In this short Book, we shall study the sermons of the Lord’s prophet Haggai. He and the following two Minor Prophets (Zechariah and Malachi) are referred to as the post-exilic prophets, because they lived and ministered to God’s people in the years after they returned to Judah from exile in Babylon. We learn from the Book of Ezra that Haggai and Zechariah’s ministries actually overlapped each other. The chief purpose of Haggai’s prophecy was to comfort the builders of the second Temple in their undertaking with an assurance from the Lord that this humble edifice would actually be rendered more glorious than all the splendor of Solomon’s Temple, because it would be this Temple that the Messiah would come to!
Haggai’s sermons which are contained in this Book were all preached within four months, in the years 520-519 BC. For the understanding of the conditions in which he exercised his prophetic ministry, the Book of Ezra must be studied. King Cyrus of Persia had given his decree for the rebuilding of the Temple in 537 BC; and the work began soon after the Jews’ return, in 536 BC. For 13 years, however, the people were slow and sluggish in this work; and then their enemies compelled them to stop work entirely in 522 BC. For two whole years, absolutely nothing was done toward the construction of the Lord’s house; but in 520 BC, that changed. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah rose up and motivated their brethren to get up and get working (Ezra 5). This was in the second year of the reign of King Darius Hystaspes (who is the same man that is called Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther). In Darius’ second year, work on the Temple began again (520 BC). And in 519 BC, a letter was written to him by the Jews’ adversaries – requesting verification of King Cyrus’ original decree. Shortly after Darius’ reply to this letter (Ezra 6), he contrived a way to rid himself of the yoke of “sharing” power with the six conspirators who had helped him secure the Persian throne. Consequently, he threw a 6-month-long feast in 518 BC, in order to celebrate his sole authority over the kingdom of Persia. That was the feast that we read of in the opening chapter of the Book of Esther, where Darius is called by his name of Ahasuerus. This was the beginning of the events that led to Ahasuerus’ deposing of Queen Vashti (who was King Cyrus’ daughter, by the way), and his subsequent marriage of Esther in the year 515 BC – which happened to be the same year that the second Temple was completed.
So we see that Haggai’s sermons were intended to stir up the leaders and the people to their responsibility to zealously and proactively rebuild the house of the Lord. The first of Haggai’s prophecies was delivered on the first day of the sixth month of the second year of King Darius’ reign (520 BC), and it was especially addressed to those persons among the Jews who held places of authority. The people were excusing themselves from building the Temple by declaring that the proper time had not yet come. To this, the prophet replied by reminding them that they were dwelling in their own elaborate houses, while the house of God was lying waste. Haggai called them to consider their ways, and he reminded them of the long-continued circumstances of drought and poverty which they had fallen into. He then urged them to build the house of God, and he declared that all the hard times to which he had referred were Divine chastisements for their neglect of His house. And thankfully, there was an immediate response to this appeal – first on the part of the governor and the priest, and then by the people. This response was followed by a word of encouragement, in which the prophet declared that Jehovah was with them. Those who work for God may be comforted and encouraged by the assurance that He is indeed with them; and if He is for us, who can be against us? Let this thought stir us up to be diligent in His service!
If Haggai had enjoyed access to the New Testament Scriptures, surely the text that he would have chosen for this sermon would have been those sweet words of the Lord Jesus: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you!” (Matt. 6:33) He was stirred up to call his countrymen to the consideration of their ways, and to the deplorable state in which the Lord’s house lay waste. The sin of the Jews, after their return from captivity in Babylon, was that they were sluggish and slothful in engaging themselves to rebuild the Temple of the Lord. And yes, it is true that they did experience opposition in this great work; but surely one would think that after 16 years, they would have made somewhat more progress than they had! Even Solomon’s splendid structure was built in less than half that time! Those who are employed in God’s work may sometimes be driven away from their work by storms of persecution and opposition, yet they must go back to it. Notice, moreover, that it was not an outright aversion that they had to carrying out this great work; it was only a sluggish apathy that prevented them from doing it at once. They did not say that they would not build the Temple, but just not right now. Similarly, people do not say that they will never repent and reform, but they will not do so just yet. Many good works have been intended, but not done, because people supposed that the proper time had not yet arrived. Let us pray for grace that we may not let such opportunities of usefulness slip away until it is too late!
Lord, we pray for grace to seek first Your Kingdom and righteousness. Even if physical wealth is not bestowed upon us, fill our hearts with the joyful contentment and precious peace which only comes from a real relationship with You! Amen.
If you prefer to listen, today’s Family Bible guide is available in audio format on both SermonAudio and YouTube.
Join other families all around the globe and receive the full-color, freely downloadable format of these thoughts in your email every day! It’s my prayer that you and your family will be equipped to receive abundant blessings from the hand of the Lord as you study His Word and worship in His presence together.
illustration created with canva.com