Great passage. What stands out?
The emptiness of effort without God. vv5,9. Human effort which drains and exhausts, but ultimately comes to nothing. Reminiscent of Eccl 1:2-3 ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ What do people gain from all their labours at which they toil under the sun? It comes to nothing. Does what I do have worth? Hard to be sure – time reduces most things. Poem ‘Ozymandias’ by Shelley:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
What do we do that is of ultimate worth? Haggai’s answer is ‘without God, nothing.’
The arrogance of luxury without faith. Little enough luxury in post-exilic Israel, to be sure. This last week I made a table for our summer house in the garden in Norfolk. Don’t know when I’ll get to see it! But I made it out of wood I saved from the church interior – you remember, behind the preacher, the panelling?
Most likely the word here simply means ‘having a roof’ rather than wood panelling on the walls. Completed, finished – in contrast to the ruin that the Temple was. But there was more luxury around back in Babylon, and the Temple spoke of the glory of the past days. And in such a short time it had all faded and come to nothing. God is challengin the people through Haggai to ask – ‘Do you see how easily it all fades away?’ (2:3) Babylon then included what is now Syria and Iraq; and where is the glory now?
What Haggai challenges is the attitude that says ‘God can wait – I need to get myself provided for first. It’s the same attitude that calls for overseas aid to be cancelled in times of crisis, or that starts talking about putting ourselves first. ‘busy with your own house’ God accuses. Self-centredness.
The impotence of might without Spirit. (2:22) Zerubbabel must have been tempted to despair often. He was grandson of Jehoiachin, the king taken into exile. He was given a token role by Babylon as Governor, but it wasn’t a proper job. He was an administrator, he had no power. Babylon had all the power. He must from time to time have thought ‘I should be King here, not a clerk.’
But God reminds him, and he reminds Joshua – the High Priest of a ruin – that power is not truly to be found in Babylon. (Hagg 2:6)
‘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.” Zech 4:6 puts it so well. ‘This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the LORD Almighty.
The inevitability of Blessing with obedience. Human power is nothing without God. But Haggai 2:7-9 continues “and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the LORD Almighty. “The silver is mine and the gold is mine,” declares the LORD Almighty. “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.’”
We need at this – and every time – to be saying ‘the silver is His and the Gold is His.’ When God finishes his message to Haggai, which he has started with a rebuke – how is the temple not being rebuilt – and continued with a warning of the passing nature of power, he finishes it with a promise of blessing. When it seems as if there is nothing; you have nothing, you are nothing – God says ‘From this day on I will bless you.’
There’s not a shred of doubt, doubt a speck of hesitation. So when lockdown leaves you stir crazy; when the kids have brought you to utter despair; when a friend has died, and no-one has called for a week, and there seems no hope of all this going away before the end of the year: remember that God’s promise is of blessing.