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Haggai 1-2: A Call to Restoration
As I looked at today's devotional reading plan, I felt a pull to read just these two chapters. I checked in with the Spirit. Was this just me being lazy? Shouldn't I suck it up and stay on task and read the full plan for the day? No, the Spirit seemed to say to me. "This is what I have for you today." I am glad I listened to the Spirit's prompt.
I was immediately struck by the relevance of these two chapters to my life and our nation's life, to all nations, actually. The parallels work on many levels, but these two stand out to me. Why? Because they are a call to the restoration of God's dwelling place, His temple that is in each of us (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), and there is a sense of urgency in His call.
The time and setting of Haggai's word is Jerusalem in 520 B.C., after the Israelites returned from Babylon (538 B.C.). The temple foundation had been laid soon after their return, then work stopped and complacency set in. So, they've been there a while but work on the temple has languished. God uses this complacency and their resulting condition to do some serious teaching, to them and to us today.
God Points Out Our Complacency
Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much and harvested little. (1:4-6a)
God is pointing out that His people have become lazy and more concerned with their precarious position than fulfilling their call. It wasn't easy for the returnees. They were surrounded by adversaries and life was a struggle on every level. But they had taken their eyes off of God as their provider and focused them instead on their own abilities and capacities. As usual, God had more to say, an instruction to their benefit.
God Calls Us Back to the Work of Restoration
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. (1:7-9)
I spent a large portion of my life consumed with my own house, the things I strove to achieve, the things I coveted and lusted after. These were not all bad things, but when I put them ahead of God, they became idols. As God told the Israelites to put His house in order, He tells us the same today, as individuals, as His church, and as nations. We have devoted ourselves to our own desires, our goals, our plans, and our ways, forgetting that our only security and profit are found in His glory. When we honor Him, however, He will naturally honor us. Why? Because His pleasure is found in our love for Him that motivates us to build up and honor His temple that is in us. This is relationship. Not just knowing about Him but being in true relationship with Him. Relationship is everything.
How do we know we are in relationship? One sign is that we put the other person's desires ahead of our own, doing the work needed to see them fulfilled without an attitude of sacrifice or drudgery, but with joy that blesses us and them.
We have work to do, as people, as a church, as a society, and as nations. "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." It is up to us to honor and glorify God out of the love of our hearts, not out of duty but because it is the desire of our hearts to please Him. His call to action to the ancients is a call to us today as well. As distant from Him as they were, all too many of us are today. It is time we, individually and collectively, go up the hill, gather the wood, and build.
The People Respond
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. (1:12)
It is for leaders to lead. Zerubbabel, a descendant of David, and Joshua, the high priest, were leaders of the people. Even at a time when they were demoralized and languishing, the people followed their leaders. Together, they responded to God's admonition with urgency and fear. They understood who was calling them to action. They understood the implications of disobedience, and they understood that only their return to His heart in willful obedience could restore the only relationship that mattered.
The Only Relationship That Matters
Do we understand? Sometimes today it seems the better question is: Do we care? Here's the thing: we give our answer every day with our decisions on how we live our lives and what we choose to honor. We are all leaders. We are leaders of our own lives and our families, some are leaders in business and some in government. If we are leaders then by definition there are others who look to us for inspiration, guidance, direction, values, integrity, and faith. My questions to all of us: What are those who look to you seeing? If they follow your lead, where will they end up?
God Will Help Us
"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 hight 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, (1:13b-14)
When God is with us nothing can stand against us. Today, this statement is often derided as simple, out of touch, unrealistic, or as a farce. All of that cannot change the fact that it is true. The issue is not that God turned away from us but that we turned from Him. The cause of the lack of God's blessing on lives and nations is not that He is weak but that we have turned our backs on Him. We have ignored the relationship. Even many churches are focused on knowledge instead of intimacy. We know a lot about God, but do we really know Him as our friend, confidant, and only source?
God is not the problem, we are. We care more about the lusts of our hearts, our false narratives that allow us to be comfortable in our sin and deception, and the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's sake than we do about understanding and pursuing God's desire for intimacy with us. God honors holiness, righteousness, judgement, justice, mercy, grace, love, faith, and humility. Does that sound like us today? The good news is that it doesn't have to remain this way. We can change.
"Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not." (2:3-5)
I am not suggesting that God must or will return America or any other nation to its former glory. He might or might not. That is a matter of His providence, not of our ability. Our call is to return to His ways and to His heart. When we do, God will be faithful in His response.
On that day, declares the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the LORD, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the LORD of hosts. (2:23)
Israel's disobedience and wanton disregard for His ways caused God to symbolically remove the signet ring of David, signifying His rejection of the evil that inflamed Israel's passions and ruled its society (Jeremiah 22:24-27). God's promise here, however, can be taken as assurance to individuals, families, and nations that He is waiting to restore our relationship with Him. When we are faithful, He will make us like a signet ring that He wears to honor our faithfulness and the relationship He shares with us.
It is time to reject our complacency and neglect of God that fills our lives and world. It is time to turn back into God's heart and rediscover His passion for us. It is time for the restoration of the only relationship that matters. The Creator, God, and Redeemer of all that is has chosen to live in the believer. We are His temple.
What condition is your temple in, and what restoration is He calling you to?
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