Haggai and God’s House: Build the House

Background (Two Prophets United)

The introductory article outlined the conditions in Jerusalem when Haggai commences. In 536 B.C., temple construction ceased after the people laid the temple foundation. Ezra 5:1-2 states that Haggai and his younger contemporary prophet, Zechariah, were used by God to cause the people to start building. Zechariah’s main contributions can be read in Zechariah 1, 4 and 8, encouraging the people to finish the work.1 Haggai is used to restart the project, while Zechariah may have been more instrumental in facilitating its completion. These two workers remind us of two future men building God’s house in Corinth: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1Co 3:6).2 They could work together and be of one mind to help the people of God build His house because their direction came from God’s Word alone. According to Ezra 5:2, they not only brought the message from God but obeyed it themselves to help with the building project, as true leaders must do.

The Word of the People (vv1-2)

When Haggai utters these prophecies, it is the second year of Darius (520 B.C.). Two references to the Gentile king remind us that though in the land, Jerusalem is under the dominance of Gentile politics – “the times of the Gentiles” (Hag 1:1; 2:10; Luk 21:24). This is the same condition as today and will not end until Israel recognizes its Messiah and the Lord fights against Gentile opponents at His return (Zec 13:8-14:3).

Observe the word of the people saying, “The time has not come” to build the house. Yet, as we learn in verses 3-11, they were not in the mind and will of God. The people undoubtedly had excuses legitimate to them. The most obvious was the edict recorded in Ezra 4 from Artaxerxes to stop the temple construction after a political appeal by opponents of God’s people. As the people of God, we know we must obey authorities, yet Scripture here illustrates that governmental regulations that oppose the Word of God and His commandments we must respectfully not obey (Rom 13:1-5). The apostles and Peter said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Act 5:29). Peter knows we can suffer for obeying God and says in his first epistle, “If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God,” and, “if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye” (2:20; 3:14).

The Word of the Lord (vv3-11)

The remnant is rebuked (vv3-4) for finishing their own houses while God’s house was desolate; the word of the Lord was contrary to the word of the people. The people could not use the excuse that they lacked resources to build the house; their houses were panelled, not the standard type of construction but more elaborate, which the Lord graciously permitted. The Lord rebuked them for finishing their own comfortable homes while allowing “this house [to] lie waste” (v4). They willingly accepted the decree by Artaxerxes to stop building, and their acquiescence led to a dulling of their spiritual priority as they became invested in their comforts. The people had an altar and a foundation, but they lacked a heart like David, who lamented that he lived in a house while the ark was in a tent (Ezr 3:2,10; 2Sa 7:2).

The Lord told the people twice, “Set your heart to consider your ways” (vv5,7 LSB). First, this statement in verse 5 applies to verses 5-6 and 9-11 and notes the lack of material blessing they receive in exchange for their effort. This was the Lord’s doing. Verses 5-6 was a judgment upon them as individuals in day-to-day life as their needs were not met. They were hungry, thirsty, cold and poor, reflecting their spiritual lack. These conditions are like the spiritual condition of the church at Laodicea, which claimed to be “rich and in need of nothing,” but the Lord states their reality was spiritual misery, pitiableness, poverty, blindness and nakedness (Rev 3:17). It isn’t for lack of available resources and ability by the Spirit that spiritual decline comes; it is lack of obedience and dependence upon God.

When the Lord repeats Himself in verse 7 that they should consider their ways, it is with an emphasis on the blessing that He desires to bestow on them. In verses 7-8, they must learn to prioritize the house of God and then blessing would only follow through obedience. Haggai tells the people to do three things: go into the hills, bring wood and build the house. The two responses of the Lord in blessing would be that He would take pleasure and be glorified in it. Travelling to the wooded hills, felling and milling lumber, then constructing the new temple would not be easy work, but it would be rewarding work. They would receive the greatest recompense any could ask for: the Lord would be pleased and be glorified. How amazing that mortal man could please and glorify Him!

Pleasing the Lord and building the house of God is achievable today. Paul explicitly talks about building the local assembly, God’s building, in 1 Corinthians 3. Haggai serves as the OT illustration of NT truth found in this passage. Paul exhorts believers to build the local assembly using things of eternal value and warns, “Let every man take heed how he buildeth [upon the foundation]” (v10). We must build how the Word of God tells us to build because how we build will determine future reward to God’s glory; what pleases God will be revealed by fire (v13).

In the last verses (9-11), Haggai restates for the people to consider their ways, since God’s judgment was not just on the individual but also upon the land. Poor harvests and famine-like conditions affected the land of Israel because of drought and spoiling grain. Verse 9 states the convicting reason why this judgment was upon them: “because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.” We may not suffer physically for spiritual neglect, but we also can expect the Lord to get our attention in some way, “for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth” (Heb 12:6).

1 See Daniel Rudge’s articles in Truth and Tidings (Aug, Oct-Dec 2021, Feb-Apr 2022) for more on the night visions of Zechariah.

2 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.