Haggai

1.
The Half-Committed Community

Things had not been going well for the restored community in Jerusalem. They had returned from the Exile in Babylon full of great hopes. But now they were unhappy. There had been a series of poor harvests. They were frustrated by the opposition they had encountered, and the Temple was still a ruin. Sixteen years before its foundations had been relaid (Ezra 3:8-11), but since then nothing had happened. The great vision and grand resolutions had faded. The people were discouraged and apathetic.

But the Lord was not prepared to leave his restored people in that state. He sent his prophet Haggai to stir up their leaders, and through them, the people, so that they all applied themselves once more to the tasks before them. Haggai had the blessing of seeing his prophetic ministry of remonstrance being effective in recalling the people to obedience. The response of the people who heard him presents a challenge to succeeding generations to renewed endeavour in the Lord's cause. When what we have to do seems to be beyond our resources, and when the difficulties facing us seem to increase all the time, we are not to flag but rather to follow Haggai's injunction and rethink our attitudes.

The Dispirited Community (1:1-2). In the second year of King Darius (1:1) is in itself a sad indication of the changed circumstances of the Lord's people. They were back in the land of promise, but were still far from regaining their independence. Formerly the books of their prophets had been dated by the reigns of their own kings (see, for example, Isa. 1:1, or Amos 1:1). But now they are part of the Persian Empire, and it is a foreigner, Darius II (522-486 b.c.), who rules over them. He is not lauded with the profusion of extravagant titles commonly accorded to rulers by heathen writers, but the stark mention of 'the king' shows there was no escaping the political realities of the day.

Darius' reign had begun with a period of considerable internal confusion in the Persian Empire, but after two years he had established a fair measure of security throughout the Empire. Of the domains that Cambyses (530-522 b.c.), the previous Emperor, had ruled, only Egypt remained unsubmissive—and Darius would deal with it in the following year (519 b.c.). It was a time when it could be said the whole world was at rest and in peace (Zech. 1:11).

On the first day of the sixth month is the first of five dates given in this short prophecy (the others are at 1:15; 2:1, 10, 20). The period covered is just under four months. We are also able with a fair degree of certainty to correlate this date with modern chronology as 29th August 520 b.c. During the Exile the Jews adopted a spring start to the year, which was the Babylonian custom, in place of the autumn start that had previously been more common.

It was the first of the month, the feast of the New Moon (Num. 10:10; 28:11; 1 Sam. 20:5; Ps. 81:3). We know that before the Exile, meetings were held at the sanctuary at that time (Isa. 1:13; 2 Kings 4:23; Hosea 2:11), and there would certainly have been additional services at the restored altar in the Temple ruins. It might well have been a public holiday. The larger than normal attendance at the Temple site would have made it a suitable time to bring up the matters the prophet had to speak about.

The word of the Lord came. We have no record of any prophetic voice in the promised land since the time of Jeremiah. Daniel and Ezekiel had been prophets in Babylon, but now the long silence is broken and the restored community hears the Lord's voice again. It is the traditional formula for the reception of the prophetic message that is used. We do not know by what inner processes a prophet received his message, but this phrase certainly tells us that it was not just something that he thought up for himself. It was not some superior insight into the conditions of the day that the prophet had. Rather the Lord conveyed his message to the prophet's consciousness in a way of which few details are given. It was communicated perfectly, in that the Lord condescended to express his word precisely in a way that matched the vocabulary and mode of expression natural to the prophet who received it. The prophet had then in turn to pass the message on to the covenant people. Those who had come back to Jerusalem were privileged to be addressed by the Lord in this way. He was not silent about their situation.

Through the prophet Haggai. The name Haggai means 'festal', or 'my feast', and may have been given to him because he was born on a feast day. Although he is mentioned in Ezra (5:1; 6:14) in company with Zechariah, we know remarkably little about him. It is often supposed that he was one of those who had returned from the Exile, and that, already an old man, he died soon after the completion of the Temple. His silence over the previous years may be accounted for by assuming that his call to the prophetic ministry was of relatively recent date. But these are just suppositions. It is the message, not the messenger, we are to focus on.

It is surprising that here at the start of his prophecy we are given no genealogical details about him. What mattered was that he was 'the prophet'. Unlike others (Zerubbabel and Joshua) he did not gain his standing by his descent, but by the Lord's direct appointment. 'Through' (literally it is 'by the hand of) rather than 'to' is unusual in the introduction to a prophecy (elsewhere only at Mal. 1:1), though it is used frequently of Moses, and also in 1 Kings 14:18 and 2 Kings 14:25 of other prophets. The phrase emphasises that the prophet is the channel through which the message from the Lord is transmitted. He is an intermediary in the process of communication.

To Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel. The exact identity of Zerubbabel has been a cause of much perplexity (see on 2:21), but it was because he was a prince of the house of David that the Persians had selected him to lead the restored community. As civil ruler, he is mentioned first, and his status must have been equal to that of the high priest, if indeed it was not greater. He is said to be governor of Judah. We are not certain of the precise status that Judah held in the Persian Empire at this time. It may have been a sub-province under the general jurisdiction of the governor of Trans-Euphrates (Ezra 5:3). So Zerubbabel held a position of real authority granted by the Persian authorities, but the area under his control was limited.

Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest was the religious leader of the community. His grandfather Seraiah had been high priest when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586 b.c., and he had been executed at Riblah along with other notable citizens (2 Kings 25:18-21; Jer. 52:24-27). However, his son, Jehozadak, had been spared and taken to Babylon (1 Chron. 6:15). Now his son, Joshua, is high priest in the restored community. He is called Jeshua in Ezra 2:2, where he is listed among those returning from Babylon, and also in Ezra 3:2, 8, 9. Like Zerubbabel he had gained his position in the community through his links with the past.

In this verse we have the three offices of the theocracy—prophet, priest and king—brought together again. What is more, the roles they play also resemble those of the past. The prophetic word does not come first of all to the people. That had become common in the later pre-exilic prophets because the rulers had rejected the Lord's message to them, and the prophets were sent directly to the people. In addressing the civil and religious rulers of the people, Haggai is not only acknowledging their role, he is also conceding that they were genuine in their allegiance to the Lord though falling short in their conduct. It is a reversion to the situation that prevailed in the earlier monarchy, when the prophets had directly addressed the king and so sought to shape the destiny of the covenant people (see, for example, 2 Sam. 24:11; 2 Chron 16:7). It was a time of restoration of the old order which had been found in spiritually healthier days.

The formula This is what the Lord Almighty says (1:2) marks out Haggai's claim to be faithfully relaying the message already committed to him as the Lord's prophet. 'The Lord Almighty', the Lord of hosts, presents the Lord as the one who has control over all powers that exist. It is a title Haggai uses 14 times, perhaps to emphasise the power and resources of God to people who were very conscious of their own weakness. (For further discussion of the name, see on Zech. 1:3.)

The message Haggai has for the two leaders of the community consists of a summary of the prevailing opinion of the day. This is not what Haggai thought it was, but what the Lord himself summed it up as being. These people say is significant for the degree of alienation indicated by the phrase 'these people' rather than 'my people' or 'the Lord's people'. Their attitude had created a barrier between them and the Lord (Isa. 6:9, 10; Hosea 1:9). The message as a whole accuses the people of neglect.

The time has not yet come for the Lord's house to be built. There are a number of translation difficulties in these words, perhaps because they reflect colloquial speech. The Hebrew text is probably to be understood as saying, 'Not yet time for coming, time of the house of the Lord to be built.' The NIV smoothes them out by adopting the understanding of the early Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint.

Obviously the reference is to the rebuilding of the Temple, which the Babylonians had set on fire a month after they captured the city (Jer. 52:13). 'House' is the ordinary word for a building occupied by a family (Deut. 19:1), but it was also commonly applied throughout the east to shrines and temples of deities, who were considered to dwell there ('Dagon's temple', literally 'house of Dagon', 1 Sam. 5:2; similarly, 'the temple of the Ashtoreths', 1 Sam. 31:10). From earliest times, long before there was a temple in Jerusalem, Israel used this idiom to refer to the sanctuary of the Lord (Exod. 23:19; 34:26; Deut. 23:18). It expresses the truth that the sanctuary was God's dwelling-place among his people (Exod. 25:8). This stimulated the desire on their part to dwell with the Lord (Ps. 23:6; 27:4). The respect accorded the physical structure was an index of the spiritual vitality of the people. That they had abandoned their earlier attempts to restore it showed a faltering faith.

What had gone wrong? Mention might be made of many factors.

(1) Hostility of neighbouring peoples: though Cyrus had ordered the work to be carried out (Ezra 1:2-4), from the very start neighbouring peoples were hostile (Ezra 3:3). When the offers of help from the Samaritans and other groups were refused, they successfully obstructed the work (Ezra 4:4-5). The reaction that did occur when rebuilding eventually resumed shows that this hostility had not decreased with the passage of time (Ezra 5:3).

(2) The unsettled international situation: Cyrus' son, Cambyses, added Egypt to the Persian empire. This meant that foreign troops were passing through Palestine in the intervening years, with all the disruption consequent upon that. Indeed, it was while returning from Egypt that Cambyses committed suicide near Mount Carmel, an event that led to an unsettled period throughout the empire before Darius consolidated his position. Zechariah 8:10 describes some of the tensions and difficulties of the period.

(3) The poor economic conditions: the land to which they returned was still suffering from the devastation of war, and required considerable effort for reconstruction. This was compounded by poor harvests and inflation (1:6)—though the people did not recognise the true reason for their occurrence. They probably argued that though the Temple ought to be completed, the economy ought to be put on a sounder footing before engaging in such a major project.

(4) The gap between their expectations and reality: although some of those who returned might have had a less than total commitment to the project from the start, many were fired by the promises that had been given by the prophets (Isa. 60-66; Ezek. 40-48). When these did not immediately come true, their faith faltered. Other priorities began to rule in their lives.

To excuse their disinclination to exert themselves, they were not saying, 'No', but 'Not yet.' But there is never a right time for engaging in the Lord's work, if we are waiting for a time without problems. It is always possible to point to those who will hinder and oppose, and to the difficulties that will arise from lack of resources.

Challenged Priorities (1:3-4). By repeating the formula already used, Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai (1:3), the prophet emphasises the contrast between the attitude and saying of the people and the question of the Lord. Haggai speaks through the two leaders to the community gathered round them. It is a rhetorical question that is being asked, not to gain information, but to stir up the people to consider their situation. Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin? (1:4). 'You, yourselves' emphasises the contrast that existed between the state of the Temple, the house of the Lord, and their own houses. The word 'panelled' comes from a root that indicates a covering. It may be of a roof over a house (1 Kings 6:15), or of wooden panels on the walls (1 Kings 7:7). While there could be a contrast between their own houses that had been roofed over and the Temple ruins without a roof, it is more probable that the contrast is even more extreme—between the finely decorated houses they were living in, and the desolation they were prepared to worship in.

The only problem with this interpretation is whether the later descriptions of the economic situation of the land make it probable that the people had in fact been able to afford such housing. Panelling was a sign of luxury and comfort (Jer. 22:14; 1 Kings 7:7), and it has been suggested that perhaps only the dwellings of the governor and high priest had been so decorated. But the people had not been slow as regards their own housing (1:9). Also the community that had returned had initially been quite wealthy. They had a high proportion of slaves (one to every six freemen: Ezra 2:65), perhaps a sign of the guilty consciences of the Jews who stayed behind. Notice also the size of the gifts they were able to afford (Ezra 2:68-69; see also Neh. 7:66-72). Their homes may well have been fitted out to the highest contemporary standards.

But whatever the extent of the work, the fact that it had been done cut off the excuses they might have brought forward, such as the harshness of their economic circumstances and the opposition they had encountered. Unlike David, they did not have the building of the Lord's house on their hearts (2 Sam. 7:2; Ps. 132:2-5). They had allowed the opposition and hostility to change the priorities of their living. When they had decided to come back from Babylon, they had originally shown quite different priorities from the majority of the Jews who remained there in comfort. Now they were putting their own material well-being first (Matt. 6:33; Matt. 13:22; Luke 8:14). Though secondary matters are quite proper in their own place, they should not have allowed them to control their living. They had forgotten to assign paramount importance to what God required of them, because he was no longer central to their thinking.

'Ruin' is associated with words that had been used to refer to the downfall of Jerusalem ('desolate waste' in Jer. 33:10; 'desolate' in Jer. 33:12; ruins in Ezek. 36:35 and Neh. 2:3). Ezra 3:6-13 implies that some work had been done at the Temple site 16 years before. Money had been gathered for expenses, and they had sent to Tyre and Sidon for cedar wood. But whatever work had been done did not amount to much, and they may have had to start all over again.

Frustrated Endeavours (1:5-6). Now this is what the Lord Almighty says (1:5). Arising out of the analysis of the situation that has been presented, Haggai challenges them with the Lord's message that their present economic situation has its roots in their attitude towards the Temple. Give careful thought to your ways. This is a favourite phrase of Haggai (occurring also in 1:7; 2:15, 18). Literally, it is 'set your heart on your ways'. (For 'ways', see on Mal. 2:8.) It required careful consideration in the first instance of what had already happened to them. Perhaps it is ironic in that the emphasis is on what they had not done. But the first steps to renewed obedience require a realistic assessment and appraisal of what has gone wrong. Self-analysis can be indulged in to the point where it is a substitute for action, but if it does not occur, our lives are likely to be misdirected. The covenant between the Lord and the people was always based on the history of what had happened to them, so that they could see their relationship with him in a right perspective (Deut. 1-3; Josh. 24:2-15). Haggai is in fact calling on the people to renew their covenant engagement with the Lord.

You have planted much, but have harvested little (1:6). They had not understood what had been happening to them. They had to interpret their situation in the light of Scripture. As far back as the days of Moses, it had been made clear that disobedience to what the Lord required in the covenant would bring upon his people the frustration of having their hopes and ambitions thwarted. 'You will sow much seed in the field but you will harvest little, because locusts will devour it. You will plant vineyards and cultivate them but you will not drink the wine or gather the grapes, because worms will eat them. You will have olive trees throughout your country but you will not use the oil, because the olives will drop off' (Deut. 28:38-40). Now the Lord uses these threats of the broken covenant to interpret for his people their own experience. The recent poor harvest would still be in their minds. Though they had put much effort into their farming, the yield had not matched their expectation. There was enough to survive, but only just.

You eat, but never have enough. A similar threat is found in Leviticus 26:26. Perhaps it relates to a time of scarcity as a result of the poor harvests, or it may reflect disease in the community which left them perpetually unsatisfied (Micah 6:14). You drink, but never have your fill. This too arises out of a similar sort of situation, where their desires are continually frustrated (Ps. 107:33-34). You put on clothes, but are not warm. The expression used suggests that this is the experience of each individual. Was there insufficient material to replace old threadbare garments? Or is this a testimony to the insatiable desire for more that arises from a materialistic attitude to life? You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it. Although coins were becoming more widely used in the Persian empire, it is unlikely that they would be used to pay labourers in Palestine at this time. Wedges and discs of silver or brass were weighed on scales, and used as a means of exchange. They would often have rough edges which could wear holes in the pieces of cloth they were wrapped up in. But this refers to more than the misfortune of losing hard-earned money. They were experiencing the ravages of inflation, where the earnings they thought would be enough to buy them much did not stretch half as far as anticipated.

The situation that is described was one of considerable hardship and economic distress. But had they stopped to ask why these things were happening? That was the challenge being issued to them: to see their unfortunate circumstances as God's fatherly chastisement to recall them to himself. He was afflicting them out of a genuine concern for their well-being, which required them to live in a right relationship with him.

This process is also set out in Amos 4:6-11, where five sets of temporal misfortune are described, each ending with the comment, '"Yet you have not returned to me," declares the Lord.' The examples of the past were more than sufficient for the people in Haggai's day to have worked out what was really happening. Their occupation of the land was part of their covenant inheritance. To enjoy it fully, they had to live in accordance with the terms set out by the landowner who had given them the right of occupancy. Ignoring his requirements had very serious consequences.

Call to Action (1:7-8). This is what the Lord Almighty says (2:7) repeats substantially the formula of 1:2. The whole verse is the same as 1:5 without 'now'. Here, however, give careful thought to your ways looks forwards rather than backwards, for the Lord goes on to indicate how they should act to remedy the situation. It is not a call just for inner change but also for the works of repentance (Matt. 3:8-9; 21:28-32). If they act as indicated, that would prove they had considered their ways and genuinely turned towards the Lord and what he required (Ps. 119:59).

Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house (1:8). Presumably the stones that were left in the burned remains of Solomon's Temple could be reused, and so timber is mentioned as the main material required to permit the reconstruction work to proceed. Timber was used as a course between layers of stones to provide resilience in earthquakes (Ezra 5:8; 6:4). Solomon had sent to Phoenicia for wood, particularly cedar from Lebanon (1 Kings 5:1-11; 2 Chron. 2:8-10), and when the Jews had originally returned from Babylon they had acted on the royal permission given them to use the same source of supply (Ezra 3:7). We do not know if the timber had ever been delivered, or if it had been used for some other purpose. Perhaps it was still available, but only in sufficient quantities for the main beams. The people are therefore urged to gather locally the other timber needed for the project. During the years of the Exile, the land had been left untended and many trees would have reached maturity. Furthermore, in the straitened economic circumstances of the people, it is unlikely that they could afford to pay for further supplies from Tyre and Sidon.

So that I may take pleasure in it refers to more than a mere building. It was not the physical, but the spiritual, reconstruction of Jerusalem that was the Lord's target. Completion of the rebuilding project would say much about how the people were faring in that respect. The Temple was where the Lord's presence was particularly focused among them. This had been visibly indicated at the inauguration of Solomon's Temple when the cloud of the Lord's presence filled the Temple with his glory (1 Kings 8:10-11; see on 2:9 and Zech. 2:5). Restoring the Temple would show that the people recognised their strength and well-being derived from the Lord's presence with them. Such an attitude of dependence and expression of covenant fealty would render what they did acceptable to God. Take pleasure' is often used as a technical expression for the divine acceptance of worship and gifts brought to him (Micah 6:7; Amos 5:22; Mal. 1:10, 13; Ps. 51:17; Jer. 14:10, 12).

And be honoured may be understood reflexively, 'permit myself to be honoured'. That is, the rebuilding of the Temple and the worship that would be offered there would be acceptable homage to the Lord. But the word may also be rendered 'glorified', and so look forward to the glory that would be associated with it in time to come (2:7, 9).

The people had been all too ready to act for their own seeming advantage. Here they are challenged to express their loyalty to the Lord and give his service top priority in their living (John 15:8; Phil. 1:11). Pleasing him, and considering his interests and desires, have to be paramount. And says the Lord reinforces the point that it is God himself, their covenant ruler, who is addressing them directly, and making known his mind to them.

'Be honoured' is in Hebrew spelled without its expected final letter. As this letter could also stand for the number five, later Jewish rabbinic exegesis took its omission to indicate five things that would be missing from the rebuilt Temple: the ark, with its cover and cherubim; the holy fire; the Shekinah, or glory-cloud, indicating the Lord's presence; the spirit of prophecy; and the Urim and Thummim. While that approach reads too much into an early spelling mistake, the list itself is interesting in that it brings out the partial nature of the restoration at that time. No doubt the absence of these items was designed to wean the people off the merely physical aspects of their religion and intensify their desire for the spiritual reality the types and symbols represented. The loss of the ark and the tables of the covenant pointed forward to the new covenant where the law would be written within them (Jer. 31:33). But it can easily be seen how the absence of such things might disappoint the less spiritually perceptive.

The Reason for the Blight (1:9-11). The Lord again reminds them of their frustrated hopes. You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little (1:9). The verb indicates that it was not just once, but Repeatedly over the years, that this had occurred. 'Much' and 'little' resume the contrasts between expectation and reality found in 1:6, but the first expression here goes beyond agricultural yields. When the people had come back, they would have been encouraged by the messages previously proclaimed by the prophets, such as 'O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones' (Isa. 54:11-12), or the picture of a superabundant harvest in Amos 9:11-15. From the very first the reality had not matched their expectations. The going had been slow and hard—but they had not seen why.

What you brought home, I blew away. 'Brought' is the same word as 'have harvested' (1:6), and perhaps this refers specifically to the poor harvests they had been experiencing. When ears of corn were winnowed to extract the grain, it was the unwanted chaff that was blown away by the wind. But the harvests had been so poor, and the grain so thin, that it too was blown away. The expression may be used metaphorically of the poor return from all their enterprises. All the fruit of their labours dwindled away because it did not enjoy the Lord's blessing. He did not permit them to prosper so that they would be forced to analyse their living at a deeper level.

"Why?" declares the Lord Almighty. The facts of what has been happening to the community are not in dispute. It is rather the reason for them that has to be established. It is not to be traced to the prevailing economic or political situation. At most, these were secondary factors in the situation. Of primary importance was the community's attitude towards the Lord and his commands (Josh. 7:10-12; 2 Sam. 21:1). Because of my house (coming first for emphasis) which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. 'Is busy with his own house' is literally 'runs with respect to his house'. If there was anything that was needed for their own property, they were quick to get it (a similar use of 'runs' is found in Prov. 1:16), but they had not given due thought to the situation of the Lord's house (Matt. 10:37-39; Luke. 8:14; Rev. 2:4). There was prevailing apathy in spiritual matters, but zeal in selfish pursuits, as everyone looked out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:21).

Therefore (1:10) points out clearly the causal link between their behaviour and their situation. It is therefore difficult to decide between the equally valid translations because of you and 'above you'. The heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. The inanimate heavens are under the control of God, and do his bidding (Ps. 135:6). So the curse of the broken covenant has come on them from above. 'The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed' (Deut. 28:23-24; Lev. 26:19-20; Deut. 11:17). Their attitude towards the things of God had resulted in hardship and scarcity coming upon them. 'Dew' played an important part in the agriculture of Palestine. During the summer no rain fell, but instead there would be heavy dew from moist winds coming in at night off the Mediterranean. This would provide the crops with sufficient moisture to prevent them from wilting and being scorched before they matured. If the dew failed, then the harvest would be meagre indeed (1 Kings 8:35).

What had been expressed indirectly, is now expressed as a direct consequence of divine action. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labour of your hands (1:11). God called for famine and shortage as instruments of his wrath (2 Kings 8:1; Ps. 105:16). It was not an arbitrary judgment. The logic of what had come upon them is made clear by a word play between 'drought' (horeb) and 'ruin' (hareb) in 1:9. The one was the just consequence of the other: the ruins of the Temple brought on the drought on the land.

The effects of the drought extended throughout the land - no aspect of living was unaffected. Grain, wine and olive oil were the three staple crops of Palestine (Deut. 7:13; 11:14; Jer. 31:12; Hosea 2:8). 'New wine' refers to the juice of grapes just harvested and pressed. 'The labour of your hands' includes every other activity they engaged in. All were blighted by the presence of the drought, and the whole situation could be traced back to their unwillingness to act to restore the Temple. The whole of the created realm was involved in the consequences of the sin of man.

God does not promise the believer a life that is free of problems. On the contrary, 'in this world you will have trouble' (John 16:33). This is to test and strengthen faith. Knowing the reality of God and having confidence in his power engenders the attitude of David—'With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall' (Ps. 18:29)—or Paul—'I can do everything through him who gives me strength' (Phil. 4:13). It was never going to be an easy option to return to a land that still obviously bore the ravages of war and to reestablish a viable community there. But a faith, conscious of God and dependent on him, would persevere.

The restored community wanted to be loyal to the Lord but they had failed to implement what he wanted in all aspects of their lives. Partial obedience (which, of course, inevitably involves partial disobedience) had distorted their commitment to God. On his part, the Lord had been warning them that matters were not right through the poor harvests and other difficulties they had experienced. The people had, however, failed to interpret these providential signs correctly. Haggai now openly presents them with their failure to give God's demands priority in their living, and the consequences of this. He challenges them to change their ways. Only if they whole-heartedly live for God, will their situation come right. 'But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well' (Matt. 6:33).

Each generation has to learn how to live out its commitment to God. Our economic and political environments often distort our thinking and cause us to look for easy options. But compromise with worldly attitudes and aspirations undermines our individual spiritual health and the testimony of the church to those around it. What is good politics may not bring the results envisaged, and may well be contrary to sound religion.

Study Questions

1:3 Compare the people's attitude of discouragement and complaint to those described in Numbers 13:31; Proverbs 26:13-16; 29:25. What should we learn from this? Luke 3:14; Philippians 4:11; 1 Timothy 6:6-8; Hebrews 13:5.

1:4 How important is it to get our priorities right? Matthew 6:33; Philippians 2:21. What tasks are there that we should face up to? Are our reasons for delay adequate?

1:6 What role does thinking about our past play in spiritual renewal? Lamentations 3:40; Luke 15:17-20; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 6:4.

1:11 Is it right nowadays to relate physical well-being to loyalty to God? John 9:1-3; 1 Corinthians 11:30.