I am struck by this passage out of Haggai tonight. Go read it: 1:3-9.
First a short history lesson: The Hebrew people were exiled under King Nebuchadnezzar in 605 BC (Daniel 1:1); he besieged Jerusalem and took all the Israelites captive, reduced their city and temple to rubble, and returned with them to Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar’s son lost his throne to the Medes and the Persians (Daniel 5:31). When King Cyrus of Persia took the throne, he released the Israelites to return back to Jerusalem and rebuild both their cities and their temple (538 BC). When these people returned, they came to a place of rubble – a destitute place without food, homes, or most importantly for this passage, a temple. According to Ezra, the Jews came out of exile with a drive and excitement to rebuild the temple; however, “the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia (Ezra 4:4-5).” Thus, Haggai comes on the scene around 519 BC to tell the people of Israel God’s desire for them to resume building on the temple.
This is where we pick up in Haggai 1. Actually. Read Ezra 4:4-5 again. Did you notice why the Israelites stopped building the temple in the first place? Eventually King Artaxerxes of Persia ordered them to cease work on the temple in 521 BC, but that was 17 years after the Israelites had returned from Babylon (Ezra 4:21)!” The Israelites folded from outside pressure: God asked them to do one thing, but they did not have faith that God would take care of the obstacles they faced in their task. God often calls us to do things that seem to have insurmountable obstacles, but when will we learn that those are the places where we get to see God do incredible things? So many times I have been asked why God doesn’t do miracles or why we don’t see God’s work – but here’s the thing: We will never see God perform miracles on our behalf if we never put ourselves in places where His miracles are needed. If we don’t step out in faith to do a task that we know without a doubt that we cannot do by ourselves, when do we give God the opportunity to show His hand?! Like the Israelites, the opposition seems too fierce and we become discouraged and do not finished our work. Discouragement is Satan’s most prized possession. Do not be fooled; when God has led you into a task, discouraging words, discouraging thoughts are the Devil’s way of obstructing the completion of it. See here’s the thing – the ONLY way the Devil wins against God is through OUR WEAKNESSES. If we are willing to have faith enough to see it through – there is NOTHING that can stop God’s will from being fulfilled. Our fears and lack of faith are the only thing that keeps God from using us to do incredible, miraculous things in His Wonderful and Glorious Name! Can I get an Amen?!
Back to Haggai 1. Again :). The LORD told Haggai to tell the Israelites that He was not happy with their lack of progress.
“Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: consider your ways.
You have sown much, and harvested little. you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.” Haggai 1:4-9
These are such hard words. In the Old Testament, people of God did not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to guide them like we do now – that’s why they had prophets in the first place. That is also why we see God withholding success and prosperity from His people – it is a message of God’s displeasure. Once Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave, he opened a way for us to dwell with God, to hear God speak, to know God’s pleasure and displeasure for our actions, to feel the conviction of His ways in our life through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. During the Old Testament times, however, they did not have this and so we continuously see passages like Haggai 1 throughout the Scriptures. God used natural elements and neighboring peoples to convey His pleasure or displeasure with His people. In this case, He withheld prosperity until they learned to put Him first. They had forgotten their true love, they had forgotten to be faithful to Him first. In this passage, Haggai is explaining to them why they are not having any success in any endeavor they undertake: they forgot God first.
I just love the Living Bible Translation of Proverbs 3:6:
In EVERYTHING you do, put God first and he will direct you and crown you with success.
Do not get me wrong: I am not preaching a “prosperity” message here. Neither I nor the Bible promises you without a doubt that if you love God you will have all the material possessions you ever desire. No. Not at all. God is not nearly as concerned with your comfort as He is your character and He will use hard situations to mold your character into His likeness. You are promised trials in this lifetime, some of those may be material. What this does promise, however, is that if you put God first then He will provide all your needs according to His good purpose (Rom. 8:28). If you align your will with God’s, commit yourself to “Your will be done, not mine,” then you will be successful in every situation God takes you into. The Israelites left God’s plan for them to rebuild “His house,” and instead focused on their own houses. What they forgot is that without a temple their path to God, their atonement through sacrifice, or His presence with them, was not possible. So they left His path and were totally unsuccessful in every aspect of their lives.
We, too, are called to put God first. If your path is not successful, like the Israelites, if your crops are not flourishing (metaphorically speaking), then maybe you need to ask yourself why. Check your relationship with God. Check the reason for your endeavor: is it God’s path, or is it one you are trying to cut yourself? Like God said through Haggai, “Consider Your Ways.” Follow God’s path for your life, put Him first, laugh at the opposition, praise God for the incredible miracles He will work for your sake, work towards your goal, and watch as He exceeds any expectations you ever imagined! Hallelujah and Amen!