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Haggai jogs memories & rekindles devotion in Judah
Haggai (pronounced HAG-ay-ai) was a post Babylonian exile prophet of the end of the 6th century B.C..
The major players in this book are of course Haggai, Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the priest and King Darius I.
To jog your memory, Zerubbabel is a name you’ve heard before in Ezra.
You remember how Nebuchadnezzar had taken everything in the temple of God in Jerusalem, and carried it off to Babylon. This he did NOT because of the national sin of Israel who had been conquered and deported, but because of the sin of Hezekiah who had, presumably in pride, showed strangers from Babylon all the wealth of his kingdom INCLUDING the wealth of the temple of God.
Anyway, when Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon, in around 550B.C. God placed it in his heart to allow the Jews of the Babylonian captivity to return to Judah just as Jeremiah had prophesied man years before. God did this from the first year of his reign but the actual return seems to have not taken place until 12 years later in 538B.C..
Cyrus himself sought the favor of the God of the Jews by sending a man named Sheshbazzar to Jerusalem with all the items from the temple which Nebuchadnezzar had taken and those Jewish captives who wanted to return for the work. Sheshbazzar was appointed as the prince or governor of Judah. It is lost to history as to what ever happened to Sheshbazzar since in the book of Ezra where most of this is mentioned, all of the sudden Zerubbabel is mentioned as the governor of Judah with no notion of when the change in power took place. Some believe the two are the same man by different names.
Cyrus the Great’s reign ended 8 year later in 530B.C. and was replaced by his son Cambyses II who reigned for only 8 years and was succeeded by Smerdis who died that same year of 522B.C.Smerdis was succeeded by Darius I who we are reading about in this book of Haggai and who we will read about in the book of Zechariah. Now these dates have a little wiggle room to them, since other records have Darius ascending to the throne as 517B.C. but in any case we know who was reigning during certain events in history.
Darius reigned until 486-485 B.C. followed by Xerxes whose reign lasted until 465B.C. at which time King Artaxerxes I began his reign. It was during the reigns of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes that the events of rebuilding the temple and reestablishing the city and its walls in Jerusalem in Judah were taking place. The reason the other kings are not mentioned in reference to Judah is because they were not involved. Though, if you remember, the entire reign of Xerxes takes place in the 60 year gap of time between the events mentioned in chapters 6 and 7 of Ezra’s book.
That is why Ezra 6 mentions Darius checking the historical records of Cyrus in order to confirm that King Cyrus had in fact commissioned the Jews to begin work on the Temple in Jerusalem. He didn’t even know it was happening, as apparently those rulers between he and Cyrus did not know. Then in Ezra 7 it begins with the words, “After these events, during the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia…”. 60 years and three Persian rulers had transpired between the end of chapter 6 and the beginning of chapter 7.
I only keep mentioning and retelling all of this at the beginning of each book surrounding the Babylonian exile in order to keep all the players on the board and in mention at one time. This helps you get a clearer picture of who was who and when.
So it was towards the beginning of the reign of Darius I that the events in this book took place. Which means that these Jews were in Jerusalem during the reign of Xerxes and the life of Esther and Mordecia. So while God had favored these Jews and their work on the temple, if the plan of Haman had gone unchallenged ALL the Jews – even those in Jerusalem would have been slaughtered. God is everywhere at all times and rules over the affairs of man without usurping their will!
I will give you a quote from Ezra which shows some of these people as being alive and active in the work of God at the same time in history.
Ezra 5:1, “Then the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo prophesied concerning the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. (2) Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak began to rebuild the temple of God in Jerusalem. The prophets of God were with them, supporting them.”
So Haggai’s words and ministry span from about 520-518B.C..
We know this because of the introduction to this book as well as the introduction to the Gospel account of Matthew.
The book of Haggai begins with the words,
“On the first day of the sixth month of King Darius’ second year, the LORD’s message came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak:” – Haggai 1:1
Matthew’s genealogy from Abraham, through Judah to Messiah further identifies this prophet’s location in time relative to this family lineage.
Matthew 1:1 begins with, “This is the record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
When you progress down to verses 8-12 we see where Haggai makes his appearance.
8-12, “Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, Joram the father of Uzziah, (9) Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, (10) Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, (11) and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. (12) After the deportation to Babylon, Jeconiah became the father of [She-al tea- al] Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,”
Purpose and focus of the book
The focus of this record was the hearts of the people of Israel. They were more mindful of their own lives, their own provisions and homesteads than they were of God and the Temple… at least at first.
This may seem surprising since this is the time of Ezra. If you remember, few were the Jews who returned to Jerusalem following the Babylonian exile. Those who did seemed as if they wanted to return at least in part, in order to honor God and worship Him as they’d father’s had.
During this time three classes of authority were joining together in the work. Zerubbabel the civil governor who is addressed here in Haggai and in Ezra; Jeshua the high priest or ecclesiastical governor; and Haggai and Zechariah the prophets.
Now, as a result of the people’s initial preoccupation with their own lives, God had judged them and diminished their prosperity. Though they had enough to live on, there was no abundance nor even a little extra. They could eat, drink, house and cloth themselves but it was always just barely sufficient.
This was the judgment of God on them. However, because they had no heart of discernment they needed the Lord to speak to them through the prophet.
From this we learn our first lesson…
Once the people heard what was happening and what to do, they responded. So we learn in this, that they did not have hardened hearts, but rather hearts which were dull and hard of hearing. As we quoted from Tozer this past Sunday, “The word was much with them.”
God, knowing the heart and Himself being merciful and gracious did not judge them harshly, but only allowed them enough to get by. He had promised them abundance in this land – which is what the aphorism “milk and honey” referred to, but they were NOT experiencing the promise. Yet, this did not provoke questions out of them. They simply kept their eyes on daily affairs and tried to do more to produce more. It never occurred to them that abundance or the lack thereof is never STRICKLY tied ONLY to the work you put into it. As the psalmist says, “Promotion comes from above” – Psalm 75.
This however is only part of the story. For God works one way with His covenant people and another with rebellious and pagan man.
While God entices all to come to Him through goodness – the sun and the rain fall on the just and the unjust alike, yet, God’s mercy will only go so far with the willfully rebellious.
Those who are self promoting, grasping and entirely money motivated God will sometimes bring to ruin, if He knows that there is even a chance of their fall making them think twice about the futility of their life’s choices and focus. But to those who say in their hearts, “There is no God” or “God won’t hold me accountable; He doesn’t care.” God will often allow them to prosper in their way so as to heap up their judgment against them.
God’s ways are higher than ours as are His thoughts. So often, what we get out of God’s discipline is the complete opposite of what He was saying or doing.
Let’s read this passage and then we will close by looking at a few examples of how God deals with the just and the lost.
“(1) On the first day of the sixth month of King Darius’ second year, the LORD’s message came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel [She-al tea- al], governor of Judah, and to the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak: (2) This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies has said:
“These people have said, ‘The time for rebuilding the LORD’s temple has not yet come.’”
(3) The LORD’s message came through the prophet Haggai as follows:
(4) “Is it right for you to live in richly paneled houses while my temple is in ruins? (5) Here then, this is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies has said:
‘Think carefully about what you are doing. (6) You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but are never filled. You drink, but are still thirsty. You put on clothes, but are not warm. Those who earn wages end up with holes in their money bags.’”
(7) “Moreover, this is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies has said: ‘Pay close attention to these things also. (8) Go up to the hill country and bring back timber to build the temple. Then I will be pleased and honored,’ says the LORD.
(9) ‘You expected a large harvest, but instead there was little. And when you would bring it home, I would blow it right away.
Why?’ asks the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.
‘Because my temple remains in ruins, thanks to each of you favoring his own house! (10) This is why the sky has held back its dew and the earth its produce.
(11) Moreover, I have called for a drought that will affect the fields, the hill country, the grain, new wine, fresh olive oil, and everything that grows from the ground; it also will harm people, animals, and everything they produce.’”
(12) Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel [She-al tea- al] and the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak, along with the whole remnant of the people, obeyed the LORD their God.
They responded favorably to the message of the prophet Haggai, who spoke just as the LORD their God had instructed him, and the people began to respect the LORD.
(13) Then Haggai, the LORD’s messenger, spoke the LORD’s announcement to the people: “I am with you!” decrees the LORD. (14) So the LORD energized and encouraged Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel [She-al tea- al], governor of Judah, the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak, and the whole remnant of the people. They came and worked on the temple of their God, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (15) This took place on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month of King Darius’ second year.”
“(1) On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the LORD’s message came through the prophet Haggai again:
(2) “Ask the following questions to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel [She-al tea- al], governor of Judah, the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak, and the remnant of the people:
(3) ‘Who among you survivors saw the former splendor of this temple? How does it look to you now? Isn’t it nothing by comparison?’”
(4) “Even so, take heart, Zerubbabel,” decrees the LORD.
“Take heart, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest.
And take heart all you citizens of the land,” decrees the LORD, “and begin to work. For I am with you,” decrees the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.
(5) “Do not fear, because I made a promise to your ancestors when they left Egypt, and My Spirit even now testifies to you.”
(6) Moreover, this is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies has said: “In just a little while I will once again shake the sky and the earth, the sea and the dry ground. (7) I will also shake up all the nations, and they will offer their treasures; then I will fill this temple with glory.”
So the LORD of Heaven’s Armies has said.
(8) “The silver and gold will be mine,” decrees the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (9) “The future splendor of this temple will be greater than that of former times,” the LORD of Heaven’s Armies has declared. “And in this place I will give peace,” decrees the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.”
(10) On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month of Darius’ second year, the LORD’s message came to the prophet Haggai: (11) “This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies has said, ‘Ask the priests about the law. (12) If someone carries holy meat in a fold of his garment and that fold touches bread, a boiled dish, wine, olive oil, or any other food, will that item become holy?’”
The priests answered, “It will not.”
(13) Then Haggai asked, “If a person who is ritually unclean because of touching a dead body comes in contact with one of these items, will it become unclean?”
The priests answered, “It will be unclean.”
(14) Then Haggai responded, “‘The people of this nation are unclean in my sight,’ decrees the LORD. ‘And so is all their effort; everything they offer is also unclean. (15) Now therefore reflect carefully on the recent past, before one stone was laid on another in the LORD’s temple. (16) From that time when one came expecting a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw out fifty measures from it, there were only twenty. (17) I struck all the products of your labor with blight, disease, and hail, and yet you brought nothing to me,’ says the LORD.
(18) ‘Think carefully about the past: from today, the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, to the day work on the temple of the LORD was resumed, think about it.
(19) The seed is still in the storehouse, isn’t it?
And the vine, fig tree, pomegranate, and olive tree have not produced.
Nevertheless, from today on I will bless you.’”
Nehemiah also says of this time,
“In the days of Zerubbabel and in the days of Nehemiah all Israel gave the portions for the singers and the gatekeepers, a portion for each day. They also consecrated holy things for the Levites, and the Levites consecrated them for the children of Aaron.”
(20) Then the LORD spoke to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: (21) Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah: ‘I am ready to shake the sky and the earth. (22) I will overthrow royal thrones and shatter the might of earthly kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and those who ride them, and horses and their riders will fall as people kill one another. (23) On that day,’ says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel [She-al tea- al], My servant,’ says the LORD, ‘and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.”
It is a matter of some debate as to what God meant by Zerubbabel being like a signet ring. Some believe he moved from Viceroy to the Persian King to being King of Judah himself, but there simply is NO justification for this in either the words used regarding him NOR in history. Most likely, it was in terms of being a strategic man in God’s hand in the construction and development of the temple and in His plans for Messiah.
You see, Zerubbabel was a descendant of Jechoniah and was therefore of the royal lineage of David. However, God pronounced a judgment through Jeremiah over Jechoniah that no one from his lineage would take the throne. However, Jesus being of this lineage and the One Who would rule as David over God’s people in the Millennial Kingdom presents a problem… but not to God!
I will quote from David Guzik on this so you can look it up later for yourself.
For I have chosen you: What was so special about Zerubbabel? He truly was chosen of God – in the ancestry of Jesus, Zerubbabel was the last person to stand to be in both the line of Mary (the blood lineage of Jesus – Luke 3:27) and Joseph (the legal lineage of Jesus through Joseph – Matthew 1:12).
God used these two lines of ancestry for Jesus because He placed a curse on the seed of Jechoniah (also known as Coniah or Jehoiachin) as recorded in Jer. 22:30. Who was of the royal line of David, so if the Messiah was to qualify for the throne of David (Luke 1:31-33), He had to be of the legal line of David, yet not of his seed.
Jechoniah was the last legitimate king of Judah and the royal House of David goes through him. His only successor was Zedekiah, his uncle who was appointed not by right, but by an occupying Babylonian ruler (2Kings 24:17-20). Even at the end of his life, the Babylonians recognized Jechoniah as the legitimate king of Judah (2Kings 25:27-30)
Because Zerubbabel was a descendant of the last legitimate king of Judah, he could be legitimately recognized as the ruler (though not king) of the returning exiles.
However, his principle purpose in God’s plan was to help govern God’s people, be a master builder in the construction of the Temple and to serve as THE man through whom Jesus was able to be a ruler from the house of David without being of the line of Jechoniah.
Now regarding the lessons we learn from this book…
God allows the prosperity of the wicked but hears the righteous
“(1) Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you pay no attention during times of trouble? (2) The wicked arrogantly chase the oppressed; the oppressed are trapped by the schemes the wicked have dreamed up. (3) Yes, the wicked man boasts because he gets what he wants; the one who robs others curses and rejects the LORD. (4) The wicked man is so arrogant he always thinks, “God won’t hold me accountable; he doesn’t care.” (5) He is secure at all times. He has no regard for your commands; he disdains all his enemies. (6) He says to himself, “I will never be shaken, because I experience no calamity.” (7) His mouth is full of curses and deceptive, harmful words; his tongue injures and destroys. (8) He waits in ambush near the villages; in hidden places he kills the innocent. His eyes look for some unfortunate victim. (9) He lies in ambush in a hidden place, like a lion in a thicket; he lies in ambush, waiting to catch the oppressed; he catches the oppressed by pulling in his net. (10) His victims are crushed and beaten down; they are trapped in his sturdy nets. (11) He says to himself, “God overlooks it; he does not pay attention; he never notices.” (12) Rise up, LORD! O God, strike him down! Do not forget the oppressed! (13) Why does the wicked man reject God? He says to himself, “You will not hold me accountable.” (14) You have taken notice, for you always see one who inflicts pain and suffering. The unfortunate victim entrusts his cause to you; you deliver the fatherless. (15) Break the arm of the wicked and evil man! Hold him accountable for his wicked deeds, which he thought you would not discover. (16) The LORD rules forever! The nations are driven out of his land. (17) LORD, you have heard the request of the oppressed; you make them feel secure because you listen to their prayer. (18) You defend the fatherless and oppressed, so that mere mortals may no longer terrorize them.”
“(1) A psalm by Asaph. Certainly God is good to Israel, and to those whose motives are pure! (2) But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my feet almost slid out from under me. (3) For I envied those who are proud, as I observed the prosperity of the wicked. (4) For they suffer no pain; their bodies are strong and well-fed. (5) They are immune to the trouble common to men; they do not suffer as other men do. (6) Arrogance is their necklace, and violence covers them like clothing. (7) Their prosperity causes them to do wrong; their thoughts are sinful. (8) They mock and say evil things; they proudly threaten violence. (9) They speak as if they rule in heaven, and lay claim to the earth. (10) Therefore they have more than enough food to eat, and even suck up the water of the sea. (11) They say, “How does God know what we do? Is the Most High aware of what goes on?” (12) Take a good look! This is what the wicked are like, those who always have it so easy and get richer and richer. (13) I concluded, “Surely in vain I have kept my motives pure and maintained a pure lifestyle. (14) I suffer all day long, and am punished every morning.” (15) If I had publicized these thoughts, I would have betrayed your people. (16) When I tried to make sense of this, it was troubling to me. (17) Then I entered the precincts of God’s temple, and understood the destiny of the wicked. (18) Surely you put them in slippery places; you bring them down to ruin. (19) How desolate they become in a mere moment! Terrifying judgments make their demise complete! (20) They are like a dream after one wakes up. O Lord, when you awake you will despise them. (21) Yes, my spirit was bitter, and my insides felt sharp pain. (22) I was ignorant and lacked insight; I was as senseless as an animal before you. (23) But I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. (24) You guide me by your wise advice, and then you will lead me to a position of honor. (25) Whom do I have in heaven but you? I desire no one but you on earth. (26) My flesh and my heart may grow weak, but God always protects my heart and gives me stability. (27) Yes, look! Those far from you die; you destroy everyone who is unfaithful to you. (28) But as for me, God’s presence is all I need. I have made the Sovereign LORD my shelter, as I declare all the things you have done.”
How God deals with those “on the fence” or those who have forgotten…
Psalm 107:1-43, “(1) Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, and his loyal love endures! (2) Let those delivered by the LORD speak out, those whom he delivered from the power of the enemy, (3) and gathered from foreign lands, from east and west, from north and south. (4) They wandered through the wilderness, in a wasteland; they found no road to a city in which to live. (5) They were hungry and thirsty; they fainted from exhaustion. (6) They cried out to the LORD in their distress; he delivered them from their troubles. (7) He led them on a level road, that they might find a city in which to live. (8) Let them give thanks to the LORD for his loyal love, and for the amazing things he has done for people! (9) For he has satisfied those who thirst, and those who hunger he has filled with food. (10) They sat in utter darkness, bound in painful iron chains, (11) because they had rebelled against God’s commands, and rejected the instructions of the Most High. (12) So he used suffering to humble them; they stumbled and no one helped them up. (13) They cried out to the LORD in their distress; he delivered them from their troubles. (14) He brought them out of the utter darkness, and tore off their shackles. (15) Let them give thanks to the LORD for his loyal love, and for the amazing things he has done for people! (16) For he shattered the bronze gates, and hacked through the iron bars. (17) They acted like fools in their rebellious ways, and suffered because of their sins. (18) They lost their appetite for all food, and they drew near the gates of death. (19) They cried out to the LORD in their distress; he delivered them from their troubles. (20) He sent them an assuring word and healed them; he rescued them from the pits where they were trapped. (21) Let them give thanks to the LORD for his loyal love, and for the amazing things he has done for people! (22) Let them present thank offerings, and loudly proclaim what he has done! (23) Some traveled on the sea in ships, and carried cargo over the vast waters. (24) They witnessed the acts of the LORD, his amazing feats on the deep water. (25) He gave the order for a windstorm, and it stirred up the waves of the sea. (26) They reached up to the sky, then dropped into the depths. The sailors’ strength left them because the danger was so great. (27) They swayed and staggered like a drunk, and all their skill proved ineffective. (28) They cried out to the LORD in their distress; he delivered them from their troubles. (29) He calmed the storm, and the waves grew silent. (30) The sailors rejoiced because the waves grew quiet, and he led them to the harbor they desired. (31) Let them give thanks to the LORD for his loyal love, and for the amazing things he has done for people! (32) Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people! Let them praise him in the place where the leaders preside! (33) He turned streams into a desert, springs of water into arid land, (34) and a fruitful land into a barren place, because of the sin of its inhabitants. (35) As for his people, he turned a desert into a pool of water, and a dry land into springs of water. (36) He allowed the hungry to settle there, and they established a city in which to live. (37) They cultivated fields, and planted vineyards, which yielded a harvest of fruit. (38) He blessed them so that they became very numerous. He would not allow their cattle to decrease in number. (39) As for their enemies, they decreased in number and were beaten down, because of painful distress and suffering. (40) He would pour contempt upon princes, and he made them wander in a wasteland with no road. (41) Yet he protected the needy from oppression, and cared for his families like a flock of sheep. (42) When the godly see this, they rejoice, and every sinner shuts his mouth. (43) Whoever is wise, let him take note of these things! Let them consider the LORD’s acts of loyal love!”