The Prophet Haggai’s second sermon was delivered on October 17, 520 BC.
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.Haggai 2:1 (NRSV)
Textual evidence seems to indicate Haggai was addressing the faithful, called the “remnant,” as he stood in front of the still rather disappointing pile of stone and half-constructed timber that was to be the temple.
Haggai can best be remembered with the bee, for bees build their home for their queen, honey was a symbol of God’s blessing, and as a swarm would do, God promised to drive their enemies away.
The prophet Haggai’s one-man mission, to go throughout the entire region of Judah proclaiming God’s word of chastisement and a call to build, had taken him over a month. Now he was back in Jerusalem, perhaps returning with a caravan of people, though certainly as he traveled from village to town to hamlet, God had stirred the people’s spirits to pack up and head for Mount Zion and the holy city.
Now, as the sage mounted the crumbling steps that led up to God’s holy habitation, he heard the pleasing sound of people’s voices calling to each other as they worked; the sound of stones scraping as they were settled one upon the other; the faint rasping whirr in the valley below of saws pushed and pulled through massive timber being crafted as rafters, paneling, and pillars; the crackling fire of the great altar of sacrifice, now fed also with the bark and small limbs of cedar and pine.
Prophet Haggai watched with approval the masons on far off hillsides, far enough away that the sounds of their metal tools might not ring out on the temple mount. It was in keeping with their ancient law.
But if you make for me an altar of stone, do not build it of hewn stones; for if you use a chisel upon it you profane it.God, Exodus 20:25 (NRSV)
King Solomon had carefully abided by the Lord’s own command, when he had raised up the glorious temple that had once stood with such splendor on this mount.
The house was built with stone finished at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor ax nor any tool of iron was heard in the temple while it was being built.Solomon’s Temple, 1 Kings 6:7 (NRSV)
And now, the people again honored the Lord’s command, that all would be pleasing to God Most High.
The surrounding hills had been shaped by living stone. Now, quarries were carved into them to bring new stone back, as well as tumbled blocks and upturned pavers from the previous temple reshaped in the valley, to be brought back up and positioned in the slowly forming Second Temple, as the people were beginning to call it.
But among the harmony of the remnant, working in the dynamic power of God’s Spirit, was a low thrum of discouragement. Though it had taken years for the first temple to be built, and it had only been two months since the Second Temple’s construction had truly gotten underway, the remains of Babylon’s ransacking was everywhere. A reminder to the people of devastation and loss, of God having handed them over to their enemies.
They were a people traumatized by a sense of abandonment and unspeakable violation, as their most sacred and protected place had been penetrated by the thrust of an invading army. Once Jerusalem’s gates had been breached, even nearby nations such as the opportunistic Edom had joined in the looting and destruction of God’s own.
Now, though they were lifted up by the Almighty, yet were their spirits depressed by the work, and by the memories.
Succor of Sukkot
The eve of Sukkot, according to the command of God, was just days away
On the fifteenth day of this seventh month, and lasting seven days, there shall be the festival of booths to the Lord.
The first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations.
Seven days you shall present the Lord’s offerings by fire;
on the eighth day you shall observe a holy convocation and present the Lord’s offerings by fire; it is a solemn assembly; you shall not work at your occupations.God, Leviticus 23:34-36 (NRSV)
As Haggai mused, he contemplated the Lord’s instruction and what it would mean for the people as they rebuilt from the rubble of their past.
Now, the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall keep the festival of the Lord, lasting seven days;
a complete rest on the first day,
and a complete rest on the eighth day.
On the first day you shall take the fruit of majestic trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.
. . . You shall live in booths for seven days; all that are citizens in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.God, Leviticus 23:39-43 (NRSV)
The prophet nodded his head and admired the Lord’s wise timing. The fathers and mothers of the people now rebuilding Jerusalem had experienced the adversity and euphoria of their second exodus from Babylon to Jerusalem. But this generation—though they had faithfully kept the festivals—did not have a similar experience of elation with the Lord.
Even as he thought these things, he watched Jeshua the high priest step up upon a mountainous block of granite and call out to the people, Go! Gather garlands and boughs and build your booths! Grimy faces wreathed in smiles, tools were laid gently in their places, hands were wiped on dusty cloths, and the people fanned out into the fields and hills.
Along with Haggai’s caravan had already been streaming other groups from throughout Judah, laden with their Sukkot offerings. The prophet smiled in anticipation. He had been receiving a word from the Lord, and he knew it was to be delivered on the last day, the eighth day of Sukkot, at the Great Convocation.
Though nothing had changed, the natural enchantment of the Festival of Tabernacles, the fragrant blossoms, the leafy booths, sleeping out in the crisp autumn nights, the twinkling starry host above them, the daily worship of thanksgiving to God, had bolstered the people’s spirits. Now on the last day, gathered to the solemn holy day of God before the Altar of Sacrifice, the people had quieted themselves to hear the word of the Lord.
Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? Haggai stood upon a broad and tall foundation stone, his hands raised to either side, looking out into the crowd around him. A few nodded.
How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? They and others nodded sadly, lowering their heads, the governor and high priest among them.
Haggai’s voice seemed to flow like rich, dark honey, the nectar of Gihon Spring’s wild flowers. Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. The prophet turned his gaze from the bowed heads of the leaders before him to the upturning faces of those gathered all about. Take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; 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.
A thousand years before, their people had entered Canaan under Joshua, and they had had to rebuild from the rubble of Jericho, and of other defeated cities. This -was- a new beginning.
My spirit abides among you; do not fear! Haggai’s voice rang out as though the very voice of the Almighty.
For thus says the Lord of hosts: 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.
Here and there “Amen” began to rise from the lips of his listeners, “Selah! “Hallelu-Jah!”
The silver is mine, the Prophet Haggai thundered, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts.
And now the people were cheering, Zerubbabel and Jeshua had climbed the stone to stand on either side of the prophet, and even old Zechariah, with much help, had climbed up.
The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts!
And it was true. Though they would not see it in their lifetime, Haggai’s prophecy was true.
[The Second Temple | Ariely, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]