Thursday, October 6, 2005

A [long] walk to remember

I've been studying the messages God sent to his people through Haggai, and I've been learning some great stuff. It's highly recommended. The basic premise of the book is this: the beginnings of the remnant of God's people have returned to Jerusalem at the decree of Cyrus, King of Persia (538 B.C.) and began to work on the temple foundation. But in the face of foreign opposition and skewed, self-directed priorities, the temple work is halted for sixteen years. Haggai comes to arouse people from their slumber in 520 B.C. (1.1-11).

In the second chapter, Haggai is called to deliver a message on the final day of the Feast of Tabernacles, which commemorated the presence of God and his provision during the years in the desert returning from exile in Egypt. The people would have also remembered that Solomon's glorious temple was dedicated during the Feast. In the midst of the temple rebuilding (again), the people look around them at the smaller temple foundation and weep in despair (2.3). God's voice enters with this message: "Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not" (2.4f).

With the LORD of hosts' promise of being with his people to continue the temple rebuilding--a message given during the Feast's remembrance of the exodus--God calls his people back to Sinai. Exodus 25 - 40 is all about the design and construction of the tabernacle, where God would manifest his presence among his people on their pilgrimage through the desert. The account gives extreme attention to detail, pointing toward God's holiness and perfection.

Then comes the sordid affair with the golden calf (Ex 32). The proverbial shit hits the fan, Moses and God both get pissed, and the tabernacle construction account is halted--much like the people's failures to rebuilt the temple in Haggai 1. What, of all things, does Moses plead for? God's presence (33.12-16; 34.9). And Yahweh grants it and seals his promised presence with a covenant and the promise to do miraculous things through their hands (34.10). The tabernacle's work resumes under God's promised presence. In Haggai, despite the people's complacency and mis- (read: man-) directed priorities, God promises to be with them and stirs them up to build a glorious temple.

So why am I explaining all this? The temple is a place where God is to be worshiped by people who see the manifestation and representation of his holiness. It is where he dwells with his people and makes himself known, where he draws people to hope, healing, joy, and restoration. All of the directives given in Exodus point toward this. If the temple and God's workings were all about man, God could have simply destroyed Israel in the desert and wouldn't care. But they're not. They're about God and his pleasure in his kingdom, in being worshiped, in being known, in restoring the works of his hands (Hag 1.8). Therefore at Moses' request he grants mercy upon rebellious Israel and promises his presence and blessing in order to continue the temple work. The same goes for the building of Solomon's temple (1 Kings 8) and Zerubbabel's (Hag 1.13; 2.4f).

In other words, God's desire for worship and pleasure is the basis of his mercy. Because God is God-focused, he has mercy. This thread runs throughout Ezekiel. Let us rejoice! As surely as God is for his glory, he is merciful (Ex 33.18; 34.6f). Paul caught this as well: our salvation and blessing is not on account of us, but on account of "the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the beloved" (Eph 1.5f, NKJV). And so we can praise God that as surely as his desire is for his praise, so too can we be assured of his mercy and gracious blessings upon all who turn to him and seek him wholeheartedly.

On a related note, Haggai 2.1-9 teaches us to focus not on the present, but on the Presence. How often we are tempted to say, "Man, I wish _____ were like it was back then"! I am often tempted to despair when I look to my sin or lack of zeal for the Lord. Yet God calls us to focus not on the past nor our present weakness, but on the resources given us through his Spirit and confirmed to us through his Word. He promises his presence on account of his mercy, which has been displayed and accomplished once for all upon the cross and shown us in our baptism and the supper. As baptism shows us a physical washing, the Spirit confirms to us that our washing in Christ is just as certain. And as we partake in the bread and wine, the Spirit assures us that the new covenant in Christ's body and blood is just as real, bringing the promise that his Spirit is within and among us to bring us and the work of our hands to established glory (Ps 90.17; 2 Cor 1.21-22).

1 comment:

halfmom said...

First, bummer that you've been spammed on such a great blog. Second, thanks again for taking the time to record your thoughts. Sometimes they just make me laugh -God and Moses are just pissed - cracked me up. I thought I was the only one who would say that - but maybe I'm just the only one my age that would say it - who knows. Anyway, it was very good to remember that it is His joy to bless us as we turn to Him - because today science sucks and I was def feeling persecuted, not blessed. Hope things are going well there and that the folks are learning as much about God from you as you are learning about Him from your time there.