Zerubbabel and Joshua, upon hearing the word of God through Haggai, began gathering the citizens of Judah right away to recommit to the work of rebuilding the temple. At once, the people got started on constructing a suitable house for the Lord because He stirred up their spirits (Hag. 1:12–15). John Calvin comments on Haggai 1:14 that “we should never be attentive to [God’s] word, were he not to open our ears; and there would be no inclination to obey, were he not to turn our hearts; in a word, both will and effort would immediately fail in us, were he not to add his gift of perseverance… . Haggai’s labors produced fruits, because the Lord effectually touched the hearts of the people; for we indeed know that it is his special gift, that the elect are made disciples.” When the Word of God is preached, only those in whom the Holy Spirit is working will trust that Word.
About a month into the reconstruction of the temple, it became clear that what the returned exiles were building was not all that special from a human perspective. Those in the community who had actually seen Solomon’s temple before the exile saw that the Lord’s new house was as “nothing” in comparison (Hag. 2:1–3). Here we see yet again that although the people were back in the Promised Land, the conditions of exile persisted. The glorious restoration that the prophets anticipated had not yet materialized (Ezek. 40–48; Mic. 4:1–2). Daniel’s vision of the extended exile was coming true (Dan. 9).
Nevertheless, although the restoration was getting off to what seemed to be a slow start, God was with His people, and that was what really mattered. Thus, Haggai spoke to the people again, reminding them not to look at their immediate circumstances but to trust that the Lord would bring their glorious restoration in His time. In short, the prophet issued a call to persevering faith, to believe in the promises of God even when tangible proof of His activity is not clearly evident. Our Creator was not slow in fulfilling His promises but would shake the earth to bring the world’s treasures to His people and to show forth the fullness of His glory in His time (Hag. 2:3–9). Given the corporate requirement of repentance for full restoration from exile (Deut. 30:1–10; Dan. 9) and what the New Testament says about the preaching of the gospel to all creation (Matt. 28:18–20), we understand that God will not consummate the restoration until all of His elect people have heard and believed the gospel.