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BIBLE BOOK: Haggai

An Old Testament prophet speaks out…..

 

There is only one person in the Old Testament with the name of Haggai. His name means festive or festal – suggesting that perhaps his birth coincided with a Jewish festival day. He was born during the time of Israel’s captivity in Babylon and is mentioned by Ezra as a contemporary in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14.

 

Haggai was one of the first of the captives to return to Jerusalem from Babylon, along with Zerubbabel. He wrote “in the second year of Darius the king” (1:1) which was 520BC. Haggai was also a contemporary of the prophet Zechariah who began his ministry at precisely the same time (Zech.1:1). However, Haggai’s prophetic ministry (as recorded) is very brief, lasting just four months.

 

 

BACKGROUND

Although the Babylonian captivity was foretold, it would be limited to a period of 70 years. It ended when King Cyrus of Persia defeated Babylon and encouraged the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. Although things started well, the rebuilding work soon came to an end because of opposition from enemies (the Samaritans) and a lack of resolve on the part of the builders. Coupled with an inadequate faith in God, the work remained in abeyance until the second year of the reign of Darius (Ezra 4:24).

 

Those who had returned to Jerusalem had become acclimatized to Babylonian culture and found life in Judah was tough. It was no fun having to work the flinty soil for crops while quarrying stones for the temple. The presence of enemies necessitated guards being on duty 24 hours a day. This was nothing like the romantic picture of the Promised Land that had been in their minds!

 

God spoke to them during this time when the rebuilding of the temple was neglected by giving them poor harvests, little income and many discouragements. For about 16 years no progress was made on the temple project until Haggai appeared on the scene with his powerful message. Although the temple foundations were overgrown and neglected, the people had somehow managed to work on their own homes – and this was not right!

 

 

THE FIRST MESSAGE

The book of Haggai actually contains four messages – one found in the first and the remaining three in the second chapter. The prophet’s first message is a kind of review in which he explains present circumstances in the light of past events. It was time for the people to consider their ways. God’s chastening hand had been experienced because their priorities were all wrong and His house was neglected. This accounted for the poor harvests, the general dissatisfaction, and the rampant inflation in the economy (1:6). “Consider your ways!” the prophet cried (1:7). It was time to climb the mountains for timber and to get on with the work! By their application to the task God would be glorified (1:8).          

 

The response to Haggai’s preaching was almost immediate. The Lord worked in the hearts of Zerubbabel (the civic leader) and the high priest Joshua (the religious leader) and in the hearts of the people generally. Sensing their failure “they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God” (1:14) – just 23 days after Haggai had preached his stirring message.

 

 

THREE MORE MESSAGES

Haggai’s second message was given during the Feast of Tabernacles, about seven weeks after the first (2:1). Its tone is quite different from the earlier one and looks from the present into the future rather than simply looking back. While the temple was a shadow of its former glory, it was destined to be filled with a greater glory than had been known before (2:3,7,9). The Lord promised His strength for the workers (2:4) as well as all the necessary resources for the project (2:8). He would also give peace in the place where currently things seemed so insecure (2:9).

 

About two months later Haggai preached his third message (2:10). It was a significant day because the Lord declared that “from this day” He would bless His people (2:19). A further brief message was also given on that same day. In a time of seismic judgment upon the nations He would bless His chosen servant Zerubbabel (2:21-23).

 

 

STILL A MESSAGE THERE

Abiding lessons remain from Haggai’s short book. In every age it is vital to give priority to God’s interests rather than our own. Procrastination can simply be a mask for unwillingness (1:2). We must also consider our ways before the Lord (1:5). The Lord blesses an obedient people and assures them of His presence (1:13; 2:4).

 

Messianic themes can be traced too. Zerubbabel (in 2:23) is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ – “the Desire of all nations” (2:7) who one day will return to establish peace in Jerusalem (2:9). When other kingdoms have been shaken, His kingdom will be established for ever.