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.
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?