Haggai’s First Prophecy (Part 1): What are your priorities?

For the introduction and historical context for this study, please go here.

One of the first questions that came up in our Bible study had to do with prophecies telling the future. While some prophecies do foretell the future (for example, Haggai 2:6-9), the purpose of most Bible prophesy is to speak the Lord’s truth to a person or the community, to praise righteous attitudes and behavior or to criticize unrighteousness in order to bring about a change. Haggai’s first prophecy is of this type.

This first set of verses reveals the central problems in the hearts of the Jewish remnant:

“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.”’” 3 Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, 4 “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?” (Haggai 2:2-4 NAS)

In these verses we see three points that reveal problems with the Jewish remnant.

  1. Whatever they’ve been doing (or not doing), they have become separated from the Lord, because the Lord calls them “this people” instead of “my people.”
  2. The Lord critiques the way that they talk about the temple rebuilding project. Fourteen years earlier they enthusiastically rebuilt the altar and temple foundation, but then faced opposition and discouragement (Ezra 4). Now, they’ve rewritten their history in a way that justifies their lack of progress. “Oh, we would have been rebuilding the temple all this time if the Lord really wanted us to. But He must not want us to, because otherwise we would have been rebuilding it.”
  3. To make matters worse, God points out that they were improving their own houses (the reference to “paneled houses” suggests an element of luxury to the appearances of their homes) while the temple went neglected.

In order to justify their own disobedience, the people concluded that the time just wasn’t right for doing what the Lord asked them to do. They then replaced their work on the Lord’s house by building homes that would be impressive to visitors and comfortable for themselves. The Lord, however, points out that their hearts had wrong priorities. By giving in to the outside pressures from the Samaritans, justifying their own lack of progress, and focusing on themselves instead, they brought about their own separation from the Lord, so that He would not even claim possession of them.

As the people of God, we are to keep the Lord’s temple (the people of His Church) as a high priority in our lives; we’re to build up and edify each other instead of merely focusing our attention on our own immediate needs (Ephesians 4:11-16). We’re supposed to have an accurate understanding of our place in the big picture so that the Lord can use us where we are, and so that we don’t get trapped into what the culture tells us is important (Rom 12:2-3).

As a parent, part of my job is to help my children see how their actions and inaction demonstrate their priorities as children of God. The things that we do and the words we speak reflect God’s place in our hearts (Luke 6:45). While my children will always be mine, it’s more important that they be the Lord’s. Don’t be afraid to seek the Lord’s mind regarding your own and your children’s hearts so that you can get to the real problems. Haggai didn’t just criticize the lack of work on the temple; the Lord gave him the understanding of what the real heart problems were.

Shepherd your children’s hearts to love, obey, and serve the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Haggai’s Prophecies to Those Rebuilding the Temple

For the last several weeks I’ve been leading a study at my church of the book of Haggai. For a variety of reasons the Lord really laid on my heart that we should study this book carefully. Haggai gave his prophecies when the people of Israel were trying to rebuild their temple after it had been torn down years before, and after they came out of exile but still faced opposition and discouragement.The temple was important to the Israelites because in Old Testament times, God dwelled there (after first dwelling in the tabernacle). Beginning with the New Testament, however, Christians are the Lord’s temple, and the Lord dwells in us (1 Cor 3:16-17; 1 Cor 6:19-20; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:19-22), and Christians are the people of the Lord, His holy priesthood and nation (1 Peter 2:4-6, 9). So my application of the messages Haggai gave to Israel goes something like this: What was Haggai’ message? Why did the Israelites need to hear it? What was their response? What did God do? What do the answers to these questions mean for Christians today? And for me, what does Haggai have to say to those struggling to rebuild their own little corner of Christ’s Church?As a parent, one of the greatest struggles I’ve faced has been explaining to my children why difficult stuff happens. We’ve had our share of this over the last several months, and because some of these problems relate to church, my wife and I have had to shepherd our children’s hearts through these difficulties. Like the Israelites, the congregation to which we belong is in the process of rebuilding our “temple.” I’ve found Haggai to be very encouraging, because this little book is showing me facets of the Lord’s heart for His people that I didn’t understand fully until recently. Well, I still don’t understand it all fully, but I’m getting there. I hope you find these posts and lessons from Haggai encouraging, too, wherever you are.

Introduction

Haggai was a prophet in the time of King Darius of Persia. His prophecies were all given in the year 520 BC, shortly after the Israelite remnant returned to Israel from exile in Persia (they remained under Persian domination). The events of this period were…

Picture

Context: External opposition to the temple reconstructionAfter 70 years in captivity, Israelites are returning to the Promised Land, where they want to rebuild the temple, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. This begins around 536 BC, and we read in Ezra 3 that the initial rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem was going very well. Unfortunately, while Israel had been in captivity, Samaritans had settled the land around Jerusalem. When the Samaritans found out that the Israelites were rebuilding the temple, they offered to help, but the Jewish leaders refused because they had nothing common (in terms of their faith) with the Samaritans (Ezra 4:1-3). The Samaritans then sought to delay or stop the temple rebuilding entirely; they first discouraged and frightened them (Ezra 4:4-5), and then hired counselors (lawyers) that interfered with the Jews’ relations with the Persian kings for several years. Finally, in 534 BC Artaxerxes ordered work on the temple stopped by force of arms (Ezra 4:17-23).Fourteen years later, in 520 BC, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah prophesied to the Jews, prompting Zerubbabel (the heir to Judah’s throne) and Jeshua (the high priest)  to begin rebuilding the temple with the Persian King Darius’ permission (Ezra 4:24 – 5:2). In that year Tattenai, governor of the region, wrote Darius, asking whether the Jews had permission to rebuild the temple. Darius confirmed this, and ordered Tattenai not to interfere with the rebuilding and in fact to fund the process with his region’s tax revenues (Ezra 5:3-6:13).Haggai and Zechariah receive and pass on their prophecies in 520-518, and by 515 the temple was completed (Ezra 5:1 and 6:14).

Haggai consists of four prophecies, precisely dated. Here they are with their general themes:

1.       1:1-1:18 (Sept. 1, 520 BC) Your lack of blessing is because you have focused on your own houses and not on the house of the Lord. “Consider your ways!”

2.       2:1-9 (Oct. 21, 520) The temple you are rebuilding may not look like the old glorious temple, but the glory of the new temple will be greater than the former.

3.       2:10-19 (Dec 24, 520) You have allowed unclean behavior to contaminate my people’s work. Set your heart on obedience from this day forward, and I will bless you.

4.       2:20-23 (Dec 24, 520) Zerubbabel will be like a signet ring to the nations.

Next time: Haggai’s first prophesy

Lessons from a dead butterfly

Something went wrong. 

We have had several cocoons in our butterfly habitat over the last couple of years. We start with caterpillars who ate, grew, and then built their cocoons as they moved toward their metamorphosis into Painted Lady butterflies. Most of the caterpillars did just what they were supposed to do, creating cocoons hanging on a piece of paper, which we then hung on the wall of the habitat. One cocoon fell, and rather than disturb it, we decided to leave it where it lay.

Most of the butterflies, emerging from still-hanging cocoons, stretched their wings, permitting the blood to flow so that they could eventually fly from the habitat when we released them. But when the “fallen” butterfly emerged from his (her?) cocoon, it didn’t act right; it had one wing that was deformed. Instead of flying like the other butterflies, he flapped frantically around the floor of the habitat, unable to take flight. Eventually he died, even after we put sugar water low enough for him to get it.

This got me wondering about what happened, so I have been researching cocoons and the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies, and I’ve learned some lessons about home, family, and parenting.

The cocoon’s purposes

First, the cocoon is a protective covering that permits the caterpillar to mature from its immature state to its mature state; within its walls, it can grow the way God designed it to grow. The caterpillar’s stem cells have all the information it needs to develop into a butterfly, but without the cocoon, the metamorphosis won’t take place. The caterpillar would simply stay immature, and would not fulfill its butterfly-destiny.

Second, the cocoon is a shelter that protects, in this most vulnerable time of its life, the caterpillar from external dangers, such as the predators that want to devour the caterpillar before it has a chance to grow into the mature butterfly God created it to be.

When it goes wrong

I learned that sometimes, the cocoon-metamorphosis process doesn’t work the way it’s designed to. Sometimes a semi-formed butterfly emerges from its cocoon too early. When this happens, its wings are often not fully developed, leaving the immature butterfly vulnerable to predators in the environment, and unable to fly, which is what it is designed to do.

Sometimes the cocoon gets damaged. When this happens several outcomes are possible. Sometimes the caterpillar dies in the cocoon. Sometimes an apparently-mature butterfly will emerge, but will be unable to fly due to unformed or deformed wings. Interestingly, there is evidence that some caterpillars contract their bodies when the cocoon is damaged, protecting themselves from the worst effects of the damage; these caterpillars can emerge from the cocoon fully formed and mature, in spite of the difficult and rocky metamorphosis process.

Lessons in Parenting

Now, re-read the last two sections, replacing ‘cocoon’ with ‘home,’ ‘caterpillar’ with ‘child,’ and ‘butterfly’ with ‘young adult.’

Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

God designed your home, and put you and your children together for a specific set of purposes. Our homes are designed by Him to be a protective shelter from the world and its predators, and to be a safe environment in which we are engaged in the process of metamorphosing our children from immaturity into the mature Christian adults God created them to be (Deut 6; Eph 6:1-4).

If we release them too early, they simply will not have the understanding, wisdom, and godly character needed to walk in the world. Keep them in too long, and their development will be stifled and they will not learn to exercise their faith on their own.

Importantly, we are not alone in this process. The New Testament concept of transformation mainly involves two Greek words. When the word metaschēmatizō is used (Cor 3:18; Phil 3:17-21; 2 Cor 11:13-15; 1 Cor 4:6), it generally implies a transient state, moving from a starting point and headed toward some other point, but the emphasis is on the starting point. When the word metamorphoō is used (Matt 17:2; Mark 9:2;Rom 12:1-2), the emphasis is on movement toward the final end state, with the emphasis on what the transformed person will eventually be like, or on what they have become.

With both parts of the transformation, scripture usually implies that there is some external force actually doing the transformation. So it is with the process of parenting. In the same way that the Lord and the Holy Spirit transform us, we partner with Him in the transformation of our children, equipping them with the faith-tools they need to survive attacks from spiritual predators who would steal their faith from them.

Too many parents simply let others make critical decisions for them when it comes to raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But remember that Hebrews 13:17 gives an important instruction and warning to us: “Obey your leaders and be under their authority. They are watching you because they are responsible for your souls” (ICB). The implied instruction for children is to obey their parents, but parents: look at your role. You are responsible for their souls. This means the cocoon you build has eternal consequences for those you are responsible for raising.

Christian parents: Seek the Lord’s will for you and for your family. Ask Him to reveal to you opportunities for faith-strengthening conversations with your children. Ask Him for wisdom to deal with the challenges they face. Ask the Lord when HE wants you to begin releasing them from your cocoon. (Seriously: ask Him whether your 3, 4, 5, or 6 year old is old enough or mature enough to release to the world!) Ask Him when HE has grown their faith sufficiently to deal with some of the challenges the world gives them.

And no matter what, continue to disciple them with the plan and content HE gives you.

Discipleship 101: God’s Commands and Promises

For I have chosen [Abraham], so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice. Genesis 18:19
Hear, my son, your father’s instruction / And do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Proverbs 1:8
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

The Bible repeatedly tells us in both the Old and New Testament that the family household is the primary location for discipling our children. 

What is discipleship?
By discipleship, the Bible refers to the process of making disciples, which is related to the word discipline. In New Testament times, adisciple was a learner or scholar, who adhered to the teachings of their master. In this case, discipline doesn’t refer merely to punishment, but to training.
The biblical principle that discipleship is a parent’s responsibility – especially fathers – is very clear in both the Old and New Testaments.

Deuteronomy 6 is a core text instructing parents on the purpose and process of training children in the Lord.

Background
Moses has been told that he will not be entering the Promised Land (Num 20:7), and God commands him to remind the Israelites about God’s deliverance and promises (covenants) to them, and to give instructions for life. In the big picture, this passage gives a command, its purpose, and some specific and practical instructions to fathers especially, and all parents and grandparents by implication, about training children in the Lord’s ways. In future posts, I will write about those practical instructions, but for now I am going to look at the big picture of this teaching from Moses preparing the first generation of Israel to occupy the Promised Land.

1“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, 2so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. 3“O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. (NASB)

What is the nature, purpose, and instruction of this teaching? [vv.1-3]
1.It is a commandment.
This is the commandment of the LORD [v.1]. That means this whole passage is a single command with lots of application. That it is a command means it isn’t optional for the faithful parent. As with all of the Lord’s commands, we ignore them at our own peril; that we can be forgiven for our failures (thanks to Christ’s substitutionary death for us) does not mean we will avoid the consequences of our sins.

2.What is the command and its purpose?
To see God’s intended purposes for giving the command, we look at the clues in the text; in this instance, we see the word “that” repeated several times. This is a point of clarity for us.

  • v. 1 “that you might do them”
  • v. 2 “so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God
  • that your days may be prolonged”
  • v. 3 “that is may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly”

In the style of ancient covenants, expected behaviors are followed by promises for complying with the terms of the covenant. The expected behavior is to “do them” (ie, follow the statutes and commandments of the Lord) and “fear the LORD” (ie, reverence Him for His holiness and just nature).
The instruction is to do “the commandments, statutes, and judgments” passed on from God through Moses; to “keep all His statutes and His commandments…all the days of your life;” and “be careful to do it.” Thus, the instruction is clearly stated: it communicates clearly the LORD’s expectations for behavior, so that the covenant’s promises can be kept.
Three promises are made, contingent upon the Israelites’ obedience: (1) their “days would be prolonged;” (2) “it may be well with you;” and (3) “you may multiple greatly.” The connection between the Israelites compliance and their reward is unmistakable, as are the implied consequences of disobeying the commands and statutes: their days would not be prolonged, it would not be well with them, and they will not multiply greatly.

3.The instruction is multigenerational.
Verse 2 states that the expectation for obedience is not about the present generation, but is for the next two generations (“you and your son and your grandson”). This is an important point about discipling your children in the Lord—there are multi-generational consequences. Think about it this way. When you disciple your own children, you are training your grandchildren’s parents; if that’s hard to grasp, the passage also reveals this: You are training your great-grandchildren’s grandparents (“your grandson”).

Application to us
The commandments of the Lord are hard to ignore, wherever they occur in scripture, so let’s apply them to where we are today.
First, the expected behavior is the same today as it was then. We are given instructions, commands and statutes, and we’re supposed to conform our lives to them. A helpful way of thinking about the law as Christians rather than ancient Israelites is to remember that we are redeemed for a purpose—we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph 2:10); because he has delivered and redeemed us, our grateful response is striving to live lives pleasing to him in the imitation of Christ. We don’t earn our salvation this way; rather, we make changes to our lives out of love and gratitude.
Second, the promises still hold. We are promised blessings when our behaviors match the Lord’s expectations. Does this mean we will live a long time in The Holy Land? Of course not, but our lives will be prolonged, and we and our descendants will be better off, by and large, by conforming our lives to the instructions and commands of God.
Third, in the US we have a hard time grasping the passage’s multigenerational concept because we are, frankly, pretty self-centered. We think primarily about our own comfort and convenience and temporary happiness, rather than thinking through the consequences of our actions for future generations. But God promises that following His commands will prolong your (and your descendants’) lives, and you will live well. There is no guarantee of what future generations will do, of course, and each generation in Israel had to choose whether to obey the commands.

So it is with us—we make choices that have consequences, even though there is God’s promise, but each generation has to make its own choices, and each can break the cycle of promise. BUT, each generation can choose to re-start the cycle of promise as blessing as well. We also can’t simply blame our parents for their bad choices and their effects on us, we have to choose to claim the promises for our and our children’s and our grandchildren’s generations; how do we claim the promises? By living lives in conformity to God’s principles, rather than the flawed and deceptive philosophies of this world (Col 2:8; Rom 12:2). Choosing to disciple our children biblically is one place to start.