BCC Introduction: In today’s blog, we begin a brief look at how people might be sidetracked by priorities in the lives that are not centered on the Lord’s will. We’ll consider how the prophet Haggai was sent with a firm message to the Jews after the exile, “consider your ways.” In the next blog, we will consider a situation in which Jesus also challenged disordered priorities.
Who Is First?
You might have seen billboards around your town. Various individuals, dressed in black t-shirts, set against a black background. At the bottom of the billboard is a website address, “iamsecond.com.” On the website are numerous video testimonies: various people who have achieved a measure of success in their lives, like Tony Dungy, Darryl Waltrip, & Tony Evans, sit in front of a camera and tell a little about their lives. Each one tells the listener how difficult circumstances forced him or her to recognize one fundamental reality: “I am not in control. I cannot make it on my own. I am second.” Second to what? God. God brought every one of these people to the realization that life in a fallen world reminds us again & again that we should submit ourselves to him. None of us should view ourselves as the “masters of our own destiny.” The repeated theme in those video testimonies is: “I am not #1; I am second to my God.”
As inspirational as those video clips on iamsecond.com are, there is another fundamental reality the people of God face: We do not always live as if “I am second”; nor do our counselees. I think of the teenager who friends’ advice weighs more heavily than his parents’ wisdom. I think of the young woman who for years wanted an attentive husband, but when he changed, she wouldn’t give up on an affair she had been nurturing. I think of the man whose lust for success robs his family of a husband and father. This problem of disordered priorities is not new, and it is addressed in numerous places in Scripture, such as Haggai 1.
The First Prophetic Perspective
The prophet Haggai ministered among the Jews during a tense—and tenuous—time in their lives as the people of God. The once glorious temple of God that had been built during the reign of King Solomon was in ruins. Almost seventy years earlier, the temple had been ransacked and then destroyed by the Babylonian army (2 Kings 25:1-21). Most of Judah “went into captivity, away from her land” (v. 21).
We can imagine the blizzard of questions raging through the minds of the Judeans: “What about all the promises of God us as his people—among all the nations on earth? How could the temple—the place representing his special presence on earth, set in the middle of his city Jerusalem—be attacked, ransacked, destroyed? How could we—his people—be kicked out of the land he promised to us?” The writer of 2 Kings answers these agonizing questions:
The Lord warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: “Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your fathers to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.” But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their fathers, who did not trust in the Lord their God. (2 Kings 17:13-14)
But fortunately, this was not the end of God’s relationship with his people. It was merely a time of discipline, a time for refining them. Eventually, the Babylonian Empire itself fell to Persia, and King Cyrus permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild its temple.
Although there was a wave of excitement that accompanied the first set of returnees, opposition from those who had settled in the vicinity of Jerusalem acted like a breaker for that wave. The excitement for finishing the temple crashed. Almost twenty years after the first group of Jews returned to Jerusalem the temple still had not been completed. Haggai was commissioned to challenge the people’s spiritual apathy. He first alerted the leaders Zerubbabel and Joshua, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord” (Hg. 1:2). The use of “these people” suggests that once again there was a relational distance between the Lord & his people. The people were telling themselves: “The time had not yet come.” Really??? God had moved in the heart of Cyrus to allow them to return for the purpose of restoring the temple and reinstituting the worship of God. Twenty years later, “it’s not the right time yet”?
Clearly God’s will was not the people’s first priority. God had become second in their lives once again. Haggai added: “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways” (Hg. 1:4-5). The Hebrew word translated “paneled” basically means “covered,” and although it could be used for putting a roof on a building, why would God object to them roofing their houses? There is another way to understand the housing situation Haggai criticizes: In 1 Kings 7 and in Jeremiah 24, there are statements about Solomon & Jehoahaz using expensive cedar paneling to cover the walls in their palaces. The Lord probably chastised his people for building extravagant, luxury homes while neglecting the reason for which he had them return to Jerusalem.
Perhaps a modern parallel might be Donald Trump’s opulent Manhattan Penthouse. Located on the first three floors of the Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, the penthouse overlooks Central Park. It is decorated in gold, marble, and imported black onyx. Just as the marble and gold in the Trump penthouse are not necessities of life, cedar paneling in the Jews’ homes would be considered an extravagance. The Jews who had returned to Jerusalem were not merely dissuaded from rebuilding the temple because of the opposition of the people around them. In the final analysis, the Jews had made the will of God secondary to their own desire for comfort.
Of course, God was not sitting in heaven homeless, wondering “What am I going to do?” The significance of the unfinished temple was that it reflected the people’s disordered priorities: They were living as if God’s presence did not matter. They were living as if “I am first; God is … a distant second.”
In the next blog, we will delve deeper into the problem of disordered priorities, considering the outcome of Haggai’s ministry—and then considering how Jesus also evaluated very different priorities he observed between a couple of his followers.
Join the Conversation
How have you tried to address disordered priorities in your counseling?