Add to your list of excuse-makers the repatriated Israelites. God brought them back from exile and returned them to their land. They rushed to set themselves back up in the ruined capital. Except that they made up an inverted to-do list.
“The Lord who rules over all says this: ‘These people have said, “The time for rebuilding the Lord’s temple has not yet come.”'” Haggai 1.2 NET
That’s about as vague an excuse as you can muster, but it worked for them. The not-yet justification concealed their selfishness quite well.
Selfishness it was, too. “My temple remains in ruins, thanks to each of you favoring his own house!” v. 9b. “Favoring” is literally “running.” They were rushing to care for themselves, but dragging their feet to care for the hose of the Lord. (Their relatives are still alive and well today!)
But the Lord calls them out over it. Because he is “the Lord who rules over all.” He knows when the time is right and when it isn’t.
If the time was right for them to rebuild and decorate their houses in luxury, it was past time to rebuild the temple. The resettled Israelites weren’t just watching the HGTV channel, they were living it.
Haggai’s confrontation of the people, in the year 520 B.C., brings home two truths that apply in 2014 A.D., besides the excuse-making.
One, when we take care of ourselves first, we inevitably will find ourselves lacking.
You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but are never filled. You drink, but are still thirsty. You put on clothes, but are not warm. Those who earn wages end up with holes in their money bags, v. 6.
No matter how much we accumulate, it is never enough. Material success never satisfies completely. For Israel, their lack was a direct punishment from God for not doing first things first. For Christians today, divided loyalties and failure to consecrate Christ as Lord means missing out on the peace and joy of a life devoted to him.
Two, some things can’t wait. God won’t wait. He demands first place, first Moment. Priority means first in time, or else it’s not first in heart. Such is the meaning of firstfruits.
For example (one small example at that!), Sunday will always be the first day of the week on God’s calendar. And that first day is the Lord’s day, when his people assemble around the Lord’s table. Those who miss it don’t put God first. They are running for their own houses.
To Haggai’s condemnation the people responded well. They got up and rebuilt the temple. They repented.
Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak, along with the whole remnant of the people, obeyed the Lord their God. They responded favorably to the message of the prophet Haggai, who spoke just as the Lord their God had instructed him, and the people began to respect the Lord, v. 12.
Here is a wonderful example to follow. Let the selfish drop their home decorating projects to run to the house of the Lord to build it up with living stones as they fulfill the Great Commission.
Because God will never accept second place.