Category Archives: Haggai

Haggai 2 – God’s Covenant and Spirit are Our Confidence

Chapter 2 is a sometimes confusing mix of the historical and eschatological, but the beauty of both is that they rest not on God’s people, but on God’s promises, not on human effort, but God’s Spirit (v. 5). In the first five verses Haggai’s prophecy, the Lord speaking through Haggai, addresses these three:

  1. Zarubabbel, the governor of Judah (they couldn’t have a king at this time as they were still ruled by the Persians).
  2. Joshua, the high priest.
  3. The remnant of the people.

The message he has for them is one of encouragement:

Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am withyou,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’

And it is encouraging to the degree that it ultimately doesn’t depend on them. It depends, rather, on God’s covenant promises and his Spirit, so the indicative drives the imperative. Unfortunately, most Christians get this backward because they confuse sanctification with justification. If, they tend to think, I just do more of this or that, or less of that or this, then God will be more favorably disposed toward them. This is subtle because of course they believe in the gospel, and God’s mercy and grace, his forgiveness, but they still don’t fully trust that Christ’s righteousness is theirs. And it is exactly so because of what the Lord here tells the remnant of the Jews, because of his covenant, and his Spirit in and among us.

The next several verses are a perfect example of the confusion I mention above. It says the whole of the heavens and earth will be shaken, then this:

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.

What in the world is “desired by all nations”? I don’t know exactly, but I think a clue is what we’ve seen throughout the prophets, that judgment and salvation go hand in hand. All nations want ultimately what they can’t have, which is perfect peace and prosperity. We live in a fallen, tragic, endlessly frustrating, and in the end futile world. We all end up with dirt in our face. But we long for more because we know there must be more. As I’ve heard it said, we have infinite longing and only finite capabilities to fulfill it. What we want, then, what is “desired by all nations,” is only what God himself can fulfill.

‘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.”

The only peace that ultimately matters is peace with God. That is what we truly desire. Pascal says it with typical perspicacity:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

And Augustine with his poetic simplicity

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

And finally the Apostle Paul:

[S]ince we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . .

Haggai can only be pointing to Christ because God cannot grant peace apart from his justice being satisfied. There is nothing arbitrary, a la the God of Islam, about God granting peace, praise the Lord!

The rest of the chapter is God’s affirmation to the remnant that he will most definitely bless their work on this temple, which ushered in a period in Jewish history called second temple Judaism. All of it paving the way for the Messiah who will save God’s people. This is clearly confirmed by “the Lord Almighty” in the last verse when he promises Zerubbabel, “I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you.” We find this same Zerubbabel in Matthew and Luke in the lineage of Christ. The Lord is reestablishing his promise of the salvation to come through David’s line.


Haggai 1 – God’s Presence is What Separates His People From All Others

The historical background for the little “book” of Haggai is post-exile Jerusalem. A remnant has returned to Jerusalem, and Persian King Cyrus (who destroyed the Babylonians) allowed the Jews to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. All the details are in Ezra and Nehemiah. There are four prophecies, and they are all given on specific dates in 520 BC. Of Haggai:

He began his ministry about sixteen years after the return of the Jews to Judah (ca. 520 BC). The work of rebuilding the temple had been put to a stop through the intrigues of the Samaritans. After having been suspended for eighteen years, the work was resumed through the efforts of Haggai and Zechariah. They exhorted the people, which roused them from their lethargy, and induced them to take advantage of a change in the policy of the Persian government under Darius I.

Near the beginning of the first chapter the Lord rebukes the people for living in their “paneled houses,” while his house “remains a ruin.” Twice (verses 5 & 7) we read that “this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways.'” Then he proceeds to tell them that they’ve done all kinds of other work, but have nothing to show for it. The Lord has not blessed them, or more accurately, withheld his blessing from them.

When I underlined those words my “ways” as a young Christian no doubt I thought of them in terms of morality. As many Christians do, I tended to see the Christian life in moralistic terms rather than a life lived in the reality of God’s presence through what Christ accomplished for me in the gospel. Big difference! This is what I’ve come to call the radical relational reversal. In theological terms it’s called justification. Christ took the wrath of God against me for my sin, and endured the punishment I deserved. He took the wages of sin, death, for me! As a result, once I believed Christ’s righteousness was then given to me, and I went from God’s enemy to his child. Now instead of wanting to hide from God, or trying to gain his favor through obedience to the law (morality), I want to please him as I would a daddy, or Abba Father.

I think the temple in a sense functioned in the same way in the historical context of God’s people. They had been judged for this sin, and he now brought them back to the land. After the exile, he wants them to know that the only thing that separates them from every other people on earth is his presence. And the temple is the symbol and reality of that presence. It is God’s mercy and grace revealed in their midst.

This has definite historical meaning, and eventually eschatological meaning, but it’s instructive for our own lives. When we prosper in a thing, it is a direct result of the Lord’s blessing. All good things come from his hand. Another way to look at giving careful thought to our ways is the Lord’s exhortation to understand who exactly it is that is God (not us!), and that we are contingent, dependent beings that rely on the Lord, as Paul says, for life, breath, and everything else. Or as Solomon said in Psalm 127:1: “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”

Haggai is a unique voice among the prophets because the people did something they never did before: they obeyed! They realized that unless the Lord’s presence was with them, they were nothing, not even a people. Reflecting on 18 years of fruitlessness will do that to you. Obviously what we’re doing isn’t working, so let’s give God a try! And there is no indication that the Lord had sent other prophets prior to Haggai. But when he did they were ready. They are lead by two men, Zerubbabel (who is significant in the lineage of the Davidic King to come), and Joshua. Haggai told the people that that Lord is with them, and

They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month.