Haggai: A Message of Hope

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            Haggai brings a welcome message of hope during a time of judgment and despair. The timing of his prophecy is clearly established in his writings (1:1; 2:1; 2:10; 2:20), and took place in the year 520 BC. Haggai had probably returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel and about 50,000 other Israelites eighteen years earlier (538 BC) when King Cyrus of Persia made the proclamation that the Jews could return to their homeland. The temple had not been rebuilt in Haggai’s day, and the prevailing opinion was that it was not time to rebuild it. God called Haggai and his contemporary, Zechariah, to tell the Israelites that it was time and they should rebuild the temple. The temple was finished four years later in 516 BC.
            The Jews had begun to rebuild the temple in 536 BC, but abandoned the work because of opposition from enemies. Sixteen years later, Haggai’s prophecy rebukes the Israelites’ disobedience. Haggai brings his message to Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest, the civil and spiritual leaders of the people. Haggai tells them that God says it is wrong for the people to live in beautiful homes paneled with cedar while God’s house lies in ruins (1:4). God further states that the reason the people had been experiencing economic and agricultural difficulty is because of their failure to build the temple (vs. 5-11). God says that the only way to end their problems is by obeying Him and building the temple. In the words of Jesus, they needed to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33). Twenty-three days later, the people respond with obedience and begin building again (vs. 12-15).
            As the people began to rebuild the temple, it became apparent to those who remembered Solomon’s temple that this one was inferior in comparison (2:3). Solomon’s temple was a magnificent building furnished with precious metals, cedar, and hewn stone. Haggai comforts the people, telling them that the Lord is with them now just as He was during the Exodus (vs. 4, 5). God wants his people to celebrate His presence among them rather than focus on their lack of wealth. After all, God is the possessor of all things, including the wealth of the nations (vs. 8).
            Haggai’s message then turns to the future. God promises that he will “shake the heavens and the earth” and “all nations (vs. 6, 7)” and “overturn royal thrones and destroy the power of the Gentile kingdom” (vs. 22). This prophecy looks forward to the Day of the Lord when God judges creation and conquers the nations (Luke 21:25-27; Joel 2:30-32). God says that after this series of events, He will fill the temple with wealth and the final glory of the temple will be greater than the first (vs. 8, 9). God always saves the best for last, and this is true with this passage.
The prophecy ends with God’s election of Zerubbabel as His servant. God says he will be like His signet ring; an emblem of royal power and authority. Zerubbabel was a descendant of David, and was the legal heir to the throne. The Davidic dynasty had continued unbroken until the Babylonian exile where it ended with Jehoiachin (Jeremiah 22:24). God chose to reestablish the royal lineage with Zerubbabel and it would continue through the silent years until it ended with Christ (Matt. 1:12-16).
Israel was living in the aftermath of the exile in Babylon and they were only a remnant of the nation they had been. However, God promised them a new temple, His presence, victory over their enemies, and the coming of the Messiah. Haggai’s message is simple; God offers us a future, even in the midst of judgment. It is not time to give up; it is time to repent, rebuild and receive God’s promises.
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, January 22, 2013.
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