Haggai calls for the people of Israel to “consider” their lives. He wants them to think about things to “reason together” over what they see and hear in the world around them but, most importantly, what they have experienced in their lives themselves. Haggai points out that the situations the people of Israel face should cause them to forsake their idolatries and return to worship the true God. Once again, like in the days past, Israel had focused their energies on their own interests and neglected true worship. It’s only when God is put first in our lives that we can truly enjoy the many blessings we have. Haggai 1:7-11 points this out clearly, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. 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. You looked for much, and behold, and 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. Therefore, the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”

Those who ventured out of their homes in Babylon to return to Israel expected God’s blessing in their efforts. The New American Commentary explains this well. It says, “They had expected much in return for their hard labor and sustained efforts, but their anticipations had not come to fruition. Instead, the return for their work had been poor agricultural conditions resulting in failed crops, spiraling inflation accompanied by miserably low incomes, and a standard of living that plunged many of them into despair and depression. No doubt some of them were led to ask, as people of faith have often asked with regard to disappointing circumstances, ‘Why has the Lord not prevented all of this?’ Many of the returnees would have found it difficult to understand the absence of prosperity in the land and the incredibly difficult times that the residents of the country were experiencing. After all, the return to the land had been undertaken in the belief that the Lord was finally bringing to an end the disciplinary hardships of the exile and was at long last renewing his magnanimous blessing upon a restored covenantal people. But those optimistic expectations were not being realized in any tangible sort of way. Instead of prosperity, there was economic depression; instead of abundance, there was deprivation; instead of joy, there was frustration over present difficulties and anxiety with regard to the future. A heavy cloud of discouragement cast its darkening shadows over the people.”[1]

It wasn’t that God had simply failed to bless their efforts. According to Haggai, it was God who caused their hardships. Why did God curse all their efforts? It appears that the people had seen God as being there to serve them. He was supposed to make them prosperous. He was supposed to shower His blessings on them. God existed for their benefit. The people decided to leave the Temple in ruins and focus on their own lives instead of their corporate mission of restoring the worship of the one true God. We often fall into that mindset. D. A. Carson wrote, “It is important to say that again and again and again and again in this generation because this generation does not really want a God to whom we are reconciled. It wants, instead, a God who is a powerful genie to serve us. Religion becomes like the bottle of the genie; you rub it the right way, and out he pops and gives you a blessing. Thus, you have a nice, domesticated God.  He serves me. Oh, I have to pay homage to him, sing, go to church now and then, but at the end of the day, I hold to spirituality, to fulfillment and freedom, and all those good things. Then, in addition, this God serves me.”  According to Carson, having a God that serves you rather than a God that you serve is “How you know the spirit of truth and the spirit of the antichrist.”[2]

[1] Taylor, Richard A., and E. Ray Clendenen. 2004. Haggai, Malachi. Vol. 21A. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] Carson, D. A. 2016. “1 John—Part 4.” In D. A. Carson Sermon Library, 1 Jn 4:1–5:4a. Bellingham, WA: Faithlife.