A. The second word from God: the glory of the new temple.
1. (1-3) Is the new temple as nothing compared to Solomon’s temple?
In the seventh month, on the twenty-first of the month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying: “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, saying: ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing?’”
a. In the seventh month: This message came in October of 520 B.C. It was feast time in Israel, celebrating both the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles.
b. Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? Haggai spoke some 66 years after the temple was destroyed. Certainly, there were some old men who had seen Solomon’s temple in its splendor.
i. Ezra 3:12-13 describes what those who had seen the first temple felt like 16 years before this prophecy of Haggai, when the work of rebuilding the temple first began:
But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard afar off. (Ezra 3:12-13)
ii. The men in Ezra 3 wept because they saw this temple in its former glory. When Solomon built the first temple, he spared no expense in materials and hired the best talent he could find to do the work. The temple to be rebuilt couldn’t match the majesty of that first temple.
c. In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing? These kinds of comparisons between “the good old days” and the present-day – or between the work of God in various places and times – are rarely beneficial. It didn’t do the people of Haggai’s day any good to think of how magnificent Solomon’s temple was compared to their own rebuilding work.
i. “The smallness of our gifts may be a temptation to us. We are consciously so weak and so insignificant, compared with the great God and his great cause, that we are discouraged, and think it vain to attempt anything.… the enemy contrasts our work with that of others, and with that of those who have gone before us. We are doing so little as compared with other people, therefore let us give up. We cannot build like Solomon, therefore let us not build at all. Yet, brethren, there is a falsehood in all this, for, in truth, nothing is worthy of God. The great works of others, and even the amazing productions of Solomon, all fell short of his glory.” (Spurgeon)
ii. A.W. Tozer suggested this prayer regarding our tendency to compare and compete:
“Dear Lord, I refuse henceforth to compete with any of Thy servants. They have congregations larger than mine. So be it. I rejoice in their success. They have greater gifts. Very well. That is not in their power nor in mine. I am humbly grateful for their greater gifts and my smaller ones. I only pray that I may use to Thy glory such modest gifts as I possess. I will not compare myself with any, nor try to build up my self-esteem by noting where I may excel one or another in Thy holy work. I herewith make a blanket disavowal of all intrinsic worth. I am but an unprofitable servant. I gladly go to the foot of the cross and own myself the least of Thy people. If I err in my self-judgment and actually underestimate myself I do not want to know it. I purpose to pray for others and to rejoice in their prosperity as if it were my own. And indeed it is my own if it is Thine own, for what is Thine is mine, and while one plants and another waters it is Thou alone that giveth the increase.” (A.W. Tozer, The Price of Neglect)
2. (4-5) Carry on the work in strength and assurance.
“Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,” says the LORD; “and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,” says the LORD, “and work; for I am with you,” says the LORD of hosts. “According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!”
a. Be strong…be strong…be strong…and work.… do not fear: God gave the leaders and people of Israel three clear commands. Each of these three was essential to getting the work of God done. Great things are not accomplished without action.
i. “What was lacking was dissatisfaction with things as they were, and the consequent drive to initiate action. Resignation killed faith.” (Baldwin)
b. I am with you…. According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt: The same God that did great things in the past was among them today, so they could be encouraged.
i. “Undoubtedly fear gripped many of the returnees – fear that God had written an eternal ‘Ichabod’ [‘the glory has departed’] over Jerusalem.” (Alden)
c. My Spirit remains among you: This was a wonderful promise and should have given God’s people great confidence. Yet, in the new covenant, we have an even greater promise. Under the old covenant the Holy Spirit was among the people. Under the new covenant He would be in God’s people.
3. (6-9) Why the rebuilt temple will be more glorious than the temple of Solomon.
For thus says the LORD of hosts: “Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,” says the LORD of hosts. “The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,” says the LORD of hosts. “The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,” says the LORD of hosts. “And in this place I will give peace,” says the LORD of hosts.
a. Once more…I will shake heaven and earth: This is the only portion of Haggai quoted in the New Testament (Hebrews 12:26). It announces God’s intention to shake the present order in His coming day of judgment.
b. They shall come to the Desire of All Nations: Many ancient commentators see this as a prophecy of the Messiah coming to this temple rebuilt in the days of Haggai and Ezra. This understanding began with the ancient rabbis and continued among Christians, and fits in well with the promise of filling the temple with glory.
i. Some commentators point out that this word for Desire can also be translated treasures. We know that the Gentiles will bring tribute to the LORD in the millennium (Isaiah 60:5) – but that won’t bring treasure to this temple that was rebuilt in the days of Ezra and Haggai.
ii. The true Desire of All Nations is Jesus, even if the nations themselves do not know it. “He is the one, the true Reformer, the true rectifier of all wrong, and in this respect the desire of all nations. Oh! if the world could gather up all her right desire; if she could condense in one cry all her wild wishes; if all true lovers of mankind could condense their theories and extract the true wine of wisdom from them; it would just come to this, we want an Incarnate God, and you have got the Incarnate God! Oh! Nations, but ye know it not! Ye, in the dark, are groping after him, and know not that he is there” (Spurgeon).
iii. Knowing that Jesus is the Desire of All Nations also encourages our missionary work. “Brethren, I may add, Christ is certainly the desire of all nations in this respect, that we desire him for all nations. Oh! That the world were encompassed in his gospel! Would God the sacred fire would run along the ground, that the little handful of corn on the top of the mountains would soon make its fruit to shake like Lebanon. Oh! When will it come, when will it come that all the nations shall know him? Let us pray for it: let us labour for it.” (Spurgeon)
c. “The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,” says the LORD of hosts: They didn’t need to be discouraged if they didn’t have money for the building project. They had to boldly trust the God who owned every resource, and then give generously.
i. When we really trust God, we will give generously. Hudson Taylor, the groundbreaking missionary to the interior regions of China in the second half of the nineteenth century, experienced this principle early in his life. As a young man he preached in boarding houses in the poor slums of London. A poor man asked Taylor to come back to his room and pray for his wife who suffered complications from childbirth and was near death. The man had no money at all, and couldn’t afford to pay a priest to come and perform the last rites. Taylor went to the man’s room and found the heartbreaking situation – several children, the afflicted mother and a three-day-old baby living in absolute filth and squalor, with absolutely no food or money. Taylor knew he had (something like) a $20 coin in his pocket that would meet their needs, but it was all the money he had in the world himself. He began to speak to the family about God when the Lord spoke to his own heart: “You hypocrite! Telling these unconverted people about a kind and loving Father in heaven, and not prepared yourself to trust Him without your $20.” Taylor wished that he had two $10 pieces, and he would gladly have given them one – but all he had was one $20 coin. He was taken aback, but decided to lead the family in the Lord’s Prayer. As soon as he said the words “Our Father,” the Lord convicted him of his hypocrisy again. He struggled through the prayer under tremendous conviction and then gave the father the $20 piece. That provision saved the life of the mother and rescued the family.
ii. The lesson is plain. Knowing God provides should make us more generous, instead of less generous (“I don’t have to give to their need, because God will provide for them some other way”).
d. The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former: The glory of this temple was in fact greater. First, Herod remodeled this second temple into something greater than Solomon’s temple. Second, the LORD of Glory – Jesus – personally visited it and worshipped there. That alone made it greater.
i. “Because Christ shall appear and preach in it, who is the brightness of his Father’s glory.” (Trapp)
ii. Some scholars speculate that Herod remodeled the temple with the intent of fulfilling the glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former, so that he might fulfill it instead of the Messiah.
e. And in this place I will give peace: The promised peace is shalom. It means far more than stopping conflict – it is the establishment of a lasting, righteous, order.
B. The third word from God: clean and unclean.
1. (10-14) A question for the priests.
On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Now, ask the priests concerning the law, saying, “If one carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the edge he touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will it become holy?”’” Then the priests answered and said, “No.” And Haggai said, “If one who is unclean because of a dead body touches any of these, will it be unclean?” So the priests answered and said, “It shall be unclean.” Then Haggai answered and said, “‘So is this people, and so is this nation before Me,’ says the LORD, ‘and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.
a. Will it become holy?….Will it be unclean? Haggai questioned the priests – who were accustomed to answering such questions – about the transmission of both holiness and impurity. The priests answered correctly according to the law of Moses: holiness is not contagious, but impurity is.
i. A sick child cannot catch health from contacting a healthy child, but the healthy child can become sick. Normally, the principle of transmission only works one way.
b. So is this people, and so is this nation before Me: On the same principle, living in the Holy Land and offering sacrifices would not make the people acceptable, as long as they themselves were unclean through the neglect of the house of the LORD.
i. Since their exile to Babylon, the people of Israel focused on getting back to the Promised Land. By itself this was not a bad objective; yet it led to the thinking that once they made it back to the Promised Land everything else would be good. Haggai reminded them that their presence in the Promised Land didn’t make everything they did holy. If the priorities of our hearts are wrong, nothing we do is holy to God.
ii. “The ruined skeleton of the Temple was like a dead body decaying in Jerusalem and making everything contaminated.” (Baldwin)
2. (15-19) God sees their change of heart and promises a harvest of blessing to come.
‘And now, carefully consider from this day forward: from before stone was laid upon stone in the temple of the LORD; since those days, when one came to a heap of twenty ephahs, there were but ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw out fifty baths from the press, there were but twenty. I struck you with blight and mildew and hail in all the labors of your hands; yet you did not turn to Me,’ says the LORD. Consider now from this day forward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid; consider it: Is the seed still in the barn? As yet the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yielded fruit. But from this day I will bless you.’”
a. I struck you with blight and mildew and hail in all the labors of your hands; yet you did not turn to Me: Those experiences of God’s chastening were real, but God’s people did not learn from them. Difficult times don’t necessarily bring us closer to God.
b. But from this day I will bless you: God promised blessing to His people if they put their priorities back in order, with Him and His work first. Nevertheless, the blessings might not come immediately, and He did not want them to become discouraged, but to trust that from this day I will bless you.
C. The final word from God: God rules.
1. (20-22) God asserts His sovereignty over the nations.
And again the word of the LORD came to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, saying, “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying:
‘I will shake heaven and earth.
I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms;
I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms.
I will overthrow the chariots
And those who ride in them;
The horses and their riders shall come down,
Every one by the sword of his brother.
a. I will shake heaven and earth. I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms: It was easy for the returning exiles to feel insignificant in the world, as if they were just pawns or spectators. God wanted them to know that though they were small in the eyes of the superpowers of the world, they were servants of the God of all power. They were on the winning side.
i. The writer to the Hebrews seems to refer to this line in Hebrews 12:25-26: See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” The author of Hebrews then went on to make an application of the truth that God will shake heaven and earth: Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain (Hebrews 12:27).
b. I will overthrow the chariots and those who ride in them: This word of encouragement shows us that Haggai’s messages from God were a mixture of rebuke and encouragement. God promised to fight for His people in His day of restoration and rescue.
2. (23) A promise to Zerubbabel.
‘In that day,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtiel,’ says the LORD, ‘and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you,’ says the LORD of hosts.
a. I will take you, Zerubbabel…and will make you like a signet ring: The signet ring was a token of royal authority much like a throne, a crown, or a scepter.
i. “This is not a personal assurance only to Zerubbabel, for neither he nor his natural seed reigned in Jerusalem, or rose to any special eminence in the kingdoms of this world.” (Deane)
b. For I have chosen you: Zerubbabel was truly chosen of God. He is included in the ancestry of Jesus, as the grandson of King Jeconiah, the descendant of Solomon. Zerubbabel was in the line leading to Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus (Matthew 1:12). There is also a man named Zerubbabel in the line of Mary (the blood lineage of Jesus, Luke 3:27) but this seems to be a different man with the same name.
i. God used these two lines of ancestry for Jesus because He placed a curse on the seed of Jeconiah (also known as Coniah or Jehoiachin) as recorded in Jeremiah 22:30. That line was the royal line of David, so if the Messiah was to be eligible for the throne of David (Luke 1:31-33), he had to be of the legal line of David, yet not of his seed.
ii. Jeconiah was the last legitimate king of Judah and the royal House of David goes through him. His only successor was Zedekiah, his uncle who was appointed not by right, but by an occupying Babylonian ruler (2 Kings 24:17-20). Even at the end of his life, the Babylonians recognized Jeconiah as the legitimate king of Judah (2 Kings 25:27-30).
iii. Because Zerubbabel was a descendant of the last legitimate king of Judah, he could be legitimately recognized as the ruler (though not king) of the returning exiles.