Haggai 2:6-9

Haggai 2

6 For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. 7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. 9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’”  

Perhaps you have heard the story of the man who was standing outside of a store watching another man whittle little wooden dogs. This whittler was amazing at his craft. He would take a piece of wood and, methodically and without hesitation, whittle until he had a perfectly shaped little wooden dog that he would then give to bystanders. The man watching all of this was amazed. When the whittler stopped to take a break the man asked, “Tell me: how in the world do you do that?” The whittler paused for a moment, looked at the next piece of wood in his hands, and said, “Well, I take a piece of wood and then I get rid of every part of it that don’t look like a dog.”

I have heard versions of that story all of my life. The humor in it (and, if I might say, the profundity in it) rests in the fact that some people really do have the ability to see the hidden reality in a given situation instead of the situation itself. Most of us look at a piece of wood and say, “wood!” Artists look at the same piece and say, “dog!”

In Haggai 2:6-9, God teaches Israel this very lesson. They had now been working on rebuilding the temple for about a month. It was not going well. So they looked at it and said, “Unimpressive. Underwhelming. Incomplete.” But God looked at it and said something else.

Service done in the name of Christ is always bigger than the results we can see.

In the verses immediately preceding our text, the Lord encouraged downtrodden Israel. They stood there, looking at their rather feeble accomplishments, and began to feel frustrated. Thus, the Lord encouraged them with these words:

4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, 5 according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.

In verse 6 the Lord moves on in His encouragement to add another element, an element of perspective.

6 For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.

“I will shake the heavens and the earth,” the Lord said to Israel. I would like to suggest that this “shaking” of the heavens and earth looks backwards andforwards. Its backward look can be seen in the phrase, “Yet once more…” In other words, the shaking of the heavens and the earth will be like one that went before. And what was the “shaking” that came before? He had just told them in the preceding verses.

4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, 5 according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.

The key phrase here is “when you came out of Egypt.” Notice that the Lord says He will “will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.” This referencing to coming out of Egypt and of a divine shaking not only of the heavens and the earth but of the sea and the dry land leads us to see in this past reference an allusion to the exodus through the Red Sea.

Why is this important? This is important because even though God’s children are frustrated and even though their efforts evidence pretty much anything but divine power and majestic glory, the God they are serving and the God for whom they are building is yet still the God who can take an impossible situation and make it a grand display of His own power and glory, be it through the parting of the Red Sea or the raising of the temple from ruins.

There is a lesson here for us, and the lesson is that service done in the name of Christ is always bigger than the results we can see. It is bigger than the results we see because God is doing more than we can imagine. What looks to us like slow progress and puny accomplishments are, in the hands of the God who parted the Red Sea, truly the theater for God’s awesome power. It is bigger than the results we see because we tend to see only the work of our hands instead of the unexpected work of His presence. At the Red Sea, Israel saw an ocean but God saw deliverance. At the temple site, Israel saw rubble but God saw His coming glory.

When we say “wood” God says “dog”! He is at work and more is happening than we realize.

Thus, there is a backwards look, but there is also a forwards look.Verhoef writes that “in Hebrew totality is often expressed by means of the combination of opposite terms, like good and evil, or here, ‘heaven and earth.’ The idea is that the whole universe will be shaken.”[1]It is an interesting term, and one that, fortunately, the writer of Hebrews interprets for us in Hebrews 12.

26 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.” 27 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. 28 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, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

This is a profoundly significant passage for it helps us understand a number of things about this coming shaking. First, it helps us understand that this shaking is eschatological. That is, it looks to the end of all things and the final consummation of the ages when Jesus comes in glory and power. God will indeed shake the heavens and the earth! If the reference to “the sea and the dry land” beckons us to remember, the reference to “the heavens and the earth” beckons us to anticipate.

God is the God who has shaken. God is the God who will shake again.

What this means is that the people of God, whenever they serve the Lord, stand on tiptoe and peer over the brink of their own efforts into the ages to come and the age that is coming, into, that is, the age when, as the writer of Hebrews says, that which will not remain is shaken off and that which will remain abides. In other words, we work now not because the external works of our hands will last, but because the glory of God for which we work and the praise of God which our work offers up will last forever.

The temple was temporary. It was always going to be temporary. It was necessarilyso. Temples are built and temples are destroyed. But the God to whom it pointed made even the temporal works important signposts of His glory that will never depart.

David Smith puts it nicely when he writes that “the people of Haggai’s community are called to be a community of a new age.”[2]I like that. We work therefore not as a community obsessed with the present fruit of our own efforts but as a community obsessed with the God to whom such efforts point. We work as an eschatological people, a people who realize that our temporal efforts have value when they are offered to the God who is eternal.

We must never be discouraged! We must never be afraid! We must never lose heart! Do what you do because God and His name and His glory and His fame is eternal, not because the things we create are. They are but vehicles of and offerings to and recognitions of the greatness of God!

Even our hurdles and barriers are God’s possessions.

Even with the right perspective, Israel faced the twin challenges of (a) hostile nations surrounding them and (b) a lack of resources to construct the temple in as beautiful and awe-inspiring a manner as they wanted. It is all the more fascinating, then, to see God address both of these challenges—hostile nations and a lack of funds—in the next two verses:

7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts.

What were hurdles to Israel were still the possession of God. Israel might quake before the nations and grumble for lack of resources, but God will never do either. Why? Because He owns it all! And He announces to His children that the day will come when He will take the nations, shake them, and their gold and silver and glory will fall into the temple. Verhoef is likely right when he observes that the phrase “I will fill this house with glory [kabod]” “is not God’s glory, but the abundance and preciousness of the desired things which will become available to the temple.”[3]That seems to fit with the context of the passage.

What can this mean? It is important to see in this passage yet another note of eschatological hope. God is speaking of the ultimate and inevitable time when the nations will recognize that God is Lord of all and that His people will be vindicated against all those who oppose them and Him. This prophecy is seen elsewhere in scripture. For instance, we find it in Isaiah 61:

6but you shall be called the priests of the Lord; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast.

“You shall eat the wealth of the nations.” It is as if God is saying, “You will not always be the doormat of the nations. You will not always be oppressed. You will not always suffer. I will vindicate you! The source of their power will be given into your hands!” Tellingly, the same image is used as we approach the end of the Bible. We read in Revelation 21:

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.

Here again we see the “glory” of the nations being placed at the feet of God and His people. “It is a bold prediction of the complete recognition of Yahweh’s sovereignty over the whole world,” writes Ralph Smith.[4]

We must see our hurdles in proper perspective. The time will come when all will see and recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). We work, then, with that day in our minds. Nothing can be considered shoddy when it is done in preparation of the victory banquet of the Lamb who is King! Nothing can be considered paltry when it is faithfully offered in anticipation of the final victory of God.

Do not be discouraged! Do not listen to detractors and skeptics! Press on in your service for the Kingdom of God!

On the basis of God’s promise, dare to believe greater, to try harder, and to trust more deeply!

With this perspective, the people of God were equipped to press forward in their work. So are we. For God says:

9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.

And there it is: the audacious assertion that the greatest days and the greatest works are yet to be. There is a “latter glory” coming and the promise of its arrival means that the lesser glory of our efforts need not sideline or discourage us. We know that God is at work and that our offerings, no matter how meager by human reckonings, are glorious in the economy of the Kingdom.

The coming “latter glory” enables us to believe greater, to try harder, and to trust more deeply! I believe that this dynamic is what is at play in Jesus’ truly shocking words from John 14:

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

What does this mean, “greater works than these will [whoever believes in me] do”? I do not pretend to know! All I know to do in the face of these promises of “latter glory” is to marvel and to dare and to strive, in the name of and by the power of God, toward great acts of obedience, knowing that God is in our midst and God is at work! All I know to do is to dare to believe that when I say “wood” God says “Dog”! All I know to do is to dare to believe that more can be and more is being accomplished than we understand or can comprehend!

The temple may look shoddy, but offered to God, it will become glorious!

You may think of your ministry and your service as “insignificant,” but God does not! To serve a great God is to do a great thing, for God is in the middle of it and God will take it and work it to His eternal glory, long after the externals of our ministry have passed away.

Church, dream! Church, go! Church, try! Church, work! Church, give! Church, strive! Church, obey King Jesus! Church, carry your cross! Church, love! Church, reach! Church, proclaim! And know that the God who split the Red Sea is the God who still does the utterly unlikely and brings into being the utterly unexpected!

What a great God we serve!

What a great journey this is!

Follow Jesus and see the glory fall!

 

[1]Pieter A. Verhoef, The Books of Haggai and Malachi.The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), p.102.

[2]David A. Smith, “Haggai.” The Broadman Bible Commentary. Vol. 7 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1972), p.303.

[3]Pieter A. Verhoef, 104.

[4]Ralph L. Smith, Micah-Malachi. Word Biblical Commentary. vol.32 (Waco, TX: Word Books, Publishers, 1984), p.158.

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