Being the second shortest book of the Tanach, after Obadiah, it should not be surprising why there has not really been a huge amount of Messianic reading or reflection upon the Book of Haggai. For far too many of us, Chaggai is a gutteral word, too difficult to pronounce and a little too rough on the throat. We have a subconscious feeling that while surely inspired by God as a part of the Biblical canon, Haggai will be one of those texts that we will eventually “get to” when we have some free time on our hands—free time that will likely await that time known as “another day,” which somehow seems to never arrive. For some of you, this brief teaching on the Book of Haggai might be some of the only engagement you will ever have with this Prophet’s declarations. Hopefully, though, what I am about to summarize on Haggai, will enable you to better appreciate this text and what it says for people of faith.
While there are contemporary discussions over the composition of the Book of Haggai, the age of the Prophet when he issued its declarations, and some of the possible political and/or Messianic significance to his oracles (1:1)—no reader can dismiss the fact that, being a post-exilic book, Haggai was greatly upset at how work on the House of God had stopped. The Jewish people had returned from their exile, the Temple of God was being rebuilt, but the people had instead widely chosen to focus on their own lives and interests. Haggai decreed and observed, “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘These people say, “The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built”’” (1:2). Surely while there would have been basic needs and infrastructure to be taken care of for the returned exiles rebuilding Jerusalem, this is not what is the problem. As is inquired, “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” (1:4). While the people were more concerned about building their own elaborate homes, the House of God “lies desolate” (NASU), unkempt, and uncompleted.
Ignoring the Temple of God—while trying to rebuild their own lives—has not proven well for the returned Jewish exiles. The Lord says to them, “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it” (1:5-6). As these people try to establish a normative life for themselves—placing their own interests ahead of God’s—they are barely making it by. Haggai decrees that the people need to return to the task of finishing the House of the Lord, as God has certainly not been generous in providing all of His bounty to them:
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,’ says the Lord. ‘You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands’” (1:7-11).
After issuing this word, it is recorded how the leaders of the community responded to and obeyed the message, and how work was resumed on the Jerusalem Temple:
“Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD. Then Haggai, the LORD’s messenger, gave this message of the LORD to the people: ‘I am with you,’ declares the LORD. So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius” (1:12-15).
Work did resume on the Temple of God in Jerusalem, but alas, the Prophet Haggai had to observe to all of the people gathered to see it, that it only had a shadow of its former splendor. Even though progress was being made, the Temple would not be as grand as it had been before. Still, the people are encouraged by God for what they were doing:
“On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: ‘Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,” declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear’” (2:1-5).
The declaration which immediately follows, can be somewhat confusing, especially when realizing that the Second Temple would fall to the Romans in 70 C.E. The Lord decrees how He intends to shake Heaven and Earth, how all riches are His, and even how the glory which is to be manifested regarding His House will be greater in the future:
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty” (2:6-9).
It should not at all be surprising why Haggai 2:6-9 is commonly associated with the Messianic Kingdom to come. This is the only way, when you regard God’s Word as including authentic prophecies and expectations of His righteous—for what He has decreed to one day come to pass. A Temple of beauty and majesty and splendor—which is to outshine that of Solomon’s Temple, and even that of Herod’s refurbishments to the Second Temple—can only arrive at the culmination of history, when Yeshua returns and establishes His rule from Jerusalem.
For the more immediate future, regarding Haggai’s Sixth-Fifth Centuries B.C.E. audience, the Prophet inquires of the priests, consecration of holy objects, and how people would be defiled (2:10-14). The negative defilements and lack of prosperity, will now turn around for the returned exiles—as they have obeyed God and have committed themselves to build up His House:
“‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on—consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the LORD’s temple. When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not turn to me,’ declares the LORD. ‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit. From this day on I will bless you’” (2:15-19).
The Book of Haggai ends on a rather serious note, of future Divine judgment to come to the Earth, and the affirmation that Zerubbabel was a chosen servant of God, leading His people at the right time:
“The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: ‘Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I will shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother. On that day,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the LORD Almighty” (2:20-23).
Obviously, the message of the Book of Haggai needs to be primarily considered for what the Prophet’s message, and God’s displeasure, meant for the original, post-exilic recipients. These people had been derelict of their duties to build God’s Temple, and they had largely substituted His will for their own will. Once they returned to a proper course of obedience, He was in turn able to declare them undefiled, and bless them materially—with the promise of greater blessings to come in the future, no less! A difficult feature of returning to the work of building God’s Temple, though, had to be the understanding of recognizing that more honor and glory was to be displayed to it in in a time to come—and with it the recognition that the work of the returned exiles was but one stage along His plan.
When we can properly distill the basic message of Haggai to God’s people placing His priorities as first in their lives, and when they do so, He can bless them—it is patently obvious today, in the community of faith, that the reason why so many men and women are not happy, and they are not spiritually prospering, is because they believe that what they are doing is more important. Even with many people materially prospering—perhaps having far more than they would ever want or need—their relationships with God and with other people are absolutely miserable. And, when told that if they would place God’s priorities and work first, that they might only be conducting a small part of it on the timetable toward the Messiah’s return, many might think it too insignificant to expel the effort to do conduct such labor.
The Book of Haggai certainly contains an important admonition for many of the leaders and teachers in today’s broad Messianic movement. In almost fifty years or so, since the emergence of Messianic Judaism in the 1960s, and even with the spread of the Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement since the 1990s—there has been a huge amount of time, resources, and energy wasted when it comes to spiritual and theological development. Just like the returned Jewish exiles, who spent more time focusing on rebuilding their homes and their own lives—dismissing the necessary work on God’s Temple—so has much of the Messianic community been focusing on its own ministerial or congregational intentions (or agendas), and not enough time on the legacy needs of theological research and writing. Hopefully, we are only now at the point in our development, when God is raising up specific men and women to do this, with the necessary skillset and temperament—that if it had been done previously, it would have been too premature. Still, I am not totally convinced that some of today’s well known and capable Messianic leaders, who as of 2013 are now in their late 60s to late 70s, and starting to pass away, could not have done more.
Personally, as I write this message on the Book of Haggai, and consider what it communicates to people of faith—I have to look at my own life, and some of the developments which have transpired over the past decade or so. This is the first full article that I have written (11 December, 2012) since our family’s relocation back to the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, where we lived from 1994-1998. In our time away, I obviously did go to college and get a master’s degree and was fine-tuned as an indivudal. We gained a huge and most important amount of experience in Messianic ministry. As of present, we have twenty-eight live paperback and Amazon Kindle titles, with two in the queue ready for final editing, and seven more titles being prepared (which we needed to see finished “yesterday”). We could not have done this, had we ever stayed in the DFW area, as we needed to be “hidden away” for a specific season of preparation and heavy labor.
We have now relocated to a new home in Dallas/Richardson that is almost fifty-percent larger then where we previously lived in Orlando/Kissimmee. I now have an office where I really can “spread out” and have enough room for my library. And, I do personally feel that having moved here—even with many new experiences, some likely not to be too positive, coming—that I have returned from an “exile” of sorts. While I am not expecting either myself or Outreach Israel Ministries to all of a sudden have millions of dollars to excess, because we have put much of our lives on hold for the special calling of Messianic ministry, we will have some things restored to us. I am certainly much happier than I have been for quite a while. We have had to decisively put the work of the Lord and building His community first, in order for us to arrive where we currently are. And, we have to appreciate, as difficult as it may have been at times, our season in Florida—which is a place I will always think fondly of, especially with all of the visits I was able to make to Jacksonville/Orange Park to visit my 93 year old grandmother in assisted living for Alzheimer’s.
I hope that when many of you read and reflect upon the Book of Haggai, you might be able to testify to how helping to build and establish the Kingdom of God, brings its natural rewards. Placing the purposes of God before your own, will make you happier, with more wisdom and discernment, in the long run! And if you have ever had to give up something for the Lord and His work, here is a word that Yeshua Himself said—and from which I have gained great comfort over the past ten years or so:
“‘I tell you the truth,’ Yeshua replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30; cf. Luke 18:29-30).
Things you have had to place on hold for the Kingdom of God, will be repaid to you in the current life, followed by the glories of eternal life and communion with Him for eternity!