In a culture that prides itself on individuality, self-expression, and self-license, the word “obey” seems out of place. According to a search of Google’s database of literature, the verb “obey” and its related noun “obedience” have been used at less than one third the rate over the last couple decades, as it had two-hundred years ago. We live in a “have it your way” society. Rather than obey anyone or anything, we are told, as one advert slogans, “obey your thirst.”
In the sixth century B.C., a group of Jews in Jerusalem placed their personal desires above the reason they were in Jerusalem. The Lord Almighty had intervened in the geo-political realm, allowing many of the Jews scattered during the exile to return home to Jerusalem to rebuild the decimated Temple. But, nearly twenty years later, they had become so preoccupied with their daily lives that they had neglected this God-ordained mission.
Yet, the Lord is merciful and forgiving, always reaching out to his children. He sent a prophet named Haggai to exhort the people to commence the building project. Their response to that prophet was immediate and urgent. We are told, “Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the LORD their God had sent him (Haggai 1:12a).” They turned from their preoccupation with their own personal affairs and committed to obeying the Lord.
They did not obey blindly. They were obeying a message worthy of their obedience. In the verse quoted above, it says both that the people obeyed the “voice of the LORD” and “the words of Haggai.” There were not two separate messages. The message was one and the same. As one commentator put it, “That Haggai can elicit an immediate response is testimony to the fact that he had been accepted as a prophet of Yahweh. […] The words the prophet speaks are not his own; he transmits God’s judgment as a courier from the Divine Court.”
How do we approach God’s word that has been transmitted to and recorded by his prophets, apostles, and their associates, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cp. 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21)? Do we choose to obey? Or, do we choose to obey our own thirsts, preoccupations, and desires? As one well-known hymn puts it, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
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