Hope Despite Disappointment – A Commentary on Haggai Chapter 1

The book of Haggai begins during a crucial time in Israel’s history. The Jewish exiles have returned from Babylon to their homeland after 70 years of captivity. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, and the high priest Joshua, the people have rebuilt the altar and laid the new temple’s foundation. However, opposition and discouragement have halted the construction. For nearly 16 years the foundations have sat unfinished, a glaring reminder of failed expectations and misplaced priorities.

It is into this context that the prophet Haggai emerges with a sobering call to rebuild the house of the Lord. His message in chapter 1 contains a piercing rebuke, followed by words of hope and a promise of God’s presence. As we study this passage, we can gain insight for finding motivation when our own zeal has diminished.


The book of Haggai is the first of the three post-exilic prophets, along with Zechariah and Malachi. These prophets encouraged the returning exiles to rebuild the temple and renew their covenant with God. Haggai’s ministry lasted around 4 months, from August to December 520 BC. His name means “festive” or “festal one”, which is fitting given his mission to inspire celebration of the rebuilt temple.

Haggai spoke during the reign of King Darius I, who assumed control of the Persian Empire after Cambyses II. His messages contain five major speeches, all delivered within a few months. They are arranged chronologically and indicate precise dates, lending historical credibility. The purpose is to spur the people to finish rebuilding the Jerusalem temple after years of neglect.

Haggai’s overriding concern is that the Lord be glorified through temple worship. But the book also contains eschatological glimpses of future glory. It assures us that discouragement and opposition need not thwart God’s purposes. As we study chapter 1, let’s reflect on three key lessons:

Key Takeaways from Haggai Chapter 1

  1. Halfhearted devotion is unacceptable to God. His work must be our first priority.
  2. Outward circumstances cannot thwart God’s eternal purposes. He remains sovereign despite our faltering zeal.
  3. When we obey God’s call, He promises to be with us. His presence brings true prosperity.

With this overview in mind, let’s dive into the text. We’ll gain insight for overcoming spiritual apathy and finding motivation to pursue God’s will despite delays and disappointments.

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God Rebukes the People’s Misplaced Priorities (Haggai 1:1-11)

The Setting (1:1)

In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: (Haggai 1:1, NKJV)

The first verse establishes the historical context. The timing is late August, 520 BC, nearly 18 years after Cyrus ended the Babylonian exile in 538 BC (see Ezra 1:1-4). Under Zerubbabel, around 50,000 Jewish exiles had returned to Jerusalem. Two years later, in 536 BC, they had laid the temple foundation amid celebration (Ezra 3:8-13).

But opposition quickly arose, stifling the enthusiasm (Ezra 4:4-5). For 16 years the foundation sat unfinished, a picture of neglect. Imagine staring at the pitiful stone remnants year after year. All the while, the people busied themselves building their own paneled houses (Haggai 1:4).

This opening historical note reveals the discouraging situation Haggai addressed. It involved misplaced priorities and forgotten vows. The stage is now set for his piercing rebuke.

A Call to Consider Their Ways (1:2-6)

Thus says the Lord of hosts: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.’”

Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways!

“You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.”

Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways! (Haggai 1:2-5, NKJV)

Through Haggai, God confronts the people’s excuse that it’s “not yet time” to rebuild the temple (1:2). They claim the 70-year Jeremiah prophecy isn’t complete. But God sees through this hollow justification for disobedience.

Twice He directs them to “consider your ways” (1:5, 7). Take stock of your true motives. Their apathy toward God’s house is contrasted with their zeal for personal comforts. Self-interest has blinded them to spiritual realities.

To awaken their conscience, God highlights the futility of their labor. They sow much but reap little. No matter how hard they work, prosperity eludes them; blesssing evaporates like water through holes in bags (1:6). But they haven’t connected the dots – that pursuing self first violates God’s covenant. He longs to bless them, if only they will prioritize His purposes.

This section soberly reminds us to consider our own ways. Is devotion to God our first priority? Or have secondary concerns crowded Him out? Vance Havner said: “When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives altogether.” How true this proves when we embrace God’s work as our supreme occupation.

A Call to Honor God’s House (1:7-11)

Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,” says the Lord. “You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?” says the Lord of hosts. “Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. For I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.” (Haggai 1:7-11, NKJV)

The remedy for misplaced priorities is simple, if humbling – go up, gather resources, and build the temple. God cares more that His house be glorified than ours. Until His dwelling is restored, He withholds blessing so that in their poverty they might align priorities with His perfect will (1:9-11).

Christ’s kingdom agenda must eclipse earthly pursuits. Our labor and resources find their highest purpose when supporting His work. Vance Havner said: “When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives altogether.” This was the choice confronting Israel. Things of earth grow strangely dim when His glory is our supreme priority.

These verses depict God’s displeasure with halfhearted devotion. We don’t bargain on our terms or set our own timetable. The sovereign Lord demands – and deserves – enthusiastic service, not apathetic delay. J. Oswald Sanders said: “Anything less than enthusiastic obedience displays a lack of faith and love toward the One who redeemed us at such cost.” May this truth reignite passion where lukewarmness has crept in!

The People’s Response of Repentance and Obedience (Haggai 1:12-15a)

Haggai’s sobering message awakens the leaders and remnant to obey God wholeheartedly:

Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him; and the people feared the presence of the Lord. Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, spoke the Lord’s message to the people, saying, “I am with you, says the Lord.” So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God (Haggai 1:12-14, NKJV)

Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the remnant obey God’s call. His warning penetrates hearts, stirring repentant fear. Remarkably, in just 23 days, their priorities dramatically realign with God’s:

On the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month (of King Darius’ second year) they began work on the temple of the LORD. (Haggai 1:15a, CSB)

Aug 23 – Overview of the people’s disobedience (1:1-11)

Aug 29 – The leaders and remnant repent (1:12-14)

Sept 21 – Temple reconstruction resumes (1:15)

What catalyzed this rapid revival? Note two key phrases:

  1. “The people feared the presence of the Lord” (1:12). A fresh awareness of God’s majesty and authority prompted reverent obedience.
  2. “The Lord stirred up the spirit” of the leaders and people (1:14). God ignited their wills for action. The work began in their hearts before their hands.

When God speaks, the wise respond with repentance, renewed vision, and prompt obedience. His call kindles desire to make His purposes our supreme priority.

God’s Promise of Presence and Prosperity (Haggai 1:13)

Despite their failure, God’s purposes remain unchanged. What beautiful hope we find in Haggai’s short book! God says to the repentant remnant:

I am with you, says the LORD. (Haggai 1:13, ESV)

This compact promise echoes God’s words to stalwarts like Moses, Joshua, Gideon. It whispers: Take courage. I haven’t abandoned you. My mighty hand will equip and uphold you. No matter the opposition, with Me the work will be accomplished.

Christ assures us too: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). His empowering presence is our fuel, hope, and prize. Our weak frames house matchless power when yielding to His Spirit.

We also see that God’s presence brings true prosperity:

“From this day on I will bless you” (Haggai 2:19)

When we prioritize God’s purposes, He directs our paths and supplies strength, resources, joy, and blessing. The work becomes its own reward. His smile is our exceeding great reward.


Haggai’s message called Israel to wake from spiritual slumber. His sobering warning reminds us too that God requires wholehearted devotion. When His work becomes our supreme occupation, His presence and blessing follows.

What areas of apathy or misplaced priority require repentance and renewed vision? God waits to stir our hearts afresh for kingdom work. The time is now. The call is urgent. Let’s serve the Lord with passion worthy of His name.

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