In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest:
2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built.’ ”
3 Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
5 Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
7 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD. 9 “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands.”
Has someone ever said to you, “Put your own house in order first,” or “Tend to your own house first”? What they mean is, “Before you criticize or interfere in my life, take care of the mess in your own.” And Scripture does issue warnings against those who are lazy and/busybodies (II Tim. 3:6-15).
Through the Prophet Haggai, God turns these words of wisdom on their head. You see, the remnant of God’s people had returned from their 70 year time-out (exile) in Babylon. They had begun rebuilding their nation. We’re told that they were living in paneled houses. That may not sound all that spectacular according to our standards today, but it was quite luxurious for ancient times. We’re also told that they “planted much,” “eat much,” “drink,” “earn wages.” In other words, they had worked hard not just to rebuild their nation, but also to get their economy going again to the point where they could enjoy a high standard of living. They had, by all outward appearances, gotten their houses in order.
But something essential was missing. While they were busy getting their own houses in order, they had neglected the most important house of all—the house of God, the temple. This was symptomatic of a much greater malady: While they were busy putting their worldly houses in order, they neglected the spiritual house of their hearts. From a worldly standpoint, their nation was doing pretty well post exodus. From a spiritual standpoint, the nation was still in ruins.
God wasn’t upset about this because he was looking for more attention. He was upset in the way that we would be if a close friend or family member suddenly cut us off. He wanted his house rebuilt so that the people could take time out of their weekly lives to spend with their heavenly Father. He wanted his house rebuilt so that the people could once again encounter God through his proclaimed Word and the sacrifices, which were designed to point the people ahead to the sacrifice God’s Messiah would make for the world’s sins.
Instead, the Jews were focusing on this world. So God asked them to consider their ways: “You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” God caused the land to yield poor harvests and struck the Jewish economy with inflation. He did this so that they might seek him out and find the true rest that comes from God—rest for our souls.
Do you have your house in order—your spiritual house, that is? Have your life plans been frustrated, and might that possibly be God nudging you to spend more time with him in his Word and Meal—the Lord’s Supper? Just as parents want the love of their children, so God wants the hearts of his people. He invites us:
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” (Is. 55:1-2)
“Listen,” he encourages us, “listen to my word. Fill your soul on the words I have to say. They are the finest feast you will ever lay eyes on. They are the richest food you will ever devour. My words are spirit and they are life.”