It's the year 520 B.C. Slowly but surely, for the past two decades, the descendants of the Israelites who were taken captive by Babylon almost a hundred years earlier have been returning to their homeland and rebuilding their cities.
Yet the Temple remains desolate - little more than a looted rubble where the palatial work of King Solomon once stood. Meanwhile the Israelites labor on their own houses and farms, in desperation trying to carve out enough living to get by. It seems impossible to find concern for the Temple when there are more immediate problems at hand.
And into this circumstance, God speaks.
"Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'This people says, "The time has not come, even the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt."'" Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?" Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, "Consider your ways! You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes."
Thus says the Lord of hosts, "Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified," says the Lord.
- Haggai 1:2-8
It's an account of a specific time in history, yes, but it is rich with principles for us, for today... principles I can't get out of my head.
We no longer go to a temple to find the presence or glory of God. Though we sometimes call our churches "God's sanctuary," truly there is no building on earth that contains Him now - no tangible building of rock and wood, that is.
Yet this earth is still occupied with His presence, manifested in a different sort of temple.
And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
- 1 Peter 2:4-5
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
- Romans 12:1
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
- 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
The "new" temple - until the final coming of Christ, the King, and the descent of the New Jerusalem - is us.
Not the church building we go to on Sundays, but the Church we all make up, each of us a living stone in the walls of a living temple for God's Holy Spirit.
And sometimes I think we sow much, and harvest little . . . we eat, but aren't satisfied . . . we wrap ourselves in cloaks but find we are still cold . . . because we have responded to our immediate feelings and needs, but have forgotten to care for the Temple.
It's so easy. So easy to feel distant from God, and fill that hole with more ministry. So easy to hunger for true friendship, and seek a significant other to step into the gap. So easy to be chilled by the failures of others, and try to wrap ourselves up in the protection of isolation.
But the hard part is always coming away still empty . . . still hungry . . . still cold, because the Temple of God's Presence - our very own hearts - stands neglected.
Underneath our immediate needs, worries, and concerns, our only real Need always remains: the need for God. To know Him, to trust Him, to be washed and redeemed and cherished by Him. To live in His presence and to walk in His truth every moment.
To rebuild the Temple.
It can't be done by adding another church program, by going to another Bible study, or by checking off your prayer time every day.
It can only be done by seeking God.
Being still in His presence.
Bringing Him your pain and testing it against His character.
Sacrificing personal needs and comforts to His will.
Preaching the Good News of His incredible redemptive story to yourself every single day - saturating your mind with the Truth that sets you free from every sin, worry, and fear.
The message Haggai brought from God touched the hearts of the Israelites. They repented of their neglect and obediently began construction on the new Temple. And to them, God said,
"Take courage," declares the Lord, "and work; for I am with you," declares the Lord of hosts. "As for the promise which I made to you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!" For thus says the Lord of hosts, "Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory," says the Lord of hosts.
- Haggai 2:4b-7
Israel was called to show God's glory to the nations with a magnificent architectural display, a specific place to meet with Him and yield to His law. We've been called to that same purpose by means of a magnificent bridal display - the adorning of our hearts with more of Him so that we are in perpetual communion with His beauty and His truth. What a humbling call, to be a living vessel of the glory and majesty of God - a piece of His presence on earth and a testament to His coming Kingdom.
And even in the long and slow construction process that will take every one of us a lifetime, He is with us - our hope and our courage.
Daniel: God of History
Total read time: 1.25 hours
Ezra: God of the Temple
Total read time: 40 minutes
Haggai: God of Renewal
Total read time: 10 minutes
Zechariah: God of Restoration
Total read time: 40 minutes
Esther: God of Protection
Total read time: 30 minutes