12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. 13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, “I am with you, declares the Lord.” 14 And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king. – Haggai 1:12-15 ESV
It seems that once the people realized that the meager harvests, financial troubles, and lack of sustenance they were suffering were a punishment from the hand of God, they decided to heed the words of Haggai. Speaking on behalf of God, Haggai had pointed out the disastrous nature of their current conditions.
“You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!” – Haggai 1:6 NLT
Haggie let them know that their suffering had been brought on them by God.
“You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away.” – Haggai 1:9 NLT
And he had delivered God’s message that more trouble was on the horizon.
“I have called for a drought on your fields and hills—a drought to wither the grain and grapes and olive trees and all your other crops, a drought to starve you and your livestock and to ruin everything you have worked so hard to get.” – Haggai 1:11 NLT
And if they harbored any doubts or questions about the cause of their suffering, God had made it painfully clear.
“Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses. It’s because of you that the heavens withhold the dew and the earth produces no crops.” – Haggai 1:9-10 NLT
They were guilty and stood condemned before God. But what makes this whole situation so interesting was that the very temple they had failed to rebuild was the one place they could have turned for divine intervention and assistance. When Solomon had celebrated the opening of the original temple centuries earlier, he had included the following line in his prayer of dedication:
“If there is a famine in the land or a plague or crop disease or attacks of locusts or caterpillars… and if your people Israel pray about their troubles, raising their hands toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and forgive.” – 1 Kings 8:37-39 NLT
But there was no temple because the people had refused to carry out the commands of God and finish its construction. Sixteen years earlier they had laid the foundation, but the construction site had remained dormant since that time. Not a single stone was put into place. No lumber had been harvested or milled. But now, because of the words spoken by Haggai, the people were suddenly stirred into action. From the governmental and religious leaders to the lowliest peasant, everyone decided to obey the voice of the Lord.
Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord. – Haggai 1:12 ESV
Haggai uses the term “remnant” to refer to the people of Judah. This was the very same word that the prophet Isaiah used when foretelling of God’s pending judgment against Judah at the hands of the Babylonians and His gracious plan to allow some of them to return to the land.
A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. – Isaiah 10:21-22 ESV
Isaiah used the Hebrew word, שְׁאָר (šᵊ’ār), which is derived from another Hebrew word that refers to “that which is left, left over, or left behind.” That word, שְׁאֵרִית (šᵊ’ērîṯ) is the one that Haggai used. It carries the idea of “that which is left or remaining.” It’s not just a numerical designation, indicating a smaller group of individuals, but it is also a way of conveying that those who returned had been set apart by God for a special purpose. When King Cyrus had issued his decree allowing the Jews to return, the vast majority of them decided to remain in Persia rather than make the arduous journey back to Judah. They had become acclimated to their lives in Babylon and had no desire to suffer the hardships that would accompany a return to the land.
But a remnant had decided to take the risk and go back to the land of promise. Yet, because of their disobedience, they found the prospects of their return to be anything but promising. And when this “whole remnant of God’s people began to obey the message from the Lord their God” (Haggai 1:12 NLT), their corporate commitment to obey was met with an encouraging message from God.
“I am with you, says the Lord!” – Haggai 1:13 NLT
These words were meant to be a reminder of the promise that God had made to the people of Israel when Solomon had finished the construction of the temple.
“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” – 2 Chronicles 7:12-16 ESV
God had shut up the heavens and withheld the rain. Now it was time for the people, who were called by His name, to humble themselves, pray, and turn from their wicked ways. The temple lay in ruins, but God wanted His people to know that He was with them. His house was may have been non-existent but had not precluded His power or presence. He was among them and ready to act on behalf of them. All they needed to do was repent and return to Him.
God had never truly left them. And while the temple may have been nothing more than a pile of dust-covered rubble, their God remained powerful, ever-present, and ready to act on their behalf. They could count on God.
All the way back to when the people were preparing to enter the land of promise for the first time, Moses had told them, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV). And centuries later, King David would echo those words when he challenged his young son, Solomon, to build a house for God
“Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” – 1 Chronicles 28:20 ESV
And when Solomon had completed the construction of the Lord’s house, he had finished his prayer of dedication with the following benediction.
“The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers.” – 1 Kings 8:57-58 ESV
God had been with them when they had entered the land of promise for the very first time. God had been with King David, helping him establish Israel as one of the mightiest nations on earth. And God had been with Solomon, blessing him with great wisdom and wealth, and providing him with a period of peace and prosperity in which he was able to complete the construction of the temple. Now, centuries later, God was letting His people know that He was still with them. But as always, God was looking for humble obedience from His chosen people. He had graciously allowed a remnant to remain so that His will might be done. He was far from done with His people and He had great things in store for them because He was going to accomplish great things through them.
And stirred by the words of Haggai and the promise of God’s presence, “they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God” ( Haggai 1:14 ESV).
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.