Haggai, the prophet was a contemporary of Daniel. While Daniel was in Babylon, Haggai was among the Jews left behind. Under King Cyrus, the exiles began to return to Jerusalem. He even ordered timbers and all manner of building materials shipped to Jerusalem for the restoration of the Temple. In Ezra, we find that Zerubbabel was leading the way. However, when the temple construction got under way, there was a great resistance from the people who had lived there the last 70 years. The opposition caused the builders to lose heart and stop the building. But they only stopped building the Temple, they in-turn used the cedar timbers that were sent to build, cedar lined houses for themselves. It wasn’t until Ezra returns to Jerusalem and finds the people “living comfortable lives” while the Temple still lay in ruins, and his prompting of them cause the Temple to get built. [Ezra 2 and 3]
Now Haggai, wrote in-between Zerubbabel’s and Ezra’s visits to Jerusalem. He challenges the returning exiles about why they have stopped working and why they are living lives of “luxury” when the devastation and destruction are so prominent?
A couple of things at this point; first when the exiles returned, they were to build the Temple – the Temple is first order of business. The reason seems clear – when there has been major devastation and destruction in our lives, from sin or some other tragedy, the first thing that must be restored in our lives in the PLACE of WORSHIP. We must come back to worshiping our Lord and Savior. The heart of worship is the altar. Don’t worry about the walls, the houses you will live in – get God back at the center of you lives. The exiles attempted to do this, but the enemy [Satan] demoralized them with opposition, and the sat down and quit. It is a difficult thing to rebuild the altar in your life. The enemy does not want you to restore your place of worship. The devil doesn’t mind you building for yourself, but do not rebuild the place of God in your life. When Haggai gets to Jerusalem he finds the exiles “living among the ruins” – key point here again, Satan doesn’t mind you building for yourself, he will even convince you that you are better off taking care of you than trying to fight against the opposition for the place of the Lord.
I am sure that when the exiles returned and saw how great the damage was, they sat down and cried. We see this all the time today with hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes. People are devastated by the destruction – but they vow to rebuild against all opposition.
Haggai addresses the people; they have planted and tried to till the ground but no harvest. Haggai tells the people the problem – you are disobedient to God. The Lord had persuaded gentile kings to provide the building materials and the people of God lost heart to build! We find that Zerubbabel is encouraged, as are the people. In fact that is what is stated 2:4-5, take courage, do not fear – My spirit is abiding with you. Three times the phrase “take courage” is stated. The same message given to Joshua before entering the Promised Land. The task of rebuilding is always difficult – and surely the Temple would not look like the Solomon Temple in all its grandeur, but it would be the Temple where God’s glory would return. The built in 3 months the Temple, and I am sure there were many who were disappointed in what it looked like.
When life throws us into a pit of despair, get the Altar rebuilt! Get your worship back remember the God of the universe loves you. Once the worship is restored, then other places can be built. The building of the Temple was medicine – the people I am sure as they dug through the rubble wept greatly; as the saw what use to be. Looking at all the memories and brokenness, yet God was able to build again. We have to grieve over loss, but not get stuck in our grieving. The work of rebuilding our lives, with the altar of worship intact is medicine to the believer. Do not let the enemy cause you to lose heart!