What is Your Top Priority? (A study of the Prophet Haggai)


Sports were my top priority as a teenager.  I played three sports in high school: football, basketball and baseball. One day after a football game against Barrington High School, my coach asked me to stick around so he could talk to me after the game.  I thought he was going to praise me for my performance.  I had three sacks and caught a 53 yard pass.  It was one of my better football games in my career.  I walked up to my coach ready for my pat on the back, but instead he questioned by priorities.  He questioned who my friends were and my loyalties to the football team.  My friends were not athletes and they had a reputation of being a little wild. My coach out of genuine concern for me questioned my priorities.  I had to ask myself, “What is my top priority?”

            There are certain times in everyone’s life when decisions have to be made to display one’s top priorities. My coach question my priorities and he wanted me to respond by showing him that football was more of a priority than my friends.  Have you ever been put in a situation when you had to make a choice to choose your priority?  Maybe you have had to choose between a new job and more time at home.  Maybe you have had to choose between moving up the corporate ladder and church involvement.  Our real-life decisions reveal our top priorities.  So what is your top priority?

            I pray that question would be revealed to you as we study the short prophecy of Haggai.  Haggai prophesied to post-exilic Judah.  The Jews had been able to return to their homeland having been shown favor by Darius, the Persian King (522 -486 B.C.).  Haggai’s prophecy was given to the leaders of Judah: Zerubbabel and Joshua, Haggai 1:1,

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:

Haggai sent this prophecy to expose the people’s priorities.  We all have priorities, but our true priorities are revealed by our actions.  God’s Word helps reveals the difference between our stated priorities and are true priorities.

Our Priorities are Revealed by our Spending

            Haggai starts his prophecy by showing the people how they are neglecting God’s house in favor of building their own houses.  Haggai 1:2-6,

“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 1:2-6)

There were certain people claiming that it was not time to rebuild the temple.  The temple rebuilding began in 536 B.C., but quickly ceased due to local opposition.  Instead of restarting the building of the temple, the Jews rather turned to establish their own homes.  The key question is in verse 4, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” 

            [1] And it was not that they were just providing themselves a place to live, but they were dwelling in paneled homes implying they were not focused on necessities, but luxuries. This may seem dramatic, but their spending revealed their priorities. They did not prioritize the worship of God, but showed their priority of self.  What would your spending reveal about your priorities?  If someone examined your purchases over the last 6 months what would they reveal?  There is a big difference in our stated priorities and our true priorities. 
Remember the temple was the place where God’s presence dwelt.  So these Jews were focusing on their own homes while the Lord remained homeless.

            Haggai twice in these first eleven verses challenges the leaders to “consider their ways.”  This is one of the most important things that we can do for ourselves and for others.  One of the greatest challenges of ministry in the West is the sheer volume of noise, entertainment and busyness.  We have so much going on and so many escapes that very rarely do we stop and consider our ways.  Haggai was calling the people to slow down and consider their ways. The Lord revealed through Haggai that the reason for the recent trouble in the land is because of the priority of the people.  Verse 5-11,

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. “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, 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.” (Haggai 1:5-11)

The Lord brought discipline upon His people because of their selfishness and lack of concern for God and His people. 

            I am glad that I do not have cable, because if I did I would watch way too much HGTV.  I love watching home remodel or house flipping shows.  The worst part of those shows is when we have to leave without seeing the big reveal at end.  Although I enjoy watching the shows, there is an undercurrent that subtly attempts to shift wants to needs.  Do I need granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances? No. Are they nice to have? Yes. My concern in living in the west is that we shift too many wants to needs and therefore neglect the building up of God’s house, the church.  Our society wants you to focus on renovating your American Dream at the expense of renovating God’s house.  What is your top priority? 

            John Piper has encouraged and modeled a wartime lifestyle. I think it would be appropriate to quote him at length,

The answer to the question is no. A wartime lifestyle does not mean that you after providing yourself and your family with a modest housing, food, clothing, now you are obliged to give all the surplus away immediately. That is not what wartime lifestyle says. Rather, the call for wartime way of life says with a lot more nuance and complexity that the remainder of our resources, so after you have provided for yourself those necessities, might be 10 dollars, might be 10 million dollars left over. That is the one that is being asked about. What is left over is managed, stewarded for the good of others, the glory of God, the advancement of his saving and sanctifying and healing purposes in the world rather than for personal aggrandizement.[2]

What we do with our money after we meet our needs reveals our priorities.  Haggai encouraged Judah to consider your ways; it would be wise to follow his counsel.

Our Priorities are Revealed by our Submission

            Our priorities are ultimately revealed in what we think about doing, but in what we actually do.  Would Zerubbabel and Joshua submit to God’s Word? Haggai 1:12-15,

Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD. Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD's message, “I am with you, declares the LORD.” And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king. (Haggai 1:12-15)

Three key phrases in this section show that Judah true priorities had changed. First, they obeyed the voice of the Lord their God.  Second, the people feared the Lord. And third, the Lord stirred up the spirit of the people. Repentance is an act of God.

            God spoke to the people, “I am with you declares the Lord.”  They do not have to fear opposition because the Lord is in their midst.  Think of how encouraging this word would have been to the people recently returned from exiles.  God is in their midst.  It is God speaking and God stirring that bring the people to work on the house of the Lord.  It is a simple and sweet reminder that if God’s temple, the church, is going to change today, it will be because the Lord stirs up the hearts of His people.  Let us pray that God would be gracious to stir up our hearts to obedience changing our priorities from selfishness to selflessness.  For as Christians, we want our priorities to be God’s priorities.

God’s Priorities are Revealed by the Spirit

            The people are building the temple and it is clear that it will be far inferior to the one built by Solomon as the Lord asks, “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?” It was obvious to everyone that this temple would pale in comparison to the previous one and it would have caused them to think that the past glory was greater than the future glory. 

Whenever we hold on to the past glory over present glory discouragement and despair are sure to come.  Life will never be like it was.  There is a hopelessness that comes when we cling to past success, but the promise of the Scripture is always of a future glory that will far exceed the past. Haggai 2:4-9,

Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.’” (Haggai 2:4-9)

The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former glory.  This promise is speaking about the day when the glory of the Lord will fill the earth as the water covers the seas.

           
The author of Hebrews picks up this prophecy and brings it to the saints in saying, Hebrews 12:26b-29,

He has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

The Spirit reveals the Lord’s priority in creating a kingdom that will not be shaken.  The promise that God made to Abraham was alive and well for the people of Judah after the exile and it will continue to New Testament saints until the Lord comes and shakes the earth and also the heavens. So how is this going to happen?  God’s priorities are most clearly revealed in His Son

God’s Priorities are Revealed by the Son

Haggai shares that the people of Judah are unclean (2:10-19).  Their uncleanness has brought trouble upon them, but the Lord has promised them “from this day on I will bless you.” How does the Lord bless unclean people?  He does it through His Son. The Lord promises this at the end of Haggai’s prophecy, verses 2:20-23,

The word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. On that day, declares the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the LORD, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the LORD of hosts.” (Haggai 2:20-23).

The signet ring was given as a sign of authority.  God has given the signet ring to Zerubbabel. And in giving the ring to Zerubbabel, God is restoring the royal line of King David and reaffirming His covenant that one day there will be a forever king on a forever throne. 

            Therefore we read Zerubbabel’s name in the lineage of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1:12. God gave the signet ring to Zerubbabel to point the Jews to look to the promise of the Messiah who would come and cleanse His people from their sin.  The Messiah would come and live a pure and clean life fully trusting God always living in line with God’s priorities. His perfect life would end in a brutal death. The Messiah, Jesus Christ, would die for His people, but on the third day be raised from the dead.  And after He rose, He ascended into heaven seated at the right hand of God.  So those who trust in Christ, have the hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Heb. 10:22). Jesus blesses a defiled people by making them clean through His own blood.  God’s priority of redemption is clearly seen in the promise of His Son through the signet ring given to Zerubbabel. God promises to make you clean if you would consider your ways, turn and trust in Christ for salvation. God made it a priority to offer your redemption; will you make it a priority to receive it?

           
Are your priorities God’s priorities? Are you living for the greater glory promised by the Spirit where the glory of the Lord will fill the earth? Are you prioritizing redemption and the forgiveness of sin for all who trust in Christ?  Or are you so focused on your own comfort and peace that you are neglecting what truly matters?

            I pray that you would consider your ways.  Ask God to reveal your current priorities and then by His grace help you reorder them to His.  What is your top priority? Let it be the Lord and none other.




[1] ESV Study Bible Note on 1:4 pg 1744
[2] http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/wartime-wisdom-for-the-wealthy accessed on 10.22.2014
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Steven Brazzell

Charlotte, NC