From the Editor’s Notebook
Outline Studies of the Minor Prophets
Haggai: The Book of Action
Key Word: Consider.
Message: “God First in Life and Service” (Robert Lee).1 Or, as Walter A. Elwell has stated: “The basic message of the book of Haggai is simple: our spiritual state is more important than our material state. We must make a home for God, whether on a hill (then) or in our hearts (now), if we expect God to bless us.”2
Key Verse: 1:7 — “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.”
There are six books of the Old Testament,” wrote Dr. Harry A. Ironside, “which may be read together most profitably. I refer to Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, of the historical part of the Bible, coupled with the prophetic messages of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. To these a seventh might be added, viz., the book of Daniel, showing the exercises of soul which led up to the restoration.”
Ezra was concerned with the return of a remnant in Israel to Jerusalem from the Persian captivity. Separation, restoration and consecration are some of the major themes in his book. Nehemiah called for complete separation, along with the restoration and rebuilding of the walls and gates of Jerusalem. This work was begun 14 years after Ezra had returned to the Holy City. The book of Esther unfolds God’s gracious care over His people who chose to remain in a foreign land rather than return to Jerusalem, which was God’s centre for all Israel and the city where He had placed His name.
Unfortunately, with the passing of time the evils which had been shut out by the wall of separation infiltrated to the inside. As a result, God raised up Haggai and Zechariah to point the people back to Himself. Zechariah, who had been called “the prophet of glory,” spoke of the glories to come; whereas Haggai addressed the consciences of the people regarding the evil conditions among them, calling them back to paths of holiness, with the result of blessing through obedience. Malachi followed a generation later and bewailed the complete breakdown of the people, all serving as a definite warning that if God’s people are not in subjection to the truth and practicing it, the truth alone will not keep them.
Haggai is mentioned in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14, and along with Zechariah he encouraged the people to rebuild the temple regardless of the many hindrances, which in the long run were mainly excuses (cf. 1:2, 9; 2:3, 4-9). Apart from his association with Zechariah, nothing is known about Haggai. His name means “my feast,” and it may have been given to him in joyous anticipation of the return from captivity. From the words of Haggai 2:3, some have thought it possible that the prophet himself had seen the glory of Solomon’s temple, in which case he would have been quite an old man at the time of his writing (at least 80 years old), while Zechariah was quite young (Zech. 2:4).
“The second year of Darius” (1:1), in which Haggai prophesied, was 520 B.C. Hystaspes (the Darius mentioned here) began his reign in 521 B.C. An interesting sidelight is the fact that Confucius, the celebrated Chinese philosopher, flourished in China at this time. While Zechariah prophesied over a period of three years, Haggai prophesied only three months and 24 days. There are five messages in the book, each delivered on separate and distinct occasions according to the calendar furnished in the prophecy itself (cf. 1:1, 2:1, 10, 20).
Haggai wrote much like a businessman, in a straight, open, sincere, frank manner. He was fond of asking questions as a means of provoking the people to serious thought (1:4; 2:3, 12, 13). His style is further characterized by his repetition of certain phrases, such as “saith the Lord” and “the word of the Lord” five times, Robert Lee having outlined Haggai’s prophecy around the five occurences of this last phrase (1:1-11, 12-15; 2:1-9, 10-19, 20-23).3
1. The Rebuke (1:1-11)
2. The Response (1:12-15)
3. The Reassurance (2:1-9)
4. The Restoration (2:10-19)
5. The Revelation (2:20-23)
At this particular time (520 B.C.) of Israel’s long history there were many difficulties. The people had lost their first love for rebuilding the temple and the altar, and they had bogged down midst the oppressing cares and anxieties of the time. They needed to be reawakened to the task, and God used such a man as Haggai to stir them into the realization and importance of the project facing them. He strongly rebuked the people, and then with sleeves rolled up he encouraged them by precept and practice to pursue the work before them, at the same time exhorting them to forsake the sin and slothfulness which had taken hold of their lives. In 24 days the people began to build.
The reconstruction and refurbishing of the temple was the supreme passion of Haggai, the same serving as the central theme of this brief prophecy. His authority was “the word of the Lord,” and his message was simple and practical.
Zechariah, his contemporary, was the dreamer type of man with his “head in the clouds,” while Haggai was the doer kind of individual with his “feet on the ground.” The dreamer and the doer both need to walk together.
It is significant that within the scope of this brief prophecy Haggai mentions three temples: Solomon’s (2:3a), Zerubbabel’s (2:3b-5), and the Messiah’s (2:6-9).
It must be kept in mind that Haggai’s message goes far beyond his own day and, like the former prophets, points forward to the coming glory, his final message being apocalyptic in character. He wrote of that time when all the nations of the earth shall be shaken, and when still another house shall be filled with the glory of the Lord. In view of this, it is noteworthy that Haggai 2:6 is quoted in Hebrews 12:26.
Like Nehemiah, Haggai stands before God’s people as a model workman, a pattern for believers to copy. He was a self-effacing servant, exalting his Lord. He chided, yet cheered; criticized, yet commended, having inspired the people to action by exhortation and example (see Ezra 5:1-2).
The practical message of this brief prophecy may be summed up by the well-known expression, “First things first” (cf. Matt. 6:33). Another summary message of the book is found in the words, “be strong and work” (2:4) and, in addition to Matthew 6:33, both 1 Corinthians 15:58 and James 1:22 could serve as New Testament commentaries on Haggai’s basic message.
In the book of Haggai the LORD JESUS CHRIST is revealed as “THE DESIRE OF ALL NATIONS” (2:7).
FOOD FOR THE FLOCK is a publication dedicated to encouraging sound Bible study, to providing practical teaching on current issues and problems, and to challenging Christians to a greater devotion to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
1 Robert Lee, The Outlined Bible.
2 The Shaw Pocket Bible Handbook, p. 320.
3 Lee, op. cit.