Matthew R. Perry

Have You Considered Your Ways? (Haggai 1:1-15)

In Sermons on January 2, 2007 at 3:21 pm

America treasures prosperity and comfort almost to a fault.  Steve Farrar included a rather humorous little poem in his book Family Survival Guide in the American Jungle:

 

 Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray my Cuisinart to keep.

I pray my stocks are on the rise

And that my analyst is wise.

That all the wine I sip is white

And that my hot tub’s watertight.

That racquetball won’t get too tough,

That all my sushi’s fresh enough.

I pray my cordless phone still works;

That my career won’t lose its perks;

My microwave won’t radiate;

My condo won’t depreciate.

I pray my health club doesn’t close

And that my money market grows

If I go broke before I wake

I pray my Volvo they won’t take.[1]

Many in our culture would smile over this little verse — mainly because this hits rather close to home.  So many today willingly and lavishly spend money on personal desires in order to better their current situations.  If you go into our bookstores the largest sections in our bookstores are ones that deal with money-related matters.  Books upon books answer questions such as dealing with broadening your portfolio, climbing the corporate ladder, preparing for retirement, saving to put your children through college, buying that dream home with “all the fixins” — and the list goes on.  We even fixate on the mundane matters of life and elevate them into crisis decisions.

haggai.jpgThis morning, we come to a book of the Bible many of us may not have read or even heard of — the book of Haggai.  Haggai is the second shortest book of the Old Testament behind Obadiah.  We know of Haggai served as a prophet during an incredibly crucial time in the life of the people of Israel. In Ezra 5:1-2, we read:

Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them.  Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them (Ezra 5:1-2, ESV).

Haggai prophesied during the time when God moved Cyrus and later Darius, king of Babylon, to allow the Israelite exiles in Babylon to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple.  Yet as they rebuilt the Temple, they met stiff opposition from all sides, especially the Samaritans.  They grew discouraged and stopped the work — the work for which God had sent them back to Jerusalem.  They quit the work at around 536-535 B.C.  God raised up Haggai in the second year of King Darius’ reign around 520 B.C. to stir them out of their complacency, help them see their spiritual condition in the midst of their circumstances, and to urge them to find pleasure in pleasing God rather than padding their wallets and their own personal situations.   

God beckons us through his prophet to consider our ways.  He never once tells his people that they would never face opposition.  What he promised was strength to persevere in the midst of them.  Out of God’s love and mercy, he sends his prophets and preachers to remind his people of his faithfulness — and in turn, to remind them as his people to be faithful and obedient as well.  Even though the book of Haggai is found in the Old Testament, the principles here are not simply for ‘Old Testament’ peoples, but for all the people of God.  When God’s people remain unfaithful, his blessing leaves us — whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament.  God’s blessing comes when his people consider their ways and by his Spirit line those ways up with those of God.

Have You Considered Your Complacency at the Expense of Your Calling?

            Haggai 1:1-4 reads as follows:

In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest:  “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.”  Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins (Haggai 1:1-4, ESV)?

God called his prophet to confront some rather influential people amongst Israel:  Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah; and Joshua, the high priest.  He confronts them with the mindset of the Israelite culture after their providential return back to Jerusalem.  “These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord” (Haggai 1:2, ESV).   Clearly, they operated by their own timetable, not God’s.  In Ezra 1:2-4, we read:

Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.  Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel— he is the God who is in Jerusalem.  And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:2-4, ESV).

Notice who spoke this:  Cyris king of Persia.  He, a Babylonian king no less, understood that God charged him to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.  Ezra 1:7 says that Cyrus even brought out the Temple furniture that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away for them to refurnish God’s house.  God worked to bring them back!

So why had they stopped?  The reasons (read: excuses) were too numerous to count. They received great opposition from the inhabitants in the land.  Plus, considering how they were struggling economically and financially, they may have felt the country lacked the strength to undertake such a grand project.  Discouragement ensued among the people.  “Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build, and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius, king of Persia” (Ezra 4:4-5).  They grew discouraged, their leaders grew corrupt, they grew complacent.   It just became too difficult for them to persevere and they lost their desire.  So according to Ezra’s account, they rebuilt the altar but nothing else.  Sadly, as Haggai reminds them, they had plenty of energy and desire and money to build their own houses.  He notes that their houses were “paneled,” which is “a sign of ornamentation and luxury”[2]

Many of you here understand that.  You knew of God’s calling in a certain area, you saw the need, and you began the work.   You know God calls you to witness, but excuses arise as to why now is just not the time or your fear discourages you.  You may have found yourself doing the work with little or no help and discouragement sets in.  You know you need to give, but you have a house to work on or bills to pay or a vacation you want to take or you cite the struggling economy.  Maybe you grow discouraged because you receive little appreciation for what you do.  Maybe your relatives sneered at you for spending so much time doing ‘church stuff.’  Whatever the reason, the result is the same — discouragement followed by complacency followed by disobedience.  Have you considered your complacency for the Lord’s work?  When complacency sets in, God steps in with his messengers to jar us out of that valley.

Have You Considered Your Condition in the Midst of Your Need?

Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways.  You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes (Haggai 1:5-6, ESV).

As you stand on the precipice of 2007, you have likely evaluated the events and circumstances that confronted you in 2006.  I will not presume to list all the possibilities, but likely listed among those possibilities is how better to budget your money — or how better to blossom your portfolio to give yourself more of a financial cushion.  Why?  This past year may have been difficult on you financially.  You may be like the majority where you are having trouble making ends meet, as they say.  The reason may not be due to budgets or bad investments.  There may be another.

God speaks through Haggai and says, “Consider your ways.”  They eat, but are not full.  They drink, but they never quench their thirst.  They do not have enough clothing.  They bring in a paycheck, but the money seems to vanish.  God even sent a drought, mentioned in Haggai 1:11.   The reason these issues happened was due to their unfaithfulness.  They failed to be satisfied with what God provided for them.  They worked and worked, but that never lowered their discouragement.  God would not bless them with more unless they stayed faithful with the resources God already gave them.  Charles Spurgeon once noted, “If men are selfish and keep their wealth to themselves, and rob God of his portion, they shall not prosper, or if they do, no blessing shall come of it.”[3]

Many of you listening this morning may say I sound like those televangelists who preach that God will bless you with health, wealth, and prosperity if you have plenty of faith — and if you don’t, you’ll be poor or struggle with bodily illnesses.  Haggai seems to say this, no?  Consider Mark Dever’s thoughts on the matter?

Consider your life and consider how you give, Haggai says.  Why should God entrust his wealth to you?  What do you do with it?  What if he created the wealth he has given you specifically to do good things in his creation, but instead of beinga  highway of blessing, you have become the dead end for the wealth he gave?  Why would he give you any more?  Pray for the grace of God to lead you and to teach you from his Word what to do with your money.[4]

The ultimate point of this passage is not about building programs Old Testament-style specifically or about giving in general.  The ultimate point lies in your attitude and your obedience to God.  Do you love him?  Do you delight in him above all? 

 Have You Considered Pleasing Yourself More So Than Pleasing Him?

 Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways.  Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord.  You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.  Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors” (Haggai 1:7-11, ESV).

 Again, God commands his people to consider and evaluate their ways.  They derived more pleasure in their own ways than in God’s ways.  God never desired for us to find pleasure in something other than himself.  In fact, the true sign of being right with God is that your pleasures and delights are met when they are the delights God has as well. 

When God calls us to repentance, he is not merely calling for a change of mind or a change of philosophy that remains internal.  Repentance is a call to action.  He says, “Consider your ways.  Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house.”  Four imperatives in these two short sentences:  consider, go, bring, build.  Notice, too, the rationale:  “that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord” (Haggai 1:7).  God desires that our pleasures and his pleasures are the same.  He desired a house as a testimony to the nations that God is still among his people and active in the world, and as a reminder to the people of Israel that God kept the covenant he established with Abraham.  God wanted his people to see this.  God desires his people to see him as a priority.  Psalm 37:1-4says:   

         Fret not yourself because of evildoers;

         be not envious of wrongdoers!

         For they will soon fade like the grass

         and wither like the green herb.

         Trust in the Lord, and do good;

         dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

         Delight yourself in the Lord,

         and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:1-4, ESV).

The people of Israel focused and fretted more on the evildoers who discouraged them than on the God who dispatched them from Israel.  Yet when God urges them to do what they do, notice that his first motive is not so they would get a better return on their investments or enjoy their food and drink or any other earthly reason.  His rationale is that he may be find pleasure in these acts and that these acts would bring him glory. 

When bring self pleasure takes precedence over bring God pleasure, we will find ourselves not simply missing God’s blessing but soon under God’s judgment.  This mindset is the basic definition of pride.  Moses understood this.  The writer of Hebrews notes:

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than all the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26, ESV). 

Moses, who serves as one of the titanic characters in Old Testament history, serves also as a great example for God’s people.  He preferred facing derision and disdain than to enjoy any fleeting pleasure or treasure earth offered.  The “reproach of Christ” was “greater wealth” (Hebrews 11:26, ESV) because he persevered to what awaited him. 

Have You Considered Your Cure in the Midst of Your Culture?

Then Zerubbabel the son of She-altiel, 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 feared the Lord.  Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, “I am with you, declares the Lord.”  And 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,  on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king (Haggai 1:12-15, ESV). 

In his commentary on Haggai, John Calvin noted so insightfully:

    

Let us … learn, that princes and those to whom God has committed the care of governing his Church never so faithfully perform their office, nor discharge their duties so courageously and strenuously, but that they stand in need of being roused, and, as it were, stimulated by many goads.[5]

We may resist people coming in and condemning us in an area that falls short of God’s standard — but does that say more about us than anything?  Is this reaction the result of a hardened heart?  Fortunately, Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest did not possess a hardened heart.  As we read earlier from Ezra 5:1-2, they led the people to conduct the work of rebuilding the Temple.  Yet, like the rest of the remnant, they too became complacent and the rest simply followed their lead.

Praise God that he continues to send his preachers with his message to stir up his people — and with that he sends his presence!  We see the man side of the issue when Haggai 1:12 notes how Zerubbabel and Joshua “obeyed the voice of the Lord” (Haggai 1:12, ESV).  In verse 14, however, we notice that “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” (Haggai 1:14, ESV).   

God moved Haggai to preach to the remnant in Israel who were moved by the word and the Spirit to build.  In Ezra 6:14, we see when they finished building the Temple after Haggai began preaching: 

And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia;  [15] and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king (Ezra 6:14-15, ESV).

Notice the timeframe:  Haggai began preaching “in the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month” (Ezra 1:1a, ESV).  The temple’s completion landed on the “third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king” (Ezra 6:15, ESV).  Using our calendar, Haggai stopped preaching in December of 520 B.C. and the Temple was completed just over three years later in March 516 B.C.  How glorious it is to see God’s people repent and respond to the Word of God with obedience!

Conclusion

Right now, 2006 will end in about twelve hours and will soon be in our rearview mirror.  2007 is upon us.  Are we willing to examine ourselves and truly consider our ways?  Are we willing to examine how we spend our time, our money, our energies on the things of God?   As you consider your ways, consider the words of this hymn by Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879):

Another year is dawning,

Dear Father let it be,

In working or in waiting,

Another year with thee.

Another year of progress,

Another year of praise,

Another year of proving

Thy presence all the days.

Another year of mercies,

Of faithfulness and grace,

Another year of gladness,

The glory of thy face.

Another year of leaning

Upon thy loving breast,

Another year of trusting,

Of quiet, happy rest.

Another year of service,

Of witness for thy love,

Another year of training

For holier work above.

Another year is dawning,

Dear Father, let it be,

On earth, or else in heaven,

Another year for thee.[6]

 


 

[1]Steve Farrar, Family Survival in the American Jungle (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Press, 1991), 63.

 

[2]Ralph L. Smith.  Micah-Malachi:  Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 32 (Waco, TX:  Word, 1984), 153.

[3]Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  Spurgeon’s Devotional Bible (Grand Raids, MI: Baker, 1964), 460. 


[4]Mark Dever.  Promises Made: The Message of the Old Testament.

[5]John Calvin.  Commentaries on Haggai * * * 

[6] Frances Ridley Havergal.  Another Year is Dawning (Public Domain).

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  1. Hi Pastor Matt, I found your sermon very relevant and enlightening. The US is not only the country that is suffering from financial crisis. We here in the Philippines had been at it for many years now. Worst, it’s not only poverty that my fellowmen needs to arise from but also the culture of it. I stumbled upon your blog because I was looking for some thoughts on “purse with holes” as I see this as the common lifestyle here. Anyway, thank you so much for your reflections. I found inspiration from them. More power to your ministry and family.

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