1 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: 2 “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, 3 ‘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? 4 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, 5 according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.’” – Haggai 2:1-5 ESV
Haggai began his letter with the time stamp: “In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month” (Haggai 1:1 ESV). It was on that fateful day that Haggai delivered his first message from Yahweh to the people of Judah. In it, the Almighty had revealed to Zerubbabel the governor, Joshua the high priest, and the remnant of the people that their 16-year delay in rebuilding the temple had resulted in judgment, and more was on the way. He expected them to honor and fear Him by obeying His word and fulfilling His command to restore the temple to its former glory. They had managed to build houses for themselves but had chosen to leave the house of God in ruins, and God was not pleased. Yet, despite their disobedience, God had assured His chosen people that He was still them and would not abandon them. And that promise stirred their hearts and motivated them to take immediate action.
And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king. – Haggai 1:14-15 ESV
Once again, Haggai provides a detailed timeline of the events surrounding this period of corporate repentance and obedience. For whatever reason, it took three weeks before the people began construction on the temple. No explanation is given for the cause of their delay. Perhaps they needed to gather construction material and prepare the sight. Verse 8 of chapter one reveals that they were going to have to harvest lumber for the project. This entire initiative had been delayed for 16 years, so it’s not surprising that a lot of preparation work was required before the actual construction could begin. But begin it did.
Chapter two opens with another important time marker: “In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month” (Haggai 2:1 ESV). Another month has passed by and God sends Haggai with a second message for the people. This time, He addresses those among the remnant who had been alive when the first temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians.
“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?” – Haggai 2:3 ESV
God presents these elderly members of the community with three questions. The first seems to be intended to stress their small numbers. Not many of the original deportees had returned to the land. Nearly 70 years had passed since they had first been taken captive and they would have been small children at the time. Many of their friends, neighbors, and relatives had chosen to remain behind in Persia, rather than return to Judah. So, there were few in the crowd that could recall the glory of the original Solomonic temple.
And God asks this small remnant of elderly eyewitnesses what they think about the new temple. How does it compare? What are their impressions of the work that has been completed thus far? For those who had seen the grandeur of Solomon’s temple, this remodeled version must have been a great disappointment.
It was difficult for these older members of the community to imagine the temple ever being restored to its former glory. To them, the entire process appeared ill-fated and destined for disappointment. The book of Ezra reveals that, sixteen years earlier, when Zerubbabel had supervised the laying of the temple’s foundation, these very same people had wept while their neighbors rejoiced.
But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy. The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance. – Ezra 3:12-13 NLT
God knew that these individuals viewed the new temple “as nothing.” It was a disappointing shadow of the majestic building that had once graced Mount Zion. For them, it was all a sad reminder of all that had happened to the once-powerful nation of Judah. They believed their glory days were behind them. Upon their return to Judah, they had found the nation in disarray and its capital city of Jerusalem in a state of devastating disrepair. These poor people were having a difficult time imagining a rebuilt temple and a revitalized nation. But God had an opinion about the matter.
“But now the Lord says: Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid.” – Haggai 2:4-5 NLT
This time, God addressed His message to Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the rest of the people. Despite the doubts and depressing outlook of the old guard, the people could have hope because God was with them. It had been 440 years, almost to the day, since King David had told his son, Solomon, that God had chosen him to build the original temple.
“Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it.” – 1 Chronicles 28:10 ESV
Then David said to Solomon his son, “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
Now, almost five centuries later, God was raising up another man to rebuild the house that the Babylonians had destroyed. God had chosen Zerubbabel to complete the work and had assured him that it would be done.
“The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” – Zechariah 4:9-10 ESV
God had been with Solomon and He would be with Zerubbabel. And God assured Zerubbabel and the people the promise of His enduring presence and power, just as He had done when the people of Israel had left Egypt.
“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:4-6 ESV
God had repeatedly promised His people that He would be with them.
“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” – Exodus 33:14 ESV
Now, He was reiterating that promise again. Yes, the temple might have appeared to be less than glorious. The circumstances in Judah may have felt daunting and the hope of future restoration might have seemed unlikely. But as long as God was with them, they could have hope. In fact, rather than doubting the future, they should have been expecting great things because they served a great God.
The people suffered from a limited perspective. All they could see was what their eyes revealed. They saw nothing but hard work and disappointing outcomes ahead. Yet God had told them, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10 NLT). They had their part to play. And while they may have viewed their task as little more than wasted effort, God wanted them to know that the outcome was going to be spectacular. He had plans for them that were way beyond their ability to conceive or comprehend. While they were busy thinking about the impossibility of their immediate circumstances, God was busy orchestrating the details of His future plans for the future redemption of all things. Their return to the land and the restoration of the temple was just one more act in God’s grand redemptive plan. And He was about to give them a glimpse into the glorious future He had prepared.
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.