Summary: This is part of a series on the study of the Minor Prophets.
Consider Your Ways: An Overview of the Book of Haggai
As we continue our study on the Minor Prophets, we come to the Book of Haggai. Haggai was one of three prophets who preached to Israel after Judah had returned from the Babylonian Captivity. His ministry predates that of his contemporary Zachariah by a few months and addresses many of the same concerns. The last prophet, Malachi, came about 100 years later.
Cyrus the Great made a proclamation in 539 BC that all the people groups who had been exiled by the Babylonians could return to their native land. The Jews were able to return home. For some it seemed like a dream. Some of them headed back to Jerusalem. their joy can be seen in the 126th Psalm. However, many of the Jews did not return to Israel but stayed in Babylon. The LORD told through Jeremiah that the captives should build houses and vineyards in Babylon, and that the LORD would greatly increase them. As Babylon was taken suddenly when the Persians found they could drain the river and then enter the city under the gates that were stretched across the water, the city was not destroyed. Many Jews felt quite at home in Babylon, and many emigrated to other cities in the Persian Empire. We see this in the Book of Esther.
As for those who did return, they were overwhelmed at the destruction of the city. The walls and gates were overthrown, the Temple destroyed, and the city was in ruins. The excitement of the returning exiles soon diminished in the light of reality. The 126th Psalm was an attempt to stir up their original enthusiasm. As the Persian Empire offered stability, the people who came started to rebuild their houses. They had made a feeble attempt to rebuild the Temple but left off. Over a period of 20 years, they had gained a degree of prosperity as seen in the fact they could panel the walls inside their houses. It is in this environment that the LORD sent Haggai to Zerubbabel the leader of the city and Joshua the High Priest.
Consider Your Ways (Haggai 1:1-11)
The LORD tells that He is aware that the people in Jerusalem were saying that it was not yet time to rebuild the LORD’s House. He challenges the people through Haggai that they need to strongly reconsider this. They had already completed the work on their houses. But why should the LORD’s house continue to remain in ruins? There seems to have been some sort of economic downturn at the time. Haggai mentions that there was a drought. Their harvest of grain and wine had fallen well short of expectations as a result. The price for these commodities had soared. It was like their wages had been put into a bag with holes in it (Haggai 1:6). I would suppose that this might have entered into the minds of the inhabitants that they needed to address this situation rather than go to work rebuilding the Temple.
What they did not realize was that the LORD had sent the drought to get their attention. The reason crops were failing is because the inhabitants failed to give the things of the LORD the attention the LORD was due. They did not need an economist of a specialist in agriculture to fix their problem. They needed to repent. When trouble comes to a nation, one should ask whether it is a “natural disaster,” a “manmade disaster.” or a message from God to give Him the glory He is due.
The People Respond (Haggai 1:12-15)
Zachariah, Joshua, and the people believed the message which Haggai had spoken. They obeyed the word and began to work again on the LORD’s house. The LORD responded that He was pleased. He said: “I AM with you.” The LORD provided them the encouragement to begin. At first, it seems that plans were drawn up and materials gathered. Three weeks had passed.
God’s House Will be Glorious (Haggai 2:1-9)
About three weeks after the plan to rebuild the House of the LORD was started, the LORD came to Haggai and asked if any of the old men and women had seen the glory of the first Temple built by Solomon. The work of rebuilding had just started as the foundation had not yet been laid. It seems the plan for the new Temple was far more humble than Solomon’s. This could have led to another round of discouragement. So the LORD nipped this in the bud. One must realize that the Temple that Solomon had built was at the time of Israel’s greatest prosperity. A work of that scale was not possible in Haggai’s time as far as human capacity was concerned. The LORD reaffirmed that He was with them in this project, which is all that really matters. His Spirit was with them.