After a few weeks of preparation for rebuilding, the people realized that their restored temple would fall far short of the glorious splendour of Solomon’s temple. Some of them could recall having seen Solomon’s temple when they were young and no doubt were highlighting the differences. The consequence of this realization was that the leaders and the people became discouraged.
The Lord therefore sent Haggai with two messages of encouragement. The first message reminded them to take a long-term view of things. He told them that the Lord, who had redeemed them from Egypt, was with them by his Spirit. While his cause may at that time have become smaller in Jerusalem, he was still the God who could control worldwide events in order to give real progress to his cause (vv. 4-7). In their limited circumstances they had to remember that they had a God with global resources and plans.
Eventually the plans the Lord had for this temple and his kingdom would cause it to have more significance that Solomon’s. Solomon’s temple, despite the meaning of his name, had not brought peace to the people. In contrast, this temple would be there when the One who would bring peace would come to it, and make atonement close by it for the sins that were preventing the enjoyment of divine peace (v. 9). And through this, he would become the Desire of all nations.
The second message was concerned with more immediate blessings (vv. 10-19). It was given on the day when the foundation of the temple was relaid. Because the people had changed their selfish priorities and were now focused on building the Lord’s house, he would no longer work in providence against their plans. Indeed from that day onwards (the twenty-fourth of the ninth month), he would bless them. This promise was given about three months after they had begun work on the temple, which suggests that the Lord tested their change of heart for those weeks.
On that same day, Haggai was also sent with an encouraging word for Zerubbabel, the leader of the people (vv. 20-23). He was assured that he would be safe in the coming disturbances that the Lord was going to send in his providence to shake up the nations. Sometimes, leaders need special words of encouragement.
It is the case that many Christians produce discouragement in the present because they keep on speaking about the wonders of the past. Of course, it is helpful to think about what happened long ago, but not at the expense of becoming lazy and half-hearted in the present. After all, like the people of Haggai’s day, we have no idea what the Lord will do with the inferior structures we have.