Haggai: Consider Your Ways
Key Text: Chapter 1:13
“Then spake Haggai the LORD’S messenger in the LORD’S message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the LORD.”
Haggai’s Place in History
Haggai is the first of the prophets to serve God during the post-exilic period. This was the time of restoration. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel approximately 50,000 Jews responded to the decree issued by Cyrus, Emperor of Persia, permitting the captive nation to return and re-establish themselves in Judea once again. This was a dramatically different period for the Hebrew people than at any other time in their history. No prophet had previously served in times such as those for which Haggai was raised up. The glory days of Israel and her monarchy had slipped away through the sands of time. The temple, erected by Solomon, had been razed to rubble and no other building would recapture that former splendour. Jerusalem, the Holy City, would be rebuilt, but she would never again be the city that once she was. The millions who populated the twin kingdoms of Israel and Judah had been carried as slaves by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Instead a mere 50,000 people responded to the call to return and rebuild a once proud nation out of the ashes and rubble of desolation. It was to this people that Haggai was called to minister the Word of God. The story of the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah together with their blessed effects are related in Ezra Chapters 5 and 6.
The People Whom Haggai Pastored
The 50,000 people whom Haggai served are simply called the “remnant” (1:12). They were but a small portion of the millions who chose to remain in Babylon. The new generation of Jews, who now regarded their adopted nations as their true home, chose not to follow the call to rebuild the Jerusalem and resettle the land of their fathers. They had homes, businesses and ties in Babylon. Therefore they decided to allow a small remnant to do the important work while they lived a life of comparative ease. In time the remnant would be increased by other groups who followed the route across the desert to Jerusalem. Therefore Haggai had a more encouraging congregation than those whom the prophets preached to before the exile. They witnessed a people slipping through spiritual decline into apostasy and on towards judgement. While the pre-exilic prophets had some encouragements, for the most part they were confronted by hardness and opposition. Haggai’s flock were a tender hearted spiritual group. They were the cream of Israel. They had taken leave of their homes and their lifestyle in order that they might follow God’s call. They were therefore a teachable people. A pleasure for any preacher to minister unto.
The Challenge Facing Haggai’s Flock
Sixteen years earlier this people arrived in Judah full of hope and ambition. By all accounts they quickly got to work, under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the man appointed as Governor by Cyrus, and Joshua their High Priest. By the second year the foundation of their temple had been laid, an occasion of spiritual excitement. As a result of a campaign by those in the land who opposed the resettlement of the Jews, however, the people became downhearted and the work of building work ceased. Historians inform us that in the sixteen years between arrival of the Jews and the calling of Haggai, Cyrus, the Persian Emperor who favoured the Hebrew people, died. After this the campaign against the Jews reached the ears of successive emperors including Darius and Ahasuerus (Xerxes).
It would seem that the people who came to Judah with such enthusiasm had, in the intervening years, conveniently forgot about the need to rebuild the Lord’s House. They erected their own houses and were living comfortably off the land. Therefore Haggai was called to a good and godly remnant who as a result of discouragement had lost a sense of priority. This same problem has afflicted Christians in every age. We lose our determination and zeal. We become focused on careers, homes and all the other trappings of a materialistic society. We no longer have the interest in the Lord’s Work that once we had. This is not apostasy but a lukewarmness that overtakes the body of the Church. To such a people Haggai was called.
Is his prophecy not relevant for a discouraged remnant seeking to serve God in the midst of a humanistic materialistic society?
The Stinging Nature of Haggai’s Message
While these were a good people at heart, they still needed the word of rebuke. The preacher who does not see the need to chasten the flock at times, is not following the promptings of the Spirit. They had to consider their ways because of two problems:
- They were living in their ceiled or covered houses, while the House of God was neglected (1:4).
- All of their business had not been rewarded with success (1:6-11). These verses remind us that materialism never satisfies. Serving God is fulfilling but following the god of money only creates an emptiness and a longing for more.
The Result of Haggai’s First Sermon
The name Haggai means festival. He was probably born on a Jewish Feast Day and his godly Father marked the occasion in his son’s name. As it is highly unlikely that Haggai was sixteen or younger when he preached this sermon, this man was born in Babylon. He was among those who returned with optimism and he was among the remnant who suffered discouragement.
The people said it was not the right time to rebuild. Therefore they waited. Then one of their number boldly presented the need to carry on the rebuilding work. He preached as God messenger (1:13). The word did not merely stir one or two people. It fired the hearts of the whole community in Jerusalem. This was revival. A Holy Ghost anointed preacher declaring God’s Word.
The first to move were the leaders (1:14). How necessary it is for the church to be led by godly ministers and elders giving the flock an example to follow. Zerubbabel and Joshua admitted their error and so led the people into completing what they had begun sixteen years earlier. Within one month of Haggai’s ministry commencing God was moving in new way among His people.
The Encouragement to Persevere
As in every work among the Lord’s people there are those, even in the ranks of the remnant, who will discourage every effort. Those older people who remembered the glory of Solomon’s temple were disheartened because the new temple would be nothing like the old. In response to this discouragement God through Haggai, had some helpful words one month after the people had initially resolved to rebuild:
- a) Be strong because the Lord is with you (2:4).
- b) The Holy Spirit is with you (2:5).
- c) All nations will be shaken but Israel would remain (2:6-7).
- d) The desire of all nations would come. This heralds the first coming of the Messiah to the world (2:7).
- e) The glory of this house would be greater than Solomon’s because Christ would walk in its precincts (2:7, 9).
- f) The cost of the building materials would be provided (2:8).
On a human level the new temple would not be as splendid as Solomon’s construction. This new generation was doing a new work for a new age. Their work would be blessed in ways that they never could have anticipated. Therefore the work they were doing for God should not be despised.
We should never despise what we do for God, or what others do for the Lord, in this 21st Century. We are not living in Reformation times, we are not enjoying the revivals of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.
We can only build up the kingdom of God for today and tomorrow, and the little that we do will be blessed by God according to the laws of the harvest.
Like Barnabas Haggai was indeed the son of consolation. In the 9th month he once again brought a message aimed at helping the people carry on the good work which they started. It would appear that this was the occasion when the first stone was laid upon the foundation (2:15). He explained that the reason why they were poor in this land was because of their attitude towards the House of the Lord (2:17). From this day their lives would be revolutionised because God would not withhold his blessing (2:19).
A Final Word for Zerubbabel
Zerubbabel as a son of David represented the royal and the messianic line in Judah (Matthew 1:12). As the leader in these fearful and difficult times he needed much by way of strengthening. He was assured that the people for whom he was responsible would be protected and kept intact. He was given the assurance that he was indeed the chosen leader and was as God’s signet (2:23). As the signet ring was employed as a means of authority, so Zerubbabel had the authority of God in his leadership. He was therefore a type of Christ, the Word of God Incarnate.