First Things @ First
I was reminded this past week as I looked at the prophet Haggai about how closely many in the nation of America identify with the chosen people of God after seventy years of being displaced in a foreign country. The timeline for Haggai's message to the people of God came a little over five-hundred years before God would send the promised Deliverer, Christ Jesus.
Haggai is considered a minor prophet, but his message carries major implications for people in general today. Haggai was a young boy when he was carried away to Babylon as a slave. His home of Jerusalem had been razed by the Babylonians and lay in ruin. The day would come soon afterward when this young boy would see the great city of Babylon, located on the Euphrates River. Babylon was the greatest city in the world of its time.
As time passed, the boy would become a man. In the process, Haggai witnessed many changes in the people who made the journey from Jerusalem. Months gave way to years and one generation followed another. And with the passing of time, something important was forgotten. The longing to return home that was so prominent in the early days was soon replaced with little if any longing for their beloved Jerusalem.
In God's timeline, Persia conquers Babylon and with it comes a new way of life. Babylon under the Persians became a much better place to live. Those who had been transplanted were still Jews by heritage, but their heart had changed concerning their homeland. Over time many of the Jews had grown captivated with the treasure and pleasure of this place. This place held its own kind of beauty. Babylon offered much, especially when compared to what they remembered or were told of the ruins of Jerusalem.
Cyrus, King of Persia under the oversight of God gives the people of God their freedom. They were permitted to return to Jerusalem. Some responded with great joy! Most did not respond at all. Of the twenty-four orders of priests, only four men took the offer seriously. In fact, of the entire Levitical priesthood, only seventy-four responded favorably. The best of the remnant that God preserved from Nebuchadnezzar's tyranny had dwindled more in devotion to God over 70 years. Haggai would have been one of the few who was grateful for being able to return home. Of those who returned, the early days presented great challenge. A new altar was built, and the foundation of a new temple was laid. At first, things pertaining to God were held as priority and embraced with faith and fervor. Largely because it was new and challenging. But as is often the case, the effort soon fizzled out. Other more familiar patterns soon became the priority for the people of God. Activities such as building a business or constructing a new house would have been examples. Fields had to be plowed and planted. After all, a man must eat and drink and provide for his family.
In response, Haggai is filled with the Spirit of God and proclaims in chapter 1:5, "Consider your ways!" These Jews had decided that eating and drinking, buying, and building, plowing, and planting were more important than finishing what was and should remain first. God's priority was being neglected and in response, God blew on everything they were involved in. To the point that all of it became unprofitable. Verse 6 says, "You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes." Life became little more than an exercise in frustration and futility. Sound familiar? All that is available to us in America and nothing seems to satisfy long.
After God delivered Israel from another tyrant, the Pharaoh of Egypt through the Red Sea, the Psalmist summed up the response of God's people a few years later. It found in Psalm 106:13-15. It reads, "They soon forgot His works, they did not wait for His counsel, but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tested God in the desert. And He gave them their request but sent leanness into their soul."
There is really nothing new under the sun. (Ec. 1:9) What goes around comes around again and again. God delivers His people because He loves them and over time, His people forsake Him for the 'things' He provides. Like the Jews of Haggai's day, love for the treasure and pleasure of 'Babylon' has a cancerous effect on the love relationship between God and His people. In case you didn't know, Babylon is a biblical type for the world system. And like Babylon of old, the world system today continues to provide an abundance of substitutes that compete with what was once first and foremost in our heart.
There is some good news, however. The people of God in Haggai's day heard God's message, re-arranged their practices, and finished the temple. This temple could not compare with Solomon's golden shrine. But this temple would have something that the former temple never had. The bodily presence of the Lord. It would take a few hundred years but eventually, Jesus would make His presence known in this temple as a child and return as a man.
Haggai's message is not difficult to understand. His message, God's message is more difficult to embrace daily in our lives if you're being 'infected' by what 'Babylon' offers a person daily. God has given us freedom and power in Christ to overcome the world system and keep His person as our Priority. Jesus has delivered those who believe from the tyrant Satan. And in response, He simply commands us to love Him more. More than anything or anyone. It is from a love relationship with God that we, as followers of Christ keep His 'thing' the main thing! However, that only occurs and continues to develop as we keep His place, His place in the temple of our body which is God's as a believer. 1 Corinthians 6:19
The alternative has been proven throughout the history of mankind to be a life filled futility and frustration. As a consequence, many find themselves more active in their own pursuits and unproductive in His purpose.The things we do, all we do is placed into a bag with holes and any benefit is lost to us. God causes that to occur when we do not honor Him as Lord of life. However, if we will put first things first, with God being center-most in our life, He has promised to help us place and prioritize the rest. He makes life worthwhile, not to mention profitable.
So, as things slowly return to patterns that are more familiar, the words of Haggai are still appropriate for this hour. 'Consider your ways.' Remember the One who delivered you from the darkness of despair and distress that the world system promises and fails to deliver on. Instead recall often the One who carried you through the times of uncertainty and in response give Him praise! Then honor His faithfulness through being filled with the Spirit and walking in faith!
God's best is available even in times of testing!
Give Him your best in response.