Haggai is an old and wizened man now. Born during peacetime in Jerusalem, he was a witness to its destruction by the Babylonians and finally was exiled over 3,000 miles from home. Joyfully, now in his later years, Haggai has joined Ezra and others from Israel who had been allowed to return to Jerusalem to begin the task of rebuilding God’s temple there.
Haggai and the returning workers attacked the temple rebuilding with a vengeance. But as time passed, their personal lives intruded. They began to feel the pressure of prioritizing time for their business, family, and God. Work for God declined and finally the rebuilding stopped entirely and lay dormant for over 16 years!
As a result, God gives Haggai four short messages to deliver to Israel on three specific dates, all in the year 520 B.C. Each of the messages includes specific instructions and specific promises from God to His people.
Message 1 – Ch.1 – “Put God First!” – August 29, 520 B.C.
Message 2 – Ch.2:1-9 – “Keep Looking Ahead!” – October 17, 520 B.C.
Message 3 – Ch.2:10-19 – “Confess Your Sin!” – December 18, 520 B.C.
Message 4 – Ch.2:20-23 – “Don’t Be Afraid!” – December 18, 520 B.C.
While these messages from God were first delivered by Haggai to Israel, they have been included in the Scriptures because these four reminders are equally applicable to us today.
Message 1: Put God First!
God’s people wearied of His work at the temple. They became consumed in the legitimate activities of managing their businesses, raising their families, and planning for their own futures. But, despite their hard work, they found that their standard of living did not improve. The lesson is obvious – when God’s work is not first, contentment is an illusion. Haggai calls for a re-thinking of priorities, a re-commitment to God and a re-dedication to His work. Happily, Haggai tells us that the people listened to God and the work of God recommenced. God also followed through on His promise of a personal presence: “I am with you” (ch 1:13).
Haggai’s message is still a challenge for Christians today. There probably has never been an era when prioritizing time and activities is so difficult.. However, you must plan properly to make God and His work first in your life if you wish to be useful for Him. The Lord Jesus Himself told us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things (i.e., the daily requirements of life) will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). By following these recommendations like Israel did after Haggai’s message, you also will experience the blessing of God’s presence with you in each of your life’s activities.
Message 2: Keep Looking Ahead!
God’s second message through Haggai occurs seven weeks later. Instead of being content with second-rate lives and half-hearted service, the temple builders recommenced the work with vigor. But now, they are beginning to see that the final result will never succeed in recreating the architectural splendor of the destroyed original. Some of the older men like Haggai are even moved to tears (Ezra 3:12) at the discouragement of this pale imitation.
This problem is totally the opposite from the first and so is God’s message. Instead of rebuke, God’s second message is one of encouragement. He urges Israel not to remember the external beauty of the old temple but to recognize that the internal beauty of God’s presence with them was a far greater blessing. Here, God reiterates His promise from the first message by promising, “I am with you” (ch 2:4), “I covenanted with you” (ch 2:5), “My Spirit remaineth among you” (ch 2:5), and “I give peace” (ch 2:9). These four promises are accompanied by a command – “Fear ye not” (ch 2:5). The power of the presence of God’s Spirit and His promises to Israel in His covenants were sufficient to eliminate discouragement.
As Christians today, sometimes we measure our success in our ministries for Christ by unrealistic standards. The pressure of numerical growth is one example of a mistaken goal that can lead to discouragement. Our standard for God instead should be the proper representation of Christ in our communities; recognizing again that Christ is with us (Matthew 28:20), His Spirit is active in and through us (John 14:16-20), and our true treasure will only become fully apparent in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).
Message 3: Confess Your Sin!
God’s third message through Haggai was designed to keep the people of Israel clean before God. They expected their work on the temple to immediately result in God’s blessing upon them. Haggai explains that the temple itself would not keep them clean, neither would abstaining from ritually unclean substances, or keeping the sacrificial commandments. Instead, sin must be confessed and then God blesses by grace. At the end of the third message, God promises, “I will bless you” (ch 2:19).
The lesson for us today is just as unmistakable. Unconfessed sin will blight the value of work for God. For blessing to occur, we must perform His work with our hearts purified. Too often we excuse ourselves from our sins. With our sins confessed to God and forgiven by Him, we will find that, like Haggai’s Israel, our work for God will flourish because He will bless it!
Message 4: Don’t Be Afraid!
God’s last message through Haggai is a personal one to Zerubbabel, Israel’s governor. He needed special encouragement as he viewed the struggling work in relation to the majestic kingdoms that surrounded Israel. God encourages him by noting that those kingdoms were temporary and by describing Zerubbabel as the signet ring of God, specifically selected by Him to lead God’s people. God’s promise to him is “I have chosen thee” (ch 2:23). This same Zerubbabel becomes part of the genealogy of Christ (Matthew 1:12).
As Christians today, we also have been chosen in Christ (Ephesians 1:4) and we have a work for God that we have been specifically selected to do. We have God’s approval and His promises to be with us and to bless us if we work confidently for Him.
You and I should listen to the messages that God gave Haggai – make God our first priority, don’t look back, confess our sin and cast aside fear. If we do, we will also enjoy the promises that God made to Haggai and Israel:
“I am with you
I covenanted with you
I give peace
I bless you
I have chosen thee.”