Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Presence Will Go With You (Haggai 1-2)

I admit that it’s hard to have much perspective on the book of Haggai, having not yet gone through the return from exile in Ezra and Nehemiah. My goal in reading the prophets has been to gain perspective on the exile itself before moving on to the return, and so Haggai doesn’t exactly fit in that well at first glance. But let’s see what we can find.

The book is short and to the point. Some of the people have returned from exile back to Judah, and are managing to scratch out a meager existence for themselves in their ancestral homeland. But their thoughts are only on their own concerns. They have little energy for the things of God. And so the prophet speaks:
Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes . . . Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord.
I think back to Moses pleading with the Lord to travel alongside his people:
If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?
There is no life for the people of Israel without the abiding presence of God alongside them. There is no glory for them as a nation if they do not radiate with the glory of God. They were exiled from his presence for disobedience; how can they return and build houses for themselves if God is not to dwell once again in their midst?

Here again I’m struck with the nature of the God of Israel. This is a God who wants to live with man. He wants to elevate man to himself, and to condescend to live among them. The anger and frustration at their faithlessness is just another angle on that intense longing of God for his son to share his glory.

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