Read Haggai 1-2
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then the local residents tried to discourage and frighten the people of Judah to keep them from their work. They bribed agents to work against them and to frustrate their plans. This went on during the entire reign of King Cyrus of Persia and lasted until King Darius of Persia took the throne.” (Ezra 4:4-5 NLT)
When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
Part 107: Haggai. In order to understand Haggai’s prophecy, one really needs to understand the historical and religious contexts that it was written in. As with all of the books in the Bible, Haggai was not written in a vacuum. In fact, Zechariah lived and prophecied at the same time as Zechariah. Malachi lived and prophecied about a century later. Ezra was also a contemporary of the prophet and wrote of him and Zechariah being influential in the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple following their return from exile.
Let us look at the context surrounding Haggai’s prophecy. The year was 520 BCE, sixteen years after the Jews were first allowed back frome exile to Jerusalem. If you recall, this was put forth into motion under the Persian king Cyrus the Great, who was regarded by the Jews as God’s anointed king, the messiah. You will also recall that upon sending them back to their homeland, Cyrus commissioned them to rebuild their Temple to their God as well as to rebuild Jerusalem.
Sixteen years later, the Temple still had not been built. Upon returning home, there was a dispute between the Jews who returned and “the local residents” in Jerusalem. The dispute arose over who should have a part in rebuilding the Temple and how that Temple should be built. Thus, the Temple building campaign was halted for sixteen years.
It is this that Haggai was addressing. He found it egregious that God’s Temple lay in ruin, while the people of the land regained their homes and their prosperity. God had come through for them, how could they not come through for God. The issue is less to do with a temple building itself and more to do with faithfulness to God.
Were the Jews who were liberated from Babylon/Persia going to remain loyal to God, or were they going to fall right into complacency? What’s more, Haggai was calling them out on not having the moxy to stand up to the dissenters and do what they had been commissioned by God’s anointed king, Cyrus, to do.
By the way, it is important to note that Haggai is not the only book in the Bible to record these disputes. They are recorded in Ezra and also Zechariah. In fact, in the latter book, the “local residents” or “the people of the land” were opposing the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Yeshua. The opposition against them rose up after they listened to Haggai and Zechariah and decided to move forward with the Temple building campaign. To do so, they rejected the “people of the land’s” request to build the Temple and placed the building of the Temple in the hands of the ones who had been liberated from exile.
This caused an irrevocable division between the liberated Jews and “the people of the land”. As a result, the latter group eventually split off and built their own Temple on Mt. Gerizim near Shechem. These people, by many scholars, are believed to be the Samaritans and it is during that time where bitter enmity built up between the Judaeans and the Samaritans. That enmity would carry on for centuries, and would be included in some of Jesus’ own teachings (e.g. the parable of the good Samaritan). In fact, it was in the region of Mt. Gerizim that Jesus converses with the Samaritan woman in John 4.
Thus, we can see how this short prophetic book by Haggai had such a profound impact on shaping what would go on to be known as the Second Temple period in Jewish history. It was during this time that the One who IS GOD’s Messiah, would live, teach, die and resurrect in FULL GLORY. This only happened because the God’s people humbled themselves and listened to the warnings of God through the prophet Haggai. They were willing to meet human resistance head on in order to remain loyal to God their LORD.
We are faced with the same charge, to remain loyal when the people of the land are calling us to do things differently than God would have us do. Will we heed God’s warning and build a SANCTUARY for all people, or will we follow the divisiveness of Satan, which is calling us to do things in a way that appeases the current world order? Reflect on this honestly; choose this day, and all days, whom you will serve (Joshua 24:15).
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem.” Jesus of Nazareth (John 4:21 NLT)
Lord, steer me along the right path and give me the courage to remain loyal to you at all costs. Amen.