Wednesday, March 21, 2012


An oversimplification of ancient history is this.

The superpower known as Babylon comes into Judah, takes over, and exiles all the smart and industrious people to Babylon, thereby defusing the power of Judah to rebel.

Years go by.

The superpower known as Babylon declines and the superpower known as Persia rises up, comes into Judah and takes over.

What Persia does is to allow the Jewish exiles living in Babylon to go home. Jews are allowed to practice their own religion. They are permitted to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.

And as the Jewish people are returning home, the prophet Haggai appears on the scene.

In 538 BC, some of the Jewish Babylonian exiles returned to Jerusalem, though many stayed behind in Babylon.

Why would they stay?

After the creation of modern Israel, a lot of Jews stayed in New York City. Why leave. That was their home where they were born.

The people who did go back to Jerusalem found the city still in ruins from decades earlier when there had been a battle there. The Temple had been used to some extent during the intervening years, but it was basically in ruins as well.

The people who had stayed in Jerusalem during the Exile and the ones who came back in 538 BC had to learn to live together and become a community once more.

Economic conditions were bad. Judah faced occasional military raids from neighboring kingdoms. They had no real defense.

But on the plus side, the Jews were allowed to practice their faith and they were allowed to appoint a descendant of King David – a man named Zerubbabel, as governor. True – he was a governor under Persian supervision, but at least there was some feel of local leadership.

This offered something new and different to Israel. In the past the church and state had been under one authority – theologically speaking it was under the authority of God. The king had led the people on God’s behalf. Now the political and military powers were no longer associated with the religious power, because while the religion was allowed to have leadership – the secular authority was under the control of a foreign government.

In this situation it was especially important that the Temple and the religious structure be restored and maintained, because in this was the preservation and future of the people of Israel.

Cyrus died in 529 BC and he was succeeded by his son who committed suicide in 522 BC. Darius I then took the throne in Persia and faced restlessness in his empire. It was a huge empire, and there were constant rebellions.

For someone like Haggai, this may have seemed to be a sign that the end of foreign rule over Judah was at hand. During the Exile the prophet Ezekiel had proclaimed that God would reestablish God’s people in Judah and God’s rule on the thrown in Zion.

With Zerubbabel, a descendant of David already installed as governor, the time was right for Haggai to declare that God’s house must be rebuilt in preparation for the coming new age.

Now the book of Haggai gives no personal information about the man of Haggai. He is simply called “the prophet.” Jewish tradition states that he was known as a prophet in Babylon during the Exile, so he may have been among those returning to Judah in the years 538 to 520 BC. He became, along with Zechariah whom we will look at next week, the major force in Jerusalem behind the rebuilding of the Temple.

Haggai 1:1 tells the readers of Haggai’s prophecies when, to whom, and by what authority Haggai speaks:

1 In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest:

The sixth month is the same as our mid-August to mid September.

Zerubbabel had come to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. He is mentioned in the Old Testament book of Ezra.

Ezra 2
1 Now these are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive to Babylon (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to their own town, 2 in company with Zerubbabel, Joshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum and Baanah):
The list of the men of the people of Israel:
3 the descendants of Parosh 2,172
4 of Shephatiah 372
5 of Arah 775

And so forth and so on…

Zerubbabel was the grandson of King Jehoiachin of Judah and a descendant of King David. As governor, he was accountable to the Persian authorities.

Haggai addresses Zerubbabel and Joshua. He had also come from exile and returned to Judah. He was considered the spiritual head of the community and the final authority in matters concerning religious ceremony and sacrifice.

Haggai addresses these two men and also the Israelite people at large with a message from God.

Haggai begins with an oracle concerning the neglect of the Temple.

Haggai accuses the people of caring more about their own comfort than about the condition of God’s house. They have roofs over their heads but God’s house is in ruins.

2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the LORD’s house.’”
3 Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
5 Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

All of this is to try to get the people to look at their lives as God sees them. They are to remember the covenant they made with God in which faithfulness brings blessing and disobedience brings curses.

7 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD.

This may be a reference to seeing a Temple so devastated that there was not enough stone to rebuild it – they had to find supplies elsewhere.

9 “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”

The people are not alone in this life – God is with them. But they must get their priorities straight. Haggai is urging the people to rebuild the Temple and he is telling them that it CAN be restored.

12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD.

This fear is not a shaking in my boots fear, this is a fear of God, a respect for God, a submission to God.
13 Then Haggai, the LORD’s messenger, gave this message of the LORD to the people: “I am with you,” declares the LORD.

Isn’t that a great verse? “I am with you,” declares the Lord.

There are times when you are engaged in a great project, and that is a message that you so very much need to hear.

“I am with you.”

14 So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month.

God stirred the spirit of the whole remnant of the people…

In Jane Jacobs book, THE DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES, Jecobs writes about the necessity of what she calls “social capital” for any urban community. “Social capital” is that intangible supply of human trust, coordination, cooperation and mutual benefit that maintains a community and makes life easier and pleasant. A good supply of social capital enables people to put their resources together, communicate directly, negotiate effectively and to celebrate together the rewards. From it, the pronoun “I” becomes the pronoun “WE.” Haggai would remind the church that like ancient Israel, we find our store house of “social capital” in worship. Without common worship and service to God, we so easily turn back upon ourselves only to find our solitary selves. For the prophet, the stakes are very high for the community, just as the stakes are high for the church today.

In the second year of King Darius,
Haggai 2

Isn’t that a strange place to put a chapter division, at the end of the phrase, In the second year of King Darius, ?

This business of the versification of the Bible is an odd thing. The chapters and verses of the Bible came long, long after the Bible was written. The division of the chapters, usually about a page in length in old manuscripts, goes back to the 13th century. Verses were added about 300 years later. Sometimes a sentence spans more than one verse (as with Ephesians 2:8-9). Sometimes there is more than one sentence in a single verse, as in Genesis 1:2. And sometimes, as here, you have a strange event. The chapter ends in the middle of a sentence.
And Jews and Christians do not number the Bible the same – almost the same, but not quite. In the Hebrew Bibles, I Chronicles 5:27-41 is numbered as I Chronicles 6:1-15.

The first Bible in English to use both chapters and verses was the Geneva Bible published shortly afterwards in 1560.

In the second year of King Darius,
1 on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 2 “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people.

If this sounds familiar, we’ve heard that in chapter one with the first oracle. These words tell us this is a separate oracle.

After a month of labor, the people have become discouraged. The people doubt the value of their work, and they doubt God’s presence is with them. The remembered glory of Solomon’s Temple far surpasses what they are able to build.

Haggai assures the people that the ancient promises that God made to Israel at the time of the Exodus still hold true.

Ask them, 3 ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? 4 But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. 5 ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’
6 “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.”
Now we move to yet another oracle…
10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Haggai:

The ninth month is mid-November to mid December, and Haggai asks the priests to decide a question about the holiness and ritual impurity.

11 “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Ask the priests what the law says: 12 If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’”
The priests answered, “No.”
13 Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?”
“Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.”
14 Then Haggai said, “‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the LORD. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.

This concept of coming in contact with what is unclean is not new to God’s people. Here is a passage from Numbers 19.

11 “Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. 12 They must purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on the third and seventh days, they will not be clean. 13 If they fail to purify themselves after touching a human corpse, they defile the LORD’s tabernacle. They must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, they are unclean; their uncleanness remains on them.

But what is Haggai saying here?

11 “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Ask the priests what the law says: 12 If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’”
The priests answered, “No.”
13 Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?”
“Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.”

One can be defiled by coming in contact with uncleanliness, but you cannot become holy by coming in contact with the holy. Implied in all this is that they must not put false trust in the Temple. Just hanging around the Temple doesn’t make them pure.

I meet people all the time who think that because they occasionally come to Chapel, they are members of Chapel. And therefore they are Christians.

Not so – Christianity is a lifestyle.
15 “‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on]—consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the LORD’s temple. 16 When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. 17 I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,’ declares the LORD. 18 ‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: 19 Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.
“‘From this day on I will bless you.’”

God has punished the people, but there is that wonderful line, “From this day on I will bless you.”

I also like this line that appears several times in Haggai, “Give careful thought.” Great expression.

20 The word of the LORD came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21 “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. 22 I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.
23 “‘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.”
This oracle is addressed to Zerubbable. Haggai declares that he is chosen by God for a special role in God’s coming kingdom.

A signet ring is a valuable possession which is elsewhere associated with a king.

This oracle may have been spoken in the expectation that the Persian empire was unstable and was about to fall, thus freeing Judah from its rule. Zerubbabel would then naturally be the one chosen to lead God’s people.

Some scholars believe that Zerubbable is spoken of here as a messiah, king who will rule when God’s kingdom is established. Zerubbabel would then fulfill the promises which had been made that one of David’s descendants would sit on the thrown in Jerusalem.

A new messianic age did not come to Israel in Zerubbable’s lifetime, and the Persian empire was intact until 331 BC. The people who recorded and saved Haggai’s prophecies knew this, so they must have believed that these words had some value even though the prophecy did not come to pass as it seemed to be presented. The value may lie in Zerubbabel’s being a representative for all of the chosen people.

Haggai’s prophecy may have Zerubbable symbolizing all of the people of Israel so that the promises made to him would apply to Israel as a whole. This would mean that the chosen people have been elected for special responsibility and authority under god. They will see the triumph of God’s kingdom on earth.

So what is this book about and why study it today. Obviously it was written for a specific time and place, but it is the word of God and is still useful for teaching and edification.

  1. Be obedient to God’s word. God is faithful to the ancient promises to Israel. In return for God’s steadfast love, the people of God must be faithful to the covenant relationship.

  2. This covenant relationship between God and Israel involves worship and ritual as well as righteousness and faith in daily life – I am amazed at the number of people who claim to be members of Chapel by the Sea, but never come here to worship

  3. Construction of the Temple has a meaning beyond its physical presence. In its construction the people turn away from their worries and concerns to express their love for and confidence in God.

  4. God’s will, not one’s own selfish comfort or prosperity, must be the first priority for people in the community of faith.

No comments:

Post a Comment