The hard financial times the Jews were experiencing (1:5,6) meant God was chastening them, as He warned He would (Deut. 28:15-41). God told them they’d sow much and reap little (28:38) and it was happening (1:6). Their fruitful land wouldn’t prosper if they were bad (Ps. 107:33,34).
Often they knew they were being chastened and were ashamed (Jer. 14:4), but when they forgot God reminded them (Joel 1:11). Here in Haggai they forgot, so God tells them to “consider” their ways (1:5). They ate, but didn’t have enough to eat (1:6), something else God warned about (Lev. 26:14,26; Hos. 4:10; Mic. 6:13,14). They drank but weren’t filled with drink (1:6) as God also warned (Ezek. 4:16,17; Deut. 28:39).
They ignored Leviticus 25:4 for 490 years, so God allowed them to be taken captive to let the land catch up on her sabbath years of rest (Lev. 25:33,34 cf. II Chron. 36:17-21). That means all the nutrients farming takes out of land were restored, and their land should have been producing big time. When it didn’t, they should have known they were being judged.
Just as the coats they were putting on weren’t warming them, the money they were making wasn’t profiting them (1:6). God warned them they’d spend their strength at work in vain (Lev. 26:14,20). So when God told them to consider their ways they should’ve done what the psalmist did (119:59,60).
They should have gone back to work on the temple. God repeated that order after chastening them (1:7,8) just as He repeated His order to Jonah after chastening him (1:1,2; 3:1,2)
Of course, when you’ve been away from the Lord for awhile, a sort of spiritual paralysis sets in, and you want to return, but are not sure how to start. God knew this, so told Israel what to do, step by step, i.e., to go up to the mountain and get the wood to build the temple and bring it back (1:8). He started with the basics, and built from there. If you feel spiritually paralyzed, you too need to get back to basics! And the first thing Paul tells us to do is stop doing bad things and start doing good things (Rom. 6:12,13). That’s pretty basic, but no more basic than “go get the wood…”, etc.
God said He’d take pleasure in the rebuilding of the temple (1:8). He knew that they knew if they started obeying, He would not only stop chastening them, He would start blessing them, so He gave them this added incentive. Then He gave them more incentive by saying it would glorify Him (1:8). In saying that, He was asking them to look past what obeying would do for them, and look at what it would do for God. Obedience glorifies God in any dispensation! We should remember that, since God is not spanking us when we are bad and blessing us when we are good in this dispensation, our only motivation to obey Him is to glorify Him!
Why would they look for much if they knew they were bad and deserved the chastening of getting little for their efforts (1:9)? Ah, they thought they were being good, obeying the king like God’s people should, when he ordered the work on the temple stopped. But they should have known from the example of the 3 Hebrews in Daniel 3 that they weren’t to obey the king if he ordered them to do something against God’s orders. They also should have known it was time to build the temple from Daniel 9:25, so they shouldn’t have been saying it wasn’t time to build the temple (1:2).
What little they did bring home God blew upon (1:9) with His fiery breath (Isa. 30:33 cf. 40:6,7), and it went up in a figurative puff of smoke. All because they let the house of God lay “waste” while they “ran” to build their own houses (1:2 cf. 1:4). That word “run” shows they were obeying God but their heart wasn’t it in. They couldn’t wait to stop serving God and start serving themselves (cf. Amos 8:4-7).
God not only cut off their rain, He cut off their dew (1:10), and thoroughly chastened them (1:11). But He doesn’t chasten us. We’re not under the law that says God will chasten us if we break it (Rom. 6:14,15). Your apostle never says to consider your ways, consider what you’ve done, he says to “forget” what you’ve done (Phil. 3:13) and think about virtuous things (Phil. 4:8). But sin will have a deadening effect in your life (Rom. 8:13), so don’t watch your circumstances for evidence God is chastening you, but watch your heart for signs of deadening. Serve Him by “considering” all He has done for you (I Sam. 12:24).