In the opening verses of Ezra 5, the returned exiles, now re-engaged in their calling to rebuild the temple, encounter opposition: “Tattenai, the governor of the province beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and their colleagues came to them and spoke to them thus, “Who issued you a decree to rebuild the temple and to finish this structure?” (Ezra 5:3-4) Who gave you the right to take up the work of rebuilding?
When we seek to faithfully build up and extend Christ’s kingdom we will face opposition. The challenges will not only be external, but internal. Where the first chapter of Haggai challenges mis-placed priorities in the lives of the people of God, the second shows us the covenant people faced not only hostility from others, but internal struggles of doubt and discouragement.
Neither Ezra, nor Haggai leave us there. By them the LORD opens our eyes to see him at work. He is saving and shepherding His people. He is the One who builds and preserves his church. He knows the hearts of his people are in danger of being dispirited. He in wisdom and love chooses to speak to them again by Haggai on a very specific day. “The twenty first day of the seventh month” (Haggai 2:1), in the Jewish calendar was the 21st of Tishri (October 17th), the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles. It was the day 440 years earlier that Solomon had finished and dedicated the temple. By this day in Haggai 2, twenty-six years had passed since the initial return of exiles; and on this day, of all days, the smallness of the work was painfully evident. The question loomed: what are we accomplishing? We are nowhere near the way things once were, when the nation flowed up to Mount Zion, to the city of Jerusalem; when the Temple Mount was thronged with the worshippers of God; when the sacrifices were made, the choirs singing, the trumpets blasting. What is this, compared to what it was, what it should be?
The LORD speaks. He tells them he knows, and tells them to take courage:
Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Sheatiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people saying, “Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem like nothing in comparison? “But now take courage, Zerubbabel,” declares the LORD, “take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,” declares the LORD, “and work; for I am with you,” declares the LORD of hosts. As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!” (Haggai 2:2-5)
Undoubtedly Zerubbabel and Joshua, and the rest of the people felt great relief. Their courage is renewed. (Ezra 5:5) Their eyes are opened again to see the God who is with and for them. He is doing and will do a glorious work. With God with them, who can stand against them? They can, and do, re-engage their work in confident expectation of his gospel promise: “The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former… and in this place I will give peace.” (Haggai 2:9; Ezra 5-6) God, who is at work in and through them, gives them the gospel promise of Jesus—Immanuel, God with us, who would come to this temple, fulfill all righteousness, and make the once-for-all atonement for peace with God.
Our Lord is faithful. His Word is always and ever true. Take courage and work to build his church, proclaim his gospel, and advance his kingdom. “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)