Help from Haggai - Introduction
J. B. Hewitt, Chesterfield
Haggai and Zachariah were the post-exilic "prophets of work" commissioned by God to encourage His returned exiles to complete the restoration of the temple. The task had lapsed for almost sixteen years. Under their stimulus it was finished in four years, Ezra 6. 14, 15. It is interesting to record that Haggai's name stands with Zechariah's at the head of certain Psalms in the Septuagint; Psa. 137; 146; 147; 148. Haggai was probably one of the Jewish exiles who returned under Zerubbabel, the civil head of the people, and Joshua the high priest in 536 b.c. when Cyrus granted them their liberty, and furnished them with the necessities for restoring the temple at Jerusalem, 2 Chron. 36. 23; Ezra 1. 1-4; 2. 1-70.
His prophetic office extended over a period of about four months only. He gave five distinct messages, delivered on separate occasions between September and December 520 b.c.
Style and Purpose. Haggai is plain, curt, business-like. He was fond of questions, and his interrogations compel attention, 1. 4, 9; 2. 3, 12, 13, 19. His ministry was intensely practical and of the highest importance. His purpose was to exhort and encourage the defeated, dispirited and easy-going Jews to renewed activity in building the temple. He was profoundly in earnest, and became the most successful in his purpose of all his class.
Its Lessons. His brief messages may be only the epitome of the original discourses. (1) God's things claim to be paramount, and nothing must be allowed to supersede that claim, Matt. 6. 33. (2) Do not become self-centred and have wrong priorities — putting material acquisition before spiritual work. (3) We can only be sure of the present for doing the will of God in ready obedience, Rom. 6. 17b; Phil. 2. 12a. (4) Zeal and faithfulness in the Lord's work are maintained by a true vision of the coming glory, Hag. 2. 6-9.
Its message is summarized for us in 1 Corinthians 15. 58. Also "I am with you"; "my spirit remaineth among you". Hag. 2. 4, 5; "I will take pleasure in it"; "I will be glorified", 1.8.First Message: of Denunciation for the Conscience, 1. 2-11. A Call to Diligence. Censure for apathy, v. 2, and selfish activity, v. 4. Counsel from God, vv. 5,7. Give serious thought to your ways and their consequences. Calamity has marked your personal life, business life and social life, v. 6. The command of God, v. 8. Climb, contribute and construct the house. Cheered by the promise and the pleasure of God. The consequences of neglect, vv. 9-11. The hand of God in discipline meant disaster.
Second Message: of Inspiration for the Will, 1. 12-15. A Call to obedience. The people showed a disposition to obey the testimony of the prophet, v. 12. To obey and fear the Lord brings divine fellowship and favour, v. 13.
Third Message: of Exhortation for the Spirit, 2. 1-9. A Call to Endurance. Disparagement, vv. 1-3. The colonists began to despair when they made comparisons, v. 3. Their restoration seemed so insignificant alongside Solomon's original. Encouragement, v. 4,5. Despondency always deplores the lost glory of the past. Our duty is to be courageous and industrious.
Delight in the presence and power of God, v. 4, 5. Verse 6 is alluded to in Hebrews 12. 26-28 as an event still lying in the future, the second advent of Christ. The discovery of unlimited resources and the display of divine splendour, vv. 8, 9.
Fourth Message: of Instruction for the Mind, 2. 10-19. A Call to Patience. Looking into the heart — impurity, vv. 11-13. Looking around at pollution — contaminated, v. 14. Looking backward — their indifference, vv. 15-17. Looking forward with interest, vv. 18, 19.
Fifth Message: of Restoration for the Heart, 2. 20-23. A Word of Assurance. Divine plan revealed, v. 21. Divine purpose outlined, v. 22. Divine pleasure reflected, v. 23.
As only four of these messages are prefaced by the formula "came the word of the Lord by Haggai", some expositors exclude 1. 13 as a direct message from God.
To be continued