Weekly Meditation: 6th November 2016
Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Our lengthy OT passage from Haggai might look at first, or even second, glance as if it has nothing to do with us. It is ancient history, from the time of King Darius the Mede (the king we will have met in the story of Daniel in the lions’ den – Daniel 6), and it concerns the re-building of the Temple in Jerusalem.
To understand the passage, we need to know that the first Temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians, and God’s people taken into exile. In time, Babylon was conquered by the Medes and Persians, and eventually the Jews were allowed to return home. Their remit had been to restore God’s Temple which was central to their worship, but several years on they had laid only the foundations, while building their own comfortable homes.
God’s word, through the prophet Haggai, reproaches them for their neglect. They are to ‘give careful thought to their ways’ if they are to receive God’s blessing and provision as obedient people. Their task is to fetch timber from the mountains and rebuild God’s house (1:3-11).
Church ministers are sometimes tempted to use this passage to encourage support for church repairs, but that is not its meaning or purpose. These verses, like all the rest of the Bible, are to reveal God’s plan of salvation, not just for the Jews, then, but for us all, now. Israel was God’s chosen nation for a reason – they were the people among whom the Messiah would one day be born. When they fell into idolatry and neglect of the Law, God allowed them to be taken captive, but it was his will – not that of the Medes and Persians – that his people should be released in due time. The rebuilding of the Temple, as the focal point of Israel’s national and religious life, was essential so that the nation could be held together for the remaining centuries before Jesus was born as our Messiah.
This eternal purpose is hinted at in Haggai 2. The ‘remnant’ who have returned are invited to look at the Temple ruins and believe that God is with them in carrying out his commands, just as he had been with their forefathers when they left slavery in Egypt (2:5). God promises to ‘once more shake the heavens and the earth [and] all nations’ so that ‘the desired of all nations will come in, and I will fill this house with glory’ (2:6-7); he declares that ‘the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house…and in this place I will grant peace’ (2:9). In fact, this second Temple never surpassed the first, but a greater fulfilment awaited these words. Jesus himself ‘assumes the role of the Temple’[i] during his earthly ministry (John 2:13-22). He is now the focus of our worship, not the Temple. Similarly the Christian writer of Hebrews claims that Haggai’s words allude to ‘the removing of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain’ - the Kingdom of God (12:27-28). It is significant also that Zerubbabel, to whom Haggai’s prophecy was specifically addressed (Haggai 1:1; 2:2), is one of the ancestors of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1: 12-13; Luke 3:27).
Many centuries before Haggai, King David also foresaw God’s Kingdom, writing of its ‘glorious splendour’ and its endurance ‘through all generations’ (Psalm 145:12-13). He wrote also of God’s faithfulness in his promises (145:13) and of his ‘satisfy[ing] the desires of every living thing’ (145:16).
For this reason, Jesus could speak confidently about the ultimate resurrection of the dead (Luke 20:34-38). In the same way Paul could promise his readers that ‘from the beginning, God chose you to be saved …that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14).
Our salvation has been long in the making. Old Testament passages like Haggai prove this to us and show our faith is rooted in age-old doctrine. Through these readings we can see the gradual outworking of God’s purposes, his patience, and his mercy. Nothing – certainly not the reluctance of potential Temple-builders – was allowed to stand in the way of the glorious culmination of God’s Kingdom.
[i] Fee, Gordon D. (2000), p. 254.