A message of encouragement (2:1-9)
Although the foundation of the temple had been laid sixteen years earlier, it had no doubt been damaged during the years of neglect. More work was necessary before construction could begin on the building itself. After the people had been at work for about a month, they could see enough of the rebuilt foundation to form an idea of the size of the proposed temple. Some of the very old people, remembering Solomon’s magnificent temple, may have commented that this new temple was not very impressive by comparison. Haggai saw that this would discourage the builders, so he brought them a message of encouragement (2:1-3). As God’s spokesman, Haggai passed on God’s assurance that he was with them, just as he had been with their ancestors when he brought them out of Egypt (4-5).
Just as God shook the earth with the giving of the law at Mt Sinai, so through this temple he would ‘shake’ heaven and earth in a far greater way. Through the temple, he was reconstructing the religious centre of the Jewish nation, for this was the nation from which the Messiah was to come. Israel’s temple would receive greater splendour than the discouraged workmen imagined. God, who was the real owner of the world’s wealth, would direct rulers of other nations to bring their silver and gold to beautify it (6-8; cf. Ezra 6:8-12).
However, far greater glory would come through the multitudes from many nations who would join with Israel in the true temple. The Messiah’s real dwelling place would be among all the redeemed in a living temple that he would establish in the world in glory. The temporary hardships of the Jewish builders would appear as nothing compared with the splendour of that day (9).
Promises of blessing (2:10-19)
At the end of three months all the foundation work was finished (cf. 1:14-15; 2:18). Zechariah had successfully urged the people to repent (Zech 1:1-6), and now Haggai emphasized again that spiritual cleansing was the only way by which they could enjoy God’s blessing (10).
Haggai reminded the people that their wrong attitudes in the past had been the cause of all their troubles. He gave an illustration to show that contact with unclean things made a person unclean, but contact with holy things did not make a person holy. As long as they had neglected the temple and let it lie as a ruined ‘dead’ thing in their midst, they had been unclean and therefore unacceptable to God. All their religious activity had not made them holy, no matter how much it brought them in contact with holy things (11-14).
The people’s selfishness and disobedience had brought God’s judgment upon them in damage to their crops and a shortage of food. Now that they had turned from their selfish ways and obeyed God, things would change (15-17). God would reverse the unfavourable agricultural conditions and give them fruitful crops again. His promise would begin to come true from that very day; for on that day, by completing the foundations of the temple, they had given visible proof that their obedience was genuine (18-19).
A personal message for Zerubbabel (2:20-23)
Later the same day Haggai delivered another encouraging message, this time to Zerubbabel the governor (20). Zerubbabel was a descendant of David in the line of kings who reigned in Jerusalem, and he was entitled to the throne of Israel (Matt 1:6-12). But because Israel was still under Persian rule he was allowed to be only governor.
Despite these restrictions, Haggai encouraged Zerubbabel with the assurance that he was still God’s specially chosen representative. Through him God would not only re-establish the nation Israel, but would overthrow all nations and establish God’s worldwide kingdom. Zerubbabel did not live to see the fulfilment of Haggai’s words, but the promise passed on to one of his descendants, Jesus the Messiah, in whom the prophecy will find its fullest meaning (21-23; cf. Matt 1:12-16).