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The Minor Prophets: Haggai, part 1

01 Aug

This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction.

WHO IS HAGGAI?

Haggai was a contemporary of Zechariah (they are even seen ministering together in Ezra 5:1-2). The Greek version of the Old Testament credits Haggai with writing some of the later Psalms (146-149) although this is not universally accepted. Haggai was probably born in Babylon during the exile, a child who returned to Judea with his parents in 536 BC. He was the first prophet to minister in Jerusalem after Judah’s return from captivity in Babylon.

WHEN WAS HAGGAI WRITTEN?

Haggai dates his prophecies very clearly. The book is a group of four prophecies Haggai received from God between the 29th of August and the 19th of November,  520 BC.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Haggai was written 15 years after the first group of exiles returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon.

  • 586 BC –Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed by the Babylonians. Many of the Jews are killed or taken to Babylon as captives. Those left behind to live in the ruins intermarry with other nations; these people become the Samaritans. (II Kings 25; II Chronicles 36:15-23 – the history books end here).
  • 562 BC – King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon dies; followed by a series of weak kings
  • 559 BC – Cyrus becomes king of Persia (seen by historians now as a benevolent ruler with some progressive decrees)
  • 549 BC – Persia under Cyrus defeats the Median king, and the Medes/Persians are united
  • 539 BC – Cyrus overthrows Babylon on October 13th; makes Darius the Mede king.
  • 538 BC – Cyrus issues a decree allowing captive Jews to return to Judea (Ezra 1:1-4)
  • 536 BC – 1st group of 50,000 Jews return to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest (Ezra 2); work is begun on the temple – altar for sacrifices rebuilt (Ezra 3:1-2) and the foundation for the temple laid (Ezra 3:8-13)
  • 529 BC – Cyrus died; succeeded by his son, Cambyses
  • 522 BC – Cambyses succeeded by Darius
  • 520 BC – Haggai gives God’s message; work starts on the temple 3 weeks later on September 7th (Haggai 1:14-15)
  • 516 BC – Temple is finished on February 25th (Ezra 6:15)


WHAT IS HAGGAI ABOUT?

When the Babylonians conquer Israel, the temple of the Lord was left in ruins (as is Jerusalem itself). 50 years later, the first of the Jews returned from exile in Babylon and began to rebuild the temple. After their excitement over the initial rebuilding, however, their attention turned elsewhere – to their own living conditions. This is only natural – survival is rather important! They rebuilt their homes, businesses, and farms. 15 years later, however, the temple has still not been rebuilt. God sends Haggai with a message that the people need to get back to work on the temple. Three weeks later work recommences, and in 5 years the temple is complete.


STRUCTURE

Haggai is the 2nd shortest book in the Old Testament (after Obadiah). There are five sections:

  1. First message, August (Haggai 1:1-11)
  2. Response from the people (Haggai 1:1-12-15)
  3. Second message, October (Haggai 2:1-9)
  4. Third message, November  (Haggai 2:10-19)
  5. Fourth message, November  (Haggai 2:20-23)
Section 1 – Haggai 1:1-11

KEY VERSE: “give careful though to your ways” (verse 5)

There are two facts God wants to bring to his people’s attention:

  1. You have put off rebuilding the temple
  2. You are experiencing material difficulties

These two facts are connected. God has withdrawn material blessing in order to capture their attention, so they will get back to work on the temple.

It’s important to understand the significance of the temple. This was the ONE place on the face of the planet where God’s presence dwelled – where God came to earth and was PRESENT WITH MAN. Every time the people put off rebuilding the temple, they showed their lack of desire for God. They were not eager to meet with God; his presence was not a priority for them. They’d been back in Jerusalem long enough to have built beautiful houses for themselves, but still they kept saying “the time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built” (verse 2). The people put their own material comfort ahead of their desire for God – so God took this “idol” of material wealth away from them, to get their attention. He doesn’t say material comfort is wrong, just that at the moment it is getting in the way.

Jesus told his disciples not to worry so much about their material needs, but to seek God first and allow HIM to take care of the rest (Matthew 6:25-34). It’s really the same principle. When we get wrapped up in our cares and concerns, trying to make our lives more comfortable, our eyes drop from God, from following him.

  1. What would it look like, practically, if you REALLY trusted God to take care of your needs? (Your need for food, shelter, friendship, education…)
  2. How would your life change if you made following God your FIRST priority in every part of your life?
  3. What is a small step in this direction you can take this week?
Section 2 – Haggai 1:12-15

KEY VERSE: “the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God” (verse 12)

Wow. It is such a beautiful thing when a person, and especially a large group of people, take God’s word to heart and OBEY. It is such an expression of love for and trust in God when we choose to obey him (John 14:15).

KEY VERSE: “God stirred up the spirit…of the whole remnant of the people” (verse 14)

God doesn’t yell at people to do what he says and then watch from afar. When the people responded in obedience, believing God, he got intimately involved. He stirred them up – gave them passion and enthusiasm for the task he had put before them.

All too often when God asks me to do something I drag my feet. I whinge and I complain and I procrastinate. Yet when I obey, when I take a step and ACT, I often find myself excited and enjoying it. God does not want us to be miserable! Following him is the most exciting thing you’ll ever do.

  1. Think of an area of your life where you are procrastinating instead of obeying.
  2. How can you start acting in obedience there?
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Posted by on August 1, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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One response to “The Minor Prophets: Haggai, part 1

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