The Prophet Haggai
1. Author and Time of Writing
The book of Haggai is the first of the three post-exile prophets. Haggai was a contemporary of Zechariah. His name means “my feast(s)” or “festive”. We are not told anything else about Haggai. From Haggai 2:3 many have concluded that he must have seen Solomon’s temple before its destruction in 586 BC. In this case Haggai would have been much older than 70 years when he wrote his book.
Haggai probably had returned from the 70 year Babylonian captivity with the first group to return in 537/536 BC. King Cyrus of Persia had issued an edict in 538/37 BC for the Jews to return to Judah. 42,360 Jews returned and began to rebuild the destroyed temple in Jerusalem in 536 BC. These events that build the historical background of the book of Haggai are described in detail in the book of Ezra. This is where we learn that the work of rebuilding the temple was interrupted for around 14 years but taken up again as a result of the prophetic ministry of Haggai and Zechariah in the second year of King Darius. The building of the temple was then accomplished in Darius’ 6th year (Ezra 4:24; 5:1 – 2; 6:14 – 15).
King Darius is known as Darius I (Darius the Great, Darius Hystaspes) in history. He reigned from 522 to 485 BC. His second year therefore was the year 521/520 BC. In this very year during a period of five months Haggai’s inspired ministry took place. From Ezra 6:14 one can see that Haggai’s oral ministry lasted at least up to the inauguration of the restored temple in 516 BC.
2. Purpose of Writing
The Jews’ initial zeal of building the temple soon wearied. The book of Ezra describes how the opposition of Judah’s enemies caused the hands of the people to become weak and the work to cease (Ezra 4:24). But Haggai tells us another reason for the interruption of rebuilding: it was the Jews’ indifference towards God and their selfishness. Instead of dedicating themselves with zeal and devotion to God they used their time and money to look after themselves and to dwell in their ceiled houses (Hag. 1:4.9). To chasten them God had sent his people want and need by crop failure (Hag. 1:6.10 – 11; 2:16 – 17).
In this situation Haggai announces Jehovah’s messages in very short form. In his short book we read 25 times “the word of Jehovah” or “thus says Jehovah”. His only goal thereby is to reach the hearts of the Jews so that they would give God the first place in their lives. This is why the book of Haggai is very popular for our days and time as well!
Haggai has to reproach the Jews because of their indifference towards God on the second day of the sixth month to wake them up from their lukewarmness. In fact Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest were encouraged to take up the building work at the house of God together with the entire remnant of the people of Israel (chap. 1).
The second message of God through Haggai on the 21 st day of the seventh month (Hag. 2:1-9) is thought to encourage the people even further. The view is also directed towards the time of the end that is the appearing of the Messiah. Heavens and earth will be shaken (that is the upheaval of all things) before Christ will be revealed. Compare Hag. 2:6-7 with Heb. 12:26-28).
The third message is uttered on the 24th day of the ninth month and contains one of the clearest warnings against spiritual defilement of the Old Testament. Here also follows an encouragement at the end (Hag. 2:10-19).
On the same day follows the forth message in which Zerubbabel is seen as a type of the coming prince of peace who will execute judgment over the nations at His appearing (Hag. 2:20-23).
a) The Seven Questions of God
God directs seven questions to His people to search their hearts and to lead them to return and revival. These questions of God are found in chap. 1:4.9; 2:3 (twice).12.13.19.
b) God’s Fivefold Appeal to the Heart
God appeals five times to the Jews to consider their ways. The literal meaning is “to concentrate one’s heart upon something” for man’s decisions are taken in the heart. These passages are in chap. 1:5.7; 2:15.18.19.
4. Overview of Contents
I. Haggai 1:1 - 15: First Message: Admonition to Build the House of God
II. Haggai 2:1 – 9: Second Message: Encouragement while Building the Temple
III. Haggai 2:10–19: Third Message: Admonition to Holiness
IV. Haggai 2:20 – 23: Fourth Message: Encouragement by Looking unto the Future