An Introduction to Haggai

Next Sunday (January 11) we will begin a new sermon series on the book of Haggai (an ‘interlude’ to our Luke series). Usually when I begin a sermon series I write up a paper which I call a ‘Preparation’ and give out copies to the members of the congregation (which I have done). But I thought that I might also post it on the church blog in case there might be someone else who profits from its use. Enjoy.

THE BOOK OF HAGGAI: Sermon Series Preparation

The return of the Jewish exiles to the ‘promised land’ was bittersweet. Though they were no longer under the tyrannical rule of the Assyrian and (later) Babylonian empires, the country that God had given to their forefathers no longer bore the same glory.

The temple and Jerusalem itself had to be rebuilt having been destroyed by the foreign conquerors that were sent by God to punish His people for their sins. In addition, according to Ezra 2:64, the amount of Israelites that returned was only “forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty”, a definite minority of those who were eligible to settle in the land again.

There were also external forces at work to prevent the rebuilding of the temple. In Ezra 4:1ff. we read that certain adversaries of the people (‘Samaritans’[1]) troubled the workers in response to the rejection of their assistance in the rebuilding project and later managed to persuade the king of Persia (Artaxerxes) to stop it altogether (Ezra 4:24).

Hence the call of the prophet Haggai (and Zechariah his contemporary- see Ezra 5:1; 6:14 ) 15 years later (520 BC) to encourage and even prod the people to once again take up the task of creating a holy building, the temple of the Lord, that God’s glory might be seen once again in that place (Haggai 2:9). In His providence God stirred up King Darius of Persia to remember the decree of Cyrus that the Jews should rebuild the temple and the city and the work commenced (Ezra 6:7ff.)

Indeed the prophecy of Haggai is mostly about the temple itself, and thus God’s dwelling with His people. We must remember that “[t]he temple and all it represented (the presence of Yahweh and the messianic hope) was the bridge between the past and the future”. (Van Gemeren) So Haggai’s work (or words) is an encouragement to us as well that God keeps His promises from generation to generation. Indeed his prophecy is still relevant for the church today as apathy often takes the place of a zeal for service in the hearts of God’s people and thus we continue to need the word of God to be proclaimed in order that we might build, by God’s grace and spirit, the kingdom of God so that His temple will someday come again (Revelation 21:22).

The other aspect of Haggai that needs to be kept in mind as we go through the book is the focus on a certain ‘triad’, namely Haggai (prophet), Zerubbabel (governor/king) and Joshua (priest) – see Haggai 1:1,12,14; 2:2,4). Beyond the obvious connection between their anointed status and that of our Lord (see Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 31) we also should note that the book ends by stating a promise to Zerubbabel that through his line will come the conqueror of the Gentiles, whom we know is Jesus, the Saviour and Judge of the nations. (Revelation 5:9)

Very little is known about Haggai himself. Though his prophecies are again and again marked with historical dating and time, his words tell us almost nothing about his background and lineage. However we remember that God’s Word does not depend upon men “for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21)

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[1] Footnote: The Samaritans were the descendants of certain (Gentile) people(s) who had settled in Israel after the deportation of the Jews of the northern kingdom (see 2 Kings 17:24-41). They had adopted Jewish customs, and religious practices and beliefs (of those Israelites that had been left behind), hence their interest in the rebuilding of the temple. They later built a rival temple at Mount Gerizim and continued to worship there after its destruction (see John 4:20).

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