An Overview of Haggai

Divine Author: God the Holy Spirit. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

Haggai (festive): He has no genealogy, nor does it matter for the message is more important than the man. “Let the name of Whitefield perish, but Christ be glorified” (George Whitefield, 1714 – 1770).  

Haggai and George Whitefield

Date: Between the Sixth and Nine Month in 520 BC, Elul (August-September) – Kislev (November – December)

Key Verse: “Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways” (Haggai 1:50.

Though a small book, the message of the prophet Haggai (festive) looms large in the story of Israel’s history. The narrative takes place within the context of God’s constant controversy with His Hebrew people. For centuries the prophets had pleaded, warned, and cajoled the nation of Israel to do right, and to live right before the Lord. A predictable cycle emerged.

Israel’s Cyclical Relationship With God

  • Israel would be in favor with God.
  • Then, the people would rebel and engage in idolatry and injustice.
  • The prophets arose to warn the people of their wicked ways.
  • There was a call to repent.
  • The Hebrew people hardened their hearts against the Lord, and His anointed ones.
  • This led to severe judgment.
  • When the people repented, the Lord restored His covenant blessings.

In the sixth century BC, the particular instrument God warned He would use to discipline Judah was the Babylonian Empire ruled over by King Nebuchadnezzar (605 – 562) who had succeeded his father Nabopolassar, founder of the great empire in 626 BC, declaring himself king after he rebelled against the Assyrian Empire.

In 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar did move against Judah. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed, including Solomon’s Temple, and many citizens were taken into exile. This Babylonian Captivity lasted for 70 years.

The prophet Haggai gave his series of addresses about 46 years after Jerusalem fell. The results of his work is recorded.

Basically, Haggai, in five short addresses exhorts the people of God to resume work on the Second Temple. The rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem had been one of the primary reasons for some of the Jews to return to Judah in 538 BC with the gracious permission of Cyrus, the Persian king, who took over Babylon.

After the death of Cyrus the Great, and his son Cambyses, Darius became ruler of the Persian Empire, and extended the benevolent policies of Cyrus toward the Jews. Darius personally appointed Zerubbabel, an heir of the line of David, as the proxy governor of Judah, with the specific commission to resume work on the Temple, which had begun earlier by Sheshbazzar.

When the Jews, led by Joshua, the High Priest, and Zerubbabel, the governor, initially returned to Judah to rebuild the Temple, some rejoiced, but others wept when they remembered the former glory of Solomon’s Temple. “But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy” (Ezra 3:12).

Time lapsed, and the enthusiasm for rebuilding the Temple ceased. Haggai, along with Zechariah, helped Zerubbabel to stir the people up to work once more on the Holy Temple. In 520 BC, Haggai gave a series of messages to the people of Judah.

The First Message: Consider Your Ways, Haggai 1:1-15

Date: The First Day of the Month Elul (August-September)

Haggai charges the people with misplaced priorities. The people were spending all of their resources renovating and rebuilding their own homes, while the Holy Temple was being neglected. The Temple laid in ruins from its destruction in 586 BC. A whole generation had arisen that did not know what it was like to worship the Lord in His Holy Temple. The children had not been brought up in the nurture (commandments) and admonitions (laws) of the Lord.

There was a generation that were taught not to value their religious traditions and belief. The young, by benign neglect, had been taught that self is more important than the Messiah-Savior. God was not in their thoughts. But, the Lord, His Word, and His work should have been on the hearts of His people. Haggai protests what is going on, and demands people to consider their ways.

By way of personal application, have you considered your own way in your walk with the Lord?

Consider. Have you walked to Jesus, to ask for forgiveness of sin?

Consider. Have you walked by the side of the Lord so closely that people know you have been with Jesus?  “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Consider. Have you walked faithfully with God as Enoch did? (Gen. 5:22-24).

By way of national application, let the message go forth that societies that do not consider their ways, will find themselves under God’s judgment, amplified in Five Cycles of Divine Discipline (Lev. 26:14-38). Haggai notes the following about the social situation in Judah.

The people sow, but bring in a poor harvest. The people drink, but are never satisfied. The people are clothed, but not warmed. The people work hard, but never have enough money. The people look for much, but saw little.

Why was all of this happening? Why was there famine in the Land? Why were there no early or latter rains? Why was there a drought upon the mountains, the corn, the new wine, the oil, the cattle, and the crops?

The answer is given by the prophet Haggai in verse 9 of chapter 1. It was because the Temple laid in ruins while the people ran into their own houses to furnish them.

Was there anything that could be done about the situation? Was there anything that would cause rain to fall from heaven, and have crops produce once more? Was there any way to remove the drought from the land?

Herein is the good news. Herein is the gospel. Something could be done.

The people could go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house (Haggai 1:8a). It was as simple, and as difficult as that. There was a promise for gospel obedience. “I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord” (Haggai 1:8b).

The Bible says that the people took to heart what the prophet said. They believed God. They believed that if they obeyed, the Lord would honor those who once more honored Him. By faith, and by fear, the people were motivated, and they went back to work reconstructing the Holy Temple (Haggai 1:12 cf. Ezra 5:1-2).

The Second Message (One Month Later): The Desire of all Nations, Haggai 2:1-9

In the seventh month, called Tishri (Sept – Oct), Haggai turned his attention to address some of the disillusionments associated with the reconstruction project. The reason for the discouragement among the people was the Temple itself. It was nothing compared to the glory of Solomon’s Temple, which had been finished in the twelfth year of his reign, in 827 BC. On that grand and glorious occasion, the Ark of the Covenant had been brought into the Temple in the midst of the inaugural celebrations that lasted for seven days. None of that was going to happen in 520 BC. Therefore, the motivation to finish the Temple was low.

To encourage the hearts of the people, Haggai reminded the people that God is a Keeper of the Covenant. There is a bright and glorious future for the Kingdom of God on earth. Appealing to the earlier prophets Isaiah (9; 60-62), and Micah (4-5), Haggai points to the New Jerusalem, the place from which God will redeem all the nations on the earth.

“For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; 7    And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:6, 7).

There is yet to be an era of peace on earth, and good will to all men. Therefore, the Temple is to place a key role in God’s plan for the ages. “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:9). Haggai encourages the people to work with faith in the future, and happiness in their hearts that they can be part of advancing the kingdom of God.

The Third Message (Two Months Later): The Question of Ritual Purity, Haggai 2:10-19

On the 24th day of the month Kislev (Nov – Dec), in 520 BC, the prophet Haggai engaged the priests of Israel in a conversation about ritual purity, based on the Law of Moses in the Book of Leviticus.

Haggai: “If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat (food), shall it be holy?”

The Priests: “No!”

Haggai: “If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean?”

The Priests: “It shall be unclean!”

The Prophets Point

 “Then answered Haggai, and said, So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith the LORD; and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean” (Haggai 2:14).

If the present generation does not repent, and turn from wicked thoughts and behavior, if injustice and indifference is not renounced, then, whatever work people do, whatever the workers build, including the New Temple, will be impure. It is only by keeping the Covenant, in sincerity, that God will bless the labor involved in rebuilding the Temple. A true relationship with the Lord comes from the heart, not a cold calculation of the head.

This is an important point to keep in mind because it is possible to engage in acts of ministry simply for the sake of some personal financial benefit, or another form of profitable reward, and not because it is the right thing to do, and will bring glory to God.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). “The Devil is a thing,” noted Charles Spurgeon. “My heart can be more wicked than the Devil.” Because this is true, every person must pray and ask the Lord to change their heart, which He has promised to do.

The Prayer Requested. “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

The Prayer Honored. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).

The Fourth Message: The Shaking of the Heavens and the Earth, Haggai 2:20-23

The final message of the prophet Haggai draws attention to the promise of God’s kingdom being established. There is Divine certainty.

“I will shake the heavens and the earth,” saith the Lord. “I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength (power) of the kingdoms of the heathen. I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them.”

The image Haggai sets before the people is that of the Sovereign God of the Universe. This is no begging deity, gently knocking at the door of the heart asking to be let inside. This is the LORD God who crashes and burns all that is in His way as He works out His own eternal plan in the person of Jesus Christ, typified in Zerubbabel, God’s servant. “I will!” says the Lord.

Finally, in prophetic language, God promised to make His Chosen One a signet, or a seal, of His Covenant promises being kept. God kept His word.

The miracles Jesus performed, and the fact that He was raised from the dead, confirm that prophesy is fulfilled in the person and work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the “signet” of whom Haggai spoke.  “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32).

Let the nations rejoice. Let Christians labor in faith and holy fear, while keeping Covenant with the Lord.

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