You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.
In the book of Haggai, the story of the building of the temple continues. From the book of Ezra, we know that under Zerubbabel’s leadership, the foundation of the temple had been laid [Ezra 3:8-11]. But upon opposition from Artaxerxes, they stopped the rebuilding of the temple [Ezra 4:23]. It was around 16 years later, during the second year of King Darius [Hag 1:1], when the prophet Haggai was sent by the Lord. In these years, the temple remained in ruins, having only its foundation laid, whereas the people busied themselves with furnishing their own houses [Hag 1:9]. In verse 4 the term ‘paneled houses’ (or in other versions, ‘cieled houses’) was used – Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin? [Hag 1:4] – the original meaning of this term is used to describe palaces – that is the extent of how much time and effort and money they have devoted to their own houses. In this study we will examine the causes of this phenomenon and how life is without meaning when we neglect God.
Meaningless without God
Haggai 1:6 gives us a short list of things that we do meaninglessly. We might have gone through some of these. The list can easily go on and on. For example, perhaps you study a lot, but nothing gets into your head. Perhaps you socialise a lot, but you are still lonely. Perhaps you play and fool around, but you still crave for more fun. This is exactly what the teacher means in Ecclesiastes when he says, vanity, vanity, all is vanity! [Ecc 1:2|Article]. In a more modern translation, it reads, meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless. What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? [Ecclesiates 1:3]. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun [Ecc 1:9]. In the book of Ecclesiastes we’re looking at how life is meaningless without God – everything is but just a routine, boring, nothing new. You live, you do what everybody before you has done before, and you die, and that’s the end of it. In the book of Haggai, we’re looking at a similar mindset – people who toil but not for God will find little harvest, little warmth, their purses with holes, and they will always thirst and hunger for something unknown. It doesn’t necessarily mean that all the people were physically poor or literally hungry because they neglected God, but in a spiritual sense, they are living a purposeless life.
Have you ever felt an insatiable desire for anything? If you have dealt with any form of addiction before, you may understand better. Insatiable desire – a desire that cannot be satisfied. No matter what you get, regardless of the quantity or the quality of it, you will still desire more. Why? Because the hole in your heart isn’t filled, and yet our minds have mistakenly targeted something as the object to fill our hole. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” [Haggai 1:9] “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.”
When we place our focuses on ourselves instead of the Lord, we can never be truly satisfied.
Consequences for disobedience
The people were clearly told to build the temple of God. And while the people never said they wouldn’t do it, they simply allowed the matter to drag on while they indulged in themselves. Slacking off on God’s works is often something that goes under the radar by men. This mentality is common – “I’ll do it, but not now. I’ll enjoy myself first.” But yet it is merely an excuse. There is no real reason for us not to do it. There is no real reason for them not to build the temple of God. In fact, they didn’t take that long to finish it when they eventually set upon doing it. Yet they waited for years, toiling meaninglessly for their own interests.
There are curses and punishment stated as a result for disobedience – You will sow much seed in the field but you will harvest little, because locusts will devour it. You will plant vineyards and cultivate them but you will not drink the wine or gather the grapes, because worms will eat them. You will have olive trees throughout your country but you will not use the oil, because the olives will drop off. You will have sons and daughters but you will not keep them, because they will go into captivity. Swarms of locusts will take over all your trees and the crops of your land. [Deu 28:38-42]
You will eat, but you will not be satisfied [Lev 26:26] For they shall eat, and not have enough: they shall commit prostitution, and shall not increase: because they have left off to take heed to the LORD [Hosea 4:10]
Without God, there is no divine blessing
You may think that you aren’t really disobeying God. You’re probably wrong, but even so, I don’t see this so much as about punishment – though many will argue for it and I have no case against it – but more of the withdrawal of God’s divine blessing for us. Sure, there will still be God’s universal blessings on you even if you do not have God in your life – but not beyond that. Sometimes we think we’re sacrificing a lot of time when we do God’s works. Or money – like in this context, they perhaps tried to keep the money to themselves by not building, but instead, their purses have holes. They toil harder to earn lesser. The money flow out faster. The satisfaction of working evaporates.
Different people have different measures on time and money. But when these things hinder us in our duties for God, when we become blinded by other things and neglect God, when we leave our God as a benchwarmer and keep telling him to wait, perhaps the only thing that we’re truly hindering is our own happiness and satisfaction. When we learn how to glorify God, satisfaction will naturally follow.