When the Jews were carried away captive to Babylon it occurred in three phases. Likewise, they left their place of bondage in three stages. In 538 B.C., Darius, the Persian king, issued a decree for the Jews to go back to their homeland—to Judah. The first returnees were led by Zerubbabel (536 BC), the second by Ezra (458 BC), and the third by Nehemiah (444 BC). Haggai was in the first group. He began to prophesy 16 years later, during the second year of King Darius (1:1) in 520 BC.
Upon their return, there was a lot of rebuilding to do. The temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC and still lay in ruins. Many houses in and around Jerusalem were in extreme disrepair, others were nothing but heaps of rubble and debris. One would hope that the temple was a priority for the people of God to rebuild, and perhaps in the beginning it was, but that initial zeal soon weaned off and the temple still lay in ruins 16 years after the people had resettled the land.
Haggai was commissioned by God to rebuke the people for leaving the temple restoration undone. In verse 4 he asked, “Is it time for you yourselves to to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” This word for “paneled” might also be rendered “wainscot” (Strong’s). They didn’t just build something sufficient for shelter; their houses had all the nice finishing touches one might desire. But the temple remained in ruins!
Though they were back in the land of their forefathers, they were not prospering (1:6, 9-11). The prophets urged the people to “Consider your ways!” (1:5, 7). They wanted all the blessings promised by God to His people but refused to give the Lord a place of prominence in their lives. They were content to leave the house of God in shambles while they lived high on the hog (or at least tried to). The book of Haggai challenges God’s people to consider their ways and to set their priorities straight.
Shortly after Haggai rebuked the people, they were busy working on the temple again (1:12-15). They continued to rebuild the temple and it was completed about four years later (Ezra 6:14-16).
Haggai spoke highly of Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest. There are allusions in the book to the restoration and blessing which would happen in the days of the Messiah.
Our next book summary will be on Zechariah…