Haggai 1

1 Extra-biblical sources place the date of this book at 520 BC. During this time, years were numbered relative to the rule of the reigning king. Since Judah did not have a king, they used the dating system of their Gentile rulers. Haggai's intent was to record the history of his work, so he dates it precisely. The first day of the "month" was the day of the new moon. The sixth month of the Jewish calendar is approximately September in modern calendars.

Zerubbabel was the grandson of the last king of Judah, but his role was that of governor, not king. His name means "born in Babylon," which would be a permanent reminder of Israel's exile in Babylon.

The first prophecy was spoken to both the governor and the high priest, requiring action from both the political and spiritual institutes. In Israel, there was no separation of "church and state." Ideally, all leaders were to help their constituents have a good relationship with God. Nothing was to be "secular."

Haggai also makes it clear throughout this book that God was speaking. Haggai was not claiming authority for himself. He was simply God's spokesman, and he also was subject to follow what God had spoken.

2 About sixteen years earlier, Nehemiah had led a group of exiles from Babylon to Judah. They rebuilt the wall and laid the foundation for the Temple, the house of the Lord. Nehemiah records the strong opposition that the workers encountered. The pressure was apparently too much, and the people stopped building. The people rationalized their actions by implying that if it was the right time, if it was what God really wanted it would not be so difficult or dangerous to accomplish. However, it became clear that this was an excuse.
4 The people had really stopped building for selfish reasons. The people had stopped working on the Temple so they could focus on building themselves nice homes. They "felt" it was the right time to do that.

One can look at people in the church today and raise the same accusation that Haggai did to the Israelites then. The Bible frequently prescribes a minimum 10% tithe from everyone to go to the religious institutes (e.g., local churches). On top of that, there were often special offerings taken to help people in need. However, it is often lamented that getting modern Christians to contribute to the cause of Christ is exceedingly difficult. It seems particularly discouraging when a believer is seen going into debt to buy something he does not need and then use the excuse that he has nothing to give.

In the United States of America, there is no excuse for unkempt church buildings, underpaid ministers and staff, and missionaries having to beg for money. If people additionally tithed 10% of their time, they would have plenty for studying Scripture, prayer, church work, community volunteering, and even some missionary work. We would no longer have ignorant and inactive Christians.

It comes down to a matter of priorities. Christians must see that spreading the Gospel of Christ is of vital importance. If we have meager income, we must still give and trust that God will provide us with enough to attain the food, clothing, and shelter we need. If we have abundant income, we must overcome the greedy impulse to spend everything on ourselves. It pleases God when we are obedient in our giving, and our attitude should be in line with the joy and importance of sharing the Gospel.

5 God challenges us to look at our lives. In this case, He reminds the Israelites that they are lacking in many areas. He implies that it is because they have not made worshiping God a priority in their lives. The incomplete Temple was symbolic of their incomplete devotion. God blessed the nation with more freedom, but He would not bless them with satisfaction until they committed themselves to Him again.
6 People are not complete until they have a good relationship with God. He gives everyone a "spiritual" longing, but it is often unclear to the individual what that longing is. God may attempt to direct someone's attention by changing his financial and physical situations because it is often not until someone finds himself in desperation that he will turn to God for help.

In this case, God frustrated the Israelites by withholding satisfaction from them in every area of their lives. They had plenty, as evidenced by their paneled houses, but it was not enough. They needed something more -- they needed God.

7 It was time that the people stopped ignoring God and started worshiping Him instead. All throughout their history, God had promised that their needs would be satisfied and they would receive special blessings when they faithfully followed Him.
8 God's desire for us is to have a good relationship with Him, and we can demonstrate our love for Him in tangible ways. For instance, God commanded the Israelites to rebuild the Temple. It would please Him because it would be a symbol of Israel's relationship with Him. It would glorify Him because people from all over the world would hear or see the Temple and know that God exists, and that Israel honors and worships Him.

We must be aware that doing something to please God will take time, effort, and money. God was not going to build the Temple for them miraculously. He provides the raw materials, but He expects people to gather them and build them as He desires. Today we must remember what God has told us to do in relationship with our churches, families, relationships, and work situations. We must determine what has not been completed yet, find the resources to fix the problems, and then implement the plan. In all this we must honor God and trust Him to guide us.

9 The Israelites had big dreams, and worked diligently at fulfilling them, but God deliberately frustrates them because they considered their personal gain more important than their relationship with Him. They need not blame circumstances or "bad luck." God takes full credit for their lack of success.
10 While God takes the credit, He does not take the blame. Israel was obligated to worship Him for many reasons. He created them, as He did all of us, which by itself, obligates all people to worship Him. In addition, God chose Israel as His special people. They were under obligation by the vows of their ancestors to accept and do God's special assignment for them. He gave them laws and standards so that they would be witnesses for the one true God to the world. However, they had put aside their assignment, and God was punishing them. Often when God punished Israel, He would bring armies against them, but this time He was using financial methods. They looked for financial security, but God took that security away.
11 God struck the very things they needed to survive. Undoubtedly, many people were starving. Some might say that this proves that God is cruel. That thought only comes from people who do not have an eternal perspective on God's nature and the true purpose of man. We were not designed to live comfortably without God. God will afflict people with the intention of turning them to Him. If they do not, then they will suffer eternal consequences. We must also remember that nothing a person can suffer here will be as bad as the eternal punishment that awaits those who do not turn to God during their lifetime. No amount of comfort, ease, or luxury will ever be as gratifying as spending eternity in the presence of God's love, goodness, and endless bounty.
12 Both the governor and the high priest responded positively to the message. Undoubtedly, the message hurt them because it exposed the motives of the people. However, they did not react defensively. They looked at their situation objectively and found that what Haggai was telling them was true. They had neglected their relationship with God, and it was time to restore it, and prove it by completing the Temple.
13 Once the people responded in obedience, God promised to be with them. He would help them succeed in this project because His desire was to relate to His people. They would be too weak to do this on their own (which had already been shown), but the Temple would be completed with the help of the Lord.
14 God gave the spiritual and secular leaders the desire to do the work, as well as all the people. In our world, the "grass roots" approach (change by the common person) rarely gets things done, and the "top down" approach (change by leadership) more often gets things done. However, God made sure that people on every level wanted to see this project done, which is the best situation to have for a project of this magnitude. They all recognized what needed to be done, and its importance.
15 Within 24 days, the people were being mobilized to work on the Temple of God.