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OT Survey 113 Seminar 22 Haggai

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Andrew Hodge                                                                                               3rd November 2006

Old Testament Survey OTE 113

Seminar 22


Jensen, Irving L. Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament 1978, Moody Press, Chicago pp 453-461; Haggai; Libronix



Discuss the historical background for the preaching of Haggai:

            Haggai is a prophet approved by God (Ezra 5:1) and is termed His ‘messenger’ or angel (Haggai 1:13). In concert with Zechariah, their prophesying is effective in getting the Temple rebuilt by 516 BC (Ezra 6:14). This is all in accordance with the Lord’s working through His people and the Persian Kings Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes (Ezra 6:14) - see below. An interpretation of Ezra 5:1 is that there were only these two prophets present to prod Israel/Judah into action at this time.

            Hebrew parents’ names for their children have the knack of prediction of character or role in a number of OT families. This observation could be applied to Haggai which means “festive” from the root word for “feast” in connection with sacrificial worship at the Temple. Jensen points out (p 456 footnote 4 quoting J. McIlmoyle The New Bible Commentary p 743) that “Haggai was one of the few prophets who had the inexpressible pleasure of seeing the fruits of his message ripen before his very eyes” ie that the festive occasions required by God and contingent on having a Temple building in Jerusalem, could be resumed.

This is an assumption because Haggai’s prophecies were delivered over a very short time span, well before the Temple was actually complete. It is remarkable that Haggai’s parents were given such clear foresight in naming their son during a time of exile from Jerusalem and, under Babylonian control, presumably with no good prospect of ever returning home, let alone having a Temple to worship at.

            Haggai’s prophetic ministry begins in 520 BC (almost simultaneously with Zechariah’s - Jensen Chart 57 pp 220-221) when the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem had been stalled for 14 years. It is assumed that Haggai was born in Babylon and returned to Canaan with the first contingent of exiles under Zerubbabel in 536 BC. He is not specifically listed with those who came out of Babylon in Ezra Ch 2.

It is not known how old he was when he began his prophetic ministry, nor whether he was accompanied by his parents, or whether he had any other family. He presumably spoke Aramaic, the common language used by the exiles in Babylonia, but his book is written in Hebrew, which obviously he was fully conversant with. It is therefore assumed that when Haggai wrote his book, the majority of his readers would have been able fully comprehend Hebrew. It appears that by Nehemiah’s time about 100 years later, only some Jews understood Hebrew and others did not (Nehemiah 8:1-8).

            It is perhaps possible that Haggai’s view of the future of Israel was influenced by the teaching of Ezekiel, also in exile. “Because Ezekiel had drawn the blueprint for the future kingdom of God. It would be a nationalistic, political kingdom of all the tribes of Israel with a temple at its center in Jerusalem.”[1] Note the emphasis on all twelve tribes, not just the last-taken, Judah. Haggai did not see that the Temple  “would eventually be replaced with a cross, and the ring with a crown of thorns.”[2] The ‘ring’ (see Jeremiah 22:24) is a reference to Zerubbabel in Haggai 2:21-23 as an ancestor of the Messiah.

            The commencement of Haggai’s ministry is clearly established in 1:1 “the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month”. This is said to be “August 29th 520 BC and construction resumed three weeks later on September 21, 520 b.c. (Hag 1:15). In October of that same year Zechariah delivered his first message.” [3]

            There are three other specific times of prophecy in 2:1, 2:10 and 2:20. Jensen states (p 456) that all of these were in the same year (6th, 7th and 9th [twice] months of the year 520 BC). Jensen shows that Haggai’s ministry continues until 505 BC (Chart 57 pp 220-221) but his recorded prophecies - which were effective in achieving their object - lasted only fifteen weeks in 520 BC. The Temple was completed in 516 BC - this is not mentioned in Haggai’s book. It might therefore be assumed that the book was written before the Temple was finished; it is not impossible that Haggai’s ministry carried on until some later date but there is little data to support this.

            The third movement of captives from Jerusalem to Babylon plus the razing of the Temple occur in 586 BC. Perhaps incidentally (?) the time taken for the Temple to be rebuilt (586 to 516 BC) is 70 years (cf Jeremiah 25:11, 12, 29:10). Commencement of this important task was initiated under Cyrus, a Persian King, who successfully invaded Babylonia in 539 BC, killing Belshazzar the Chaldean King in Babylon on the very same night he was prophesised to die by Daniel at Belshazzar’s profane feast. Cyrus then becomes the ruler of the known world.

Daniel probably lived to see the very end of the captivity and would have rejoiced very much, realising at the same time that he was too old to make the trip back home. Nevertheless, his job had been most successfully completed. The young Haggai was therefore the contemporary of Daniel and possibly also of Ezekiel.

            Jensen says that “the Jews in exile are not subject to Cyrus” (p 456) which is unusual in that although Cyrus did not personally conquer Canaan, the victor would normally take all the spoils of the vanquished. One commentator suggested that Cyrus realised that it was difficult to keep the peace in exiled subjugated nations and he instituted a programme of sending them all back home. In my view, scripture indicates that Cyrus paid particular and benevolent attention only to Israel. In any event, God used Cyrus to initiate and support the return of those Jews who felt impelled to go, terming him His ‘shepherd’ (Isaiah 44:28) and His ‘anointed’ (Isaiah 45:1).

Cyrus issued the decree to return in 538 BC and about 50,000 of the ~2 million Jews in exile make the trip. Those who remained behind and were otherwise capable of making the trip, were comfortable enough where they were to be unconcerned that their God-ordained pattern of worship was paralysed, energisable only by return to God’s earthly place of residence and reconstruction of His home. Jensen’s comment (p 459) that “There was no higher spiritual experience for a Jew in Haggai’s time than by faith to let God as Lord dwell personally in his heart” is inappropriate even given the supporting verses in Acts and Isaiah 66:1-2, but it is not difficult to apply this as a rationalisation for those who stayed in exile.

I can imagine that the individual Jew would feel a temporary closer relationship with God after having complied with the spirit of the Law in offering an appropriate Temple sacrifice for sin or thanksgiving, but this OT situation is a far cry from “dwell personally in his heart”.

There were significant hardships in Canaan in making a go of things especially in terms of barrenness of the land and the poor crop yields. Much of the substantial wealth brought by the returnees would have been dissipated in just getting by. Haggai makes sure that the people know that this is on account of their rebellion against God (2:17). The Lord was using these trials to point out to His nation that their focus should be on Him and not on themselves. The substantial sacrifice offered on Temple completion suggests that there had already been an economic turn around (Ezra 6:17) as promised (Haggai 2:19).

The foundations of the Temple are laid, on the ruins of the Temple of Solomon, between 536 and 534 BC and the work then stops, the final straw being harassment from the local Samaritans appealing to Cyrus’ successors Cambyses and Smerdis. Not only were the crops and the politics difficult, but the Jews themselves had come from a country where there was no Temple or sacrifice, no free access to the Word of God, and where the presumed commencement of the system of synagogue worship was used to replace the Godly pattern.

            Haggai also roundly chastises them for building their own houses with what little resources they had, rather than focusing on the Lord’s house, and thereby suffering the consequences of withdrawal of the Lord’s blessing on their agricultural efforts (Haggai 1:4-6, etc). He emphasises ‘first things first’.

            Darius I (Hystaspes) takes the Persian throne in about 522 BC and gives permission for the Temple to be finished from 520 BC. Why? - see below. There is therefore a 14 year gap in which Haggai in Jerusalem does nothing (recorded at least) to get the Jews out of the attitude of “its all too much”, to the outlook of “God before everything”. Why?

            Darius’ initial insecurity made him want to curry favour with the Jews, spurred on by Zerubbabel drawing his attention to Cyrus’ original decree (and the Law of the Medes and Persians may not be changed). Darius orders Tatnai, the local Persian satrap covering Canaan, “not to interfere with the work on the temple (6:6–7). Further, Darius ordered that the royal provincial treasury pay for the building expenses, as well as for the necessary sacrifices—young bulls, rams, and lambs for a burnt offering to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine, and anointing oil; “according to the appointment of the priests, which are at Jerusalem, let it be given to them day by day without fail” (Ezra 6:9). It seems that Darius continued Cyrus’ custom of allowing nations in the empire to worship their native gods, that “they may ... pray for the life of the king, and of his sons” (Ezra 6:10). Anyone who disobeyed this order was warned of severe penalties: destruction of his house and execution (6:1).”[4]

            With such generous and welcome support, proving that God had used Cyrus as the nation’s ‘redeemer’, the repatriates in Jerusalem took heart, turned toward the Lord, and the Temple was finished 4 years later. Wherever possible, the original conception of Moses in terms of Temple furniture and function was followed, as did Solomon. The walls of the city become a separate future issue, under Ezra and Nehemiah.

            Zerubbabel’s Temple has two great distinctions. First it was a house that although not as full of physical splendour as Solomon’s, would still be filled with the glory of God (Haggai 2:7). This is not described as happening within OT times, but is said to have been fulfilled by the presence of the Messiah Himself 5 centuries later (Luke 2:32). Second, this Temple building lasted from 516 BC to 70 AD, although much was contributed by Herod the Great in expansion, refurbishing and maintenance from 20 BC (to 63 AD. Herod died in 4 BC but the work was thought to be sufficiently politically advantageous as to be continued by his successors). The so-called Herod’s Temple only lasts 7 years after it was finished, perhaps deserving destruction on account of its primary contributor.

Show the uniqueness of Haggai’s message compared to the other prophets:

            “The book of Haggai is written in third person prose. Stylistically, this separates Haggai from most of the other prophetic books.”[5] “That is not to say, however, that Haggai is devoid of literary technique. Many literary devices are found throughout the text, giving it a unique style somewhere between simple narrative and poetry.”[6]

            The structure of the book is simple and clear, divided up by the four time signatures for the utterance of the four ‘oracles’ - 1:1, 2:1, 2:10, 2:20 - each division accompanied by a statement of the authority of the Lord. In the first oracle God reproaches His people for not rebuilding the Temple, the second is the people’s rapid response. The third explains that the uncleanness of the people has caused their lack of blessing, and the fourth assures the continuation of the Davidic line through Zerubbabel. There is therefore a parallel pattern “where one and three tend toward indictment, and two and four assure hope and the blessings of God.”[7]

            The keywords are ‘consider’, ‘word of the Lord’, ‘Lord of hosts’, ‘house’ and ‘glory’, the key verse 1:8: “Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD” (Jensen Chart 115 p 460).

            In common with many other prophetic books, Haggai quotes other works (1:6 cf Deuteronomy 28:38-40; 2:17 cf Deut 28:22; 2:4 cf Joshua 1:9; 1:13 and 2:4 “I am with you” cf Exodus 3:12 etc)  and is itself quoted by others (2:6 cf Hebrews 12:26,   ? with multiple fulfillments).


Describe how God carried out His plan through teamwork:

            To bring His people back to the land, God first worked with one man, Zerubbabel, who brought 50,000 with him. Initially, there was a common purpose and common labour, but external circumstances caused the individuals to focus on themselves instead of the bigger picture that God wanted, and the teamwork fell apart.

            God was patient for 14 years.

            He then raised up a team of two - Haggai and Zechariah, whose God-empowered preaching refocussed the people on the necessity - for their own good - of getting back into the team and working together for the right goals.

            Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the book of Nehemiah where one man formed a team to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem at a rate which astonished their enemies.

            In each instance, those who entered their team did so recognising that the individual who had brought them together was acting on behalf of God and therefore recognising his authority as such. The perfect team does not require dictatorship by one of the members since all act toward the common goal within their recognised roles. God’s plan only works well when each member of an assembled team focuses on Him, rather than on any individual.

If this is correct, then a local Church can only be considered a team when the role of Pastor is reduced to that of one of the ordinary team members. All team members contribute in the unique role that God has given them, no particular member taking precedence. This illustrates the principles of mutual submission together with the necessary authority structure which allows the team to actually function eg 1 Corinthians 12:4-31 which demonstrates that Christ can be figuratively and practically the head of His body. Marriage is another good example of this.

The logic of this argument falls down if the Church - being the Body of Christ - cannot be legitimately likened to a Team. However it seems to me that the Commission required of the Church is particularly fulfilled by teamwork where every part works properly together under the control of its Head - Christ, not the Pastor.

 Relate how the holiness of God affects service to Him:

            God requires standards in all aspects of our lives - eg “be ye holy for I am holy” - God’s qualities are promised by Him to us. Shoddy workmanship, attitudes, commitments and contributions may appear acceptable to the so-called Christian but may be as bad as an abomination to God. To be fair God tolerates a lot of abuse from His children as they mature, but this must be contingent on the children actually growing into the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” under the Godly direction of Godly men (Ephesians 4:11-16), in obedience to the Word and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit Who is promised to guide us into all truth (John 16:13).

            God may apparently increase the standard of acceptable worship when He has planned to eg during the agony on the Cross, the Temple veil is torn asunder making access to God’s purity and holiness not only possible, but now necessary, no longer hidden in the expected duty of compliance to the Mosaic Law, but made openly available in Christ. The only effort on our part that is needed now is to agree with God on our destitute sinfulness and accept the free gift of immediate pardon and a secured hope for eternity. There is no better deal than that, and the whole of it is transacted at the infinite level of God’s own holiness, setting the environment in which He asks us to serve Him.

            A slack Christian may feel that because he is a sinner he cannot possibly meet God’s standard anyway, except in Christ, so he will sit back in the pew, sit on his blessed assurance, wait for the Millennium, and let Christ continue to do everything for him. To him may be quoted Romans 6:1-2 “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”

            God provides us with directions and everything necessary to succeed with the journey at His standard. We are not ‘boosted up’ for the short term project, but at salvation we receive all of the Holy Spirit so that we are made capable of achieving God’s work in God’s way up to God’s standard (Isaiah 40:31). If we fall short, that’s our problem, not His, because we have “failed to wait upon the Lord”.

            Although the Jerusalem post-exilic returnees did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit as we do today, the same principle applied - focus on God and He will do everything for us and through us as we step out in faith and obedience.

Give evidence of obedience to God’s will taking priority in the believer’s life:

            Authentic worship of the real God in the proper manner is important to both the Lord and the worshipper. The travesty of Church and doctrines which currently prevail in Christendom are not pleasing to God and He rightly has withdrawn His blessing, resulting in a Church with little power to influence the world.

            The sequence and practice of obedience to the Lord with resultant blessing is contained in the “know, reckon, yield” of Romans 5:6-22. As we yield our ‘members’ to Him we are in effect ceding control of that member to Him so that He might do with us only as He wills. The end result of this - not achieved on earth by even the most saintly of saints - is that all we do is governed in every respect by God through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

            All Christians should be able to point to areas of their lives which were taken over by God at some time eg giving, Church commitment, ministries, relationships, seeking forgiveness, etc which have become ‘second (first?) nature’. The same Christians taking a current inventory of these same things will recognise that in each area more could be done to improve the standard. All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and our hearts tend to deceive us without us even being aware of it (Jeremiah 17:9). No wonder we need to give God’s will priority in our lives.

            It is greatly to our benefit if we obey God’s instruction to feed on His Word, meditate on it, memorise it; pray without ceasing; put on the armour He has provided; stand in His strength; praise Him with thanksgiving; give with a cheerful heart; love and do good to our enemies; etc, etc. Not only will we be personally blessed by these things, but God will have an opportunity to carry forward His plan for humanity through us. In a sense, one of the teams with the greatest potential is God plus one Christian who is sold out to Him eg the Apostle Paul.


[1]Ralph L. Smith, vol. 32, Word Biblical Commentary : Micah-Malachi, Word Biblical Commentary, 149 (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002).

[2]Ibid p 150

[3]James E. Smith, The Books of History (Joplin, Mo.: College Press, 1995). Ch 40 A. The Divine Catalyst

[4]J.I. Packer, Merrill Chapin Tenney and William White, Nelson's Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, 141 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995).

[5]Leland Ryken, Jim Wilhoit, Tremper Longman et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, electronic ed., 358 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, c1998).



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