By Justin Borger with assistance from Generous Giving staff
The prophet Haggai delivered one of the simplest messages in the entire Bible. The Jews had returned from exile in Babylon and had begun to resettle in Jerusalem. Haggai watched with disgust as the people busily began building their own houses while God’s temple lay in shambles. “Is it time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” (1:4). Haggai called God’s people to honor the work of God before the work of man, and to demonstrate their priorities in the way they used their time and resources. By God’s grace the people listened and were richly blessed with God’s presence, protection and the joy of obedience.
Our study of Haggai consists of two parts. In the first section, readers will find our stewardship study notes. These notes analyze, in a passage-by-passage fashion, the implications of the book’s teaching for Christian generosity and related issues. The second section consists of short essays describing the book’s major stewardship themes. These notes and essays are not intended to be comprehensive explanations of Haggai’s goals in writing this book, nor do they exhaust the book’s possible applications in matters related to stewardship and generosity.
While Generous Giving’s Bible study material will aid anyone who is searching the Scriptures for guidance, they may prove especially useful as sermon helps for pastors and as a resource for teachers, advisors and lay leaders interested in obeying and teaching the message of Scripture in matters of generosity and stewardship. We readily acknowledge our fallibility in writing these study notes, for they are the work of humans, not God. Please search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) as you read this material critically, carefully and prayerfully. May God bless you in your studies.
Passage-by-Passage Study Notes
Haggai 1:2 (Key Passage) — Poor Excuses: God’s people had begun to return from exile in Babylon, and it was time to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem—the unique symbol of God’s abiding presence with his people. But the people were unmotivated; according to their reasoning, the time “had not yet come” for the Lord’s house to be built (Haggai 1:2). No hasty plans should be made. After all, the people had only recently returned from a long and difficult exile in a foreign country, and they were busy recuperating. There was plenty of work to be done just to get resituated in the Promised Land. They shouldn’t “overextend” themselves, should they? Could God blame them for wanting to take care of their basic priorities—like getting their own households in order—before turning their attention to his house? God’s temple could wait until they were in a better position to properly finance and execute a large project like that. The people’s so-called “prudence” is suspiciously similar to our own. We often are inclined to make the same rationalizations and excuses: e.g., “I don’t think God would want me to give money to my local church and other Christian ministries unless I pay off my credit card debt first ... God wants me to get to a position of financial security so that I will be free to participate in his work more effectively.” Haggai directly rebuked this kind of excuse and reminded both his original readers as well as us today that the time to engage in God’s work is always right now. Our good excuses often turn out to be quite poor in light of God's agenda. See Haggai theme essay Building God’s House, Not Our Own.
Haggai 1:3-4 (Key Passage) — Paneled Houses: God’s response to the people’s poor excuses fell with great force: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” The people’s careful—and extravagant, as material for paneling was almost certainly imported at great expense—concern for the affairs of their own households indicated the true priorities of their hearts. They had used their resources and possessions to secure their own comfort and security while God’s house lay in ruins, and by this, they demonstrated what they did and did not care about. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Today, when we encounter the personal “ruin” and needs of other Christians and fail to use our personal resources to bring about restoration for the people of God, we demonstrate that we do not truly love God (1 John 3:17). God’s people are his temple today, and we show our love for God in the way we treat one another (Matthew 25:31-46). See Haggai theme essay Building God’s House, Not Our Own.
Haggai 1:5 — In this verse, Haggai transitions into the next section of his message with a call to self-examination. This particular call must have been very important to the prophet, as may be seen in the fact that Haggai repeated it no less than four times in his short book (Haggai 1:5, 7; 2:15, 18): “Give careful thought to your ways.” Especially where finances are concerned, it is very easy to let inertia take over. We simply do what we have always done, with no introspection or self-doubt. For example, a family might spend extravagant amounts of money on luxurious vacations simply because “that’s what we [and our friends] always do.” Haggai told the people to examine themselves, suggesting specific areas that required scrutiny in the following verse.
Haggai 1:12-15 (Key Passage) — The People Obey: There are not enough verses like this in the Bible. The people listened to the message Haggai delivered and actually obeyed it. Their obedience had immediate results. In Haggai 1:2, God had referred to his chosen nation as “these people”—a cool and distant way to refer to a favored possession—but here, in verse 13 the LORD declares, “I am with you.” Because God is good by nature, he will always be pleased by good and respond to it by drawing near. Not only did God draw near to his people when they began to act obediently; the people themselves were inspired in their now meaningful labor. There is nothing more exciting or fulfilling than obeying God and doing his work.
Haggai 2:6-7 — Hebrews 12:26-28 quotes and explains this passage from Haggai: “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Temporal things will not last; we cannot hold on to them. The only thing that cannot be shaken is God’s kingdom and all who belong to it. When we labor for that kingdom through acts of sincere love for God and our neighbor, we store up a reward for ourselves that cannot be shaken.
Haggai 2:8 (Key Passage) — Silver and Gold Are Mine: Of course, God owns more than just silver and gold; Psalm 24:1 tells us that, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” As the Creator of the entire universe, God is the absolute owner of everything. Because of this, it is impossible to exaggerate the claim that God has on “our” possessions and lives. Nothing we have belongs to us, not even our bodies. Creation in its totality belongs to God, and we are his stewards.
Haggai 2:9 — While the glory of Herod’s later temple (Mark 13:1) was literally more glorious than the temple Solomon had built, ultimately this verse refers to the glory of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus came and “dwelled among us” in the flesh, and gave us his Spirit (Acts 2), the temple and all its former glory has been overshadowed by the glory of Christ’s church. Today we honor God’s house by loving our brothers and sisters as ourselves. We build God’s house by spreading the gospel and by encouraging others unto love and good deeds like generosity, mercy and justice. See Haggai theme essay Building God’s House, Not Our Own.
Haggai 2:15-19 — Haggai reminds the people of the economic hardships—poor harvests, storms, mildew, hail, etc.—that plagued the people when they were failing to do God’s work. However, because of their obedience, things would change—“From this day on I will bless you.” Obedience always honors God, and God always blesses obedience. Whether the reward is experienced now or later, God will not forget those who do what he says.