There’s urgency in His voice as He meets with Haggai and again prepares him to speak to the leaders and the people alike. There’s urgency in His word, as He speaks to their feeble, fearful hearts. It’s been over a month since they began rebuilding, since their steps of obedience and rightly-placed, fearing perspective began. Over a month since they began to work.
And they’re worried (yes, again). They’re worried that it’s not good enough. And probably, this extends far beyond their work—Are we good enough for this task? And maybe there is even a more distant echo behind their words, whispering to themselves: Is He good enough?
So He speaks, with a now that underscores His every word—as it undermines their every fear. He affirms what they see: their faithless eyes seeing visions of glory as His house used to be. Their weary eyes regarding their work as a ruin still. But now, He says, be strong. be strong. be strong.
Why strong? Because the work is real—all around: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. And they must keep working with strong hands, strong minds. Be strong and work (Exra 10.4). But He invites their strength to be drawn not from themselves, but from who He is with them still, and from His Spirit who remains in their midst. And finally, from what He is about to do.
He’s going to shake the nations, so that His glory will be back in His house along with the treasures that are rightly His. And He’ll reverse all they see now. What is inglorious will be more glorious than ever before. And, what is restless will be covered with the peace that He gives.
Just before He spoke these things that He would do, two words arose out of His promised, continued presence with them. Two words that are spoken more than any other command—
‘Do not be afraid’ are not the words of a flesh and blood friend, a mere human like yourself. They are not the hollow words of a fellow passenger on a sinking ship who has no experience in shipwrecks, can’t swim, and has no plan. These words are more like those of the captain who says, ‘Don’t be afraid, I know what to do.’
—from Running Scared by Edward T. Welch
And God speaks all these words out of covenant experience and expectation. He points to bringing them out of Egypt, in an effort to show the similarity of what He’s doing now. His rescue and protection are still in place with those whom He brought back from exile, just as it was with bringing His people out of Egypt. That is the experience—so the expectation should mirror it: He’s going to bring them back, restore, establish, and confirm them. He will protect and redeem and set them free. “Those who escaped the sword found grace in the wilderness,” Jeremiah echoed long before this passage was written.
He wants our expectations to be based fully on His covenant nature—the fact that He we do what He has promised to do. And so, we must settle our hearts to trust, to fear not, to be strong, and to work.