Minor Prophets XV: Haggai Outline
The Longest Introduction Ever
Around 600 B.C. the first Jews began going into captivity in Babylon. Jeremiah had announced that God was with Babylon now, and any who surrendered would be spared (Jer. 27). Jehoiachin King of Judah surrendered under one siege and went into captivity, and Daniel and Ezekiel were among others who went to Babylon around this time. Jeremiah wrote to the captives in Babylon and encouraged them to settle down, to marry, to build houses and plant gardens, and to seek the peace of Babylon for it would be seventy years before God would bring them back to Jerusalem (Jer. 29). Finally, Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon, and in 586 B.C. the armies of Nebuchadnezzar broke down the walls of Jerusalem and burned the temple to the ground (Lamentations). For the next fifty years, Babylon was the great world power, until one night in the year 539 B.C., when the Persians invaded as recorded in Daniel 5. Shortly thereafter, Cyrus King of Persia issued a decreed calling Israelites to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (2 Chron. 36:22-23, Ez. 1). So around 50,000 Israelites began returning to Jerusalem, many from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (Ez. 2). They returned not only with the blessing of Cyrus but with many of the old temple articles and enormously generous gifts of gold and silver for the building project. This is a new Exodus scene even if there is no literal Red Sea crossing this time. Almost immediately a bronze altar is built on the temple site under the oversight of Zerubbabel, a descendant of David, and Joshua, the High Priest descended from Aaron (Ez. 3:2). By the second year they had been back in Jerusalem, the foundation of the new temple had been laid and dedicated (Ez. 3:10-11). But shortly thereafter “the people of the land,” later known as “Samaritans,” rose up and troubled the people of Judah, accusing them of planning to revolt once the city was completed (Ez. 4). And so the building project came to halt by force of arms (Ez. 4:23-24). Haggai enters the scene almost twenty years after the first exiles began returning to the land, somewhere around 520 B.C. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah are contemporaries, prophesying at the same time and for roughly similar purposes, calling Israel to trust God and put Him first no matter turmoil or setbacks.
The Text: Haggai directs his first message to Zerubbabel and Joshua and tells them that even though they have run into problems, they should not have given up so easily and started work on their own houses (Hag. 1:1-4). The prophet says that even though they have been very industrious, God has not blessed them greatly and has sent a drought on their land because God’s house is still in ruins (Hag. 1:5-11). For perhaps the first time in the Book of the Twelve, we read an astonishing verse: “Then Zerubbabel, Joshua, and all the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God…” (Hag. 1:12) Haggai responds by announcing that God is with them (Hag. 1:13), and the Lord stirred up the spirit of the leaders and the people and they again commenced work on the temple. It’s estimated that Haggai’s first message came on August 29th, 520 B.C. and that work resumed on the temple by September 21st.
At least part of the reason the Jews may have lost momentum in rebuilding the temple was the realization that this new temple would not be anything close to the Solomonic temple. In Ezra’s account, it says that when the foundation was laid and dedicated, there were as many cries of disappointment and shame from the older folks who remembered the former glory as there were cheers from the younger folks thankful for what the new temple represented (Ez. 3:12-13). Haggai’s second message came the following month (Hag. 2:1), and is directed at this realization, addressing those who remember the former glory. Haggai says that it is true that it will not have the same physical glory, but he exhorts the leaders to be strong and work hard (Hag. 2:2-4) because God is with them, and the same covenant faithfulness that brought their forefathers out of Egypt remains with them (Hag. 2:4-5). In fact, God is in the process of shaking all the nations, and He has plans to make Jerusalem the desire of all nations, causing the glory of the nations to pour in so that the this latter temple in fact will be greater even than Solomon’s temple (Hag. 2:6-9).
Finally, in December of the same year, Haggai closes with two final messages. First, he explains why building the temple first is so important. Using the ceremonial code, Haggia explains if they put God first, God well reckon His people holy and bless them greatly even before the temple is complete (Hag. 2:10-19). The final message is specifically directed to Zerubbabel, reiterating the fact that God is shaking the nations, but even as He does this, the fact that there is a descendant of David in Jerusalem is a sign of God’s continuing promise to David (Hag. 2:20-23, cf. 2 Sam. 7).
Conclusions: Shaking Heaven & Earth
Deuteronomy foretold the exile of Israel and called that time the “last days” or the “latter days” (Dt. 4:26-30, cf. Dan. 2:28). The problem is that popularly people speak of the “last days” as being the end of the world, but that’s not actually how the Bible uses the phrase. Biblically, the “last days” is the time in which God is acting to bring sin and death and evil to an end. The message of Haggai is a call to be strong as God begins to shake the whole world. God promises that the course of human history is leading toward the glory of God and the blessing of His people, but God is taking it there like a man sifts a river for gold. God began shaking the world in Haggai’s time, calling His people to trust Him in the midst of it.
One of the most important lessons of the Bible is that when the earth shakes, God is getting closer not getting farther away. Like Israel in Haggai’s time, we are tempted to think that when things get topsy-turvy God must be far away, His purposes must be unsure. But when Jesus showed up the demons came out of the woodwork, there were storms at sea, and when they killed Him, the veil of that temple was torn in two from top to bottom and the earth quaked and rocks were split and many graves were opened (Mt. 27:50-53). And three days later, the earth shook again, and the stone that sealed His tomb was rolled away, and Jesus rose from dead. And then came Pentecost, and Jesus shook the earth again, and sent out His disciples to shake up families and cities and empires (Acts 17:6).
The writer of Hebrews is like another Haggai, calling the early Christians to stand firm, to stay strong, and to put Jesus first not fearing all the shaking, all the rubble because they know the One who is doing the shaking (Heb. 12:25-29). And John sees visions of Jesus enthroned in heaven shaking the heavens and the earth, doing battle with sin, death, and Satan, until a new city, a New Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven to earth (Rev. 21:1-3).
This is why the nations rage, this is why there is political turmoil and wars and tensions in families: Jesus, the Desire of the All the Nations has come, and He is shaking the earth until every knee bows and every tongue confesses that He is Lord, until all is gold, until all is silver, until the New Temple of His Body is filled with His glory.