Rebuilding the Temple
Focal Passage: Haggai 2:1-9
Background Text: Haggai 1:1–2:9
Purpose Statement: To affirm the power of God to bring new life out of ruin
Key Verse: “This house will be more glorious than its predecessor, says the LORD of heavenly forces. I will provide prosperity in this place, says the LORD of heavenly forces” (Haggai 2:9).
It might take most of us a few minutes to find the Book of Haggai. It probably does not make it into the top ten in the list of favorite books of the Bible for many people. The two chapters comprising the book are nestled between Zephaniah and Zechariah. Still, there are eight biblical books that are smaller than Haggai.
The book deals mostly with encouragement to the Jews to rebuild the Temple, which was destroyed in 587 BC. By 520 BC, the Jews’ exile in Babylon was coming to a close. The important work ahead was to try to rebuild the holy center of the nation after nearly 70 years when its people had been separated from the land. At first, it was not going well, so God sent prophets to call the people to a holy response and to give their resources, efforts, and skills to be about this important work.
As you read today’s Scripture, try to read it as someone who needs encouragement. Read it as a pep talk, as a new vision offered to you as you might participate in actually putting God’s house back together again. Imagine for a moment that your church building was destroyed in the time of your grandparents and has been in ruins for all of these years. Now you and your friends have been given the task of rebuilding it, sparing no energy or resources to do so. As you read the words of the prophet Haggai, consider the ways that God can work to bring new life out of those places of ruin that we find around us.
Different Than Before
When our sons were young, most of their waking time was not spent in front of a computer, phone, or television. Cheri and I always believed they would have much more fun just making believe and enjoying their own adventures. We have loads of wonderful pictures of the boys looking important in their outfits created from digging through the big costume bin we kept handy. Oversized boots, coats with sleeves rolled up, hats that fell over the ears and had to be pushed up and back on the head so the hero could see clearly––they were all part of the game.
To be a true hero, of course, they always needed a place to live out that role, so that meant the creation of a fort, a spaceship, a boat, or some other kind of setting. At that point, the two adult developers and laborers were often called in to create that place.
Now, I’m not bragging (much), but it did seem that often I managed to build the better site than their hardworking mother. I even remember once getting a call at the church from across the parking lot. As it was transferred to me, I answered, and a small voice said, “Dad, we need your help. Mom’s not doing it right.” I took a break, built the fort, and then went back to doing the Lord’s work. Although if the truth be told, I have to think that the Lord enjoyed watching us create a wonderful, imaginative world.
“It doesn’t look right.” The Bible describes the Temple Solomon built as a magnificent wonder. You can read about it in 1 Kings 6 and following. It was the center of the Jewish faith, created and adorned, sparing no expense, as a place God would actually want to inhabit. Unfortunately, Nebuchadnezzar was an expert at tearing apart and destroying such a thing of beauty. Nothing was left in place as the Babylonians sought to break the spirit and the soul of the Jews in order to dominate them as part of their rule.
Later, God granted those in exile the gift of returning home. The great work ahead, of course, was to rebuild their lives as they rebuilt their homes and their cities. The focal point of reconstruction was to be the Temple. The people had spent most of their time, money, and effort on building their own homes upon return while the Temple still lay in ruins. Now the moment had come to join together and do the holy work of restoring the Temple.
“Go up to the highlands and bring back wood. Rebuild the temple so that I may enjoy it and that I may be honored, says the LORD,” Haggai told the people on God’s behalf. “The LORD moved the spirit of Judah’s governor Zerubbabel, Shealtiel’s son, and the spirit of the high priest Joshua, Jehozadak’s son, and the spirit of all the rest of the people. Then they came and did work on the house of the LORD of heavenly forces, their God” (Haggai 1:8, 14).
However, upon review, the Temple did not resemble what they remembered or what had been described to them by those who had seen it in its glory days. “How does it look to you now?” the prophet asked them. “Doesn’t it appear as nothing to you?” (Haggai 2:3).
Perhaps you’ve experienced that feeling about the second incarnation of something. Maybe you spent a great deal of time and effort on something but later had to redo your work. The second attempt somehow just didn’t seem to match the first wonderful, exciting product, and you felt let down and disappointed. We sometimes hear about one-hit wonders in the music business. They record a great piece of music that sells a million copies or more, but they just can’t seem to recreate that same special formula for another hit. Granted, many times we grow more competent in doing something over and over again. But when it comes to the once-in-a-lifetime projects we believe we will never have to duplicate or repeat, when the repetition becomes a requirement, it often fails in comparison. It’s just not as good as the first one was.
But there’s another way to look at what seems to be the disappointment of a second try. It’s actually what’s known as “another right answer.” Part of our nature as humans is to strive to come up with that perfect thing, that great right answer to a question or a challenge. However, one aspect of learning how to create honestly and hopefully is to realize that often we can find more than one right way to do something. Sometimes another, new creation can replace the one that seemed to be so right in the first place. When we allow our eyes and hearts to focus on seeing what could be, even though it is different than what was before, we are opened to a whole world of possibilities.
The Temple was going to be rebuilt. No, it wouldn’t be the same and might only be similar. But because it couldn’t be exactly as the first one was, should there be no effort to try to build the new one? Of course not. By keeping in mind the Temple’s purpose, the people could give it their best efforts and build something that would honor God and become a blessing for those who had returned from exile.
When have you been aware that God brought something new in your life, perhaps following a tragedy, failure, or difficult season? How did you learn to embrace and accept that new thing as equally precious and welcome in your life?
Work, For I Am With You!
Have you ever run like crazy behind the bicycle of a beginning rider, hanging onto the seat because the little biker thought he or she needed you there to give the bicycle balance? You may also have experienced the moment of letting go and seeing the rider achieve the awesome gift of balance or the horror of an immediate crash, with skinned knees and a broken spirit!
I’m not sure who first coined the phrase: “Do your best, and God will do the rest.” It certainly seems to fit the American spirit. Our can-do attitude, our make-it-so eagerness to accomplish what we set out to do––these are all wrapped up in our cultural self-understanding. Certainly, it’s important to believe we can accomplish what we set out to do and be willing to work hard to achieve it. But just because we work hard to achieve something does not necessarily mean that God is pleased and will help us in that work.
We find a more humble and more faithful approach in the message God delivered through Haggai to the people working to rebuild the Temple. “Be strong,” God said. “Work, for I am with you, says the LORD of heavenly forces” (verse 4).
When we commit ourselves to doing what we have discerned with prayer and humility to be God’s will and intention for us and our world, when we then place our efforts, energy, and resources there, God will certainly be with us, direct our paths, and give us the ability to do that good thing. You see, it’s God’s good thing. When we honestly and openly find our way to God’s way, God is indeed with us.
That was the challenge and the gift God gave the Jews as they gave themselves over to the important task of rebuilding the Temple from ruin. “Work, for I am with you . . . my spirit stands in your midst,” God promised (verse 5).
What are you building in your life today? Have you started something but perhaps have begun to feel a bit exhausted or discouraged? Have you become distracted from the things you ought to be doing? Has something sat idle because other things have taken priority over it? Are you afraid of not succeeding? Or are you concerned that what will result may not be what you had hoped?
When you are committed to doing God’s work, the promise God made to the people long ago is the same promise God makes to you: “Be strong. . . . I am with you. . . . My spirit stands in your midst.”
What do you feel God calling you to begin or resume today?
When our family lived in South Carolina, the entire region would shut down on those rare times when it would snow. I remember waking up to two inches of snow and not going to school for two days! Here in Fargo, North Dakota, if it snows a foot, school may be delayed for an hour. But a snow day in South Carolina meant spending the entire day outside building snowmen and snow forts and having snowball fights.
One time, three older and bigger boys ran up, tore down our snow fort, and threw big snowballs at us, all completely unprovoked. As we younger kids tried to withstand the assault, throwing snowballs back that fell terribly short, my older brothers suddenly burst out of the house and began to pummel and decimate the enemy forces. It was a battle for the ages. In the end, the mean boys ran off, and my brothers were vaulted into glory as our heroes.
Fourteen times in two chapters of the Book of Haggai, the prophet identifies God as “the LORD of heavenly forces.” Other translations render this term as “LORD of hosts” (KJV, New American Standard Bible, NRSV) and “LORD Almighty” (NIV). These names for God come from the word Sabaoth, which is the transliteration of the Hebrew word. You may recall singing that word in the great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” It means “hosts” or “armies” and is understood to depict God as the leader of Israel’s armies.
The image set before us and before the Jewish builders was not only that of the all-powerful God, but also that of God in charge of an overwhelming army of angels who will protect and secure the safety and lives of those who follow God. To those working to rebuild the Temple, Haggai promised that it and they would be defended by angelic forces and by the utter power of the Lord of hosts.
What incredible images these are! God’s faithfulness and care of the people, especially in the face of those who would do us harm, is unstoppable and irresistible. The God who is with us is always greater than those who are against us. With this promise, the Jewish people continued working to rebuild the Temple for God on the site of ruin.
We also face places of brokenness and ruin in our lives, resulting from broken promises, disease, death, severed relationships, and other great disappointments. God has promised to take our brokenness and create a new life, a new purpose, and a new way of living and relating as we affirm the power of God through Christ in our lives. Look to what power and assurance God offers to your life, even if right now you feel exhausted or weak or unable to do much of anything with your broken spirit. The Lord of heavenly forces is with you!
With this promise given to us today, what can we build in those places where we have found ruin in our lives? Where we are being called to re-create in the name of God?
Lord of heavenly forces, lead, empower, and protect me as I seek to follow your will in the efforts of my life today; in Jesus’ name. Amen.