The Prophet Haggai’s third sermon was delivered on December 18, 520 BC.
On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai.Haggai 2:10 (NRSV)
Haggai was probably addressing all the faithful as they were leaving the temple area after the morning worship and prayers.
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.
Theology of Holiness
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests for a ruling: If one carries consecrated meat in the fold of one’s garment, and with the fold touches bread, or stew, or wine, or oil, or any kind of food, does it become holy?
The priests answered, “No.”Haggai 2:11-12 (NRSV)
The priests answered correctly. Holiness was not “contagious” according to the Law of Moses. Only what is impure can contaminate what is pure.
Then Haggai said, “If one who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered, “Yes, it becomes unclean.”Haggai 2:13 (NRSV)
It was, in fact, one of the central teachings of the Book of Leviticus, what is unclean, how one becomes unclean, and what one must do to be purified.
The ancient Jewish theology of holiness is predicated upon God’s creation, and the establishment of proper domains for all things. To be holy is to be made sacred, set apart for God. God is set apart from all creation, so the act of sanctification is to be set apart from the earthly domain to the heavenly domain.
God’s regular refrain throughout the Book of Leviticus
For I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.YHWH to the people, Leviticus 11:44 (NRSV)
The key action was for God’s people to live set apart from all other people groups, to be noticeably a nation of priests, devoted to the worship and service of God. This was lived out daily in the observance of God’s commands, the keeping of the Sabbath, the study of God’s word, and the participation in all the festivals, sacrifices, rituals, and temple practices outlined in the Law of Moses.
The key outcome of this holiness on earth was to bear witness to the truth of God to all nations.
By the same token, they were to revile what was defiled, profane, corrupt, and polluted, for the Book of the Law made it clear they could not make it holy by their own purity. Otherwise, inevitably, it was -they- who would become -unholy- by the contagion of impurity.
Haggai then said, So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, says the Lord; and so with every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.Haggai 2:14 (NRSV)
A particularly poignant call to the sacred, this required their separation from other people groups, their cultures and societies, and most importantly, their religions and religious practices. Notably, it would mean the people of God were not to intermarry—tragically, this command of God was ignored, many men intermarried with the surrounding people, leading to a crisis that brought much pain, suffering, and injury.
The people had to both live the holy and revile the unholy. They could not simply observe rituals without also having a holy place to observe them in. They people could not simply participate in festivals and Sabbaths yet mix with the surrounding cultures.
It seems God had already sent reproof and chastisement, as their scriptures had foretold.
But now, consider what will come to pass from this day on.
Before a stone was placed upon a stone in the Lord’s temple, how did you fare?
1. When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten.
2. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty.
3. I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and mildew and hail.
Yet you did not return to me, says the Lord.YHWH to the people, Haggai 2:15-17 (NRSV)
During Moses’ final speech to the people, as they were about to enter the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership, he prophesied over them all that would happen when they turned away from God, and rejected the heavenly domain in which they were to be made sacred.
“If you will not obey the Lord your God by diligently observing all his commandments and decrees, which I am commanding you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you:
Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field.
Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock.
Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.YHWH to the people, Deuteronomy 28:15-68 (NRSV)
It is a very long passage of terrible things that would—and did—happen, of famine, cannibalism, military disasters and enslavement, of desperation, affliction, pandemic, ruin and destruction, and finally of physical, mental, and emotional breakdown so complete, “the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and a languishing spirit. Your life shall hang in doubt before you; night and day you shall be in dread, with no assurance of your life.”
God’s Consecration and Blessing
The people of Haggai’s day had experienced only a very small taste of God’s chastening, but it had still been felt. God, through Haggai, placed their hardships in perspective. They had encountered recent hardship because they had lost their fervor for the sacred. But, God’s disapprobation was about to change.
Consider from this day on, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month [December 18, 520 BC]. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid, consider:
1. Is there any seed left in the barn?
2. Do the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree still yield nothing?
From this day on I will bless you.YHWH to the people, Haggai 2:18-19 (NRSV)
The companion to the cursings God had warned of through Moses, were the blessings the Lord promised to God’s people when they lived set apart, sacred unto God.
If you will only obey the Lord your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God:
Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.
Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock.
Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.YHWH to the people, Deuteronomy 28:1-14 (NRSV)
The rest of that passage describes protection from enemies, abounding in abundance, so prosperous they would lend to all the surrounding nations, international leaders.
“The Lord will establish you as [God’s] holy people, as [the Lord] has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in [God’s] ways. All the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord.”
This had always been God’s intention for God’s people.