3. The Call to Rebuild (Haggai 1:2-5)

The prophecy of Haggai was given during the second year of the reign of Darius of Persia.

Haggai 1:1: In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, (saying,)

The prophecy opens with a condemnation of the people who had returned and were living in the land of Judah. The main issue of the first prophecy is the construction of the temple. This is raised in verse 2,

Haggai 1:2: 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. 3 Then came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying, 4 Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste? 5 Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.

The central issue of this chapter is the rebuilding of the house of God. In these few verses, the people are condemned for not working on rebuilding the house of God. They appear to be content to be building and living in their own houses while the house of God is forsaken. They did have an excuse for their actions, however, as they said, “The time is not come, the time that the LORD'S house should be built.” To understand this excuse, it is necessary to look back into their recent history.

The Previous Attempt

Sixteen years earlier, these same governors had initiated the reconstruction of the temple and had laid the foundation:

Ezra 3:8: Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brethren .... to set forward the work of the house of the LORD.

At the time of the first return from exile, the people immediately started the work of rebuilding the temple. Unfortunately, by the time the foundation was laid, the neighbouring nations were frustrating the construction efforts, and then during the reign of Artaxerxes they were able to convince the Persian king to call a complete stop to the efforts. The opposition of their neighbours at the time halted the progress, and since then no more work had been done. Apart from the physical impediment to construction, this would also have had an effect on attitudes of the constructors.

It would have been very difficult for them, being enthusiastic with the best of intentions, but being frustrated by the heathen about them. Presumably, after this setback, the people saw that the seventy years of desolations was not fulfilled and they were content to wait. The real problem was that they waited longer than necessary before attempting to rebuild again. They had originally become disillusioned because they had been unable to do the work of God in rebuilding the temple. This disillusionment prevented them from beginning construction when the time was right.

There appears to be a common theme through scripture that enthusiasm needs to be sustained. On many occasions people have had to wait before their commitment is tested. It is often necessary to have a lasting enthusiasm that is strong enough to overcome delays and difficulties. One example of this is Abraham. He was offered the promises reasonably early in his life, but it wasn't until much later that he was given the son through which the promises would be carried out. Another example is in King David. After the initial anointing and then the defeat of Goliath, it was a long, hard struggle before he finally gained control of the throne of Israel. During the time he was being pursued by Saul, it would have been very tempting for him to give up the ways of God. Consider also the life of Joshua. In his youth he was given the dreams showing his future importance, but it was a long time after that before he saw success. In the meantime he had to endure slavery, imprisonment and the threat of death.

In the garden of Gethsemane, Peter was ready to cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest, but shortly later he denied even any association with Jesus. The excitement of the original situation had provoked him to fight for Jesus regardless of the cost, but over the subsequent hours his temperament changed. By the morning he was no longer a fighter, but instead chose denial. Regardless of whether Peter was right in his actions or not, It shows that there is a tendency for enthusiasm to degrade with time.

The scriptures also show examples that apparently fruitless labour can have its rewards in the long term. Early in his association with Jesus, Simon was shown not to abandon the hope of success.

Luke 5:3: And he (Jesus) entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. 4 Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. 5 And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. 6 And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. ... 10. ... And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.

After the fruitless night, Simon expected failure in the final fishing attempt. Despite this, he was rewarded in making the attempt.

Initiative

The criticism in this section of Haggai suggests that despite the earlier setback in building the Temple, the people should have tried again later without a direct commandment. God is a great rewarder of faithful initiative. At many times during his ministry, Jesus was greatly sought after to perform miracles. In many cases it was the people who had the faith to persevere who were rewarded.

Luke 5:17: And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them. 18. And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before him. 19. And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. 20. And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. ... 25. And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God.

In order to obtain a cure for their patient, the four bearers had expend effort. Apart from the physical work involved, there was a lot of risk involved and only the hope of success. The owner of the house may not have been impressed with a new hole in the roof. Even after a successful entry, there was no guarantee of healing. Nevertheless, the faithful perseverance through adversity was rewarded.

In the time of Haggai, the people needed initiative in re-starting the temple construction. For this, they needed to know the time when construction was supposed to start. At the time of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, the Jews needed to know the time to leave the city. Some forty years earlier, Jesus told the people this.

Luke 21:20: And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. 21. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. 22. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. 24. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

In this case there is no suggestion of Angels appearing in Jerusalem to drag the faithful out before its destruction. Instead, they are given this warning and the sign for when it was to happen. The responsibility was placed entirely on the listener to watch for the signs. In modern times, believers have been given the Bible, and are expected to watch for signs and evidence.

In the light of these examples, it may appear to be an very daunting task to be sufficiently prepared. Fortunately God has not left the faithful without assistance. One example of direct assistance is in the Ethiopian eunuch.

Acts 8:26: And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. 27. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, 28. Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. 29. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.

The eunuch was not able to understand sufficient from the scriptures, but he did what he could in search of the truth. As a result he was rewarded by receiving the help he needed for a fuller understanding. If he had not searched, Philip would not have been sent to give him that assistance he needed. The lesson from this is that the work of God can become easier and more effectual than what would be expected objectively.

Life in Cieled Houses

The main argument that God uses against the peoples' actions in Haggai is the state of their own houses. He is quite specific about the advanced state of the houses. Being cieled (covered), they were not just tents but substantial dwellings. The difference between their attention to their own houses and to God's was an indicator of their level of commitment to God. In the sermon on the mount Jesus was very clear on priorities, where he said,

Matt 6:31: Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

On the positive side, this passage in Haggai suggests that success in personal pursuits should be used as motivation in working for God. The people should have seen the state of their own houses and realise that the temple could be rebuilt. It urges the hearer to look at previous achievements and work out how to apply these in service toward God.

Reasons for the Condemnation

There were three main reasons why the people were criticised.

  1. They were living in cieled houses while the temple was unbuilt. The problems they cited in working for God did not prevent them in their own work.
  2. They allowed an earlier setback to prevent them from doing the work once it could be done.
  3. They did not take the initiative to start building themselves, but waited for the commandment. Instead they were expected to know when the 70 years were finished.