by Doug Smith
As a student, I remember seeing an object lesson that you may be familiar with as well. The speaker took an empty jar and placed three or four large rocks into it. He asked if it was full. It looked full, so I thought the answer was yes. He then poured some gravel into the jar and asked if it was full. Of course it was now right? Then some sand filled in the space between the rocks and gravels. It was obvious that nothing more could go in, but somehow I knew that there must be something else. The speaker finally poured in water, and the jar was full.
I was a bit slow on this object lesson. I thought that the point was that no matter how much you have going on in your life, you can always squeeze something else in! Of course, I was wrong, and, thankfully, the speaker gave the correct interpretation. The moral was that if you do not get the big rocks in first, you will not get them in at all. Another way to say it is that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
The lesson dealt with priorities and so does the book of Haggai. If we do not get the big rocks in first, the sands of time will quickly fill our lives and we will fail to take care of those things that ought to be our priorities. Our mindset must be “first things first.”
Haggai is one of the Minor Prophets, so called because of the length of the book that bears his name, not because he is less important than other prophets. The only references to Haggai outside his book are Ezra 5:1 and 6:14. He is one of the last three Old Testament prophets, the other two being Zechariah (whose ministry overlapped Haggai’s) and Malachi (who came along about 100 years later). Haggai, the first prophet for the returned exiles, preached so that people would rebuild the temple.
Many years before Haggai, God called Abraham out of a land of idolaters. He made promises to him: he would receive a land and descendants, and he would be a blessing to the nations. He kept His promise to him by giving him Isaac, who was the father of Jacob. Jacob’s sons became known as the 12 tribes of Israel. God had told Abraham that his people would be in bondage 400 years, and so they were. God brought them out by His mighty hand, cursing Egypt with plagues and parting the Red Sea so that the people walked through on dry ground. Eventually the people returned to the land. God gave them instructions for worship in the tabernacle, a movable tent. David desired to build a permanent house for the Lord’s worship, a desire God did not grant to David. Instead, the construction of the temple occurred during the reign of David’s son, Solomon.
The temple was a sign of God’s blessing and presence with the nation of Israel. It witnessed to His existence, supremacy, holiness, and mercy.
The kingdom split after Solomon’s reign, and eventually both parts were taken captive because of their rebellion and idolatry. The Northern Kingdom (called Israel) was overtaken by the Assyrians, and the Southern Kingdom (called Judah) by the Babylonians. In 586 B. C., the temple was destroyed and Judah was taken captive. But in 538 B. C., Cyrus, ruler of the Medo-Persian Empire, defeated Babylon and took charge. He allowed conquered nations, including the Jews, to return to their homelands. He even decided to finance the reconstruction of the Jewish temple.
In 536 B.C., only about 50,000 returned to the land. This was a sign of their faithfulness to God. Many of the other Jews had become comfortable in Babylon and prospered; they were not interested in the difficult journey to the once-conquered homeland to undertake the difficult job of rebuilding. Their way of life was more important to them than re-instituting the public worship of God.
Yet the faithful Jews made the journey and began the job. They laid the foundations of the temple in 536 B.C. But they encountered opposition. And they put the work on hold. They started to focus on building up their own homes and neglected the house of the LORD. In fact, the rebuilding of the temple was on hold for sixteen years, and that’s why God sent His Word by His prophet Haggai.
The application for us is not to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem but to focus on the things that matter to God. We need to rebuild our spiritual lives. Jesus replaced the temple He is the One through whom we worship God. He is the altar, the sacrifice, and the great high priest. And He has made His people a temple for the Lord.
One must first of all be trusting Christ for this message to have significance. There is no spiritual life apart from Christ. If you are not a Christian, realize that God is your holy Creator against whom you have rebelled, that you deserve eternal death in hell, and that God will forgive your sins if you will repent and trust in Christ, the Son of God who lived a perfect life, died as a sacrifice for sin, rose from the dead and is returning to judge the world in righteousness. But if you are a Christian, even the most committed among us need reminders to rebuild. We need to get the big rocks in first.
Tomorrow, we will look at the first big rock we need to get into our jars: the Word of God.