The Past and the Future
10On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, the Lord God All-Powerful told the prophet Haggai 11to ask the priests for their opinion on the following matters:
12Suppose meat ready to be sacrificed to God is being carried in the folds of someone's clothing, and the clothing rubs against some bread or stew or wine or olive oil or any other food. Would those foods that were touched then become acceptable for sacrifice?
“Of course not,” the priests answered.
13 Then Haggai said, “Suppose someone has touched a dead body and is considered unacceptable to worship God. If that person touches these foods, would they become unclean?”
“Of course they would,” the priests answered.
14So the Lord told Haggai to say:
That's how it is with this entire nation. Everything you do and every sacrifice you offer is unacceptable to me. 15But from now on, things will get better. Before you started laying the foundation for the temple, 16you recalled what life was like in the past. When you wanted 200 kilograms of wheat, there were only 10, and when you wanted 50 jars of wine, there were only 20. 17I made all of your hard work useless by sending mildew, mold, and hail—but you still did not return to me, your Lord.
18Today you have completed the foundation for my temple, so listen to what your future will be like. 19Although you have not yet harvested any grain, grapes, figs, pomegranates, or olives, I will richly bless you in the days ahead.
20That same day the Lord spoke to Haggai again and said:
21Tell Governor Zerubbabel of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth 22and wipe out kings and their kingdoms. I will overturn war chariots, and then cavalry troops will start slaughtering each other. 23But tell my servant Zerubbabel that I, the Lord All-Powerful, have chosen him, and he will rule in my name.
The returned exiles are three months into the rebuilding project. The foundation of the Temple has been laid and, as it is now late autumn, the people have begun to turn their attention to agriculture. Seeds must be sown if there is a crop to be harvested in the spring. Perhaps as a way of refocusing their industry, the All-Powerful One now poses a series of food related questions to the religious hierarchy. The line of inquiry has to do with the connection between the holy and the impure. Is holiness contagious?
Initially, we may not think so. One cannot put a sound peach next to a rotten one and expect the bad one to become fresh. It is clear that impurity is infectious, and that it impairs relationship. It was a problem for Haggai’s listeners. What was it that contaminated God’s people? It was a preoccupation with themselves (1:9). As a consequence, their worship was self-serving, half-hearted and shallow.
And so, the impurity of the people of Judah spoiled their relationship to God (v.14).Their neglect of Him, evident in their neglect of the Temple, had led to hardship and disappointment. For all of their efforts to farm the land, and in spite of the energy spent to support themselves, the yields were half what they expected (vv.16-17). Fixating on personal needs and contentment can have a way of magnifying life’s problems.
Contrary to popular wisdom, God does not help those who help themselves. But He does transform those whose aim is to please him (vv.15, 18-19). And it is possible, through the work of the All-Powerful One, for goodness to be multiplied. The Lord would use the obedience of Zerubbabel (v.12) and Joshua (Zech 6.11) in establishing a new foundation – a foundation anticipating the one true Foundation, Jesus Christ, upon which God has inaugurated an eternal kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:11).
God of all power, deliver us from the preoccupations that breed discouragement and keep us far from you. Give us courage and strength as we seek to build our lives on Jesus Christ, the only true foundation. Amen.