December 4, 2015.
Daily Reading: Haggai 1-2.
Background: Not a lot is known about the prophet Haggai other than he was the first of three post-exilic prophets. His ministry is set around 520 BC in the second year of Darius, king of Persia, and deals with the people’s failure to build the house of the Lord as issued by King Cyrus when Persia seventeen or eighteen years earlier. It seems that the rebuilding of the temple was begun in the days of Cyrus but was hindered by his successor Cambyses, and no further progress had been made to the time of Darius Hystaspis (as opposed to Darius the mede, see Daniel 5:1). The word of the Lord comes to Haggai to tell the people they should be building the house of the Lord and to encourage them to do so. In Haggai’s time, two strong leaders of the Jewish people arose, Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest. The book of Haggai is very short, but in it we see the work to rebuild the house of the Lord restored followed by the Lord’s promise of blessings on His people and the choosing of Zerubbabel as a leader of the people.
Reviving the rebuilding of the temple: The book of Haggai opens with the Lord’s message to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the high priest, to let them know of the Lord’s disappointment in His people for their lethargy in rebuilding His house. Notice that the word is specifically to these two leaders of the people, though it scorns the people for their lack of action. Zerubbabel and Joshua were being called to step up in their position of leadership and lead the people into rebuilding the house, which should have already been under way. The Lord called the people to rebuild His house that He might take pleasure in it and be glorified. The people had rebuilt their own houses to dwell in but the house of the Lord continued to lie in ruins. As evidence to the Lord’s disapproval, Haggai’s oracle points to the drought that had been brought on the land, attributing it as the punishment of the Lord for their apathy towards His house. Though they labored, they did not get good return. Though they clothed themselves, they were still cold. Though they sowed much, they had reaped little. This was because the Lord had not blessed them. After Haggai delivers his oracle, we see almost an immediate response from Zerubbabel and Joshua as they and the rest of the people rise up and obey the voice of the Lord, reviving the rebuilding of the temple that same month. The Lord stirred up the spirit of the people to work on the house and assured His people that He was with them. Haggai’s push and the Lord’s stirring was what the people needed to get back on task.
Three oracles: In this chapter, we are given three different oracles of Haggai, each holding a different meaning. In the first oracle, the Lord encourages the people to be strong and continue working, for He was with them. He cites the covenant He made with His people when He brought them out of the land of Egypt (see Exodus 12). He speaks to the remnant who had seen the temple in its former glory, and though it now lies in ruin, He assures them that it will once again stand in glory. He speaks of future treasure, glory and peace. This prophecy finds its ultimate fulfillment beyond the physical temple, culminating in the church (and even further in the kingdom in the age to come) as the Hebrew writer cites this oracle when he is talking about the kingdom that cannot be moved, given to us through Christ (see Hebrews 12:18-29). In the second oracle, the Lord teaches the priests a lesson that the people had become unclean and defiled the offerings in their disobedience. However, now that the people had turned back to the Lord and begun to rebuild the temple, the Lord was once again with them and would from that day on bless them. We see that it is important to remember our past and understand why certain things happen, such as why the wrath of God came upon the people because of their sin, but it is also important to recognize here the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness to those who return to Him. Finally, the last oracle deals directly with Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, implicitly setting him up as a strong, Davidic like figure to rule and lead the people. Zerubbabel’s Davidic ancestry is very important here as he is in the linage of Jesus, continuing the linage of David all the way though the Christ as was prophesied (see Matthew 1:12-13).
Tomorrow’s Reading: Acts 15-16.
Be strong and courageous.