Haggai’s second oracle comes to Judah on the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the next to the last day, on October 17, 520 B.C.E. The seventh month is a particularly busy one in Israel’s calendar. Besides the New Moon festival which began every month, the seventh month included both the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles. The temple, if rebuilt, would have been the focus of each of those festivals. The timing of Haggai’s oracle may have reflected some disappointment or discouragement on the part of Judah as they struggled to rebuild the temple anew. Perhaps they remembered or longed for the days of temple-based festivals.
Nevertheless, Ezra 3:1-6 indicates that Judah had already begun to celebrate the festivals on the newly rebuilt altar even though the temple had only just begun. It had been less than a month since they had renewed the building project. Perhaps they had only cleared away the rubble, if that. The experience may have been discouraging to many, especially those who remembered the first temple. Perhaps it is at one of the assemblies of the Feast of Tabernacles that Haggai rose up before the people and delivered his message.
The message comes in two parts: (1) Be strong and do not fear for I am with you (Haggai 2:3-5), and (2) God will shake the nations to glorify his house (Haggai 2:6-9). Both parts function to encourage the people to complete the temple because God is going to do something wondrous. Haggai calls them to persevere because God is present among them and God will yet again shake heaven and earth for the sake of his people.
The first message encourages the leaders and the people to “be strong” (said three times!) No doubt, as the book of Ezra 4 indicates, they experienced some regional opposition to their task. But the primary discouragement seemed to be the meager materials with which they were then rebuilding the temple. The “former glory” of the Solomonic temple far outstripped this present project. So much so, the detractors asserted, that this temple is “nothing.”
In the face of such antagonism, Haggai—by the use of threefold rhetorical device—calls for determined implementation of the rebuilding project. “Be strong!” and “Do not fear!” This (strength and fear) is the language used to encourage Joshua (Joshua 1:6, 7 ,9) among others, but particularly it is what David said to Solomon to prepare him to build the temple (1 Chronicles 28:10, 20). Specifically, the Chronicler tells us that the Lord “strengthened” Solomon and that God was “with him” (2 Chronicles 1:1). Haggai, it appears, again draws on the building of the first temple to encourage its rebuilding. The task before the people is the same that David set before Solomon—build the house of the Lord.
As with David and Solomon, Yahweh is “with” the leaders and people of Judah. This divine presence (“my Spirit”) is covenantal and redemptive. The same God who brought Israel out of Egypt is the same God who will empower Judah to complete their task. The parallel underscores what a significant redemptive-historical moment this is in the history of Judah. God is acting once again. God is not silent and neither is God passive. God is redeeming Judah and giving his presence to his people. Judah will build the temple of “their God” (1:14).
The second message is a divine promise based on that divine presence and God’s redemptive intent. While some detractors complained that the “glory” of this new temple is “nothing” compared to Solomon’s building project, God promises to “shake” heaven and earth once again that this temple’s glory might surpass the glory of Solomon’s temple. That is an astounding hope. Could Judah possibly believe it as they watch this pauper temple rise?
At one level, Haggai promises that he will move heaven and earth to glorify his house. In particular, he will “shake the nations” so that the “desired of all the nations will come.” It appears that Haggai expects that due to God’s powerful movements among the nations that the nations will come and fill the temple with silver and gold. All wealth belongs to God, and he will shake the nations in such a way that they will bring it to the temple for the sake of the glory of this house (Darius, for example, contributed wealth to the temple, Ezra 6:8). This will be a sign that God has given “peace” to his people.
It is important to remember that the nations were moving at this time. Darius had put down a revolt in Babylon in the previous year (521) and in the next year (519) he would put down another revolt in Egypt. The nations are convulsing and the powers are writhing. In the midst of this, God will “shake the nations” so that Judah’s temple will surpass the glory of the Solomonic temple.
One can hear the hopes and expectations of the people in this promise. Nations will honor God’s temple rather than destroy it. Wealth (silver and gold) will decorate the temple once again rather than stripped from it. Judah will experience prosperity and peace as God glorifies his house. And the glory of this house will exceed that of the Solomonic one.
Did Judah ever experience such? Perhaps they did to a certain extent. The Herodian temple exceeded the Solomonic one in size and wealth. Perhaps Haggai simply envisions the renewal of temple activities in a new facility and the glory of redeemed Judah is greater in that sense than the former Israel. Whatever may be the case, Haggai uses this language to encourage Judah to complete their task. They do not labor in vain and their hope is real. God will return to his people, dwell in his temple and Judah will once again enjoy the calendar’s festivals. Judah will again renew the worship of Yahweh in a new temple and experience again the redemptive presence of God. This is not a hollow promise that is only fulfilled 500 years later. Rather, God is with his people even as their land is occupied by imperial powers…whether Persian, Greek or Roman.
But is there more? Does this language lend itself to another horizon beyond what Haggai might himself see or imagine? Some read this as Messianic. The “desired” of the nations may be Jesus and the presence that comes to the temple to bring peace is Jesus himself who himself goes to the temple. When the incarnate God entered the temple, the glory of this second house exceeded the glory of the first house.
But perhaps it is even more than this. Hebrews 12:26-27 quotes Haggai 2:6 in an eschatological context. Though the earth and the nations will be shaken, the kingdom of God cannot be shaken. Perhaps the glory of the temple actually anticipates the final shaking of heaven and earth that will usher in the new heaven and new earth as the fullness of the kingdom of God is realized upon the earth.
However we might understand a Messianic or eschatological application of this text, Haggai’s message to Judah is itself powerful. God is with you, so be strong and do not fear. God will use the nations to enrich his new temple and the glory of God will reside in it just as it did in the Solomonic temple. God will return to his people. God is “with” Judah, so “be strong” and “do not fear.”