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:
- Zarubabbel, the governor of Judah (they couldn’t have a king at this time as they were still ruled by the Persians).
- Joshua, the high priest.
- 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. 5 ‘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:
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.
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.
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.”
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.