Haggai was a prophet of the remnant of Israel and Judah that remained after the 70 years in captivity, and his task was to instruct, encourage and also rebuke after their recent return to the land. In particular Haggai in conjunction with Zechariah was given the task of stirring up the enthusiasm to rebuild the temple of the Lord and is the theme that we see running through Haggai’s words. (Ezr 5:1,2; 6:14)
Haggai means festive or festival and may be an indication that he was born during one (or near one of) the feasts, perhaps unleavened bread, Pentecost or the Weeks and Tabernacles. (cf. Deut 16:16). Others believe that his name is related to the celebration of the prophetic hope concerning the temple and the glory of God. The first is more probable but it is interesting to note that his recorded ministry began on a new moon festival day and the book also records the festivities that will be enjoyed when the Lord rules in the day of Christ.
How old he was we don’t know, but you could possibly infer from Hag 2:3 that he was around to see the former glory of the temple before it was destroyed, in which case he would have been in his early 70s upwards.
The date of this book is, I believe, the most precisely dated book in the whole of the Bible. Each sermon is given to the exact day and makes you wonder if Haggai kept a journal with him to record his acts. The beginning of Darius’ reign is well established at 522 BC and as each of the four messages he gave took place in the second year of that reign, that would make his period of ministry 520 BC.
So we can place where we are in history I shall briefly give some historical background. The Jews have been captive in Babylon for 70 years (cf. Jer 25:11), during this time we have accounts from the likes of Daniel, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The Jews were first taken captive in 606 BC with the final destruction of the temple in 586 BC. It wasn’t until defeat of the Babylonians by the Persians in 539 BC, when Cyrus took over and changed the policy on foreign captives, that the outlook brightened for the Jews. In 538 BC he decreed that they could return to their homeland and rebuild the temple. (Ezr 1 – 3)
After an initial stage (Ezr 3:8-13) opposition to the building stopped the work for a period of 14 years, and during this time the people pursued their own selfish interests. God used Haggai and Zecariah to get the people and the leaders to once again focus on the work of God. Through the work of the prophets and the leaders, the temple was completed in 516 BC… exactly 70 years after its destruction.
The time the Jews had spent in the land from the reign of Saul to the Babylonian captivity was 490 years, and as part of the law they were told to rest the land every Sabbath year, which they failed to do. (Lev 26:34-35) This meant 70 Sabbath years had been missed, and God made up for this by taking them all at once, giving the land the rest it was due.
First invasion 606 BC / Destruction of temple 586 BC
First return 536 BC / Temple completed 516 BC
70 years of captivity, and 70 years without a temple. Makes the point that God was in control.
The Message of Haggai
The lesson that comes out of Haggai is that we must consider our priorities, but that misplaced priorities can be diagnosed and treated. Here, the priorities were to rebuild the temple and the purpose of Haggai was to get the people to resume construction. Haggai’s writings are split into four parts.
The first sermon contained in chapter 1, is a message of conviction, in which Haggai rebukes the people for having their priorities all wrong, followed by the response of the people.
Firstly we have the diagnosis of the problem, v 1 – 6. We are in the second year of the reign of Darius, and they are under Persian rule. The date is 29th August 520 BC and Haggai approaches the governor, Zerubbabel and the high priest, Joshua.
Then the Lord of hosts speaks to them through Haggai. The people were saying that it was not time to rebuild the temple, something which they have already delayed for 14 years. Notice the language used here in this verse. ‘This people say’ not ‘my people’ as God usually calls them. God is distancing himself from the people’s lack of enthusiasm towards God and his ways.
v.4 – the people are living in ceiled houses, often translated as panelled and connected with royal dwellings. The panelling would have to be imported, probably from Lebanon, and so would have been expensive. This is what they were spending their money on, expensive furnishings, the luxuries of living and yet the temple stands uncompleted.
With conviction Haggai, says ‘Consider your ways!’, for they had misplaced their priorities, they were not putting God first and considering only their own comfort which gave rise to dissatisfaction, v.6. They ate, but were not filled, they put on clothes but were not warm, and they put their earnings in purses with holes.
We could think of these in modern day equivalents. Do we wish for a better job, do we wish we had a new car, or a bigger house, or some other luxuries? We can put a lot of effort into thinking of things like these, expecting them to satisfy us, but rarely do they ever satisfy, for we will never be filled and always want more.
We take time out to throw in a little reminder that the temple still needs rebuilding and that they should consider their ways and get to work, and Haggai gives them (and us) the motivation needed to work for the Lord. There are two reasons; to please the Lord, and to glorify God. These are our priorities, to please God and to glorify God.
Think of the image of the temple throughout the Bible. In the OT we have a temple and tabernacle so that God could dwell with his people and they could see his glory. In the NT, Jesus was the word made flesh and he displayed the glory of God. Now, for us, we are told that the body is the temple of God, and its purpose? To glorify God. (1 Cor 6:19,20)
So this is the reason why the temple had to be rebuilt, so God could dwell among them.
Now Haggai returns to his rebuke, and due to their misplaced priorities we see discipline. (v 9-11)
v.9 God is actively blocking all attempts to find an enjoyable life without God. There is a temple to build and that comes first.
v.11 – Natural disasters? Called for by God.
What we have seen so far is that there is no lasting satisfaction in the things of the world, and if we misplace our priorties that is what we’ll get. If we try to find happiness elsewhere rather than in God we will be dissatisfied and further to that we will also run the risk of discipline, perhaps not now, but certainly when Christ returns.
What is the response from the people?
v.12 – they recognise the authority and origin behind the message, they recognised that it was from God. Then we see the obedience of the people. They recognised and obeyed.
Haggai declares in v.13 that the Lord is with them; a sure indication of success. The Lord stirred up their spirit, (or moved their hearts) and now the people are looking towards God again; things are looking so much brighter for them.
It is through listening to God’s word that we learn what God wants from us, first we must listen and understand, and then we must also obey.
If we study and obey the word of God, then the correct attitude to worship will naturally follow, for if we see the spirit of God at work in our lives then naturally we will want to worship him and praise his goodness, allowing him to direct our lives in working towards his will. The result will be a satisfying life involved in doing the work of God.
Onto Haggai’s second message… the message of courage.
After they had got their priorities sorted and resumed the work of God, Haggai continued to preach to them. Now that they had gone back to work, that wasn’t the end of it, for Haggai wanted to make sure they had gone back to work with the right attitude and motives… (cf 1 Co 3:12)
Haggai starts by comparing the temple with that of the one built by Solomon. Why would he bother doing this? The temple built by Solomon was amazing, covered in gold, and decorated with beautiful ornaments
They weren’t out to build a temple which was better than Solomon’s, but that would have been motivation in itself, though they would have been building through pride rather than for glory to God. However, this was not an option because they had just spent years in exile and would not have had much wealth, which they had been spending on themselves anyway. Remember God had been causing drought and probably disciplined them in other ways too. They were not going to have vast stocks of precious metals and fancy materials to work with, so he asks how many of them remember the former temple. It’s around 70 years since the former temple stood, so only a few probably remembered, and would have recognised it as nothing like the temple that stood before. Not very encouraging for the people of the land, so Haggai says in v.4 ‘be strong’, take courage.
Comparison is wrong. We need to do our best with the talents and resources that we have been given and not compare our lot to that of others, for it was not the beauty of the temple that was to be its glory, but the presence of God.
So if their motivation was not going to be the building of a fantastic temple, one better than Solomon’s, then where was their motivation going to come from. v.4 – for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts.
Remember when Nebuchadnezzar came to take over Jerusalem, before this, the glory of the Lord left the temple. (Eze 10:18-19), but now the Lord is back, and he is with them. They have nothing to fear and instead they are filled with courage.
This is the same idea we see with Paul in Romans 7 & 8. Paul talks about his failure to do the work of God in Ch. 7, because he is trying to do it with his own power, whereas in ch. 8, he succeeds because he draws on the power of God. So we can see that courage comes from knowing God is present.
The second reason that they could take courage was that God was promising to bring peace. This section promises that the temple will be even more glorious in the future, and that there will be peace declares the Lord of hosts.
You will notice a phrase keeps popping up time and time again in these verses. Lord of hosts, in the AV. The phrase is found 285 times in the Bible, 91 of those times it is to be found in the books of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the post-exile prophets. This shows God as a warrior, a king and a judge, and the emphasis of these prophets was to show God was in control of the situation and give hope for the future of Israel.
The promise of his presence and future peace brought encouragement to the people. The prophecy wasn’t just some information given in passing, but it was a knowledge that was designed to stir up feeling, and move the people, filling them with hope.
Let’s have a little think about prophecy in Haggai.
The people know about the former glory of the temple, whether through seeing it for themselves or word of mouth. They now know about its present glory, which in comparison isn’t particularly glorious, but they do know about the future glory.
What they don’t know though, is when it is all going to happen. They don’t know whether God will use the temple they are currently building to expand his glory, or whether it will be destroyed sometime in the future and a new one will be built. As far as they can tell, the fulfilment of the promises will be fairly imminent, expanding on the current temple, and made more glorious than Solomon’s.
But what do we know? We know that Haggai’s temple was expanded, not by God, but by Herod who rebuilt the temple. Because of Israel’s response, Jesus said that not one stone will be left upon another until all things are fulfilled. So we know that God’s promise through Haggai has not yet been fulfilled and God must fulfil it at sometime in the future.
From Haggai’s point of view, it was imminent, from the disciples point of view, they thought it was imminent. We can never guess the timing of God’s plans.
Haggai’s third message is one of cleanliness.
He starts by asking a question directed at the priests… if the priest is carrying something holy and it comes into contact with something that is unholy, does it become holy? The answer is no.
If someone unclean touches something else, does that make that other thing unclean also? The answer is yes.
Holiness does not come about by contact with something holy, but contact with ungodliness or uncleanness does defile. Take sickness as an example, If you are healthy and you sit in a room for a period of time with someone suffering from flu, does that person with flu become healthy due to being in close quarters with you the healthy person? Or is it more likely that you the healthy person is going to catch the flu? The answer is obvious.
The only exception to this was Christ, he touched lots of unclean and sick people and yet they were healed… Jesus did not become unclean, but instead made them clean. This should have been a huge clue to the Jewish leaders of his identity.
Haggai shows the Israelites that they were guilty of this very thing. The holy rituals they had been performing in the past were useless, there was no obedience and their ungodliness had contaminated everything they did.
Haggai looks back at the past. When they were not obedient, God kept them from prospering and smote them will wind, mildew and hail. (v. 15-17). They were being disciplined for their uncleanness, and an understanding of the blessings and cursings of Deut 28 – 31 is very helpful when looking at the prophets.
If you are dependent on material things for happiness, God will take them away, but if you depend on God for all your happiness, then he will give you all the things you need in life, and this book is an inspiration for us on how to motivate ourselves to serve God. It is so important to have a clean life, with pure motives, and if you aren’t giving from a pure heart then it is all wasted. When we are doing things, even in our ecclesia, do we stop and think who we are doing it for? Are we doing it for God, or are we doing it for ourselves?
The last section of this book, v. 20, looks to the future when God will do two things.
v. 20 – 22, God will overthrow the nations and kingdoms of this world. Has this happened yet? No, so God must be referring to the last days.
v. 23 – This is a difficult passage to understand, and I don’t fully grasp the meaning here. ‘on that day’, which seems to be the same context as the previous verses, Zerubbabel will be made like a signet ring. Zerubbabel was in the direct line of David, and should have been qualified to be king, but Jechoiachin was cursed and none of the descendants were allowed to take the throne and links in with Jer 22:24. So it appears that this curse has now been reversed, and the path to Jesus becoming King was re-established? Perhaps you have some ideas on this. Some think that Zeruabbabel will co-reign with Christ, but there is nothing much in that, as we too will all reign with Christ as his faithful followers.
(1) We saw that Haggai rebuked the Israelites for having misplaced priorities and he pointed out the results which were dissatisfaction with the things of this world and discipline from God.
(2) Their response was to obey God’s message and resume the work on the temple. Their obedience (repentance/confession) cleared their conscience so that they could worship God.
(3) Their courage and motivation was to come from the promise of God’s presence and His peace. This is the peace of mind that comes from knowing that God is in control.
(4) Haggai also dealt with the issues of living clean and godly lives so they would not defile their work and sacrifices. He also urged them to depend on God for life.
(5) And finally, Haggai gave them hope for the future by revealing that God was going to destroy their enemies and establish His kingdom with them, His chosen people.