The Book of Haggai
The prophet Haggai recorded his four messages to the Jewish people of Jerusalem in 520BC, eighteen years after their return from exile in Babylon (538BC). Haggai 2:3 seems to indicate that the prophet had seen Jerusalem before the destruction of the temple and the exile in 588 BC, meaning he was more than seventy years old by the time he delivered his prophecies. From these facts, the picture of Haggai begins to come into focus. He was an older man looking back on the glories of his nation, a prophet imbued with a passionate desire to see his people rise up from the ashes of exile and reclaim their rightful place as God’s light to the nations.
Haggai’s prophecy came at a time when the people of Judah were extremely vulnerable. They had been humbled by their exile to Babylon, hopeful in their return to their Promised Land, and then so discouraged by opposition in their rebuilding of the temple that they had quit (Ezra 4:24). Now, sixteen years later, with Haggai blaming their lack of food, clothing, and shelter on their failure to rebuild the temple, the Jews were receptive to his message of rebuilding the Lord’s house.
Unlike most of the other prophets, Haggai explicitly dated his prophecies, down to the day. He gave four separate messages, the first on 29th August 520BC (1:1); the second on 17th October 520BC (2:1); and the final two on 18th December 520BC (2:10 and 2:20). These messages encouraged the people of Judah to finish building the temple and to have hope in God for the promise of blessings in the future.
After thousands of years, the Book of Haggai remains largely unique among the books of OT prophets for one key reason: the people of Judah listened! Haggai’s message to rebuild the temple was passionate, simple and straightforward (1:8). No one could mistake whether or not his direction had been followed, the results would be evident for all the people to see. Through the physical act of rebuilding the temple, the people began to indicate a shift in their spiritual lives: from devotion to self toward devotion to God.
Haggai had an important message for the Jews who had recently returned from exile. They had forgotten their God, choosing instead to focus on their own interests, so it was time for them to ‘consider their ways’ (1:5-7). Nothing was more important for the Jews than to show that the Lord was at the centre of their thoughts and actions, so Haggai directed them to finish rebuilding God’s temple.
However, rather than leaving them alone with the task of rebuilding, Haggai continued to preach to the Jews, encouraging them with the hope of future glory in the temple and a victory to come over the enemies of God’s people (2:7–9 and 2:21–22). According to Haggai’s message, if the people would place God at the centre of their lives, they would realise the future blessings that God had in store for his people.
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