1 Dating and Addressees
1 In the second year of Darius the king, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying,
The prophecy begins with the dating “the second year of Darius the king”. This dating is also found in Ezra 4. There we read that until that year the people stop working at the house of God (Ezra 4:24). Darius comes to government in 521 BC. So his “second year” is the year 520 BC. Dating the prophecy according to the reign of rulers of the nations shows that God sees His people as “Lo-Ammi”, not My people (Hos 1:9), and that the times of the Gentiles have come (Lk 21:24). Those times began when Nebuchadnezzar led the people of Judah into exile. Then Judah loses his sovereignty. This time lasts until the coming of the Messiah in glory.
Furthermore, the dating is said to be “on the first day of the sixth month”. Each new month begins with new moon. This means that the moon is completely invisible. The point of deepest darkness has been reached. Then the moon goes on its way again to the moment when it becomes full and shines abundantly. The first day of the month is a day of hope for restoration. The Israelites usually celebrate new moon with festivities (Num 28:11-15; Isa 1:14; Hos 2:11). It is not inconceivable that for Haggai – after all, his name is said to mean ‘the festive’ or ‘festival of Yahweh’ – this is an excellent opportunity to make his message heard to a large audience.
Against the backdrop of heathen domination and the hope of restoration, the word of the LORD comes to the leaders of the people. The prophecy is addressed to Zerubbabel, the civil leader, and Joshua, the religious leader. The word of the prophecy is first addressed to those who are responsible among the people.
Zerubbabel means ‘born in Babel’. He is also called Sheshbazzar (Ezra 1:8; 5:14,16). He is a descendant of David and is therefore entitled to the throne (Mt 1:12). But he has been appointed by the occupying power as governor of Judah, which is a Persian province. Joshua is the son of Jehozadak, who is high priest during the exile (1Chr 6:15). He is the first high priest after (a remnant of) the people have returned to the land.
“The word of the LORD” comes to them. Together with the expressions “declares the LORD” and “says the LORD”, no less than twenty-six times in this short prophecy the statements of the LORD are emphasized. This makes it clear that the messages Haggai passes on are not his words, but those of the LORD.
The LORD passes on the words which He wants His people to hear “by the prophet Haggai”. “By” is literally “by the hand of” which emphasizes that Haggai is an instrument by whom God speaks. Haggai is one of the prophets the writer of the letter to the Hebrews means when he says that “God spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways” (Heb 1:1). It is therefore advisable to listen carefully to him and to take his words into our hearts, because they come from God.
2 No Time to Rebuild God’s House
2 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘This people says, “The time has not come, [even] the time for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt.”‘“
In his first message on behalf of the LORD, Haggai presents Him as “the LORD of hosts”. He Who speaks stands at the head of all heavenly and earthly hosts. He is the Supreme Ruler and Supreme Governor. He oversees everything and everything is at His disposal. Who will not bow down in awe before His majesty if He makes Himself known in this way?
That exalted Majesty speaks to His people. The first word He speaks is an admonition. He speaks to the leaders, but not about them. He speaks about the indifference of the people, which He calls “this people” and not “My people”. He does so because “this people” do not recognize Him through their actions, and thus He cannot recognize them.
He knows exactly what the people say, how they think and act. He dismantles the excuse not to rebuild. It is a pious excuse to camouflage one’s own laxity. They lack faith. In their excuse they do not talk about their unwillingness, but about an inappropriate time, ignoring the fact that the work has been at a standstill for fifteen years.
After their good start in rebuilding the altar and laying the foundation of the temple (Ezra 3:1-13), the first fire was extinguished. They are no longer warm to the things of the LORD, but to their own things. It is (unfortunately) not uncommon to start with something in the Spirit, but to end in the flesh (Gal 3:3).
They do not say that they are reluctant to rebuild the temple, but that it is not convenient for them now. It is a matter of postponement. Not now. But everything shows that they are not pursuing God’s interests, but those of their own (Phil 2:21; cf. Mt 6:33). The indictment does not concern their weakness or inability, but their obvious lack of interest. They are delaying the rebuilding of the temple in order to have more time and money for their own affairs.
3 - 4 Is It Time?
3 Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, 4 “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house [lies] desolate?”
After the general indication of evil in verse 2, which is given time to sink in, the word of the LORD by Haggai comes again to the people in verse 3. There is strength in this renewed indication, which makes the contrast with what the people say even sharper. The people say this, the LORD says that. It indicates how much we have to test our own words against the Word of God. The Word of God must go above all else.
In answer to what the people say in verse 2, God asks a question (verse 4). That question is meant to touch their conscience and expose the search of their own interest. They think that it is time to build their own houses, while the work on the temple, the house of God, has been stopped and “this house” is still “desolate”. The desolated state in which the house of God is contrasts sharply with their houses. They have turned their own houses into kingly houses (cf. Jer 22:14; 1Kgs 6:9). Isaiah pronounces the ‘woe’ over such an attitude (Isa 5:8). David shows a very different attitude (2Sam 7:1-2).
Living in such houses shows that they love prosperity and comfortable living conditions. We also see this attitude in carnal Christians. They show no zeal or commitment for God’s work and home, but are full of love for themselves and their own comforts. What occupies God’s heart does not count for them.
5 Consider Your Ways!
5 Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, “Consider your ways!
The admonition of the LORD to the Israelites in their sin is that they consider their ways, or, as it literally says, that they set their hearts on their ways (verse 7; Hag 2:18-19). It is a call to self-judgment. Just think, examine your heart, what is it all about? It is a call to evaluation.
It is not about a fleeting and transient look into the heart, but about thorough self-examination. It is the kind of attention of which God speaks to Satan about Job: “Have you considered My servant Job?” (Job 1:8). Satan also looks with intense attention to a God-fearing believer, with the aim of making him unfaithful. Conversely, the people must pay full attention to their own sinful ways, with the aim of returning and becoming faithful to the LORD again.
6 Much Labor, Disappointing Result
6 You have sown much, but harvest little; [you] eat, but [there is] not [enough] to be satisfied; [you] drink, but [there is] not [enough] to become drunk; [you] put on clothing, but no one is warm [enough]; and he who earns, earns wages [to put] into a purse with holes.”
In order to help them in their self-examination, the LORD points out their activities and what they yield. They are called upon to look at the results of their work and to judge their actions on that basis. If they do so honestly, they will have to conclude that all their expectations disappoint. Their efforts bring loss rather than gain. The poverty that they have believed they can prevent by committing themselves to their own homes is precisely what troubles them right now. This should make them think and repent.
The LORD mentions some activities and what they yield:
1. They have sown much. Undoubtedly they did so because they wanted a large harvest. But the yield is disappointing (Lev 26:26; Hos 4:10; Mic 6:14). For example, there may be a lot of spiritual activity, but if it is not done from a living relationship with the Lord, there is no spiritual fruit.
2. They eat, but the feeling of hunger remains. For example, a person can read and listen a lot to God’s Word, but if it is only a matter of the intellect and God’s Word is not taken to heart, it does not give satisfaction to the heart.
3. They do drink wine, but it does not make them happy. Wine is a picture of joy in earthly things. For example, there is no satisfaction in family life if life consists only of it and the Lord Jesus is not given the central place in it.
4. The clothes they wear do not give warmth. There may be a lot of knowledge about the position in Christ, but if it has no practical effect, the result is a cold or legal mind. The Galatians have put on the Lord Jesus Christ, but by reintroducing the law, the warmth of love has disappeared (Gal 3:27; 5:14-15).
5. He who receives wages for his work cannot buy anything from it, because it disappears in no time. This is how it goes with wages that people expect from people. He who works to get wages from people, gets them too, but such wages bring nothing for heaven, it evaporates (Mt 6:3,5,16).
The general lesson for us is that we can have knowledge of God’s Word without our heart being involved and without it controlling our life in all its facets. The life of a Christian who does not seek the things of God is a lean, empty and poor life. Always bitter disappointment is the part of those who live for themselves instead of trusting in God.
How often is Christian fellowship given up, the privilege of proclaiming the Lord’s death, supporting the preaching and building up the church to earn a few euros more each month? People move somewhere else to earn more, without wondering what it will bring spiritually. Then it should come as no surprise that both the social and the spiritual aspect will be disappointing.
Also in the children will be seen what the parents have pursued. If they never see father or mother reading in the Bible or praying, neither will the children. Is there criticism on servants of God in the presence of the children? Then do not be surprised if they speak with contempt about who is doing a work for the Lord. How do we talk about the meetings? If we hardly pray and barely visit Bible studies, neither will the children.
7 Again: Consider your ways!
7 Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Consider your ways!
Once more “the LORD of hosts” makes the call to look carefully at their ways (cf. verse 5). Instead of sending them back into exile because of their infidelity, the people are exhorted to think about the way they are going, what happened to them. It should lead them to put the first things first. If God does not get His place, that is to say, the first place, our work will not have a lasting result.
8 What the LORD Wants Them to Do
8 Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the LORD.
Here they are told how they can fulfill the will of God and expect blessing again. With this the prophet says as it were: ‘Give God the first place in your lives.’ The house of God cannot be rebuilt without material and material cannot be obtained without labor. The LORD tells them where to go to get the material for God’s house. They have to go up to the mountains. There is wood to be used. With that wood they can rebuild God’s house, “the temple”.
The wood is a picture of Christ as “the fruit of the earth” (Isa 4:2). From a spiritual point of view, it is also true that all spiritual labor must have the glory of God’s house, His church, in view. It is about Christ. It is not easy, but what could be more beautiful than to be allowed to work for something in which God is pleased and through which He is glorified? His house, the church, consists of all believers. A local church is allowed to show in practice what the church is as God’s dwelling place. The Holy Spirit dwells in the church (1Cor 3:16) and in the body of the believer (1Cor 6:19).
How can we build the church? The church is built up by teaching from God’s Word through the gifts the Lord Jesus gave to His church (Eph 4:11-13). It is therefore important that everyone who has been given as a gift to the church performs his service faithfully and does not slacken in it. The believer is built up by absorbing this teaching. Then he builds himself up in his most holy faith (Jude 1:17-20). In this God rejoices and through this He is glorified.
9 Egoism Blocks Blessing
9 “[You] look for much, but behold, [it comes] to little; when you bring [it] home, I blow it [away]. Why?” declares the LORD of hosts, “Because of My house which [lies] desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.
In what God says here, you can hear how much it touches Him that His people ignore Him. He does not talk about their weak condition or the poor temple compared to that of Solomon. He talks about their indifference, their lack of interest in Him and His house.
The disappointing results are a disciplinary action of God for failing to rebuild His house. The importance of God’s house has been supplanted by the importance of their own houses. Instead of making an effort for God’s house that lies “desolate”, they are devoting themselves to their own homes. When it comes to God’s house, they are not engaged in any activity. But as soon as it concerns their own house, they are full of action, they run for it.
The word ‘run’ expresses the zeal with which they pursue their own interests. It is remarkable how much energy is put into realizing one’s own plans that serve to increase laziness, while there are complaints that there is so little time for the Lord’s things. Lack of zeal and love for the house of God, that is the church of the living God, often goes hand in hand with a lot of dedication and care for our own convenience.
There is time and there are resources in abundance for things that have no lasting use. In comparison, we see how difficult it is sometimes to make time for meetings and how little is sometimes contributed financially or in other ways to the work of the Lord. Once the conscience is addressed, that changes.
There is a great contrast between “My house” and “each … his own house”. In the ‘own house’ we can see religious groups that are arranged according to their own ideas. People want to be able to recognize themselves in it and feel at home there. Whether or not God feels ‘at home’ plays no role. We hear the expression ‘his own house’ also when a pastor speaks about ‘my church’. There is only one Person who has the right to speak about ‘My church’ (Mt 16:18). That is He to Whom the church belongs, because He bought her with the price of His blood (Acts 20:28).
10 - 11 No dew, No Produce
10 Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands.”
Heaven does not give dew on the land because the people despise God’s house and thus Him Himself. If they would have thought of Him, they would have thought of rebuilding His house. That there is drought should not be attributed to natural causes, but to ignoring the interests of the LORD. When they do so, the LORD neglects their interests. If they do not serve Him, He serves them not with dew, but rather, He serves them in another way. His service in discipline must lead them to consider why there is no produce and Who sends the drought.
That He called for a drought on the land and on the mountains (verse 11) is a sign of the judgment resulting from the infidelity of the people (1Kgs 17:1). That drought affects them throughout the entire produce of the land, all “what the land produces”. “The grain”, “the new wine” and “the oil” summarize the blessings of the land (Deu 11:14; 18:4).
Not only the people, but also the cattle suffer as a result of the infidelity of the people. All creation suffers because of the sin of man (Rom 8:22). There is harmony in creation, between the animals, between man and animals, and between humans, only if creation has been restored by Christ in the right relationship to God – as it was in the original creation.
12 The People Show Reverence for the LORD
12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, 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 showed reverence for the LORD.
After Haggai pronounced his first message on behalf of the LORD, the leaders and the people “obeyed the voice of the LORD their God”. The words of the prophet fall into good ground and all obey. They hear “the voice of the LORD their God” in “the words of Haggai the prophet”. This must be so with everyone who brings God’s Word. Haggai did not come of his own accord. He was sent to them by the LORD their God. He comes in His Name.
The coming and speaking of Haggai does not create dissension or division, but unity and acknowledgment. That shows a good mind. Everyone acknowledges the truth of what has been said. The people show reverence, the words make an impression. Reverence is the first fruit of hearing. The second fruit is that they resume the neglected work on the temple (verse 14).
13 I Am With You
13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke by the commission of the LORD to the people saying, “ ‘I am with you,’ declares the LORD.”
“Then” indicates that what follows is a reaction to what preceded it. The good mind of the people is answered by the LORD with an encouraging promise. Haggai, who is now emphatically called “the messenger of the LORD”, comes to them with an extremely short but rich message from the LORD. When the LORD sees a mind in someone to obey, He makes the promise: “I am with you.“ What more does a man need? This promise implies that their conversion is real.
With the presence of Lord the guarantee for help, protection, strength and blessing is present. He who has Him has everything. There is no greater encouragement to fulfill a commission, especially if it is a day of weakness, than the words of the Lord Jesus: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20; Psa 23:4; 91:15; Isa 43:2). Even in the best days there is nothing better. It is the only word spoken to the fearful people, but it means everything.
Haggai is given the honor of being called “the messenger of the LORD” as the only prophet in the Bible, although this is true of all true prophets. You can be a messenger of the LORD, but still not bring a message from the LORD. With Haggai it is both true.
14 - 15 The Work on God’s House Is Resumed
14 So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, 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, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.
When the right mind is present, the LORD can awaken the spirit of the leaders and of the remnant to go to work. He works “both to will and to work” in them (Phil 2:13). He encourages them inwardly and makes them willing and powerful to go to work. They begin, without waiting for the king’s permission. The word of the LORD is above that of a king.
On the one hand they are obedient to the message of Haggai. On the other hand, God’s Spirit works in them the willingness to resume the rebuilding of God’s house. Both aspects are necessary for the result to be to God’s glory. Nothing comes about that is to the glory of God when a work comes from man and he is busy in his own strength.
Paul has been thoroughly aware of this. We hear this when he says: “I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1Cor 15:10b). It must also penetrate us deeply that the Lord Jesus says: “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5b).
The day that they begin their work is of such great value to the LORD, that the date is accurately indicated (verse 15).