The Great Debaters

Is it time?

Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord‘s house should be built. Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste? Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.

-Haggai 1:2-5

In a debate between the Wiley College and Oklahoma City debate teams, as depicted in the 2007 film The Great Debaters, Samantha Booke argued against racial segregation in schools, noting how the state of Oklahoma spent five times as much on education per white student when compared to that spent on African American students.

Booke, a fictitious character based on Henrietta Bell Wells, then asked when the time for racial reconciliation, integration and justice would come. “Will it come tomorrow? Next week? In 100 years? No the time for justice, the time for freedom, the time for equality, is always, always right now!”

In the Jim Crow South in the 1930s, the argument against integration often centered around the feasibility of true racial reconciliation. The argument was that, with there being so much animosity between the races, it would be impractical, and downright destructive to try to effect change.

Thus, the one arguing against integration would wring his hands, and say, “You don’t deal with things the way they should be, you deal with things the way they are. It’s just not the right time for progress on this issue.”

Widespread societal opposition to doing the right thing has led to complacency in the wrong things often throughout human history, from the slavery in the antebellum South, to the exploitation of child-labor of the industrial north. As this complacency settled in, society languished in sin until being led into the light by a strong leader, oftentimes moved by their faith in God, to spark national repentance.

In Haggai 1, the prophet Haggai was moved by the Lord to prophesy a message calling on the nation to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. However, the Temple reconstruction faced opposition.

The tribes who had taken up residence in the Holy Land in Israel’s absence did not want to give their territory back to Israel. Therefore, Israel was accused of mounting an insurrection against the Medo-Persian Empire.

The accusation was serious. If the King were to feel threatened by the accusation, he could not only order the halting of the work, but use military force to pummel Israel into submission. For the King, the accusation meant that, by supporting the reconstruction of the Temple, he was funding the enemies of the empire.

The Israelites were pushed to complacency to assuage fears of rebellion. The king was pressured against supporting reconstruction to show loyalty to the empire.

Thus, as Haggai was being called to become a prophet, many people (including Jews and Gentiles) were saying that the time to rebuild the Temple had not yet come.

“It’s not time to rebuild.”

“The Persians will never accept it.”

“Rebuilding will provoke violence from our neighbors.”

“Maybe some day in the future, but not today.”

While all this was being said, the reconstruction effort for the city of Jerusalem continued, with homes and businesses being built. The people risked the political fallout of pursuing their own interest, but not God’s. Therefore, in Haggai 1:5, God says, “Consider your ways.”

There are three things to keep in mind from this passage.

(1) The time to repent and do the right thing is always right now. In Haggai 1, God was using the reconstruction of the Temple to further His agenda of ending sin and redeeming His people. By delaying the reconstruction of the Temple, Israel was actually working against God’s plan.

When we delay repenting of the sin in our lives, or our culture, we only further the destruction and ruin brought on by our sin.

(2) We need to value the things of God more than the things of man. Israel had no trouble building their own homes, but they weren’t willing to take the same risks in building the house of God. God did not say they couldn’t build their own homes, but God wanted them to build up His house as well.

God never called us to take a vow of poverty. He did call us to give tithes and offerings as He prospers us. He wants us to value His cause as much, if not more, than we do our own.

(3) We should consider our ways. This means to take stock of where we stand with God, and whether we are living our lives in accordance with scripture and His will.

We want to see God move in our society in a great and wonderful way. For that to happen, we must give God something to bless. In order to do that, we need to place importance and value on the things of God, and repent of the sin and wrong thinking that is in our own heart. May God bless you as you take these steps in your own life.