Let Us Live Before the Face of God

On the Prophet Haggai

Photo: nyblago.org Photo: nyblago.org     

The people of God have a great history behind them, of both the Old and New Testaments. And there are especially painful periods in its history. Let’s take the Babylonian captivity: A militant empire invaded the Promised Land from the east, resulting in the inevitable conquest of the Holy Land, the death of many people, and the forced deportation of the people. By the rivers of Babylon, far from their homeland, the people dreamed that the wrath of God would pass and the happy time of return would come. They waited for a long time, for decades, and they prayed—and the time of wrath and punishment came to an end. The imperial policy changed and they were able to return. And worthy leaders were found among the people who were heading home too: a prince with the Babylonian name Zerubbabel and a high priest named Joshua.

The people returned to Jerusalem, looked around, and fell into despair. It was such a sight that they just threw up their hands. Everything was utterly destroyed, and the neighboring tribes looked at those returning with hostility. How to gain a foothold in the old place? How to restore everything that had been destroyed? Could it really ever be restored? The people gradually settled across the land. They sowed grains, but the harvests were small, and they didn’t have enough to eat. Spiritual people reason from spiritual positions: “It’s time to rebuild the Temple. We went into captivity for our sins before God. Let us serve Him faithfully—He will help us, and life will gradually get better.”

The people of the land—full citizens of the recreated state—answered them: “Now is not the time to work on building the Temple. We need to plow the fields and fight off the local pagans. When we get back on our feet, when we establish a normal life, then we’ll definitely restore the Temple.”

The people argued, with divided opinions. And then the Lord put His mighty word into the hand of the Prophet Haggai: And let all the people of the land strengthen themselves… for I am with you, saith the Lord Almighty. According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remaineth among you (Hag. 2:5-6). The Lord encourages the despondent people. He is still with them, as in the days of the Exodus from the Egyptian land. The covenant of God remains in full force, and the Spirit of God will strengthen the people.

It turns out the Temple needs to be revived now, despite the obvious difficulties. The restored Temple will become a spiritual center for the people. The people themselves need the service to God in the newly rebuilt Temple; and not sometime later, but now.

When the Lord calls people and the people themselves turn to God with all their hearts, He gives them His blessing. And with this blessing, people can do things that they can’t do themselves. Why are they able to do this? Because God is with them, He helps them, and everything succeeds.

One important point can’t be missed. The Prophet Haggai reminds those who will rebuild the Jerusalem Temple that it was destroyed because of their sins—not because of a confluence of political circumstances, not because of liturgical violations, but primarily because of their sins. What does this mean? Now is the time to restore the Temple, but rites of purification by themselves won’t help those who live peacefully in impurity and are quite satisfied with their impure, sinful lives (Hag. 2:10-19). The rites in the Jerusalem Temple aren’t magical actions that oblige God to give everyone His patronage and support. God looks at the hearts of those who come, and not at the market value of their offerings. The holy rites mustn’t be treated as something pagan or magical.

The people need the Temple of God with its sacred rites—they need it like bread, or air. And they also need to put their whole heart into it. The Temple is built, and it’s a great happiness. And at the same time as the Temple, let human souls, our souls, be built up. May the people who come to the Temple stand before the Living God, hear His word, turn to Him with repentance and thanksgiving, and live before the face of God.

Priest Pavel Serzhantov
Translation by Jesse Dominick



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