In the first part of this prophecy, God reveals that His people got off-track in rebuilding the temple; facing discouragement opposition, they stopped His work, and then in order to justify the work stoppage, they told themselves that it just wasn’t the time for the work to get done. Instead, they focused on their own homes, building “paneled” (luxurious) houses. Thus, they had their priorities out of whack, separating themselves from God.
In the rest of the prophecy the LORD calls them to repentance, to recalibrate their priorities, and to get back into right relationship with Him.
5 Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, “Consider your ways! 6 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.” 7 Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Consider your ways!” (NAS)
Twice He says, “Consider your ways!” (The NIV translates it “Give careful thought to your ways!”). Now, whenever the Lord repeats himself it’s not because he lacks imagination, it’s because He is making a point very strongly. Even though their houses are paneled, their financial situation is difficult—their harvest doesn’t match their sowing, they never seem to have enough to eat or drink, their clothing is spare, they can’t seem to keep hold of their money. Somehow, God is connecting these situations with what they are (or are not) doing.
The reason for this never-enough life they’re living is revealed in verses 8-11: God himself has withheld His blessings.
8 “Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the LORD. 9 “You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?” declares the LORD of hosts, “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands.”
Why has he withheld the blessings of the harvest? It’s because they have neglected building his house (1:4,9). They rebuilt the altar and the foundation for the temple, but then stopped (Ezra 3-4). They hunkered down in their self-centered worlds and forgot their calling as the people of God! He has been disciplining them, not through catastrophe, but by simply giving them only enough to get by. Because they’re off-track in terms of their priorities and obedience, they have brought poverty on themselves, even though they try to project an image of success through their paneled houses.
What does God want instead? He wants them to
> Reflect on their purpose as His children (“Consider your ways!”). By doing this, they will realize their need for humility before the Lord.
> Be obedient (“rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified”). By doing this, He will be glorified.
Notice what God doesn’t promise: He doesn’t explicitly tell them that if they consider their ways and repent they will get a better harvest or have an easier life. He simply points out the facts of their situation, tells them why it is what it is, and tells them what to do instead. No new covenant is established, He just lets them process these things for themselves.
I love their response.
12 Then Zerubbabel [and] Joshua [and] all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him. And the people showed reverence for the LORD.
Their first response was not to get busy doing stuff, it was to humble themselves and reverence the Lord. This is what the Lord really wanted in the first place…He wanted their hearts. His response to them is immediate:
13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke by the commission of the LORD to the people saying, “ ‘I am with you,’ declares the LORD.”
They must have been thrilled! Just a few minutes ago, God wouldn’t even claim them as His Own (1:2), and now he declares that He is with them!
After they re-oriented their hearts in God’s direction, three weeks later they went back to work:
14 So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.
What can we learn from this exchange?
Remember, The Church is now the temple of the Lord (1 Cor 3:16-17; 1 Cor 6:19-20; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-6); each Christian is part of The Church; your local congregation is a collection of pieces of The Church in your community.
- God wants our hearts. God didn’t “return” to his people when they went back to rebuilding a building, He came back to then when they humbled themselves and reoriented their hearts toward Him. If you, your family, or your church are not humble before the Lord, then you will be adrift spiritually. Even if things seem successful from a worldly perspective (after all, the Jews were in paneled houses), you might not be pleasing the Lord.
- Our hearts can get discouraged and distracted. When we get our spiritual priorities out of order, we miss out on opportunities that God wants for us. If we listen to those who discourage (like the Samaritans did to the Jewish remnant) we will lose focus and drive to do what we’re supposed to do. Watch out for leaders or others who are about the business of discouraging and who exhibit a spirit of condemnation. They will push the faithful off the right track instead of edifying them, and dishearten the poor in spirit instead of ministering to them.
- God wants our obedience. It’s not that the Jews were particularly evil! They just weren’t obedient. What is God calling you, your family, or your church to do, right now, this moment, where He has planted you? For parents and church leaders, this means calling and equipping those for whom you’re responsible. If you say you’re supposed to evangelize, but never train or equip for evangelizing, the evangelizing won’t happen. If you ask a child to do a task, but never train the child how to do the task, they’ll be handicapped from the outset. In both of these cases, the real problem is with the leader or the parent, not the unequipped church member or untrained child.
- Pay attention to the clues! The Jewish remnant wasn’t in right relationship with God, and so He withheld blessings. Are there areas of spiritual blessing that your family or church are lacking? Are you or your children drifting from the Lord? Are people not being saved in your church? Has spiritual growth atrophied? Are spiritually mature people tuning out and leaving instead of plugging in? These may be signs of the Lord withholding his harvest from you because of your wrong priorities, distracted hearts, and disobedience.