The Priority of God's Presence
Passage: Haggai 1:1–1:15
Community Group Discussion Questions: Haggai 1:1-15 “The Priority of God’s Presence”
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Background: The city of Jerusalem, its walls, homes and temple had been razed to the ground by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., and the surviving Israelites were carried off far away to the land of Babylon, where they lived in exile for several decades. However, in 539 B.C. King Cyrus the Great of the Persians marched on Babylon and took control of the whole empire. Cyrus practiced a different policy toward conquered peoples: he sent them back to their homelands to rebuild the temples to their local gods. And so, in 538 B.C., Cyrus sent the Israelites back as well (see Ezra 1-2). Zerubbabel the governor, and Joshua the High Priest, led the people in the 900 mile journey home. Upon arrival, they cleared away the rubble at the old temple site, built the altar, and even laid a new foundation (see Ezra 3:1-13). However, conflict arose almost immediately as the neighboring people in the land began to oppose the Israelites in their temple building project. These neighbors applied political pressure, ridicule and threats. They even secured temporary restraining orders (see Ezra 4:1-5). And so, weary and afraid, the Israelites halted their temple construction for almost two decades (see Ezra 4:24). Finally, God’s word broke through to the people though the voices of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, who urged the people to pick up and build again (see Ezra 5:1-2).
With this background in mind, read Haggai 1:1-15 out loud as a group and then work through the following questions:
- In verses 2-4, and verse 9, God challenges the people that his “house” (the temple) still lay in “ruins” while the people were busy building their own “paneled houses” (a reference to the cedar paneling that should have lined the inner temple walls, but instead, lined the people’s luxurious homes). To put it bluntly, the people were making their own houses a priority over God’s house. What things in our lives do we often prioritize over the things of God? Why is it so difficult to make God’s worship and presence a priority?
- The temple represented the presence of God among the people. It was meant to be the place where God’s glory was revealed. It was thought of as the key “meeting place” between the people and God. They would make annual pilgrimages to the temple. They would offer sacrifices at the temple. They would seek God’s presence at the temple. With that in mind, why was it so important for the people to prioritize building the temple after returning to the land? (see esp. vs. 8). Why is it so important that we would prioritize God’s presence as well?
- In verses 5-6 and 9-11, God explains that the economic devastation the people were experiencing was meant to be a warning to them of God’s disfavor for delaying in the temple’s reconstruction. Has God ever used negative circumstances in your life to draw you back to himself? Share the story.
- In the New Testament, we learn that the Old Testament Temple was ultimately designed to point us to Jesus (read John 2:13-22) who is the “meeting place” between God and man. How can we make pursuing God through Jesus a priority in our lives? What would you say to someone trying to pursue God’s presence apart from Jesus Christ? Why is only Jesus truly qualified to bring us “all the way in” to God’s true presence? (see Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:19-22)
- The temple finds additional fulfillment in the church, as Jesus’ people come together to worship God as “living stones” where the Holy Spirit dwells (See 1 Peter 2:4-5 and Ephesians 2:19-22). These passages imply that the gathered church is a primary place where God’s presence can be pursued and experienced. Why do we need one another to experience God’s presence most fully? What does it look like practically to pursue God’s presence in and through the church?
- Finally, the temple also finds fulfillment in every Christian believer’s heart where the Holy Spirit dwells (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). In light of this, what personal spiritual disciplines can help us experience Gods’ presence in our individual lives each day? What practices have been especially helpful for you in comprehending and enjoying God’s presence in your everyday life?
- In verses 12-15, the people responded to God’s word through Haggai. They “obey” God’s Word (vs. 12). They “fear” God (vs. 12). They believed God’s promise: “I am with you.” (vs. 13). And God himself “stirs up” their spirit (vs. 14). What can we learn from their example about responding to God rightly?
Prayer suggestion: Spend time thanking God for his presence. Thank him for Jesus. Thank him for the church. Thank him for living within is by his Spirit. Take time to invite God to reveal himself to us more deeply this week as we pray, read Scripture, gather for worship, and as we go about our daily rhythms.