Introduction to the Bible - 37 - Haggai

by Stu Thompson
Also, see Stu's persional autobiography about his experience that lead to him becoming a Christian.stu thompson

Introduction to HAGGAI
   

Overview    

The book 'Haggai' falls among those commonly noted as the 'Minor Prophets'. Yet though it may well be the second shortest book of the Old Testament it is certainly not minor in it's significance. Like other portions of God's word it arrived at a very crucial time in Biblical history. In this case, it is the great need of rebuilding God's house, the temple in Jerusalem. And this in itself is the primary theme of the book, 'The Call to Build God's House'.
     

Author and Date

 As the book is entitled, the author is evidently considered to be Haggai himself. Chapter 1, verse 1, introduces this man as the one who God uses to bring his word to the failing people of that time. Little is known of Haggai outside of this brief book. There are two references to himin the book of Ezra [5:1 & 6:14] but other than that there is no other mention of him by name. His name means 'festive' or 'my feast' and may indicate the hope his parents had in the future blessing of God revealed through the likes of Jeremiah. Whether Haggai was born previous to the exile in Babylon or during it is not known. Some suggest from Hag. 2:3 that he was personally aware of the former temple in Jerusalem before it was destroyed and the people taken away to Babylon. But his knowledge of such may simply have been by oral tradition even from faithful parents who told him about it's splendor.

Haggai very carefully throughout his book dates the times at which the Lord used him to speak. By means of reference to King Darius and the year of his reign the prophet establishes the date of his ministry for God at what is commonly believed to be 520 B.C..
 
The quotation of Haggai 2:6 in Hebrews 12:26 gives New Testament validation to this book as being God inspired scripture. The character of this obscure prophet is clearly seen in 3:13, “Then spake Haggai the LORD'S messenger in the LORD'S message ...”. Haggai was a genuine and faithful prophet of God.
    

Historical Setting

 In 538 B.C. King Cyrus of Persia issued a decree that allowed a remnant of the people of Israel to return from captivity in Babylon to Judah and in particular, Jerusalem. Ezra 1:2 leaves no doubt as to why this Gentile king did this, “The LORD God of heaven ...hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.”. So the people returned and in 536 B.C. construction began. But violent opposition from the surrounding people caused them to cease the work and the people fell into a state of apathy. God had restored them to their homeland, had called them to rebuild his 'house', the temple in Jerusalem, but they ceased to do the work.

In the following sixteen years the work had not only stopped but the people had become absorbed with self occupation and personal prosperity. It is in such a setting that God calls two men, Haggai and Zechariah, to speak for him. And for Haggai the particular task is to call the people back to the reason they have been delivered from Babylon. That is, to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And not just to build a physical house but to renew their spiritual character so as to relate effectively to God in his house.


      

Outline of the Book with Notes

There are four different dates that Haggai notes as to when 'the word of the LORD came' to him [see 1:1, 2:1, 2:10 & 2:20]. And by these various writers have divided the book in making an outline of the messages that the prophet delivered. Yet within these four messages I would like to outline the book as follows;

1) The Revealed Word through Haggai in Prophecy   ch.1:1-11
2) The Response of all the People in Harmony   ch.1:12-15 [note Ezra 5:2]
3) The Review and Promise of the House Filled with Glory  ch.2:1-9
4) The Restoration of the Priesthood in Purity   ch.2:10-19
5) The Recognition of the Governor's True Authority   ch.2:20-23

The Revealed Word in Prophecy

Note first that Haggai’s ministry as recorded lasted less than 4 months. His faithfulness to God had both an immediate impact, v.12-15, and a lasting one. The temple was completed in a little less than 4 1/2 years from the time he began to minister. Did he see the end [temple finished] of his call to build? We could assume so but we are not given certain record that it was so, Ezra 6:14-15.
 
   v.3 - Anything done for God begins with God,  particularly with His word.


v.5  – Five times in this book the Spirit of God calls via the prophet 'to consider'; 1:5,7, 2:15,18 twice. The term literally means 'set your heart'. All revival and restoration of God's people is always first heart work.

 v.6 - Material gain at the cost of God’s house results in personal loss,  v.9-11. It may not be material loss but we can count on spiritual loss in such a state.

Obedience conceived in the heart, v.5 & 7, is what the Lord is calling us to through His word. And what is conceived in the heart is born from the spirit of the ‘stirred’ person, ch.1:14.


The Response of all  the People in Harmony

From v.1 when Haggai first spoke for God to here is 23 days. In less than one month the faithful ministry of God’s word has prompted a faithful response from His people and the work has begun. In Ezra 5:2 the governor, high priest and the prophets are particularly identified as those who began to build. Thus we see that Haggai, and likely Zechariah, ‘practiced what they preached’. This was no ‘hit & run’ message from Haggai.    

We can’t blame others for the lack of work and exercise in the local assembly. The governor didn’t say the people were the reason the house hadn’t been built. The priests didn’t say we have no temple and therefore we can not work. And the people didn’t blame the lack of leadership etc. for no past progress in the temple’s construction. They all worked together.

v.13 - The key to this united response was God’s promise, “I am with you, saith the LORD.” 

 


The Review and Promise of the House Filled with Glory

Here in this section we have God’s promise of spiritual enrichment due to faithful labor and the prospect of his glorious presence like never known before.

v.3 - Though the foundation of the new temple seemed so much less than that of the past God ultimately intends that his house will be filled with glory surpassing anything of the former, v.7-9.
 
v.4 - In view of the extensive opposition from the nations around the use of the name ‘Lord of hosts’ is intended to remind the people of God that He is both their defender and enabler. Therefore ‘be strong’!

v.5-7 - The one who delivered the enslaved people from Egypt has power over the very heavens and earth plus all nations. Thus his promise of the future glory is to be trusted.

.Interesting that eventually, v.7 says, ‘all nations’ shall come and there will be peace, v.9, as a result of this house being built. This appears to be the future prospect of the millennial reign of Christ in that place.  See Gen. 49:10  ‘expectation of the nations’ &  Gen. 3:15  the promised ‘seed of the woman’ is the hope of all mankind not just the Messiah of Israel. The work of the people in Haggai’s day was but a stepping stone to the greatest time of peace among men that will ever be known in this world.


The Restoration of the Priesthood in Purity

It was one thing to have all the people working together to build God’s house. But it was yet another thing to have a holy priesthood to function for God in that house. Thus this section is devoted to the restoration of the purity of the priests. Looking at Ezra 3:1-6 we see that the priests were functioning effectively for God before the foundation of the new temple was even laid. But it seems that in the sixteen year interval of work stoppage there has been a sad decline in their condition. What good is the house if the worship is not pure?

v.12-13 - The problem of ‘defilement by association’ is identified. Handling ‘holy things’ does not essentially change the condition of the ‘vessel’ they are in. But defiled persons essentially change the character of the ‘holy things’ that are contacted.

v.14 - As goes the priesthood so goes the people. There was no executive exemption for the priests behavior and eventually the whole nation was effected. Their work and their worship was unclean.

The problem of ‘defilement by association’ is identified. Our worship rises no higher than our daily behavior and activity.

v.15-19 - The Lord reminds the people of the losses they suffered due to his judgement, But in turn he reminds them of the promised blessing that will come when they ‘consider’ their ways or ‘set their hearts’ to his house and work, ch. 1:7-8.
          
 

The Recognition of the Governor's True Authority

From the beginning of this book it is evident as noted that anything done for God begins with God’s word. In this closing section we are reminded that genuine leadership for God’s people is established by God and for God.
    
v.21-22 - At this point it is good to note Ezra 1:2b ‘kingdoms’. Through the instruments of Cyrus and Darius the Lord subdued the kingdoms of that time and through one throne gave the remnant security and thus the opportunity to rebuild the temple. But at no time did these kings ‘shake the heavens and the earth’. A greater picture is in view than just the present circumstances of God’s people governed by Zerubbabel.
 
v.23 - Here we note that if as it seems Zerubbabel was appointed governor by the present Gentile authorities that ultimately the Lord had chosen him. So like Cyrus, II Chron. 36:22-23 & Ezra 1:1-2, being used of God to initiate the remnant’s return to build God’s house so also the Gentile king had appointed a man from the lineage of David to lead the people yet it was the Lord’s doing. The words ‘as a signet’ would affirm Zerubbabel and thus encourage him to work faithfully though in the face of surrounding opposition. But always he was to be mindful that he is just the ‘signet ring’, token of authority, not the hand. For it was the LORD of hosts who by his own hand had chosen him to lead.

As a prophetic picture of Christ, Zerubbabel [Matt.1:12 & Lk.2:27, he blends both genealogies] portrays the Messiah as God’s unique chosen one.  Christ alone, as He said in Matt. 28:18, has the authority and ability to establish a kingdom that subdues powers in the heavens and the earth. He will rule over Israel and the nations in the age to come having vanquished all the nations of men, as here in v.22. And ruling in Israel will restore it  to God’s favored purposes in the midst of all the peoples of the world.


Practical Relevance

Passages like Romans 15:4 tell us that Old Testament writings have present day benefits. With careful consideration we can see many lessons in the little book of Haggai that readily relate to local assembly [church] activity today. God’s word is the single source of guidance for church practices today and is the very means of enabling us to be effective in working for him and expressing worship to him. And as in the case of Zerubbable we must never lose sight that the source of the overseers’ and elders’ authority today still  rests singly in God’s word and nothing else. Yet the ‘flock’ of believers is to recognize that the overseers are made such by God and for God.   

For more historical information see Fulfilled Prophecy, Evidence for the Bible and Forgotten Truths THE ERAS OF SERVITUDE