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Monday, September 13, 2010

The Book of Haggai (When God feels left out)

The Book of Haggai (When God feels left out)

The book of Haggai is just two chapters long and was written in approximately 520 B.C. Haggai was one of Gods’ prophets to Judah and his short ministry covered a period of three or four months. As one of the Jewish exiles, Haggai had returned home with his people from Babylon.

When the book of Haggai was written the Jewish people had recently returned to their homeland after spending seventy years in Babylonian captivity. It had been a dark period in Jewish history. The Babylonians had attacked Judah in 605 B.C. and had sacked and pillaged Jerusalem. Solomon’s’ magnificent temple had been destroyed and the arch of the covenant was taken away and lost forever. The city walls had been torn down and the people of Judah were carried off to Babylon as slaves. Scripture tells us that this Jewish exile to Babylon was the result of their sin and rebellion against God over a long period of time. The citizens of Judah had lost so much because of their disobedience to God, but now they were back in their homeland and ready to rebuild.

A group of nearly 43,000 Jews had traveled back with Ezra and Zerubbabel promising to rebuild the temple of the Lord. For the first year or so they worked on the altar and the foundation of the temple. But then, realizing that the new temple they were building could never compare to the one that had been destroyed, they became discouraged and apathetic and stopped working on Gods’ house altogether. They turned their energies to building their own new designer homes with paneled walls. Sixteen years passed and their commission to build Gods’ temple had been completely forgotten. God was not pleased. The Lord spoke to Haggai and gave him a message to give to the people.

Haggai obeyed God and delivered His Word to his fellow citizens. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and built the temple that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified. You looked for much, but indeed it came to little: and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house.’ Haggai 1:7-9

Clearly God feels left out of the lives of His people as they rebuild their houses and neglect His. He misses their fellowship. Without a temple they are not worshiping the Lord as they had. God longs to take “pleasure” in their worship and be glorified in their praise. Like a rejected parent or lover, He seems jealous. (Exodus 20:4-5) Phillip Yancey in his book “Reaching for the Invisible God” p. 201 writes: “Reading the Old Testament convinces me that this human tendency – indifference taken to a lethal extreme – bothers God more than any other. Gracious to doubters and a pursuer of willful unbelievers, God finds himself stymied, and even enraged, by those who simply put him out of mind. God reacts like any spurned lover who finds his phone calls unreturned and his Valentines tossed aside unopened.”

Does God feel hurt and angry when we forget to put Him first in our lives? Is He jealous when our personal agendas and ambitions come before our relationship with Him? Do we build up our own “houses” and leave His “house” unfinished like the Jews did in Haggai’s time? Perhaps we forget how important we are to God! We know that we are supposed to obey His laws. But do we remember that He takes pleasure in us when we come to Him and He is glorified in our worship and our praise? Isn’t it amazing that our modest faith means so much to God and the imperfect love we offer brings Him such joy? Isn’t it incredible that our little actions can have an affect on the God of the universe?

When Haggai came and told the returning Jews that God wanted them to finish building His house, they stopped and listened. Haggai 1:14 reads: So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, …and the spirit of all the remnant of the people: and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.” And when the people obeyed, the Lord spoke again through Haggai encouraging them: “I am with you.” Haggai 1:13 and “”But from this day I will bless you.” Haggai 2:19. And also more rallying: “be strong,…be strong…be strong…and work.” Haggai 2:4.

Some of the older people in the band of the returned Jewish exiles had seen Solomon’s temple when they were children. The workers had become discouraged when they realized that the new temple they were building would never be as large and grand as the old one that had been destroyed. Haggai 2:3 reads: “Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing?”

But God gave them encouragement and great expectations for the temple they would build. Because His Spirit and glory would fill this temple, it would end up being even greater than the last temple! Haggai 2: 7 and 9 reads: “”and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory, says the Lord of hosts. …The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, says the Lord of hosts.”

God is giving Haggai’s fellow citizens such expectations for the temple they have resumed building. The Lord will take the work of their hands, this smaller temple, and make it so much more than they could have imagined. Since His Spirit is with them as they work and since He promises to fill their new temple with His glory and make it better than the last one; then what can they be discouraged about?

When God promises the “Desire of All Nations,” He is referring to Jesus Christ. And when the Lord speaks about “filling this temple with glory,” He is probably speaking about the end times when Christ will reign in victory and we will all be victorious through Him.

Do we share any of the same challenges to faith that these Jewish exiles had so long ago? Are we discouraged when the Christian ministries we invest our lives in don’t seem to compare to those of a previous generation? Do we become disillusioned when our work for the Lord goes unnoticed, or our prayers appear to go unanswered?

I believe that God has the same message for us that He did for the Jews in Haggai’s time. God would have us seek Him first and not get discouraged with our efforts. The glorification of the work of our hands happens when the presence of God is with us in our work. And God has promised to be with us always. Even if we don’t see the fruits of our labors now, God calls out to us with encouragements. Be strong…keep working…have faith.

Our prayers will be answered, even if we don’t see the answers here on earth. God will take our labors for Him and make them so much more than we could have imagined. When Jesus Christ, the Desire of All the Nations comes again, we will be changed. In Gods’ Hands our work for Him will be transformed. The last temple will be more glorious than the first. Through Christ we will be victorious. It doesn’t get any better than that!

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