20 December 2010

Dec 20

Reference links:
Old Testament

After Zephaniah's pessimism, Haggai sounds positively cheery:
Anticipating renewed prosperity and a restoration of the Davidic kings, Haggai urges the apathetic community of returned exiles to rebuild Jerusalem's temple.
The minor prophets sure do whip us around in history, don't they? Yesterday's reading was composed in the reign of Josiah and today's is post-exilic.

Harris adds these additional details:
Although a remnant of devout Jews had returned from Babylon around 538 BCE and laid the foundations of a new sanctuary on the site of Solomon's Temple, they had since become discouraged ... Haggai, who prophesied in the year 520 BCE, urges the governor and the High Priest to persuade the people to return to the project, which they do enthusiastically. 
Haggai also expresses hope that the governor, Zerubbabel, will someday be established as the Davidic monarch, but Zerubbabel disappears from history without fulfilling that hope.

Haggai starts by pointing out that although the returned exiles have achieved some measure of prosperity, they are not yet content. Although they have enough to live, they are not reaping in proportion to what they sew.

Haggai believes this comes from the lack of a temple for worship. Because there is no temple, God is holding back the waters which would yield rich harvests. The governor, high priest, and all the people respond to this call, and they enthusiastically begin work on a new house for their God.

The Lord gives encouragement to those who remember the glory of the old temple. This new temple will not match the splendor of the old, but the people should not worry because, the Lord says, someday:
I will shake all the nations, and the treasures of all the nations will be brought to this Temple. I will fill this place with glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. The future glory of this Temple will be greater than its past glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
Well that's kind of a let down. Here was this great opportunity for God to talk about the inner rewards of worship and being good or the importance of community or any of the other things that moderns tend to claim is at the core of worship. Instead, the Lord says, "Don't worry about the new temple starting out plain, I will embellish it later."

On the day the temple foundation was laid, Haggai uses an analogy with food to indicate that sin and defilement spread much more readily than goodness and holiness. However, now that the temple is being rebuilt, the people can expect prosperity to come once again.

On the same day, Haggai tells Zerubbabel that Zerubbabel has been chosen by the Lord and will be honored. On that optimistic and ultimately futile note of hope, we end the book of Haggai.

New Testament

Today, the author is told to measure the Temple and the altar but not the outer courtyard. He is also to count the number of worshipers there. From there, we disjointedly transition to a declaration that the holy city will be run over for 42 months and a couple of folks will wear burlap and give prophecies during that time.

These prophets will be protected from harm and have great power; they can bring drought and plague and turn waters to blood. In short, they are not going to be using the power God gave them for good in any recognizable sense of the word.

After they finish their prophecies, a beast will kill them. But then they'll come back to life after a few days and rise to heaven (hmmm, where have I heard something like that before...). This event will be accompanied by natural disasters.

And then, finally, we get to the seventh and final trumpet. At this point, the world becomes the kingdom of the Lord and Christ, and there is much worship. The forbidding natural disasters which follow and the fact that we have 11 days of reading left imply that all is not going to be well and cheery from here on out.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's proverbs share the theme of things which cannot be satisfied.