Haggai was sent with a message for the people of his day, but God inspired his prophecy to give comforting and reassuring words to future generations as well.
Haggai’s name means “festival” or “festive.” It comes from the Hebrew word used to picture festive, joyous occasions and is a reference to God’s festivals and holy days described in both the Old and New Testaments.
Leviticus chapter 23 lists the seven festivals and annual holy days, arranged in order of occurrence throughout each year. The Scriptures make it clear that these days were not instituted by Israel or the Jews, but are described as “the feasts of the LORD” (Leviticus 23:2, 4, 37), which He instituted as “holy convocations” or commanded assemblies (verses 2-4). These solemn festivals reveal God’s plan of salvation for all of mankind.
Historical setting of Haggai
The book of Haggai was written in 520 B.C. With the fall of Babylon about 19 years earlier in 539 B.C., the fortunes of the Jewish captives had changed. The Persian King Cyrus encouraged the captive people to return to their country of origin and to rebuild the Jerusalem temple so that their God would once again have a house to live in (Ezra 1:1-4).
Following the decree of Cyrus in 538 B.C., comparatively few people (about 50,000) initially decided to return to a desolate Jerusalem. After many years in Babylonian captivity the Jews had built homes, planted gardens, started successful businesses, married and raised families. As might be expected, many were reticent to leave a settled way of life and return to their troubled homeland. And so the first wave of returning exiles was relatively small.
Under the leadership of Zerubbabel, who was appointed governor, and Joshua, the high priest (Haggai 1:14), the Jews who returned were admonished to rebuild the temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. The work began in 535 B.C., and the foundations were laid. However, the returned exiles became discouraged, especially due to opposition from the local Samaritans; and the construction was soon abandoned (Ezra 4:4-5).
God’s people desert the true priorities
The Jews became confused about what their true priorities were. Haggai was sent to them with a message of exhortation and encouragement to complete the construction of the temple. Shortly afterward he was joined and supported by the prophet Zechariah.
The Lion Handbook of the Bible, edited by David and Pat Alexander, states: “Four times Haggai comes to the people with a message from God—life is hard, with food and clothing in short supply, and prices soaring. Why? Because the people have their priorities wrong. Every man is wrapped up in his own selfish concerns. God is neglected. And so the very things man works for evade him. … But from the day they begin to put first things first, God will bless every aspect of life” (p. 455).
It is a point of interest that before the foundation of the temple was laid, the Jewish leaders constructed an altar with the express purpose of offering sacrifices to God (Ezra 3:2-3, 6).
Outline of the book of Haggai
Below is a suggested outline of Haggai.
The book of Haggai contains four prophetic messages, all delivered in about four months:
1. The first message was to Zerubbabel: a call to rebuild the temple (Haggai 1:1-15).
- The time had come to rebuild the temple (1:1-8).
- Failure in the past to do this had led to the withdrawal of God’s blessings (1:9-11).
- The people responded to Haggai and the work on the temple resumed (1:12-15).
2. The second message was to Zerubbabel, Joshua and the remnant of the people (2:1-9).
- Solomon’s temple seemed much more glorious than this second temple (2:1-3).
- But God encouraged the leaders (2:4-5).
- God gave promises of future greatness (2:6-9).
3. The third message was a conversation between God, Haggai and the priests (2:10-19).
- The people were defiled and their sins were condemned (2:10-14).
- God gave a promise of purification and blessings (2:15-19).
4. The fourth message was to Zerubbabel (2:20-23).
- The Messiah will return to rule over all kingdoms (2:20-22).
- God gave divine promises to Zerubbabel (2:23).
Consider your ways
The people were excusing themselves for not finishing God’s house by saying “the time has not come, the time that the LORD’s house should be built” (Haggai 1:2). God made it clear through the prophet Haggai that the time had indeed come.
The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary states: “The people had stopped building the Lord’s house though they were quite able to build their own, and God’s message was, ‘Give careful thought to your ways.’ The punishment for their neglect had been futility, they labored much but produced little. … The leaders heeded the message and, and with the best of the people, began immediately to build” (p. 562).
Construction on the temple resumes
The leaders and the people heeded the admonishment to “consider your ways” (1:5, 7), and work on the temple was resumed. God’s response was: “I am with you” (1:13), one of the most encouraging statements anybody can ever hear. If we consider the history of both Israel and Judah, Haggai was one of only a few prophets to provoke such a favorable and obedient response from the people.
The resumption of construction at the temple site took place in 520 B.C., and the temple was finally completed in 516 B.C. The dedication ceremony occurred during the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ezra 6:15-22).
A lesson for our day
The Scriptures encourage each of us to consider our ways and, in particular, to examine if we are living in harmony with God’s laws.
The apostle Paul wrote to the members of the Church of God at Corinth: “Examine [test, scrutinize closely] yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Corinthians 13:5). It is generally easy to find faults in others, but more difficult to notice our own imperfections.
God says He will consider those who are willing to repent and change their lives in order to live in harmony with His revealed truth. Proverbs 3:5-6 states: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
Are you willing to take God at His word?
From troubles to blessings
After experiencing severe economic troubles, the leaders and the people of the land responded positively to God’s admonition to change their ways. They “obeyed the voice of the LORD their God … and the people feared the presence of the LORD” (Haggai 1:12). For His part, God responded by promising His support and material blessings (1:13; 2:4, 18-19).
It is God’s desire that all people prosper and enjoy a healthy and abundant life (3 John 1:2), yet unfortunately our sins separate us from Him and His blessings. “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). Is this a major reason people at times do not receive answers to their prayers?
Our Creator will respond if we genuinely seek Him and His ways: “But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit [humble], and who trembles at [respects deeply] My word” (Isaiah 66:2). As the people during Haggai’s time changed their attitude toward God, He replaced the problems they were experiencing with blessings.
The Desire of All Nations will appear
End-time prophecies are a part of the overall messages Haggai delivered, including the hope of Jesus Christ’s return to establish His Kingdom on the earth. In Haggai 2:6-7 God refers to a time when “once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations.”
Verse 6 is the only verse in the book of Haggai quoted in the New Testament. Hebrews 12:26-28 shows that this final shaking of the earth will leave only that which no longer can be shaken, which is the Kingdom of God.
Then verse 7 refers to the coming of the “Desire of All Nations” who will fill the temple with a glory greater than the glory of Solomon’s temple. This refers to the Messiah returning to place all the nations of the earth under His control and perfect government (Revelation 11:15).
Haggai 2:9 contains a promise from God: “And in this place I will give peace.” The phrase “in this place” is a reference to Jerusalem and can only refer to the future, since the city and the region have never really experienced peace since Haggai wrote! This is an event yet in the future and a hope that all nations and people desire.
Hope remains for all of mankind
In the day when God “will shake heaven and earth” and “overthrow the throne of kingdoms” (2:21-22), He will fulfill a special promise to Zerubbabel: “In that day” God will make Zerubbabel “‘like a signet ring; for I have chosen you,’ says the LORD of hosts” (2:23).
This is a reference to a future event, and most likely refers to the resurrection of the saints at Christ’s return (1 Corinthians 15:50-55). Even though the verse is a specific reference to Zerubbabel, the promise characterizes all those who remain faithful to God throughout the ages. As with Zerubbabel, they will receive their reward (Revelation 21:7) and become a part of a Kingdom that will never be shaken, removed or destroyed. As God revealed to Daniel, “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed … and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44).
Today leaders of most nations hope and seek for peace, prosperity and an abundant life for their people. Unfortunately they are seeking for this hope in the wrong places. History has proved that since the dawn of civilization, peace and prosperity have evaded human beings because they have rejected the only true source that shows the way to an abundant life, peace and security—the inspired Word of God.
Claim God’s promises
God will not force anyone to accept and follow His ways. He places before us choices, and it is up to each person to choose. “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
This is an eternal principle and an abiding biblical truth.
Will you have the wisdom to believe God and make the correct choices?
Your future life depends on it.
Read more about the promised Kingdom of peace in the section on the “Kingdom of God.”
For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.