Haggai chapter 1 poses two big questions for us: 1. Is what we think of as normal really normal? 2. Do we have a glory gap?
Is what we think of as normal really normal?
When God’s word comes to Haggai Israel have been back in the land for how long? 18 years. In 538 B.C. about 50,000 Jews returned and enthusiastically began rebuilding the destroyed city. But – Ezra in his history tells us - the sheer scale of the job, opposition and hardship gradually slowed everything down, until final work on rebuilding the temple ground to a stop. As Haggai opens the temple remains a ruin. And gradually day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year that has just become normal for God’s people. It’s now 520 B.C. and they walk past the temple ruins everyday without batting an eyelid. They just don’t see it anymore, the house of God in ruins is normal, just part of the landscape.
It’s the way we work. When we see something for the first time we’re amazed by it. Then gradually as we see it everyday it becomes familiar, until we just don’t think of it as significant anymore. It’s happens with the new wallpaper, or a new car, or a building, or a ruin. Think about it in the UK, we are no different are we, we walk past ruined or boarded up or churches converted to carpet shops, clubs and Mosques and don’t even blink.
But God sends Haggai to wake up a complacent people, to show them that what they have begun to think of as normal must not be normality. Israel should not be in the land God gave them without a temple. They should not be able to walk down the road without stopping and praying and determining to do something about the temple. God’s presence is what set Israel apart from the nations around about them. The temple was the sign of God’s presence. It was a physical reminder that God hears prayer, brings grace, and forgives sin. It was the political and religious and social centre of life for God’s people. Or it should have been, but it had been left in ruins because they had gotten used to life without it. The abnormal had gradually become the new normal, and the temple and God was forgotten.
Is what we think of as normal really normal? When you think about the UK what have we complacently just accepted as the way it is? I can’t help thinking that we’ve just accepted the protected place of Christianity as normal. That’s seen in our shock at the increasing pressure we face as Christians living out our faith. Our freedom has quickly been eroded and it’s as if we’ve been caught by surprise. But what is biblical normality? John 15v20 “Remember the words that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” John 17v14 “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” That is biblically normal Christianity. Has living in this bubble of Christendom just lulled us into a false sense of security, a wrong headed idea of normality so that we are so shocked that we are in danger of failing to stand in the coming storm? So that when we experience opposition or rejection we find ourselves wondering what we did wrong rather than expecting the gospel to offend.
What about for you as a church? Where might you be settling for a normality that isn’t normal? Are we settling for comfort rather than stretching to reach the lost? Is our normal a cosiness that avoids speaking the truth in love to one another, avoids challenging sin? Or that settles for being thought well of as we engage in reaching our community rather than seeing the lost won and risking the offence of the gospel? Or that settles for middle class values rather than gospel values?
What about individually? What has become normal that just shouldn’t be? A prayerless life? Weeks without sitting down to listen to God speak to me in his word? A creeping cowardice that means we won’t dare to talk about Jesus with family or friends or colleagues? A defeatist acceptance of repeated failings with the same sin that means we just accept it as sad but inevitable and so no longer fight it?
Haggai asks us to stop and look at our normal, and ask is it really what God calls normal for his people? Where have we accepted things that just should not be? Where are we in denial of Biblical reality or all that God has made and calls us to enjoy as his people redeemed, adopted and blessed in Christ and empowered and filled with the Holy Spirit himself.
Do we have a glory gap?
God speaks to his people through Haggai, first to the leaders(2-3), “Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.” God knows that they have stopped building the temple and won’t restart it again, and God wants the leaders to know and to lead. God knows the excuses the people have given. You can imagine the conversations ‘It wasn’t time to rebuild yet because of the opposition, when things quieten down’, ‘the time isn’t right we’re just too busy with the kids’, ‘there’s this and that that needs doing at home’, ‘Me, but I’m sure there’s someone more gifted at building than me’. Maybe the issue was disposable income, after all the economy has taken a downturn(6) and we never have enough. Perhaps they were waiting for a clear sign from God that this is what he wanted them to do?
Whatever the excuses were, God is dismissive of them in the contrast he makes. “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your panelled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” All your excuses and yet you’ve been able to find the time, energy and money to build ornate, fancy houses for yourself. God’s house is a ruin you’ve not got time for but your own home, well, that’s different. God shows them that their excuses are exactly that.
Because here’s the problem behind the problem, they have a glory gap. Well, gap is a bit of an understatement there’s a yawning chasm between how they think of God and what God deserves. Look at (8)what is it God wants them to do? To build the house so that he takes pleasure in it and is glorified. God deserves glory and they aren’t giving it to him, they’ll get to him once they finished the panelling and maybe an extension or two and the kids are through university. God is getting the left overs of their time and energy and there is little of that. Notice how God describes himself (5) “the LORD of hosts” literally Yahweh of heavens armies. He is the incomparable, the almighty, the one whose glory the temple could not contain, yet they aren’t concerned with his glory. God has brought them back, he is faithful to his promise, and yet they won’t rebuild.
Turn to 2 Samuel 7 do you see what David says (v1-3), the contrast? David wants to build a temple for God though God says he is not to. David desires to see God glorified, ‘how can I have a house like this when God is in a tent.’ What a contrast to Israel in Haggai’s time, a people content with God’s house lying in ruins whilst they panel their houses. David thinks of God rightly, he is concerned to see God glorified, but Israel in Haggai’s time have this glory chasm. Their view of God is too small.
Don’t we see that temptation in ourselves? To be so taken up with building our reputation, our home, our family, our comfort, our kingdom, our glory when we should be concerned with God’s. And the shift rarely happens all at once, we don’t wake up and think do you know what today I’m going to live for my glory. It’s so much more dangerous than that because it’s gradual, incremental, bit-by-bit that our priorities shift, that our sense of amazement at the glory of God wanes. And Haggai leaves us no room for excuses – look at your life and consider where your priorities are, whose glory are you seeking? Where have I, have we, just slipped into seeking my kingdom rather than God’s kingdom?
The faithfulness and grace of God
Haggai is one of God’s covenant watchdogs. He comes to call Israel away from danger and back to the covenant. Because God is faithful to his people and to his word. (6)Israel can’t find any fulfilment, there is little harvest, famine, drought, and don’t you love the picture of putting wages into a bag with a holes in – doesn’t that seem so true to how life so often is. There’s no satisfaction for Israel in material things, they just can’t get enough. And (9-11)God explains why; “I blew it away… I have called for drought…” Does that shock you? God withholding, God keeping stuff from his people.
But we need to realise that this is God loving his people. God is being faithful to his word in Deuteronomy 28, his promise that if his people turned from him, if they broke the covenant he would discipline them with famine and drought. Why? Because God loves them so much he won’t allow them to be satisfied with anything less than him, because nothing else will bring lasting satisfaction. “Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified says the LORD.”
God is faithful to his covenant, so full of love that he won’t let them be satisfied without him. He’s been calling them in the drought and the withholding, but they haven’t listened. So God slow to anger now sends his prophet Haggai to call his people back to him. To consider their ways, to see what they have gradually fallen into; the complacency and half-heartedness.
And what is Israel’s response? (12-15)They repent. “They obeyed the voice of the LORD their God…” We see a great picture of what repentance is here, they recognise the glory gap they have been living with and stop building their own kingdom and start building the temple. They turn from what they were living for and turn to God and are taken up with a concern for his glory which is evidenced in practical works of worship.
And just look at what God does. (12-15)Even as the people respond God is poised waiting to help them at the moment of their repentance. It’s as if God has been poised ready and waiting to pour out his blessing on his people, longing to spur them on if they will just repent. (13)He comforts them that failure isn’t final, complacency, wrong priorities haven’t forfeited their relationship with God, when they repent he is with them. God is full of grace. And more than that God is active in stirring them up to work. God isn’t giving them the silent treatment, he isn’t waiting for them prove the genuineness of their repentance. Full of grace he stands ready to accept it and pour out his spirit to help his people know him and live for his glory.
Do you see the grace and love of God? He knows that we cannot find satisfaction in anything other than him, and he disciplines us to that end. Calling us by his word and his work to make him our greatest treasure. Proving it once for all at the cross where he gives his son so that he might be our treasure.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls us as his followers to “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Why does he do that? Because it is what we were made for, it is not a hard task it is where joy is found. We are made to enjoy God and glorify him and we will not be content until we do, and God will let his people be satisfied with nothing less.
Do you see the call of Haggai, consider your ways? Where have we slipped from seeking to serve and seek him? Will we repent and seek him? And don’t you love that comforting image of God, just longing for us to find our satisfaction in him, ready, willing and waiting to enable and encourage us as we seek him and his kingdom and the joy to be found there.