BOOK OF HAGGAI: Background Information
Nothing is known of Haggai’s life or background. He appears on the biblical scene without introduction and disappears just as quickly. Haggai (Hebrews, “feast of Yahweh”) may have been born on a special feast day and thus given this name to commemorate that event. According to ancient Jewish tradition, Haggai saw Solomon’s temple before the Exile (Haggai 2:3) and so was quite old as he returned to the Land. Ancient Christian tradition holds that Haggai was born in exile and was young when he returned to Jerusalem. Others believe that Haggai never went into exile but instead stayed in the Land. In any case, Haggai was well acquainted with the situation of his day and spoke with such effectiveness that the people were moved to action. Haggai was a contemporary of Zechariah (Ezra 5:1, 6:14), although neither prophet mentioned the other.
All utterances in this prophecy are given specific dates in the year 520 B.C.; so Haggai’s recorded ministry lasted only four months. The compilation of the prophet’s oracles may have been done in that year or at a later time.
Setting: In 539 B.C., Cyrus, king of Persia, decreed that all exiled Jews could return from Babylon to Jerusalem to rebuild that devastated city and the temple of the Lord. This decree by Cyrus is corroborated as authentic by extrabiblical sources such as the Cyrus Cylinder, now housed in the British Museum. Enough people returned for the rebuilding project to proceed. However, due to opposition by the Samaritans, work on the temple ceased after the foundation was laid (536 B.C.). The city and temple remained in ruins. By 520 B.C., a new king, Darius I, brought stability to the Persian Empire and to Judah as well. This new political situation allowed the work of rebuilding Jerusalem to resume. In 520 B.C., Haggai encouraged the people to resume the building.
Haggai admonished the people to obey the Lord by rebuilding the temple. Haggai also announced renewed promises for the future.
Haggai’s message was directed specifically to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah; to Joshua, the high priest; and to the Jewish community that had returned from the Exile.
Haggai, the second shortest book of the Old Testament, is concise and simple in style. Rhetorical questions are used repeatedly (Haggai 1:4; 2:3, 12, 13, 19). Affirmation that Haggai’s words are the words of the Lord is repeated about thirty times.
The Jews returning from the Exile needed reassurance that they were still God’s people and still in covenant with Him. Haggai provided hope for the future in his message reaffirming God’s covenant, His choice of Jerusalem as the place where His name would dwell forever, and His eternal promise concerning David’s throne.
A Call to Build the House of the Lord
1 In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak,[a] the high priest:
2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”
3 Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
5 Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
7 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. 9 “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”
12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.
13 Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. 14 So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month.
The Promised Glory of the New House
In the second year of King Darius,
1 on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 2 “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak,[a] the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, 3 ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? 4 But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 5 ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’
6 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
Blessings for a Defiled People
10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Haggai: 11 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Ask the priests what the law says: 12 If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’”
The priests answered, “No.”
13 Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?”
“Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.”
14 Then Haggai said, “‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the Lord. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.
15 “‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on[b]—consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s temple. 16 When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. 17 I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord. 18 ‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: 19 Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.
“‘From this day on I will bless you.’”
Zerubbabel the Lord’s Signet Ring
20 The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21 “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. 22 I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.
23 “‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”