After Cyrus conquered the Babylonians in 539 B.C. he issued a decree allowing the Jewish captives to return to the land of Israel. He also encouraged the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem and offered financial assistance (see Ezra 1:1-4). By 520 B.C. the Jews had stopped working on the temple and seemed to have lost their desire to finish the job. The Samaritans were slowing things down – they felt slighted after their offer to help with the construction had been refused (see Ezra 4:1-5). Adding to the dejection of the returning exiles was the dreary condition of the land of Judah and their own lack of resources. This, plus the unavoidable conclusion that this new temple would not match the splendor and beauty of the temple that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed, caused many of the old leaders of the returning exiles to weep as they remembered the comparative splendor of the first house of the Lord (see Ezra 3:12, Haggai 2:3).
Ongoing opposition from the Samaritans and other adversaries brought the morale of these people to a new low, and they began to assume that perhaps the time to rebuild the temple had not yet come (Haggai 1:2). It is at this point (520 B.C.) that the prophet Haggai comes onto the stage of Jewish history. We don’t know much about Haggai. He is mentioned only in this book that bears his name and in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14. Haggai and Zechariah are the earliest known prophets of this people after their return from Babylonian captivity. Haggai was probably among the group of the first people that were allowed by Cyrus to return to Judah in 538 B.C.
A bag with holes
Haggai 1:5-8 reads, “Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but yea are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord.
The Lord is essentially telling these returning Jews that the time has come to build the temple. There is great parallel to modern church history in this regard. Every time the saints came to a new location, the prophet living at the time would first locate where the temple was to be built. Even in our extreme poverty, the Lord expected the saints to build a house to Him. It is no different with these post-exilic Jews.
The land lay waste, as we read in verse 11 of chapter 1: “I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.” The word for drought in verse 11 חֹ֫רֶב is choreb. The Lord tells us that the state of the temple in verse 9 is waste – the word used here is חָרֵב chareb. The connection is not to be lost: the idea that as the temple goes, so goes the land. If the people establish His house and live worthy of the Spirit of the Lord, then the land will produce and the drought will cease. At this point a connection to the lives of the students can be established.
If we want the bag that represents our lives to have the holes sewn up, we need to realize what a gift our lives are. The Lord has given us all that we are or ever can be. It is His very power that is “preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will..” (Mosiah 2:21) By recognizing this, we are able to put the Lord first in our lives and assure that our efforts do not slip through a bag filled with holes. We will find more purpose, meaning, and substance in our lives and accomplish more with the Lord guiding us than if we try to do everything our own way, walking in the light of our own intellect.
President Ezra Taft Benson said: “When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities” (Ensign, May 1988, p. 4).
I shared the video in class from Mormon Messages about Sean Kimball, a young man from Southern California who had to make what for him was a very difficult decision. “Do I go surfing in the morning or do I attend seminary?” Sean was an excellent surfer and was a member of his surf team in high school. After much thought and prayer, Sean decided to attend seminary in the morning. His teacher, Sister Hunter, shared some insights into what she believes seminary means to her students, particularly with respect to Sean. She stated that he could always make up seminary, but that he could not make up the Spirit felt in the class.
Sean was able to compete his senior year he won first place in his division at the Junior National Scholastic Surfing Championships in Huntington Beach, California. His commitment to Christ blessed his life and taught him great life lessons. Sean said, “I have no regrets whatsoever, I know that if you put the Lord first in your life that the Lord will bless you in so many ways, you will be just blown away.”
This was a perfect opportunity to remind the students in seminary to enroll next year. Now is the time that they are determining their schedules for the 2012-13 academic year. By enrolling in seminary and living the gospel, they are “going up to the mountain and building (His) house” (Haggai 1:8).
Some quotes on time, putting the Lord first, and spiritual learning
It is a paradox that men will gladly devote time every day for many years to learn a science or an art; yet will expect to win a knowledge of the gospel, which comprehends all sciences and arts, through perfunctory glances at books or occasional listening to sermons. The gospel should be studied more intensively than any school or college subject. They who pass opinion on the gospel without having given it intimate and careful study are not lovers of truth, and their opinions are worthless. (John A. Widstoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 16-17)
The world would want to fool us into believing that there is insufficient time to engage in both spiritual and secular learning. I warn us not to be deceived by these philosophies of men. Our learning about sacred things will facilitate, even accelerate, our secular learning… If we provide a spiritual foundation for our secular learning, not only will we better understand the laws of nature, but we can gain a depth of understanding never before imagined possible about art, languages, technology, medicine, law, and human behavior. We can see the world around us and understand it through God’s eyes. (Elder L. Tom Perry, Learning to Serve, Ensign, August 1996)
“Life offers you two precious gifts—one is time, the other freedom of choice, the freedom to buy with your time what you will. You are free to exchange your allotment of time for thrills. You may trade it for base desires. You may invest it in greed… Yours is the freedom to choose. But these are no bargains, for in them you find no lasting satisfaction.
Every day, every hour, every minute of your span of mortal years must sometime be accounted for. And it is in this life that you walk by faith and prove yourself able to choose good over evil, right over wrong, enduring happiness over mere amusement. And your eternal reward will be according to your choosing.” (Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Reflections on a Consecrated Life, CR October 2010)