In my Bible reading this morning, I began the prophecy of Haggai - and the opening paragraph struck me in particular:
In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. (Haggai 1:1-6, ESV)We're talking a LONG time since the people had begun to return to Israel out of their Babylonian captivity - Calvin, in his commentary, notes a period of twenty years, Jamieson, Fawcett and Brown, 16, etc. The amount of time isn't pertinent, other than the fact that it wasn't merely a period of months, but of many years, wherein the people had quite blatantly disregarded their service to God Almighty, and had lived for themselves, feeding, housing and clothing themselves, with no regard to rebuilding their place of worship, the temple. Haggai's primary mission seems to be rousing the lazy people, who had been given their freedom to re-take the land promised to their fathers, but who seemingly were asleep at the wheel.
This strikes me in part because it is a reminder of the duty of Christians when free - to make full use of that freedom in glorifying God as their first and foremost goal. For the returning exiles, the purpose was clear - to re-establish worship in a rebuilt temple according to God's design for worship. Instead, they worried only about filling their bellies and clothing their bodies and this resulted in a wasting of their blessings. I'm not sure the text indicates profligacy in the people - a dedication to excesses - but it does indicate their lack of proper perspective. God had held them captive by the Babylonians for seventy years... and then by the hand of Cyrus his servant, released them back to the land - this was what many of them had been longing for for their entire lives. Imagine being a captive yourself, having been born in captivity, and having heard of the glories of the temple and the worship of the true and living God from the time you were a wee sapling.... when God graciously returns your people to the Land, can you imagine that you would not immediately seek to return to that worship of old? Yet they didn't.
And, I daresay many of us wouldn't either. It is often easy to criticize the returning exiles for their stupidity - and we SHOULD condemn their laziness and lack of proper priorities - but we must avoid with every ounce of our ability the statement "and we NEVER would do the same thing!" We must take their failure as a lesson and a warning for ourselves in seeking appropriate priorities for our lives. The condemnation of Haggai's prophetic words to them was severe. We must, as our Lord said, "Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness". In doing so, God will be glorified (as our Catechism instructs us to have as our primary aim) all our needs will be fulfilled - and that particularly of our primary need: grace and peace that God alone can supply us.