In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, ‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet 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. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.’”
Haggai 2:1-9 ESV
Thus far in our study through Haggai, we have seen God’s primary message to the people of Judah, which was a command for them to rebuild the unfinished temple of the LORD. Then in the final verses of chapter one, we saw the people’s response of obedience to God’s oracle through Haggai, to which God responded with a pledge of His presence being with them as they worked on His house. Chapter two is divided into three oracles, and each is a word of encouragement for the people to continue their initial act of obedience by completing the temple. In the first of the three messages, the LORD gives a promise of hope as the people already begin to be discouraged.
IS IT NOTHING IN YOUR EYES? // VERSES 1-3
Our text begins with another date, the twenty-first day of the seventh month with the year still being 520 BC. In our current calendar, this day was October 17, and keep in mind that Haggai’s first message was delivered on August 29 and the people began to work on the temple on September 21. Thus, their labor on the temple had only begun less than a month before, and as we will see next week, they had probably only accomplished preparatory work.
Understanding the significance of the seventh month will greatly aid our understanding of this passage, so let us begin there. Leviticus 23:33-44 details that the Feast of Booths was to be celebrated in the seventh month from the fifteenth day to the twenty-second. It was an eight-day feast during which the people would sleep in booths as a reminder of the Israelites’ dwelling in booths after their exodus from Egypt. The feast would begin with a day of gathering for worship and end on the eighth day with a gathering for worship. Notice, therefore, that our present text was delivered on the seventh day of the feast, one day before they all gathered to worship and remember the LORD’s former faithfulness to their ancestors.
The seventh month was also important as being the anniversary of their return from captivity. As we saw in Ezra 3, the people of Judah arrived home at the beginning of the seventh month and celebrated the Feast of Booths on the fifteenth day as commanded in Leviticus.
Finally, the seventh month would have been quite poignant for the Jews of Haggai’s time to begin working on the temple because the original temple, built under Solomon’s leadership, was dedicated in the seventh month during the Feast of Booths (1 Kings 8:2).
Each of these factors can very easily be contributing to the discouragement that God addresses in verse 3. Of course, even the thought of discouragement after such swift obedience may at first seem strange; however, as we will see, it was quite understandable and relatable.
We must first note that God is speaking again to the same three parties (Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the remnant of the people). To these who so quickly responded in obedience only days before God now asked three questions: Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Evidently the fires of immediate obedience were already beginning to wane as those who were old enough to remember the magnificence of Solomon’s temple slipped into discouragement.
But why would they be discouraged?
Solomon’s temple took over 180,000 men seven years to build, which happened during a time of peace when Israel was still a united kingdom and at its height of power. How could this remnant ever hope to match such a glorious house for the God who is the King of Glory? In all honesty, their discouragement is far from being irrational. The reality of the scope and difficulty of their work finally set upon them. They were beginning to believe that the former glory had passed away forever, that the best days were long gone.
Their discouragement should be readily relatable because we often encounter similar circumstances. Nostalgia has a powerful grip upon we who are doomed to watch helplessly as time slips through our feeble hands. Eternity is etched upon our hearts, yet we are forced to watch as one generation passes away and is replaced by the next one. And the process keeps repeating, like a song stuck on loop. We all know intuitively that something is wrong, that we were made to endure. But without fail, the glory days of old always become nothing more than a memory. Still we cherish those memories because we were there, we were active, and soon we will no longer be.
All of this makes sense. It’s understandable. It’s relatable. It’s easy to become zealous for the things of the LORD yet become discouraged by the remembrance of the glory of days gone by or even by the glory seen in the lives our ancestors in the faith. Paul calls us to imitate himself, but he was a towering giant of the faith. Both Athanasius and Luther stood against the world defending the deity of Christ and justification by faith alone respectively. We are not Pauls, nor are we Luthers, even though social media would have us believe that every disagreement is a new reformation. We easily romanticize our own past and especially the colossal figures of old.
Yet Ecclesiastes warns us: “Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (7:10). Why is that so? First, our memories are not always the most reliable of guides. We easily remember the past glories, while many sufferings and failings become nothing more than footnotes, passing quickly over Paul’s stoning, beatings, and martyrdom. Thus, we have practical reasons to be somewhat skeptical of our nostalgia. But more importantly, for God’s people, the glory of former days can never compare to the glory still to come, as we will see in verses 6-9.
BE STRONG, WORK, & FEAR NOT // VERSES 4-5
I will attempt to keep remarks over these verses brief since they essentially expound upon God’s promise of “I am with you” from chapter one. Three distinct commands are given in these verses alongside two promises of assurance.
The first command is repeated three times: once to Zerubbabel, once to Joshua, and finally to the people. Be strong. This command was given repeatedly to the Israelites as they prepared to conquer the land of Canaan, and it continued to appear throughout the Scriptures, even into the New Testament. Paul told the Corinthians to “be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). And he urged the Ephesians to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10).
Thus, this command is also bound closely to the other two: work and fear not. Work is the central command, which could only be done by being strong and without fear. The work of the temple (or for us, prioritizing God’s kingdom) would require strength to continue steadfastly even when the adversaries in the land would threaten to thwart them. Indeed, devotion to God’s kingdom sets us in many ways against the kingdoms of the earth. To follow Christ is to invite suffering and adversity. We must, therefore, be stirred by the fear of God in order to be strong and fear nothing less than Him as we obey His Word.
Within these three commands, God also gives two promises: for I am with you and my Spirit remains in your midst. Of course, both commands assure the people of the LORD’s presence among them as He also said in verse 13 of chapter one. Yet here the LORD follows His promise to be with them by rooting it in the covenant that He has had with them since the exodus. This is an affirmation of what we stated previously that God’s presence with His people was not dependent upon their obedience but rather His steadfast love toward them. But then from understanding of such wondrous steadfast love, we should be stirred up to obedience.
He then describes His presence among them as my Spirit remains in your midst. Michael Stead offers the following commentary on this statement:
Although it is the completion of the temple that will bring about the dwelling of God’s glory in their midst, even now the Lord is present with them by his Spirit. Verse 5 says literally the Spirit is “standing” (Hb. ‘amad) in their midst, in the same way the “pillar (‘ammud) of cloud [was] standing (‘amad) at the entrance of the tent [of meeting]” (Ex. 33:10). Exodus 33 occurs before there was a tabernacle or temple, and notwithstanding the absence of the temple, God’s presence had been “standing” in their midst. It is the same now. They can be confident that God is indeed with them because of his covenant with them, described by the Lord as the “covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt” (Hag. 2:5).p. 618
YET ONCE MORE // VERSES 6-9
Now that the LORD has reiterated His command for them to work and encouraged them to be strong and fear not for His Spirit remained in their midst, He pointedly addresses their concerns from verse 3. Although they feared that the glory of the rebuilt temple would never match the former temple’s glory, God promises them the opposite: the latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former.
Although the people of Judah felt small, frail, and insignificant (especially when compared to the other nations and to their own ancestors), the LORD assures them that greater things are still to come. God designates Himself as the LORD of hosts five times in these verses to repeatedly remind His people that He is the eternal King. To further emphasize this, Darius is only mentioned by name once in chapter two (v. 10), and even then, the title of king has been dropped. God is asserting His supremacy, His sovereignty. Although Darius may call himself the king of kings, the LORD commands the hosts of heaven and rightly declares the silver is mine, and the gold is mine. All nations, even the mighty Persia, will be shaken before the Almighty, and their treasures will be brought before Him.
Of course, this is tremendous promise, but with our 2540 years’ worth of hindsight, was it fulfilled? The answer is both yes and not yet. Although we have no exact specifications of this rebuilt temple, Herod the Great did greatly expand to given larger than Solomon’s temple roughly five hundred years later. In fact, Mark 13 records one of Jesus’ disciples exclaiming to Him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings” (v. 1)! Thus, the splendor of the temple at that time must have been a wonder to behold. Was that the greater latter glory that the LORD promised?
Jesus gives us a better understanding. After Jesus had overturned the tables in the Temple in John 2, the apostle records a dialogue between Jesus and the Jews followed by John’s own comments:
So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.John 2:18-22
The temple was the place of God’s presence on the earth. Although we humans are exiled from Eden, the LORD still established a physical place where His glory could be found and worshiped. While God’s glory came to rest within the temple, He remained with the Most Holy Place of the temple, guarded by great curtain in order to protect His sinful people from being consumed by His presence. Even still, this was an act of mighty grace. Yet an even greater grace replaced it. As God the Son, Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). As the embodied Word of God, Christ is God’s glory incarnate. He is greater than the temple because He fulfilled the purpose of the temple in a way that no building ever could.
Yet few were able to see the greatness of Jesus’ glory during His earthly ministry because He came not as a conquering king but as a suffering servant, offering His own life as ransom for many. Although seeing, they could not see, and though hearing, they could not hear. God stood physically in their midst, but they rejected Him and murdered Him. In killing Jesus, they destroyed the temple, the living temple who was both God and man, by nailing Him to the cross. They cast themselves into an exile more severe than any nation could ever bring. Like Adam and Eve, they threw themselves out of paradise once again.
But the cross was not forced upon Jesus. No man could take His life unless He had freely given it. And He did give it. He offered Himself as a sinless sacrifice for our sins once for all. In Hebrews 9, the author explains how by this sacrifice Jesus effectively rebuilt the temple of His own body. Under the old covenant sacrifices were offered continuously, but once a year, the high priest was permitted into the Most Holy Place in order to offer a sacrifice for the sins of all the people.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.Hebrews 9:11-12
The temple and the sacrificial system, therefore, have been replaced by the person Jesus Christ. We no longer offer sacrifices in a physical temple because Christ has become the final sacrifice. The former glory has, thus, been replaced by a greater glory.
And in Christ, peace has been given, as was promised in verse 9. Peace between God and man is found through Jesus our mediator and high priest, and peace with our neighbor is made possible through being made into one body of Christ by the indwelling Spirit.
But while Jesus has certainly fulfilled these verses in some ways, they are also in other ways still to be accomplished. Hebrews 12 cites verse 6 in the context of comparing the giving of the old covenant at Sinai to the new covenant in Jesus Christ. After displaying the superiority of the new over the old, the author gives this warning:
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.Hebrews 12:25-29
When God spoke to the Israelites from Sinai, the earth shook, but another shaking will soon come that will shake both the earth and the heavens. The author of Hebrews interprets the phrase yet once more from Haggai to be pointing toward the Day of the LORD, when Christ returns visibly as the King of kings and Lord of lords to consummate the coming of His kingdom for all eternity (Revelation 19:16). After Christ’s appearing, the heavens and earth will pass away, being replaced by a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1). Upon the new earth will be the New Jerusalem, and in that city, there is no temple “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Revelation 21:22). We are also told that the kings of the earth will bring their glory into the city and that it will contain the “glory and the honor of the nations” (Revelation 21:24-26).
This is the ultimate fulfillment of Haggai’s oracle. On that day, God will shake for eternity the nations and take their glory for Himself. On that day, the LORD will fill His house with His glory, and its glory will be greater than all former times because the dwelling place of God will be with men again (Revelation 21:3). On that day, God will give His peace, eternal peace, to His people as we live forever under His loving reign.
All of this will happen in a little while (v. 6). Two and a half thousand years is next to nothing in comparison to eternity. Once Haggai’s words come to pass and the earth and heavens are shaken, we will not judge the LORD to have been slow; instead, we will praise Him for His great patience in giving such a span of time for repentance.
But until that day, we wait, and we work as we wait. We strive forward without fear, for we are those who have already read the ending of our story. We devote ourselves to God’s house, to seeking first His kingdom, for we know that the best days lay before us, not behind us. Indeed, we are people of hope, a blessed hope in “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:13-14).
Let us, therefore, be zealous to work for our God, and let us not be deceived into thinking that our labor is in vain, as into seeing it as nothing in our eyes. Our God is with us, His Spirit is within us, and in a little while, He will make all things new for we who belong to the kingdom that cannot be shaken. So be strong all you people, fear nothing but God, and work for the LORD of hosts is with you!
- Why was the timing of this message significant, and how might it have contributed to the people of Judah’s discouragement?
- Why were the people discouraged? In what ways can you relate to them?
- Why does doing the work of the LORD require us to be strong and without fear? How does God’s presence with His people strengthen, remove fear, and stir up obedience?
- What is the essential promise of verses 6-9? Have they already been fulfilled, or are they still to come? In what ways?