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Study 12

Haggai: The Problem Of Being Greedy For Things

by Raymond Brown, M.A., M.Th., Ph.D.

translated into EasyEnglish by Mary Read

A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.

 


About these studies

Bible Passages about Haggai:

The book of Haggai;

Ezra chapter 5; 6:14.

Introduction

God chooses his servants very carefully. It pleases him to use many different types of people. He uses them to do what he wants. He is not like us. Our attitudes and interests are often firm. We decide on things and do not want to change.

This study deals with important years. It was the time after the *Jews returned from Babylon. People call them *exiles. They were very hard years. Not all the people went to Babylon. The enemy left a group of *Jews in their own land, Judah.

This group felt confused. They did not understand things. They did not know why God had let such bad things happen. They felt very sad. They had no moral strength and no money. Their land was in a very bad state. The enemy had destroyed the city walls. The people desired two things. First, they wanted economic strength. Then they wanted their nation to be safe.

Now the *exiles were back from Babylon. Perhaps things would improve. They could hope for a better future. So, the people started to work hard on their lands and houses. This was a natural thing to do. But their attitudes changed too. Things became important to them. They became selfish and greedy for things. The people in Jerusalem were like this. So were people from the local towns. They began to leave God out of their lives.

God wanted the right things to be first in their lives. So, he sent two *prophets to speak to the people. They were very different types of men. One was a young man who saw *visions. His name was Zechariah. He saw truths in the form of pictures. So, what he said was very dramatic. (Read Zechariah 2:4.) It would be easy to remember his message. The other *prophet was Haggai. He also had a word from God. But his method was different. He spoke in a clear, direct way.

Both men served God at the same time. Their aims were similar too. This could be a lesson to us. We can think that only one man has the right word for our times! It was like this in New Testament times. (Note: The New Testament is the second part of our Bible.) It happened in the church at Corinth. Some people belonged to one group. Other people followed another leader. But Paul appealed to them all. They must realise that they could learn from all the teachers. God chose to use different men. Their methods might not be the same. But people could learn more in this way. (Read 1 Corinthians 1:11-17 and 3:3-10, 21-23.)

In the same way, God used the two *prophets. He chose to use Haggai. He chose to use Zechariah. They both appealed to the people. They spoke about their duty to God. At that time, few people in Judah even thought about it. The two *prophets were different. Their appeals were different. But their messages were similar. They urged the people to put God first in their lives.

This study is about Haggai. We will consider his message. We must then link it to our own times. Society today is similar. It becomes more and more greedy for things. People’s main desire is to get. They do not want to give. Nations are fighting for more land. People are trying to get more money. A person has a typical request from life. It is ‘Give me’ (Luke 15:12). But it can be different. Someone may be sorry about all the wrong things that he has done. He wants his life to change. This is a much greater ambition. He comes to God. He cries, ‘Make me’ (Luke 15:19).

Haggai’s appeal was very simple and direct. But he demanded something from the people. They must show that God was first in their lives. They could do this by building the *Temple again. They had worked hard on their own homes. They had spent a lot of money on them. Now it was time to consider their ways. They had left God out of their lives. They were selfish. God did not seem to matter to them at all.

Haggai has an important message. It fits with our own times. People are greedy for things now too. They also need many things. But they find that things do not satisfy them. So, what Haggai said is true for us today too.

His message divides into 4 clear parts. They are a series of talks. He gave them during a period of about 4 months. The subjects are:

·           To be selfish is stupid (1:1-15). This was a talk in September.

·           To be generous brings many benefits (2:1-9). This was a talk in October.

·           To be a bad model is dangerous. People will copy this example (2:10-19). This was a talk in November.

·           Do not forget about the future! (2:20-23). The final talk was in December.

It was a great message. Remember that it has meaning for us today. We must not avoid its importance. There is danger when we are greedy for things. There is danger when we are selfish too. The Bible has much to say about these things. (Read Genesis 13:10-13; Exodus 20:17 and 1 Kings 21. Read Luke 12:13-31; 1 Timothy 6:6-11 and Hebrews 13:5.)

Haggai was a brave and capable *prophet. Let us now try to understand his thoughts and his teaching.

1 If we are greedy for things, it has an awful effect

It will take us away from God. We will become proud. We will be satisfied with ourselves. We may try to avoid it. But it will happen in the end. The people said: ‘It is not time to build God’s house’ (1:2). They only cared about one thing. They just wanted more money. Then they could please themselves. They would wait to build the *Temple. They would build it when it was convenient for them.

Zechariah was speaking at this time too. (Read Zechariah 1:2-6.) The people had turned away from God. He told them the reasons why they had done this. It was because they were greedy for things. They only thought about their possessions. There are some important Bible passages here. They are Proverbs 30:7-9; Deuteronomy 6:10-12; 8:10-18.

There is the desire for new things, more money, better homes. These, and other things, can control Christians. We need a right attitude to possessions. There is only one way to have this. We must remember and obey the words of the *Lord Jesus. He said that we must put the things of God first. (Read Matthew 6:33.) People can think only about food, drink and clothes. Jesus warned that those who are not true Christians do this.

2 It is easy to attend to our own interests first

Then we give the rest to God. Haggai shows us that we are all in danger of doing this. In Haggai 1:4, the *prophet gives a clear description. Many people were living in wonderful homes. Expensive wood covered the walls. Stone was quite cheap in those days. Wood on the walls was a luxury. Haggai dares to show them that they had given themselves the best. But they still said that they had no money to build the *Temple. This was just an excuse. They were not being honest.

We can be guilty of doing and saying similar things. Perhaps we hear about a great need. But we say that we cannot give any more money. But this may not be true. We could live without some of our comforts. Just one thing less could help to provide the necessities of life for someone else.

Our lack of care could delay God’s work in other countries. We could refuse selfish things and give instead. We would prove that we really want to please God. Think of a part of your life where you could do that this week. It can be hard to do; but it brings great joy. (Read Mark 8:34; 10:21-31.)

3 We can insist that we must please ourselves

Then we will never have real satisfaction. Haggai gives a great description in 1:6. It is a word picture. It is about a man who is greedy for money. He is just putting his money into a bag with many holes. Someone has said it this way: ‘We lose what we spend on ourselves.’

Paul declared the same truth. He wrote a letter to Timothy. He said: ‘Serving God makes a person very rich. But he must be content with what he has.’ (These words are in 1 Timothy 6:6.) Paul could say it because this truth was part of his own life. (Read Philippians 4:11-13 and 2 Corinthians 6:10.)

Someone may spend all his money on himself or his family. He will probably not be content. He will always be wanting more. The ‘bag with many holes’ is a clear warning. It speaks to selfish people. Money does not buy satisfaction. It does not make anyone content.

4 When we do not please ourselves, we can honour God in our lives

(Read Haggai 1:7-8.) God gives clear instructions. He says: ‘Go … bring wood …build …That will bring honour to me.’ We should honour God in our lives. The way that we spend our money should please Him. We should care for his possessions. But perhaps we think that they all belong to us. If we do, we will use them without care or prayer. We think about these things. (Read 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.) The money that we earn can bring honour. It can bring honour to us or to God.

5 God sometimes takes away our human helps

He does this to save us from an awful fate. This would be to have a few possessions to comfort us. But we would have nothing else. God shows us how much we need him (Haggai 1:9-11). The people in the land worked hard (1:9). But it all came to nothing. Remember that all our possessions come from God. God stopped the rain, so that there was nothing to eat. He did this to make the nation think. He did not want them to have money only. He did not want them not to have any peace of mind. God knew that only he could give them real security. Otherwise, they would be like the people near them. These people did not know God.

The people listened to this talk of Haggai’s (1:12). They decided to build the *Temple. Then the *prophet could give them hope. He gave them a great promise. God would be with them each day (1:13). This is life’s most valuable possession.

6 Money cannot buy the best things in life

So, it is foolish to want possessions (Haggai 2:1-9). The people finished building the *Temple. Then some of them complained. This new building was not nearly as good as the old one! There are always people like this. They seem to like to upset other people. Their only thoughts are about the past. ‘Things used to be much better!’ Haggai was very grateful for all that God had done. He was also grateful for all that God would still do. So, he was able to answer these people. He agreed with them about one thing. The building was not as great as the previous one. But the *Temple still showed something great. It showed that all of God’s values were in the city.

In that *Temple God would:

6.1 Repeat and continue his promises (Haggai 2:4-5)

God saved them out of Egypt. He is still the same God. He spoke to them. His promises to them at that time are still true now.

6.2 Show them what he is like (Haggai 2:6-8)

6.3 Give them his peace (Haggai 2:9)

Money cannot buy these great things. They are gifts from God. Notice how God repeats his promise. He says: ‘I am with you. My Spirit remains among you’ (2:4, 5). This is worth more than all the money in the world.

7 To be greedy for things and to be selfish is sad

It soon affects other people (Haggai 2:10-19). Holy things are not like this. To be near holy things does not make people holy. Haggai makes this clear (2:12). But bad things do affect other people (2:13). His talks were near the *Temple. So, they had an immediate appeal. Their appeal was powerful too.

Haggai was emphasising two facts. When a life is not holy, it affects other people. It also has a bad affect on society. So, something is essential. The people of God must have high standards. They must love God as they should. They must be very loyal too. This is most important to God. So, he may have to make them listen to him. He could do this if he took away their food and money. He did this in the time of Elijah (Haggai 2:16, 19).

8 Think about the day that is to come

(Read Haggai 2:20-23.) Two things may tempt you. First, you may put possessions first in your life. Perhaps you put selfish ambition first in your life. If you do these things, you are putting them before the things of God. So, you must remember what will happen one day. Haggai’s last talk is about the future. At that time, all human profits will have no value at all.

This has a clear message for us. Remember a certain fact. It is the fact that the *Lord Jesus will return. (Read Hebrews 10:34; James 1:10-11 and Matthew 6:19-21.) Look forward to that special day. You will enter God’s City, heaven. (Read Hebrews 11:10, 16.) Your capital city on earth will not matter then. Only certain things will have value. They are things that you have given away. The things that you have stored away will have no value.

For Discussion

1.    ‘The time has not yet come..’ (Haggai 1:2). We might be lazy and use delay as an excuse to do nothing. Or we might be foolish and rush into action. Sometimes a later time is better. It was like this for Jesus. Two examples are in John 7:1-10, and in Mark 11:11, 15-17. But how can we know which is the best time?

2.    God gives us a great promise. He says ‘I am with you’ (Haggai 1:13). Believers know that this promise is worth much more than money. But how can we persuade someone who is not a believer that it is true? His promise is worth much more than money

3.    Why did the *Temple builders need God’s encouragement to be strong (Haggai 2:4)? What might have made them feel weak?

4.    God also told the builders that they must not be afraid (Haggai 2:5). What was causing some of them to be afraid? And what helped them to overcome their fear?

5.    People looked at the size and the beauty of the new *Temple (Haggai 2:3). They compared it with the temple that the enemy had destroyed. And the new temple seemed like nothing. But God assured the builders that other things were much more important. These things were:
• the temple’s purpose
• its main aims and
• whether it was effective or not.

    The things that were really important were still there. God was with them (Haggai 2:4). The power of his Spirit remained among them (Haggai 2:5). And God promised to give them his peace (Haggai 2:8).  Perhaps some Christian work today might seem to be unimportant. How should we apply those principles then?

For More Discussion

1.    What do you think is the secret of being content? Paul was writing when he was a prisoner. But he said that he had learned the secret (Philippians 4:11-13). Modern Christians often live in a society when people think that money and possessions are most important. How can they learn that secret too?
   
2.    Augustine (354-430 *AD) was one of the great teachers of the church at that time. He described the continuous desire for things. It was like always wanting a particular drink that did not satisfy you. It only made you more thirsty. This is a dramatic illustration. How can we convince other people that this dramatic illustration is true?

3.    Jesus and his followers emphasised that possessions do not satisfy. (Read Luke 12:13-21 and 1 Timothy 6:6-12, 17-19.) How did they convince the people who listened to them about this? And how can we convince other people that it is so?

Word List (Words with a *)

AD ~ these letters are for 2 Latin words; they are Anno Domini; they mean ‘in the year of our *Lord’; so AD is any date after the birth of Jesus.

exile ~ someone who must leave their own land, often for a long time; it can also mean the time when this happens; the word can be a noun or a verb.

Jew ~ person or people from the Jewish nation; God chose them to be his special people (read Deuteronomy 7:6-8); our Old Testament (the first part of the Bible) gives their history; their language is Hebrew; Jesus was a Jew.

Lord ~ a name that we call God or Jesus; we call God or Jesus Lord when we do what they say.

prophet ~ a person whom God chooses; he gives special messages from God.

temple ~ the *Jews’ special large building for God; it was in Jerusalem; the enemy destroyed it in *AD 70; since that time, *Jews’ special buildings are called synagogues.

vision ~ it is like a dream; but the person is often awake; the person sees things happen; but nobody else can see them; God sometimes speaks to people in this way.

 

By full permission of author

EasyEnglish TRANSLATION: Mary Read

LINGUISTIC CHECKER: Sue Hunter

© 1999-2014, Wycliffe Associates (UK)

This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).

June 2003

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