Majoring in the Minors: Haggai

Some people build bookshelves, cabinets, or houses. Some build investment portfolios. Some amass niche collections of books, art, or memorabilia. Some build new businesses or non-profit organizations. Some focus on building their careers or their families. Many Christians in our day are engaged in the work of church planting and many others are in revitalization scenarios. Every building project has its ebb and flow, its setbacks and stages, and any project of significant scale takes patience, persistence, passion, and focus. You build what you care about. God himself is a builder. Hence, two of the twelve minor prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, are behind a massive building project. A re-building project, to be precise: the rebuilding of a temple for God’s worship and reputation.

The great fact at the foundation of the Old Covenant was the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. The great the foundation for the New Covenant, from the vantage point of the prophets, is the return from exile. (Jer. 16:14-15) Along with this return comes the rebuilding of the temple destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. Having transgressed the terms of the first covenant, the people of God have suffered the curses outlined by Moses. The result of their sin has been a 70-year exile into Babylon. But, “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” (Rom. 11:29) God has a plan to rebuild. And, since “the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets,” (Amos 3:7) we have two prophetic books dealing with rebuilding.

The great scribe of the long awaited return from exile sets the scene for the work of these two prophets in Ezra 5:1-2. This passage mentions two other key leaders these prophets inspired to take up the work: a local Jewish magistrate, Zerubbabel, and the high priest Joshua. We see a rare cooperation between prophet, priest, and king made possible by recognition of “the God of Israel who was over them.” But the results of this endeavor, in the hands of sinful people, proves mixed.

Haggai begins with the rebuke that God’s people are not prioritizing the rebuilding of the temple even while they are taking advantage of their new found freedom to build fine houses for themselves. This, Haggai explains, is why they remain impoverished and do not see all the blessings of the covenant outlined by Moses. We might ask ourselves, in a day of social, financial, and cultural decline, have we prioritized God’s house and the discipleship of his people, or have we put acquiring wealth, security, and temporal happiness before that? The people in Haggai’s day said “the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.” (1:2) How often do we say the same? We will invite that friend to church later. We will consider tithing after we pay off our mortgage or get that promotion.

Even after the rebuilding of the temple commences, a second threat to its progress arises. The new temple built in their impoverished condition is not nearly as impressive as Solomon’s original structure. Haggai asks a progressive series of rhetorical questions, “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?” (2:3) When we look at the state of our churches, we may be tempted to engage in cynicism and golden-age fetishizing, or withdraw for more promising prospects.

But Haggai does not end with negative rebukes. He concludes with strong promises of God’s faithfulness to his purposes. “I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts.” (2:7) He strengthens Joshua the High Priest and takes Zerubbabel and makes him a sign of the coming Messiah. (2:4, 23) Indeed, Jesus Christ is the one who comes to the temple in answer to the longings of the aged Simeon and Anna. He is not only the “wise master builder” but the cornerstone. (1 Cor. 3:10) As the son, he surpasses even Moses the servant. (Heb. 3:5-6) He is the good shepherd who gathers the exiles home. (John 10:16) He left us the promise, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18) The emphatic message of Haggai, in light of this Divine hope, is “Be strong, all you people of the land … Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts.” (2:4)

The Rev. Steven M. McCarthy is a church planter at St. Barnabas Anglican Fellowship, an extension work in the Reformed Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Mid-America (ACNA). He and his wife Emily are raising four young children in their hometown of Lansing, MI.


Steven McCarthy