If you have ever read the Old Testament straight through, you’ve probably noticed the pattern. God’s people serve Him and are blessed. Then they get careless and begin to sin. God uses a prophet to bring a message of warning, but the people don’t listen. God judges them, they cry out to God for mercy, and then He saves them and blesses them again. In my sequential Bible reading, I recently found myself in the Book of Haggai. Again, the people were not pleasing to God. Again, through the prophet Haggai, God brought a warning. But this time, the people listened. The message was for the remnant of 50,000 Israelites returning to their homeland from Babylonian exile. It holds 5 lessons for those of us in God’s remnant today.
Background: To Captivity and Back Again
This time, everything started in Jeremiah 25. God once again let the people of Israel know that He was fed up with their disobedience. He vowed to punish His people with 70 years of exile to Babylon. The actual attacks came in 3 waves. The Babylonians captured the ruling class including Daniel around 608 BC (2 Kings 23:34 – 24:6, Daniel 1:1-4). They captured the middle class, craftsmen, and Ezekiel around 597 BC (2 Kings 24:6-16), and finally, Nebuchadnezzar II conquered the rest of Judah and destroyed Solomon’s Temple around 586 BC (2 Kings 25:8-17).
But God was not done with Israel. In Jeremiah 29:10, He promised to bring them back into their land when the 70 years were complete. As good as His word, in 538 BC, 70 years from the first wave of captivity, God used King Cyrus of Persia to liberate the Jews from the Babylonians. Not only that, but He also commissioned the king to send the Israelites back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Ezra 1:2 says, “Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, the Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and He hath charged me to build Him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.”
Great Intentions to Rebuild the Temple
King Cyrus gave the Israelites a choice. Anyone who felt led by God to return to their land to rebuild the temple could go. In Ezra 1:3 King Cyrus says, “Who is there among you of all his people? His God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (He is the God), which is in Jerusalem.” Anyone who wanted to stay in Babylon could do that, but they should at least send supplies. Ezra 1:4 says, “And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”
According to Ezra 2:64-67, about 50,000 people chose to return to the Land of Judah. It was the faithful remnant of God who went back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and reinstitute the worship of the one true God. They brought money, supplies, and determined hearts. When they laid the foundation of the temple, they sang, praised, and shouted for joy at the great mercy of God (Ezra 3:11).
But as is often the case when doing God’s work, the people faced opposition. The Samaritans who lived in the land came against them, bringing discouragement and frustration. They troubled the builders and even hired counselors to lobby against them to the king. After a while, the Israelites stopped fighting. Work was suspended for almost twenty years until the second year of the next Persian king.
Haggai the Prophet
Of the twelve minor prophets in the Bible, seven prophesied before the 70 years of Babylonian captivity and five after. Haggai was one of the five. He’s also one of the only prophets in the Bible to give an exact date for his message, so we can pinpoint the year. Haggai 1:1a says, “In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month…” This works out to 520 BC, about 18 years after the Israelites’ return from captivity in 538 BC.
When Haggai addressed the people, he spoke to the governor of Judah, Zerubbabel, and the high priest, Joshua. He brought a message from God who was not happy with His people.
“Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, ‘This people say, ‘The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.’”Haggai 1:2
See, years before when the work on the temple was difficult and the resistance was strong, the people had decided that it was obviously not God’s timing to rebuild the temple right then. Maybe they had even looked at the three waves of captivity and thought that surely God meant seventy years from the second or third wave, not the first. In any case, while the work on the temple was stalled, they decided to shift their focus from rebuilding God’s house to remodeling their own. That’s where their attentions still were almost twenty years later. For that, God brought a strong rebuke.
“Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?”Haggai 1:3
The word “cieled” is the Hebrew word “caphan” and is defined as “ceiling.” According to Bible Study Tools, it’s not talking about the actual top of the house, though. It means “covering or paneling of the inner walls of a house with cedar or other costly wood.” The Strong’s Concordance number is 5603 and means to cover or panel. This was decorative and extravagant. In fact, two other places “cieled” houses are mentioned in the Bible are in the context of a royal palace (Jeremiah 22:14) and the temple (1 Kings 6:9, 2 Chronicles 3:5, Ezekiel 41:16).
God Makes a Point
Then God asked the people to consider their ways. Were they currently being blessed by God? No, they were not. In fact, He was against them.
Haggai 1:6 says, “Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.” Moreover, Haggai 1:9 says, “Ye looked for much, and, lo it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.” God also said he withheld the dew from heaven and held the earth from producing fruit (Haggai 1:10). He had, Himself, brought drought and hindered their crops, animals, and even the labor of their own hands (Haggai 1:11).
Did you catch that? It wasn’t bad luck, the enemy, or just hardship from bringing a desolate land back to fruition. It was God’s curse on a people who would provide for themselves while leaving God’s work undone. We also see that same concept in Malachi 3:9 in which God says, “Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed Me, even this whole nation.” God commanded the people to tithe if they wanted a blessing. Otherwise, He would not protect them from “the devourer” that would destroy their crops (Malachi 3:11).
In other words, the people’s troubles were caused by God Himself because they had their priorities all wrong. In the face of opposition, instead of persevering and striving to build God’s kingdom, they made excuses, gave up, and worked to make themselves more comfortable instead.
God’s Solution, the People’s Reaction, and God’s Response
God’s solution was for the people to get their focus back where it belonged.
“Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord.”Haggai 1:8
Unlike all the chapters and chapters of the Bible when the people are stiff-necked and don’t listen, the remnant who returned from Babylonian captivity heard God’s message and were quick to obey.
“Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him, and the people did fear before the Lord.”Haggai 1:12
As soon as the people gave God the appropriate response, He immediately sent a message of encouragement.
“Then spake Haggai the Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message unto the people, saying, ‘I am with you, saith the Lord.’”Haggai 1:13
Not only that, but He also acted on their behalf. He stirred up the spirits of the leaders and all the people, and 23 days later they got busy rebuilding the temple (Haggai 1:14-15). Secular sources put the completion about four years later in 516 BC.
God then blessed His people.
“Is the seed yet in the barn? yea, as yet the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree, hath not brought forth: from this day will I bless you.”Haggai 2:19
Lessons for The Remnant
God always has a remnant. According to Got Questions, a remnant is “a leftover amount from a larger portion or piece.” In the Bible, it’s a very small number of people that God sets aside for holy purposes. Today, the remnant is the true church, the Body of Christ. Romans 11:5 says, “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” We are the few who find the narrow way (Matthew 7:13-14).
Here Are 5 Lessons We Can Learn from Haggai.
1. Change Begins with Leadership
Just like all the other prophets who brought their messages to kings, when Haggai brought God’s message, he didn’t broadcast it to the people on the streets. He started with leadership. When both the leaders and the people responded rightly to God’s message, He worked through those leaders to bring about change. Haggai 1:14 says, “And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.”
As fractured as God’s people are today, spread out around the world, authority still matters to God. He still calls and equips men to oversee His people, and it’s still up to them to lead them. Even in the home, there is a built-in hierarchy. The husband is supposed to lead his wife and family. If you aren’t currently involved in a local body, or even a godly marriage, consider the Christian groups you frequent online. Who are the leaders? Are those leaders modeling good stewardship? Are you, yourself a leader? Do you lead by example, living a life that prioritizes God’s work over your own comfort and success?
2. Just Because It’s Hard, Doesn’t Mean It’s Not God’s Plan
When the remnant left Babylon, it was with the purpose of coming back to the Holy Land to restore God’s temple. They were the ones with the most tender hearts toward God, and they rejoiced when the foundation of the temple was poured. But the people of the land withstood them. One obstacle after another left them questioning God’s plan. After all, they concluded, surely if God wanted it done, it wouldn’t be this difficult. In the meantime while production was stalled, they might as well work on their own houses, right? (It’s important to note that God never begrudged anyone a nice home. His point was that the people had to take care of God’s glory first before they concerned themselves with their own comfort.)
As the remnant of today we, too, have come out of Babylon. We are also tender toward God and concerned with building God’s kingdom. But how many of us have gotten tired, frustrated, and altogether weary of the opposition? We might have even concluded that it’s not in God’s time to do the work we had before thought He called us to do. Instead, we’re taking a break to work on our own careers, hobbies, portfolios, health, and welfare. (Again, all these are good and right for us to pursue if we prioritize God’s kingdom first.)
3. God’s Blessings Are on Those Who Serve Him
One uncomfortable part of this story is the part where God reveals that some of the people’s hardships were caused by a lack of God’s blessings. The people were getting by, but nothing was in abundance. God, Himself, was causing them not to prosper. As soon as the people put God’s work first, though, He promised to bless them (Haggai 2:19).
The “hole in your money bag” phenomenon is one of those things that should make God’s people take notice. Money is coming in, but it’s going out just as fast. Where are our priorities? Are we tithing/giving to God FIRST, or does He just get what’s left over? Is our heartbeat to serve God and bring others to Him, or are we more concerned with the things that keep our little family/world happy? Don’t misunderstand. Wealth doesn’t necessarily mean we are pleasing to God — any more than poverty is an indication that we aren’t. We must check ourselves and our priorities. We must ask God to show us any areas in which He might be withholding His blessings.
4. When God Brings Correction, Respond Rightly
The singular difference between this story and so many others in the Bible is that when Haggai brought a word of correction from God, the remnant responded appropriately. They feared God, understanding that He was in complete control of them and their lives. They acted immediately to correct the situation.
In the Church Age, the people of God have the Holy Spirit who can bring correction personally and in a moment. Hebrews 12:6-7 says, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” It’s never fun when God points out something about us that isn’t pleasing to Him, but we must never forget to thank Him for His mercy when He does. Then we must immediately obey His voice.
5. Where God Calls, God Equips
One of the best parts of this story is God’s reaction to the people the MOMENT they responded correctly to His message. God immediately reassured them that He was with them (Haggai 1:13). Not only that, but He moved on their behalf, stirring up their spirits to do the work He wanted to be done. This reminds me of a similar situation in 2 Chronicles 15. The prophet Azariah came to King Asa and said to all of Judah and Benjamin, “The Lord is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you” (2 Chronicles 15:2b).
It’s the same with us. As soon as we fear God and submit to His direction, He will reassure us. He doesn’t hold grudges. He wants nothing but the best for us, and when we are with Him, He is with us. Just like He moved for the Israelites, He will move for us too. He will give us everything we need – motivation included! – to do the work He has for us.
Remnant for a Reason
The small number of people who came back from Babylonian captivity had a heartbeat for God. They had good intentions, but hardship and excuses led them away from God’s plan and out of His blessings. But God isn’t a far-off God. He brought His message to the leaders, and they were quick to refocus their attention and act according to God’s will. Then He blessed them and helped them.
Today, the faithful remnant is made up of those who actively serve God with a whole heart. We have every intention to do God’s will and bring God glory. But how many of us have gotten weary of opposition and have stopped fighting for the things of God? Instead, we have settled down into building our own houses or the comfort of our own lifestyles. Today, God says for us to check ourselves. Where are our priorities? Are we still seeking God’s kingdom first (Matthew 8:33)? Do we see the blessings of God in our work and homes? As soon as we adjust our priorities, God will be with us. He will bless us and equip us to do the work He calls us to do.
Enjoy lessons from God? Try Three Lessons from Those Who Didn’t Pray, Believing. Or, try How to Quench the Enemy’s Fiery Darts of Doubt. Please sign up to receive my blog in your email inbox. You can find that at the upper right of your screen (or at the bottom on a phone). Also, check out my YouTube Channel where I read the blogs out loud. I also have a playlist of hymns from my church.
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