There is an uncanny correspondence between temple and people. After the exile, God’s revelation through his prophets unravels more of the mystery. Yes, there remains a physical house. Yes, the people remain obligated to build it and serve Yahweh within it. But Haggai shows us that the house itself is fading from the forefront to become a picture of the people. Its purpose is their purpose. Its benefits are their benefits. And its existence is their assurance. God is with them. God will bless them.
Thanks to Haggai’s detailed dating of his messages, we can nail him down more precisely than nearly any other book of the Bible. His four messages were delivered within a 5-month period in the year 520 BC, on August 29, October 17, December 18, and December 18 (yes, he had two messages on that day in December). In 538 BC, Persian emperor Cyrus had permitted the people of Israel to return and rebuild their holy city and temple. But 18 years later, the work was not yet complete. Haggai, along with his partner Zechariah, was sent by God to support the people in this work (Ezra 5:1-2).
Haggai clearly marks the sections of his short book by means of his precise datings of his messages:
- “In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of Yahweh came by the hand of Haggai the prophet” (Hag 1:1).
- “In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of Yahweh came by the hand of Haggai the prophet” (Hag 2:1).
- “On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of Yahweh came by Haggai the prophet” (Hag 2:10).
- “The word of Yahweh came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month” (Hag 2:20).
The only place he gets any fancier than simply dating and delivering his messages is in Hag 1:12-15, where he narrates the people’s response to the first message. This leads us to distinguish the first message from the remaining three, suggesting perhaps we ought to consider those three as a group. So I will treat the book in two divisions, aligning with the chapter divisions.
Part 1 Walkthrough
The first message is spoken directly to both the appointed governor and the high priest (Hag 1:1b), in light of the populace’s defeater beliefs regarding the time to rebuild (Hag 1:2). They gain little from their distracted labor (Hag 1:6), and they retain little of what they seek (Hag 1:9-11)—all because their own dwellings have been a higher priority than Yahweh’s dwelling (Hag 1:4, 9b). Therefore, they ought focus on their top priority: Building the right house, that Yahweh may find pleasure and be glorified (Hag 1:7).
And in contrast to many other messages from many other prophets to Israel, this one provokes the people to obey! Why? Because the people feared Yahweh (Hag 1:12). This is certainly a beginning of wisdom on their part.