Background of Haggai
Author and Date
The book of Haggai contains messages delivered by the prophet Haggai, and thus it is reasonable to consider Haggai its author. Nothing is known of his genealogy. The specific mention of the “second year of Darius” (Haggai 1:1) places the book in the year 520 BC.
Haggai ministered among the Jews who had returned to Judea after some 70 years of exile in Babylon. The Persian ruler Cyrus the Great captured Babylon in 539 BC. In 538 he permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem so that they might rebuild the temple (Ezra 1–2). The work of rebuilding stalled, however, when opposition arose (Ezra 3:1–4:5). Haggai prophesied in an effort to motivate the people to renew their work of temple restoration.
The work of temple restoration highlights the Lord’s desire to renew a covenant relationship with his people (Haggai 1:13; 2:4–5).
1. The Restoration of God’s House
A decaying temple signifies a decaying relationship with the Lord. It brings weakness rather than holiness to the people (Haggai 2:14).
2. The Prophetic Word is the Divine Word
The prophecy is delivered “by the hand of Haggai” (Haggai 1:1, 3; 2:1, 10; see Haggai 2:20) but it is God’s Word (e.g., Haggai 1:2, 9, 12, 13).
3. The Lord is Sovereign
The phrase “Lord of hosts” occurs 14 times in the 38 verses of this short book (see Haggai 1:2). The Lord gives the divine word, controls the fortunes of his people (Haggai 1:9; 2:17, 19) and nations (Haggai 2:6–8), directs nature (Haggai 1:10), motivates his people to action (Haggai 1:14; 2:4), and establishes and removes kingdoms (Haggai 2:20–23).
4. The People Must Work
A restored house will bring pleasure and glory to the Lord (Haggai 1:8) and blessing to the people (Haggai 2:19), but there is work to be done. Physical labor is urged (Haggai 1:7–8; 2:4–5). But there is also “heart” work to be done (Haggai 1:5–7; 2:15–19).
5. The Restoration of David’s House
Zerubbabel, the heir of David, is promised high status (Haggai 2:23). The Lord, who removed the “ring” of the Davidic house (see Jeremiah 22:24–27), now promises that he will restore David’s house. The Messiah will come.
I. Introduction: Reluctant Rebuilders (1:1–2)
II. Consider Your Ways: Fruitless Prosperity (1:3–12)
III. Promise and Progress (1:13–15a)
IV. The Former and Latter Glory of This House (1:15b–2:9)
V. Consider Your Ways: Holiness and Defilement; Repentance and Blessing (2:10–19)
VI. Zerubbabel: The Signet Ring (2:20–23)
Jerusalem at the Time of Haggai
The Global Message of Haggai
“I am with you, declares the Lord” (Haggai 1:13; also Haggai 2:4). In a fallen world, in which it is often difficult to feel God’s presence amid “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2), the message of Haggai to the global church is the promise of the presence of God.
Haggai in Redemptive History
God’s Presence in Eden
“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden” (Genesis 3:8). In Eden, God originally dwelt with mankind in happy fellowship and unhindered harmony. Following the fall into sin, however, that fellowship was fractured and God withdrew (Genesis 3:22–24). The rest of the Bible is the story of God restoring mankind to himself by his own grace and initiative, renewing his presence with them.
God’s Presence in the Old Testament
The primary way in which the Lord achieved this renewing in the Old Testament was through the tabernacle and then the temple. The tabernacle was a miniature Eden, complete with sky-blue roof (Exodus 26:31–33) and a lampstand that looked like a flourishing tree, perhaps representing the tree of life in Eden (Exodus 25:31–40). After carrying the tabernacle around with them throughout their wilderness wanderings, Israel finally entered the Promised Land and, under Solomon, built a temple. The temple, like the tabernacle, was God’s house (Haggai 1:9). It was where he dwelt—where fellowship with his people, once fractured, could be restored.
Yet due to Israel’s faithlessness God allowed foreign armies to conquer them and destroy the temple. To ancient Jews the destruction of the temple was the same as if their relationship with the Lord had ended, for it was through the temple and its priesthood that this relationship was maintained.
God’s Presence Renewed
Remembering all this, we come to Haggai. There we find God calling Zerubbabel and Joshua to rebuild the temple. In his great mercy, God was determined to live among his people once more. The temple would be restored; Governor Zerubbabel, God’s chosen agent for this task, would see to that (Haggai 2:4–5, 21–23). In the course of reassuring his people of his covenant love for them, the Lord says that he is once more going to fill the temple with glory (see 2 Chronicles 7:1). What is striking about Haggai’s prophecy is that this will be a glory made up of a multinational extension of his people, as the Lord shakes “all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in” to the temple (Haggai 2:7; compare Revelation 21:24).
God’s Final Presence
In Christ, God’s presence came one final time, not in a temple built with human hands but in the temple of a human body (John 2:19–22). We no longer enter into a temple of wood and stone to meet with God; God has entered into a temple of flesh and blood to meet with us. Fellowship has been restored. In Christ, the resounding promise of Haggai—“I am with you” (Haggai 1:13; 2:4)—is decisively fulfilled. Indeed, the final promise of Christ to his followers is this very thing: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Universal Themes in Haggai
The Global Dimensions of God’s Restored Presence
In Isaiah’s vision, as he saw the Lord high and exalted in the temple, the seraphim declared that “the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). This harks back to the original mandate given to mankind—to multiply and to subdue and rule over the whole earth in such a way that the glory of God would be spread across it (Genesis 1:26–28; Isaiah 43:6–7). In Haggai we then read that the restored temple-presence of God would be adorned with the treasures of all the diverse cultures of the world (Haggai 2:7). The global display of God’s glory, lost at the fall, will be recovered when God restores his temple-presence among his people. In Christ, who extends mercy to both Jew and Gentile, this international restoration comes to fruition (Matthew 12:18; Luke 2:32).
God’s Mighty Sovereignty Over All Things
God is called “the Lord of hosts” fourteen times in Haggai, despite the short length of this prophetic book. “Hosts” here is a military term, referring to armies. Regardless of the seeming sovereignty of the Babylonian army in conquering much of the known world, including little Judah, Babylon is not sovereign; God, “the Lord of hosts,” rules over all. He determines the state of his people (Haggai 1:9; 2:17, 19) as well as of the nations of the world (Haggai 2:6–8). He oversees nature (Haggai 1:10; 2:19), compels his people to action (Haggai 1:14; 2:4), and raises up and brings down whole kingdoms (Haggai 2:20–23). His mighty arm reaches into every corner of the globe, doing all that he pleases for his great name and for the welfare of his people.
The Global Message of Haggai for Today
The chaos of the modern world—morally, politically, economically—can easily erode the church’s sense of God’s mighty presence and providence. Yet as we trace the biblical story of God’s presence with his people—from Eden to the tabernacle and temple to Christ himself and ultimately to the new earth—we see that what seems like the silence of God is not the absence of God. The Lord has always graciously walked with his people, even when his ways are hidden and difficult to understand.
The supreme example of God’s mercy in the midst of painful circumstances is the cross of Christ—where, at the very moment when the forces of hell seemed most victorious, they were being decisively defeated (Colossians 2:14–15).
Believers all around the world today can take heart in God’s determined resolve to be present with his people. “I am with you,” we read in Haggai. In Jesus and in the gift of the indwelling Spirit, these words are decisively fulfilled. Even now he is creating for himself a people from every tribe and nation. They will bring their treasures into the new earth, to that final paradise where no temple is needed, the restored Eden (Haggai 2:7; Revelation 21:22–24)—in everlasting, perfect fellowship with him.