"Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?" (Haggai 1:4). I never thought God cared about interior decorating, until I read the book of Haggai. This hidden and little read treasure of the Old Testament records the prophet Haggai's words to the Jews as they were returning to Judah from exile in Babylon around 520 BC. The settlers who had been charged with rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem (see Ezra 1:2-3), had apparently postponed working on the temple until their own homes were not only built but well decorated. The Hebrew word translated as "paneled" in verse 4 is actually the same word used in 1 Kings 6:9 to describe the beautiful cedar-paneled ceiling of Solomon's temple. With that in mind, one way to paraphrase Haggai 1:4 is, "You've built yourselves homes that are as beautiful as Solomon's temple, but you haven't even begun to rebuild the temple itself."
It's understandable that the Jews of Haggai's time wanted to get their own households in order before they attended to God's household. But God spoke to his people to show them how their self-preoccupation was only harming themselves: "Because my house lies in ruins, while all of you hurry off to your own houses, therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce" (1:9-10). Once "the Lord stirred up the spirit" of their leaders and the people finally started the work they had been sent to do (1:14), God promised them a future of abundance and prosperity (2:9).
Where do you see yourself in this text? Perhaps you feel like you have to get your own house in order before you can serve the Lord. Haggai calls us to serve the Lord first, and then let him take care of our needs. Maybe you have a sense of something God wants you to do, but find that other concerns keep distracting you from God's work. Haggai reminds us to keep our focus on the mission God has given. Or perhaps you're in a season of life when it seems the "heavens above have withheld the dew and the earth has withheld its produce." Haggai invites us to seek the abundance of God's kingdom, rather than worry about scarcity. May the Lord stir up our spirits to respond faithfully today.
Grace and Peace,