Strong Encouragement for a Weak Remnant
or: A Change of Perspective
"I will fill this house with glory... The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, saith Jehovah of hosts..."
(Haggai 2: 7, 9-J. N. D. Translation)
In Ezra chapter 3 we read of shouts of joy mingled with weeping (Ezra 3: 10-13). A remnant had returned from captivity in Babylon and the builders had laid the foundation of the temple. Apparently there were contradictory feelings about this event but both were acceptable to God: rejoicing over His mercy (v. 11) and weeping over a condition so much inferior to their more glorious past (v. 12). But however justified both reactions were at that time and however suitable the condition of soul from which these feelings arose, it is a sad fact that the building of the temple ceased soon after (Ezra 4: 24). Haggai and Zechariah prophesy in this situation and the work is resumed (Ezra 5: 2).
It is striking that the prophet Haggai, in encouraging the feeble remnant, does not attempt to reproduce either of the two reactions described above. Being occupied solely with what has already been wrought would carry a danger of boasting in accomplished achievements (although it was the Lord who had wrought it). Haggai refutes any such thought at its very root by his question: "Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?" (Haggai 2: 3). A realisation of the nothingness of their work was necessary to counteract any tendency to boast in it.
On the other hand, Haggai does not suggest that this fact should lead to weeping but, surprisingly, he immediately continues to say "be strong... and work (v. 4). This exhortation is neither based on help received so far (cause of rejoicing in Ezra 3) nor on a comparison between their present condition and past glory (cause of weeping in Ezra 3). The prophet brings before them a two-fold encouragement based on neither of these two elements. Firstly, he points to present resources (the Lord with them, His Word and His Spirit-vv 4-5). Secondly he draws their attention to future glory in a very distinct and remarkable way. The promises, "I will fill this house with glory" (v. 7) and, "The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former" (v. 9, J.N.D. Trans.), provide the key. They link the present work of the feeble remnant with the future glory. Their present building may be much inferior to Solomon's but it is linked with one that will be superior to Solomon's. Their present temple may not be filled by the cloud of glory but it is linked with one that will be filled by even greater glory. The link is so close that Haggai identifies both by stating that "this house" will be filled with glory and that the future glory of "this house" exceeds the former. By viewing the temple in their "day of small things" (Zech. 4: 10) as identified with the millennial glory-filled temple Haggai exalts the present work to a very high level. This new perspective provides a most powerful encouragement to continue the work. It was therefore perfectly suited to Haggai's aim.1
Today, if we compare the testimony given to the assembly as God's dwelling place (Eph. 2: 22) to the powerful start of this testimony in Acts 2-4 we can only conclude it is "as nothing" in our eyes. But this should not stop us from working in the house of God (1 Cor. 3: 10. See also passages on "edification" such as Eph. 4: 12, 16; 1 Thess. 5: 11; Jude 20 etc.). On the contrary! We can rely on present resources (all three of which are available to us in a much fuller sense than in Haggai's day-Haggai 2: 4-5). And then, being entirely aware of our present weakness we should not despise what is (however small) a testimony to the Lord and His assembly. Rather, we should regard it as a link between a powerful beginning (Acts 2-4) and a glorious future (Eph. 5: 27).
By adopting this perspective, even today, God's people will be encouraged to "rise up" and once again begin to "build the house of God which is at Jerusalem" (Ezra 5: 2). And in this sense we will be "prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet..." (Ezra 6: 14).
1 Ezra reports the feelings of the remnant (Ch. 3). Zechariah, on the other hand, gives us God's thoughts about the work undertaken (esp. chs. 1-6). Haggai provides help to overcome (internal) obstacles among the remnant and encourages them to resume the work.