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The Desire of Nations Part 3 of a Series Exploring the Advent Hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

What — or who — is this desire of nations? The reference is from Haggai 2:7 in the Old Testament: “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 lived about 500 years before Christ. The Jewish exiles had been freed from Babylonian captivity and many returned to their homeland. A man named Zerubbabel headed a project to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, which had been ransacked by King Nebuchadnezzar about 70 years earlier. After the foundation was laid, the building project stalled for 17 years.

Enter Haggai. He delivered four simple, powerful messages in the space of four months, urging his fellow Jews to take up their trowels once again and finish the holy building. In 515 BC, the temple was finished and dedicated with great fanfare. However, many of the older Jews who had seen Solomon’s temple were disappointed. The grandeur of that first building outshone the pale imitation that now stood before them.

Yet Haggai prophesied that the second temple would one day surpass the glory of the first (Haggai 2:3-9). This would happen when the “Desire of nations” would enter the temple. Some scholars believe that the word “desire” is more accurately translated as “treasure.” They maintain that the gold and silver of nations would pour into Jerusalem to finally get the temple built.

But like so many Old Testament prophecies, there may be a double meaning in Haggai’s utterance. Five centuries later, Jesus Christ graced the temple ( Luke 2:22, 46; 19:45). Though Zerubbabel’s temple was not as outwardly impressive as Solomon’s, it contained a greater Treasure, an inexpressible Gift: the Messiah Himself, the One whom all weary nations desire.

Is your soul flagging? Do you wonder if peace will ever reign on earth? It can. Jesus is the Prince of Peace who will pacify any receptive heart. It will. For the Prince Himself will return and on that day that will never end, “the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it” (Isaiah 2:2). 

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