The people said that it was not the time to build the house of the Lord. However, it seems that it was always the time to work on their houses!
What was really going on in their hearts? And can the same thing happen to us today? This is what we are going to consider.
The people said that it was not the time to build the house of the Lord. However, it seems that it was always the time to work on their houses! What was really going on in their hearts? And can the same thing happen to us today? This is what we are going to consider.
The state of the heart revealed
In answer to what the Israelites thought, the LORD will now speak to His people through the prophet Haggai. This answer is actually a question. In just a few words, this question goes straight to the point and immediately manifests what really is going on.
“And the word of Jehovah came by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you that you should live in your wainscoted houses, while this house lies waste?” (Haggai 1:3-4)
As we read in Hebrews 4:12, God’s Word is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” “All things are naked and laid bare to His eyes, with whom we have to do.” (Hebrews 4:13.) The Word of God is like a mirror that shows what we really are (James 1:22-24). If we take it to heart, and put it into practice, then there will be God’s blessing in our activity, as we find also in James 1:25: “… he will be blessed in his doing.”
Thus, this single question from God directly puts the finger on the real problem and manifests the state of hearts. If it was not the time to build the house of the Lord, was it more the time to stay at home?
Let’s take a closer look at the situation.
- First, they had houses, but the house of the Lord was devastated. After all these years, a lot of preparatory work had been done, and maybe even finished, and there was probably a lot of material ready. This assumption is based on the fact that the work was completed in only four years after the work was resumed, whereas it took Solomon seven years, and under much more favorable circumstances. While the foundations had been laid, the house was still not built!
- Secondly, they had paneled houses, but the house of the LORD was devastated. They had had plenty of time and energy to finish their houses tastefully and make them comfortable. But they had not been able to find time and energy for the house of the LORD! It was not the time, in their eyes, because of the circumstances and, without daring to say it, because of their comfort.
- Thirdly, they lived in their beautiful houses, but the house of the LORD was still devastated. Why go and build the house of the LORD when they could enjoy the comfort of their home and the joys they found there, with family and friends?
It is in this context that the Lord asks the following question through His prophet: “You say that this is not the time to build, but is it the time to live comfortably in your beautiful houses, while my house lays waste?”
Just asking the question must have touched their hearts and made them think. How could they live comfortably in their homes when there was still much work to be done on the house of the Lord? Was it fair to say that it was not the time to build and the next moment to invest a lot of time and resources in their own homes?
The people had slowly slacked off, moving from active work rebuilding the house of the Lord to seeking their personal comfort. What they dared not say, the Lord made it manifest in the open. Their hearts were no longer on the things of God, but occupied with the comfort and well-being they could find. Considering these few points in the light of God’s Word, what about our own heart in relation to God’s service?
- Are we “… zealous for good works”? (Titus 2:14)
- Are we walking in the “… good works, which God has before prepared”? (Ephesians 2:10)
Or do we also have to admit that there are many other things that occupy our time and energy? On the one hand, we do want to serve the Lord because we love Him, and we know that there is a great reward for doing so—especially the reward of hearing the Lord say to us, “Well, good and faithful bondman” (Matthew 25:21). But when it is the time to act, then that’s another story. Suddenly there are many small things that disturb our good intentions, and perhaps when we calculate the personal sacrifice to be made, it becomes a bit too much for us.
Why is this so?
First, because we have an enemy who does not want God’s work to be done. And unfortunately, this enemy has an ally in us: the flesh. The present age offers everything that satisfies the natural man in order to keep his heart away from the things of God. Let us remember the sad news that Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:10: “Demas has forsaken me, having loved the present age.” We do not read that he returned to a life of sin; perhaps he continued to live a Christian life. But the place that the present age took in his heart made it too difficult for him to continue to follow Paul. He desired an easier path.
I would like to take this opportunity to add a small reflection on the fact that Demas forsook Paul. Obviously, this means that he left him. But isn’t this, by analogy, an interesting picture of those who, even today, abandon Paul’s teachings, because, unsurprisingly, the present age is opposed to these teachings? The natural man has always been opposed to the Word of God. One keeps what satisfies the flesh in its religion and philosophies, and replaces the rest with man’s teachings. Let us, too, “Keep, by the Holy Spirit which dwells in us, the good deposit.” (2 Timothy 1:14).
This is what our enemy is doing. He wants to turn our hearts away from the things of God, by, among other things, luring it with the attractive things that this present age has to offer. There is something to satisfy every taste. This is why we must often remind ourselves of the serious words of the apostle John: “Love not the world, nor the things in the world. If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15.)
Second, our readiness to serve God can be cooled by our miscalculations. We no longer have the eyes of faith that make us look at the reward that the Lord desires to give us when we are in His presence. Instead, our eyes are turned to the cost we have to pay now: in time, fatigue, difficulties, misunderstandings, etc. Let us then look at the perfect example of our Lord Jesus Christ “who, in view of the joy lying before Him, endured the cross, having despised the shame.” (Hebrews 12:2.) And after all His sufferings, all His labor, what is the portion of our Lord? He “is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
So much for our encouragement! If there is a price to pay, there is also “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17) for one who endures this “momentary and light affliction”.
This first question that the Lord asked His people brought to light what was really in their hearts. They had slowly slacked off and made themselves comfortable while the house of the Lord was devastated.
Our hearts are no better than theirs, and the danger is the same for us today. The Lord desires to draw our attention so that we do not fall into the trap of staying comfortably at home while there is still work to be done on God’s house. He calls us to build and to watch so that we do not fall asleep. And to encourage us, He places before us His imminent coming, and His reward that is with Him.