Consider Your Ways: The Book of Haggai and the Responsibilities and Blessings of Temple Work

By Ray L. Huntington

Huntington, Ray L., “Consider Your Ways: The Book of Haggai and the Responsibilities and Blessings of Temple Work” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Old Testament, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book 2005), 236–244.

Consider Your Ways: The Book of Haggai and the Responsibilities and Blessings of Temple Work

Ray L. Huntington

 

Ray L. Huntington is an associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

Even though the prophet Haggai is mentioned in the books of Ezra and Haggai, we know little about his birthplace, family background, personal life, or the events surrounding his prophetic calling. But then, the aim of the Old Testament is to record prophetic messages and not to provide minute details about the prophets’ lives.

Dating Haggai

The name Haggai probably means “festal” or “feast” and may indicate Haggai was born during one of three important Jewish feasts: Unleavened Bread, Pentecost (or Weeks), or Tabernacles.[1] Textual information from the book of Haggai reveals that Haggai began his Jerusalem ministry during the second year of Darius, king of Persia, in 520 B.C. This date is eighteen years after the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity in 538 B.C. to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (see Haggai 1:1). Dating from the book of Haggai also shows that Haggai prophesied in Jerusalem for only three and one-half months—beginning in late August and ending in early December of 520 B.C. It is reasonable to assume, however, that his ministry continued well beyond this short time period.

Jewish tradition suggests that Haggai saw the temple of Solomon before its destruction in 586 B.C. and was among the captives taken to Babylon. Others, such as Augustine, suggest that both Haggai and Zechariah prophesied in Babylon before the return of the Jewish exiles in 538 B.C.[2] If either of these traditions are true, it suggests that Haggai was fairly old when he began his ministry.

Historical Setting of the Book of Haggai

After Judah’s ill-fated rebellion against Babylon in 586 B.C., the city of Jerusalem, together with the magnificent temple of Solomon, was burned and leveled to the ground. Unlike any other event in Judah’s history, the destruction of the temple symbolized her complete spiritual demise and the withdrawal of God’s blessings and divine protection.[3]

After the Medes and Persians captured Babylon in 538 B.C., Cyrus, king of Persia, issued a decree authorizing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple (see Ezra 1:2–4; 6:3). According to the Book of Ezra, under the leadership of Zerubbabel (see Ezra 2), close to fifty thousand exiles made the long journey home to Jerusalem. What they saw when they approached the ruined city of Jerusalem must have been disheartening. The city’s walls and buildings lay in waste. Worse, Solomon’s magnificent temple—the jewel of Jerusalem—was now a pile of cold ash and stone.

For the next two years, the returnees labored on the temple, and by 536 B.C. had rebuilt the altar of sacrifice and parts of the foundation (see Ezra 3:3–11). Their work would have been impressive, had they continued to rebuild the temple. But in the face of Samaritan opposition and a good deal of apathy on their part, they chose to discontinue their labors for the next sixteen years (see Ezra 4:1–5, 24). And, it was not until the inspired ministry of Haggai in 520 B.C. that work on the Lord’s house resumed.

Haggai’s Prophetic Message

The central focus of Haggai’s message is certainly clear: Now is the time to build God’s holy temple! Haggai began his prophetic message by declaring: “Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built” (Haggai 1:2). Yes, the altar and parts of the foundation had been rebuilt, but the work had been set aside for sixteen years. More importantly, the people didn’t seem bothered by their inattentiveness to the Lord’s work. In fact, they rationalized it was not the time to rebuild the temple. Clearly, they had other work they felt was more important.

But what could be more important than rebuilding God’s temple? Evidently, the people felt that beautifying their own homes was of greater value than rebuilding God’s house. The Lord addressed this when he declared through Haggai, “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?” (Haggai 1:4). The phrase “cieled houses” may refer to the costly cedar paneling many of the wealthy were using to decorate the interior of their homes. It is certainly understandable why the Lord would be displeased with their efforts to beautify their homes while neglecting His house.

The Jews’ neglect in rebuilding God’s temple reflected their lack of understanding and appreciation for temple work. They either didn’t know, or didn’t care that one of the central purposes for the gathering of God’s covenant children is to “build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation: for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose.”[4]

Without temple ordinances, the Jews of Haggai’s day were lacking a vital ingredient to their spiritual welfare. Moreover, their efforts to beautify their homes while failing to rebuild the Lord’s house clearly demonstrated that they preferred the profane over the sacred—a choice that is always costly to God’s covenant people in any age or time.

The book of Haggai is especially relevant for our day, since many of our worldly endeavors, such as work, civic involvement, schooling, or recreation, may influence us to procrastinate or even abandon the important work done within the walls of the temple.

Regarding this issue, President Spencer W. Kimball stated, “Many people spend most of their time working in the service of a self-image that includes sufficient money, stocks, bonds, investment portfolios, property, credit cards, furnishings, automobiles, and the like to guarantee carnal security throughout, it is hoped, a long and happy life. Forgotten is the fact that our assignment is to use these many resources in our families and quorums to build up the kingdom of God—to further the missionary effort and the genealogical and temple work. . . . Instead, we expend these blessings on our own desires.”[5]

In contrast, those who are burdened with life’s demands and challenges will find the temple to be a place of peace and joy and a refuge from life’s daunting challenges. In support of this idea, Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote: “I believe that the busy person on the farm, in the shop, in the office, or in the household, who has his worries and troubles, can solve his problems better and more quickly in the house of the Lord than anywhere else. If he will . . . [do] the temple work for himself and for his dead, he will confer a mighty blessing upon those who have gone before, and . . . a blessing will come to him, for at the most unexpected moments, in or out of the temple will come to him, as a revelation, the solution of the problems that vex his life. That is the gift that comes to those who enter the temple properly.”[6]

Consider Your Ways

Haggai continued the Lord’s message by asking the Jews to consider their ways (see Haggai 1:5). The word consider is translated from the Hebrew word soom, which means “to attend to” and is used five times in the book of Haggai.[7] In this case the prophet was asking the Jews to carefully “attend to,” or carefully “assess,” their neglect of the temple, since the Lord was not obligated to bless their lives. Haggai wrote:

Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.

Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. . . .

Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.

Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit.

And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands. (Haggai 1:6–11)

The writings of Haggai leave little doubt that both temporal and spiritual blessings are withheld from the Saints when they neglect their temple work. In contrast, if the Jews resumed their labors to rebuild the temple, the Lord declared, “I am with you” (Haggai 1:13; 2:4).

The Lord’s promise, “I am with you,” can be understood in two equally important ways. The first is the Lord’s promise to render divine help and strength to those involved in rebuilding the temple in Haggai’s day. The second, and the broader of the two meanings, is the Lord’s promise that He will be with us through the bestowal of profound blessings that come from faithful temple attendance (see Haggai 2:18–19).

The following statements from the Brethren are clear evidence of the positive linkage between God’s blessings and temple work:

Many parents, in and out of the Church, are concerned about protection against a cascading avalanche of wickedness which threatens to engulf [the world]. . . . There is a power associated with ordinances of heaven—even the power of godliness—which can and will thwart the forces of evil if we will but be worthy of those sacred [covenants made in the temple of the Lord]. . . . Our families will be protected, our children will be safeguarded as we live the gospel, visit the temple, and live close to the Lord.[8]

The Lord will bless us as we attend to the sacred ordinance work of the temples. Blessings there will not be limited to our temple service. We will be blessed in all of our affairs. We will be eligible to have the Lord take an interest in our affairs both spiritual and temporal.[9]

I am satisfied that if our people would attend the temple more, there would be less of selfishness in their lives. There would be less of absence of love in their relationships. There would be more of fidelity on the part of husbands and wives. There would be more of love and peace and happiness in the homes of our people.[10]

The people of Haggai’s day undoubtedly received similar blessings as they participated in the temple ordinances available to them. It is also clear they began to appreciate the value of temple work and the promised blessings, since they readily harkened to Haggai’s call to renew their labors on the temple: “And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God” (Haggai 1:14).

Once work on the temple resumed, Haggai asked those who had seen the temple of Solomon to compare it with the temple they were currently building. It is apparent from the Lord’s question, “Is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?” that the second temple was not as beautiful and ornate as Solomon’s temple (Haggai 2:3).

Nevertheless, the Lord counseled the Jews to “be strong” and “work,” with the assurance that He would be with them in their labors, as He was with the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt (see Haggai 2:4–5). Moreover, the Lord made it clear why their efforts to beautify the temple were important, by declaring that the “desire of all nations” would soon come to the temple in Jerusalem. Haggai recorded, “For thus saith the Lord of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts” (Haggai 2:6–7).

The Desire of All Nations

Who is the “desire of all nations”? The “desire of all nations” is the Holy One of Israel—even Jesus Christ. The Messiah would eventually come to His holy temple in Jerusalem. Haggai’s prophecy in verses 6 and 7 is probably dualistic; it may refer to the Savior’s numerous visits to the temple in Jerusalem during His mortal ministry, and His visitation to the temple at the time of His Second Coming. During this visit, the Lord will shake the heavens, earth, sea, and dry land, and the desire of all nations (Christ) shall come.[11] Thus, Haggai reminded the Jews that their continued efforts to build and beautify the temple would not be in vain because Jehovah Himself would personally visit the temple and fill it with His glory. In this context it is easy to understand what Haggai meant when he prophesied that the “glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former” because the Lord’s anticipated personal visits to the temple would glorify the current edifice beyond that of Solomon’s temple (Haggai 2:9).

In a broader sense, all dedicated temples of the Lord are sacred edifices in which God’s Spirit and glory reside. Joseph Smith taught this doctrine to the Saints during the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple: “That thy glory may rest down upon thy people, and upon this thy house, . . . that it may be sanctified and consecrated to be holy, and that thy holy presence may be continually in this house; and that all people who shall enter upon the threshold of the Lord’s house may feel thy power, and feel constrained to acknowledge that thou hast sanctified it, and that it is thy house, a place of holiness” (D&C 109:12–13).

As we continually visit the house of the Lord, we can also partake of the Lord’s Spirit and feel His glory manifest within the sacred structure. We will also partake of God’s peace found abundantly in His holy temples (see Haggai 2:9). In referring to the sacred environs of the temple, Elder David B. Haight declared, “The moment we step into the house of the Lord, the atmosphere changes from the worldly to the heavenly, where respite from the normal activities of life is found, and where peace of mind and spirit is received. It is a refuge from the ills of life and a protection from the temptations that are contrary to our spiritual well-being.”[12]

Temple Work and Holiness

In Haggai 2:11–14, the prophet reminded the Jews that the consecrated meat of the animal sacrifices used in the temple made the priests’ clothing holy because it was in direct contact with the garment (see Leviticus 6:27); however, the garment itself could not transmit that holiness to a third or fourth object. Moreover, anything touched by an unclean individual would become unclean (see Numbers 19:11–13, 22). Thus, uncleanness is much more easily transmitted than holiness.[13] Through references to the Mosaic law regarding holiness and uncleanness, Haggai may have been alluding to the fact that the Jews’ sacrifices and offerings on the rebuilt altar of the temple could not transmit holiness to them nor absolve them of their failure to continue rebuilding the temple. Furthermore, even though the Jews had returned to a promised land consecrated by the Lord, that fact alone could not make them a holy people. The only way for them to become a holy people was to rebuild the temple and worthily participate in the temple service.

The Lord also asked the Jews to “consider from this day and upward” the consequences of failing to rebuild the temple (Haggai 2:15). Haggai lists the consequences as poor harvests (2:16); blasting, or intense heat, from the eastern winds; mildew; and hail (2:17), which would have had disastrous effects upon their crops. Conversely, Haggai promised the Jews that their obedience in rebuilding the temple would result in “seed in the barn” as well as abundant harvests from the vine, fig tree, pomegranate, and the olive tree (2:19). Indeed, the Lord would bless them.

Although many of the Old Testament prophets’ messages and exhortations went unheeded by the ancient house of Israel, Haggai’s ministry appears to be an exception. As a result of his work, the faithful Jews in Jerusalem resumed their work on the temple and continued until its completion in 515 B.C. Because of their obedience to a prophet’s message, the temple once again stood in Jerusalem as a blessing in the lives of God’s faithful Saints.

Latter-day Israel must remind itself of Haggai’s important message. Temple work is just as important in this day as it was in Haggai’s. God has reserved many temporal and spiritual blessings for those who faithfully attend the temple. As we set aside our “cieled houses” and devote time to the temple, the Lord will pour out His blessings collectively upon the Church and individually upon our homes and families.

 

[1] Kenneth Barker ed., The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 1400.

[2] Sidney B. Sperry, Old Testament Prophets (Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union, 1965), 71.

[3] “Temples through the Ages,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 4:1463.

[4] Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 308.

[5] Spencer W. Kimball, as quoted by Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, April 1977, 121; emphasis in original.

[6] John A. Widtsoe, “Temple Worship,” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, 7 (April 1921): 63–64.

[7] William Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, trans. Samuel P. Tregelles (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949), 787.

[8] Ezra Taft Benson, “Atlanta Georgia Temple Cornerstone Laying,” June 1, 1983, as quoted by Dean L. Larsen, “The Importance of the Temple for Living Members,” Ensign, April 1993, 12.

[9] Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980), 182.

[10] Gordon B. Hinckley, as quoted by Larsen, “Importance of the Temple,” 12.

[11] Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982), 272–73.

[12] David B. Haight, “The Temple: A Place of Refuge,” Ensign, November 1990, 61.

[13] Barker, NIV Study Bible, 1403.