", Phil. 2. 21. We believe in evangelism, yet neglect the truth of the assembly, which involves reproach.
Procrastination was robbing them of the presence and pleasure of the Lord, v. 8. "The altar was an admirable testimony to their faith — they allowed it to be a substitute for the temple", W. Kelly. Have we been hindered in obeying the truth?, Gal. 5. 7; have we left our first love?, Rev. 2. 4. They thought that the seventy years of chastisement had not quite expired, and that they need not bestir themselves. Their priorities were wrong; God and His things must be first, Matt. 6. 23.
The Cause of Neglect, vv. 3-5. Indolence. They were forgetful of the reason for which they had been delivered from exile, Ezra 1.3. They were not to please themselves, but to rebuild the temple. The word was appropriate, "then" — it was authoritative, "the word of the Lord"; the agent — "by (or through) him". He was only the medium or instrument to convey God's message for the crisis. The message was arresting, "Is it time for you?". It was arousing, "this house lie waste?". He charges them with neglect, in that they built their own houses and were doing nothing about building the temple. The cause of the divine complaint was that their personal interests came first, v. 4, — apathy about the temple of God, but plenty of activity in material things. They were busy beautifying their own homes; they wanted the best and their homes must be both comfortable and elegant. How modern this is! Most of us live in modern homes, with everything desirable for comfort and enjoyment. We have been delivered to serve God, not only by worship, but by work and witness in the world.
The Lord's temple today is the church, Eph. 2. 19-22. "Building" is a positive thing, and honouring to God. The Lord's challenge is, Count the cost, then build, Luke 14. 28. "Building up yourselves on your most holy faith", Jude 20. Build to edify the body of Christ, Eph. 4. 12-13. This will enable us to walk in holiness, dependent upon God, and in subjection to Him, thus to become a witness to the grace of God in this world.
To wave aside our responsibilities, to say the time has not yet come, does not justify our sloth and neglect."Go work to day", Matt. 21. 28. "Go home . . . and tell them", Mark 5. 19. "Go, stand and speak", Acts 5. 20. "Go ye into all the world", Mark 16. 15. The Lord tells us, "Work for the night is coming", John 9. 4. Do the Lord's work in His way, at His time, by His Spirit and to His glory.
"Consider your ways", v. 5. Four times in this book, Haggai uses this injunction, 1. 5, 7; 2. 15, 18. It means to ponder, earnestly and with all one's heart, one's ways and actions, to consider what is the result of occupation with our own things. For them it meant calamity, v. 6.
The Complaint of Jehovah, v. 6.
Inadequacy. Their work, food, drink, clothes and wages brought frustration, v. 6. Their homes and their careers which occupied so much of their time brought them no satisfaction. There was scarcity — "bring in little"; empty — "have not enough"; they were thirsty — "not filled"; chilly — "none warm"; and in poverty — wages brought no reward. There was great activity, but little return. The neglect of God's house leads to spiritual starvation. No spiritual satisfaction — not filled with drink.
The Call of Jehovah, v. 7. An unfinished, neglected temple spoke of their lack of concern that God dwelt in their midst. God has chastened them with bad harvests and calls them to consider their fruitless activity. The first exhortation was in rebuke; now it is encouraging them to resume the work of the house of God.
The Command of Jehovah is addressed to the will, v. 8. This call to activity requires spiritual energy, "Go up". Their interest turned to their own comfort instead of the work of the Lord. Spiritual elevation is necessary, "Go up to the mountains". Cedar from Lebanon had been required for Solomon's temple. The hill country of the centre of Palestine had wood in abundance for the work of reconstruction. As they laboured, they enjoyed the pure air of the mountains. Spiritual exercise is encouraged — "bring wood". It was time to act for God. We must rise again into those spiritual realms of communion with God and go forth and build. We need spiritual enthusiasm — "build the house". In Nehemiah's day "the people had a mind to work", Neh. 4. 6b. Their enterprise was encouraged and would be rewarded. The Lord promised His presence, His pleasure and His power, Haggai 1.8. They were assured that the work would not only be a credit to them, but a glory to God. The building will please Him and fully serve the purpose of a temple. The house will be marked by holiness, prayer, worship and testimony to the goodness of God.
Divine Chastening, vv. 9-11. God chastened them with bad harvests. Their expectations were high, but "it came to little". Their self-indulgence is rebuked and exposed, and judgment fell upon them as on their fathers, Isa. 5. 10. The disasters and calamities were no mere natural coincidences, but the hand of God in discipline for neglecting His work. They allowed God's house to remain in the ruinous, forsaken-looking state in which those who had laid waste the city had left it. A building begun and abandoned, such as may be seen at a street corner in bad times, is the very image of desolation. Has this been our experience? Lost vision, yet intense eagerness about our personal concerns, yield the barren years devoid of blessing. God's call was to review priorities, and to finish the temple. The people were aroused, they feared the Lord, v. 12, and returned to the work, v. 14. To be continued