Haggai: A New Church
The thing which the people who came back to Jerusalem from Babylon had most in mind to do was to build again the temple of the Lord. King Solomon had built a temple of stones and cedar wood and much gold. It was very beautiful and very holy, but it had been thrown down and burned by Nebuchadnezzar's soldiers when the Jews were taken captives to Babylon. Those who came back from Babylon found the temple a sad ruin, parts of the walls still standing perhaps, blackened by fire. They must rebuild the temple. It was what they wished to do, and what Cyrus especially charged them to do. But there were troubles and delays. All that they did at first was to rebuild the altar in the temple court where the holy fire could be kept burning and sacrifices could be offered. It would seem that they also among the ruins laid foundations for the temple; but the work got no further for a long time, for seventeen years, while the people were doing other things, and some of them were living in fine houses that they built for themselves. Perhaps they never would have found spirit and courage to build the temple if it had not been for two prophets sent by the Lord, Haggai and Zechariah, who stirred up the people and their governor Zerubbabel and the chief priest Joshua, and gave them courage from the Lord. Both prophets, but especially Haggai, encouraged them to the building of the temple. They went to work in the thought that it was a work that the Lord called them to do, and it was finished. The temple again was built. While we read some of the words that Haggai spoke, you can look at a picture of rebuilding the temple, and you can see in our little picture the very place where the temple stood. Read Hag. 1.
Read what I have said to the younger children, and we will fill out a little more the history which is the background of the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah. Where did we first hear these prophets mentioned? See Ezra 5:1; 6:14. Who can describe to us the place, the people, and the conditions to which the prophets spoke? The place: Jerusalem. The people: the company of Jews come back from the captivity in Babylon. The conditions: the city and temple in ruins, which they came with the purpose to rebuild. (Ezra 1:2-3) But the people must make some provision for their families, and there was much delay in rebuilding the city and the temple. They did build the altar (Ezra 3:2-6) and seem to have made some beginning in laying foundations for the temple. Then long delay, seventeen years. What do you remember as the greatest hindrance to the work and the chief cause of delay? Interference by the neighbors? (Ezra 4; Neh. 4) What able leaders of the Jewish colony do you remember? In the pages of Haggai and Zechariah, we find Zerubbabel, the governor (a grandson of Jehoiachin, one of the last kings in Jerusalem before the captivity); and we find Joshua the chief priest (a grandson of Seraiah, who was chief priest at the time of the destruction of the temple). But the real strength and courage to take up the work on the temple in earnest and to carry it through came from the Lord by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. They were at the same time in Jerusalem. The date of Haggai's prophecy is very exactly given. He spoke four times, all in the second year of Darius. This was 520 B.C. It was in the same year that Darius found the decree of Cyrus and stopped the hindering of the builders. (Ezra 4:24) This Darius is the king who made the expedition against Greece and was defeated by the Greeks at Marathon, 490 B.C. We can read the whole of Haggai's message: it is short. It is all with one purpose, to help forward the building of the temple.
It was very necessary that the Jews should have a temple and a common place of worship if their religion was to be kept alive. It was the more necessary now that they were not independent in their government, but subject to a foreign power. The people have not prospered, and the prophet tells them that it is because the have neglected the Lord in not building His house. They have built their own houses and neglected the Lord's house. (Hag. 1:4, 9) In Hag. 2:3, 9, we find reference to the former house. The old men weep as they remember it. See Ezra 3:10-13. But the prophet tells them that the temple they now build will be more glorious than the former temple. Who built the "former" temple that had been destroyed? Who can tell us something about that temple? The temple now building could hardly be outwardly as rich and beautiful as the temple of Solomon, although the prophet pictures it as to be adorned by gifts from many nations. But if it were built by the labor and self-sacrifice of people humbled in spirit, it would be more pleasing to the Lord.
Building and rebuilding the temple have for us a lesson in regard to the building of a heavenly character, for the temple represents every dwelling-place of the Lord: a person living a true life, a church, heaven, and the Lord Himself, the perfect dwelling-place of the Divine with humankind. The pattern of the temple, following the pattern of the tabernacle, reflects the order of a true life and of heaven. We see it in the most holy chamber, the holy chamber, and the open court, and in the furniture and service belonging to each part. We see it in the materials of the temple, the stone, the cedar and the gold. (A. 6637, 7847; E. 220, 630)
Such a lesson we see in the building of Solomon's temple, and in this rebuilding. But in rebuilding the temple, there is something more, the thought of building again a life which has been injured by coming under the power of evil. The evil must be repented of and rejected by the Lord's help, and a new effort must be made by the soul released from captivity, to build life by the Lord's commandments, with His help. It may seem to us that the injured life can never be beautiful again, and yet it can, if repentance is sincere and one is brave and patient in the work of rebuilding, with the Lord's help. It is the lesson of the Lord's mercy that we learned in the re-making of the vessel that was marred on the potter's wheel. (Jer. 18:1-10) Remember, too, what is said of the keeping of the Passover by Josiah after destroying idols and the places of idol worship. (2 Kings 23:22-23) To these Scriptures we may add the verses of Haggai about the glory of the latter house. (Hag. 2:3, 9) It is the lesson of the Lord's parables of repentance. (Luke 15) Read carefully the explanation of Haggai in Prophets and Psalms.
The prophecy opens with a message of encouragement to rebuild, and closes with the promise of making Zerubbabel, of the house of David, "as a signet," a means of attesting the Divine truth. He thus represents the Lord who "bore record of Himself, and whose record is true" (John 8:14, 18), who is the truth itself.