Haggai: Stop Lounging Around and Get Back to Work!

Posted on July 5, 2018

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By David Ettinger

Note: This series was published in the magazine Zion’s Fire a few years back. I offer it here for anyone interested. I plan to run one article a day for 13 days. Being magazine articles, obviously each post will be longer than my usual blog length.

Name of Book: Haggai 

Author: The prophet Haggai 

Meaning of Author’s Name: “Festive” or “Festival” 

When Written: 520 B.C. – four messages given on August 29, September 21, October 17, and December 18 

Themes

  • Spiritual apathy
  • Neglecting the Lord
  • Rebuilding the post-exilic Temple

Political Background
haggai bookThe Israelites – those of the Southern Kingdom – had just completed 70 years of Babylonian captivity. In  538 B.C., Cyrus the Great, king of the Persian Empire, which had recently supplanted the Babylonian Empire, issued a decree stating:

All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:2-4).

Almost 50,000 homeward-bound Israelites – a small percentage of Jews living in the Persian Empire – accepted the monarch’s generous offer and made their way back to the Holy Land under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and Joshua the high priest. Also in their midst were the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.

The enthusiastic returnees got to work rebuilding Solomon’s shattered Temple (its destruction courtesy of the Babylonian army in 586 B.C.), laying the foundation (Ezra 3:8-13; 5-16) in 536 B.C. Shortly thereafter, however, the Samaritans living in the region, fearing a restoration of Jewish authority, sought to stop all work on the Temple. Adding to the woes of the returning Jewish population was the death of King Cyrus in 530 and succession of his ruthless (and unsympathetic-to-the-Hebrews’-cause) son Cambyses. With Cambyses in control, the Samaritans’ efforts proved successful (Ezra 4:1-5) as the rebuilding project lay dormant for 16 years. Not only was work not getting done on the house of God, but the returnees refocused their attention on their own affairs, building fancy homes for themselves and growing spiritually indifferent to the Lord.

However, Cambyses died in 522 B.C., and was succeeded by Darius I Hystaspes (not to be confused with Darius the Mede of Daniel 5:31), who was much more favorable to the Jewish people living in Israel. The decade-and-a-half vacation was about to end. By 520 B.C., the Lord had had enough of his people’s complacency and sent Haggai – soon followed by Zechariah – to preach to the former exiles and encourage them to resume the work.                                                                                                  

Key Verses

  • Haggai 1:4: “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?”
  • Haggai 1:13: “Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, spoke the Lord’s message to the people, saying, ‘I am with you, says the Lord.’”

References in the New Testament: Haggai 2:6, 21 (Hebrews 12:26) 

Synopsis
haggai pageWhereas trying to determine the time frame of other “Minor Prophets” is often an educated guessing game, no such challenge exists regarding Haggai. He tells us from the outset: “In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet” (1:1). The research of historians and scholars tells us this is August 29, 520 B.C. How’s that for exactitude!

The year is important in establishing the backdrop of what is happening in Judah (see “Political Background”). Haggai also tells us in verse 1 that his message is to be delivered to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and to Joshua the high priest. Though the message is given to them, it is intended for all of the returning exiles.

Unlike Nahum and Zephaniah before him, Haggai’s job is not to spew prophetic venom, but encourage the people to resume work on the Temple. He appeals to their reason when he asks, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” (v. 4). It isn’t as though the Israelites have just been terrorized and are numb with fear. They have had 16 years to recuperate from the hostilities and regather their wits. Instead, the people have been hard at work, but not on the temple. Rather, they have been prettying up their fancy homes. God has been patient long enough!

The prophet next asks the Israelites to put on their thinking caps and mull over something with him. They have planted much, but suffer food shortages. They eat, but are never satisfied. They drink, but are never quenched. They clothe themselves, but can never get warm. They have livelihoods, but can’t make ends meet (v. 6). “Now,” Haggai in essence asks, “why do you suppose this is?”

The prophet answers his own question: “Because of My [the Lord’s] house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house” (v. 9). This may be a scantily worded reply, but is rich in meaning. Let’s look again at a portion of Cyrus’ original decree to the exiled Jews:

All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah.  Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (Ezra 1:2-3, italic added).

God specifically ordered the returning Israelites to rebuild His Temple. They began to, then ceased under fierce opposition. Then they completely forgot their mandate. Now, after 16 years, Haggai has a message from the Lord: “It’s time to get back to work, guys. No more loafing!”

What follows is remarkable:

Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him; and the people feared the presence of the Lord (1:12).

haggai templeThe people obeyed! The God of Israel, speaking through one of His prophets, lovingly reasoned with His people, they listened, and resumed work on the Temple! Amazing! It looks as if the Israelites learned their lesson while banished from the land.

In return for their obedience, the Lord “stirred up the spirit” of the governor, high priest, and the people (v. 14). In other words, the people responded in humility and the Lord rewarded them by enabling them to do the work by His Spirit.

Chapter 2 begins with a note of discouragement. Though the Temple would take four years to complete, enough of it was constructed that the returned exiles could estimate how large an edifice it would be. The older men and women who were born prior to the exile could remember what Solomon’s temple looked like before its destruction. These elderly ones lamented the seeming puniness of the new Temple compared to the old.

Not to worry. After all, Haggai is all about encouragement and not judgment. God promises the steadfast Temple workers that though the building may appear to them as something small, future majesty awaits it. “I will fill this temple with glory … the glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former … and in this place I will give peace.”

The reference, of course, is to the coming Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. One day He will come to Israel and take His place in the Temple. By the time Jesus arrives, the Temple will be heavily aggrandized by Herod the Great, but it will nonetheless be this very same Temple the current returning exiles are working on. Such a promise will give the workers much optimism. If indeed they understand the prophecy as concerning the coming Messiah, the builders can take great pride knowing the work of their hands will be honored. This connection to their long-awaited Messiah will inflame the souls of the returnees and send shivers of elation coursing up and down their spines – a fitting and glorious reward for their obedience!

Haggai ends his short but uplifting book with a wonderfully reassuring promise to Zerubbabel, but the message looks far beyond the governor of the returned exiles: “‘In that day,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtiel,’ says the Lord, ‘and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you,’ says the Lord of hosts” (v. 23). This prophetic pronunciation places Zerubbabel in the Messianic line. Though the returned exiles do not know when their Messiah will come, at least they can look upon a direct ancestor of the Messiah and see in him the “down payment” of the Messianic promise.

sky crossThe message is clear: Despite the destruction of the original Temple, exile in a pagan land, and the difficulties the Israelites are facing, God has not forgotten His people. They are still very much His, and He will one day fulfill His promise of sending them their Messiah.

The people of Haggai’s day can rest assured that great things lay on the horizon!

Aftermath: It would take four years, but the post-exilic Temple would be completed in 516 B.C. (Ezra 6:15).

Significance for God’s People Today

  • Haggai is a book about priorities. The Israelites chose to put their own concerns above those of the Lord. What about you? Verse 1:4 says: “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” How would you fill in the “blanks” of this verse? “Is it time for you to ____________ while this ______________ lies in ruins?” What in your life is in ruins? Your prayer life? Your Bible-reading time? Your church attendance? What area of your spiritual life is lacking while you spend inordinate time on some material concern?
  • Haggai indicates that the Lord sometimes causes us to suffer in some area of life – finances, health, relationships – when we are not walking with Him as we should be. Of course, not all suffering results from a deficient walk with the Lord, but it often does. Are there areas of your life that are not going well? If so, do you believe it is simply a matter of being the product of a fallen world, or is it more personal? Are you neglecting your responsibility to the Lord?

Implications for the World Today

  • Though the nations of the West were never regarded as “Christian” in the truest sense, they were certainly founded on Judeo-Christian ideals and have for much of their history honored and esteemed the God who created them. Today, however, the West neglects God. We put just about everything imaginable – our jobs, entertainment, leisure, economic stability – above of Him. Israel neglected the Lord and paid a price for it. The West is brazenly forsaking the Lord and we, too, are suffering and will continue to do so.
  • haggaiHaggai has told us that a “shaking” of the universe (v. 21) is coming, and that God will “overthrow the throne of kingdoms” and “destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms” (v. 22). Will the West be a part of this shaking, overthrow, and destruction? Unless we turn back from our neglectful and sinful ways, the answer is, tragically, yes.

Of Note

  • Haggai is the second shortest book in the Old Testament behind Obadiah.
  • Haggai is the first prophet through whom God spoke to the returned exiles (Zechariah soon followed).
  • Though just two chapters, Haggai claims the divine authority of his calling 25 times by using such terms as “Thus speaks the Lord of hosts” (1:2) and “says the Lord” (2:4).

Haggai is mentioned by name in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14, and 9 times in his own book.

Up Next: “Zechariah: Israel, the Apple of God’s Eye”

Part 1: “Introduction: The Major Messages of the Minor Prophets”

Part 2: “Hosea: Adultery, Judgment, and God’s Grace”

Part 3: “Joel: Behold the Day of the Lord”

Part 4: “Amos: A Corrupt People and a God of Fury”

Part 5: “Obadiah: Pride and Arrogance Brought Low”

Part 6: “Jonah: Running From God”

Part 7: “Micah: He Has Shown You, O Man”

Part 8: “Nahum: The Ultimate in Fire and Brimstone”

Part 9: “Habakkuk: Why, Oh Why, Lord?”

Part 10: “Zephaniah: Packing a Powerful Prophetic Punch”