Haggai: 8 Lessons in Priorities (Part 1)

Posted on February 7, 2018


By David Ettinger

For those who don’t know, I have been a longtime writer for the magazine Zion’s Fire (116 articles – and counting – since 1990). Here’s one I wrote from 1999, and felt it would make for a good blog series, to run in four parts. (I freshened it up a tad.) Today, Lessons 1 & 2. 

The year was 536 B.C., and it was a time of joy for the exiled Israelites in Babylon. The nation had been out of its land for 70 years, and the decree had just been made by Persian King Cyrus that Israel return to its homeland, particularly Jerusalem, and build the Temple (Ezra 1:1-3).


Though only about 50,000 Jewish exiles accepted the king’s offer, they set out enthusiastically to the holy work that was before them. However, within a year, opposition from the neighboring Samaritans and pressure from the Persian government (Ezra Chapter 4) put an end to the construction project. The priorities of the Jewish people had drastically changed, and the partially rebuilt Temple lay unfinished for the next 16 years.

Onto the scene came Israel’s first post-exilic prophet, Haggai (520 B.C.), who in the days of Cyrus’ successor, Darius, would give his countrymen a lesson in priorities so encouraging that the building of the Temple resumed and was completed five years later (515 B.C.) under the direction of the prophet Zechariah. Just what was it Haggai taught so effectively that motivated his people, and what can we learn from it today? An analysis of the two-chapter Book of Haggai speaks volumes about people’s priorities versus God’s priorities and the results of both.

Lesson 1. Self-Centered Priorities (Haggai 1:1-4)
Man’s Priority: To build luxurious houses.

Outcome: Chastisement.

Israel’s task was certain, and it was no less than Persian King Cyrus who declared it: “Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them” (Ezra 1:3). And though the Israelites began their work with enthusiasm, it took just a few months for them to forget their original purpose. “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house [Temple] remains a ruin?” (Haggai 1:4).


The problem was clear. Not only was Israel intimidated from completing its mission, but also it had quickly forgotten the days of its exile. The Jewish people were back in the land, and they were now content to build and reside in their paneled homes in comfort and ease. Similarly today, too many Christians have self-centered priorities and are too satisfied with staying home from church, neglecting daily Bible readings, and doing little to promote the Kingdom of God. The enticements of television, the Internet, and recreation have assailed Christian priorities, causing God to be relegated to the background.

God’s Priority: To rebuild the Temple.

The Lord, who never changes, gave a directive to the people which He expected them to carry out. “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house’” (Haggai 1:2). Nothing was farther from the truth! God had voiced His priorities through Cyrus, and over the course of 16 years He had not changed His mind. By 520 B.C., there was a huge gulf between the people of Israel and God, He wanted the Temple built; they said, “Now is not a good time.”

Today, Christian priorities are all too often in conflict with God’s. He wants us to pray; we want to play. He asks us to worship corporately once a week; we want to take weekend vacations whenever our savings accounts allow. He asks us to fellowship with Him daily in His divine Word; we choose a novel or “how to” book instead.

Haggai’s message to us: Priorities need to be God-centered, not man-centered.

Lesson 2. Consequences of Work Priorities (Haggai 1:5-11)
Man’s Priority: To provide solely for our own needs.

Outcome: Man always in want, spiritually.

The Israelites were so concerned about taking care of their own needs that they forsook the requirements of God. “You have planted much … You eat … You drink … You put on clothes … You expected much” (1:6, 9). Providing for one’s need is by no means a sin; in fact, it is commanded (Proverbs 14:23). But for a Christian to do so in a vacuum without regard to doing the Lord’s work will come back to bite him. Such was the case with Israel during the days of Haggai. “Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands” (1:10-11).

haggai BibleThe consequences of the Israelites’ wrong priorities were clear: There was a lack of food, a lack of rain, and a lack of basic daily provisions. The people seemed surprised by their fruitless toil, but God made it clear that He was not pleased with them. So today are Christians often surprised when things go wrong in their lives, and they have no idea why. Whenever we forsake God and focus on ourselves, we tend to structure our lives according to our own sinful thoughts and desires. God wants us to give to the poor (Isaiah 58:7). We want to buy new cars when the current ones are fine. God wants us to teach His ways to our children (Proverbs 22:6). We too often spoil them. God wants us to put others first (Philippians 2:3-4). We look only to our own needs.

God’s Priority: That we take action to do His will.

When God makes clear to us what He expects us to do, He wants us to start taking the necessary steps to accomplish His will. “‘Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,’ says the Lord” (1:8).

Because of our sinful nature, we as Christians too often seek our own fulfillment and pleasure. However, God makes clear that through doing His work, He will take pleasure, and He will be glorified. For those who are attuned to God’s will in their lives and seek to accomplish it, the joy and satisfaction to be gained is limitless. Whatever it is God has called us to do, it is imperative that we “go up to the mountain,” if necessary, to do it.

Haggai’s message to us: If priorities are self-centered, we will face consequences.

Up Next: Lessons 3 & 4.