Summary: The times in which Haggai lived and worked were among the most fruitful the world has ever known. He is in company with the greats, at a critical time.
August 29, 520 BC
That’s how the date at the beginning of Haggai figures out. By the time we get to the end of the First Testament, we find dates that are among the most identifiable in the Bible. The magi of Assyria, Babylonia and Persia used the stars for establishing their timetables, so the second year of Darius can be discovered by anyone with a knowledge of the historical records and a good program for charting the movements of the stars.
Around this time
• The great Greek Plays of Aeschylus are written
• Pythagoras is at the height of his timeless work in geometry
• The octave in music is invented
• Confucius and Buddha are at the height of their work
• The Roman arch as an architectural standard is introduced
• The first pontoon bridge is built by Darius the Great
• The Temple of Zeus at Olympia is built
• The Temple of Diana in Ephesus is built
When we include the writings of the Jewish prophets and the rebuilding of the Temple, it is considered one of the greatest centuries in history for achievement in religion, philosophy, engineering, music and the arts.
The Babylonians who took Daniel, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel captive have been overthrown by the Medes and the Persians. The Jews are now under Persian rule, but they have begun to return to their homeland.
Haggai is not living in a vacuum
His name is first introduced to us by the great Jewish leader Ezra, who brought the first wave back from captivity to rebuild the Temple that had been burnt by Nebuchadnezzar. Ezra was given permission and funds by King Cyrus, just as Isaiah foretold, and nearly 50,000 people came with him to Jerusalem.
Ezra 3 tells us that the first thing they did, after moving in, was to build the altar and celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles with all the appropriate burnt offerings on the new altar. Then the governor, Zerubbabel of the line of David, and the high priest Joshua led the laying of the foundation of the Temple itself.
After the foundation was finished a great celebration ensued. The Bible says that there were mixed feelings about the new foundation. The younger people had never seen the older temple and were excited that the new one was moving forward. Some of the older people, though, remembered the glory of the original temple of Solomon that had stood on the site for centuries. While the younger people were shouting and rejoicing, the older people were weeping over the loss of what they remembered. Ezra says that the noise that rose up made the sounds of shouting and weeping indistinguishable.
Just about this time, I believe a great mistake was made. Some of the local people of Samaria, who had been living in the land since the Assyrian exile nearly 200 years before, came and asked to help with the work. The leaders said no. They neglected to notice the help from foreigners Solomon had in building the original temple. In their bid for national identity and religious purity, they decided that this should be their project and no one else should be involved.
I am convinced that if Zerubbabel and Joshua had taken in these people who wanted to have a part in the work of the LORD, God would have been honored, and the animosity that was still a part of Jewish culture down to the time of Jesus would have been healed. Instead, the Samaritans built their own house of worship and a rivalry was set in stone.
When they were rebuffed, these"outsiders" wrote a strong letter of protest to the king telling him that the people of Levi, Judah and Benjamin who were building the Temple were nothing but trouble makers plotting to rebel against Persia. The king was convinced and ordered the Jews to cease building. The full text of both letters is recorded in Ezra 4.
The end of the chapter records the results:
Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:24 TNIV)
Sixteen years have passed, a new king rules and two prophets come on the scene: Zechariah and Haggai. They were a tag-team pair of high power motivators. Ezra attributes the restarting of the work to these two men, who not only lit a fire under everyone else, but pitched in and helped with the work themselves.
Of course, the opposition did not stop, another letter was written. But this time, the nay-sayers not only failed, but under the new administration they were ordered to stay out of the way, commanded to allocate local taxes to help with the project, and threatened if they stood in the way.
This is the momentous day August 29, 520 BC. The work has been stopped for years, and Haggai has a word from God.