In today’s first reading we hear from the Prophet Haggai, who ministered in the postexilic period when the Jewish people, under a grant from King Cyrus of Persia, returned to Jerusalem. But it was not the Jerusalem remembered by their parents and grandparents. This was the Jerusalem that had been destroyed by the Babylonians – Temple, buildings and even the protective walls. Jerusalem was a rebuilding and restoration project of immense proportions. Jerusalem was their national identity – and it lay in ruins.
“Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem like nothing in your eyes?” (Haggai 2:3)
The community in Judah is struggling with its identity in light of the loss of its statehood through the demise of the monarchy and the destruction of the Temple. The Temple’s ruined state is addressed by a rebuilding program. The prophet links the well-being of the community to the work of Temple restoration, and his exhortations to the leaders and the people to begin work on this project are apparently heeded. The brief period of Haggai’s ministry (August to December 520 B.C.) marks the resumption of work on the Temple, the symbol of divine presence among the people.
And more, Haggai tells of the full restoration of the Davidic line of kings – but not in the present but in a new age to come: “For thus says the LORD of hosts: One moment yet, a little while, and I will shake the heavens and the earth…in this place I will give you peace, says the LORD of hosts!” (Haggai 2:6,9b)
Chapter 2 of Haggai is often called the “Oracles of Encouragement.” Sometimes, we too, as a people need to be reminded of God’s providence. Especially when all our efforts lay in ruins and have come to nothing. When the things hoped for and promised are “not yet” and we know discouragement. It is our own moment of identity crisis. Like the people of Jerusalem, sometimes we just need a little encouragement to resume our work for the Kingdom of God.
And let me offer that the first step in “rolling up our sleeves” is quiet prayer that places oneself before God, counts the blessings, knows gratitude, remembers the longer promise, gives glory, and then takes a deep breath. May the divine Oracle of Encouragement be with you.
If you would like to learn more about the Book of the Prophet Haggai, take 5 minutes and enjoy this video from the good folks at The Bible Project.