the Minor Prophets


the Prophet of Duty


We all need a Haggai in our Christian lives. The spirit of his message was simple: "continue." It is the secret of success. Many start, but are like the seeds in the parable of the sower which for one reason or another came to nothing. Many start, few finish. Paul admonished Timothy to "continue in the things [he] had learned." The early Christian believers had this testimony: "They continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and in prayers." Starting is the first step, but one stone does not a temple make.

Paul understood the danger of distraction. He wrote, "Let us not be weary in well doing for in due season we shall reap if we faint not." The remnant that returned from Babylon first fainted and then found less strenuous work to do. For twelve years the remnant neglected the main thing and filled their lives with a vain thing. They turned their attention from the eternal to the temporal. They built their own houses while the house of God lie in ruins. This was a mistake. Someone said it well when they said, "Only one life, will soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last."

In the year 536BC the Meads & Persians under the reign of Cyrus overwhelmed the city and state of Babylon. Daniel, who predicted the fall of Belshazzar was highly esteemed by the new conquerors. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that he had an influence on the decision to allow a remnant to return to Jerusalem with permission to rebuild the temple. Some 42,000 persons returned to the holy city, and under the command of Zerubbabel, began work on the foundations of the house of God. Shortly after the work began, it stopped while political adversaries initiated what amounted to a search for proper documents and authorization. This bureaucratic inconvenience was too easily accepted by the Jews who forgot the sacred work for fourteen years. It is into this period of spiritual indolence that Haggai steps.

Why have you stopped doing such an important work? Why are you more concerned about your business than God’s business? These are the questions the prophet asked. His book and ministry are to the point. His sermon against spiritual indifference and indolence, unfortunately, would be timely in may circles today. Have you stopped doing an important work? What opposition, what discouragement, what distraction has become larger than God, or more powerful than his call?

In the second year of Darius God spoke to and through Haggai. The question he asked the people was "sharper than a two-edged sword." "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house of the Lord lies in ruins?" The people had become disheartened by opposition and then distracted with their own affairs. They too soon forgot why they were allowed to leave Babylon in the first place. They were to rebuild the broken places. They were to once again take their place among the world's population as God’s special people. One might be quick to remember he is among the chosen while forgetting what he is chosen for. We are chosen to show forth God’s glory.

The church as well as individuals would do well to listen to Haggai. We need to keep our priorities right. Jesus said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you" (Matt. 6:33). The remnant of Jews put their own homes before the house of God. Many a local church is a sad witness to the greatness and glory of God. To such indifference God says, "Consider your ways."

Removing God from his rightful place of priority one is not only spiritually destructive, but is likely to bring with it a curse. The prophet continued, " you have sown much, but you have reaped little, you eat, but you do not have enough; you drink, but you do not have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages has earned them to put them in a bag with holes in it" (1:6) There are many ways the displeasure of God can touch a nation or family. The harder we work the more futile our endeavor, the more we sow, the less we reap or the less we keep. The more clothing we put on the colder it gets.

While prosperity may not be a proof of God’s good pleasure, blight and poverty should make us pause and, as Haggai said "Consider." Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned in failure. Adversity is not a signal to quit, but is a call to consider. It is a summons to search our hearts to see if God and his interests are first and foremost in our lives.

We are all laying brick and building a legacy. Paul warned the Corinthians not to build with inferior materials like wood, hay, and stubble. Instead he encouraged the believers to build with precious stones. The preacher must sometimes remind the church to be a "doer" and not a hearer only.

Finish the job! Here is the lesson of Haggai. Life is something we do. We are all stewards who will one day have to give an account of our stewardship. Noah had his boat, David his city, and Solomon his temple to build. We are "workers together with God." Haggai is an enemy of the spiritually indolent. There is a temple that must be built, and yet the workers are idle. This prophet awakens the dozing disciples who are asleep to God and God’s things.

The second sermon of Haggai had to do with comparisons. Compared to the glory and splendor of the temple built by Solomon, this new undertaking was pale. This caused some to lose heart. Some wept. To this Haggai spoke of a greater glory that shall come. They had to look beyond the building and see the greatness of the God to which it pointed. Every truly great work is a spire that points to God. A building that only calls attention to itself will never be more than a building. The seer looked for God's glory and saw it in a coming millennial kingdom. A temple without God is a temple without glory. Jesus is the glory.

Beware of the "snare of comparisons" in Christian work. Man has a natural tendency to compare and compete. Churches, and ministries are often taking up the argument of the distracted disciples, who in the upper room, argue about "who is the greatest." Such considerations are a waste of time. The snare of comparisons can lead to pride or discouragement; it never leads to good. It is a foolish enterprise and a snare of evil.

Sometimes we compare this year’s attendance to last year’s, or to the "glory years" and become discouraged when it seems less, or we gloat when it seems greater. Sometimes we count the offering and swell with pride, or lament when they are leaner. We sometimes compare our temple with the temple being built down the street, and enter into a un-holy race for glory. Be assured that any such rivalry is about man’s glory, not God’s.

Haggai spoke also spoke of a great "shaking" to come. As to what this "shaking" is we are not sure. Some say it is the fall of Persia and Greece. We are more inclined to take the larger view as seen in the Book of Hebrews "Whose voice then shook the earth; but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear; For our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:26-29).

When Haggai said that "the glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former" (2:9). He had to be speaking of another age and time. He was speaking of the coming of the "Desire of the Nations," Jesus. Grammarians argue about what they call a "unfortunate mis-translation." Just what the "desires" of the nations are is not clear, but we know what mankind is looking for, although they themselves have no idea. What they desire and what they are looking for can only be found in Christ.

Solomon had more silver and gold in his temple, this second temple had little of that glory. Haggai reminded the workers that God had plenty of the precious metal, but that there is a greater glory than that. Peter and John knew of that glory when Peter said, "silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I to thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk" (Acts 3:6).

The third message of this little book is profoundly important. Handling holy things will not make us pure, but handling unholy things will pollute us. Just because we are doing a holy work, like building the temple is no guarantee that we are right with God, or sons in whom he is well pleased. We must serve with clean hearts or all our labor is in vain. Sad indeed would be a life of toil and building temples, should all that work be rejected by a God.

To Modern Preachers and Teachers

The name Haggai means "Festive." He who is engaged in such a great and glorious work as God’s, and does so in the right spirit, could be nothing but. Is there any unfinished business? Has some work fallen idle? Have we started only to stop and forget some high and holy calling? If so, let us "consider our ways" for life is a "time to build." Let us begin to build again the broken things, and let us give God all the glory.