Haggai challenged the discouraged people in Jerusalem to examine the way they were living and to set new priorities that would please God. They must remember that God was with them; he controls their future and wants his people to be holy.
Ruins of Persepolis, the city built by Darius the Great to be the capital of the Persian Empire, replacing Parsargadae. Darius, who ruled from 522-486 BC, began construction on Persepolis in 518 BC. Haggai prophesied in Jerusalem during the reign of Darius, urging his fellow Judahites to finish construction of the temple.
CIRCUMSTANCES OF WRITING
AUTHOR: There is no statement that strictly identifies who wrote this book, but the words recorded are repeatedly connected to what God spoke to the prophet Haggai (1:1,3,13; 2:1,10,14,20).
BACKGROUND: In 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem for the third time, this time destroying the walls, the temple, and the city (2Kg 25:8-21; Jr 39-40). Most of the people were taken into Babylonian captivity for seventy years (Jr 25:11-12; 29:10), although Jeremiah and a few survivors stayed in Jerusalem (Jr 41-43). God predicted through Isaiah that the strong king named Cyrus (Is 44:24-45:2) would defeat Babylon and her gods (Is 46-47). After the Persian king Cyrus defeated Babylon, he issued a decree in 538 BC that allowed the exiled nations in Babylon to return to their homelands (Ezr 1:1-4; Cyrus Cylinder). Sheshbazzar (Ezr 1:8-11) led about 43,000 Jewish pilgrims back to the state of Yehud (Judah) to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (Ezr 2:64-65). In the seventh month the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua led the people in building an altar to worship God (Ezr 3:1-7), then in their second year the people laid the foundation of the new temple (Ezr 3:8-10). But this effort was stopped for the next sixteen years because the Samaritan people who lived north of Jerusalem frustrated these rebuilding efforts, plus they hired lawyers to persuade the Persian authorities to stop supporting the work on this temple (Ezr 4:1-5). This led to a period of great discouragement. Apathy set in because many of the hopes of the Jewish people were unfulfilled. The walls of the city were not repaired, the temple was not rebuilt, there was a famine in the land (Hg 2:9-11), and the people were still under Persian control. They could do nothing without the approval of Tattenai, the governor of the “region west of the Euphrates River,” and his officials (Ezr 5:3-5). There seemed to be no way to move forward and rebuild the temple.
After the death of Cyrus, his son Cambyses became king (530-522 BC). He marched through Judah and conquered most of Egypt, but on his way home he died (possibly an assassination). A high army official named Darius took control of the Persian army, marched back to Babylon, defeated a rebel force led by Gaumata, and became king in 522 BC. Darius put down several revolts and then reformed the satrapy administrative system, with the result that by 520 BC the Persian Empire was at peace.
In the second year of Darius (520 BC; Hg 1:1; Ezr 4:24-5:2) when the conflict over political control of the empire was over, God directed Haggai to encourage the leaders in Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. When governor Tattenai heard about this rebuilding, he questioned the plan’s legitimacy and wrote to Darius to find out whether the government was sanctioning this project (Ezr 5:3-17). Darius approved the rebuilding campaign and even supported it through the royal treasury, as was confirmed by the discovery of Cyrus’s original decree in a palace at Ecbatana (Ezr 6:1-12). Consequently, the temple rebuilding was completed in four years (Ezr 6:15).
MESSAGE AND PURPOSE
Through his messages Haggai tried to persuade his audience to glorify God by rebuilding the temple. He argues that one should not: (1) focus on one’s own needs (1:4), (2) be discouraged because the temple was not as glorious as Solomon’s (2:3), (3) be unclean and unholy (2:10-14), nor (4) feel useless and powerless (2:20-23).
CONTRIBUTION TO THE BIBLE
Throughout the Bible, there is a call and a reminder to place God first. The period following the return from exile was no exception. Haggai’s challenge was to call the postexilic community of Jews living in Jerusalem not simply to focus on their own creature comforts but to honor God. This commitment would be reflected in their work on the temple. Haggai’s call was later reflected in the words of Jesus: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Mt 6:33).
Haggai’s call for the people to get their priorities in order and place God first by rebuilding his temple was of great importance. For the people to return to this task was a sign of their priorities. It also showed that God was with the remnant and that his promises of restoration had begun to be fulfilled. Their obedience in this matter declared God’s glory and thus brought him pleasure. It served to vindicate the Lord since the temple’s destruction had disgraced the Lord’s name. Finally, their obedience to Haggai’s words served as a pledge of the new covenant and the messianic age. The restoration of the temple was a sign that God had not revoked his covenants with Levi or with David. He would provide cleansing and restoration through a glorious temple and a messianic ruler.
The book of Haggai contains four short confrontational speeches in chronological order that identify ways the leaders and people in Jerusalem should change their theological thinking and behavior. There is a logical progression in the structure. People must glorify God (1:1-15), stay committed to God’s plans (2:1-9), please God by living holy lives (2:10-19), and serve him faithfully (2:20-23).
I.Reprimand and Call to Rebuild the House of God (1:1-15)
II.Reminder of the Lord’s Presence and Future Glory of the Temple (2:1-9)
III.Religious Principles About Holiness and Uncleanness (2:10-19)
IV.Restoration of Davidic Line Promised (2:20-23)
Babylonian campaign against Jerusalem begins; Daniel and others of Israelite nobility taken to Babylon. 605
A second deportation to Babylon includes the prophet Ezekiel. 597
Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem begins. January, 588
Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed by the Babylonians; a third wave of exiles taken to Babylon. 586
Cyrus, who ruled the Persian Empire from 559 to 530, takes Babylon with little resistance. 539
Cyrus issues a decree allowing the Jews to return to Judah and rebuild the temple. 538
Events in Ezra 538-457
Second temple construction begins under Zerubbabel’s and Joshua’s leadership. 536
Cyrus dies in battle and his son Cambyses succeeds him and rules from 530 to 522.
Discouragement reinforced by opposition from transplanted people brings work on the temple to a halt. 526
Darius succeeds Cambyses and rules from 522 to 486.
Haggai and Zechariah encourage the people to resume construction of the temple. 520-518
Haggai’s first message August 29, 520
Temple building resumes. September 21, 520
Haggai’s second message October 17, 520
Haggai’s third and fourth messages December 18, 520
Zechariah’s night visions February 15, 519
Temple completed March 12, 515