Book of Haggai
In 537 BC, the conqueror of Babylon, Cyrus king of Persia issued a decree permitting the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild Solomon’s Temple (Ezra 1:1-4, 5:1-2). Zerubbabel (Sheshbazzar), Governor of Judah led the Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem. Some scholars estimate that the pre-exile population may have reached five million people. And yet, only 50,000 exiles chose to make the long journey from Babylon to Judah. The Jewish exiles chose to leave their homes, jobs, friends and families in Babylon, and traveled four months to a city that was largely ruins. They faced a less than warm welcome from the people of Samaria who had inhabited the lands for almost 70 years. The exiles were ‘Heroes of Faith’ because they heard and answered God’s call to rebuild Jerusalem and His holy temple. These men and women chose to obey God regardless of the personal cost.
The story of the Jewish exiles is found in five Old Testament books: Haggai, Ezra, Zechariah, Malachi, and Nehemiah. The book of Ezra tells us that when the foundation and altar were laid, the younger men shouted for joy and the older men wept (Ezra 3:8-13). This celebration aroused the people of Samaria, who feared the political and religious implications of a rebuilt and inhabited Jerusalem! They concocted their plan to halt the work, beginning with subtle trickery. The people of Samaria, the former northern kingdom, offered to work with the exiles to build the temple. They claimed to worship the true and living God (2 Kings 17), so it seemed logical that they should help share the work. The people of Samaria reasoned that if they couldn’t stop the work, perhaps they could persuade the Jews to compromise and allow the worship of other gods in the temple. After all, hadn’t the people of Samaria helped them build the temple? Zerubbabel and the heads of the Jewish families saw the trap and rejected their help (Ezra 4:1-3). The people of Samaria did not give up. They told lies about the Jews and paid men to harass the exiles when they returned to work (Ezra 4:4-5, 24).
The remnant began to lose their zeal for God’s work as the opposition escalated. But, the Jews were more to blame for their inactivity than the Samarians. The growing opposition only served to expose the double-mindedness and unbelief of the people. They reasoned that it wasn’t time to rebuild the temple, but instead it was time to build their own houses (Haggai 1:1-4). Finally, the people of Samaria hired counselors to convince Rhum, the officer in charge, and other officials that rebuilding Jerusalem was a threat to the peace of the empire. Rhum wrote a letter to King Artaxerxes I, in which he argued that if Jerusalem was ever restored they would rebel against the king and other provinces would follow their example (Ezra 4:6-18). The King issued a decree and all work stopped for 16 years (536-520 BC) until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
In 520 BC, Haggai the prophet, along with the prophet Zechariah, started to encourage the people to put God first and finish rebuilding the temple (Ezra 5:1-2). Scholars believe that Haggai was advanced in age when he delivered four messages to the Jewish exiles. Haggai 2:3 suggests that he saw Solomon’s temple and witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem. As we study Haggai, it is important to remember that the prophet Zechariah was a young man (Zech. 2:4). Haggai and Zechariah belonged to different generations, but this did not hinder them from working together. We also know that they worked closely with Zerubbabel, Joshua the high priest, and the heads of the Jewish families to rebuild the temple in 515 BC (Ezra 6:14). The remnant discovered that strength to finish the work comes from an unshakeable faith in God and trust in His Word. By resuming work, they demonstrated that God was faithful to finish His work as long as they trusted Him and obeyed His Word (Phil. 1:16).
“So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.” ~ Haggai 1:14 NKJV
Questions to ponder:
- In times of opposition or discouragement, how can you maintain your commitment to serving God and His purposes?
- Reflect on instances when personal pursuits may have taken precedence over God’s work in your life. How can you realign your priorities to prioritize God’s plans?
- Reflect on the role of faith and trust in God’s Word in the remnant’s decision to resume work. How can you apply these principles to your life, trusting God to fulfill His promises?