Transformed by the Word: Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we explored the dramatic transformation that Israel experienced between Ezra 4 and 5 when God sent his prophets Haggai and Zechariah to speak to them. What could Haggai and Zechariah have possibly said that led to this sudden change of heart? Consider these four big ideas from the book of Haggai.

1. Don’t Build Your Own Houses When God’s Temple is in Ruins
“Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” Haggai 1:3, NIV

God called his people back home for the specific purpose of building the Temple. The work quickly became difficult when Israel’s enemies decided to make life miserable for them. But, instead of persevering through the opposition, they went home and decided to build their own houses with fancy materials and luxurious upgrades. The people of God never stopped building, but they stopped building the right thing. So God spoke through Haggai to call them back to their real purpose: Building God’s Temple as their primary focus.

2. God is Withholding His Blessings Because of Your Misguided Priorities.
“You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty.Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.” Haggai 1:9-11 (NIV)

Jesus gave us one of his famous paradoxical truths in Luke 9:24: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” The people of God were experiencing this in a clear way. Because they gave all their attention to their own houses while God’s house was left unfinished, God was withholding his blessings from them. He was opposing their work because they were trying to build their own kingdom instead of his. Our natural instinct in times of scarcity is to preserve and protect our own interests. But God calls us to double down on our commitment to his Kingdom, even in times of opposition. Or as Jesus in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (NIV)

3. Your Hard Work Will Be Worth It.
‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? … The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:3, 9 (NIV)

Many of the older priests and family heads could remember what the previous Temple had looked like. They were despondent that this Temple–for reasons that we don’t fully understand–didn’t compare. Perhaps they felt discouraged that they had given up so much to build a Temple that paled in comparison to the first one. But God reassured them that even though they felt like their best days were in the past, the opposite was true. God would fill this Temple and bless his people in extraordinary ways–far more than he has before.

4. God is With You Through the Storm.
“Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 1:13; 2:4 (NIV)

The people of God let fear dictate their priorities. Their enemies threatened their safety and livelihood, and Israel caved to those fears. So God inspired his people to get up and get back to work by reminding them of his ongoing presence in their lives. Ezra 5:5 affirms that God was always watching over them: “But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews…” The storms we face might not go away, but we can find strength in knowing that God is with us–and watching over us–in the storm.

Putting it All Together

Focus on what matters. Seek his Kingdom first. It’ll be worth it in the end. And know that God is with you.

May this inspiring, challenging, and timely message from the book of Haggai bless you as we all follow Jesus together.