4. The Penalty for Inaction (Haggai 1:6-15)

Haggai 1:6-9 describes the penalty the Jews suffered for not rebuilding the temple.

Haggai 1:6: 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. 7 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways. 8 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. 9 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. 10 Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. 11 And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.

This passage shows that God inhibited the prosperity of the Jews that had returned to the land because they had not completed the temple. They had been given poor harvests and drought “because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.” Before considering the severity of the penalty, it is first worth considering the difficulties in proceeding with the construction.

Construction Difficulties

The reconstruction of the temple was a very hard job. As an indication, they had to first go up into the mountain to get the wood, before transporting and then building. However, the hardship was far more than just the work in the construction. The neighbouring nations were still opposed to the temple being built and could be expected to become militant when the construction resumed. Note that at this time they were still subject to a command from the Persian administration to stop construction. To defy the Persian command would be dangerous and was likely to jeapordise their freedom. When the construction did commence, Ezra shows that the governor was very quick to question their activities.

Ezra 5:1: Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them. 2 Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them. 3 At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shetharboznai, and their companions, and said thus unto them, Who hath commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall? 4 Then said we unto them after this manner, What are the names of the men that make this building?

This provoked an inquiry, where the Jews stated their case.

Ezra 5:11: And thus they returned us answer, saying, We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and set up.

The positive response of the Persian authorities is given in the following chapter,

Ezra 6:7: Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place.

Note that it wasn't until after the construction resumed that the king (Darius) of Persia gave permission for the activities. A the time when construction was recommenced, there was no indication that the result would be so pleasing. This is consistent with the remarks above concerning the Ethiopian eunuch. After the people did what they could, God was willing to give them the additional assistance they needed to make the project a success. They had to make the effort before they were rewarded.

Severity of the Punishment

The punishments mentioned in this chapter are quite severe. After having recently entered the land, they would still be in an establishment stage and probably quite subsistent on agriculture. Under these conditions drought conditions and poor harvest have a severe effect on livelihood. At first glance this punishment may appear unjust. Modern moralists may say that He should have warned them first and then given them the opportunity to change while giving them counselling to help them achieve it.

This incident, however, is consistent with God's principles in dealing with His people. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus shows that repeated warnings should not be necessary, and are likely to be ineffectual in shaping peoples' character.

Luke 16:19: There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

In the parable, after they die, the rich man talks to Abraham,

Luke 16:25: But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. ... 27. Then he (rich man) said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: 28. For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

This passage shows that God's people have to be aware of His previous commandments and be actively searching for an application of them in their lives. In Jesus' day they were expected to have seen the role of Jesus through the prophets. In the day of Haggai, they were expected to know that they had to rebuild the temple and that construction was to start as soon as the seventy years were complete. The penalty that they experienced had already been laid out in Deuteronomy,

Deut 11:13: And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil. 15 And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full. 16 Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; 17 And then the LORD'S wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD giveth you.

The punishment of the Jews at that time emphasises the importance of knowing the commandments and principles of God even if they don't seem relevant at the time. The Jews here would have been concerned with many other things and it could be easy to dismiss the temple until the time when they really did needed to know about it.

This passage is a good example of the overall purpose in God's punishment of His own people. The principle is set down earlier in Deuteronomy,

Deut 8:5: Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee. 6 Therefore thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him.

This shows that the chastening is an aid in following the ways of God. The statement of this principle also contains a warning about prosperity,

Deut 8:11: Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: 12. Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; ... 14. Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage;

While this warning was specific to the first time the Israelites entered the land, it is exactly what happened again after the return from the Babylonian captivity when they built their cieled houses.

The punishments of God are dealt with in detail in the twelfth chapter of Hebrews. In this passage, the writer associates chastisement with the sonship of God.

Heb 12:5: 5. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: 6. For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

There is more to being a son of God than simply enjoying the benefits. It's not an easy road, the easy road is the broad way that leads to destruction. (Matt 7:13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: ) The writer to the Hebrews then goes further to say that if we don't receive chastisement, there is something wrong.

Heb 12:7: If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? 8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

So if you find life easy, then you are not a son of God nor an heir according to the promise. There are three states to be in,
  1. Faithfully working for God on his temple (physical or spiritual). This option requires the hard work of construction and the threat of opposition.
  2. One of God's people, but not actively working on the temple. This is what the Jews were doing in Haggai's time. People in this state should expect chastisement in their life to push them in the right way.
  3. Everyone else is heathen and a stranger to God.
The worst thing in life then is to have no hardship. The believer will have difficulties, and so must establish where the problems are coming from. If they are not directly caused by active work in the truth, they are a chastisement and a message from God to “consider your ways.”

This may make the sonship of God sound a difficult task, but the writer to the Hebrews continues, and puts it into perspective.

Heb 12:11: Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. 12 Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;

As the Jews said in the time of Nehemiah, “rise up and build.”

If ever there was an example and inspiration to persevere with the work of God, it is in the life of His son, Jesus. The twelfth chapter opens with a reference to this.

Heb 12:1: Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

consider troubles as a warning unfortunately the punishment does not appear to be directly linked to the crime. God is the controller of the heavens, so it could be assumed that it related to him, but what aspect did it point to? illusion of prosperity

The Importance of the Temple

Given the difficulties in the construction of the temple, it is worth considering just how important it was. There are a number of passages which show that God is far above needing a temple made with hands.

Acts 7:48: Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, 49 Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? 50 Hath not my hand made all these things?

On these grounds, it is quite easy to rationalise away the need for a temple. It could be said that the construction did not achieve much physically, but its construction would cause significant hardship. The observations made about the temple construction have been:

These aspects combined suggest that there was an importance to the temple beyond the purely physical. Looking closely at Haggai 1, one aspect is shown, “1:8 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. ” In building the temple, the Jews would be glorifying God. The glory of God is an important concept, as Paul reminded the Corinthians,

1Co 10:31: Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

In order for the glorification to occur a specific thing had to be done. While “wise” men could show that the temple was not really necessary for the livelihood of either God or man, this wisdom is folly with God. The Jews could have been doing everything else right --- obeying the commandments and offering the correct offerings but that was not enough, they had to meet the commands that God laid down.

God's requirements are quite specific and must be followed correctly. Some of them may appear unnecessary or unwarranted to the wisdom of man, but this is the folly of man, not of God. As an example, by modern political correctness, God could be degraded as being sexist, homophobic and potentially racist.

Many things that seem unreasonable only appear that way because of a restricted viewpoint. In the first century AD, meats offered to idols represented such a case. There was no logical reason why they couldn't eat meat that had been offered to idols, as idols mean nothing to the true believer. Paul agrees with this in his letter to the Corinthians,

1 Cor 10:27: If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. 28 But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof:

He says here that sometimes meats offered to idols should not be eaten despite the logic. In this case the reason is obvious (causing others to stumble), but in other cases the underlying reason may not be obvious to human reasoning. For this reason we have to faithfully obey the commandments and principles of God regardless of whatever logic we may have to dilute them with.

Many modern Christians subscribe to the theory that “it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are good”. This is tantamount to living a good life, but ignoring the temple completely. They are not glorifying God and hence not doing His will.

The next step is to learn and accept God's ways and principles. The preaching of these principles to other people then constitutes the building of the temple of God. This glorifies Him and builds up the spiritual temple.

There was, however, more to the temple than just the construction. Consider this part of the specification of the original tabernacle,

Ex 27:18: The length of the court shall be an hundred cubits, and the breadth fifty every where, and the height five cubits of fine twined linen, and their sockets of brass.

Not only was the temple to be built, but it had to be to a certain design. Similarly, the offerings that were to be offered were specific. The rejection of Cain's offering shows that this has been true from the very beginning. “Gen 4:3 ... Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD ... 5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.” By analogy the principles and doctrines that support the spiritual temple must be specific. There is no room for deviation, ambivilance or dilution of these principles. As Paul said to the the Galatians,

Gal 1:9: As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

Consider Your Ways

The Hebrew phrase that is translated “consider” in Haggai is quite rare in the scripture. It is “suwm (soom) lebab (lay-bawb')”, which means “to set/make” your “heart / determination / thinking” but with emphasis is if a command under fear. Apart from Haggai, the closest usage of this phrase is in Deuteronomy where Moses, at the end of his life, urges the people of Israel to consider the words of the law.

Deut 32:45: And Moses made an end of speaking all these words to all Israel: 46 And he said unto them, Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law. 47 For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life: and through this thing ye shall prolong your days in the land, whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.

The length of time between the two writings indicates that the quotation of the same phrase is more than just a linguistic coincidence. It is as though Haggai is referring back to this passage to remind the people where they came from and the hope they could have. Those words in Deuteronomy were meant for the Israelites when they first came into the land. The motivation for the contents of Deuteronomy 32 is given in the previous chapter:

Deut 31:19: Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel. 20 For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant. 21 And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed: for I know their imagination which they go about, even now, before I have brought them into the land which I sware.

The warning under Joshua the son of Nun was just as applicable under Joshua the son of Josedech. (the high priest during the return). Similarly, the life of Joshua the son of God was a message to “consider your ways.”

Note: Joshua the Son of God is the man we know as Jesus. Jesus is the English translation of the Greek translation of his original Hebrew name. The Hebrew name is usually directly translated as Joshua, as in the Son of Nun. Just as people have ignored the warnings from the Johsuas of old, so it is possible to ignore the message of Jesus.

Response to the Call (Ch1:12-15)

Haggai 1:12: 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. 13 Then spake Haggai the LORD'S messenger in the LORD'S message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the LORD. 14 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, 15 In the four and twentieth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.

While the peoples' hearts had not been perfect, within three weeks of the original prophecy they had obeyed the voice of God and considered their ways. In response to this, God added to their strength to assure them of success.

Conclusion

Four principle lessons from Haggai 1 are: