Explore: Seek him first

• The Explore the Bible lesson for May 10 focuses on Haggai 1:1-11; 2:5-9.

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• The Explore the Bible lesson for May 10 focuses on Haggai 1:1-11; 2:5-9.

Introduction to Haggai

Many scholars strongly agree Haggai’s prophecy may be dated to 520 B.C. Haggai’s speeches and ministry played a tremendous role in the rebuilding of the temple after the exiled Jews returned the Jerusalem. Accordingly, Haggai would have been a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 5:1; 6:14). Haggai also specifically addressed a governor of Judah named Zerubbabel.

Zerubbabel, a descendant of King David, likely was appointed by King Darius of Persia in a politically motivated move to gain the loyalty and friendship of the returning exiles. Some scholars suggest people in Judah actually enjoyed a relatively peaceful autonomy under Persian rule. Haggai also addressed Joshua, son of Jozadak (1:1). Joshua likely functioned as the chief priest during the period.

Haggai focused his message primarily upon the holiness of God. He consequently called people of faith to obedience and to take seriously their obligation to serve the Lord. For Haggai, faith without works is dead (James 2:17). A relationship with Yahweh, therefore, is both a privilege and a responsibility. It is no wonder Haggai encouraged the people to rebuild from the ruins of the temple as a way to infuse hope and optimism again into the lifeblood of God’s people. Yet, Haggai also tempered his message with sober warnings about the failure of the people to obey the Lord. 

This lesson offers three illustrations of Haggai’s timely message concerning the holiness of God and the responsibilities of his people. For more introductory information, please refer to the introduction of the Bible books included in the front section of the resources.

Reality defined (1:1-9)

Readers may note numerous points of interest in this passage as Haggai defined the stark reality of his cultural context. First, note the terminology concerning “the word of the Lord” at various places in the passage. This is known commonly as a “word event formula” and occurs frequently in regard to God’s judgment. The formula also emphasizes the ultimate authority and omnipotence of God. 

Second, God accused “these people” of wasting time in building a temple. The term “these people” drips with reproach and sarcasm and probably was aimed more at the political and religious leaders who came on the scene immediately following the return from exile. Haggai’s words would have hit home particularly with Zerubbabel and Joshua.

Third, God posed a sharp and pointed rhetorical question. Why would the people build nice homes for themselves while allowing God’s temple to remain in ruins (v. 3)? Clearly, God challenged them to rebuild the temple through this question. In fact, God even wondered why some of the people had “paneled houses,” a reference to the interior panels used in magnificent structures of the day. What did the people’s neglect of the temple say about their relationship with God?

Fourth, Haggai introduced a slightly different but equally effective word formula in order to grab the attention of a wayward people: “Give careful thought to your ways” (vv. 5-6). In the Hebrew language, Haggai’s word formula invited the people to connect their heads with their hearts. For instance, while it seems many resources had been spent on luxurious houses, food, water, clothing and money still are in short supply. Will the people make room for God in the midst of their rather precarious situation?

Fifth, God specifically instructed the people to rebuild the temple (vv. 7-8). The temple specifically was to be reconstructed for God’s glory and honor (v. 8). The glory of God, in this context, refers to the powerful and dynamic presence of God among his worshipping people. In other words, when believers seek first the Lord and his kingdom, then we can be assured of God’s presence in real-time, so to speak. Remember the words of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. Our primary concern ought not to revolve around food, drink or clothing but around the kingdom of God and his righteousness. All the other things will be added in due course (Matthew 6:33).

Discipline defined (1:10-11)

Haggai boldly dealt with the touchy subject of God’s discipline in these verses. God explained he imposed a heavily impacting drought since the people had neglected the temple. In fact, a Hebrew word-play occurs with the words “ruin” and “drought” in verses 9 and 11 respectively. Both words look and sound quite similar—the implication being that if the temple remained in ruins, then God would ruin the land.

We must clarify at this point not all natural disasters should be attributed to God’s discipline. Haggai recognized, however, the strict implications of obedience and disobedience to Yahweh. Jesus offered a similar idea when speaking about a narrow and broad path (Matthew 7:13). God has given people choices which come with stated and heavy consequences. 

Glory to come (2:5-9)

God made a couple of significant promises at this pivotal point in his prophecy. First, he promised his presence. Just as God had led the Hebrews out of Egypt, God would remain in charge. Some scholars say God promised a renewal in the covenant at this point. Second, God promised to establish a place powerfully filled with his glory. Notice, however, varying views concerning the interpretation of 2:7—specifically the phrase which refers to the fulfillment of the “desire by all nations.” Some interpret this phrase to refer to the coming messiah, but this interpretation may lack contextual support. Others believe it refers to God’s ownership of the wealth of every nation. In other words, obedience to God would inspire other nations to recognize God’s sovereignty over their treasuries. Regardless of views over interpretation, the verse points to God’s promised peace, or shalom, with his covenant people.

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