Now give careful thought to this from this day on —consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord ’s Temple. When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord . ‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord ’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit. “ ‘From this day on I will bless you.’ ” – Haggai 2:15-19
This is the second, and last, water-related passage in the book of Haggai. Two more books and I reach a major confluence in the braided river that is the Bible. I am hoping to stay on track and reach this point by the end of July. We shall see. I have scouted ahead and there are about a dozen water-related passages in Malachi and Zechariah so it is possible.
The topic of today’s passage continues to be the rebuilding of the temple. God is asking the people to remember what it is like without the temple, and Him. Things were not as they should be, “When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten.” The people were caught in a sand trap of sin and did not realize it. They were struggling to make their lives work as they thought they should. This reminds me of where I was at when I entered college and was casting about for meaning. Eventually God found me and I found Him and the journey began.
The people seem to be in a similar place here. Their work was unproductive and unsuccessful. The reason was that God “struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail” God did not do this to be “mean” or for retribution, He did it so that they would “return to me.” God was desperately trying to get their attention and shake their souls from their slumber. One of the “alarm clocks” used here was hail. I am not a farmer, but I suspect hail is something a farmer fears and dreads. Hail can reduce a year’s worth of work to a muddy mess in minutes.
God has used Hail in the past to get people’s attention. Back in Joshua God used hail as a weapon to best the enemies of Israel, and of course back in Egypt God used Hail stones to get Pharaoh’s attention (and the people of Israel’s too). God wants the people to return to Him so that they can be blessed and bear the good fruit they are intended to bear. Part of this process is apparently rebuilding the temple. In new testament lingo we would call this returning to God “repenting”, something Jesus spoke about all the time.
So how are rebuilding the temple and repentance related? It seems to me that rebuilding the temple is a long process that requires discipline and commitment. It has a starting point when the decision is made to begin reconstruction, but the real work is in the rebuilding process, which may take a lifetime and will likely occur in fits and starts. This is a little bit like the process I have experienced in attempting to do this blog for the last 4 years. It has happened in fits and starts and there were times when it seemed no progress was being made, but I am almost finished with the old testament so I have that going for me.
In contrast to the slow, constant rebuilding process repentance is the turning point. It is not the target or the goal, but merely a decision point. It is like a fork in the road or more appropriately it is a U-turn. I live in Michigan and we have something call a Michigan U-turn. When I first moved here I thought these were rather strange. Basically instead of turning left across traffic you often have to do a U-turn and then turn right to get to your destination. If this sounds rather complicated it is. To be honest I still mutter under my breath about Michigan U-turns, but I digress.
Modern day God-followers like myself are also in the “temple rebuilding” process, deconstructing and reconstructing our souls in God’s image. Like the temple, the beginning of the rebuilding process begins with repentance, turning around. The actual rebuilding takes a lifetime and in my experience it is never “finished” in the way a building project can be finished.
This long process of rebuilding could lead some to become discouraged I suppose, but for me it is encouraging to know that God does not expect a finished product, merely a willing worker. I think we should not be so preoccupied with the reconstruction process that we lose sight of the real target which is increased intimacy with God. That is what I think God is saying to the people of Israel near the end of the passage,”the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit,” Their lives are not bearing the fruit God has asked of them, to love God with all their heart and their neighbors as themselves.
So the pertinent question, and the take home message for me, seems to be is the “rebuilding” process we are engaged in improving our ability to bear fruit, i.e. loving God and loving our neighbors? If not then perhaps we are rebuilding the wrong temple.
Prayer: God help us in the process of rebuilding our souls so that we can bear the fruit that You need us to bear.