Haggai 2:23 says
‘On that day,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the LORD Almighty.
A singet ring was a way to sign documents – a king or governor would have a uniquly designed symbol the would be on a ring, and that would be applied to a wax seal to make an impression. Hence a document or decree was “signed and sealed.”
It was valuable, and could be entrusted to another to use “in the name of” the actual owner.
Background to this text is important. In Jeremiah 22:24-30 the next to last King of Judea, Jehoiachin is said to be rejected, as if the Lord removed him like a signet ring and tossed him away. The end of the passage says that no descendant of his will sit on the throne.
So when his grandson Zerubbabel is given this message, it is a reversal of the judgment previously given.
Christians would read that as the nature of the Gospel – the curse is reversed. There was nothing in particular about Zerubbabel to merit the restoration – it would seem to be grace not merit.
All of a sudden there is a great interest in a recent post on the Beatitudes, which threatens to catch up with the post called “A visit to the Ant Hill”. So welcome new readers, whoever you are.
Four times Haggai says something like “take careful thought to your ways”.
Haggai 1:5 – “Give careful thought to your ways.” – why your lives are unsatisfying
Haggai 1:7 – “Give careful thought to your ways.” – go and get started on the temple
Haggai 2:15 – “Now give careful thought to this from this day on.” – remembering the frustrations of removed blessing
Haggai 2:18 – “From this day on…give careful thought to the day when the foundations of the temple was laid…” – today is a day changer.
The Point Haggai was making was that the Returnees needed to talk a good look at their lives from the standpoint of God’s promises – they were not being blessed and that could be traced to a lack of faithfulness. In OT terms that was largely measured in material blessings – the temple and purses with holes in them.
The other side of the coin is the emphasis on God’s ultimate plan – their work was small, their governor was not that important, their numbers were few, but the big picture was a world changer –
Haggai 1:6-9 – the glory of the Nations will come here
Haggai 2:21-22 – the heavens and the nations will be shaken.
Give careful thought to your lives and see that your faith-driven service now is linked to an incredible future.
The prophet seems to ask odd questions. If a person carries sanctified meat to used for a sacrifice in his cloak, will that holiness transfer to other objects? No. So if a defiled person touches something holy, will that be defiled? Yes.
Citing such legal issues (Leviticus 6:27; 22:4-6) establishes that defilement is contagious but holiness is not.
What is the point? Apparently the people thought that if they touched holy things – such as the temple, that holiness would transfer to them. Is this the idea behind the empty ritualism that the prophets so routinely denounce? (See Isaiah 1 and Jeremiah 7 for two vivid examples.)
The point seems to be that it is about the heart reflected in the life of the person, not on the external compliance with a rite. What the Lord was seeking was compliance that was the fruit of faith – not compliance designed to cover the lack of faith.
This is similar to Jesus comment in Mark 7:17-23 that it is not what enters someone from the outside, but what arises up from the inside that determines holiness or defilement.
So religion is a poor cover-up. Don’t expect your piety or your charity or your words to hide what is defiled.
Don’t we mix up the symbol for something with the thing itself?
Do we love the flag, or what it represents? Fabric does nothing for us, but the ideas of freedom and justice, loyalty to the rule of law and unity do mean quite a bit.
The Temple was where God chose, for a time, to be present to his people in a unique way. Theology tells us that He is everywhere already. However, He is more in some places than others – not in terms of space and time, but in his purpose to display his glory and to enrich his people. But the Temple itself, see as stones and timbers, was not really anything. The Lord was willing to have it destroyed – repeatedly. By the time of its destruction, the Glory had departed already. Only the symbol was left.
When in Ezra 3, the old timers lamented the small size of the foundation of the temple to be re-built, they were clinging to a memory. They were also holding on to the symbol, not the thing itself.
So what is the thing itself? It is the Lord.
From the Christian perspective God’s presence is not located in a material temple – Jesus discussed this with the Woman of Samaria in John 4. The only temple that matters in our time is the christian community, where God uniquely dwells. Both with the individual (“your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” I Cor 6:19) and with the church as a community (I Peter 2:1ff).
Now we would not think of lamenting the smallness of our “church” or boasting of its size and vitality. Would we?
Haggai’s first message to the people was that God was frustrating their lives. Why? because they were delaying the building of the temple. The Returnees had come back nearly 20 years before, had stated and stopped because of opposition. In the mean time they had taken care of their own houses. So the prophet said that God was making it so they were frustrated at every turn. In the words of Haggai 1:6, they earned wages only to put them in a purse with a hole in it.
The OT covenantal background is found in such passages as Leviticus 26:19-20 and Dt 28:22-24. The people would be materially blessed or cursed based on their faithfulness.
So that is clear enough.
However, how do we read this from the New Testament point of view? Should preachers use this to motivate building projects and giving campaigns? The Health and Wealth preachers speaking of giving to God to get greater wealth back. ( As of the Lord is a sort of E-Trade agent.)
The difference is that the Temple in the NT is sometimes the People of God – I Peter 2:4ff. And at other times we see that Christ is the fulfillment of the Temple and all that was related to it (book of Hebrews).
So a Christian interpretation of Haggai 1 has to go through those changes. The temple was a place to meet with God, where the High Priest prayed for the people and offered sacrifices for sin and for fellowship. It was where the glory fo God resided. All of those are fulfilled in Christ who is the means by which we come to God, he is the High Priest, he is the Sacrifice, he is the Glory of God revealed.
So how does Haggai 1 preach today? It seems to me that it is summarized very well by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount – “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these [material] things will be given to you as well.”
The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:
The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.
A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 6,600 times in 2010. That’s about 16 full 747s.
In 2010, there were 54 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 255 posts. There were 50 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 3mb. That’s about 4 pictures per month.
The busiest day of the year was February 25th with 67 views. The most popular post that day was A Visit to the Ant Hill – Proverbs 6:6-8.
Where did they come from?
The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, bethanyfreechurch.org, host.madison.com, google.com, and search.aol.com.
Some visitors came searching, mostly for ants, patterns in nature, spiral, agape, and storybook.
Attractions in 2010
These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.
A Visit to the Ant Hill – Proverbs 6:6-8 July 2009
Pattern of the Gospel – John 13, Philipians 2 May 2008
John 21 – Style or Significance April 2010
Picking a Bible May 2006
Sermon On the Mount Outline April 2009