A month after the initial pep talk, Haggai takes the next message to the governor and high priest and people. He appeals to their memory: “who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory?” The biblical span of exile is rounded to 70 years, so just as all who set out from Egypt died without reaching the Promised Land, those who experienced the initial exile did not experience this moment of revival.
For decades, the mainline-now-sideline churches and our leaders have mourned the ‘good old days’ of mid-century modern life. We are reaching the point from which Haggai speaks – staring at the ruins, inviting people to imagine renewal that is greater than the former glory – but very different.
Two months later in turn, Haggai comes with a reminder about Leviticus’ worldview of holiness, purity, and gift economy. Instead of living in fear and scarcity, the people should live with open hands, sacrificing to the commonwealth of God, and trusting the contagion of good. Now it is time to plant. How it is time to spend venture capital, and stop hoarding personal security like an annuity till death.
The temple need not be complete – once the cornerstone is laid, and the work is begun, the blessing begins.
Haggai 2 (NRSV)
1 In the second year of King Darius, 1in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying:
2Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say,
3Who 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?
4Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts,
5according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear .
6For 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;
7and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the LORD of hosts.
8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts.
9The latter splendour 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.
10 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, saying:
11Thus says the LORD of hosts: Ask the priests for a ruling:
12If 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.’
13Then 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.’
14Haggai 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.
15But now, consider what will come to pass from this day on. Before a stone was placed upon a stone in the LORD’s temple,
16how did you fare?* When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty
17I 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.
18Consider from this day on, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid, consider:
19Is there any seed left in the barn? Do the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree still yield nothing? From this day on I will bless you.