Three months on and Haggai’s message is still one of encouragement – wonderful encouragement with the promise of great blessings to come – and now he shows that these blessings will be all of grace and are bound up with the coming of God’s king.
The questions posed to the priests would have been easily answered. They knew very well that holiness is not contagious, whereas defilement most certainly is – just as a healthy person visiting a hospital ward won’t pass on their wellness to the patients on the ward, but might pick up an infection from them.
The point of the questions is spelt out in verse 14. This must have been an alarming message. Haggai had exposed their cool hearts and wrong priorities in his opening message: they were a defiled people, for which they were experiencing God’s judgment. Though now they were doing what was right, rebuilding God’s temple, clearly they weren’t to think that their good deeds wiped away their sin; far from it – “whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled”.
But the message would have been alarming too because they were trying to build a temple, a place for God to live, a place which must needs be scrupulously holy. Their defilement might seem to render the whole exercise doomed to failure.
Why would Haggai bring such an alarming message? It was to provoke “careful thought”. In part it was a call to repentance. The discipline they had faced before they started building (“blight, mildew and hail”) had been intended to drive them to repentance, though in actual fact they had failed to “return to me”. The fact that they were now doing the building work was a mark of repentance, but just as the problem was always deeper than simply a matter of failing to rebuild, so the repentance called for was to be deeper and ongoing. So in part this is a call to repentance, but more than just that, he is reminding them of their defilement in order to highlight his grace: “From this day on I will bless you”. They were defiled but he would bless them. Yes, repentance was needed, but this was all of grace. The temple would be in a sense his pledge of the blessing that he would pour on them.
Haggai has spoken to the priests and the people, now finally he has a particular message for Zerubbabel, the governor (1:1) appointed by their Persian overlords but significantly “son of Shealtiel”, who was the son of king Jehoiachin, and therefore of the line of David. Zerubbabel was never a king as such, but he represented that kingly line to whom God had made great promises. The fact that this message is delivered on the same day ties the messages together: these blessings that God is to pour out on his people are bound up with the coming Son of David. The building of the temple (and we saw in 2:9 that the temple they were building was symbolic of the glorious greater temple God would build) would herald the messianic kingdom when all God’s promises would be fulfilled.
At the Messiah’s coming God would “shake the heavens and the earth” (cf. 2:6), a cosmic shake up when our disordered world will be put right. On that day all rival powers will be overthrown. The language of verse 22 harks back to previous events – the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, the victories at the Red Sea and under Gideon – repeated now on a grander scale. “On that day” (a prophetic way of speaking of the Day of the Lord), the Son of David, represented back then by Zerubbabel, will be revealed as God’s King. A signet ring signified all the authority of its bearer, so this Son of David will rule with all the authority of God.
We live in the last days between Christ’s first coming and the Last Day. This passage speaks of what has happened and what is yet to happen, what is ours already and what we still hope for: you might want to think about both.