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by John Dummelow
1. The Prophet. Very little is known concerning Haggai. He was a contemporary (Ezra 6:14) and colleague of Zechariah. His reference to the first Temple (Haggai 2:3) has been made the basis for a not improbable inference that he was a very old man at the time of his public prophesying, one who had outlasted the Babylonian exile. But, like many others through whom God has spoken, we know Haggai only through the messages he delivered.
2. The Date of the Prophecies. The book of Haggai is one of the few sections of Scripture which can be dated with great accuracy. Its messages were delivered in the course of four months, during the second year of the reign of Darius Hystaspes, 520 b.c., nineteen years after Cyrus had proclaimed the freedom of the Jewish exiles to return to their homes in Palestine. On at least five occasions during this short period, the prophet appealed to the people on behalf of what seemed to him to be the great and immediate need of the day. He was determined to carry it to completion.
3. The occasion of writing. The prophet had before him a very practical aim, the awakening of a popular enthusiasm among his fellow-countrymen for erecting or completing the second Temple. According to Ezra (Haggai 1-6) there had been an immediate return of exiles from Babylonia to Judah after the permissive decree of Cyrus in 538 b.c. These exiles had promptly begun to build a new Temple on the hallowed site of the old one, now in ruins. They had been checked by Samaritan opposition, and for sixteen years the work of rebuilding had been neglected. At best the work accomplished had been slight, and, as a whole, was still to be achieved.
The prophet clearly addresses a people who need to be roused into activity. The hopes created by the generosity and friendliness of Cyrus had been crushed by the pressure of Samaritan jealousy in Palestine, and by the neglect of the successor of Cyrus. They had experienced a series of barren seasons, and were desperately poor. As a community they had lost heart, and needed some impelling power to give them renewed enthusiasm and hopefulness.
The voice of Haggai was uplifted at just the right moment. Whether old or young, whether he had bided his time all these years, or was seized by his first inspiration for leadership, he was the man of the hour. He saw in a political crisis his people’s opportunity to go forward with the enterprise which would be of supreme spiritual significance for them, the building of the Temple.
The political crisis of which he took such instant advantage was the assumption of the throne of Persia by Darius Hystaspes, or Darius the Great. Darius had no indisputable claim to the throne; and found himself at the outset compelled to exhibit his ability to subdue and rule the farreaching provinces of his empire. The outcome was for some time in doubt. There was a ’shaking of the nations’ on every side, and meanwhile the loyal peoples of Syria were left very much to their own devices. It was a crisis which seemed likely to become an opportunity. Darius was likely to prove a friend to the returned exiles, and to secure their friendship by withdrawing the prohibition of the work issued by his predecessor (Ezra 4:5, Ezra 4:24), and Haggai seized the opportunity to rouse the dormant energies and ambitions of the people.
4. The Prophecies. The book of Haggai contains four exhortations by the prophet. Three of these relate directly to the building of the Temple, and the last of all concerns Zerubbabel, the governor. These messages are direct and practical. They sound a fine ethical note, recalling the people to their manifest and immediate duty toward God. The first section (Haggai 1) is a summons to build the house of God, and its sequel; the second (Haggai 2:1-9), an encouraging word; the third (Haggai 2:10-19), an acted parable of explanation; and the fourth (Haggai 2:20-23), a prediction regarding Zerubbabel. There is a unity of meaning from the beginning to the end, in harmony with the claims of the book that it represents the utterances of a brief period.
5. Characteristic Features of the Book. There is much vigour and individuality in Haggai’s addresses. His words are those of a leader who perceives a great opportunity and seeks to meet it. He does not enlarge our inheritance of truth, nor give us new visions of God in His universe. He rather rendered a special service to his people at a time of need. He aroused them to their duty, dispelled their faintheartedness, sustained their flagging energies, gave the achievement its true significance as the next step which God called upon them to take, and kept alive their loyalty to the great hopes which his famous predecessors had kindled in their hearts. Altogether Haggai was an important link in the prophetic succession. He just precedes Zechariah, whose first preserved prophecy (Zechariah 1:1-6) belongs chronologically to the time between the utterance of Haggai in Haggai 2:1-9 and that in Haggai 2:10-19.
That the prophet’s style differs from that of Isaiah or Jeremiah is not strange. His style fits the situation. A plain, insistent message of practical duty was what was needed. Spiritual life, hope for the future, loyalty to God and to national traditions—all these supreme aims waited on the erection of the Temple. That Haggai saw this was an undoubted proof of his prophetic quality.
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29