Seek Him First

Introduction: In this lesson, we again move forward from the time of Habakkuk and return to the situation of the returning exiles in Jerusalem. As in the final lesson of Habakkuk, we find here also that the Lord has absolute control of the forces of nature and uses them to perform his moral purposes. His ways with his creation become symbols of his transformation of all things. When we seek life from temporal pleasures and minimize the reality that our life is to be found only in the favor of the triune God, we have begun to construct idols for ourselves, give reason for God to rise in holy zeal for the glory of his name, and make ourselves susceptible to chastening or judgment.

Haggai, though a short book of two chapters, is an extremely concentrated book bearing in retrospect and in prospect the entire revelation of God’s eternal intention to abide among his people.  At the time Haggai came on the scene, the foundation of the temple had been laid, resulting in great rejoicing for some and regretful lamentation for others (Ezra 3:11-13) At that point, work on the temple ceased for twenty years because opposition of nearby enemies (Ezra 4:4) had resulted in a decree from Artaxerxes that “the work of the house of God that is in Jerusalem” be stopped (Ezra 4:24). When Haggai and Zechariah came to Jerusalem, they found that not only had work stopped because of fear, but a self-acquisitive spirit had sunk deep into the souls of the people. Upon their divinely inspired admonition, work began again. This led to another attempt on the part of the enemies, older and more seasoned by now, to halt the reconstruction. This time, however, their attempt resulted in a thorough search for the history of the temple and a reprimand of Tattenai, governor of the province, and his close associate, Shethar-bozenai. They were instructed, not only to stop their tactics of intimidation but to fund the reconstruction of the temple at the expense of the government (Ezra 6:6-8). Ezra 6:14 contains a marvelous verse that shows the confluence of factors in this event. Overriding all is the covenantal purpose of God; the means by which he brings his will to pass is instruction from the prophet and the decree of the king. “And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia” (Ezra 6:14). This lesson unfolds for us the message that so instructed, motivated and inspired Zerbbabel,  Joshua, and the elders that they worked until the temple was complete. Apparently it took around four years (Haggai 1:1, 15 and Ezra 6:15).

I. Chapter 1, verses 1-11 – Haggai spoke from God and had them consider two issues

A. Note that Haggai speaks under the immediate authority and instruction of the Lord.

1. Verse 1, “The word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet.”

2. Verse 2 – “Thus says the Lord of hosts.”

3. Verse 3 – “Then the word of the Lord came”

4. Verse 5 – “Now, therefore, says the Lord of hosts”

5. Verse 7 – “Thus says the Lord of Hosts”

6. verse 8 – “says the Lord”

7. Verse 9 – Declares the Lord of Hosts

8. Note also verse 13 – Everyone “obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God has sent him.:

Comment: The books of the Old Testament are accepted by the New Testament writers and the Lord Jesus as the revelation of God Himself. “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16); “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). So the New Testament writers were confident that they were, in  God’s distribution of gifts, the recipients of divine revelation (2 Peter 1:12, 13, 16, 18, 19; 3:2; 2 Timothy 3:10, 14; Ephesians 3:2-5; Galatians 1:8-10). When we come to Scripture, we come to the word of God, a true “thus saith the Lord;” As Jesus did in the wilderness we must live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God and move step by step in this world by confidence in “It is written.”

B. They had become self-absorbed and had pushed aside the great spiritual exhilaration that accompanied their restoration to the land, rebuilding the wall, and beginning the construction of the temple. Instead of satisfaction with modest accommodations in order to give more energy and time to the central focus of the presence of God among them in covenantal blessings, they had focused on elaborate ornamentation of their own houses. Surely this is evidence of a very short-sighted and worldly outlook that does not grasp the beauty of being called as the people of God. They are setting the stage for those that will look at the Messiah and reject him, though he is chosen of God and precious (1 Peter 2:4). To prefer paneled houses to the redemptive presence of God surely betrays the dominance of a carnal heart consumed with carnal interests. This is set forth again in verse 9 as the reason for poor harvest and diminished usefulness of what they did harvest. “”Why? Declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.”

C. God was again placing on them the promised chastening of Leviticus 26.

1. Verse 5 – Through Haggai, God points out clearly that they should “consider” the way that life was going. Their self-centered life-style was producing minimal satisfaction. He repeated this admonition in verse 7 after the first round of pointing out the vanity of their present affection for the world.

2. Leviticus 26 gives a formidable combination of judgments that would come on Israel if they would not do his commandments, spurn his statutes, and abhor his rules. Included in this are the following: “You shall sow your seed in vain; . . . I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze, . . . for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.” These consequences are placed among others that are far more severe and that actually came to pass when both the northern and southern kingdoms were finally taken away into exile. These mentioned in Haggai stand as a warning that much more severe discipline awaits if they reject their covenantal standing by failing to complete the temple.

3.  He points to four areas of normal life that continually fall short of their perceived fulfillment.

Their crops did not produce nearly in proportion to the abundance of their sowing.

Their consumption of food and drink left them with little pleasure and a gnawing emptiness.

Their attention to garments, enticing styles and exquisite fabrics, always fell short of providing the most basic function of clothing for the human sinner. The result put in an impressive laconic observation, “No one is warm.”

The attempt to gather wealth and find security in their wages and their accumulation of material security never seemed enough and left them destitute, both materially and spiritually. Material gain was placed in “bags with holes.”

4. Verses 7-11  The Lord reiterates his insistence that the people complete the temple and points to his chastening hand for their failure to follow through.

They looked for much and had little; heaven withheld dew and the earth withheld its produce (10, 11)

While his house “lies in ruins” so would the environment that sustained their lives lie in ruins. They must break off the attempt to enrich themselves and give themselves immediately (“Go up to the hills and bring wood”) to the work of completing the temple.

This will give him pleasure and by this he will be glorified. Their beginning the task will indicate a renewed motive and desire, and that the idol of comfort and pleasure has been displaced. God desires the manifestation of his own glory, and nothing is more fitting than that he be glorified. He is creator, sustainer, redeemer, covenant maker and the world has been created for his glory. Prior to the incarnation the tabernacle, which housed the ark of the covenant, and then the temple, which did the same in the land God gave, symbolized God’s presence with his people and was the visible residence of his glory and the evidence that he had made a covenant of redemption. Solomon moved the Ark of the Covenant, the tent of meeting {Tabernacle} and the vessels to be used by the priests into the Holy of Holies as it had been constructed in the Temple. The Ark no longer contained the urn of manna or Aaron’s rod that budded, but did contain the tablets of the commandments given to Moses (1 Kings 8:9). Still, however, the place symbolized the presence of God with his people and God gave a visible display of his glory at the time (1 Kings 8:10, 11) For the people to ignore this was to thumb their noses at his holy mercies.

At the dedication of the first Temple, Solomon prayed in such a way as the focus the devotion of the people on the Temple as a symbol of all the covenant blessings that would come to Israel and to other nations through Israel. Solomon knew that God was not contained in the Temple (1 Kings 8:27), and that his response to prayer and supplication came from “heaven your dwelling place” (39, 43) but asked God that covenantal blessings be manifest by the special regard that seekers of mercy would have toward the Temple (1 Kings 8:29-53). After all these events, the Lord appeared to Solomon and said, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time” (1 Kings 9:3; cf. Matthew 21:13).

For the restored remnant to ignore this particular significance invested in the temple by the Lord Himself would be unthinkable and would ignore the reality that all of this yet foreshadowed that true permanence of God’s presence in the temple with his people.

II. 1:12-15; 2:10-19 – The Work and the Blessing

A. 1:12-15 – The prophetic admonition of Haggai stirred Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the people to re-engage in their work

B. 2:10-19 – Within three months they had completed work on the foundation according to the dimensions decreed by Cyrus (Ezra 6:3) and God spoke through Haggai, that the people should mark that day as the day in which the chastening hand of God turned to blessing (2:19).

III. The True Glory of the Temple

A. 2:1-4 – the Lord tells those working on the Temple, in light of its derelict condition and the diminished number of workers available compared to the time of Solomon (1 Kings 5:13-18), the reduced store of embellishments available for the interior compared to those that David had collected and that Solomon augmented (1 Chronicles 22:2-5; 11-16;1 Kings 5:7-12), and the absence of the Ark of the Covenant since the destruction of the original temple by Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah had predicted that a time would come when the Ark will have lost its significance: “And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, declares the Lord, they shall no more say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 3:16, 17). In light of this evidence that the importance of the ceremonial will be diminishing, they are to be strong for He is with them. They are not to despise it for God has a grand scheme in connection with it. The true glory of this temple would come later (Cf. Matthew 21:15). Though the people had brought material according to their ability (Ezra 2:68), it could not match what had been gathered during the glory days of Israel’s wealth under David and Solomon.. This second temple would be replaced by Herod’s, another glorious construction (John 2:20; Mark 13:1) which would be destroyed in 70 AD only 6 years after its completion (Matthew 24:1, 2; Mark 13:2).

B. 2:5-9 – The true glory of the Temple would be the presence of the Lord Himself in the completion of the work appointed to him in the eternal covenant of redemption.

1. Verse 5 – God reminded them that the fulfillment of the covenant and the presence of his Spirit would constitute the true wonder and power and glory of the temple. Jesus came to complete God’s own “purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 8:6)

2. Verse 6, 7 – God controls all the forces of nature and will use them to accomplish his designs, so that the true disruption of the present fallen order will be in establishing the holy nation, the peculiar people, the people for his own possession that are zealous of good works, waiting for the revelation of his glory, the destruction of this present order, and the introduction of the new heavens and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:10-13). On verse 7 (“treasures of all nations” or desire of all nations”) Gill points out, rightly I think, “not the desirable things of all nations, or them with them, as their gold and silver; . . . but this is contrary to the syntax of the words, to the contest, ver 8, 9, and to facts; and, if true, would not have given this temple a greater glory than Solomon’s; . . . but one far more glorious and excellent, is intended, even the Messiah, in whom all nations of the earth were to be blessed,” etc. The house will be filled with glory, not by the earthly treasures of earthly nations, but by another infinitely surpassing glory: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:14, 16).

3. If God wanted the opulence of precious metals to be the glory of the temple as it was in the days of Solomon until its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar, then he would provide it, for he made it, he preserves it, he has established its stores in the earth. Even with all its glory, Solomon confessed that the house he built was inadequate to depict or contain the ineffable magnificence of the God who created heaven and earth. Though Solomon’s temple could not contain the incomprehensible God, when Jesus entered the temple, the glory of God was present fully—when  the infant Jesus was taken there (Luke 2:27-32), when the child Jesus taught there (Luke 2:46, 47), when the mature Jesus purified the temple of its mercenary corrupters (Luke 19:45, 46), and taught daily in the temple (Luke 19:47), preached the gospel in the temple (Luke 20:1); proclaimed Himself as the cornerstone, and identified himself as the Son of David that would put all things under his feet (Luke 20:41-44; Ephesians 2:20), and predicted that the earthly temple would be destroyed as its necessity would perish with his completion of the redemptive work (Luke 21:5, 6; John 2:18-22). In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1:19).

4. The true temple was his body (John 2:21) and its presence on earth today is found in the church, which he indwells by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:21).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts