2 In the second year of King Darius, 1 on 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 Jozadak, 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? 4 But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, 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. 7 I will shake all nations, and what is desired by 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.”
(Haggai 1:15b-2:9 NIV)
For 15 years, the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem had not moved forward. The Lord then sent Haggai the prophet to rekindle the Jewish leaders’ and peoples’ love for God and obedience to His Word. The Lord rebuked Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest and the Jewish people for living selfishly and building luxury homes as monuments to themselves rather than building God’s house.
The leaders and people heeded God’s Word and began rebuilding the Temple.
Today’s text occurred approximately a month after the Temple rebuilding began. The Lord spoke through Haggai again, not to rebuke, but to encourage.
Remember the scene Ezra captured at the rebuilding of the Temple foundation and the celebration that took place (Ezra chapter 3)? Many rejoiced, but some of the older people wept. The older people had seen Solomon’s original Temple in all its glory. To see this new Temple with its smaller size and lesser quality building materials was a heartbreaking reminder that their disobedience to God was the reason they lost the original Temple and were exiled.
In verses 2 – 3 of today’s text, the Lord addresses the proverbial “elephant in the room”: discouragement. Just a month into the rebuilding of the Temple, the Lord knew that it would be easy for Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest and the Jewish people to decide it wasn’t worth the pain, effort, and expense to rebuild the Temple. It would be far easier to give up and go back to living for themselves.
So the Lord addressed each of the three (Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the Jewish people) with the same directive: “be strong” (v. 4). Another translation uses the phrase “take courage” to capture the heart of the Lord’s message to His people.
The “be strong” mindset had to come first – a decision of the will to obey the Lord and continue the Temple rebuilding despite the discouragement. But the Lord didn’t stop there. He also commanded the people to work, to continue rebuilding the Temple.
And why should Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the people be strong, take courage, and work? Because the Lord was with them. In verse 5, the Lord took the people on a quick history lesson, back to the days when the Lord brought His children (their ancestors) out of Egypt (v. 5). The Jewish people all knew the stories of God leading His children out of Egypt; how He protected them, provided for them, and led them with His Presence day and night. While they may not have a pillar of cloud by day or a pillar of fire by night to signify His presence among them, the Lord tells the people that He remains in their midst. And what was the Lord’s point of this history lesson? “Do not fear”.
Part of the reason for the leaders’ and peoples’ discouragement beyond the size of the Temple was the lack of gold and silver items to decorate the Temple once the rebuilding was complete. In verses 5-8, the Lord said that He would provide these items in due time. Just like the Egyptians gave the Jewish people a lot of gold, silver, and other items of wealth as they left Egypt, so the Lord would “shake” the heavens, earth, sea, dry land, and the nations to provide silver and gold for His Temple.
The Lord ends His word of encouragement by promising that the glory of the rebuilt Temple will surpass the glory of Solomon’s Temple. And not only will the glory of this rebuilt Temple be greater than its predecessor, the Lord will also give peace. Other than the presence of the Lord, what greater gift could the Jewish people ask for than peace?
So what can we learn from today’s text? One important lesson is not to dwell on the past. It’s easy to talk about “the good old days” and compare what life was supposedly like in a different time, to bemoan and complain about the way things are in the present.
Was God active in the past? Of course.
Is He active and working now? Yes.
Does He promise to be active in the future? Most definitely.
Listen to what God said about Himself as He spoke to the Apostle John:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
(Revelation 1:8 NIV, underlines mine)
To be stuck in the past creates two major problems for us:
- By remaining stuck in the past, we deny (or at a minimum, ignore) God’s ability to transcend time and work in the present and future as well as the past
- By remaining stuck in the past, we take our focus and attention off of God and who He says we are and what He says about us. This leads to listening to and relying on the opinions of others, including the Accuser (Satan) who is our critic and wants us to believe his lies.
May we live in the present and look to Jesus for our encouragement, strength, and power to persevere through hard times. His promise to be with us was true in Haggai’s day; the same God promises to be with us in our day, also.
The question is, will we keep trying to live life on our own, or will we listen to the truth about what He says about us and give Him control of our lives so He can transform us into the persons He created each of us to be?