On most of the occasions in scripture that we read of a prophet who had been preaching to God’s people about a particular subject, that prophet finds little good to come from the recipients of that preaching. A notable exception was Nineveh’s repentance when Jonah gave them God’s warning – but Jonah wasn’t exactly thrilled about that response, was he? Haggai and Zechariah are two exceptions that stand alone – at least as far as the rebuilding of the temple is concerned.
Haggai begins with reference to “the second year of Darius,” and that historically sets this book in the year 520 B.C. Chapter 1:1 gives us “the first day of the 6th month,” which makes the starting date of this book August 29, 520 B.C. It just doesn’t get any better than that with biblical dating. In fact, we get 5 such exact accounts of dates from Haggai. Just 24 days after Haggai’s first message, the people start work on the temple on September 21, 520 B.C. (Haggai 1:15 – the 24th day of the sixth month). Haggai 2:1 occurs in “the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month,” which is October 17, 520 B.C. Haggai 2:10 and 2:20 both happened on “the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month,” which is December18, 520.
Per the decree of Cyrus, the people began returning from captivity in 538 B.C. They started working on the temple in 537, but that ceased in 536 due to opposition (see Ezra 3:1-4:5). The work had been left unfinished for 18 years when the Book of Haggai begins. The reign of Cyrus the Great ended about 530 B.C. When his son Cambyses died in 522, a general, Darius I, rose to power in his place.
Haggai picks up in verse one of the first chapter where Ezra 5:1 makes mention of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, as it was after Haggai’s message that the temple construction was re-started. Then came Tattenai’s letter to Darius to try and stop the rebuilding. But the elders did not stop while they were waiting for the letter to reach him (Ezra 5:3-17). It was Darius’s decree (Ezra 6) that ensured the temple would be completed.
It was God’s will, of course, that ensured Darius would make such a decree. God called Haggai to move the people to action because they were stalled in completing the work of rebuilding the temple. Some form of “thus says the Lord” occurs 19 times in 38 verses, and the words”Lord of hosts” occurs 14 times, illustrating God’s sovereignty. Haggai’s message has them examine their situations and their lack of prosperity (Haggai 1:5-7, 2:15-19) in light of the work they had left unfinished. In chapter 2, the Lord (through Haggai) spoke to Zarubbabel, (who was in the line of David as the grandson of Jehoiachin) and Joshua, the High Priest.
The Lord intended to re-establish His people in their land, along with the house of David (Haggai 2:23). He had promised to bless the world through them (Haggai 2:9). There was a coming Messiah to prepare for. It was time to go to work!
image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers