Haggai Overview: The People's Work and God's Work

9th Century Prophets 8th Century Prophets 7th Century Prophets Exilic Prophets Post-exilic Prophets


1. Name

The book is named after the prophetic author, Haggai, whose name means “my feast” derived from “festival.” Perhaps the prophet received this name because he was born on the Feast of the Passover or some other major feast.

2. Theme

Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added to you.

3. Purpose

To encourage the reconstruction of the temple in hopes of bringing great blessings to Israel after the exile.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1503.[/footnote]

4. Key verses

Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD (Haggai 1:8).

5. Key truths

• God offered many blessings to the first returnees after the exile.
• The priorities of God’s kingdom must take precedence over our personal comforts. Servants in the kingdom of God must be undefiled.
• The hopes of God’s people rest in the temple and in the house of David as they are fulfilled by Christ.
• God’s people are destined to inherit the earth in Christ.[footnote]Ibid., 1503.[/footnote]


I. Author

We do not know very much about this prophet. We know his name and that he preached in Jerusalem at the same time as Zechariah. He is simply described as “the prophet” (Haggai 1:1; 2:1,10; Ezra 6:14). Some interpret Haggai 2:3 as meaning that the prophet was one of those exiled by Nebuchadnezzar. If so, he was a very old man when he ministered to the returnees in Jerusalem. Mentioned in Ezra 5:1 and Ezra 6:14 with Zechariah, the two prophets worked to encourage the reconstruction of the Temple and the resumption of worship.
The fact that the prophet is often spoken of in the third person has led some to conclude that it was one of his disciples or followers who supplied the narrative framework which surrounded Haggai’s oracles. However, it is more likely that Haggai wrote the whole book and used the third person in the narrative sections to emphasise that historicity of the report or to authenticate his message as the Word of God.

He has been called “the prophet of divine shaking,” “the matter-of-fact prophet”; “the master builder”; and “the prophet of relative values.” Perhaps the most picturesque title which has been bestowed upon him is found in the Harper Study Bible: “the goad of God.” The sharp-pointed messages of this man were used of God to provoke his people to frenzied action in rebuilding the temple of the Lord.[footnote]J E Smith, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), Electronic Edition[/footnote]


II. Date

The book consists of four oracles delivered on three different occasions over a four month period. These oracles are precisely dated in terms of the year, month and day of the reign of Darius the Great. Since the chronology of this period is well-established, these dates can be converted to the modern calendar quite easily. We are also thereby helped to see the inter-connectedness of Haggai’s and Zechariah’s ministries.

Haggai 1:1 29 Aug 520
Haggai 2:1 17 Oct 520
Oct/Nov 520 Zech 1:1
Haggai 2:10 18 Dec 520
Haggai 2:20 18 Dec 520
15 Feb 519 Zech 1:7
7 Dec 518 Zech 7:1
[footnote]R Pratt, Lectures on Prophets (Orlando: RTS). [/footnote] The book has a hopeful, optimistic and forward looking emphasis. This suggests a compilation soon after the events themselves and before the loss of hope and enthusiasm which Ezra found in later years.

III. Historical Analysis

1. Chronology

586 Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Babylonians
539 Fall of Babylon to Persians
539-30 Cyrus’s Reign
538 First return of Jews under Zerubbabel
536 Foundation of Temple and altar built at Jerusalem
536-20 Frustration sets in and construction stops
Zerubbabel reigns under Persian oversight and Joshua the high priest is the religious leader
520-516 (?) Haggai’s ministry
520-480 Zechariah’s Ministry
516 Temple project finished

2. Historical background

The postexilic period was a time of political upheaval. Judah fell to Babylon in 586 BC. Babylon was overthrown by the Cyrus the Great in 539 BC. Egypt was conquered by the Persians in 525 BC. Greece struggled heroically to repel the Persian invasion. Toward the end of this period Persia was tottering.

During his reign of ten years, Cyrus established a reputation as the great liberator. He permitted all peoples who had been deported to Mesopotamia by the Assyrians and Babylonians to return to their native lands. The Jews benefited from this policy. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel a group of some fifty thousand Jews returned to the Promised Land in 538 or 537 BC (Ez.2:64; Neh.7:66). However, most Jews decided to stay in Babylon. During the exile there they had built houses and businesses as Jeremiah had instructed them (Jer.29:5-6), and many had become prosperous businessmen. Most of those carried into captivity had died, and most of those who remained had never seen Jerusalem. Babylon was home to them. Only the most spiritually committed desired to return to the ruins of Palestine to rebuild their nation and their temple. For the devout Jews, rebuilding of the altar on the site of the ruined temple was the first priority. So, they almost immediately began work on the temple foundations and gathered materials to rebuild the house of God.

However, they soon faced problems. Firstly, their family homes were broken down and the land was difficult to re-cultivate after many fallow years. Secondly, the lower-class Jews who had been allowed to remain in the land during the exile had taken over many of the exile’s properties. Thirdly, the temple rebuilding was opposed by people and officials from neighbouring countries (Ez.4:1-5; 5:3-5). Fourthly, those who had seen the first Temple disparaged the smaller structure which was being built now (Ezra 3:12-13; Hag. 2:3; Zech. 4:10). Fifthly, after Cyrus died in 530 BC there was a period of political instability in Persia which only settled under Darius in 520 BC.

Taken together, these discouragements and difficulties eventually took their toll and people turned from temple building to house building and farming (Hag.1:3-11). Years passed until finally in 520 BC, God raised up two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, who urged the people to get their priorities straight and to build the temple. The people listened and responded by completing the Temple in 516 BC.

Haggai’s ministry lasted only four months, from late August to mid-December of 520 BC. He had a single-track mind. His focus was on the building of the temple of God. The community leaders, Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest, were discouraged. The influential members of the Jewish community were content to leave the expensive undertaking incomplete while they spent their money on building comfortable mansions for themselves. But repeated crop failure had come as a warning to them all that they had sinned in using political opposition as an excuse for neglecting the sanctuary of the Lord. Under the preaching of Haggai and his younger contemporary Zechariah (Ezra 5:1; 6:14) Yahweh stirred up the hearts of the postexilic community. In six months Haggai accomplished more than most other Old Testament prophets. By the time he retired or died, the work of reconstructing the house of God was well under way.


IV. Literary Analysis

1. Comparative outlines

J E Smith Baldwin Pratt Murray

A Call to Action (Haggai 1)

A Call to Courage
(Haggai 2:1-9)

A Call to Patience
(Haggai 2:10-19)

A Call to Hope
(Haggai 2:20-23)

Now or never
(Haggai 1:1-15)

Take Heart and Word
(Haggai 2:1-9)

Promise and Prediction
(Haggai 2:10-23)

Call and Response
(Haggai 1:1-15)

Promise of Temple’s Glory
(Haggai 2:1-9)

Call to Continue
(Haggai 2:10-19)

Promise of Zerubabel’s power
(Haggai 2:20-23)

The people’s work
(Haggai 1)

God’s work
(Haggai 2)

a. The People’s Work (Haggai 1:1-15)

Incomplete temple (Haggai 1:1-6)

Complete the temple (Haggai 1:7-15)

b. God’s Work (Haggai 2:1-23)

God’s greater temple and blessings (Haggai 2:1-19)

God’s victory for God’s people (Haggai 2:20-23)

2. Alternation

Bullock argues for an alternating structure:

Message I (Haggai 1:1–15) crop failure / Message II (Haggai 2:1–9) cosmic shaking.
Message III (Haggai 2:10–19) crop failure / Message IV (Haggai 2:20–23) cosmic shaking.

Messages I and III deal with the devastating agricultural failure, the first being an explanation of the poor harvest and the third a declaration that the work on the Temple had reversed the effects of the drought and that the people should therefore keep building. Messages II and IV involved the promise of a seismic shaking of the heavens and earth. The first shaking results in filling the New Temple with the Lord’s glory (Haggai 2:7); the consequence of the second was making Zerubbabel the Lord’s signet ring (Haggai 2:23).[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]


V. Thematic Analysis

1. Restoration of Israel

The restoration of Israel to the land showed that God had not forgotten His promise to the patriarchs regarding the land of Canaan being Israel’s “forever.” The revival of true worship was important because Israel’s mission was to be a “kingdom of priests,” a channel of blessing to the Gentiles. Also, many of the Messianic prophecies concerned locations in the Promised Land (Bethlehem, Nazareth, etc). It was in the rebuilt Temple that Jesus was to minister.

2. Rebuilding of the Temple

The Temple served the purpose of reminding Israel that God was a real person, dwelling in their midst, and desiring their worship and their fellowship (Ex.25:8). The Temple was also a very visible recognition of God’s sovereignty over the nation. The pre-exilic prophets preached to a people that depended too much on the external Temple and its ceremonies. The post-exilic prophets preached to a people who had become fatalistic and questioned whether anything they did made any difference. They had survived for long enough in Babylon without the Temple and Levitical ceremonies. They, therefore, saw little need to rebuild the Temple and restore its distinctive rituals. This resulted in the great danger of losing God’s favour and their uniqueness in a general pagan climate.

Before Haggai and Zechariah started preaching, Ezekiel had previously described the Messianic era in terms of a rebuilt Temple and restored worship (Ezekiel 40-48).

Although Yahweh was not confined to the Temple (the Exile proved that), His covenant relationship by design involved the Temple as a vital part of covenant reality. If a misplaced zeal for the temple, issuing in copious sacrifices and additional gods and rituals, was deemed by the pre-exilic prophets to be loathsome to God, indifference to the Temple was just as abhorrent. God had connected His favor to the Temple and its worship, and apathy toward cessation of sanctuary and sacrifice was no small thing in His eyes.[footnote]Ibid., Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

In fact, the situation of the temple lying in a destroyed condition after the people had returned from captivity was more serious than while they had still been away. As long as the captive condition had continued, peoples around Judah had reason to know why the temple remained destroyed. But when the Jews had returned to their land, there was no longer any excuse for the destroyed condition to continue. Accordingly, when only a start was made and the temple then was left as merely a foundation, peoples round about could only have thought that the Jews held their God in low esteem. It should be recognized that peoples of the day measured how much another people thought of their god by how fine a temple they erected to him. As long as this condition existed the testimony of the Jews was only negative. There was no reason to tell others that they loved their God so long as the temple remained in this unfinished condition. Thus it was vitally important that work be started again, and God called Haggai as well as Zechariah to instigate action on the part of the people.[footnote]L J Wood, The Prophets of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1999), 367.[/footnote]

3. The people’s lethargy

Haggai called the people to repent of their neglect of rebuilding the temple. They were using their time to enjoy their own homes while the house of God was still in ruins. He addressed God’s word to the civil and religious leaders, Zerubbabel and Joshua. He also called on the people to consider their ways (Haggai 1:5, 7; cf. Haggai 2:15, 18). They were to consider the moral implications of their inaction.

4. Covenant curses

Despite all the work they were putting into their farms, the returns were meagre. They did not realise why they were experiencing economic and social hardship. It was because they had not fully escaped the curse God had placed on the nation during the exile (Lev.26:20; Dt.11:8-15; 28:29). Because they had not yet come to full repentance, God frustrated their efforts. They were experiencing the covenant curses of Deuteronomy 28: poor harvests (Deut. 28.38-40), insufficient food (Deut. 28:48), drought (Deut. 28:23-24), and frustrated labour (Deut. 28:20)

5. Repentance (Haggai 1:12-15)

Instead of indifference, mocking or opposition, the people gladly responded in the fear of God and received the promise of the Lord’s presence. This was manifested in the work of God’s Spirit stirring up the whole nation to rebuild God’s house.

Haggai’s message has its intended effects: in Haggai 1:12-14, the community’s attitude changes. An appropriate covenant response (Haggai 1:12), that the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and feared before the Lord,” is greeted by the prophet with words of encouragement and covenant renewal, “I am with you” (Haggai 1:13; cf. Exod. 19:3-8)….The pattern of Haggai has thus been (1) the traditional presentation of the people’s sin (Haggai 1:2-5); (2) prophetic preaching in response, with attention drawn to the covenant curses which have been operating because of national failure (Haggai 1:6,9-11); (3) the repentance of the people in reaction to the prophetic word (Haggai 1:12); and (4) covenant reaffirmation (Haggai 1:13)” The substance of Haggai 1:14-15 resembles the commissioning of Moses to build the tabernacle (Exod. 35:29; 36:2). Thus, the rebuilding of the temple will stamp the returnees as the people of God.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 227.[/footnote]

6. God’s greater temple and blessings (Haggai 2:1-9)

A month after Haggai’s first message and the people’s response, the prophet spoke to encourage them to continue in their rebuilding. They were comparing glorious reports of the former temple with the present poor state and prospects and were being discouraged. The Lord first assured the returnees that He himself was with them. The Lord’s presence with them instilled confidence that the work was not in vain. The cure for their discouragement was recognising God’s promise and presence. Haggai assured them that the glory of the latter house would be greater than that of the former (Haggai 2:6-9).

The building of the temple would, by its placement, bring peace to the Promised Land. Haggai sees its erection as a necessary preamble to the ushering in of the eschatological age, which for postexilic prophecy was a matter of imminent expectation. Since what is being built is, in the mind of the prophet, the eschatological temple, its glory will surpass the Solomonic temple (Haggai 2:9). God will rule from it, not merely dwell in it, and God’s shaking of the nations will draw the wealth and submission of the world to Jerusalem.[footnote]Ibid., 228.[/footnote]

7. God’s blessing

In the past God had cursed the people because of their sins. Now he was going to reward their repentance (Haggai 2:15-19) by overthrowing the nations (Haggai 2:20-22) and enthroning David’s son (Haggai 2:23).

Haggai finally addressed Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah and a descendant of David through Jehoiachin. Jeremiah had earlier described Jehoiachin as a signet ring on God’s hand (Jer.22:24-25), a ring that would be pulled off and discarded. Haggai reverses this picture and describes Zerubbabel, a descendant of Jehoiachin, as a precious and valued signet ring on God’s hand.

The theme of his prophecy is that if God’s people will put first His program, His house, and His worship, then their present poverty and failure will give way to a blessed prosperity commensurate with their covenant faithfulness. If the people would do the work they were neglecting and God was calling them to do, then God would do a great work for them

Although Haggai, Zechariah, and their contemporaries may have hoped for the overthrow of foreign domination and the restoration of Davidic rule in their own day, Zerubbabel would not be this Davidic king, but rather would point forward to an eschatological day when God would shake the heavens and the earth (Haggai 2:6-7,21).[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 425.[/footnote]

Haggai argues that from the small and disillusioned postexilic community will arise the eschatological people of God. God has not forgotten his promises, delivered through Moses and David, and God will honour them by the ushering in of Gods kingdom.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 229.[/footnote]


VI. New Testament Analysis

1. The shaking of the heavens and the earth

This passage is referred to in Heb.12:26-29. It refers to the first coming of Christ and the revolutionary effect this had on the whole world. It also points towards the second coming of Christ when He will shake the whole universe in judgment.

2. The Desire of all nations

There are two ways to understand this prophecy:

a. The Messiah is the desire of the nations

This promise that they shall come to “the Desire of All Nations,” and God will fill this temple with glory, is Messianic (cf. Mal. 3:1). “The Desire of All Nations” is none other than the Messiah himself. When Christ came he filled the precincts of this temple with His glory (Jn.1:14).

b. The desire (glory) of the nations comes to the Messiah

This was partly fulfilled after the exile (Ez.6:3-5, 8-9). The riches of the Persians came into it and Herod the Great spent a lot of money enlarging and enriching this temple. It is further fulfilled at Christ’s first coming when the wise Gentiles bring gifts to Christ (Matt.2:1-12). There is ongoing fulfilment in the ongoing construction of a new temple (His Church) made of living stones, Jew and Gentile alike (1Cor.3:16-17; 1Pet.2:4-10). This will not be completely fulfilled until Christ returns and all believers will inherit the riches of the new earth (Mat.5:5; 19:28-29; 25:34; 1Cor.3:21; 4:8).

3. The Davidic Line

Two lines of descent from King David unite at Zerubbabel and from him flow two lines which lead to Mary and Joseph, mother and step-father of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 1:12-13; Luke 3:27).

The Davidic line was to lead the people in battle and secure their prosperity. Jesus is the Messiah, the final and perfect son of David (Mat.1:1; Lk.20:41-44; Rom.1:3). After his death he established his kingdom when he ascended to his throne in heaven (Ac.1:9-11). He now reigns until all of his enemies are subdued (1Co.15:25-27; 1Pe.3:22). When he returns he will rule over the heavens and the earth (Heb.2:8; Rev.1:5). The Church is united with Christ in his enthronement (Ro.8:37); 1Pe.5:10)., so that one day those who overcome will reign with him.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1504.[/footnote]


VII. The Message of Haggai

Original Message: Continue building the temple and hoping for restoration blessings.
Present Message: Continue building the Church and hoping for spiritual blessings.