Rev. Hanko is pastor in the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington.
The Second Prophecy:
1. In the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month, came the word of the Lord by the prophet Haggai, saying,
2. Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and to the residue of the people, saying,
The second prophecy comes nearly a month, that is, 27 days, after the people had begun working again on the house of the Lord, and nearly two months after the first prophecy. It comes, as will be seen, in response to their discouragement with the work. That it comes so quickly is a wonderful testimony to God’s watchful care for His people and to His mercy. He no longer chides them for their previous sins, or because of those sins keeps them on probation, but immediately comes with a necessary word of encouragement through Haggai.
The encouragement God gives has two parts. In the first part God speaks of the temple in past times and compares the temple they were building to the older temple of Solomon. In the second part He speaks of the temple in the future and of its future glory. In both parts God is reassuring them that the temple they were working on was necessary in the history of His house.
That this prophecy is addressed not only to Zerubbabel and Joshua but to the people is the case because it was they who were doing the actual work and who faced many discouragements in that work. God wishes them, therefore, to hear His gracious words directly and not just through the mouths of their leaders.
Zerubbabel and Joshua are also named, however, because this prophecy concerns Christ as the one through whom the temple of God would be filled with glory greater than the glory of Solomon’s temple, and these men in their offices were the representatives and pictures of Christ to the people. God not only speaks to them and to the people about Christ, therefore, but He holds them up as prefiguring Christ. Their glory, though very dim in those days, was still part of the glory that God had given in Solomon’s days and a hint of the glory that would follow when a greater than Solomon appeared.
This prophecy would have been delivered on the last day of the feast of tabernacles (Lev. 23:34-42). This is of more than passing interest in view of the fact that the feast celebrated Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, to which God Himself makes reference in the verses that follow. That deliverance would have been on the minds of the people, therefore, and must have made them wonder whether God was really with them as He had been in the days when they came out of Egypt. Then they were a great host, now they are but a remnant. Then they had been on their way to a land flowing with milk and honey, now they are having difficulty even subsisting in the land.
3. Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? And how do ye see it now? Is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?
There are those who think these words to be proof that Haggai was among those who had seen and still remembered the temple of Solomon (Ezra 3:12, 13), but that cannot be demonstrated either from this verse or from other passages. Nor is it the point of this verse. Haggai is not speaking of himself, but of the people and their discouragement in the work of rebuilding the temple. That they were discouraged is clear from the exhortation to “fear not” (v. 5).
Haggai’s words show that the people, having begun the work of rebuilding, could see at once that this temple would neither be as beautiful nor as glorious as Solomon’s. It may have been larger than Solomon’s (the decree of Cyrus in Ezra 6:3, 4 stipulated a temple of 60 by 60 cubits as compared to the 60 by 20 cubits recorded of Solomon’s temple in I Kings 6:2), but it had not the richness of Solomon’s temple.
Solomon’s temple had been covered with gold and silver on the inside and much of the furniture and many of the vessels had also been of precious metal. This was impossible in Zerubbabel’s temple because of the poverty of the people. God Himself alludes to this lack of ornament in Haggai 2:8. Even that, however, was not the chief cause of the people’s discouragement, but rather the fact that some important things from Solomon’s temple were missing in this temple. Most importantly, the ark of the covenant was not there.
The Jews traditionally listed five things lacking in the second temple: (1) the ark with its mercy seat; (2) the holy fire that burned perpetually in the candlesticks and on the altar (Lev. 6:8-13; Lev. 24:2); (3) the cloud of glory (I Kings 8:10, 11); (4) the spirit of prophecy; and (5) the Urim and Thummim (Ezra 2:63). Certainly we can agree that four of these five were indeed lacking (the spirit of prophecy did not depart until after Malachi’s work was finished). That this temple was lacking in glory in comparison to Solomon’s was evident already when the foundations were laid. Then the older people who had seen and remembered Solomon’s temple wept bitterly (Ezra 3:12, 13).
Of all these the ark of the covenant was the most important because it symbolized God’s presence with His people in the way of mercy and atonement for sin. Without the ark, it must have seemed to the believing Jews that the temple they were building was worthless.
We know that the ark was not in the second temple because it is not listed in Ezra 1:7-11 among the items that the Jews took back with them to Jerusalem. All they took back were some smaller dishes and other items. Nor is the ark ever mentioned again in Scripture, and Jewish tradition confirms that after the captivity the only thing that stood in the holy of holies was a large rock. Probably the Jews did not dare rebuild the ark without an express command from God.
The ark was so important because it symbolized the presence of God in the house and among His people in the way of blood atonement, for it was there that the blood was sprinkled on the great day of atonement. The people must have feared, therefore, that they were building the house in vain—that God would not be there and dwell with them there. That this is not speculation is clear from the verses that follow, in which God reassures them on exactly that point.
The other ways in which this temple lacked beauty were not unimportant, however. The beauty and glory of Solomon’s temple and the gold and silver that adorned it were ordered by God Himself for the purpose of reflecting His own glory and showing that He who promised to live in the temple was the sovereign Lord and Owner of all, the King of kings and Lord of lords. This temple lacked all that. It has been described by one commentator as “drab and utilitarian.”* The people’s fears and discouragement were well-founded, therefore. Nor did the fact that Ezekiel had prophesied of a more glorious temple help.
God, instead of glossing over these things, Himself reminds the people of them through the words of Haggai, all but rubbing their noses in the fact. In that way He shows that He knows their hearts and the fears that were troubling them. He also shows by these words that this matter is important to Him. As He tells the people more plainly in the verses that follow, it is His will that the glory of His house be less than in former times.
It is at that point that the word of God through Haggai touches a sensitive nerve in every member of the church who loves God’s house in the New Testament. Everyone who is spiritually sensitive can see that what was true in Haggai’s day is also true today. The house of God, the church in the world, is much less glorious today than it was in former days. Compared to the church in the days of the apostles or in the days of the great Reformation of the sixteenth century the church today is nothing.
We see the church splintered and divided. We see the glory of her worship waning as the emphasis in worship is less and less on God and more and more on the worshipers. We see worship changed to entertainment and socializing. We see the preaching and sacraments despised and misused and discipline non-existent. Even the glory of the members, those living stones of which God’s house is built, appears as nothing, for their glory is the glory of holiness, and that too is departed in these last days. That helps us understand the feeling of these Jews and their need for encouragement. But their need is also ours.
Lest we be discouraged, God Himself tells us that He is aware of these things, and He addresses both to Judah and to us words of encouragement that keep us busy with the work of building His house, even when, humanly speaking, their seems so little point to it. Those words of encouragement are found in verses 4-9 and consist in a number of distinct though connected promises.
God first encourages them, however, by speaking of the fact that this temple was really a continuation of Solomon’s temple. Though less glorious, it was nevertheless the same house. Both are referred to as “this house.” In that way God tells the people that whatever may be lacking in this rebuilt temple, it is still His house, the same that He commanded to be built in the days of David and Solomon.
God promises first that He will be with His people and dwell among them as in former days (vv. 4, 5). He promises a greater glory for His house than that of the house that Solomon had built. And He promises that He will give His people peace and deliverance from their enemies in that house, when its glory finally transcends the glory of Solomon’s temple. Included in these promises are the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the promise of Christ’s coming both in Bethlehem and at the end of all things, the promise of a new heavens and earth, and the promise of the salvation and glorification of His church.
Why was it, though, that God was satisfied with a house that was only a poor shadow of the house Solomon had built? You would think that God would want the most beautiful temple possible, and that He would have supplied the Jews with gold, silver, and precious stones and woods, so that His house would be more beautiful than any kingly palace. Why did He remind the Jews of the poverty of this house and do nothing to change that?
The answer to these questions is that Christ was coming, and the people had to start looking away from the earthly types and shadows to Christ Himself. It would be only a little while before the Desire of all nations would come, and they had to be ready. Haggai 2:9is a promise of the coming of Christ. He is the true temple of God because He is Immanuel, God with us, the fulfillment of all God’s promises to dwell with His people.
* Motyer, Haggai, vol. III, p. 987.