This significance of the Lord’s house was not lost on the people to which Haggai prophesied. First, being much closer to the original establishment of the temple they understood its connection with the testimony of the Lord. Also, their recent experience in captivity in Babylon had served as an occasion for the Lord to reaffirm the fact that His dwelling in their midst was not inextricably tied to the temple, since the glory of the Lord not only appeared among His people apart from the temple but even outside the land of Israel (Ezek. 1). Then, in even more recent history, their return to the land centered on the human motivation to restore a testimony to the Lord (Ezra 9:9). Thus, the people to whom Haggai prophesied were aware that the primary significance of the temple was to proclaim the Lord to the nations.
Given this awareness of the significance of the temple, the people clearly understood the point the Lord was making through Haggai. First, He was drawing a contrast between their houses and His house, which lay waste while their houses were apparently in good condition. In addition to this explicit comparison, the Lord also made an implicit comparison by using the term “paneled.” This word drew attention to the contrast between the Lord’s house and those of the people, in that this unusual Hebrew term was used in Kings to describe both the opulence of the temple and of Solomon’s houses (1 Ki. 6:9,15; 7:3,7). That is, at that earlier time in Israel’s history, both the Lord’s house and the king’s house were described in that manner. However, now only the people’s houses were so depicted. Something was wrong!
It was clear to the people that the Lord was not simply concerned with the comparison between the condition of the respective physical houses. Just as He did with David in 2 Samuel, the Lord used the concern with literal houses to allude to the abstract concept of prosperity and wellbeing (shalom in Hebrew). This became evident when, in verse 6, the Lord referred to the overall prosperity of the people (the abstract concept of “house”) and then, in verse 9, explicitly associated their problems related to prosperity with the term “house.” Just as He did with David, the Lord moved the discussion from physical houses to that with which He was more concerned, namely “shalom.”
It was evident to the people that the condition in which they had left the temple was a reflection on their appreciation of the Lord. But if they didn’t get the point on their own, He certainly made it clear to them through Haggai’s message. From the outset, the actual problem raised by the Lord was not the condition of His house but rather the value placed upon it by the people. Even though they said that it was not the proper time to restore the temple (1:2), the real issue was that they were devoting their time and energy to their own things (1:4). They were content to let the Lord’s house lie waste while making sure that their own houses were not just in good shape but lavishly “paneled.”
In essence, the problem which the Lord addressed was that the people were devoting themselves to their own prosperity and welfare while neglecting Him. Even the intensity of their devotion to their own things was evident in the Lord’s rebuke. The diligence of their efforts was noted by the unusual expression, “every one of you runs to his own house” (1:9). By using this phrase the Lord drew attention to the vigor with which they were addressing their own interests.
They Should Have Known
Not only were their priorities misplaced, but the Lord told them that they should have understood what was happening. He explained that His lack of blessing upon their own houses should have signaled to them that a problem existed. In Deuteronomy the people were specifically told that obedience would result in materi- al blessing in the land, whereas disobedience and neglect of the Lord would bring about a loss of blessing. The lack which they had experienced reflected what Scripture had promised them would occur if they did not follow the Lord. Therefore, knowing the teachings of the Torah, at the very least they should have questioned whether there was a relationship between their present want and the divine warnings of the covenant. In fact, this is the point the Lord brought to their attention with the twice repeated exhortation, “Consider your ways” (1:5,7). In today’s language He was saying, “Think about what you’re experiencing! Don’t you realize what’s happening?”
Even if the people considered what they were experiencing, they could have rationalized that their lack of prosperity was simply a normal part of life. As everyone knows, there are periods in life where things go well and times when things go poorly. However, the Lord left no room for such a conclusion. In verse 9 He made it clear that the problems they were experiencing were not simply the “stuff” that happens in life but rather were the direct result of His undermining their efforts. No matter how hard they tried to secure their own blessings and prosperity, the Lord was “blowing” upon it. And to make sure there was no confusion regarding the reason for what He was doing to them, the Lord told them that it was because they were “running” to their own houses while His house was in ruins.
Notice that the people were trying to obtain through their own efforts the very blessings which the Lord promised to provide as a gift. In Deuteronomy, Israel was promised agricultural prosperity if they loved the Lord with all their heart and obeyed Him (Dt. 28). No mention was made of excessive work required on their part. Rather, the Lord’s blessing would produce their prosperity. However, in Haggai the Lord drew the people’s attention to the vanity of their efforts to secure those blessings on their own. Although they sowed much, the result was that they brought in little. They ate, drank, clothed themselves, and attempted to build up financial reserves, all to no avail. They worked hard trying to acquire the very prosperity which the Lord had promised to give them as a blessing. The irony was that the more they tried to obtain it, the more it slipped away. In their attempts to secure the blessings, they neglected the very One who promised to bestow those blessings.
There is no misunderstanding the reaction of the people. Once they heard the word of the Lord they knew exactly what was going on. They should have realized it before, but now that the Lord had confronted them it was all too clear what was happening. They also realized the disastrous implications. Earlier in that century Israel had been taken captive and removed from the Promised Land because they had neglected the Lord. However, after many years in captivity the Lord restored them to the land. But now the Lord directly confronted them with the fact that they were once again on the path that originally led to their captivity. They fully realized this and were afraid! This was not the reverential fear commonly praised throughout the Scriptures. The Hebrew text says literally, “they feared from the face of the Lord” (1:12). The expression “feared from” denotes outright terror. They were “scared stiff.” They were “on thin ice” and they knew it.
However, once again the Lord demonstrated His graciousness and mercy. In a direct response to their fear He sent another word to them through Haggai: “I am with you” (1:13). His confrontation of them was not an irrevocable decree of judgment. Rather, it was a corrective measure and was accompanied with the assurance that He was with them and was looking to bring their focus back on Him and away from their own concerns. He would take care of those concerns far better than they were able to if only they would depend on Him and focus on displaying His glory to the nations.
By Tom Keiser
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org