You remember that the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and carried away many to Babylon. Well, then Babylon got their due and in 538 B.C. they were overthrown by the Persian empire under Cyrus the Great. He then ended the exile of the Jews and allowed them to start returning to Jerusalem around 537 B.C. Frankly, not everyone wanted to go back and the return happened in waves. Do we get too entrenched in Babylon ourselves? Are we reluctant to come unto the Savior and give our all to Him? Do we understand what he really wants from us? Let’s talk about this.
Welcome to Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me Podcast! We are Scot and Maurine Proctor and we are delighted to be with you again this week as we discuss the books of Haggai and Zechariah.
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We have to begin this podcast by telling you a story. If you have followed Meridian for many years, you may have heard it, but it really ties to this week’s lesson.
Jerusalem is a city of mysteries. Beneath its golden walls are layers and layers of civilization and lost there are relics of another time, almost another world. We were just there a few weeks ago and we were pointing out to our participants places here and there where you can see into the ancient city—the level where Jesus walked and still further back, the time of Lehi and even back to Hezekiah in the 8th century B.C.
Still nothing is so sacred as the temple that once stood there where a covenant people worshipped and Jesus taught. It was destroyed and burned to the ground by the Romans in 70 AD, but it still stands with power in the mind’s eye of anyone visiting the Holy City. Just as you can feel that Jerusalem is a city where Jesus walked, you can feel that once a temple stood at its heart. Any small remnant found of that ancient temple and its symbol of devotion to God is a treasure beyond belief. Now, a few remnants are being unearthed.
Just south of the city wall and the Temple Mount, a new excavation has begun. We’ve watched it with great interest, because the parking lot where we used to stash our car has disappeared and beneath it is a whole complex of ancient homes. Near that is the broad way traveled by worshippers that used to lead to the temple gates. In 2012, in the rubble of another era, an extremely rare bulla from the Second Temple period was sifted out. A bulla is an ancient clay seal about the size of a coin, and hundreds of these are found, but this one caused a stir because on it were these significant words “deka leyah.” In Aramaic, this means “pure for God.”
Why did this one matter so much? This seal gave us a critical glimpse into ancient temple worship. This was a seal of purity required to mark any products that could be brought into the temple and used in worship. They had to be “pure for God” or they could not be brought into the temple, into that holy place. They had been marked, sealed, approved as pure, ready for the Lord’s house. Nothing profane was allowed there.
A familiar example is the oil jug from the Hanukkah story, which was sealed with the seal of the High Priest. Tradition has it that it burned the extra days needed because it was “pure for God.”
Oh, it would be our heart’s desire to be “pure for God”. We knew that this ancient “pure for God” bulla had a unique meaning for us who were covenant people who attended modern temples. Like the seal, we had our temple recommends allowing us entrance.
Then came a moment we will never forget. We were working on a wonderful project with Dr. D. Kelly Ogden, a speaker of Hebrew and BYU professor of ancient scripture. He is our friend and when we showed him the bulla, he looked at the inscription on it and said that another translation of “pure for God” was “Holiness to The Lord.” We gasped with the resonance between the ancient and modern, of a God who is the same yesterday, today and always. We have seen the words “Holiness to The Lord” inscribed in gold on our temples and now we understood it better.
It wasn’t only the temples that were consecrated to His glory and holiness. The temples are His gift to make His consecrated, covenant people holy as well. Our attempts to become pure are our gift to Him as His children. We needed to become “pure for God,” and wear His gift like a seal upon our hearts.
Well, then several months later we were leading a tour in Jerusalem and we took them one bright morning to a dig or a sifting of the Temple Mount debris. We were each given several buckets of dirt that we washed through a screen. Left behind on the screen when the water washed through were pieces of mosaic, plaster, bones, sometimes coins and various other debris. We divided these bits left on our screen into separate cups, looking for anything significant. Then a staff member would come by and check our work.
Each time the archaeologist came by to check our work, we asked him what was the most significant thing he had ever found. He modestly demurred to answer. Still, because our buckets of dirt yielded so little of worth, again and again we asked him. “How long have your worked here?” we asked him. “Eight years.” “What is the most significant thing you’ve ever found?” It took us three times to get him to answer. Finally, he relented and led us through the groups of people rinsing debris, across a small open area under the tent covering, and to the small office of the dig. He motioned toward a newspaper clipping from the Jerusalem Post hanging there on a window. “It was important enough it made the paper,” he said. “It was a bulla.”
“What did the bulla say,” we asked. He answered quietly: “Translated it means ‘pure for God.’”
It was one of those moments when we felt so personally that God remembered us.
Of course, the City of David people have copied this bulla and made a “Pure for God” necklace. We used to sell them on Meridian. But I have to tell you another moment that just brought us so much joy. We later talked with the director of the City of David gift shop, Matania. We tried to explain to him why we loved these necklaces.
We told him, “It is not just that we love the ‘pure for God’ necklaces. It is that they have meaning beyond what we can easily describe for Latter-day Saints. We were there in a meeting with him in his conference room and were trying to explain our feelings. All of the sudden Scot had an idea.
“You know,” he said, “how items, like oil brought into the ancient temple had to be ‘pure for God’? We have temples that are holy to us as well. They are our holiest place of worship, just like your temple was in ancient times. We ourselves have to be ‘pure for God’ in order to enter our temple. Our seals are this,” Scot said, and he then reached in his wallet and showed Matania his temple recommend.
“We have to pass certain standards of righteousness to be able to obtain one of these and we cannot enter the temple without one,” Scot said. Light dawned in Matania’s eyes. It was a moment of cross-cultural understanding about why our temples mattered to us in the same way the ancient temple had mattered to the children of Israel.
The temple is at the heart of our worship in our day, just as it was in ancient times. And the temple leads us to the heart of Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. President Russell M. Nelson recently recounted:
“During the recent open house of the Washington D.C. Temple, a member of the open house committee witnessed an insightful interchange as he escorted several prominent journalists through the temple. Somehow a young family became attached to this media tour. One reporter kept asking about the “journey” of a temple patron as he or she moves through the temple. He wanted to know if the temple journey is symbolic of the challenges in a person’s journey through life.
“A young boy in the family picked up on the conversation. When the tour group entered an endowment room, the boy pointed to the altar, where people kneel to make covenants with God, and said, “Oh, that’s nice. Here is a place for people to rest on their temple journey.”
I doubt that the boy knew just how profound his observation was. He likely had no idea about the direct connection between making a covenant with God in the temple and the Savior’s stunning promise:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; … and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” End of quote. (Nelson, Russell M., Overcome the World and Find Rest, General Conference, Sunday morning session, October 2022)
The temple truly is a place of rest for us. We LOVE to be in the temple and feel of that rest that only the Lord can give.
And I love how Zechariah describes the scenes of the city of Zion or the City of Holiness someday, in chapter 14, verses 20 and 21:
20 ¶ In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord; and the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar.
21 Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts: and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them, and seethe therein: and in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts. (Zechariah 14: 20-21)
There is that same ‘pure for God’ theme here, isn’t there? Just reading about holiness being the dominant feeling “in that day” brings me a great deal of joy. We always look at the Holiness to the Lord as we enter into any temple. It reminds us where we really are.
And as we have been to so many temple dedications around the world, I am always looking for wonderful angles to shoot with my camera—and my favorite photos are always the ones that include the words “Holiness to the Lord” inscribed on the wall of the new temple—whatever language it is in!
Leviticus 19:2 says emphatically:
2 Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.
This is a commandment. It’s the same language used in Isaiah chapter 5:
16: But the Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgement, and God that is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness.
And in our day, in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 82, verse 14 it says:
14 For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.
Putting on our beautiful garments is keeping the commandments and the covenants we have been given and having an eye single to the glory of God.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson has taught:
“Our Heavenly Father is a God of high expectations. … He proposes to make us holy so that we may ‘abide a celestial glory’ (Doctrine and Covenants 88:22) and ‘dwell in his presence’ (Moses 6:57).” Lectures on Faith explains, “No being can enjoy his glory without possessing his perfections and holiness.” Our Father in Heaven knows us. He loves us, and He has provided for us all that is required so that we can become holy as He is holy.” (D. Todd Christofferson, “As Many as I Love, I Rebuke and Chasten,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2011, 97.)
You see, Jesus Christ is working with each of us, preparing us to be able to come back into the presence of our Heavenly Parents.
With so much at stake, in these times, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, said, “We are to declare ourselves ‘all in.’
He said, “In his characteristically memorable prose C. S. Lewis imagines the Lord saying to us something like this: ‘I don’t want . . . your time . . . [or] your money . . . [or] your work, [as much as] I [just] want You. [This tree you are pruning.] I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want . . . the whole [thing] down. [And that tooth.] I don’t want to drill [it], or crown it, or [fill] it. [I want] to have it out. [In fact, I want you to hand over to me your] whole natural self. . . . [And] I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my . . . will shall become [your will].’”
“All who speak in this general conference will all be saying, one way or another, what Christ said to the rich man: ‘Come unto your Savior. Come completely and wholeheartedly. Take up your cross, however heavy it may be, and follow Him.’ They will say this knowing that in the kingdom of God, there can be no halfway measures, no starting and stopping, no turning back.”
Elder Holland continues:
“To those who requested permission to bury a deceased parent or say goodbye to other family members, Jesus’s reply was demanding and unequivocal. ‘Leave that to others,” He said, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’
“When difficult things are asked of us, even things contrary to the longings of our heart, remember that the loyalty we pledge to the cause of Christ is to be the supreme devotion of our lives. Although Isaiah reassures us it is available ‘without money and without price,’ we must be prepared, using T. S. Eliot’s line, to have it cost ‘not less than everything.’” End of quote. (Holland, Jeffrey R., The Greatest Possession, Saturday Morning Session, General Conference, October 2021)
I love how Sister Carol F. McConkie talked about this process:
“Our hope for holiness is centered in Christ, in His mercy and His grace. With faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, we may become clean, without spot, when we deny ourselves of ungodliness and sincerely repent. We are baptized by water for the remission of sins. Our souls are sanctified when we receive the Holy Ghost with open hearts. Weekly, we partake of the ordinance of the sacrament. In a spirit of repentance, with sincere desires for righteousness, we covenant that we are willing to take upon us the name of Christ, remember Him, and keep His commandments so that we may always have His Spirit to be with us. Over time, as we continually strive to become one with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, we become partakers of Their divine nature.” (McConkie, Carol F., The Beauty of Holiness, General Women’s Session, General Conference, April 2017).
I highly recommend Sister McConkie’s entire talk to your study regimen this week from the April 2017 General Conference.
We have such an interesting thing to observe as Cyrus the Great of Persia (who has now toppled the Babylonian Empire), gives leave for the Jews to return to Jerusalem. Yes, there are many who want to go, and a number of them did go—but the return from exile—from living in Babylon—came in waves. Actually, most wanted to stay in Babylon. They had gotten used to the worldliness and the things of this world. They liked the hanging gardens and the beautiful rivers and abundant eating. Yes, they were in exile, but exile in these conditions had become better than home.
Of those that did return in the first and second waves, the word of the Lord came to Haggai.
And this is in Haggai chapter 2:
2 Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and to the residue of the people, saying,
3 Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?
4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work: for I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts:
5 According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.
9 The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts. (Haggai 2:2-5;9, emphasis added)
The exiles were allowed to return as early as 531 B.C. This temple was completed in 515 or 516 BC. So, it took them 15 or sixteen years to really go to and rebuild the temple. This temple, referred to as the Second Temple, would stand, with modifications along the way, including from Herod (the not so Great)—until 70 A.D, when it would be destroyed by the Romans. It would be there in Jerusalem for 586 years! You can use this pneumonic device to help you remember that Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. and this Second Temple would stay for 586 years!
Can we imagine the loss they all felt and the immense task of rebuilding the Temple?
I’ve mentioned this before but we go to the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem every year and I have often talked to the orthodox Jews who are praying there. No, I don’t interrupt their prayers, but I ask them, “What is it you’re praying about and what is in your heart?” Almost without exception they tell me they are mourning the loss of the Temple. They are mourning the loss of the Second Temple and they are looking forward to the Third Temple, although they don’t have any schedule in place for its building. But my point is more this: Millions of Jews come to the Western Wall of the Temple complex and pray and mourn and plead with God above for their families and their lives and for the loss of the Temple. And you can feel the sacredness of that place. I always pray there, too, right along with my brother Jews. I would say brother and sister Jews, but we are divided there at the wall and I have never been to the sister side. It’s as if there should be inscribed on one of the stones of that very Western Wall, Holiness to the Lord. Again, you can feel the holiness of this place where millions of prayers ascend to heaven.
And in our dispensation, we as a people have experienced the great loss of the Nauvoo Temple. Our ancestors labored and toiled in their poverty to build that magnificent edifice. They were told by the Lord they would have sufficient time to build it and use it (see Doctrine and Covenants 124: 33-50) and they had the use of it for 56 days—then they left with their wagons for the west. It was a time of great irony in Nauvoo because of the two major projects going on: the building of the Temple and the building of wagons they would use to leave the Temple.
It was no small task leaving their homes and their sacred temple.
Bathsheba Smith said, “My last act in that precious spot was to tidy the rooms, sweep up the floor and set the broom in its accustomed place behind the door. Then with emotions in my heart which I could not now pen and which I then strove with success to conceal, I gently closed the door and faced an unknown future…” (The Gathering, p. 65)
And you know, dear brothers and sisters, there is a place in Iowa, about 7 miles from Nauvoo, where is the last rise of a hill where one can get the last view of the Temple and the City Beautiful. Maurine and I have been there many times—it is such an emotional spot to think of those thousands who would make it to that rise, and everyone knew this would be their last view. They would get off their wagons and gaze upon that fair scene with the shining temple on the rise of the bluff and many would fall down on their hands and knees and weep—and then they would get back on their wagons and turn their faces west.
One brother, Priddy Meeks wrote: “The top of this hill, I was aware, was the last point from which I could see the Nauvoo Temple. I have no words with which to convey a proper conception of my feeling when taking a last look at this sacred monument…after the lapse of thirty-six years, I can scarcely restrain my feeling when I write of it.” (The Gathering, p. 66)
Most would never see Nauvoo or the Temple again. Brigham Young would live 31 more years and never see this place—the City of Joseph.
No wonder the captives at the time of Haggai and Zechariah wrote:
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” (Psalm 137:1)
There is a parallel, you know, between Jerusalem and Nauvoo and the loss of the temples.
Can you imagine leaving that incredible structure in Nauvoo and just walking away?
Until the restoration the people of the Lord did not have a temple for generations and centuries—they only had use of the temple for 8 weeks.
And, to really discourage the Latter-day Saints from even thinking about returning to Nauvoo, the enemies of the Church made sure they could demoralize the Saints by destroying the Nauvoo Temple. On the 9th of October 1848 the locals in Nauvoo were awakened to the cries of fire. An arsonist had carefully and purposely set fire to the interiors of the temple and gutted the whole building.
Then just over 19 months later, on May 27, 1850, a tornado swept through and took down everything except the western façade of the temple. This was thereafter condemned by the small community and was taken down for safety reasons.
The Temple site then because a quarry, free cut stones for the taking. There are at least five buildings in Nauvoo that are made completely of the original temple stones.
Now, let’s go back and review Haggai 2:9:
9 The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts.
Is that the case with the Nauvoo Temple? YES!
Do you all remember when, at the end of General Conference on April 4, 1999, President Gordon B. Hinckley got up and said:
“In closing now, I feel impressed to announce that among all of the temples we are constructing, we plan to rebuild the Nauvoo Temple. A member of the Church and his family have provided a very substantial contribution to make this possible. We are grateful to him. It will be a while before it happens, but the architects have begun their work. This temple will not be busy much of the time; it will be somewhat isolated. But during the summer months, we anticipate it will be very busy. And the new building will stand as a memorial to those who built the first such structure there on the banks of the Mississippi.” (Hinckley, Gordon B., Thanks to the Lord for His Blessings, Sunday Afternoon Session, General Conference, April 1999)
Don’t you remember how you felt when you heard that announcement? Wasn’t it so exhilarating and wonderful! Scot and I burst into tears—we had been taking groups to Nauvoo for years and showed them an empty lot with some stones placed in a rectangle to mark the original footprint of the Temple. And when we finally came to Nauvoo for the Press Open House on the newly completed Temple, I’ll never forget coming around the corner on Highway 96 and then turning east and seeing that Nauvoo Temple for the first time. It was not a rebuilt temple, it was not a remodeled temple, it was not a refurbished temple—it was a resurrected temple. More glorious than the former temple that had been there. It just made us SO HAPPY!
Now, let’s go back to Jerusalem:
When the exiles returned they were told to rebuild the temple but they did not do it. It took them 15 or 16 years!
Look at Haggai 1:2-5:
2 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.
3 Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying,
4 Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste?
5 Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.
Is there a message in this for us? The imperative from the Lord: “Consider your ways” is pretty compelling.
Consider your ways. Can it be applied to our families?
Consider your ways. Can it be applied to our homes?
Consider your ways. Can it be applied to our businesses and careers?
Consider your ways. Can it be applied to our relationships?
Consider your ways. Can it be applied to our relationship with God?
I love pondering that imperative. It makes great pillow talk with your spouse or meditation and pondering time with the Lord.
Now, lest we miss it: Zechariah has many Messianic prophecies in his book, both for at the time of Jesus’ mortal ministry and at the time of His Second Coming. Let’s look at two of them.
First in Zechariah 14: 6-8. This is such a significant prophecy:
6 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark:
7 But it shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.
8 And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be.
Did I hear that correctly? Near the time of His Second Coming there will be a day, a night and a day wherein there shall be no darkness! That sounds awfully familiar!
And I love that second prophecy so much—that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem—and if you put the other prophecies together—the water shall flow out from under the Temple and shall heal the waters of the Dead Sea. I believe this not only means THE Dead Sea, you know, the saltiest body of water on earth that is now more than 1,400 feet below sea level—I believe it means those people who are dead to the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the Living Water is Jesus Christ and He will heal those who have been dead–with His doctrine, His teachings, His love, His ordinances, His knowledge and power. We see the same type in Doctrine and Covenants Section 133, verse 29:
29 And in the barren deserts there shall come forth pools of living water; and the parched ground shall no longer be a thirsty land.
We’ve spent a lot of time in the deserts of the Middle East, the Rub’ al Khali (the Empty Quarter) and the Sahara Desert—these are truly barren and parched lands—but even more so, those precious, dear children of our Father in Heaven who do not have the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—they will no longer be thirsty and they will be healed.
We were just on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem a few weeks ago and there was, as there often is, a lot of tension and some conflict between peoples. Emotions can run high very quickly and some of our people were asking our Jewish guide, “What can be done to solve all of this?” She said, and I quote, “Sometimes I think the only solution will be for the Messiah to come and to work out all these things—I don’t think anyone else can.” And you know? I think she’s right. She just doesn’t believe (yet) that Jesus Christ is the Messiah—but there is a large number of quiet Jews who do believe in Jesus Christ—they are Messianic Jews. And their numbers are growing.
And from Zechariah chapter 13 we read:
And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. (Zechariah 13:6)
And the Doctrine and Covenants illuminates this scene even more in Section 45, verses 51-53:
51 And then shall the Jews look upon me and say: What are these wounds in thine hands and in thy feet?
52 Then shall they know that I am the Lord; for I will say unto them: These wounds are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. I am he who was lifted up. I am Jesus that was crucified. I am the Son of God.
53 And then shall they weep because of their iniquities; then shall they lament because they persecuted their king. (Doctrine and Covenants 45:51-53)
I know this will someday come to pass. I know that Messiah will come again. I know that His Living Waters will heal the nations and that He will someday usher in those thousand years of Millennial peace.
He will come again. You can see clearly that He is hastening His work. Why so many temples—because He needs a Holy people to greet Him and who know Him.
May we become a holy people is our prayer.
That’s all for today. We have loved being with you again this week. Next time we will be study the words of the Prophet Malachi in a lesson entitled: “I Have Loved You, Saith the Lord.” And we will have some exciting things to tell you about the work of turning the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. Remember, if you podcast listeners would like to get Scot’s new 2023 New Testament Come Follow Me Calendar just go to latterdaysaintmag.com/2023 and then put in the discount code Listener and you’ll receive 30% off the cost of the calendars and you’ll get flat rate shipping. That’s discount code Listener at latterdaysaintmag.com/2023
Thanks to Paul Cardall for the beautiful music that accompanies this podcast and many thanks to our producer and daughter, Michaela Proctor Hutchins. Have a wonderful, joyous week and see you next time.