The Exile of our Sins

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The book of the prophet Haggai is very short. It has only two chapters and is the work of a prophet, Haggai, whose ministry lasted only about 5 months, from August to December of 520 B.C.. The occasion of its writing is very important in that it is written in the province of Judah at the very beginning of the postexilic period during the reign of the Persian King, Darius. Haggai, along with the returning Jewish community is struggling with three realities: the loss of statehood, the demise of the Davidic monarchy and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Haggai’s prophetic calling comes at this time. Though his ministry as a prophet is short, its effect is both very important and very powerful for the recovery of the Jewish people who are coming back to a devastated Judah after their Babylonian exile.

On their return to their homeland after exile, the Jews set about doing the practical responsibilities of rebuilding their homes and reestablishing their communities. Though it had been difficult, they had done well with this. Still, the people are not fulfilled. Though they have food and drink on their tables and have clothing on their backs, there is still something missing. God uses the prophet Haggai to tell them why they are not yet fully home.

The word of the Lord came to the people through Haggai saying, ʺIs it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?ʺ (Haggai 1: 4) While the people were busily going about the practical necessities of rebuilding their own homes and communities, the Temple, the House of God, remained in ruins on the Temple Mount. They had been so concerned about their own well-being that they had forgotten what was most important to their well-being as a people. The Lord had the prophet, Haggai, exhort the people to consider the futility of their efforts, for they had neglected their duty to rebuild the Temple. He says to the people, ʺNow this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put clothes on, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.ʺ (Haggai 1: 5-6)

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Haggai, under the influence of the Spirit, goes on to say: ʺThis is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored, says the Lord. You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?…because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.’ʺ (Haggai 1: 7-9)

What does this say to us today? We, too, like the Jews returning from their exile, are often consumed with the cares and labors of taking care of ourselves. We get caught up in the exigencies of life, of making a living, being able to afford a place to live, to educate our children, to have some of the pleasures in life. We worry over these things full time, and yet, even when we are doing well, we are aware at some deep level, that it isn’t enough. There is something missing, we have a nagging feeling that, even if we are successful in the eyes of the world and are able to surround ourselves with the material ‘good things’ of life, our lives are not fulfilled. There is still something missing.

The words of the prophet Haggai do not call us to rebuild a physical Temple to God anymore. We are called to recognize how we have, in pursuit of material happiness, neglected the Temple of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Paul tells us: ʺDo you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; for you have been purchased with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.ʺ (1 Corinthians 6: 19-20) Have we spent too much of our time and energy building temples that will not last, that have no eternal foundation beneath them? If we are experiencing dissatisfaction in our lives, if we sense that something is missing, maybe we need to look inside and start rebuilding the ruins of the temple of our souls. When we do this, we can be confident that the Holy Spirit will help us in that effort to rebuild his temple. Our aid is never far from us. Our well-being, as we come home to ourselves after the exile of our sin and neglect, like that of the Jews returning from exile in Babylon, is dependant on the rebuilding of the temple of our bodies, minds and souls.

Lord, too often we have been taken away from you in the exile of our sins. We have let your dwelling place in our hearts and souls fall into the ruin of neglect. We desire to come back to you again. Confident in your love and your mercy, we ask that you give us the grace and the strength that we need to rebuild your Temple in our hearts so that it may become a place of honor for you once again. We ask this prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.