The short prophecy of Haggai deals with a situation that had developed in Jerusalem after the nation had been restored to its land from the exile in Babylon. No doubt, they had returned with great excitement and perhaps set about the recovery process with enthusiasm.
For some reason, the people decided to concentrate on building their own homes before they rebuilt the temple. Perhaps this was common sense, to begin with. Yet what may have been an initial necessity became a continual priority because they continued to improve their houses and did not make any arrangements for erecting the temple. Sadly, the God who had restored them to their land had been forgotten about.
Thankfully he did not forget about them. He sent various providences that prevented them making real progress, including a national drought. Then he sent his servant Haggai with a call to repentance. The people, including the political and religious leaders, responded wholeheartedly and immediately began to work on rebuilding the temple.
This incident reminds us that often God’s work of recovery happens in stages. When the initial enthusiasm was over and the people forgot about God, one might have assumed that nothing more would happen in a spiritual sense. Such a view fails to realize the faithfulness of God to his people, and also fails to appreciate that even during their time of wrong priorities God was at work preparing his people for his time of repentance and recovery.
Another detail that the story highlights is the importance of unity in the work of God. It looks as if the focus on their own homes was an expression of disunity and perhaps even competition as to who would have the best home. Yet, through listening to the rebuke from God, the repentance that was expressed worked itself out in a situation of unity and restored priorities.
The obvious question that comes to us, are we imitating the behavior of the people before Haggai spoke or are we imitating their response to his message of having correct priorities?