"1In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: 2 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” 3 Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?"
Here, then, was the inactivity of the people. The Temple was lying waste, and the people were neglecting it. The Lord's complaint against them was that they were concentrating on establishing themselves in the place and had got themselves into the position of having forgotten all about the purpose for which they had returned from exile. In itself, there is little wrong about settling down and building one's own house, but when it becomes a substitute for what we are supposed to be doing - this is where the trouble starts, whether in Israel or in our modern world. What the prophet is challenging the people about is the matter of their priorities in spiritual life, and that is one of the relevant passages of the prophecy for today. They had fallen into the predicament for which the pre-exilic prophet Amos had condemned their fathers when he cried 'Woe to them that are at ease in Zion'. Circumstances had combined to make them preoccupied with the cultivation of their own comfort, and forget that they had not been brought back from exile for comfort but for conflict and hard work. They should not have been in any doubt about this. They had been reinstated in God's sovereign purposes, and this was grace indeed, and benediction enough, without the question of comfort coming into it at all. In the same way it can often become important to believers to cultivate their (home) comforts to the neglect of God's real purposes for their lives in fighting the battles of the Spirit. But God's work often demands and requires the sacrifice of home comforts; and if priorities are not sorted out and kept clear and unquestioned, home and family interests and enjoyments can displace and jeopardise the work of God. This is the issue that is spelt out for us in these challenging verses.