-HAGGAI: A Matter Of Priorities Part 1: Understanding The House
The Connotation Of “House” To properly appreciate the message of Haggai it is important to understand the connotation of the term “house” and the significance of “the house of the LORD.” The Hebrew term translated “house” (bayit) is used in a variety of senses in the Old Testament. A very common usage is the meaning we ascribe to it in English – “a building in which one lives.” However, it would be a great mistake to understand this English connotation as its primary usage throughout Scripture. For example, its first occurrence is in connection with Noah’s ark and refers to “inside” in contrast to “outside” (Gen. 6:14). Its next appearance introduces a common usage throughout the Old Testament, namely, reference to the members of one’s household (Gen. 7:1; 12:1,16; 24:28).
Another widely used meaning of “house” is abstract in nature and seems to refer to all that pertains to someone. For example, it refers to a sphere of influence one has in his house: servants born into Abraham’s house (Gen. 14:14), the steward of his house (Gen. 15:2), a son of his house (Gen. 15:3), and children born into his house (Gen. 17:12-13, 23, 27). This abstract usage is also commonly applied to wealth and possessions (Gen. 31:14; Ps. 36:8; 49:10-11; 105:21), and associated with security and stability (Prov. 12:7; 14:1; 15:25; 24:3). These abstract concepts of “house” continue into the New Testament Greek as well, with curses or blessings being placed upon one’s house (Mt. 10:13) and a house divided against itself having no stability (Mk. 3:25).
Since Haggai deals heavily with the concept of “house” in reference to both the Lord and the people, it is important to be aware of these various connotations and to understand its usage in this particular prophecy. That is, one must ask whether, in referring to the people’s houses, is the Lord alluding to their physical buildings, their households, their possessions and security, or possibly even a combination?
House Of The Lord
The significance of the Lord’s house is also important in Haggai. Although the expression is commonly used in Scripture and clearly refers to the temple, there is a tendency to merge its significance and associations with that of the tabernacle. In that both the temple and the tabernacle are associated with the Lord’s presence among His people and serve as the location of worship, this approach is appropriate. However, a closer study reveals that, in spite of their similarities, the temple and tabernacle are each associated with different theological ideas. The tabernacle – created at the initiative of God and from outward appearance quite drab – is explicitly presented as the means by which God moved in the midst of His people (Ex. 25–40). The temple, on the other hand, constructed as a result of human motivation and remarkable in its outward beauty and ornate design, is associated with the valuation which God’s people place upon Him and the testimony of that valuation to the nations.
To more clearly understand the theological ideas associated with the temple it helps to briefly consider how it came into existence. In 2 Samuel 7, when David came up with the idea of building a house for the Lord, his primary concern seemed to involve the glory of his own physical house in contrast to that of the tabernacle (2 Sam. 7:2). Specifically, he appeared to be ashamed that he dwelt in a house of cedar while the Lord dwelt in the midst of curtains.
It should be noted that David, in addition to addressing these respective structures, focused on the function of a house as a dwelling place by continually using the term “to dwell.” However, when the Lord responded to David through the prophet Nathan, He did not seem to share David’s concerns. Although He, too, focused on the same two issues, namely “a house” and “dwelling,” He revealed that He had a different perspective. First, the Lord questioned the entire idea of David building Him a house in which to dwell. He stated that since He had been among His people since the exodus from Egypt, He had not dwelt in a house, but rather had moved about in a tent and a tabernacle. In all that time moving about, He never asked anyone to build Him a house of cedar. By His explicit statements and His choice of words the Lord seemed to be making two related points. First, He had not asked for a house, and second, His activity in relationship to a habitation was to be understood as “moving about” among His people rather than “dwelling.”
After questioning the whole idea in general, the Lord proceeded to discuss its details in more depth. Although He took up David’s concern regarding a house and a dwelling, rather than David doing these things for the Lord, He clarified that it would be the other way around. The Lord would prepare a dwelling place for His people and would establish a house for David (7:10-16). It is important to notice that in stating His intention it became apparent that, unlike David, the Lord was not concerned with a literal, physical house. That is, as He responded to David’s intention to build Him a literal house, the Lord moved the discussion from a physical house to the more abstract concept of all that pertained to a householder and reflected both his prosperity and security.
In spite of this difference in perspective, the Lord returned again to David’s desire to build Him a house. He stated that, after David was gone, a house would be built, but by David’s seed rather than by David himself. However, since reference to a house being built followed the Lord’s moving the subject from the idea of a physical house to the more abstract concept of prosperity and security, it is probably best to understand that the Lord continued to speak of this latter aspect of “a house.” That is, when the Lord stated that David’s seed would build the Lord’s house, He was probably referring to an abstract concept rather than a physical building. That this meaning was intended by the Lord is indicated by the fact that He clarified that the house of which He spoke would not be for Him to dwell in, as David had suggested, but would rather be a testimony to Him in that it would be “to His name” (7:13).
Although David spoke about a physical house for the Lord’s dwelling, the Lord moved the conversation to the abstract idea of prosperity and security. When applying this abstract idea of a house to Himself, the Lord specifically presented its purpose as a testimony to all that He is and stands for (“to His name”). This understanding of 2 Samuel 7 seems to be reinforced by the subsequent presentation of Solomon’s dedication of the temple. In 1 Kings 8 Solomon confessed that the Lord could not be confined to a house (1 Ki. 8:27) but rather dwelt in the heavens (8:30,36,43), implying that the temple was not primarily for the Lord’s habitation. Rather, as with the Lord in 2 Samuel 7, the emphasis at the dedication seems to be on the function of the temple as a testimony to His name (2 Sam. 7:26), not only for Israel but also for all nations.
Therefore, the theological ideas associated with the temple, the Lord’s house, do not allude primarily to a physical house where He dwelt but rather to the establishment of and testimony to all that the Lord is and represents. Further, since the temple was created as the result of human motivation (David’s desire), it is directly associated with a testimony which derives from the appreciation of the Lord by His people rather than from the Lord personally declaring His own glory as He does elsewhere (Dt. 32; Isa. 40–48).
By Tom Keiser
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org
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