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.

When your children say to you…

ExodusPageReading about the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt today, I was reminded of how God views our jobs as fathers (and parents). While giving the instructions to the Israelites about the Passover lamb and the unleavened bread, God foretells three specific conversations

  1. And when your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the LORD who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.’” (Ex 12:26-27 NAS)
  2. You shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt. Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year. (Ex 13:8-10)
  3. And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ then you shall say to him, ‘With a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. It came about, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the LORD killed every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore, I sacrifice to the LORD the males, the first offspring of every womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.’  So it shall serve as a sign on your hand and as phylacteries on your forehead, for with a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.” (Ex 13:14-16)

What can we learn from this? 

  1. As parents we have the first and foremost responsibility to explain to our children the reasons for our beliefs and worship, not just dictate that we go to church, say grace before dinner, or any other part of our Christian walk. This is central to discipling our children.
  2. These conversations are regular and planned, not random. For Israel, the conversations took place at specific times–it wasn’t left to chance.
  3. The purposes of the conversations are to pass on the knowledge and understanding of the Lord and His ways, and the basis for our faith. If we fail to do this, we should not be surprised when our children don’t hold onto the things we believe are important.
  4. These conversations are between parents and children, not youth group leaders, or Sunday school teachers, or pastors. Parents, you can’t delegate this to others, because you are in the best position to equip and influence your own children. Pastors, youth leaders, and Sunday school teachers come alongside you in this process.

The apostle Peter wrote, “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). 

Being ready to make a defense includes preparing conversations with our children. Have you explained to your kids why you do what you do, and why it is important? Find an opportunity to do this sometime this week; your drive to church will be a great time!

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…

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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