Haggai Part One- building priorities for God’s glory not our own
Created by Jon Taylor - Tuesday 12 Mar 2019
Jon Taylor
Haggai Part One- building priorities for God’s glory not our own
Fifteen years previously Cyrus had given the go ahead for the Jewish people to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Astoundingly, the temple lay in ruins whilst the people were living in their panelled houses tantamount to relative luxury. There was a mismatch of priorities which is something we all at times struggle with today. Essentially, Haggai is about building the temple and setting our priorities in order. Haggai’s robust response declaring God’s message rings clearly for us also, “Consider your ways”.
We know little of Haggai, but we do know he understood God’s priorities and he was zealous to put God first and to relentlessly and energetically encourage others to do so, with his rallying summons, “Be Strong”, meaning be encouraged. When we know what we should do, we must encourage ourselves in the Lord, focus on what God wants and get on with it!
Haggai’s name means ‘festive/festival’ and he may have been born during Tabernacles. He wrote in 520BC, the same year as Zechariah. A small seal of Darius can be seen in the British Museum in room 52 as well as a relief of his palace in the same room as Artaxerxes drinking vessel which Nehemiah may well have used (cf. Neh. 2:1). You will also see him mentioned in Ezra lumped together with Zechariah, Zerubbabel and Jeshua (Ezra 5:1-5). There has been considerable opposition to the rebuilding of the work at a local level from the Persians. Later though, Darius found Cyrus decree concerning the temple that Cyrus had issued fifteen years previously and granted them further permission to rebuild the temple and celebrate Passover. Bearing in mind the meaning of ‘Haggai’ this probably isn’t mere coincidence since Haggai was a careful and meticulous author recording his times and dates precisely and especially when it related to the response rate of God’s people to obey God’s command.

Babylon is comfortable
Surprisingly only around 50, 000 Jews had returned whilst the rest remained in Babylon. Why would God’s people want to remain in godless Babylon in a foreign land? Psalm 137 testifies of weeping by the rivers of Babylon and longing for Zion and Scripture contrasts Jerusalem and Babylon throughout! Babylon was central to the trade routes, there was money to be made and some intermarried and became comfortable in a previously inhospitable environment. We must also consider our ways and examine our hearts to see if we are becoming more at home in the world than with our heavenly home. We must avoid the same contemporary trappings of Babylon’s subtle lifestyle.
Most of the other prophetic books make mention of worshipping false gods, idols or compromise with foreign so-called deities. Haggai is different though the problems are equally pervasive. These are the idols of materialism, excessive comfort, scant regard for the holiness of God and spiritual apathy. These are like the unwary lobster being boiled in the pot before being consumed.
Haggai calls them and we are also called to holy living and a reordering of our priorities. He gives them hope and reminds them of who God is ‘The Lord of Hosts’, in other words the ‘Lord of armies’ . We wrestle not against flesh and blood but in the spiritual realm and having the Lord of hosts with them would have been a great conciliation living in the Persian empire.  Today we are living in a comprised society that is increasingly becoming detached from its Judeo-Christian heritage and floating adrift like an astronaut who has wandered outside the spacecraft and is unable to get back inside the vessel which is silently and perilously moving in the opposite direction.

Babylon’s excuses
The excuses people presented were the same then as they are now, but they were just worded a little differently. For some people procrastination is a hobby feigned by sincere intentions. The people were saying “The time has not yet come to build the temple of the Lord”. Why? At local level they faced opposition to rebuilding the temple and in addition they wanted to wait the full seventy years from the start of the exile until they commenced the project.
Haggai didn’t respond head on to their excuses since they would probably have invented further excuses. Consider this: it is much easier to field excuses than to get on with the task at hand. Haggai didn’t mince his words and brought it to their attention that the temple lay in ruins whilst they were living the good life in comfortable luxury. The implication was self -evident. He uses their own excuse against them. In other words, you say it isn’t the right time. Look at the temple. Is this the time for luxury? A picture tells a thousand words. Picture 1 shows the temple in ruins and picture 2 reveals houses of luxury. What does that say? It is time to build the temple, re-establish priorities and get the house in order.
Priorities soberly considered
Haggai 1:6-9 has similarities with Matthew 6 and Matthew 6:33 says “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you”. Is food important? Yes, very important but not as important as the One who is the Bread of Life and we cannot survive on bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Are clothes important? Yes, very important but not as important as being clothed in righteousness and exchanging that for our righteousness which is as filthy rags. Our houses important? Yes, very important but not nearly as important as being a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord, in other words serving and pleasing Him as our priority.
Think of what you value most in your life and what is at the top of your list. That is what you worship. Anything before God equals idolatry. In Jerusalem, idolatry had crept in the back door through necessity. In that particular context and at that specific time it is possible that community didn’t bow down to the idols or use the food for false worship, but they were content to live a good lifestyle and they had little desire for the things of God. The same applies to our situation. We say we don’t worship idols and that we aren’t superstitious, and some might secretly laugh at those who do, yet we need to be so careful that our compromise doesn’t morph into idolatry.

Priorities changed
How can we change our priorities so that we live a God focussed lifestyle that is pleasing to Him? Firstly, we must consider our ways by thinking soberly from God’s Word and through prayer about who and what we prioritise.
Secondly, we needn’t have a list of 50 activities, deliberate for aeons and put them in perfect order. The best place to start is by wilfully and actively putting God first and seeking Him and His will first and foremost and then all the secondary yet still very important things will fall into their rightful place.
Thirdly, we must never use the age- old excuse of the lack of time in our busy lives as an excuse to neglect our personal devotions. Our quiet time alone with the Lord is foundational and we must preserve this.
Fourthly, we must regularly remind ourselves of who God is and what He does and what He has done. That grounds us in reality and enables us to recognise what He is capable of, what He wants from us and what we need to do. Paul wrote to the Philippians in Chapter 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.
Fifthly, the reason for building the temple was so that God would take pleasure in it and be glorified (Haggai 1:8). When we make it our aim to enjoy serving God and through that to glorify Him, our lives will fulfil the purpose for which He has called us and we will be shaped by His priorities and our lives will be built around Him, not ourselves.
Tuesday 12 Mar 2019