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.” Haggai 1:3-11
“The speciousness of the people’s excuse is apparent by the fact that, while the temple work was halted, they had undertaken their own construction activities apace. Not only so, but the houses they built were, in some cases at least, luxurious in their appointments. With obvious irony, the prophet speaks of the rich paneling they have installed…
Members of the post exilic community, far from articulating their faith in the Lord’s gracious restoration and covenant renewal by erecting a place where He might once more dwell among them, was concerned only for their own well-being. The time for the Lord had not come because the time they needed for their own interests was uppermost in their minds…
The challenge to them is expressed in the strongest terms. “Think carefully on your ways,” the prophet commands. Literally, he says, “Set your heart upon your ways,” an injunction calling for the utmost degree of reflection and attention… The demand for attention is called for in order that the people might understand the connection between their negligence of God’s house and their total lack of success in everyday life. It is a class case of cause and effect.
To make his point, Haggai gives four examples of the futility of selfish effort. The people have planted abundantly but for very little return. There may be metaphorical overtones to this statement, but that it should be taken quite literally as well is evident from the next observation by the prophet: they eat and drink but never to the full… Even their clothing is inadequate to keep them warm… Finally, whatever profits did come their way were lost through the holes in their purses…
The indifference of the people toward holy things has thus been exposed, attested most eloquently by the direful effects of unproductive labor and an economy in shambles. Failure to address their highest priority — the building of an earthly dwelling place for their God — has reduced them to poverty… Rebuilding the Temple would not per se bring God’s blessings. There must be genuine restoration of worship and service by the people.”
Eugene H. Merrill in Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Exegetical Commentary (Richardson: Biblical Studies Press, 2003) 25-27.
Our tendency is to focus on ourselves, isn’t it? As God’s people, our priorities, unless given careful attention, will follow the pattern of our flesh and get out of alignment with God’s design. When that happens, everything else, in due time, will unravel. That’s basically what’s happened in the days of Haggai.
Other times we walk with God and then expect God to act like some cosmic genie for us (as prosperity gospel proponents wrongly advocate). Regardless of the level of material blessing that we experience, our hearts must be in the right place. God must be first, and our service, worship, and resources should exhibit that.
Coming out of exile around 520 B.C., we would think God’s people would have their priorities right. Haggai proclaims that what was uppermost in their minds was not God or the condition of His house. They were focused on their own paneled houses. We see this today. People give their first and best to themselves rather than God.
As you give careful thought to your generosity, what would it look like for you financially to make God’s design and His priorities, your uppermost concern? Do this not as a magical or mechanical pathway to material prosperity. Do it because it’s God’s design and because if you don’t, all of life will eventually unravel.Read more