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Bags with Holes

Haggai 1:6 - "You earn wages, only to put them into a bag with holes."

Read all of Haggai.

A bag with holes is not the best place for saving your hard-earned cash. That's like collecting water in a sieve. Not too successful! But whoever would do such a stupid thing as to dump money into a bag with holes? You and I do! When our priorities aren't in line with God's priorities as seen in the book of Haggai, that's exactly what we're doing!

In order to better appreciate the teaching of this Old Testament prophetic book, let us first consider its historical background. The events of the little book of Haggai took place relatively late in Old Testament history--about 1500 years after Abraham, about 1000 years after Moses, and about 500 years after David. Haggai is known as a "post-exilic" prophet because he preached and prophesied after the Jewish people had returned from their 70 years of captivity in Babylon. This return to the homeland was permitted by the benevolent decree of Cyrus, the Persian king who overthrew the Babylonian Empire in 539 BC. Approximately 50,000 Jews returned to Jerusalem at that time, under the leadership of Zerubbabel (1:1).

With genuine thanksgiving to the Lord who had brought them safely home, these zealous Jews began to rebuild their Temple. The altar was reconstructed, the offerings and feasts were re-established and the foundation of the new Temple was completed. You can read all about this joyful time of thanksgiving and praise in Ezra 3. Unfortunately, however, this revival atmosphere was short-lived. Enemy threats from neighboring nations as well as fear and frustration among the Jews themselves resulted in great discouragement, and construction of the House of the Lord came to a complete standstill. (See Ezra 4.) For fifteen long years no work was done on God's House--it was left as an open and exposed foundation in the ground. And until the prophet Haggai arrived on the scene, the people of God had an "I-couldn't-care-less" attitude towards the whole fiasco of rebuilding (1:2).

How tragic--and yet how familiar even today! How often we see the work of the Spirit of God quenched or stifled after the laying of a promising foundation! Many Christians have a good firm foundation in the faith, but are no longer growing Christians. They started out with a lot of zeal and enthusiasm, but are not building any more. Their once-solid foundation now lies exposed to the weathering effects of this world's system of values and attitudes. Is it possible that your spiritual building program has been discontinued and your foundation has been forgotten? What about your time for prayer and reading of God's Word each day? Is there continuous construction going on, or is there a general strike?

The same kinds of questions could be asked of many of our churches and fellowship groups. Is building activity progressing, or are we looking at abandoned foundations? Are we concerned about the continued need for teaching and worship, fellowship and prayer? (See Acts 2:42 for these necessary building materials!) We must all ask ourselves whether we are actively involved in a building program for our fellowship or whether we are content to sit on the sidelines and see an exposed and crumbling foundation. Is it possible that our situation is even worse than this? Are we in some way actually hindering the building that God is doing through our fellow-believers?

Why had the building of the Temple stopped? Why did the people have such an apathetic attitude towards God's House? The answer is found in Haggai's scathing sermon which is given in verses 3-11 of chapter 1. The problem was priorities! God's people were spending much more time and effort and money on their own houses than on the House of the Lord (1:4). In Haggai's day, a panelled house was a sign of luxury, because the expensive cedar wood had to be imported from Lebanon. God saw this luxurious, materialistic living as inconsistent with His building code standards. The people were told in no uncertain terms to re-examine their priorities and "Consider your ways!" (See 1:5 and 7).

There certainly are lessons in this ancient sermon for the 20th century Christian. God's living Word never ages. Do we have "panelled housing" priorities? Are we putting our own building projects ahead of God's building program? Our building projects, of course, can be more than just literal houses. We can spend all kinds of building time and energy on our businesses or books or bankrolls or even our bodies, while the Lord's building work is neglected and left unattended.

Remember that it wasn't wrong for the people of Haggai's day to have houses, and there was nothing intrinsically wrong with cedar panelling. The problem was priorities! There was absolutely no work being done on the House of God. The open foundation of the Temple was staring God's people in the faces, yet they continued unashamedly to expend their time, energy and money on their own houses. Priorities continue to be the number one problem for many of God's people today. Most Christians aren't involved in glaring sins like adultery and blasphemy. And there is nothing inherently evil about spending time and concern on our businesses, books, bankrolls or even our bodies! But it is a sin to put any of these things higher on the priority list than our worship and service to God. Do we sin in this way? We may say that this would never happen in our lives, but a brief examination of our priority list based on time allotment or energy consumption might surprise us. The Word of the Lord is, "Consider your ways!"

In Haggai's day, the full tragedy of the situation was not only that the House of the Lord was forgotten, but that the people of God were involved in a losing proposition. Because of their inverted priorities, the Lord had withheld His blessing on their land. Their herds were unproductive and their harvests were puny. The people were investing a lot of time and labor to get ahead but there was no progress. In essence, they were throwing their money into bags with holes! Reversed priorities always lead to a bag with holes. When we replace the interests of God with our own interests, we invariably face disappointment and loss. Although there may be some short-term "gains" in pleasure and popularity or prosperity, wrong priorities ultimately result in no gain at all. How much of your investments this year will end up in a bag with holes?

The Word of God never points out a problem without giving a solution. The solution to the problem of priorities is simply to reverse them! God's simple, straightforward solution for Haggai's day was systematically laid out for the people: "Go up to the mountains, bring wood, and rebuild the Temple!" (1:8). The answer seems so obvious that we wonder why God had to say it! God said it because His people then were like His people now--slow to learn! Sometimes we're so thick-headed that God has to teach us the ABC's of Christian living again and again before we straighten out our priorities. How many times, for example, does God have to teach us the ABC of "How Not to be Uptight"? (See Matthew 6:25-34 and Philippians 4:6-7.) And what about the ABC of "Tests of Your Faith"? When will we ever learn not to expect smooth sailing all the time in the Christian life? The New Testament is loaded with verses that teach us that our faith will be tested for our good by trials and persecutions. (See John 15:20 and 16:33; Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:3; 2 Timothy 3:12; James 1:2; 1 Peter 1:7 and 2:21; 1 John 3:13.)

The wonderful response of the people to Haggai's ministry is given to us in the remainder of this little book of Scripture. The response to preaching is not always so positive, but this case should be an encouragement to servants of the Lord today who are somewhat discouraged and may even be doubting the possibility of God's working through preaching. As a result of Haggai's sermon, the people showed reverence for the Lord, they were stirred up in spirit and they returned to the work of the House of the Lord (1:12-15). What a remarkable change of attitude--from irreverent apathy to reverent action! It's not impossible today!

In chapter 2 we read that Haggai's ministry continued while the Temple was being completed. The people were encouraged with promises about the future and challenged to continue holy living. We learn from Ezra 6:15 that the Temple was not completed overnight, but took about four years to finish. Those four years, however, were years of blessing on the land and on the people (2:19), because they were years of right priorities. No longer were the investments of God's people going into bags with holes! May the people of God today also take the words of the prophet Haggai seriously. Then, as a result, we will hear the voice of the Lord saying, "From this day on I will bless you" (2:19).
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