When God sent Haggai the prophet to the people of Judah to encourage them to rebuild the temple, the people responded in faith and repentance and began work on the new temple. The people responded properly to the word of the Lord given to Haggai. This doesn’t mean God was finished speaking to the people, however. A couple months after his last word from the Lord, Haggai spoke to them again:
On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” Then Haggai answered and said, “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the LORD, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean. Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the LORD, how 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. I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the LORD. Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid, consider: Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.”Haggai 2:10–19 ESV
In our world when we hear the words “clean” and “unclean” we tend to think of germs and sanitary conditions but in the ancient world these had rather different ideas. Something unclean was something unfit for a particular use. A dead body, for example, was unclean. If a person touched a dead body he or she would be unfit for worship until the prescribed ritual for becoming clean was performed. Priests, however, regularly touched dead animals and were not unclean because the animals—germs or not—were dedicated as sacrifices and were therefore holy and not unclean. Consider, then, what God says through the prophet Haggai.
First, God tells him to ask the priests a question. If one of them were to carry “holy meat,” which is meat from a sacrifice that was given to the priests to eat, wrapped in his jacket and touches some other food with his jacket, does that other food become holy? No. In other words, does the holiness of a thing transfer to something else? No, it does not. The garment wrapping the holy meat does not transfer the meat’s holiness to anything else. He asks a related question. If someone who is ritually unclean by touching a dead body touches something else, does that thing become unclean? It does. God’s point in this is that ritual purity cannot be passed on by physical contact, but ritual impurity—uncleanness—is passed on by physical contact. The people had been ritually unclean because of their attitude toward the temple (see the post from Monday). They had preferred to build their own luxurious houses instead of building the Lord’s temple. The result of this was God’s discipline through a drought God sent on the land (Haggai 1:7–11).
Then, in spite of their ritual impurity, God makes a promise! He says he will bless them. Specifically, God says he will bless them with grapes and figs and pomegranates and olives. They will reap a rich harvest! The problem was these are all late-summer crops, and it was already late summer. The blessings would come, but they would have to wait for the following year to reap this harvest.
No one enjoys patience. No one enjoys waiting. There may be joy in the anticipation of a thing, but the joy is centered on the thing promised, not in the waiting itself. Imagine the joy when the promise comes! For us it is different. We do not yet have the fullness of God’s promises, yet we have God himself. He promised to dwell among us and while we do not yet dwell on the new earth, we have the very real presence of God dwelling in our midst. As followers of Jesus we anticipate greatly the future coming of Jesus and his promise to recreate the world, yet he has sent us his Spirit and so, little by little, we are experiencing the renewal of all things, beginning with us.
As we spend time in prayer today, let’s continue to pray for one another. Pray for God’s joy to permeate every area of our lives, even as his Spirit is present everywhere in our lives.