There are fine lines separating hope, discouragement, and despair. We can see evidence around us in our culture for people who have become discouraged. People who lose their jobs cannot always find employment which pays a salary equal to what they lost. As unpaid bills stack up, financial ruin becomes probable, not just possible. As hope withers away, despair creeps in. However, our lesson today relates more to a corporate discouragement in which a large number of the population just grinds alone, barely surviving. Think of a pastor who serves in a changing neighborhood and the church faces inevitable closing. Haggai preached among people whose will to reverse a bad situation sapped their energies. Was there any hope?
Haggai began with a critical analysis of the failed leadership (1:2-4). He directed his criticism directly to Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest (v. 1). Unless the leaders took decisive action, rebuilding the temple which had begun 15 years earlier would continue to be a blight on the nation. The work had ceased when opposition from the residents caused the Persian king to issue an order to stop the construction.
Some time later, a new king, Darius I, had lifted the restriction. The permission to begin construction anew affected the Jewish people not at all. The work languished.
The prophet understood well the mindset of both leaders and people. Their attitude was that the timing was not right (v. 2). The prophet’s admonitions were authoritative. In those two chapters of a total of 38 verses, he asserts “thus saith the Lord” or its equivalent some 23 times. Also, his analysis of the actions of the populace was devastating. That is, the people found time to refurbish their own houses, but not time to rebuild the temple. Their ceiled houses bespoke a people who went to great lengths to create luxurious accommodations for themselves. The prophet called on the people to “consider” their “ways,” an admonition which we might well apply to ourselves. For example, if we summarized at the close of each day how much time we gave to the day’s activities, how would our time spent in Bible study and prayer compare with how much time we devoted to watching TV or reading newspapers?
As far as Israel was concerned, God was offering them a second chance (vv. 5-9). The euphoria being released from the Babylonian captivity had worn off as the people lapsed into the hum drum activities of daily life. They had forgotten the covenant relationship God had initiated through Moses, but God had not.
To illustrate, they had reached a certain level of social development, but what they achieved never seemed to satisfy them. Clothes did not seem to warm the body, and wages never quite met expenses (v. 6). The harder they worked, the farther behind they got (v. 8). The lumber they hauled down from the mountains vanished in a wind storm, which was actually God’s doings. He was at work among them. Zerubbabel and Joshua finally awakened from their lethargy and led the people to a rededication of effort.
Only 23 days had passed since Haggai began his preaching.
Haggai successfully developed among the people a renewed enthusiasm (2:4-5). To get their attention, he asked who among them remembered the splendor of Solomon’s temple (v. 3). He argued that comparing what they were doing missed the point. The God who led Israel out of Egyptian bondage was active in leading them out of Babylonian captivity. His Spirit was working among them just as He was in Israel in earlier days. God had something better in mind for them.
He promised them a new era (vv. 18-19, 23). He told them to mark their calendars, take a good look backward, but anticipate with excitement the future. The sudden improvement in their agricultural work pointed to the coming of Messianic era, one in which God would overthrow the ancient kingdoms in establishing the new one.
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