Haggai was a prophet during the times right after the Israelites returned from their 70 years of Babylonian captivity. The book of Haggai was written in 520 B.C. With the fall of Babylon about 19 years earlier in 539 B.C., the fortunes of the Jewish captives had changed. The Persian King Cyrus encouraged the captive people to return to their country of origin and to rebuild the Jerusalem temple so that their God would once again have a house to live in (Ezra 1:1-4). The name Haggai means “festive or festival.” This could mean that he was born during or near one of the feasts (Deuteronomy 16:16). Haggai was tasked with rebuking, instructing, and encouraging the people. He worked in conjunction with Zechariah to create enthusiasm to rebuild the temple of the Lord. This theme runs through Haggai’s words (Ezra 5:1,2; 6:14).
The book of Haggai is one of the most precisely dated books in the Bible. Each of his messages is given to the exact day. One might wonder if Haggai kept a journal with him to record his acts. The Israelites had just spent 70 years of captivity, and 70 years without a temple. Upon their return to Jerusalem, work on the temple began (Ezra 3:8-13). However, opposition to the building stopped the work for a period of 14 years. During this time the people pursued their own selfish interests. God used Haggai and Zechariah to get both the people and the leaders re-focused on doing the work of God.
The 1st Message of Haggai
The first message of Haggai is contained in chapter 1. It was intended to convict the people, to rebuke them for having their priorities all wrong. This should be the same concern for our world today.
(Haggai 1:4)1NIV New International Version Translations – “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
The people were focused on their own personal lives and the quality of their homes, not the temple. The term “ceiling” is often translated as paneled. The paneling would have to be imported, probably from Lebanon, and so would have been expensive. This is what they were spending their money on, expensive furnishings, the luxuries of living. Haggai’s point: God’s temple is still unfinished. Priorities in life are critical to satisfaction and happiness. The people were not putting God first and considering only their own comfort. Yet, they were dissatisfied with life:
(Haggai 1:6) – 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.”
Today, people hope for a better job, a new car, a bigger house, or some other luxuries. Our world puts a lot of effort into thinking of things like these, expecting them to satisfy us. Yet, people always want more! Haggai’s message begins with a reminder that our motivation for work should be to first, work for God. Haggai then moves to his rebuke. Due to their misplaced priorities, there is discipline from God (Haggai 1:9-11).
It is only through listening to God’s Word that we can learn what God wants from us. Until people listen, they will not understand. Once they understand, they must obey. To have a satisfying life, we must do the work of God. God answers the question we all ask, why are things so bad right now?
(Haggai 1:9-11) – “’Why?’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 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.’”
The 2nd Message of Haggai
After they had got their priorities sorted and resumed the work of God, Haggai continued his message to them. Haggai wanted to make sure they had gone back to work with the right attitude and motives. In this message, Haggai compares the temple with that of the one built by Solomon. Why would he bother doing this? The temple built by Solomon was amazing, covered in gold, and decorated with beautiful ornaments. After years in exile, their wealth was insufficient to set such a lofty goal. The idea was not to compare their efforts, that would be wrong. Haggai wanted them to do the best they could with the talents and resources they had already. The goal was not the beauty of a building but the presence of God. The reason why the temple had to be rebuilt, was so God could dwell among them. The people were to take courage that God was promising to bring peace. The temple would be even more glorious in the future, and that there will be peace declares the “Almighty.”
(Haggai 2:9) – ‘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.”
You will notice That “Lord Almighty” keeps popping up time and time again in these verses. The phrase is found almost 300 times in the Bible, over ninety of those times it is to be found in the books of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. This shows God as a warrior, a king, and a judge, and the emphasis of these prophets was to show God was in control of the situation and give hope for the future. The promise of God’s presence and future peace brought encouragement to the people. The prophecy wasn’t just some information given in passing. Haggai was imparting the knowledge that was designed to stir up feeling, and move the people, filling them with hope.
The 3rd message of Haggai
He starts by asking a question directed at priests about cleanliness. if a priest is carrying something holy and it meets something that is unholy, does it become holy? Haggai’s answer is no. However, if someone unclean touches something else, does that make that other thing unclean also? Haggai’s answer is yes. Haggai is defining the idea of Holiness. Cleanliness in the eyes of God does not come about by contact with something Holy. Contact with ungodliness or uncleanness defiles. Haggai shows the Israelites that they were guilty of this very thing. The holy rituals they had been performing in the past were useless, there was no obedience and their ungodliness had contaminated everything they did. We as Christians today are fortunate. We have the only exception to this, Christ. When Jesus touched lots of unclean and sick people, they were healed. Jesus did not become unclean but instead made them clean. Without Jesus, we are no better than the people of Haggai’s time!
(Hag 2:14-19) – “Then Haggai said, ‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the Lo. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled. ‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on—consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s temple. 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. I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord. ‘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: 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.”
God had kept them from prospering because they were not generous to God. They were being disciplined for their uncleanness and a lack of understanding of His blessings and punishments (called cursings – Deuteronomy 28–31). If you have become dependent on material things for happiness, God will take them away. If you depend on God for all your happiness, then He will give you all the things you need in life to be happy. Haggai is a book that should inspire us on how to motivate ourselves to serve God. Lead a clean life, with pure motives, and a pure heart. Keep our priorities focused on God!
The last and 4th message of Haggai
Haggai declares that the Lord is with them, a sure sign of success. God has moved their hearts and now the people are looking towards God again. Things are looking up for the people of Israel. Haggai foretells that God will do two things. God will overthrow the nations and kingdoms of this world. God will bring about His world (Haggai 2:20 – 22). God gave divine promises to Zerubbabel (Haggai 2:23). Zerubbabel was in the direct line of David (one of Jesus’ forefathers). Most see this as a foretelling that Christ will come, and we will all reign with Him as one of His faithful followers.
(Haggai 2:23) – “‘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.”
Summary of Haggai
Haggai rebuked the Israelites for having misplaced priorities and he pointed out the results which were dissatisfaction with the things of this world and discipline from God. That is still true for today!
- The proper response was to obey God’s message and resume the work on the temple. Their obedience (repentance/confession) cleared their conscience so that they could worship God again. Our world needs to do the same!
- The people’s source of courage and motivation would come from the promise of God’s presence and His peace. This is the hope that comes from knowing that God is in control.
- Haggai also dealt with the issues of living clean and godly lives. All we do that is good is defiled by our unclean living. He also urged them to depend on God for life. Our society today, filled with drugs, crime, death of the innocents should heed Haggai’s advice. Bring God back!
- And finally, Haggai gave them hope for the future. God will destroy the ungodly, the enemies of Christ and establish His kingdom with us, forever and ever, Amen!
- Do you think Haggai’s messages apply to society today?
- Ideas to Explore: Which of the 4 messages are the most applicable? How do they apply?
- Do you think that God disciplines us today as He did in Haggai’s day?
- Ideas to Explore: If so, how? What would the signs of discipline look like?
- Haggai points out that the people were spending their money on themselves instead of rebuilding their place of worship. How does society benefit or lose by not having places of regular worship?
- Ideas to Explore: We have plenty of places to worship today. What makes one more likely to be a place where you find God?
- How would you relate the concerns over cleanliness to our world today?
- Ideas to Explore: What makes someone unclean in the eyes of God in our world today? Is society becoming tolerant of depravity, corruption, sin, etc.? Do the media help or hurt? How?
- What priorities does God want out of a society?
- Ideas to Explore: Is it golden cathedrals, palaces, statues? Is it humble hearts, prayer, generosity toward those in need?
- How does having a central place of worship help the process of building hope and bringing peace?
- Ideas to Explore: How should people change when they attend worship regularly? What are the signs of a functioning church? How would you measure a place of worship? Can you tell if God is residing there?
- 1NIV New International Version Translations