Haggai gave four messages to the people of Israel, all in the “second year of Darius,” who was the Persian king. The first message is in Haggai 1, and the final three messages are in Haggai 2. Scholars have dated these messages to 520 BC.
In the first message, Haggai spurred the people of Israel to begin again at rebuilding the temple. The second, third, and fourth messages seem to be more about what God is going to do. He’s going to shake the heavens and earth. He’s going to bless his people. And he’s going to bring the King.
The second message from Haggai (2:1-9) came during the Feast of Booths, where the people spent seven days living in booths as a reminder of how they lived when they were delivered by God from slavery in Egypt. And so the people were living in temporary shelters while Haggai was encouraging them to continue in the construction of God’s own permanent (or was it just temporary?) house.
This message is an encouragement to the people to continue the work of building the temple. God encouraged them, saying, “for I am with you” and “my Spirit remains in your midst.” As Christians, we don’t have to think hard to start coming up with New Testament connections to these passages. God also reminded the Israelites of the covenant he made with the people after their exodus from Egypt.
In this second message, God also promised a cosmic “shaking” of the heavens and earth and sea and dry land – and of the nations. Those nations will be shaken so that their wealth falls into the temple. Haggai could have been talking about some of the political events that were going on in the world during his day. But he’s also speaking of a future “shaking” of the heavens and earth. You really ought to read Hebrews 12:18-29, which quotes Haggai 2:6. You’ll find some good things to ponder. (More on that below.)
The third message from Haggai (2:10-19) has a question for the priests about what God’s Law says about how holiness and uncleanness are transferred from one item or person to another. The core of the message is that uncleanness is contagious. Holiness is not.
In this third message, God noted the economic weakness of the people and promised them a blessing. This would have been a good message for that moment, which was late in the year (the ninth month, or December) when some of their crops were in the ground.
The final message from Haggai (2:20-23) is to the local governor, Zerubbabel. Like we’ve noted before, he was a member of the family of King David – a descendant from the old monarchy. God promised to make him like a “signet ring,” which was an engraved ring that a king would use to put his mark on official documents. Perhaps the presence of Zerubbabel (who kind of disappears from the biblical record after this particular period in Israel’s life) marked God’s official message to the people that God had not forgotten his promise to David, or his promise to bring the people a King, or his promise to make them into a secure nation.
So that’s some of the background of the passage.
As I read Haggai 2, my eyes kept getting drawn back to this notion of the shaking heavens and earth and sea and dry land – and the nations. God invited the people to look at the temple. He especially wanted those people who had seen the temple in its glory days to take a look at the reconstruction process. “How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?”
I am sure it wasn’t much to look at. Because of the people’s disobedience to God, the temple had been shaken down to its foundations by the Babylonians. It had been destroyed, left as rubble there in the middle of the equally destroyed city of Jerusalem. The fact of the matter is God had shaken it.
But now he was encouraging the people to build again. “Work, for I am with you.”
Something had changed. Not only so, but God was promising to be with the people as they restored the temple. And he was promising to shake the cosmos on their behalf. The heavens and earth and sea and dry land and nations would shake while the temple – God’s presence with his people – presumably stood firm.
Life for the Israelites must have felt like it took place on shaky ground. The nations surrounding them and the agricultural conditions with which they had to contend must have seemed completely out of their control. They were a weak people. Remember years later when the skeptic Sanballat was watching as the Israelites worked to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. “What are these feeble Jews doing?” (Nehemiah 4:2). Perhaps Sanballat just wanted to insult them. But there must have been truth to his statement. This no longer was a formidable nation.
Life today can feel like it’s on shaky ground. Here’s the top headline on my phone right now: “Masked and standing apart, the world tiptoes out of lockdown.” Yep. Shaky. We wear masks because we are afraid of breathing in viral air. We stand apart because we don’t know what might happen if we get too close to other people. We tiptoe because we don’t want to upset the balance of nature and the coronavirus. And we want to get out of our lockdown – because humans weren’t designed to be locked down.
If there’s anything we have learned during the past couple of months, it is that life and good health and financial security are fleeting. They can disappear at a moment’s notice. Everything can be humming along well and then, in a blink, it’s gone.
But we have a God who is unmovable. Our world is shaky, but he is not. And he has promised to shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land and the nations. There will be a divine reordering of the universe on the Last Day. But for those who put their faith in Christ – there is peace.
“At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken – that is, things that have been made – in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:26-29).
There is a temple – Christ and his church – that cannot be shaken. And this is where we live as Christians. We are unshaken in this shaky world.
Spend some time thinking and praying about these things. Tomorrow, we start reading the book of Zechariah.