NO MORE EXCUSES (Haggai 1:1-15)
Let me begin by again highlighting this message is not aimed at a rebellious people, but a discouraged & distracted people. True, they were neglecting to build the temple & this was obviously serious in God’s sight – serious enough to withhold blessing from them. So yes their spiritual priorities needed to be re-synced with God’s – because of opposition they had begun living for themselves instead of God’s glory. But as I highlighted last week, they were still the right people in the right place at the right time; & all it took was the right message to get them working again. It’s really important we see this if we are to receive this message the right way. For these words will challenge us to give careful thought to our ways. They will challenge our priorities & cause us to ask how we are really getting on. They may even gently rebuke us for apathy towards God’s house. These words will also erase excuses we have made for not getting on with things. But more than anything else these words are meant to call us away from merely building a something for ourselves to stir our hearts towards building something together for God’s glory. Haggai 1:1-4:
“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 panelled houses, while this house lies in ruins?
NO MORE EXCUSES
In these verses we see God, who reveals himself as the “the LORD of hosts” or “the LORD Almighty” (we will come back to this term), exposing excuses & challenging the priorities of his people. We also see God asking his people to consider their ways. This phrase is found twice in this chapter (5, 7) & three times in chapter 2 (15, 18). God wanted them to think carefully about what they were saying & how they were fairing. Their main excuse was; “the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.” Over sixteen years this excuse became a cliché. People will always find excuses for why the time is not right. W. Wiersbe shares the following experience he had in connection to this. He writes; “The first congregation I pastured met in a corrugated tabernacle that should have been replaced years before, but whenever somebody would suggest a building program, some of the fearful people would resurrect their excuses for maintaining the status quo. “The economy isn’t good and there might be another strike,” was the major excuse we heard, but in that part of the country there were always strikes! And who can predict or control the economy? “Our pastors don’t stay long,” one member told me, “and it would be a tragedy to be in a building program without a leader.” But the Lord led us to build a lovely sanctuary and He saw us through!”
The truth is excuses are not hard to find & too often we’re found making excuses when we should be making progress. If we want to find excuses we will find them, they’re always there. In fact potentially we could spend our whole lives making excuses & have nothing to show for it in the end. Excuses get us nowhere! Benjamin Franklin wrote, “I never knew a man who was good at making excuses who was good at anything else.” Hard words but they make a valid point. What is the main excuse we make for not getting on with what God has called us to? Of course there are reasons why things don’t work out as we hoped or expected in life. Life happens... The people Haggai was prophesying to had reasons; they had come up against difficult opposition. However, when they allowed their reason to become an excuse for stopping the work, they lost sight of the fact they had better reasons to keep going. They had promises from God (like Joel 9:11-15), they had found favour with kings (Cyrus & Darius).
We need to remind ourselves today that there are always better reasons to keep going than to give up. No matter what difficulties we face, no matter what excuses we find, or hear, for not doing what God has called us to do, God has given us better reasons to keep going! The reasons to keep going in the Christian life always outweigh the reasons for giving up. Never lose sight of that. God said to king Asa in 2 Chr. 15:7 (NIV) “But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” Gal 6:9 (ESV) says; “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” We must never allow difficulty or opposition or setbacks to become excuses for giving up because God has given better reasons to keep going!
GETTING OUR PRIORITIES RIGHT
With a single question God cut right through their excuses & revealed it was actually their priorities that were wrong, not the timing! God says V4; “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your panelled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” This was a cutting question. God was pointing out that these people had invested time, resources & money on their own houses while his house lay in ruins. Panelled houses were the kind kings built for themselves! Maybe they justified themselves by thinking; ‘At least we gave the temple thing a go. We left the prosperity & comfort of Babylon & made sacrifices to come back & give it a go, so I suppose we deserve a little bit of luxury.’ But justifying our apathy doesn’t accomplish anymore than making excuses. What the people needed to do was simply get their priorities right again. The reality was, as the next two verses make clear, they were not anymore satisfied or better off by retreating from their primary mission to build something for themselves. There’s something about only building for ourselves that leaves us dissatisfied, we were made for something bigger!
V5-6 “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.”
These words paint a picture of frustration. They worked hard but never had enough of anything to satisfy them. Things would not change until they got their priorities in order. People are not made to find lasting satisfaction in material things, nor are they made to find satisfaction in living for themselves. People are made to live for the glory of God, only the purpose of God can bring true & lasting satisfaction to our lives. In verses 9-11 God continues to emphasise this, only this time he highlights he was withholding his blessing until they got their priorities in order: “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 labours.”
God exercised discipline by withholding blessing from his people. Part of being God’s covenant people is receiving his discipline when necessary. We have been set apart for God’s glory, to be a blessing to the world. God will not let us forget this. He will do whatever it takes to get our priorities in order. Hebrews 12:5-6 (NIV) says; “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” The writer of Hebrews goes on to explain how God’s discipline is a sign of his loving acceptance & commitment to us. It’s a sign he will never give up on us. A lack of discipline would signify a lack of care for us... The purpose given for such discipline is “God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness” (V10). God disciplines his children for their good, in order that we might reflect his holy character to a world that needs to know him. These words are definitely in line with God’s discipline of his people mentioned in these verses. His discipline was to get them back on track, back into the centre of his purpose for them.
The obvious challenge of these verses bring for us is simply to consider how much we invest in our own homes & lives compared to how much we invest in the kingdom of God. Are our priorities any better ordered than the people Haggai first addressed? Is building God’s kingdom our first priority? Or are we found just building something for ourselves? Building things for ourselves extends far beyond houses! Is our priority to build a career for ourselves or is it God’s mission for our lives? Is it to build a ministry for ourselves or is it build God’s kingdom? Is it to build something shaped by our preferences or is it to build something shaped by God’s Word? Is it to build something with us at the centre or with God at the centre? There are many ways we can build things for ourselves. Our hearts can be deceitful in this whole area because we can convince ourselves (& others) that we’re building for God when we’re actually building for ourselves. Too many people build things around themselves in this world – around their own personality or preferences etc – but as God’s people we are called to build something that displays his character.
God’s issue with his people was that they were building for themselves when they were meant to be building for him. So in verses 7-8 God commands them: “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.” They were called to build something that would bring pleasure & glory to God. This also highlights that the quality of what we build for God reflects whether or not he has priority in our lives. The people were called to build something God would be pleased with, something that would honour him. Does the quality of what we build for ourselves outweigh the quality of what we build for God? If so what does that say about our priorities? We need to give careful thought to our ways...
BUILD THE TEMPLE
Why was it so important for God that his people build the temple? Joyce Baldwin answers; “The nations needed to know beyond a doubt that the God of Israel had not gone out of existence when the Israelites were removed from their land... While the temple lay in ruins there was no outward sign of the Lord’s presence with the restored community.” You see the temple, set on Mount Zion, was a visible reminder of his presence in the world & his continuing purposes for the world. This is why it was such a priority. God desires to be known, & for better or worse be has decided to use his people to display his glory.
As God’s church today, as his temple, his community, his city we are called to be the visible evidence of his presence in our community & the world. For this reason Peter writes in chap 2:5 (NIV) of his first letter “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Are we offering acceptable sacrifices? Do our offerings display that our God is the priority of our lives. Verse 12 in the same chapter says; “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may SEE your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” The word ‘see’ emphasises again the importance of a visible church displaying the glory of God. It also refers to people carefully watching us over a period of time. Implying that as people watch our lives (our corporate lives more than our individual lives in this case) they should see evidence of God’s presence among us in our worship, in our relationships, in our ministry, in our mission, in our actions, in everything that we do as his people! When we don’t prioritise building God’s spiritual temple we rob our community of the visible evidence of the reality of God, because we are called to be that visible evidence in our community! We will return to this extremely important theme next week.
Of course as we have noted carefully the people in Haggai’s day had stopped building the house where God would display his glory because of the opposition they encountered. They had become discouraged & had subsequently turned inward & began building something for themselves instead. Beware of letting discouragement turn you inward. If these people were to be effectively moved to action again to complete what they started 16 years before, more than anything they needed encouragement. This first message of Haggai ends with the greatest encouragement ever:
V12 “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 feared the Lord.”
THE LORD OF HOSTS IS WITH US
So the people quickly responded in obedience. Robert Alden points out that “Haggai has the unique place among the prophets of having been really listened to & his words obeyed.” Deep down these people had a heart for God’s work, they also had a healthy fear of God. This fear made them wise enough to respond in the right way, but it would take more than fear to fully motivate them to finish the job... Up until verse 11 the people probably didn’t really know if the LORD of Hosts was for them or against them. From their history they knew God was no soft touch. I mean God had allowed his people to be captured by their enemies as discipline for their constant & persistent rebellion. How was he going to respond now?
V 13-15 “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.”
We need to feel the weight of those words “I am with you” in the context of how God reveals himself in this book. Over 90 times God reveals himself as the Lord of Hosts to the returning exiles in the last 3 books of the OT, approximately one-third of all biblical occurrences... The title the Lord of Hosts or Lord Almighty means the “the Lord of the Armies”, the God who is in supreme command of the innumerable armies of heaven & earth. So every time we read “the LORD of hosts” or “the LORD Almighty” we should picture an all powerful God with innumerable armies.
Remember up until verse 12 these people don’t know if the LORD of hosts is for them or against them, since they had failed to build his temple. So when God says “I am with you” no wonder the hearts of the leaders & people where stirred to begin working again. The Lord Almighty – the Lord of hosts – the Lord with innumerable armies at his disposal was for them. All of a sudden this remnant who saw themselves as a minority, compared with those who opposed them, seen that actually they were part of the majority with the Lord of hosts. A discouraged people who are outnumbered by the opposition, this is what needed to hear more than anything (it also removed all their Excuses). We need to get this glorious vision of God in our minds; it will change our whole perspective. 2 Chr. 15:2 says; “The LORD is with you while you are with him.” Who gets the better deal here?
When the king of Syria & his armies surrounded God’s people in 2 Kings 6 Elisha’s servant saw the army them & was terrified. Elisha said “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” The young man must have thought he was nuts... Elisha then prayed; “O LORD please open his eyes that he may see.” So God did, & the young man saw that the mountain was full of horses & chariots of fire all around Elisha. I’m sure this story may have come back to the people’s minds when the Lord of Hosts said; “I am with you.” May God open our eyes to see what that young man saw, so that like the people of Haggai’s day our hearts will be stirred to build again!