There is very little question that Haggai the prophet wrote the book that bears his name, but we know nothing else about him except for what appears in his book. Haggai dated all of his messages precisely; all of which were between August and December of 520 B.C. Zerubbabel had returned to Jerusalem in 538 B.C. along with about 50,000 Jews to rebuild the city and the temple. But over the years the returnees had become discouraged by opposition and they abandoned the project. Haggai’s messages were delivered to encourage the Jews to complete the temple rebuilding project. His words came some 18 years after the initial return from the Babylonian exile. The temple had not been repaired and the leadership was deeply discouraged, not only by their opposition but by the lethargy of the people. Darius of Persia was interested in the religions of his empire, and in light of the support he offered, the Jews themselves were more to blame for their inactivity than were their opponents. Haggai’s message was essentially an exhortation to persevere in the effort to reestablish the community and the temple. Other scholars look at this and believe Haggai was calling for an open rebellion against the Persian authority. This belief however, reads more into the text than there probably is. Haggai has a couple of themes. The first is priorities. The people had neglected the rebuilding of God’s temple while focusing their efforts on constructing homes for themselves. But Haggai instructed them that God’s temple and work were their top priority. They were to give careful thought to their ways because God’s pleasure and honor were to be their overriding goals. The second theme is obedience. There are consequences for disobeying God. But, when God’s people follow Him, He graciously provided the enthusiasm, strength, and resources to do His will. God promised the post exiled community that in return for their obedience, He would bless them with His presence, peace, and prosperity.
The first message, chapter 1, calls the people of Jerusalem to focus on restoring the proper worship of God. Haggai began by identifying the author, audience, date, and the occasion prompting the prophecy. Zerubbabel led one group of Jews back to the promised land after the Babylonian exile and he was the Persian appointed governor of Judah at the time of Haggai’s prophecy. Jeshua was the high priest at the time. Under his supervision the altar was rebuilt and the second temple was dedicated. Both Haggai and Zechariah’s favorite expression for the Lord emphasizes the invincible power behind God’s Word; The Lord of Heavens Armies. The Lord can call on an infinite number of heavenly troops to carry out His will at a moments notice. This name was used to encourage the Jews who felt helpless and insignificant. The time had not yet come, that is the people decided that rebuilding the Lord’s dwelling among His people wasn’t important. There had been poor crop yields from drought and pestilence and that had weakened their economy so much they didn’t believe they could afford to build a house for the Lord. Haggai convinced them, they couldn’t afford not to build the temple of the Lord. If they chose to leave the Lord’s temple in ruins God would not bless and prosper them.
The normal building material for homes at that time was stone but these returnees were building houses as nice as palaces while God’s house stood in ruins. This is not a blanket condemnation of elegant living among God’s people but it is cause for an evaluation of priorities. The question is asked for the purpose of removing the people’s opportunity to offer excuses in response to Haggai’s message. Haggai contrasted the luxurious homes the people where living in with the rubble of the house of the Lord. The Lord asked the people to carefully consider their ways. No matter how much they planted they harvested very little. No matter how much they ate they were still hungry. They drank and drank and were still thirsty. Layer after layer of clothing failed to keep them warm and their pockets appeared to be full of holes. All of this reflected their sense of futility. It is as though God was asking, what does this mean to you? They were instructed to go up into the hills and bring down timber to rebuild His house. The stands of trees right around Jerusalem were not sufficient to meets the needs of the temple project. They were to go to great lengths to find all they needed to rebuild the Lord’s temple. The challenge to rebuild shows the importance of worship in the life of the community, and the need for a proper place to worship. Once all this happened the land would experience blessing and prosperity. People would have enough to eat and drink and they would be warm when it was cold. The Lord came right out and told them He had blown away the harvests because the people’s priorities were wrong. They were thinking only of themselves rather than God. God also called for a drought but the people failed to see their struggles as a divine judgement on their misplaced priorities. Haggai interpreted their situation in light of the curses attached to the covenant. Judah’s experience mirrored the condition in which they had left the Lord’s temple.
Haggai managed to get the people’s attention and Zerubbabel and Jeshua rallied the people, all those who had returned from exile, and they began to obey the Lord. They feared the Lord. The people responded with reverence and worship, and they reordered their priorities by placing spiritual values above their material prosperity. Haggai has a bit of an unusual title, as the Lord’s messenger. This gave him distinctive authority as the Lord’s agent. Then he affirmed God’s covenant with the people of Judaea, His personal presence, and His support in the building project. The Lord literally sparked the enthusiasm of the people to accomplish His purposes. True worship of God prompts sacrificial service by God’s people.
Haggai’s second message assured the community that God had not forgotten His promises, made by earlier prophets, to bless and restore them. The date in October was the last day of the the Festival of Tabernacles, the celebration of the summer harvest. Hundreds of years earlier Solomon’s temple had been dedicated during this festival. Haggai’s message was timed to offer the people hope and encouragement in their present distress and discouragement. The temple of Solomon was one of the wonders of the ancient world. The older temple would have loomed large and magnificent, far out shining the present temple. So, even though the temple was completed, there may have been a sense among some people that it was as nothing. Some of the older people had seen Solomon’s temple in their youth before going into exile in Babylon. When they saw the new temple they wept because it seemed like nothing compared to what they had known before. Verse 4 marks a shift from rebuke and challenge to encouragement and affirmation. The Lord promised to be with His people, just as He had promised Moses and the Israelites centuries earlier. This was intentional because the Lord had now rescued His people twice from captivity. They knew the stories of how God had been involved in His people’s lives after the exodus. Now He would do the same for them. God reminded them of the covenant promises He had made with the Israelites earlier. By making this connection Haggai underscored the continuity of God’s actions in rescuing a His people, first from Egypt and now from Babylon.
Verses 6-7 are somewhat disconcerting. God has promised to shake the heavens and the earth at the coming day of judgement. The previous shaking was the judgement on Egypt at the time of the exodus. Keep in mind that the purpose of the day of the Lord is to prepare the earth for the glorious reign of Jesus Christ. The New Testament relates “in just a little while” to the return of Christ. Haggai probably saw God’s ultimate judgement foreshadowed in events to take place after his time, like the fall of Persia to Greece and the fall of Greece to Rome. There are some scholars who believe that the “desire of all nations” is a Messianic title that speaks of the joy of the redeemed of the nations at the time of the rule of King Jesus. Treasures will be brought to the temple by all the nations as a tribute and homage to the God of Israel. The future glory Haggai speaks of here may point to the Messiah’s coming to His temple. Jesus was presented in the Lord’s temple as an infant and He taught there as an adult. Jesus the human Word of God is greater than the temple. Although it was recognized only by a few, Jesus presence in the temple far outshone the glory in the tabernacle at the time of Moses and in Solomon’s temple. God promised to bring peace in the temple. The blessing of Aaron in Numbers 6:24-26 was pronounced as part of the temple liturgy. In the last days, God would make a covenant of peace with Israel. The good result of rebuilding the temple was a guarantee on that future peace. Once again God reminded everyone that everything is His to begin with. We are all just stewards of what He has blessed us with.
The third message comprises verses 10-19. The theme of this message is the law’s instructions about ritual purity. These instructions were still operative. God expects His people to be holy, even as He is holy. God asked Haggai to ask the people a question. The responsibilities of the priests included leading public worship and instructing people in the nature and meaning of the law. Thus, the message about ceremonial purity was directed at them. The first question refers to meat from a holy sacrifice and the way ceremonial purity and impurity could be transferred. Carrying this holy sacrifice, the meat set aside and prepared for the offering, rendered one’s robe holy. But this holiness could not be transmitted to a third object. However, ceremonial uncleanliness is transmitted much easier than ceremonial purity. Anyone touching a corpse became defiled and thus unclean. Anything touched by a ceremonially unclean person was also rendered impure. What Haggai meant was that people simply returning from exile to the promised land did not make the people of Judah holy. They were still unclean since they were not obeying the instructions of God’s covenant with them. Their work and even their worship were contaminated by impurity. The ruins of the Lord’s temple had symbolized the people’s disobedience but the rebuilding of the temple was a tangible sign of changed hearts and renewed obedience to God’s covenant.
Haggai urged them to compare what was happening to them before they began rebuilding and were disobedient to what was happening to them as they rebuilt. Divine blessing, whether spiritual, or material is contingent upon the obedience of God’s people. So Haggai called the people to persist in the self examination that leads to repentance and fear of the Lord. When the people where disobedient God sent several things upon them; blight, mildew and hail. Yet the people were oblivious to the Lord. Verse 18 asks the people to think about this day, December 18. Some believe that the phrase this day refers to the initial clearing of the rubble from the temple site and the procuring of the materials needed to begin the rebuild. The promise of a bountiful crop calls attention to God’s faithfulness to His covenant people. God determined to bring blessing on His people but He also demanded that they recognize Him as the source of their great productivity. The temple was not yet complete but God was promising to extend His blessings at once. God was gracious in responding immediately to His people’s efforts towards spiritual renewal and obedience.
Haggai’s final message, verses 20-23, is perhaps the most important. It reestablishes the prominence of David’s descendant in Israel’s religious and political life. The dynasty of David was critical to restoring the Jews after the exile. God had cursed king Jehoiachin at the time of the exile but Haggai’s last message overturns that curse and reinstates the covenant with David as the means by which God will carry out His promises to bless and restore Israel. Zerubbabel was a descendant of David’s through Jehoiachin, and Haggai’s affirmation overthrows the curse on Jehoiachin. There is a point however when Zerubbabel abruptly disappears from the biblical record. It is possible he was deposed as the Judean governor by King Darius. Because of the expectations Haggai prophesied, Zerubbabel may have been seen as a threat to King Darius. Haggai was focused on the power of God to do as He wills among the nations. These words speak both in a general way of the sovereignty of God over the nations throughout history, as well as more specifically of God’s final judgement of the wicked nations at the time He institutes the rule of His Son as King of kings and Lord of lords. Haggai’s language would remind Israel of their deliverance from the Egyptian army.
The signet ring was an item of great significance in the ancient world. The owner used it much like we use our personal signature on checks and other important documents. God used this imagery to indicate Zerubbabel was in His hand, that he was highly valued, and that he represented God’s authority in his leadership of the people. This mostly likely rekindled expectations for the Messiah, since Zerubbabel was a descendant of David. However, the declaration points beyond Zerubbabel to one of his descendants.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W