Bible Text: Haggai 1:1-15 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: reCONSTRUCTION: A Study of Priorities from the Prophet Haggai | This morning we are beginning our new sermon series, “reCONSTRUCTION: A Study of Priorities from the Prophet Haggai”. Through these next few weeks, we will dive deep into the words of the prophet Haggai. And even though his writing was directed to a specific people during a specific time in history, it still remains relevant to us today because of the central issues that it addresses. One of the primary questions that the prophecy of Haggai brings is, “What is most important?”
But before we get into the reading for today, I would like to give you some background information on the prophet Haggai and related entities. Now the truth is that we actually know extraordinarily little about the prophet Haggai. Other than his own prophecies in this book, Haggai is only ever mentioned in the book of Ezra, chapter five verse one, “Then the prophet Haggai and the prophet Zechariah, Iddo’s son, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of Israel’s God who was over them.” and chapter six verse fourteen, “So the elders of the Jews built and prospered because of the prophesying of the prophet Haggai and Zechariah, Iddo’s son. They finished building by the command of Israel’s God and of Cyrus, Darius, and King Artaxerxes of Persia.”
Haggai’s name is derived from the Hebrew word for “festival”, so then it is understood as “festal” or “my feast”, or possibly even “festival of Yahweh.” This understanding may indicate that Haggai was born during one of the three important Jewish festivals of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, or Tabernacles. It has been speculated that the lack of information about Haggai’s background or family lineage is due to his well-known status among the Jewish people of his time. Based on a verse we will explore later on in this series it can be argued that Haggai may have been witnessed to the destruction of Solomon’s temple in 586 B.C. If that is true, then he would have been at least in his late 70’s during his prophetic ministry. This is only conjecture though.
Now the way that the book is written, each of the four messages of Haggai had a specific audience in mind. So, in the case of our reading for today, the very first verse names two specific recipients of the first oracle: Zerubbabel the governor of Judah, and Joshua the high priest. Zerubbabel and Joshua were the political and religious leaders of the remnant that returned from Babylon. Zerubbabel was appointed by Cyrus, the King of Persia. Joshua as the high priest, held the most important religious and spiritual office in Israel. Joshua would have been considered the supreme religious head of Israel, being distinguished by different clothing, duties, and requirements from regular priests. And because there was no king installed, Joshua would have held some political power as well.
Truth be told, the book of Haggai is extremely easy to outline because of how it is organized. It is also important to note that the book is also the most precisely dated book in the Bible as each specific oracle begins with a date relative to Darius’ reign. For this first oracle we are focusing on, it is dated to August twenty-ninth, 520 B.C. How about that? Specific to an actual date. That alone is pretty amazing if you think about.
So now let us take a look at this first oracle. We can divide this oracle into five specific sections with different focuses. Verse one is the introduction. Verses two through four are the excuses and rebuke. Verses five and six are the evidence of covenant curses. Verses seven through eleven are the command for reconstruction. And finally, verses twelve through fifteen cover obedience.
Looking back, verse one reads, “The Lord’s word came through Haggai the prophet in the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month on the first day of the month, to Judah’s governor Zerubbabel, Shealtiel’s son, and to the high priest Joshua, Jehozadak’s son:” You must admit this is a rather nice introduction. Everything is explained that we need to know to be able to follow the next set of verses. We know that the Lord’s word came to Haggai, it was not just his opinions or anything. We are then told it comes during the second year of King Darius, and even the specific date. Finally, we are told who the Lord’s word was directed to: Judah’s governor Zerubbabel, Shealtiel’s son, and to the high priest Joshua, Jehozadak’s son.
The second section, verses two through four, is also known as excuses and rebuke. “This is what the Lord of heavenly forces says: These people say, ‘The time hasn’t come, the time to rebuild the Lord’s house.’ 3 Then the Lord’s word came through Haggai the prophet: 4 Is it time for you to dwell in your own paneled houses while this house lies in ruins?” Here the Lord tells Haggai that the people are saying that it is not yet time to rebuild the Lord’s house, the excuse, and then calls them out asking if it is time for them to dwell in their own homes while the Lord’s house is still in ruins, or the rebuke.
The third section of the oracle, verses five through six, contains the evidence of covenant curses. “5 So now, this is what the Lord of heavenly forces says: Take your ways to heart. 6 You have sown much, but it has brought little. You eat, but there’s not enough to satisfy. You drink, but not enough to get drunk. There is clothing, but not enough to keep warm. Anyone earning wages puts those wages into a bag with holes.” So here we are given five of these curses. First is what is sown does not produce. Then we have those eating but never being full. Then those who drink but not enough to quench their thirst. Those having clothing but not enough to stay warm. And finally, those who are earning money but lose it irresponsibly.
The fourth section of the oracle, found in verses seven through eleven, which contains the command for reconstruction. “7 This is what the Lord of heavenly forces says: Take your ways to heart. 8 Go up to the highlands and bring back wood. Rebuild the temple so that I may enjoy it and that I may be honored, says the Lord. 9 You expect a surplus, but look how it shrinks. You bring it home, and I blow it away, says the Lord of heavenly forces, because my house lies in ruins. But all of you hurry to your own houses. 10 Therefore, the skies above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce because of you. 11 I have called for drought on the earth, on the mountains, on the grain, on the wine, on the olive oil, on that which comes forth from the fertile ground, on humanity, on beasts, and upon everything that handles produce.”
Here in this section Haggai relates to the people that it is in fact time to rebuild the Lord’s house according to God. The Lord goes so far as to say that they must rebuild and that all of the bad things happening on earth including drought on the land, on the mountains, for the grain crops, for the wine, for the olive oil, for everything that comes from the land and on the people and animals – all of it is because they have not listened to God and have not yet begun to rebuild the Lord’s temple.
Finally, the fifth section, verses twelve through fifteen, contains information about obedience. “12 Zerubbabel, Shealtiel’s son, and the high priest Joshua, Jehozadak’s son, along with all who remained among the people, listened to the voice of the Lord God and to the words of Haggai the prophet because the Lord their God sent him. Then the people feared the Lord. 13 Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave the Lord’s message to the people: I am with you, says the Lord. 14 The Lord moved the spirit of Judah’s governor Zerubbabel, Shealtiel’s son, and the spirit of the high priest Joshua, Jehozadak’s son, and the spirit of all the rest of the people. Then they came and did work on the house of the Lord of heavenly forces, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.”
Here, in this fifth and final section of the first oracle, we are told about the obedience shown to God by not just the leaders of the people, but also the entirety of the people present. First, we are told that the people finally listened to the voice of the Lord God and to the words of the prophet Haggai because God sent him. And then the people feared the Lord. Haggai then gives the Lord’s message to the people that, “I am with you, says the Lord.”
The Lord then moves the people’s spirits and they begin to work to rebuild the house of the Lord. They come together and work to rebuild the temple, back to its former glory, back to the wonder that it once was and to a state that would honor the Lord God. And we are told that this work was begun, “on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.” So, everything is all wrapped up and good to go, right?
Well, sort of. This entire situation is another example of God’s people failing to stay faithful to the covenant they made with God. And this is of course not the first time we run into this kind of thing. Throughout the history of the people of Israel, as recorded in Scripture, they continually break their covenant with God. God then holds them accountable and they ultimately find their way back into a good place within their covenant.
So, as we look through this first oracle, there are some things I would like you to think about. First, how do you relate to the Jews who lived daily amidst the ruins of their temple? Second, in what ways are there “temple ruins” in your own life? Third, what are the excuses you use the most to further delay your own spiritual reconstruction? And fourth, what things are you doing to nurture and positively affect your intimacy with God?
I want you to think about these questions over this next week. And I also want to leave you with a challenge. There are several spiritual disciplines, but today and this week I want you to try focusing on the spiritual discipline of prayer. Prayer is the central spiritual disciple and it is the language of dependence. But the truth is that many of us struggle with maintaining a consistent and active prayer life. So, this week I want you to think about how you might be able to experiment more deeply with prayer. Think about how you can pray for yourself, for others, for our church, and even for your prayer life itself.
And here are some ideas to help with all of this. Try making a prayer schedule for the week, making sure to schedule some time aside each day. Try keeping a note card with you that includes some items to pray for and through. Maybe even try keeping a prayer journal and record the things you have prayed for. But most of all remember that the simple prayers are just as good as the poetic ones. The important thing is to pray and connect with God on a greater level. Amen.