Nebuchadnezzar had captured Jerusalem, the Temple was completely destroyed. After about fifty years in Babylon, the Jews were finally allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and ancient Temple. Cyrus not only granted such privilege, but also supplied a good amount of money to guarantee the work.
Then, under Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, the people returned to their old home and began carrying out orders from Cyrus, to which, they were eager to remove the debris. Their enthusiasm soon subsided, because of the hostility of the Samaritans and by the hard labor that such construction had demanded. Cyrus, the great conqueror, was followed by his son Cambyses, who had taken his own life and brought the land into a critical situation. Persia, Media, and others had broken away from the Empire, but gradually Darius the Great gained control and order grew out of chaos. Haggai stood beside Zechariah in the important task of bringing God’s Word to the governor, priest, and the people.
Haggai was a Jewish Patriotic layman who responded enthusiastically to the call of God. He was likely older, and lived in Babylon before coming to Jerusalem with the returning exiles. He is associated with Zechariah as the author of certain Psalms. They were coworkers and contemporaries of the period. Zechariah prophesied for three years, however, Haggai only prophesied for three months and twenty-four days. Haggai sets us a great example as he effaced himself by giving no details about his own life and service (he just exalted the Lord), he never presented his own opinions, nor proclaimed, “thus saith the Lord.” He didn’t criticize, commend, or cheer. He lastly demonstrated by word and work, not only preached but practiced the Word found in 5:1-2.
His idea of God set him ablaze with burning zeal. The people were so compelled as to follow his orders, and he was able to, in some unseen way, put godly courage into the hearts of his relatives. He was so influenced by Ezekiel. He was not a man of spacious ideas, such as that of Amos, Isaiah, or Jeremiah – but his greatness lies in the fact that he saw the next duty at hand and inspired his people to undertake the building. He does not occupy any conspicuous place among the prophets, but fills it as a man called and led of God, albeit. He was a traditionalist rather than an original thinker, and the influence of the priestly caste was evident in his homilies. He did not have the stern searching note of Jeremiah, however, he used the everyday language/jargon of a jaded people, to which, he didn’t apologize for their dejection, but instead challenged them. He writes his book in a blunt and obscure manner, but it was a sure, humble, curious, and perceptive book nonetheless.
- First Oracle, 1:2-11: This is a word of rebuke and a call to action. The failure was because of fear and selfishness. The ones who were holding back were men who lived in luxury. They showed no concern for spiritual matters. In order for God to start blessing them, they must begin work – bringing timber and stones to build the Temple.
- Second Oracle, 2:1-9: A call to courage in the hour of disappointment. There are always pessimists in a crown that must be overcome, and even though this Temple may not be as beautiful as the one the Israelites once had, it is still God’s dwelling place so He could glorify Himself among the nations!
- Third Oracle, 2:10-19: An appeal to conscience and a call to patience is made as Haggai begins to hear complaints. The promised blessings were slow in coming and had been working for three months. Haggai made it clear that the land had been defiled and profaned, because of their neglect. Evil manifests a powerful infection and it would take a while for all of the promised to come. They would be required to continue their labor and rebuild – staying faithful, for God would bring victory!
- Fourth Oracle, 2:20-23: This contains the message of hope to Zerubbabel who was to bask in the assurance that he was the chosen object of divine care and that he would be protected in the great overthrow that was to destroy the surrounding nations. Haggai was to be the representative of Yahweh among the peoples of the earth.
The response of the people to the message of Haggai was that they were obedient to him in return, but more than that: obedient unto God. They took quick action and re-began work on the Temple!
Lessons to learn from Haggai
- Face difficult duties courageously and immediately.
- God-given messages will result in action.
- Serious and lasting are the effects of evil.
- Human effort is useless when separated from spiritual emphasis.
- Outward splendor does not necessarily attribute to true glory.
- Preachers are challenged to throw themselves enthusiastically into the great program of God.