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Haggai lived at the time when permission had been given to the captive Jews in Babylon to go back to Jerusalem. The first stages of this return are recorded in the opening chapters of the book of Ezra. Cyrus, king of Persia had issued a decree permitting them to leave, having been stirred up to do so by the Lord (Ezra 1.1). Those who returned at that time numbered 42,360 plus 7,337 of their servants (Ezra 2.64-65). On their arrival the work of re-building the altar and the temple commenced but soon ran into opposition. As a result of this the work ceased, and for a period of about fourteen to fifteen years no progress was made. It is a sad situation when the Adversary acts to bring the work of God to a halt, but too often this is what takes place.
At this point the Lord raises up Haggai the prophet to speak to Zerubbabel the governor of the province and to Joshua the high priest. The purpose of the message which he brings is to cause the people to recommence the work of God in rebuilding the temple after years of neglect. God will have His work carried out! The prophecy consists of four messages from the Lord, all delivered within a period of almost four months, from the 1st day of the 6th month until the 24th day of the ninth month of the second year of the reign of Darius. It is of interest to note that the book of Haggai is the earliest book which is dated by a "Gentile" date, a sign of the decline of Israel and the commencement of the times of the Gentiles (that period when Gentile rule will exercise government over the earth).
The title of the Lord which is prominent in the book is the "Lord of hosts". At a time when Israel was weak and to outward appearances Gods work through that people had come to nought, it was vital to remind the Jews that the Lord had not lost His power and that He was indeed the powerful Lord with invincible hosts at His disposal.
First Message - Rebuke of Idleness: 1.1-15
The people had not been idle during the years when the work of God had ceased. They had been engaged in building their own costly houses. The lesson must be taken to heart. When we cease activity in the work of God we find that self-interest takes over. With this before them the people are exhorted to "consider your ways" (1.5,7).
They are reminded that there had been a price to pay for their neglect of the work of rebuilding. Their labours had not yielded the results that had been expected. They had sown much, but their harvests had been small; they had food to eat, but not enough; they could drink, but were not satisfied; they were clothed, but still were not warm; they were earning wages, but the money seemed to be insufficient to meet their needs. The solemn warning goes out to every reader. When we fail in our devotion to the Lord and go in for other things to fill our lives we will find that these do not satisfy us. What we achieve appears to be of great substance, but somehow it does not fulfil its promise. The reason for this is that the Lord "did blow upon" (1.9) their work, and so it will be with everyone who forsakes His service. Drought had come and they could only blame themselves for this.
The command from the Lord was for them to go to the mountain and cut down the wood that was needed for the rebuilding to commence again. In this the Lord would be glorified, for God took no pleasure in a ruined house. The happy outcome was that the people obeyed the word of the Lord and He was with them in their renewed endeavour. The people were stirred up from their state of spiritual lethargy and in the 24th day of the 6th month the work was set in hand. Be sure that when we set our heart to do His work He will be with us.
The problem in Jerusalem is one that is common today. Much work and effort is put into our own homes and careers, but often this leads to neglect of the assembly. Our priorities are wrong, and as a result we will not obtain the satisfaction which we seek from the things which occupy our time and resources. When the Lord is neglected nothing else can be right.
Second Message - Recovery of Glory: 2.1-9
This message came on the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles (see Lev 23.34), a feast which pointed forward to the millennium. As the building continued there were those who grieved at what they saw. Old men remembered the temple as it had been prior to its destruction, and lamented as they compared the rebuilding with what had been before. This is a danger that must be avoided. To discourage those who are building by comparing their work with that of past generations is most unhelpful, but it is a feature that is often seen in the present.
The message from the Lord was that the builders had to be strong, perhaps due to the fact that the attitude of others could dishearten them in their work. The great encouragement to them was that the Lord was with them (v.4). This promise would lift their spirits as they realised that the Lord was in their work, no matter what others might say. They also learned that one day there would be a temple in Jerusalem, the glory of which would exceed all that had gone before. They had a part in a work that would end with a glorious millennial temple, fit for the presence of the Lord.
Let us ensure that we are encouragers in the service of the Lord, and where there are those who are working to build assemblies we do our utmost to cheer them as they labour.
Third Message - Removal of Judgment: 2.10-19
Haggai is instructed to ask two questions of the priests. The first (v.12) is to emphasise to them that holiness is not passed on from one to another. The second (v.13) teaches that sin and defilement can be passed on to others. This had been true of the nation of Israel. Their conduct throughout their history, and in ceasing from building, had defiled all that they had touched. Note the lesson that when we are far from the Lord we can touch the lives of others in a most damaging way. As a result of their sad condition the hand of the Lord had been heavy upon them. Their harvests had not yielded the expected in-gathering (v.16) because the Lord had brought blasting, mildew, and hail against all of their labours.
But now that the work was continuing as they obeyed His word, things had changed, and this message through the prophet was to confirm that they would be blessed and their harvests would be bountiful. No doubt there was a group who had misgivings as to whether God had any remaining interest in them. He did have and they would enjoy the fruit of His gracious acts. The purpose of the judgment they had endured was to bring them back to Him, and it had fulfilled its purpose. With joy they would hear the words, " from this day will I bless you" (v.19).
Fourth message - Restoration of Relationship: 2.20-23
But there was something even greater to cheer the hearts of the workers. In that day yet to be all enemies will be overcome. The question is, "Will all the promises which had been made to Israel be fulfilled, or would the behaviour of the nation rob them of that future glory?" The answer is clear. The Lord had chosen them and they had not been set aside. Zerubbabel the governor was of the line of David (1 Chr 3.17; Mt 1.12) and it was part of the humiliation of the nation that a descendent of David should rule subject to a Gentile monarch. But from the family of David will still come the One who is the deliverer of Israel. The nation had been chosen, the family favoured with this great honour had been chosen also, and those promises will not be set aside, depending as they do on the faithfulness of God. Israels future relationship with the Lord cannot be lost to them, despite their unbelief today.