Haggai brought a word of conviction, command, promise and hope to the remnant people of God. God wanted to be in the midst of his people, his presence represented by the temple. The people responded to the command and began to rebuild it, spurred on by their hope in the promises of God.
But by 2:10 something funny is going on with the people. In his third word to them God talks to them about the law. He presents two scenarios: firstly, in 2:12, can the holiness of food be passed on to other food? The answer is “no”. Secondly, in 2:13, can the uncleanness of a dead body be passed on? The answer is “yes”. In other words, holiness is not transmissible, but uncleanness is.
The LORD applies the picture to the people in 2:14. He is quite clear. Whatever they do in their ritual sacrifices, such things are not holy. Why? Because they themselves are not holy. They defile the offerings they bring.
Now, this is quite an upsetting thought. One could read the law, as I have done, believing that it was given in order to bring cleansing to the people under the Mosaic covenant. But God clearly denies this possibility. They defile every effort at cleansing. But if the sacrificial law could not bring cleansing, what was it for?
A closer examination of Hag 2:12 shows that it is lifted from the teaching on the sin offering covered in Lev 4 and 6. The interesting thing about this offering was that when the animal was slaughtered the blood was used to sprinkle on the tabernacle furniture. So the furniture was purified, not the person bringing the sacrifice. It’s like your kid has come into the house with mucky shoes and hands and you have to clean up the carpet and the walls. Now the kid has gone back out again, still mucky.
The big issue for the LORD, it seems is given in 2:17. “You did not turn to me”, says the LORD. For all their commitment to ritual in past generations, the people of God did not apply to God himself for cleansing.
Two threads now come together. God desires to be amongst his people to have fellowship with them – hence the need for the temple. The sacrificial law was intended to illustrate the great separation that exists between God and his people, and not to be a self-help method of cleansing. Indeed it was illustrative of how cleansing would be achieved (Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world). Meantime, God always required a turning to him directly. After all, if one is unclean, and no method of cleansing works, but is only illustrative, where else is one going to go?
Such reasoning does not make it to the human heart, however. It is deceitful. We like focusing on what we are doing, and are tempted to believe that it is sufficient for cleansing and continuing relationship with God. But in all that activity, of prime importance is to lift our hearts up to God.
Now, tell me – am I off track here?