The book of Ezra records that Haggai was a faithful prophet of God at a pivotal moment in Judah’s history. The Jews had just been sent home from their decades-long exile in Babylon and Persia and the nation needed to be rebuilt. Their first priority should have been rebuilding the great Temple in Jerusalem, but after laying the foundation they abandoned the project while they built luxurious homes for themselves. This was not just an issue of poor planning. It did not reveal an administrative problem, it revealed a spiritual problem. By neglecting the Temple of God they were neglecting the God of the Temple. God sent Haggai to confront the nation’s leadership and to motivate them to put God first and to honor Him by resuming work on His house.
In our chapter today, we find that the people were working on the Temple, and two months into the project the structure was taking shape. But some of the old men who had seen the original Temple were discouraged. They wept when they realized that the new Temple was not going to be as glorious or as beautiful as the one Solomon had built (see Ezra 3:12). That kind of discouragement can spread quickly and kill a project, so God gave Haggai another message for the people. The prophet addressed the problem directly (v.3): “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory?”
The assumption among the older men must have been that the nation had sinned-away God’s glory, and that they would never recover the magnificence of Solomon’s Temple or the favor of God they had once known. But Haggai gave them this message from God: “I am with you…My Spirit remains in your midst” (v.4, 5). The important thing was not the appearance of the Temple, but the presence of the Lord in the Temple. Decorations can be destroyed and beauty can be ruined — they knew that fact very well — but if you have God, you have everything you need. Think about that.
Before two final sermons that assured the people that God was going to bless them and give them victory over their enemies (v.10-23), Haggai delivered a message with a distant, end-times meaning. In verses 6-9 the prophet predicted that God will someday “shake” the world with His judgment. The result of God’s global shakedown will be a glorious renewal of His people. When the Messiah, Jesus Christ, returns in the last days to set up His kingdom on earth, the glory of God’s people in those days will eclipse anything the world has ever known. (Note: this is not a promise for Jews only, but for all believers who have been “grafted into” God’s great family; see Romans 11:11-24).
Our hearts should long for that day when Jesus returns and sets everything right. And until then, we should do what the people did in Haggai’s day: stop being so self-centered, stop procrastinating our obedience to God, stop romanticize “the way things used to be” in the past, stop stalling-out every time someone complains, stop whining about the difficulty of our mission — and get busy doing the Lord’s work. If God is with us, we don’t have to be afraid (v.5). If God is with us, His limitless resources are at our disposal (v.8). And if God is with us, we can live in that unique glory-zone in which our work becomes our rest and our excitement is our peace.