Time For What?
Haggai 1:1-11; Ezra 5:1, 2
Introduction: Whether we think of time as duration or as convenience or opportunity, one of the most common excuses that men make for not doing what they know they ought to do is that they do not have time, or that some other time will be more convenient. The plain truth is that we all have the same amount of time - just 24 hours a day - and generally find time or opportunity to do what we most want to do.
The "time" excuse is an old one, and our present lesson gives us some profitable thoughts on the subject. We shall approach these thoughts as follows:
1. Time for Preaching, Haggai 1:1-3. 2. Time for Selfishness, 4. 3. Time for Consideration, 5-7. 4. Time for Commandment, 8. 5. Time for Judgment, 9-11. 6. Time for Challenge, Ezra 5:1. 7. Time for Action, 2. Notes on the Printed Text:
Time for Preaching, Haggai 1:1-3. As nearly as could be done under the dating methods of his age, the prophet states to the day the exact time of his preaching the message of our lesson (1). Thus we are informed from the scripture, by comparing different passages, that an interval of some years had passed after the original decree by Cyrus (Ezra 1:2; 5:13; 6:3) that the house of God be built at Jerusalem. Our difficulty in knowing the extent of the delay is not the fault of scripture, but lies in the exceeding uncertainty of ancient secular chronology.
From verse 2 we may learn that there is no better time to preach to God's people their responsibilities toward God than the very time when they are trying to postpone those responsibilities to an indefinite future. People looking for an excuse to avoid their duty will never find a convenient time to do it unless or until they are awakened to their present responsibility.
So it was "then," at the very time that people were making the "time" excuse, that the word of Jehovah to be preached to His people came to His faithful prophet (3).
Time for Selfishness, 4. Questioning previously unspoken assumptions is sometimes a most effective way of declaring the truth. Perhaps few of the people would have been so irreverent as to declare openly the blasphemous assumption that it was a good time to provide comfortable houses for themselves (4), but a bad time to build the house of God; yet they were acting on exactly this assumption. The rhetorical question brings the truth to light, and was intended to provide food for thought.
Time for Consideration, 5-7. We are most in need of considering our ways (5) when our ways are wrong. If we know that we are going in the right direction and are pleasing God in our present course, we may safely press forward; but if it becomes apparent that God is not pleased with our ways, we had better take time to consider these ways and their consequences.
Blessed is that child of God who is quickly chastened when he goes astray and who quickly recognizes in that chastisement the hand of his heavenly Father. Sometimes, however, when His children persist in sin, God must deal with them with a heavy hand; and so it was in this case (6). We can be sure, when some professing Christians persist in living ungodly lives and still enjoy material prosperity, that such are not true children of God.
Having reminded His people of their material adversity, Jehovah again called upon His people to consider their ways (7). It is true that sometimes the righteous must suffer affliction for reasons other than chastisement; but even so we should "in the day of adversity consider" (Ecclesiastes 7:14).
Time for Commandment, 8. Considering our ways can result only in confusion unless we consider them in view of the commandments of God. The important question to be considered is whether we are obeying Him. As in this case (8), so frequently, God has given us explicit commandments to fit the occasion. Sometimes it is a matter of applying commandments of general principles rather than of specific acts; but even so we need always to take time to find out what will please and glorify God.
Time for Judgment, 9-11. If any doubts remained as to the reason for their loss of material blessings, the people were plainly told that they were under the judgment of God (9). Human selfishness is always in disfavor with God, and sooner or later that divine disfavor will be manifested.
Nature itself (10) is under the government of God; and He gives or withholds what we may think of as nature increase according to His own will. Sometimes the connection between the sins of men and the blessings or plagues of nature may not be so obvious; but we can be sure that God always has righteous reasons for giving or withholding His blessings. Droughts (11) are among the means that God uses to remind men of their utter dependence upon the mercies of their Creator, Preserver, and Judge. In the case before us it is plainly stated that God "called for a drought upon the land" (11) as a result of His people's sinful neglect of His house.
Time for Challenge, Ezra 5:1. Preceding context tells of the success of the Jews' enemies in stopping the work on the temple. Oftentimes, perhaps mostly for testing purposes, God does permit His enemies and the enemies of His people to gain temporary victories, so that it seems for a time that the cause of truth and righteousness has gone down to defeat.
Yet to the faithful such a time is not a time for discouragement or despair, but a time for challenge; a challenging of God-called preachers to renew and revive their testimony to eternal truth, a challenging of the people of God to dedicate themselves again to His service and trust Him to give the victory to them, a challenging of the forces of evil to do their worst while they can because their time is short.
Note that the prophets of God addressed primarily the people of God who were directly responsible in the immediate situation (1), and they spoke to them not of their own ideas but "in the name of the God of Israel."
Time for Action, 2. Knowing what we ought to do and knowing that we ought to do it now is good, but there comes a time for action, and nothing will take the place of that. Someone must lead out in the work; and blessed are the people of God when, as in this case (2), the official leaders are willing to lead in the right direction. A politician seeks success by finding out which way the people want to go and then running out in front; but a religious leader ought to find out which way God wants people to go and then seek to lead them that way. Modern Christianity is plagued with too many religious politicians and has too few divinely led leaders.
Key Verse: "Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?"
Let us remind ourselves again that the most important question about time is what we choose to do in the time we have. The only time we have is the present: the past is gone beyond recovery and so far as we know we have no future opportunity to do what we ought to do now. If we must put something off, let it be provision for self: our obligations to God need to be attended to now. ================
[From Ashland Avenue Baptist paper, August 16, 1968, pp. 2-3. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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