Background on Haggai

Author

The oracles of the book are explicitly said to be “the word of the LORD… by the hand of Haggai the prophet” (1:1). We know almost nothing about who Haggai was, yet as with all Scripture, God is the true author. Haggai, a prophet, was a faithful messenger in the hand of the LORD.

Theme

The LORD will be faithful to bless the people of Judah who have returned from exile so long as they place God’s glory before their own, particularly through rebuilding the LORD’s temple.

Background

Haggai is one of the three post-exilic prophets (alongside Zechariah and Malachi). In fact, Ezra, who recounts the historical narrative of Haggai’s day, specifically mentions that Haggai and Zechariah were contemporaries of one another (Ezra 5:1; 6:14).

Haggai provides specific dates for his oracles. The first occurred on the first day of the sixth month of Darius’ second year as the king of Persia, and the final is of the same year on the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Thus, Haggai’s messages were delivered from August 29 to December 24 of the year 520 BC.

Since Haggai prophesied to the people of Judah who returned from the Babylonian Exile, a brief explanation of the period would give us much needed context for understanding the book.

Following Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam split the kingdom of Israel in two through his folly. 1 & 2 Kings, therefore, largely recount the history and the kings for both Israel (the northern kingdom, which broke away from Rehoboam) and Judah (the southern kingdom, which remained loyal to David’s lineage). Eventually, the Assyrian Empire overthrew Israel, but God spared Judah. Yet because of the sin of Judah, the LORD prophesied that it too would be conquered, and the people would be left in exile for 70 years. This word of the LORD was fulfilled through the sword of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon who had also defeated the Assyrians. As God warned, Nebuchadnezzar took many from Judah back to Babylon as his captives.

Yet after 70 years, Cyrus the Great captured Babylon and his Persian Empire took control over the land of Judah. As Isaiah predicted hundreds of years before, Cyrus issued a decree permitting the Jews to return to their homeland (probably in 538-537 BC). However, as both Ezra and Nehemiah chronicle, the return from exile was not the end of their woes. Although the people were able to establish an altar to resume sacrifices (Ezra 3:2) and laid the foundation for the temple (Ezra 3:10), they were quickly opposed by their neighbors, and they ceased rebuilding the temple for over a decade.

Following this time period, both Haggai and Zechariah were used by the LORD to restart the building of the temple.

Purpose

As I have already noted, I believe the message of Haggai to essentially be summarized by Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” For Haggai, seeking God’s kingdom had a very physical expression: rebuilding the temple.

As noted above, the returning exiles began things on the right foot by rebuilding the altar and laying the foundation for the temple; however, they failed to complete their task. The people of Judah gave into the fear of their adversaries and stopped rebuilding the temple. They feared men more than they feared God. The kingdoms of men appeared to be mightier than the kingdom of God.

Thus, the LORD through Haggai commands Judah to finish the temple. In the first oracle, God binds their blessing and curses to His incomplete house: “You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house” (1:9). As God warned through Moses in Deuteronomy, obedience to the LORD yields blessing, while disobedience brings curses. With no end of the temple in sight, God cursed the people with a drought (1:10-11) to cause them to consider their ways (1:5, 7).

While Haggai 1:1-11 is call for Judah to awaken from its slumber of disobedience, the remainder of the book is a series of encouragements to a disheartened but ready to obey people. As Zerubbabel (the governor) and Joshua (the high priest) lead the rebuilding, God speaks lovingly reminders to His people that He is with them (1:13; 2:4), that His Spirit is in their midst (2:5), that they need not be afraid (2:5), that He is mightier than all the nations of the earth (2:7, 22), that He will bless His people, and that He will still keep His covenant with David (2:23).

As we study Haggai, we too should consider our ways, whether or not we are seeking God’s kingdom and righteous before all other things. And as we begin to seek His kingdom, let us be encouraged that “all these things will be added to you.”

Our God is with us. His Spirit is within us. His reign is absolute. Let us, therefore, be strong, fearing only the LORD. Though it cost all we have, let us seek first His kingdom.

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