THE JEWS were discouraged about rebuilding their temple. About 50,000 returned from exile and immediately set up a new altar on the site of the ancient altar of burnt offering in the courtyard of the temple grounds. Once again sacred services were resumed.
With a good deal of enthusiasm the Judeans entered into preparations necessary for rebuilding the temple. Satan was at work, too. His agents among the neighbors of the Jews did everything possible to thwart their plans. Gradually the builders lost heart because of this opposition.
During the reign of the Persian monarch Cambyses, only slow progress was made in rebuilding the temple. When the false Smerdis assumed the throne he was influenced to issue a decree for bidding the Jews to proceed with their rebuilding.
While this building moratorium was in effect, the people of God put all their time and emphasis into their own homes and fortunes, striving for temporal prosperity. This led to frustration, since the Lord was not blessing them in their neglect, and naturally also led to spiritual poverty. By the time Darius Hystaspes came to the throne "spiritually as well as tempo rally, the Israelites were in a pitiable state. So long had they murmured and doubted; so long had they chosen to make personal interests first, while viewing with apathy the Lord's temple in ruins, that many had lost sight of God's _purpose in restoring them to Judea."--Prophets and Kings, p. 573.
To meet this crisis of indifference God chose two men to serve as prophets and to bring about a much-needed reformation. One, Haggai, apparently was an old man, perhaps in his eighties. There is nothing remarkable about his back ground and family as far as the records are concerned. The other, Zechariah, was a bright and intelligent young man, and a member of the priestly family.
One unique feature of their prophecies is that all of the messages given Haggai and many of those given Zechariah are specifically dated. Most of them are bunched together in the second year of the reign of Darius Hystaspes:
Haggai 1:1-12--sixth month, first day
Haggai 1:13-15--sixth month, 24th day
Haggai 2:1-9--seventh month, 21st day
Zechariah 1:1-6--eighth month
Haggai 2:10-23--ninth month, 24th day
Zechariah 1:7-6:15--eleventh month, 24th day
An additional dated message is found in Zechariah 7:1-7. It dates from the fourth year of Darius' reign, the ninth month and fourth day.
The book of Haggai is prosaic and practical in style and is written in the form of interaction between God and His people. Yet it is uniquely a message from God and drives home the lesson that it really pays to obey and cooperate with Him. Some commentators divide the book into four specific messages. I see five.
First Message — Rebuke
When the first message, found in chapter 1:2-12, was given, the people were saying in essence, "This is not a good time to build the Lord's house." The reasons behind this have already been outlined in the introductory paragraphs above.
God's answer came right back in no uncertain terms. " 'Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house [the temple] lies in ruins?' " (chap. 1:4, R.S.V.).
God challenges them to critically and objectively "consider your ways." The first "consider your ways" challenge is developed in verses 5 and 6. It points out that even if they are materialistically inclined, they will find the greatest material blessing only when they follow God's will. He contrasts what they are doing and expecting with current results:
Again in verse 7 God challenges, "Consider your ways." This time He tells them clearly what they should do to cooperate with Him. Their part is to go up to the hills and bring in the lumber needed to build His house. If they do this, He will take pleasure in even their most humble efforts and be personally responsible for seeing that the results are glorious.
For the second time God draws a contrast between the Jews' expectations and the actual results that will continue to follow as long as their apathetic attitude lasts:
Why did this happen? "Because you were more interested in building your own houses than My house." This carelessness resulted in a drought that was felt in the land and the mountains, in the crops, such as corn, wine, and olive oil, among men and cattle and upon all they labored for.
Not only does this rebuke apply to the Jews who returned from exile. A universal principle is outlined here. As we today give and share, we gain and receive blessings for ourselves. Selfishness and greed naturally result in both material and spiritual loss.
This first section concludes with a description of the people's encouraging response. From Prince Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest on down, the remnant who had returned from Babylon responded with amazing alacrity. They seemed to sense the truth of the prophet's message that both temporal and spiritual prosperity depend on faithful obedience to God's commandments. Within a few days they were actually at work on the temple again.
As soon as the people made the decision to obey, God's approach changed from that of rebuke to words of encouragement. He promised that He would be with them and bless them in their endeavors (see chap. 1:13).
Verse 14 indicates that the inspiration received from the prophets produced an enthusiastic response in the hearts of the leaders and all the people and they immediately began to make plans and gather materials to go ahead with the building. Less than a month later, on the 24th day of the 6th month (Sept. 21, 520 B.C. according to SDABC, vol. 4, p. 1077), the actual work on the temple commenced again.
The third message is found in chapter 2:1-9. The heart of this message of encouragement is set forth in the last words of verse 5, "My spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not." God never fails those who put their trust in Him and match their faith with their actions.
The previous Temple was a splendid edifice and took a long time to build. Solomon used the best artisans that he could gather from surrounding countries. There were still some among those who had returned from exile who had seen the previous Temple. Many commentators believe that Haggai was among them. Such could not help being disappointed as they compared the temple now being built with Solomon's magnificent structure.
In this third message God encourages those who were thus disappointed. He said to them, "What you build now may seem small and of little worth in comparison with the previous temple, but I am with you. In fact this little temple will actually turn out to be more glorious than the former more elaborate one because its glory will be greater than the former" (based on verses 3-9).
The second temple was never filled with the Sihekinah, the visible token of divine presence (see The Great Controversy, p. 24), but was to be honored instead with the presence of the Messiah, Christ Himself. "The desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory" (verse 7).
In the fourth message, found in chapter 2:10-19, God first of all points to a lesson taught by the ritual law. When something profane touched a garment made holy because it was carrying holy flesh that profane item did not become holy. However, when the same item came in contact with something unclean it became unclean. This law demonstrates the nature of service accept able in God's sight. What is true in the ritual service is true in the lives of the people. Holy artifacts do not sanctify unholy actions. It was not enough for them to come into contact with the symbols of worship. Just having the temple would not make them clean. They must be made holy and clean through the work of Christ in the heart.
In the last part of this message, God once again calls for careful consideration of how things stand. But this time there is a difference. Whereas before when God called them to "consider your ways" they had been able to see only disappointed expectations and the results of "blight and mildew and hail," now their expectations are to be more than fulfilled.
The harvest isn't in yet (verse 19), but the promise of an abundant one is evident since they have already reconsidered their ways and started following God's will. They cannot yet see the sprouts but the blessing is as sure as the promises of God.
The fifth message was received on the same day as the fourth. It is not the temple that is the sign or seal of God's pleasure and blessing. It is the joyful, abundantly blessed people. As he addresses the governor, God speaks to all the people whom he represents. For the second time God announces that He is about to "shake the heavens and the earth" (verses 6, 21). The context indicates that this involves the overthrow of Judah's enemies and persecutors. But it also has eschatological over tones in that it is tied in with the appearance of the Messiah and the establishment of His kingdom.
There are very few places in Scripture where so much of importance is crowded into such a small amount of space as in the book of Haggai. Here we find the basis of Christian steward ship and the principle that governs it. Here also we see a dramatic instance of what can happen when God's people decide to take His prophets seriously and consider their ways. How quickly drought and poverty turn into abundance and blessing.
We sense, in their willingness to respond, that these Jews were different from those who came into Canaan to begin with or that worshiped in this second temple when Christ came. They were impressed that God fully meant what He said. The seventy years of captivity apparently taught them this much, at least.
In a remarkable contrast to the experience of most of those called to this demanding office we find the prophets of the post-exile crisis, the old man Haggai and his young colleague Zechariah, among the most successful. Sim ply, yet effectively, the earnest old prophet preached one sermon, taking as his text God's message "Consider your ways" and, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, brought about a most inspiring and immediate revival and reformation. Never underestimate the power of one sermon if it comes from the presence of God.