Historical context

This first video presents the historical context of Haggai’s book, the main theme and the structure of the book.

This video has been dubbed into Polish: https://youtu.be/okiZaxXCmiQ

Before diving into the study of Haggai’s book, we will take a few moments to draw a general portrait of the book, in order to better appreciate the historical context.

This will allow us to better understand the message and draw some practical applications for our lives.

Historical context

In order to fully grasp the historical context of Haggai’s prophecy one must read the first six chapters of the book of Ezra. The first four chapters present the return of part of the people returning from Babylon to Jerusalem following the deportations that took place during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, and the beginning of the work to rebuild the temple. Chapters five and six present the events that took place during Haggai’s prophecy.

Here are a few details.

In the year 538 before Christ, Cyrus, king of Persia, proclaimed that the Jews return to their country to rebuild the house of the Lord.

It is important to understand that this call to return to the land came with the order to rebuild the temple of the Lord.

In 2 Chronicles 36:23 we read: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth has Jehovah the God of the heavens given to me, and He has charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whosoever there is among you of all His people, Jehovah His God be with him, and let him go up.”

Also, in Ezra 1:2 we read: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth has Jehovah the God of the heavens given to me, and He has charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.”

And Isaiah 44:28 also prophetically announced the same thing: “[Jehovah] that saith of Cyrus, [he is] My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure; even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.”

Thus nearly fifty thousand persons returned to Jerusalem, and in the seventh month they restored the altar in its place, and offered sacrifices. The following year they laid the foundation of the new temple. But their enemies weakened their hands, and made them afraid to build, and did all they could to frustrate their plans. They finally obtained the king’s order to stop the work, after having sent a deceitful letter, and rushed to Jerusalem to have everything stopped “by force and power”. Discouragement, lack of energy, opposition from the authorities … lack of faith. Perhaps the thought occurred to them that if the Lord really wanted this project to come to pass, there would not be so much opposition. There’s a lot to be said here, but we’ll come back to that.

And so the people return to their homes, taking care of their own material comfort. But God had sent them to rebuild the temple. And because the work was no longer moving forward, God no longer gave them the blessing they had hoped for from the work of their hands, and called for a drought in the land.

But in the year 522 before Christ, Darius I acceded to the throne, and in the year 520, God used Haggai and Zechariah to speak to His people to awaken them and call them to build the temple.

In his second message to the people, Haggai clearly announces the reason why the temple had to be rebuilt: it was in view of the coming of the Messiah. Yes, the temple had to be rebuilt because soon “the desire of all nations will come; and I will fill this house with glory, says Jehovah of hosts.” (Haggai 2:7).

Here was the will of God for his people Israel: to rebuild the temple, for soon the Messiah, the Christ, was to come!

But unfortunately, the people had become lax and the order of King Ahasuerus had put an end to the work for about two years. This interruption was perhaps even a discipline from God towards Israel due to its lack of faith and fervor.

And so it was that “In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, came the word of Jehovah by the prophet Haggai unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying, Thus speaks Jehovah of hosts” (Haggai 1:1-2).   Following Haggai’s message, the hearts of the sons of Israel are touched and no longer fearing opposition, they persevere with faith in the work of reconstruction. In Ezra 6:14 we read that it is through the prophecy of Haggai and Zechariah that they prospered. And in 516 before Christ, the work was finished.

For us Christians, these things “have been written for our admonition” (1 Cor. 10:11). God desires us to build His House. For the Jew, it was a building. For us it is the Assembly, the Church, of which every believer is a living stone. When we look at the state of the Christian testimony today, at the division of believers into various denominations, and also at all the evil that is being done in the name of Christianity, how much it dishonours the name of the Lord Jesus and is far removed from Scriptural truths.

Nevertheless, the Lord desires us to persevere in walking faithfully according to the teachings of His Word. We should not seek to do something new, but rather, as the people had restored the altar to its place, we should seek to build well on the foundation that has been laid once and for all. The apostle Paul wrote: “For other foundation can no man lay besides that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). It is Jesus Christ alone for salvation, for life, and as the sole center of our Christian meetings. All we need is to obey God’s Word in order to build on the foundation that is Christ.

We can as much rejoice in what God is still doing today as we can weep when we see the current state of things. Man has failed in its responsibility to build well. But one thing remains certain, God wants us to continue faithfully! Let us not lack faith and fervour, but let us be as we read in Romans 12:11: “as to diligent zealousness, not slothful; in spirit fervent; serving the Lord.”

It is for this very reason that the Lord spoke to His people through Haggai. It was to encourage them to persevere. And it is also our desire to be encouraged to persevere, as we will study in more detail this message that God sent to His people through Haggai, the messenger of the Lord (1:13).

Theme and structure

To conclude this general presentation, we could summarize the main theme of Haggai’s book as follows:

God wants to appeal to the conscience of a people who are lukewarm and negligent, and seeking their own self-interest, so that they may resume with zeal the reconstruction of the temple.

This two-chapter book is naturally divided into four messages. Each message is precisely dated from the moment the Lord spoke through Haggai.

  1. Chapter 1, verses 1 to 15, is a call to the people to consider their ways and the state of the Lord’s house. We also see in it the result of the work of the Spirit in their hearts.
  2. Chapter 2, verses 1 to 9, is an encouragement to persevere in the work of reconstruction.
  3. Verses 10 to 19 show us the importance of purity and holiness in relation to the house of the Lord, and that there is blessing in obedience..
  4. Finally, in verses 20 to 23, we have the prophetic announcement of the overthrow of the kingdoms and the establishment of the One God has chosen.

Voilà! That completes this general presentation of the book of Haggai.