In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2 Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 3 Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4 Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts, 5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. 6 For thus says the LORD of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7 and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the LORD of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts. 9 The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.
10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 11 Thus says the LORD of hosts: Ask the priests for a ruling: 12 If one carries consecrated meat in the fold of one’s garment, and with the fold touches bread, or stew, or wine, or oil, or any kind of food, does it become holy? The priests answered, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If one who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered, “Yes, it becomes unclean.”
14 Haggai then said, So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, says the LORD; and so with every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean. 15 But now, consider what will come to pass from this day on. Before a stone was placed upon a stone in the LORD’s temple, 16 how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. 17 I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and mildew and hail; yet you did not return to me, says the LORD. 18 Consider from this day on, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid, consider: 19 Is there any seed left in the barn? Do the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree still yield nothing? From this day on I will bless you.
20 The word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21 Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, 22 and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders; and the horses and their riders shall fall, every one by the sword of a comrade. 23 On that day, says the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, son of Shealtiel, says the LORD, and make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the LORD of hosts.
It is easy to start a project, but when something is going to take a while it may be harder to bring it to completion. For example, many people make New Years Resolutions, few manage to keep them throughout the year. Weight loss either through exercise or diet works really well on the front end, but most people quit and never make the changes that are necessary to prevent the weight from returning. A long building project may start out great, but if it takes more than a couple weekends it may begin occupying space in the garage. I have started a project of going through the book of Jeremiah, all 52 chapters and I’m reluctant to publish anything until I get far enough in to be confident I might actually finish it (or my place of authority work which is currently in a season of writers block because I really am not at the point where I feel confident in my own position to write about what should logically come next, the Rise of Islam). Well in Haggai, the people and the leaders in Judah are re-embarking on a long term construction project with the temple. It is not going to go together overnight or even in a year, but they have begun. God here is encouraging them that he will be with them through this project, that they will be blessed in this project and that ultimately the silver and gold of the nations will come to fill the house with splendor.
This is a people who has dealt with drought and they are having to learn to think in a new way. In a drought you go into survival mode, you hoard what you have, but God is trying to take them into a way of living with enough, or maybe even abundance. A way of living where they can focus on something that can be used by everyone. It is a much more civic and theologically minded approach to living. There is some benefit to the temple for everyone, and the people will be blessed in and through its construction.
A couple thoughts: Haggai definitely works from what is sometimes called a Deuteronomic theology “If you do good you will be blessed, if you do evil you will be cursed” this is not the New Testament’s predominant theology, but I do think we do need to consider it. In what ways do our actions and the ways in which we live effect our wealth, status, happiness, etc… There is obviously not a one to one correlation, and often those who live the most righteous appearing lives seem to suffer the most, but God appears to believe that our actions are important for God’s plans and that God will add his work to the work the people are doing.
One of the dynamics that may be functioning is the dynamic of memory. Some of the older people may remember the temple torn down by the Babylonians, and the temple being built is ‘as nothing’ and this happens in churches as well. “I remember the way it was when I grew up” and while the memories may be good they can also be dangerous. Any time our memory of the past is greater than our hope for the future we are approaching the point of despair. I know people who grasp for a past that is no longer present and fear the present and future, but there are no time machines and we are a people who are future oriented not past oriented.
As W. Eugene March correctly states, “Although the main concern of Haggai the prophet was the rebuilding and rededication of a relatively insignificant temple in a small district in the backwaters of the Persian Empire (at least as far as the world would have judged it), the real issue is worldwide domination of the Lord of hosts.” (Achtemeier, Elizabeth et. al 1999, 7:731) The larger church I am a part of for the last couple of years has used the slogan, “God’s work, our hands” and this is one of those times where the work of our hands may seem insignificant but we trust that the impact may be larger than what we know. Just as it may not seem like Zerubbabel is not very significant, but in God’s eyes he is chosen, a signet ring. Maybe it is only a dream, and that is always the risk of trusting and faith, but it is a dream worth having.