Introduction to Haggai



Haggai, one of the twelve so-called minor prophets. He was the first of the three

(Zechariah, his contemporary, and Malachi, who was about one hundred years later,

being the other two) whose ministry belonged to the period of Jewish history which

began after the return from captivity in Babylon. Scarcely anything is known of his

personal history. He may have been one of the captives taken to Babylon by

Nebuchadnezzar. He began his ministry about sixteen years after the Return.

The work of rebuilding the temple had been put a stop to through the intrigues

of the Samaritans. After having been suspended for fifteen years, the work was

resumed through the efforts of Haggai and Zechariah ( Ezra 6:14 ), who by their

exhortations roused the people from their lethargy, and induced them to take

advantage of the favorable opportunity that had arisen in a change in the policy

of the Persian government.    (Smith’s Bible Dictionary)



FROM the time when Zephaniah prophesied of judgment to come to the

day when Haggai lifted up his voice, some hundred years or more had

elapsed. In this interval God had not left Himself without witness; the

prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel had carried on the torch of

prophecy, and had not suffered the light of inspiration to be extinguished.

Meanwhile startling events had happened. That which earlier seers had

foretold had come to pass; warnings unheeded had ripened bitter fruit.

Israel had long ago been carried into captivity; Judah had suffered a similar

fate. For seventy years she had sat weeping by the waters of Babylon,

learning a hard lesson and profiting thereby. But the period of punishment

came to an end at the appointed moment. God stirred up the spirit of Cyrus

King of Elam, to allow and to urge the return of the Hebrews to their own

land and the rebuilding of their temple. Not that Cyrus was a monotheist,

who believed in one supreme God. This idea, which has long obtained, is

proved to be erroneous by the inscriptions which have been discovered,

and which may be read in Professor Sayce’s ‘Fresh Light from the

Monuments,’ pp. 142, etc. From these it is clear that he was a worshipper

of Bel-Merodach, the patron god of Babylon, and that, as it was his first

care on the capture of that city to reinstate its deities in their shrines, so his

edict respecting the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem was a result of

his usual policy to adopt the gods of conquered countries, and to win their

favor by supporting their worship. That God used him as his instrument

for the restoration of the Hebrews proves nothing concerning his personal

religion. Unworthy agents often perform most important service. Obeying

the king’s edict, many of the Jews, assisted by donations and bearing with

them the rifled treasures of the temple, B.C. 536, prepared to return to

their native land under the leadership of Zerubbabel, a prince of the house

of David, and Joshua the high priest They were, indeed, but a small body,

amounting, according to the enumeration of Ezra (2:64-65), to 42,360,

exclusive of menservants and maidservants reckoned at 7337. But they set

to work with vigor on their arrival at Jerusalem, and in the second year of

Cyrus, B.C. 534, erected the great altar in its old place, and established

regular worship according to the Mosaic ritual. They then proceeded to lay

the foundations of a new temple in the second year after their arrival. The

prosecution of this undertaking met with unexpected obstacles. The mixed

population which had been settled by the Assyrian conquerors in Central

Palestine claimed, on the score of brotherhood, to take part in this sacred

work. Such a claim could not be entertained. These Samaritans, as they are

named, were not of the holy seed, did not worship Jehovah with pure

worship, mixed idolatrous rites with their devotions to the true God. It

would have been an abandonment of their unique position, treason to their

Lord, for the Israelites to have admitted such syncretists to a participation

in the erection of the temple. Zerubbabel, therefore, rightly declined their

offered assistance. This rejection was bitterly resented. By representations

made at court, they endeavored to hinder the work, and were so

successful in their opposition that the building was stopped during the

remainder of the life of Cyrus, and during the reign of his successors,

Cambyses and Pseudo-Smerdis (Artaxerxes I.). Other causes combined to

bring about the suspension of operations. The zeal with which the labor

was begun grew cold. The exiles had returned with high hope of happiness

and prosperity; they had expected to enter into possession of a home

prepared and ready for their reception; in their fervid imagination peace

and plenty awaited them, and the blessings promised to obedience in their

old Law were to be theirs with little labor or delay. A very different state

of things awaited them. Cities ruined and desolate, a land sterilized by want

of cultivation, neighbors unfriendly or openly hostile, scantiness of bread,

danger, toil, — these were the objects which they had to contemplate. And

though the spirit that animated their first enterprise, and the enthusiasm

that accompanied a great national movement, excited them to commence

the work with earnestness and ardor, their hearts were not sufficiently

engaged in its prosecution to enable them to rise superior to inward

distraction and outward opposition; and so they grew less interested in the

completion of the undertaking, and they acquiesced with stolid

complacency in its enforced cessation. They learned to look on the ruins of

their holy house with a certain desponding equanimity, and turned to the

furtherance of their own personal concerns, contentedly leaving the

restoration of the temple to other times and stronger hands than theirs. But

a happier condition of affairs arrived under the rule of Darius, the son of

Hystaspes, who succeeded to the throne of Persia B.C. 521. The interdict

which had stopped the building of the temple was removed, the original

decree of Cyrus was discovered and reenacted, and every assistance was

given to the Jews to carry out their original design. Nothing but the will

was now wanting. It was the design of Haggai’s prophecy to inspire this

will, to shame the people into a display of energy and self-denial, and to

encourage them to continue their efforts till the whole work was

satisfactorily completed.


Steiner and others have questioned the fact that the rebuilding of the

temple was begun under Cyrus. They say that no genuine passage in the

Book of Ezra gives any countenance to the statement, and that it was only

in consequence of the interference of Haggai and Zechariah that the work

was first commenced in the second year of Darius, being then carried on

without interruption till it was completed four years afterwards. Haggai

himself does not expressly mention any earlier attempt at laying the

foundation, and indeed places this event in the four and twentieth day of

the ninth month of the second year of Darius (ch.2:18). But this

passage is capable of another interpretation; and the direct statement of

Ezra 3:8, that “in the second year of their coming… they began to set

forward the work of the house of the Lord,” and “the foundation of the

house of the Lord was laid” (v. 11), can only be surmounted by

arbitrarily denying the genuineness of this chapter and the authenticity of

its details. The grounds of this rejection are weak and inconclusive. When

we consider the enormous importance attached to the rebuilding of the

temple — which, indeed, was the test of fidelity to the Lord, and the desire

to abide by the covenant — it is inconceivable that the good men who

guided the nation should allow some sixteen years to elapse before making

any attempt to set in hand the good work; so that the very nature of the

case confirms the statement of Ezra, while nothing in the books of Haggai

and Zechariah really militates against it. On the contrary, there are passages

in Haggai which distinctly involve its truth. Thus in ch.2:14 it is

implied that formal sacrifices were offered before Haggai’s public

interference, and in ibid. v.3 that the temple was already so far built

that its future appearance and condition could be conceived.


The book comprises four discourses, which make natural divisions, and are

accurately dated. The first, uttered on the first day of the sixth month of

Darius’s second regnal year, contains an exhortation to Zerubbabel and

Joshua to take in hand at once the rebuilding of the temple. The people are

sternly reproached for their indifference, which they think to excuse by

affirming that the time for this work has not yet come, while they expend

their energies in increasing their own material comfort. The prophet shows

them that the barrenness of their land and the distress which they suffer are

a chastisement for this neglect. He concludes with an account of the effect

of this expostulation, how that the chiefs and all the people listened to his

words, and “came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts” (ch. 1.).

The following month witnessed the second address, wherein the prophet

comforts those who, contrasting the new with the former temple,

depreciated the present undertaking, and assures them that, although its

appearance is humbler, the glory of the latter house shall far exceed that of

the former, because of the splendid donations of princes, and because of

Messiah’s presence there (ch.2:1-9). The third exhortation was

uttered in the four and twentieth day of the ninth month. By certain legal

questions concerning the communication of holiness and pollution, Haggai

demonstrates that the people’s tendency to rest in external righteousness is

sinful, and that their lukewarmness in the holy work before them vitiated

their worship and occasioned want and misery, which would only be

relieved by their strenuous efforts to finish the temple (ch.2:10-19). The

prophecy ends with a promise to the scion of the house of David,

that amid the destruction of the powers of the world, his throne should be

exalted and glorified, “for I have chosen thee, sayeth the Lord of hosts”

(ibid. vs. 20-23).


The reason why the rebuilding of the temple is made of such singular

importance is found in the light in which the house of God is regarded, and

the opportunity thus afforded for displaying zeal and fidelity towards God.

The temple is the visible token of the Lord’s presence with His people, the

material sign of the covenant; its restoration showed that the Israelites

desired to maintain this relation with Jehovah, and to do their part in the

matter. Here alone could the federal relation be renewed and sustained;

here alone could the daily worship be duly offered. While the temple lay in

ruins, the covenant was, as it were, suspended; for its reestablishment the

Lord’s house must be rebuilt and adapted to Divine service. And yet this

covenant was not simply a revival of the old one in its Sinaitic form; it was

a new one, without the visible cloud of glory, without the ark and mercy

seat and the tables of the Law, but one attested by the very presence of

Messiah Himself, and the laws of which were written in the heart and mind

of the faithful. Of this the material building was a symbol, and therefore its

reconstruction was an imperative duty.



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