The book of Haggai is a small two-chapter book of lessons. It is the story of how a sovereign God dealt with people who allowed outside forces to turn their focus from the task that He had given them to do. It is a call to action.
The book is included in the books of the Minor Prophets, and even though Haggai is contained in the Old Testament, it is filled with takeaway lessons that we can apply to our everyday lives. The book is about:
– Hearing from God
– Obeying God completely
– Keeping the focus on the job that God has given you to do even with discouragement from others
– Staying the course while putting your selfish desires behind your calling
– Taking back what the enemy has destroyed
– Looking back at your history to remind yourself of God’s sovereign power over your life
– Being encouraged that God is full of grace and mercy and will wait patiently as we consider our sinful ways and return to Him.
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What Is the Context of Haggai?
The time period prior to when the book was written found the Jews living in captivity in Babylon under the rule of the Babylonian king. The people had lived under Babylonian rule for 70 years after King Nebuchadnezzar took them captive and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple.
The mighty kingdom of Babylon would come to an end when Cyrus the Great, the king of Persia, invaded and conquered the Babylonian people in 539 BC. As king, Cyrus was unusual in that he wanted to appease most of the religion customs and the gods of the lands that he conquered. So in taking over Babylon, he made the following proclamation to the exiled people:
Even though Cyrus made sure that the throne would fund the project and provided the silver, gold and other goods that were needed to reconstruct the temple, only 50,000 of the exiled Jews chose to return to Jerusalem. They started rebuilding the temple with the altar so that sacrificial worship and the celebration feasts and festivals could begin again. The returning exiles began the project with zeal even though they were afraid of those living around them.
Four Calls to Action from Haggai
The words of Haggai were organized into four broad points or calls to action. God’s directives were to:
1. Examine yourselves and consider the way you are living.
2. Get busy doing what you were sent to do and take back what the enemy has destroyed.
3. Do it with courage and without fear because God has proven Himself faithful in the past.
4. Be encouraged because God is sovereign, holds the future, and has great plans for His people.
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1. Consider Your Ways
“’Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?’ Now this is what the Lord Almighty says:’ Give careful thought to your ways.’”
At first, the Israelites were excited to get back to rebuilding the temple and to their worship of God. But they would soon encounter fear and discouragement from those who were living in the land. With fervor they held to what was important and went straight to rebuilding the altar, despite their fear and worry of the circumstances around them. But the constant barrage of insults and discouragement from the Samaritans in the land wore the Jews down. The project was halted, the Israelites lost interest and motivation for their calling, and they began to drift into a selfish way of life. This selfish compromise changed their priorities and took them from the task that God had sent them to do.
The remnant began to take their time, resources, and talents and turn them inward building up their own homes into paneled houses. These were probably cedar houses built with four walls and were considered extravagant by the standards of the land. They chose to use their resources for selfish gain and chose to ignore the building of God’s temple that still lay in ruin.
As the Jews focused on themselves, they found that times became difficult for them and nothing they set their hand to was blessed. They worked hard to no avail because they were not walking in the will of God. Haggai 1:6-7 tells us that the tough times became even tougher due to disobedience:
“You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it. This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways.’”
They planted with little harvest, ate but were never full, drank but were never satisfied, clothed but not warm enough and their wages were never enough to meet their needs. The blessing of God on their life was denied because of selfish disobedience. God was trying to get their attention because they had placed their own wants and needs before Him.
Questions to ask yourself:
– Have you begun a task that God has given you to do but are now discouraged and ready to quit?
– Has the stress of your life shifted your focus to selfish gain instead of doing God’s will?
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2. Get Busy doing something positive
“Go up into the mountains, bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,’ says the Lord.”
In verse 8, God gave very specific instructions to the people: Go, bring down and build. These tasks were all given to the Jews for the sole purpose of honouring God. Their priorities had been skewed and God made it simple for them to get back on track.
God had been allowing things to occur in their lives in order to get their attention. Haggai 1:9:
“’You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.’”
How often do we do the same? We exert such energy and effort in building up something that we take pride in, spending years on selfish endeavors but, as God said in verse 9, with one breath it comes down. He is a jealous God and the reason we exist is to put God first and bring honor to Him.
Even though they strayed from their purpose, when given the directive to get busy, the Israelites and their leaders all obeyed quickly. They did so without arguing, without considering other options, and without asking God for time to discuss the pros and cons. They just obeyed.
As soon as they obeyed, God sent words of comfort: “I am with you” (Haggai 1:13). God had gotten their attention, warned them, told them what they were to do and after they stepped up to the plate and obeyed Him, He immediately encouraged them by letting them know that He was there with them.
Questions to ask yourself:
– Do you have something God has given you to do but find yourself weighing the pros and cons before you obey?
– Is there an area of your life that isn’t fruitful even though you work hard? Could it be that God is trying to get your attention in order to move you in a different direction?
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3. Take Courage
“’But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
The Israelites had been working and God had been watching their reaction to the progress of the new temple reconstruction. Since the older Jews had witnessed the splendour of Solomon’s temple and this temple was more simplistic in its construction, Ezra 3:12 tells us that as they remembered the past, they wept. As they saw the progress of this new temple it was not meeting up to their memories and expectations.
Sometimes as God rebuilds your life and as He reconstructs what the enemy has destroyed, it may look different than what you had planned. It may not match your expectations and it may not be exactly as you remembered it. But God rebuilds as He sees fit and what is to come will be better than it was before. God told the Jews to be strong and get back to work because he was there and would walk with them.
Haggai 2:5 continues by reminding the Jews why they should be strong:
“This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”
God gave the Jews the reason why they should not fear by reminding them of His covenant. God continued in verse 8 of chapter 2 by also reminding the remnant that He owns the silver and gold of the earth. In other words, God has the resources to create another grand temple that rivaled Solomon’s, but He is not impressed with opulence. Instead His heart is drawn to obedience.
Questions to ask yourself:
– Name ways that God is bringing the damaged pieces of your life back together to form something that may look different, but will be better.
– Name ways that God has proved His faithfulness to you in the past. Does this strengthen your faith for the struggles you face today?
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4. Be Encouraged
“From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit. From this day on I will bless you.”
God begins this passage by using the Law as an illustration. God wanted to make sure that the Israelites knew that an impure heart reaps a useless harvest. God sees the heart and the motives by which a task is completed. They may have come back in obedience but they need to know that God sees deep within their motives so they should continue to consider their ways.
While they were in a disobedient lifestyle, nothing worked for them and nothing they put their hand to was blessed. They worked hard with expectation, but it was never enough and they were always lacking. But God sent encouragement to the people. He was going to do a new thing.
God told the people in verse 19 that there was no seed left in the barn, and without seed there is no hope. When there is seed in the barn, there is hope in your own effort; when trees bear fruit there is hope in the seed it will produce. But now the only hope they had was in God. God met them there and assured His people that from that day forward He would bless them.
Questions to ask yourself:
– Is the attitude of your heart consistent with the work of your hands? Remember that God looks on the heart.
– If you have lost all hope in your own efforts and nothing that you try is working, have you tried putting your faith and total trust in God?
Fearless Because He Is Faithful
The words of Haggai to the Israelites contain rich lessons that we can apply to our lives today. The words teach us about:
– The cause and effects of disobedience
– The second chances afforded by a loving, patient God
– The importance of re-evaluating your behavior
– The blessings that come with total and immediate obedience to correction
The book is about being fearless because God has proven Himself throughout history to be faithful; being encouraged because revitalization and a Godly stirring of our spirits will come after our obedience; and being hopeful for our future because He has a plan and the power and the sovereignty to see the plan through to completion.
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Dr. Cindy Collier has retired from a 30-year career in the public school system, having worked with students with disabilities as a teacher, psychologist and administrator. She is currently serving as an adjunct faculty member for the University of West Florida and as an autism consultant. She has published two popular educational books and several online articles. Her doctorate may be in education but her passion is encouraging other believers through her writing. Cindy is a survivor of a marriage controlled by addiction, pornography, abuse, and mental illness. It was a life lived with someone that she grew to fear-filled with secrets and deception, but is now a life restored by God and His promises. She is presently the author of transparentwalk.com where she allows her testimony to guide her writing by being transparent in her walk with the Lord.