In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest:
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”
Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “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. 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. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord.
“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.
Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”
Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.
Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month. (New International Version)
Timing is everything.
There is a time to ponder and plan and there’s a time to move and act. If the time is ripe for action, then the lack of initiative is plain old procrastination. But how do you know when to act?
If the Lord says it’s time, well then, it’s time!
God’s people wouldn’t have described their inaction in rebuilding God’s house as dragging their feet. They perceived their inertia as a sensible delay.
Yet, the Lord saw the people’s approach as inexcusable enough to send a prophet with a specific message and call to action: Build the house now!
Let’s get a feel for why God’s call for immediacy comes when it does. In the ancient world, it had always been the practice of armies to assimilate conquered peoples into the culture of the conquering king.
In the eighth century B.C.E., the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians took most of the people into captivity, left the poorest of the people alone, and resettled the land with some of their own Assyrian people. The inevitable intermarriages resulted in their progeny being known as the Samaritans in the New Testament Gospels, as the Samaritans.
Two-hundred years after Assyria conquered Israel, Nebuchadnezzar besieged the southern kingdom of Judah and took over Jerusalem. He carried Daniel and all the other educated and professional people to Babylon. In the course of taking the city, Nebuchadnezzar tore down the wall and destroyed the temple that Solomon had made.
During the Babylonian exile, the Persians conquered Babylon and became rulers of a large geographical empire. Because the massive Persian Empire was in control of so many different kinds of people across such a vast territory, they were not able to operate as previous empires did by assimilation and resettlement.
Instead, the Persians did something new and different: They encouraged and enabled their conquered peoples to keep their religion and their culture. The only caveat was that they had to give tribute and allegiance to the empire and pray for the king. This is why Nehemiah, Ezra, and Haggai were able to return to Jerusalem and given royal authority to rebuild the wall and the temple.
But, from the git go, there was opposition to the rebuilding from the old Canaanite inhabitants of the land. After many years, the wall was rebuilt but the temple restoration bogged down. The people slowly became discouraged and lost enthusiasm to do the work.
Understandably, the people got caught up in taking care of their own homes and just plain neglected working on the temple. Over time, they just forgot about the entire project. But God didn’t.
The prophet Haggai made it clear that the people’s mental distraction and physical neglect was taken as disrespect by the Lord. Haggai insisted that the reason the people were not experiencing blessing on their land was because they simply did not have their priorities straight.
Thus, God sent the prophet Haggai to preach a sermon entitled: Build the house now!
To the people’s credit, they responded to the call of God and started rebuilding God’s house. The work was completed. However, there seemed to be a problem.
Moving into the rest of Haggai’s prophecy, the newly restored temple didn’t look anything like Solomon’s grand and glorious temple. Many of the older worshipers could still remember Solomon’s temple; to them, the rebuilt temple seemed like a bologna sandwich compared to the T-bone steak of the past.
So, God sent Haggai again to encourage the people. The Lord will be with them. The restored temple may not look the same, but what makes the temple great is God’s glory.
An important takeaway from the prophecy of Haggai is that the Lord is a jealous God; God’s people are to worship the Lord with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
We also learn that the Lord is sovereign and supreme over all creation. God owns everything and will use it all to accomplish divine purposes on this earth.
In addition, we see that God calls people to new work and fresh ministry. The Lord was behind the destruction of the old temple; and when the time was right, God called the people to build a new ministry.
And we learn something about ourselves, as well. God’s people need to hear and respond to God’s call. Haggai put a God-sized vision before the people; he helped them imagine what the new temple would be like – full of God’s glory.
God is doing a new thing. The Lord continues calling people to:
- Seek first the kingdom of God. (Deuteronomy 4:29; Psalm 63:1; Matthew 6:33; Hebrews 11:6)
- Love God with whole hearts. (Deuteronomy 6:5, 11:1-22, 19:9, 30:16-20; Matthew 22:37)
- Love neighbor as we love ourselves. (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:38; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14)
- Make disciples of Christ from all nationalities. (Matthew 28:18-20)
- Be witnesses to God’s glory in Christ. (Psalm 66:16; Acts 1:8; 2 Timothy 2:2)
- Obey the Holy Spirit. (Acts 5:31-33; Romans 6:17; Hebrews 5:8-9)
It is good to remember and celebrate past ministries; and it is also good to throw ourselves into the new ministries which God calls us and to build them for God’s glory.
My friends, build it now.
Glory to you, O God, the One who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by your divine power at work within us; glory to you, blessed God, in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, through the empowering Holy Spirit, forever and always. Amen.