Green Tree Bible Study 8: When God’s Work Is Idle (Haggai 1:1-15)

By Dr. Robert E. Picirilli

It was the second year of Darius’ long reign (521 – 486 B.C.) over the far flung Persian empire. In Jerusalem, one group of his subjects was frustrated and discouraged. These people were the remnant Jews who had returned from Babylonian captivity 17 years earlier in 537 B.C. They had been freed when Persia conquered Babylon, departing for Jerusalem in great anticipation. They were determined to rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem. They longed to restore the full glory of the worship of Jehovah.

But their optimism vanished in the harsh light of reality. Yes, they had started out to build. And the going went very well for some time. Under the leadership of civil governor Zerubbabel and high priest Joshua (Jeshua) the foundations of the temple were laid (535 B.C.).

But then the work had stopped. Ezra tells the story of the political intrigue engaged in by the Jews’ enemies. No doubt some lack of full commitment to the task made it easier for the opposition to succeed. At any rate, discouragement and indifference set in. More than 15 years passed with nothing accomplished.

Into that scene stepped “Haggai the prophet” (we have no further information about him) with a message from the Lord. A prophet, as we will see, is one who speaks for God. Let us look at his message. There were several points.

First, we are given the circumstances of Haggai’s mission (vv. 1, 2). The date, the prophet, and the recipients of the message are named in verse 1.

Verse 2 gives us Jehovah’s complaint: The people were refusing to unite to build the Lord’s house. Their acceptance of the sorry state of affairs was a spiritual problem. The Lord does not call them “my people” but “this people” because their relationship to Him was in doubt.

Second, we are given the content of Haggai’s message (vv. 3-11). The message is threefold:

1. God rebukes their selfishness (v. 4). The people were much more concerned about their own houses than the Lord’s holy house. Contrast this verse with David’s attitude in II Samuel 7:2. These Jews, too, should have been ashamed to dwell in comfortable houses while letting God’s house lie in ruins.

2. God exhorts them to reflect on their lifestyle while rebuilding His House (vv.5, 7-8). The exhortation includes a promise that the Lord will be pleased and glorified if they will do so. Man’s chief end is to glorify God. Doing so is the most worthwhile thing a man can do.

3. God’s explains His chastisement in times past (vv. 6, 9-11). He had to do so because in the past the Israelites had failed to recognize times when God was chastening them.

Verses 6 and 9 speak of much work such as planting that produced little, of not having the necessities of life, and of finding that what little was gained was soon gone as if God had blown it away.

Verse 6 might be paraphrased in part: “You eat, but are not satisfied; you drink, but there is not even enough to get drunk on. . . the wage earner does not make enough to buy a decent purse.”

Verse 9b repeats the reason. They were so selfishly interested in their own affairs that God’s work was forgotten.

Verses 10, 11 tell how God has accomplished this deprivation: By drought and dearth in the land. Sometimes—not always, of course—natural calamity is a judgment from God for the sins of God’s people. When we neglect God’s work we can be sure that we will experience at least a spiritual famine.

Third, we are given the consequences of Haggai’s ministry (vv. 12-15). There was obedience (v. 12), fear of the Lord (v. 12), a stirring of the spirits of the leaders and the people (v. 14), and a renewal of the work (vv. 14, 15). One could hardly find a better picture of spiritual revival. Obviously they did as Haggai exhorted them to by reflecting on their ways.

They repented and turned from their self-centered indifference to God’s work. They became determined to fearfully obey God. And so they again began to build God’s house—only 24 days after Haggai’s first message.

Therefore, the Lord gave Haggai another message for them: “l am with you,” said the Lord (v. 13). Their discouragement fled, and their hearts beat for God’s work once again.

So is the course of our own spiritual pilgrimage. All too easily we are distracted by selfish pursuits and discouraged by the smallest opposition. Our nearness to God turn into distance.

In such a time God’s Word calls us to consider our ways, to recognize His chastising hand, and to hear His command to put His kingdom first in our lives. Repenting, we are reassured of His presence. In this way God will not refer to us in impersonal and distant terms like “This people.” We will become His beloved children. He will become our adoring Father who comforts us with words like, “l am with you.”

Do you really want revival? Are you willing to obey?