Opening The Old Testament
Giving Old Haggai a New Look: Reflections on Haggai 1:15b-2:9
And here is Haggai's answer for those hugely disappointed builders; it is a word that we find in many biblical places, but its power never fails to thrill:
Take courage, Zerubbabel; take courage, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, high priest; take courage, all you people of the land. Work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear! (Haggai 2:2-4)
Yes, Haggai wanted a rebuilt temple, but clearly not for its own sake. The bricks and mortar of any building have no meaning apart from the conviction that God has brought us out of the bondage of Egypt and remains with us still. No matter what this building looks like, God is here, and God is working.
And one more thing. God is not through working in the political forces of the world. "Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land, and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor" (Haggai 2:6-7). Is this a specific reference to the accession of Darius, succeeding Cambyses, or is it a more general claim that God is the God of the new and the possible? Perhaps it is both.
I do not believe that Haggai is saying only that the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem will one day be far better than Solomon's first temple in splendor and riches (Haggai 2:8-9). That would make Haggai little better than a prophet of prosperity. At the end of the day, any temple whether in Jerusalem, or New York, or Dallas, means precisely nothing unless it celebrates, announces, yea trumpets the living reality of the God of freedom who is working in the world for the freedom and hope of God's people. Thus, I would say that Haggai is not so different from his 8th- and 7th-century prophetic forebears after all.
The next time we gaze at our own temples, our churches, our houses of worship, we ought not judge them on the size of their steeples, the splendor of their pipe organs, or the grandeur and number of their classrooms. Do they speak to the world that God is there? Do they shout the truth of the freedom-making God? Only on those bases can any such places be judged.
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.