Some reckon that the building of the temple was suspended for only nine years; I am willing to believe that fifteen years were the utmost. During this time they had an altar and a tabernacle, which no doubt they made use of. When we cannot do what we would we must do what we can in the service of God, and be sorry we can do no better. But the counsellors that were hired to hinder the work (Ezra 4:5) told them, and perhaps with a pretence to inspiration, that the time had not come for the building of the temple (Hag. 1:2), urging that it was long ere the time came for the building of Solomon’s temple; and thus the people were made easy in their own ceiled houses, while God’s house lay waste. Now here we are told how life was put into that good cause which seemed to lie dead.
I. They had two good ministers, who, in God’s name, earnestly persuaded them to put the wheel of business in motion again. Observe,
1. Who these ministers were, namely, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, who both began to prophesy in the second year of Darius, as appears, Hag. 1:1; Zech. 1:1. Note, (1.) The temple of God among men is to be built by prophecy, not by secular force (that often hinders it, but seldom furthers it), but by the word of God. As the weapons of our warfare, so the instruments of our building, are not carnal, but spiritual, and they are the ministers of the gospel that are the master-builders. (2.) It is the business of God’s prophets to stir up God’s people to that which is good, and to help them in it, to strengthen their hands, and, by suitable considerations fetched from the word of God, to quicken them to their duty and encourage them in it. (3.) It is a sign that God has mercy in store for a people when he raises up prophets among them to be their helpers in the way and work of God, their guides, overseers, and rulers.
2. To whom they were sent. They prophesied unto the Jews (for, as to them pertained the giving of the law, so also the gift of prophecy, and therefore they are called the children of the prophets, Acts 3:25; because they were educated under their tuition and instruction), even unto them, upon them, even upon them (so it is in the original), as Ezekiel prophesied upon the dry bones, that they might live, Ezek. 37:4. They prophesied against them (so bishop Patrick), for they reproved them because they did not build the temple. The word of God, if it be not received now as a testimony to us, will be received now as a testimony to us, will be received another day as a testimony against us, and will judge us.
3. Who sent them. They prophesied in the name, or (as some read it) in the cause, or for the sake, of the God of Israel; they spoke by commission from him, and argued from his authority over them, his interest in them, and the concern of his glory among them.
II. They had two good magistrates, who were forward and active in this work. Zerubbabel their chief prince, and Jeshua their chief priest, Ezra 5:2. Those that are in places of dignity and power ought with their dignity to put honour upon and with their power to put life into every good work: thus it becomes those that preceded, and those that preside, with an exemplary care and zeal to fulfil all righteousness and to go before in a good work. These great men thought it no disparagement to them, but a happiness, to be taught and prescribed to by the prophets of the Lord, and were glad of their help in reviving this good work. Read the Ezra 5:1, 2; Hag. 1:1-15 here (for that is the best comment on these two verses) and see what great things God does by his word, which he magnifies above all his name, and by his Spirit working with it.