Most of the prophets in the Bible lived prior or during to two catastrophic events that shook the ancient Hebraic world. The first was when the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians. Prophets who spoke to those people included Hosea and Amos. The second event that almost undid the fabric of the Jewish nation happened when the Babylonians ransacked the Southern Kingdom and took a great portion of its inhabitants into captivity. Prophets who witnessed this included Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
But what about after all the events? The Israelites returned from their 70-year captivity in Babylonian in the 500s BC. We don’t have too many accounts in the Bible past those dates. The biblical narrative, in fact, goes silent after Malachi writes his book in the 400 BC range, according to the Zondervan NIV Study Bible.
Nevertheless, we do have one prophet who returns from the Babylonian captivity and has his own book amongst the minor prophets: Haggai. A contemporary of Nehemiah, Haggai helped the Israelites during the rebuilding process, despite opposition from foreign enemies.
This article will dive into the person of Haggai, what his main message to the Israelite people was, and why he matters to us today.
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Who Was Haggai?
Haggai was a prophet (Haggai 1:1) who wrote his book eighteen years after the Israelites had returned from the Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem. Although they may have been eager to return to their homeland, it takes them a while to start rebuilding. Due perhaps to getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work it would take to recover the city, or for whatever reason unlisted by the Bible, it takes them more than a decade to start reparations to the city and temple.
We don’t know Haggai’s age, but he probably had lived long enough to see the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. This would age him a great deal, in the 70-80 year range, or older.
This means that Haggai would have a unique perspective. Most of the people who had returned from Babylon had been born into captivity. They would have heard about the destruction of Jerusalem from their fathers, but not witnessed the events themselves.
We don’t know much else about this minor prophet, but we do know his name indicates he could’ve been born during an important Jewish festival. Haggai means “festal,” according to the Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Haggai knew what Jerusalem looked like when it had seen better days, and he wanted to encourage his fellow Hebrews to keep rebuilding to restore the city.
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What Is the Purpose of the Book of Haggai?
Most books in the Bible have multiple messages, and even though Haggai doesn’t take up a great number of pages in the Bible (it’s the second shortest book in the Old Testament), Haggai does have multiple messages for its intended audience.
Similar to other prophets, Haggai shows what happens when people disobey God (Haggai 2:16-17). The people have stopped rebuilding because they fear their enemies, but God has called them to rebuild the city. As someone who bore witness to the destruction of Jerusalem because of its disobedience, Haggai does not want history to repeat itself.
Second, Haggai shows what happens when you obey God. Instead of a curse, you receive a blessing (Haggai 2:7-9).
The book also has a great deal to say about God being with his workers during trials. Not only had Jerusalem grown lethargic in its building, but the Samaritans and other neighboring nations had grown worried when Jerusalem rebuilt the foundation of the city. If the Hebrews continued their progress and finished the temple, they would be a formidable power, so the neighboring nations press hard to make sure it doesn’t happen. Haggai reminds the reader that God is on their side (Haggai 1:13) and that they should not grow weary in their restoration process, no matter how bad the threats outside Jerusalem’s walls appeared.
Haggai makes sure to emphasize what will happen if they keep restoring the temple. The glory will return to the temple once more (Haggai 2:1-9), cursed people will be purified (Haggai 2:10-19), and blessings will come (Haggai 2:23).
In other words, the book says, “Keep going. Press on. It will be worth it. Don’t listen to what others say who try to deter you from building. Listen to the God of the Universe and obey him alone.”
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What Can We Learn from Haggai?
Haggai may only take up a couple chapters in the Bible, but we can learn a lot from this prophet and from his message.
First, we learn that God can use our past experiences to help deter others from making the same mistakes. Haggai witnessed the Babylonians destroying Jerusalem and also returned with its inhabitants, only to find they would not fully obey God. Just like their fathers who had come before them.
He stops them short in their path and reminds them what happens when they disobey. He essentially says, “Look at me. I have seen with my own eyes what transpires when people don’t obey God’s commands. Don’t be like me. Don’t let history repeat itself.”
Second, we learn to trust God’s voice alone.
Satan hates restoration. He’ll do whatever he can to stop it. In the case of Haggai, he used the foreign powers to deter the progress of rebuilding the temple. The foreign enemies and Satan knew full well what would happen if God’s glory returned to the temple. Not only would Israel prosper in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense as well.
In the same way, Satan will try to deter us from helping lead others to Christ, preventing the Holy Spirit from entering the temples of the hearts of men (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), or impeding us from restoring our relationship with God, healing our temple. He will use whatever means necessary to intimidate us.
During those times, we must listen to God’s voice alone. We must turn to Scripture and remember God’s power and promises. No power on this earth can separate us from him (Romans 8:38-39), and therefore, we must press on.
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Why Does This Matter Today?
Why should we care about what a prophet back in 520 BC had to say? Well, not only does his book exist in the biblical canon, making it God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16-17), useful for teaching, correcting, and training in righteousness, but we can see many applications in our world today.
Sure, we didn’t have a group of Babylonians ransack our city. But we have experienced a great deal of destruction, from the hands of humans to natural disasters to pandemics such as COVID-19. When it comes time for us to rebuild from tragedy, Satan will try to step in. He will try to prevent Christians from spreading the Gospel and try to hinder healing efforts.
During such moments, we can remind ourselves of the prophet Haggai. Like him, we have witnessed great destruction. But also like him, we can remind our brothers and sisters in Christ to press on. To ignore the voices of this world, and listen to God alone who protects, heals, restores, and is with us always.
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Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 500 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze, (Illuminate YA) released in June, and they contracted the sequel Den for July 2020. Find out more about her here.
Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,200 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy is out with IlluminateYA. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.