Past Splendors, New Challenges
Devotional Reading: Psalms 27:7-14.
Background Scripture: Haggai 1:12-2:9.
Zerubbabel, Shealtiel and Joshua, son of Jehozadak, are hardly household names. So first, let us look at the cast of characters in Haggai 1:12-2:9.
In the time of the prophet Haggai, Zerubbabel was the Jewish governor in Jerusalem. At the permission of Persian King Darius I, he was permitted to return to Jerusalem as secular leader of a group of returning Jewish exiles.
According to Haggai, he was the son of Shealtiel, who, in turn, was the son of Jehoiakim, who had been the last king of Judah in Jerusalem. Therefore, Zerubbabel was a descendant of King David in the ancestral line to Jesus Christ.
The “Joshua” of the Book of Haggai is not the familiar “Joshua” who succeeded Moses as the leader of the Israelites but the Jewish high priest of Jerusalem during Zerubbabel’s reign as governor.
So the word of the Lord that Haggai brought to the returned exiles was addressed first to Zerubbabel, the secular governor, and to the high priest, Joshua.
The exiles were as one with their political and religious leaders: “Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of the prophet Haggai, as the Lord their God had sent him; and the people feared the Lord” (1:12,13).
Remembering Past Splendor
Because the Book of Haggai specifically says, “In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai” (2:1), scholars can specifically date this event as Oct. 17, 520 B.C.
One month after Haggai’s original prophecy, the Lord returns to the prophet and says, “Speak now to Zerubbababel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?’ ” (2:2,3).
Evidently, the older exile Jews remembered the first temple in all its dazzling splendor. The temple that sits in ruins before them is but a dim shadow of the beloved temple of old.
The beautiful first temple was important for their past, not their present, nor the future. The first temple unified the various tribes of the Jews and served a purpose.
But now, there was a different need and a different divine purpose. The temple of Solomon was gone, but not the Lord. This was a different time and a different situation.
So, “take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt” (2:4,5).
The situation has changed, but the charge and the promise remain as before. God’s purpose does not change, but the manner of working out that purpose often changes and Christians err in failing to realize this.
Recently, someone told me that they no longer go to church: “It’s all changed so much; nothing is the way I remember it. It makes me so uncomfortable.”
Well, that is our problem. We are not called to maintain our comfort by keeping the church life of the past as if the forms of that life are in themselves sacred.
Shake Us Up Lord
Did you ever consider why 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning became the standard hour of congregational worship?
It goes back to the necessity of scheduling worship according to the times of milking cattle. Neither Jesus nor anyone else in the Bible specify Sunday at 11 a.m. as the time for Sunday worship.
Christians must be alert and responsive to the changes we have to meet as time marches on.
I am challenged by the words of Haggai: “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, says the Lord of hosts” (2:6,7).
It is when God shakes us up that we are more likely to listen for his Word.
Haggai 2:8 addresses a concern that is still an indictment for us and our times. Often, when the people of God are challenged to see and respond to the world that lies outside the walls of our churches, I hear people respond with, “There’s no way they’re going to get my money for that.”
God has a simple answer for those people, and us: “The silver is mine and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts” (2:8).
The returned exiles, and we, need to remember that whatever we have, it belongs to God.