The Journey is Hard, but the Destination is Worth It – Haggai 2:6-9

  • Jul 01, 2014
  • Series: President's Bible Study

One of the toughest times of parenthood for Alison and for me was moving cities while our children were young. The whole family had been settled. The church where I was pastor was a warm, loving community, and all of us, children and adults, had formed deep and lasting friendships.

Then – in remarkable ways – Alison and I sensed God was calling us to a place 130 miles away, to a larger city and a very different kind of church where I would be pastor. We packed up, said our farewells, and in the middle of a cold, dark winter we made the move. It wasn’t easy, but it was clear God had called us.

It was clear to us, to Alison and me. It was a lot less clear to our daughters. Rachel, Jude, and Catherine had left wonderful friendships, a good school, and lots of fun places where they played. They were still young, aged between five and nine, and it was hard for them to hear that God wanted us in a place so far from the one they’d loved and felt they belonged. There were hard questions and many tears. So much that was good now lay in the past. More of that story later.

The Israelites in Jerusalem knew of their glorious past, including the spectacularly beautiful and lavish temple in which their forefathers worshiped. Solomon, with access to immense wealth and the most skilled of workers, had built a glorious temple to honor God’s greatness. Those were the days…

Now people with few resources and building skills, survivors from exile and from harsh times back in Jerusalem, could only think all that was good about a temple for God was in the past. No temple they could build would ever be worth having. 

God speaks to them through Haggai and promises a future very different from anything they’d known or heard about, a future which would be spectacular and glorious.

Haggai 2:6-9

6 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” 

 

For the people of Israel, there is nothing negative in what God says to them now. God promises he will do four very positive things.

1. God will disturb the status quo.

God says: “I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations…” (vs. 6-7).

We tend to think our circumstances are fixed, that they’re unchangeable, that how things are is how they will always be. That’s not true, or at least not as far as God is concerned. God changes things and changes them radically.

When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they must have believed that generation after generation of their descendants would be slaves. They could never escape or buy their freedom. All the wealth and all the power lay with the Egyptians, so their situation was unchangeable.

But then God sent Moses and God sent plagues and God drowned the Egyptian army in the waters of the Red Sea. God shook a mighty nation and Israel was free.

When the Israelites were exiled in Babylon they must have believed again that their situation was unchangeable.

But the Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Persian Empire, and Cyrus, King of Persia, decreed that the Jews could return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. God shook an empire, and Israel was free.

And God had not finished. In time the Persian Empire would be destroyed by the Greek Empire, and later the Greek Empire would be conquered by the Roman Empire. “I will shake all nations…” says God. He had done it in the past. He would do it again.

God’s message through Haggai was that nothing and no one is stuck, fixed, unchangeable. Whatever does not fit with God’s plan, whatever is set in opposition to God, he can and he will change. Yes, that’s disturbing, but our God is one who disturbs. And there are no limits nor powers able to resist. “I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.” Nothing is missing from that list. His work is comprehensive; nothing escapes God’s power to change it.

Our God is a mighty God, and he will shake our impenetrable, impassable, impossible barriers and make a way where there seems to be no way. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14)

Nothing, absolutely nothing.

2. God will provide in remarkable ways.

Through Haggai God says: “I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come…” (v. 7).

The “desired of all nations will come…” – what does that mean?

Charles Wesley, the famous hymn writer, was in no doubt it was a reference to the coming Messiah. In “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” he included these words:

“Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;” [1]

Many have seen a reference in Haggai’s prophecy to the coming of Jesus. But most scholars don’t think that’s what’s meant, and they’re probably right.

One, there are grammatical reasons. A plural verb is used, which means Haggai was not referring to one person or one thing.

Two, the phrase “what is desired by all nations” would be very odd as a reference to the Messiah. Certainly the Jews would have desired their Messiah, but not other nations.

Three, the context of Haggai’s encouraging prophecy is about how God will provide the means for his people to build the temple. The word translated ‘desired’ is used fifteen times in the Old Testament, and in the vast majority of those occasions it describes objects of value or beauty. So, the context is how God will provide, and the word usually refers to things of value. Then the next verse says: “‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty” (v. 8), a reference to money.

Therefore, the most likely meaning of God’s promise is that he will bring the wealth of the nations to Israel so the temple can be built and be worthy. Much of value had been stolen from Jerusalem when the people were captured by the Babylonians. God says: “That wealth is already mine, and I will cause the desired of all nations, the wealth of all nations, to be brought back. You will have what you need for this work.” [2]

When God would shake the nations, it’s as if he’d shake the money out of their pockets. Funds that these Israelites could never expect to have would become theirs.

The lesson from this is not that God will bless every idea we have for his work with fabulous resources. Very easily our ambitions for great projects come from selfish motives more than kingdom values. We cannot devise our grandiose schemes and then say, “God we did this for you, so now baptize our buildings or programs with millions so we can pay the bills!” God is not obliged to underwrite every crazy idea of his people.

But the lesson here is that God will provide above and beyond the expectations of his people when they humbly obey his leading and do his work. We are acutely aware of how little we have. God is acutely aware that all the wealth of the world is his, and he will provide so his mission is done.

3. God will fill his house with his glory.

God says so specifically about this temple: “I will fill this house with glory.

There will be money, and perhaps gold and silver for this temple. But it’s not the wealth the nations will bring that will make it special. What will be special is God’s glory in that temple.

Their failure to rebuild the temple had mattered so much because the temple signified God’s presence among his people. They had prioritized their own homes and their harvests, and ignored where God was in their lives. That was wrong. They had downgraded God. His place was at the heart, at the center of his people.

“I will be,” God says. “You build this temple and I will fill it with my glory.”

That promise of God’s glory must have reminded the people of when Solomon finished his temple and the Ark of the Covenant was brought inside and placed in the inner sanctuary of the temple. What happened next was unexpected:

When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.” (1 Kings 8:10-11)

God’s glory was so real, no one could carry out their duties. His glory was overwhelming and wonderful. God truly was among his people.

God says to the people around Haggai: “I will fill this house with glory.” This temple would never be as lavish as its predecessor, but it would lack nothing of God’s glory.

And there’s more.

‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (v. 9)

It’s a remarkable statement. The temple they are about to build will have even more glory than the temple of Solomon.

  • Perhaps they will sense God’s special pleasure in that temple because his returned people have built that place for their God despite their own meager resources.
  • Perhaps, after neglecting their Lord for so long, the people will come before God with more thankfulness and more honor than ever before.
  • Perhaps God has plans to meet there with his people in ways they have never known before.

That last point – that God planned to meet his people in a special way in that temple – came true, though in a way Haggai’s audience would not have imagined.

It was in that temple – the second temple – that Jesus would walk. God would inhabit that temple in human flesh. His glory would be there even more than in the shekinah cloud of glory of the first temple. His presence, his majesty, his divinity would be experienced in the temple they would build greater than anything before.

We serve God faithfully, hoping that something important and good emerges. But God has plans in mind more than anything we know. He sees a mighty harvest for a kingdom which lasts forever. His plans are greater than our loftiest imagination. His outcomes are more wonderful than our wildest dreams. God is doing what God alone can do, and our privilege is being part of it.

4. God will bring peace right where they are.

If, indeed, the promise of greater glory for this temple is because Christ will walk there, then God’s promise makes perfect sense that “in this place I will grant peace.

Superficially, Israel knew little peace in the years after this. There was conflict and massive political upheavals. But they could still know peace, for the Hebrew word šālôm carries a richer, deeper meaning than an end to war or strife. To experience šālôm is to find an inner settledness, a rightness with God and the world, to be well through and through.

In God’s presence there is that peace. With God they could know that peace. When Jesus came – to that temple, and into the hearts and minds of his followers – it would be an even more special peace. Jesus described it himself:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

His disciples would have a wellness born of a complete salvation. They would be people at one with God, surrendered to Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, their futures in God’s hands, experiencing eternal life now and always. “I will give peace,” says God. Truly he does.

For a long time the returned exiles had looked back. They knew how good the old days were. It was hard to believe anything nearly so wonderful could lie ahead. That brings me back to the story of my three daughters who had lost their friends, their school, the place they’d loved because we’d moved to a new city. The past was wonderful. Nothing so good seemed to lie ahead.

“Why have we come here?” one of them asked.

In ways they could understand we explained that we were sure it was God’s will.            

“Why would God’s will be for us to be unhappy?” came the innocent question. That was a tough question to answer.

But two years later we didn’t need to answer it any more. Those questions had stopped. The tears had ended. Our girls had let go of the past and embraced the future. They had wonderful new friends and a fabulous new school. They loved the city and the countryside. There were big stores to visit, woods to explore or a river where they could walk with the dog.

The church was good too, with wonderful programs for them and organizations where they developed skills and grew in faith. Many of the things that make them the special people they are today developed in that new place. Now they give thanks for that move.

God has wonderful plans for our lives. Certainly there are things now past which we will miss, and which leave us great memories. We should be thankful for those things. Certainly the way ahead can seem very hard. Following God’s will is not easy. But it’s always right, and there are good things in God’s future for us that we can’t yet imagine but which are more gloriously wonderful than anything we could ever have imagined. The journey is hard, but the destination is worth it.

 

[1] First published in 1739. These words appear in a verse not often sung today.

[2] Isaiah similarly prophesied:

the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
  to you the riches of the nations will come.” (Is. 60:5)