You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of My house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. – Haggai 1:9 (ESV)
These words of the prophet Haggai were spoken to the band of Israelites, and their offspring, that had returned from their exile in Babylon, with the charge to build the Temple of God. They had been allowed to return under the Persian king Cyrus, and here it is, in the second year of Darius, and the people were still saying “the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord” (1:2b). God, clearly un-amused and unconvinced by the people’s decision making prowess, responded through His prophet by saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (1:4) With that, the people were asked to reflect on how things had truly gone for them, in their return to the land, while they failed to attend to what it was that God had stirred up Cyrus to encourage His people to return to do.
God says, “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” (1:6). Because His people had failed to be about their God’s business, turned inward and attending to their own needs first and foremost, those needs were never truly met. The prophetic warning links the fact of their lack with their failure to rebuild the Temple.
Apart from the obvious encouragement to give so as to be able to participate in God’s covenant purposes as a gracious gift of God, what is it that we can take from the words of the prophet? Does this force us to consider our own, modern sense of Christianity, in which this life of faith is perpetually directed inwards? Israel’s concern with only their own, individual needs can be likened to the proliferation of an existential, me-centered Christianity, that has turned the movement of the Spirit of God that was designed for the extension and establishment of the kingdom of God through the Lordship of Christ over all peoples and things, into little more than a private, religious experience in which we find ourselves concerned with my salvation, my faith, my walk, my holiness, my avoidance of what my church and pastor has defined as sin, and my personal relationship with Jesus. Even our outward service to our fellow man is generally based on the confluence of “my” factors, rather than with an understanding of God’s pressing concern about His kingdom and the responsibilities that He bestows upon those with whom He shares His covenant. While we can say that all of those “my’s” are fine, because they serve as a component of the life of the Spirit, they are only a small part of a much larger and more important whole.
This is where we can learn from the example of Israel. While they would eventually rebuild the Temple (concerning themselves with God’s business for a time), it did not change the fact that the people, individually and corporately, were still turned inward. Through the years that followed the Temple’s re-construction, leading up to the time of Christ, as they were ruled over by the Persians, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Syrians, and then the Romans, Israel was thoroughly concerned with maintaining their marks of identity as God’s covenant people, above all else. They determined that this was God’s business and carried it out exactingly. Their primary concern was their city (Jerusalem), their Temple, their land, and their rituals, while an entire world and an entire creation continued to languish in a lack of light, as those people that were to be the stewards and revelators of God’s covenant blessings to the world busied themselves in building impenetrable walls between themselves and the Gentiles by which they were surrounded.
This was not God’s intention then, and it is now God’s intention now. If we find ourselves in isolation, purposely cutting ourselves off from other members of this family of God’s kingdom, pronouncing judgments, ridiculing sincere servants of Christ, creating dualistic scenarios in which we elevate ourselves or our group, fostering an “us versus them” mentality, awaiting God’s action to judge the wicked and reward the righteous, we put ourselves in the position to be recipients of God’s ongoing wrath, along with continued exile from His promised blessings, much like we find to be the case with Israel.