1. Title. The title of the book is simply the name of the prophet who was its author. Haggai, Heb. Chaggai, means “festal,” or “festive,” probably suggesting that he was born on a feast day.
2. Authorship. Haggai was the first of the three postexilic Minor Prophets. Nothing is known of him other than what is revealed in his prophecy and what is said of him in the book of Ezra (Ezra 5:1; 6:14). Some believe he was so advanced in years when he delivered the prophecies of his book that he had seen the former Temple (see on Haggai 2:3). Whether or not that is so, Haggai may nevertheless be considered a link between the old and new Temples.
3. Historical Setting. When Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon (539 B.C.) he immediately instituted a policy of conciliation toward the religion of the conquered nation, even manifesting deference to the Babylonian god Marduk. This same general attitude of conciliation toward the religious feelings of the conquered peoples of his empire is shown in his decree permitting the return of the Jews and the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-4). Taking advantage of this decree, a comparatively small group of exiles, under the leadership of Zerubbabel (or Sheshbazzar; see on Ezra 1:8), a descendant of David, returned to their homeland and shortly afterward laid the foundation of the Second Temple (Ezra 2:64; 3:1-10). All during the reigns of Cyrus and his successor, Cambyses, the enemies of the Jews endeavored to secure a royal edict to stop this work (Ezra 4:5). However, the Lord interposed in behalf of His people (see on Dan. 10:12, 13), and prevented these enemies from succeeding. The way thus remained open for the returned exiles to press forward in the reconstruction of the house of the Lord.
However, after such a promising start, work on the Second Temple gradually slowed down until it virtually ceased, owing mainly to the continued opposition and hindrance of the Samaritans (see Ezra 4:1-5). The discouraged exiles turned to working their own plots of land and to erecting living quarters for themselves. Little did those who mourned when the foundation of the Second Temple was laid (see on Ezra 3:12), realize how far their example would go in bringing discouragement to all who were endeavoring to restore the house of God.
After Cambyses came the short reign of the False Smerdis (in 522 B.C.). This proved a great setback for the returned exiles. Evidently the vengeful Samaritans finally succeeded in securing from this king, who was described by Darius as a destroyer of temples, a decree to stop the work at Jerusalem (see PK 572, 573). All these things led the returned exiles to declare that the proper time had not come for them to rebuild the Temple (see on Haggai 1:2). When the people halted the work on the house of God and turned their attention to their own dwellings and lands, the Lord visited them with a drought and confronted them with defeat in all their plans. For more than a year the Temple was entirely neglected. Meanwhile, the False Smerdis was killed by Darius, who took the throne and set aside the decrees of Smerdis.
It was to meet this deplorable situation of spiritual lethargy that the Lord raised up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Their messages of warning and reproof, of exhortation and encouragement, aroused the people to action, until finally work on the Temple was resumed in the 2d year of Darius (Haggai 1:14, 15). It was only after the people had actually begun work again on the Temple, trusting in the protection of God, that Darius, a king who tried to emulate Cyrus in many ways, gave another official decree for the rebuilding of the Temple. This confirmed and strengthened the original decree of Cyrus (Ezra 5:3to 6:13). Under the inspiring leadership of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, of the governor of the returned exiles, Zerubbabel, and of the high priest, Joshua (Ezra 5:1, 2; 6:14), the people moved forward with energy and zeal and completed the construction of the Temple in the 6th year of Darius (Ezra 6:15). Thus, from the standpoint of results immediately apparent, Haggai must be numbered among the most successful of prophets.
4. Theme. The four messages constituting the book of Haggai were calculated to arouse the flagging spirit of the people, to inspire them with the will to do great things for God. Haggai realized the importance of the Temple as the visible seat of God’s presence and as the strong bond needed to hold the nation together in fidelity to the covenant and obedience to the Law. Haggai encouraged the returned exiles to bend every effort toward the rebuilding of the Temple. In its entirety, the message of Haggai met with a more prompt and eager response on the part of both leaders and people than that of any other prophet. In contrast, that of Jeremiah was utterly and openly repudiated. Most of the prophets, in fact, encountered opposition ranging all the way from apathy through contempt to persecution. But Haggai stands forth as the most successful of the prophets, if immediate compliance with his message may be considered the measure of a prophet’s success. The noble example of leaders and people is eminently worthy of emulation today. It was the spirit of hearty cooperation that led, within a remarkably short time, to the completion of the Lord’s house. The same spirit will, in our day, lead to the completion of the spiritual house of God and to the establishment of His eternal kingdom (1 Peter 2:5; cf. Matt. 24:14). Had the spirit manifested by the Jews in Haggai’s day continued, the glorious promises made to the fathers by the prophets would soon have met their fulfillment and Messiah would have come (PK 703, 704) and died and begun His eternal reign (see Vol. IV, pp. 27-32). Haggai’s message to the church today is not only one of warning and admonition but also one of great encouragement.
I. The First Message of Haggai, 1:1–15. A. Indifference reproved,1:1-6.