A new House for the Lord. 1:15b-2:9
In 538 BC the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem following their exile in Babylon. Finally, in 520 BC, after the prodding of Haggai the prophet, they begin to rebuild the temple. In our passage for study, Haggai seeks to encourage those who see the second temple as "like nothing" in comparison with Solomon's temple. Yet, their small beginnings herald something far "greater than the glory of the former house."
1:15b-2:3. The date of this prophecy is October 17, 520 BC, exactly 440 years since the dedication of Solomon's temple. Restoration work has been underway for over three weeks and the paltry dimensions of the second temple are now evident to all. Obviously, those who remembered Solomon's temple were less than impressed.
v4-5. The word to Zerubbabel, and to Joshua the high priest, is for them to be bold, to be confident ("strong") in the face of this small beginning. The Lord will be with his people as he was in the days of the Exodus, so "do not fear."
v6-9. The shaking of the heavens, earth, sea and dry land, images the wonders of the Exodus and heralds another Exodus beyond that of the present returnees. The shaking of the nations images their trembling before the Lord's mighty hand. Again, using the glorious imagery of Solomon's temple, the future glory of this small beginning will transcend "the former house." The Lord's divine sovereignty, displayed in his "glory" (his glorious presence), will be recognized by the nations, and like the Queen of Sheba, "the nations will come" bearing tribute of gold and silver to beautify the temple, and in that coming they will find "peace" (wholeness) - "the glory of the present house will be greater than the glory of the former house." Haggai has moved into eschatological mode and sees beyond the shadows of this present paltry building to a temple not built with human hands.
From little things, big things grow
Jesus' statement that faith as small as a mustard seed moves mountains, is well reflected in Haggai's prophecy to the Jews who have braved a return to Palestine after their exile in Babylon. Palestine was, by this time, a depopulated ravaged land. Rebuilding an infrastructure capable of maintaining existence was one thing, having time to rebuild even a poor image of Solomon's temple, was another.
When Haggai begins his preaching in 520 BC. he proclaims a word critical of a people who have feathered their own nests, rather than set to and built a house for the Lord. Yet, the people take his words seriously and so set about the rebuilding task. Some three weeks later, as the building starts to take shape, a sense of depression begins to overtake the workers. Older Jews can well remember the wonder of Solomon's temple which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. This new structure is a "little thing" indeed.
The Lord's word to the workers through Haggai in his second prophecy, chapter 2 verses 1-9, is a word of encouragement. Instead of being overcome by "fear" they should be "strong", they should be "fearless", "confident". The Lord's word to them is a call to faith. They need to "do" what the Lord has "covenanted" with them, what he has agreed to do for them. The agreement is simple, the Lord has asked them to rebuild the house and in return the Lord will again dwell with his people.
As an expression of faith, the people are asked to see beyond this little thing to a House radiant with the Lord's presence, a presence which shakes the nations and draws them to his House by the radiance of his glory. In that day the nations will come bearing tribute and there find "peace", wholeness.
The prophet, of course, sees beyond the paltry stones of this poor reflection of Solomon's temple, to a temple not made with hands. He sees glimpses of the messiah, Christ, gathered with his people. He sees glimpses of the incoming of the Gentiles; a worldwide church of twos and threes gathered with Jesus in their midst. He sees glimpses of the glorious eternal city, a city without a temple, "because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple."
The next time we sit in the midst of a small fellowship with a mere handful of people with us, maybe in a large church building that once held a thousand worshipers, the next time we bemoan the few workers we have to distribute the Parish Paper, repair the church roof, visit the sick, all the stuff of church life for which there are never enough hands, all the small beginnings and fizzles, ..... then let us remember the Lord's promise, "I will fill this house with glory." So "do not fear", be fearless.
"From little things, big things grow." How does this type of thinking change the way we do things? Apply to your church.
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