What’s Up, Haggai?
This Sunday we will hear an Old Testament lesson from the book of the prophet Haggai. I would venture that most Christians would be hard pressed to name him as one of the 12 “minor prophets.” Haggai is all of two chapters, a total of 38 verses, barely 2 pages in my Bible. In the three year cycle of Sunday Bible readings that we use (called the “Revised Common Lectionary”), Haggai appears exactly once.
Haggai prophesied during a 4 month period in 520 BC, roughly August through November. In 586 BC, 66 years earlier, Israel was taken over by Babylon and the Temple in Jerusalem burned. In 539, the Persian Emperor Cyrus took over Babylon so Israel became a province of Persia. Cyrus did not maintain the Babylonian practice of deporting conquered people and forcing them to live outside their homeland, so he allowed the exiled Jews to begin to return to Israel.
There were great efforts toward the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, chronicled in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Perhaps the people had tired of that work, or perhaps they were preoccupied getting their homes and properties sorted out, planting crops, etc., but the rebuilding of the Temple, also begun in 538 BC, had stalled. Up steps Haggai in 520 BC to encourage the rebuilding of the Temple.
Haggai’s words caught fire and the rebuilding of the Temple was completed in about 5 years. Over the centuries following, the Temple saw periods of disrepair and of great glory but this was the Temple in place at the time of Jesus, which was finally completely destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, having stood for almost 600 years.
Beyond historical interest, what does Haggai have to say to us today? Several things, I think. First, Haggai reminds us of the importance of place. We are quick to remind ourselves today that the church is really the people and not the building, but still, place matters, and God understands that.
Second, no task is too big for God. Or His people. “I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 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. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts.” (Haggai 2:6-8, click here for the full passage)
Finally, the best is yet to come! “The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts.” (Haggai 2:9) We may have a tough road ahead, but the glory of what we are promised is greater than we can imagine!
The lesson of Haggai? Persevere! God is in charge and will accomplish His purpose through us!
This column appeared in the November 10, 2019 issue of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
If you are reading this at a different time, you may click here for the current eNews.