Encouragement from the Lord
1In the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 2"Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, 3‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? 4But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 5‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’
6"This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. 8‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 9‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty."
When the Lord first spoke through His prophet Haggai, He directed the leaders to tell the people to begin again rebuilding the Temple of God. That first message was directed toward their consciences. The Lord pointed out that they lived in "panelled houses while [the Temple] lay in ruins" (Hag. 1:4). To their credit, the people obeyed the Lord and began again to work on the Temple. In His second message through the prophet Haggai, given here, the Lord encourages the people in their work, and seeks to remove a source of discouragement to their work: the remembrance of the former glory of the Temple. "Whereas Haggai’s first message addressed the people’s unwarranted contentment with things as they were, his second message addresses the people’s unwarranted discontent: the new danger that emerged as the work on the temple progressed. This message is a call to reject despondency, despair, and pessimism" [Kaiser, 262]. "In the first chapter of this prophecy, the nation needed a word directed to their consciences because of their coldness and indifference; now they stood in need of a word of cheer and comfort to strengthen their hands and purposes as they pursued the task in obedience to the Lord" [Feinberg, 242].
This message from the Lord is directed to the political and religious leaders of the people "Zerubbabel" and "Joshua", just as the first message was. However, this message is directed also to "remnant of the people". The previous message was an exhortation to begin building the Temple again, so the message was directed specifically to the leaders of the people who would be responsible for overseeing this work. The message in this chapter is a word of encouragement that is needed to be heard by all those working on the Temple.
The chapter begins: "On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: ‘Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, "Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?"’" (vss. 1–3). As He did in the previous prophecy, the Lord spoke to Haggai on a feast day. The "twenty-first day of the seventh month" was the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (see Lev. 23:39–44). And so, again, the people would be gathering at the site of the Temple. This occasion for gathering at the Temple for the feast days, the first since the construction had begun, would invite comparisons of the current work to the former Temple, as the people inspected the progress made in building the new Temple.
We know that when the remnant first returned to the promised land, there were some there who remembered the glory of the former Temple. When the ceremony was held at the laying of the foundation of the Temple, Ezra tells us that "many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former Temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this Temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy" (Ezra 3:12). In that passage, we see the great contrast in the emotions between those who were looking back to the glory of former days and those who were looking ahead in expectation of glory in the future.
The Lord Himself honestly acknowledged that the remembrance of the former glory of the Temple could become a source of discouragement: "Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?" (vs. 3). Through the eyes of men, the new Temple would seem "like nothing" as compared to the former Temple. Such a comparison would naturally sow doubt in the minds of the people: "Is now really the right time to do this work? Are we properly prepared to do this work? Are we even worthy to undertake this work? Why do it if we cannot do it ‘right’?" They, in their human eyes, saw the new Temple as a poor imitation of the former one, not realizing that it was God (not silver and gold) who brought the real glory to the former temple. Nothing that man could build would ever be worthy to be the house of God. Solomon himself realized this. When he dedicated the former Temple, he said: "But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built?" (I Kings 8:27).
And so, we must realize: it is not the estimation by human standards that makes any service to God great. It is the extent to which the ministry is obedient to God’s will that makes the service to God great. Many nowadays share the discouragement of the remnant. They look at other peoples’ ministries, and compare it to the service that they are rendering to God, and become discouraged because their service does not seem to measure up in comparison: They are not touching as many people, or they are not taking in as many contributions, or their ministry is not growing as fast as another one. We should ask ourselves: "Does God measure success by these standards?" Is not the most important activity of any service to please God? Do we halt a ministry just because it’s not the greatest one that ever existed? Or do we do the best that we can with the gifts and callings that God has given us, and serve Him according to His will, rather than for our ego?
To bring an end to any despondency due to the comparison to the first Temple, the Lord assured them that they were serving Him according to His will: "‘But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear’" (vss. 4–5). Rather than looking back to past glories, the people were to "Be strong... and work", with this great assurance: "‘For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty." What more could we want? To know that God is "with" us in our service is the greatest reward and incentive that we could possibly receive. It is much better to serve God with a "struggling" ministry (by human standards), than to, without God’s blessing, preside over the largest church in the world.
Note again that the Lord asked them to "be strong... and work." True service of the Lord requires "work". It is not easy. Some think (incorrectly) that if they face any opposition in their service of God, if their work for the Lord is a struggle, that that means that it is not God’s will. On the contrary, we are to "work", and to work hard for the Lord. We work hard to live in our "panelled" houses, why should we not also work hard to serve the Lord of the Universe?
And where do we get our strength? Why, from the Lord, of course. He told the remnant: "Be strong... and work," and then quickly added: "For I am with you." The Lord asks us to be strong in our service for Him, but He also gives us the ability to carry out this command by being "with us." In the book of Zechariah, the Lord told the same people: "‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty" (Zech. 4:6). "Without our Lord’s presence and help, we do not have any strength or vitality. We dare not disconnect ourselves from our source of strength if we seek to carry on the work of God. The people were to be strong and to get on with the work because God was at work. Surely their Lord would equip them with enough energy to do what needed to be done, for in their weakness, as we have learned, God’s power would be at its peak (see II Cor. 12:9; cf. Heb. 13:21)" [Kaiser, 264].
As proof that He was with them, the Lord cited the covenant promise, reminding the people of how He had been with them throughout their history: "‘For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’" The covenant that God made with the people of Israel when they "came out of Egypt" is summed up well in Ex. 29:45–46: "Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God." Evidence that God had kept thiscovenant was (and is) rife through the history of the people of Israel, and the people of Israel well knew it. And so, God reminded them of the fulfilled covenant promises of the past in order to strengthen their faith that He was still with them. "With the comforting and enabling assurances of God’s presence, His ancient promise, and His Holy Spirit, was there any room for weakness, fear, or frustration?" [Kaiser, 265].
To further encourage the people in their work, and to put an end to any thoughts that what they were doing was futile, the Lord assured the people that the Temple they were working on would be filled with glory: "This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty." (vss. 6–9). These verses "are distinctly Messianic with a blending, as in so many other passages (like Zech. 9:9–10; Isa. 61:1–3 and Dan. 9:24–27), of the first and second comings of the Lord Jesus Christ, Israel’s King and Messiah" [Feinberg, 243]. By giving them a Messianic prophecy, the Lord was assuring the people that what they were doing was part of God’s grandest plan: the sending of the Messiah to save the world. Though their work may have seemed useless, modest, undignified, plain, they were an important part of God’s eternal plan.
It was also revealed to the people working on the Temple where the glory of the Temple would come from: "‘I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty." The Lord Himself "will fill this house with glory." Silver and gold are fine, but they are not what will fill the house with glory. All silver and gold is the Lord’s, and He could at any time fill His house with silver and gold. But He promised greater things for this Temple: His Divine presence. "As the first temple was filled with the cloud of glory, the symbol of God, so this second temple was filled with the ‘glory’ of God vailed in the the flesh (as it were in the cloud) at Christ’s first coming, when He entered the temple, and performed miracles" [JFB, 656].
After such encouragement, what a blessing it must surely have been to be working on the Temple of God, which would be filled with His glory. And we also have the privilege of working on a Temple that is filled with the glory of God. For each and every one of us is a Temple of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us: "Do you not know that your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with you body" (I Cor. 6:19–20). And just as God could have lavished that Temple is Israel with gold and silver, so also, He could have bestowed upon you, His Temple, gold and silver. But He chose to give you greater riches: the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you; the privilege of being filled with His glory. May the Lord be praised! May our bodies be worthy Temples of the Holy Spirit, bringing glory and honor to Him. May His glory overflow out of our lives and touch the lives of all those around us. We praise You, Lord, for the great privilege of housing Your glory!