Excerpted from Lead: Leadership Lessons from the (Not So) Minor Prophets. Copyright © 2014 by William Attaway. Used by permission of Erial Press.
The questions Haggai asks are rhetorical. What Haggai is doing is asking aloud the questions that are being thought or whispered among the people. Everyone can see that it’s not what it was. The glory of this Temple is nothing like Solomon’s; this one looks much humbler and simpler. It seems inferior to the Temple that some of them remembered from before its destruction in 587/586 B.C.E.
Those thoughts and whispers could have great power, and Haggai knew he needed to address the “elephant in the room.” The people needed encouragement; as Wolfendale says, “murmerers and complainers belong to every age.” The people were facing discouragement, and you and I know that it can be easy at times to become discouraged in the work of God.
Why did the results not match the effort? Why was the fruit not as great as we expected? No matter our field of endeavor, we can find discouragement, and doing God’s work is no exception. Leaders know this like few others. They see in their mind’s eye what could be, and when their efforts don’t bring that reality to bear, it’s tempting to fall into discouragement and begin asking questions like, “What could I have done differently?” or “Did I completely miss the ball here?”
When we’re tempted as individuals, as leaders, or as team members to be discouraged, that’s when we need to hear verses four and five of chapter two:
“But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’”
Through the prophet Haggai, God told the leaders (Zerubbabel and Joshua) and the people to be strong. You might remember that a similar command, “be strong,” was given to another Joshua, in Joshua 1:8, when he has just assumed the mantle of leadership from Moses to lead the people of Israel and is facing the uncertainty and dangers of the Promised Land. You might remember that same command, “be strong,” was given to Solomon by David regarding the building of the first Temple, in 1 Chronicles 28:20. And now we see it repeated to these leaders in this day.
Leaders, when you’re not sure what’s next, and you’re tempted by discouragement, look back at what God has said and done in the past.
Three times here we hear God say, “be strong.” When God says something once, we should listen. When He says something twice, we really need to pay close attention. But when He says something three times, we better be listening with our shoes on, ready to do what He says.
God reiterates His promise that He is with His people, just as He said to Moses and Joshua, just as He said to the people through the earlier prophets, just as He said to the people in Haggai’s first prophetic sermon. He’s not changing His mind; He’s not abandoning them; He’s not forgetting them. He’s faithful to the covenant, just as He promised that He would be in Deuteronomy 12, 14, 16, and 26.
I think what we’re seeing here is God speaking not only to fears that may have been whispered, but also to fears that had gone unspoken. I think the people were afraid that God had written an eternal ICHABOD over His people, that all was in vain and that all was lost, that they would never again come to the place of being God’s people as they had been in past days. God speaks gently but firmly to that fear. He tells them, “My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.” That’s the same Spirit that rested on Moses and the elders of Israel as they led the people out of Egypt and through the desert (Numbers 11:25). That’s the same Spirit that rested on judges like Samson, who delivered the people from oppression (Judges 14:6). That’s the same Spirit that rested on David, who led God’s people during the golden era of Israel’s history (1 Samuel 16:13).
He tells the people not to fear because He is with them.
Is there anything better that we could possibly hear from God?