The ministry of Haggai takes place during the time of Zerubbabel (a descendant in David’s line) who led the first wave of exiles home upon King Cyrus’ decree to release God’s people from captivity to build the temple.
As mentioned in the story of Ezra, Zerubbabel and the people faced some opposition in building the temple, and as a result, the people stopped working on it after they had laid the initial foundation in around 536 BC.
Over time, the people translated this setback as a reason to begin focusing on their own lives and put the temple on the back burner.
So God then raised up Haggai the prophet to begin prophesying to the Jews in the second year of King Darius of Persia (520 BC):
Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?
Because God’s people had neglected proper worship (which required the temple), the people were still experiencing the covenant curses that God said would happen if they didn’t obey Him:
You have looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? says the Lord of hosts. Because my house lies in ruins, while all of you hurry off to your own houses. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce.
The Jews should have known that these curses were a result of disobeying God, as they were well aware of them from the law given in Deuteronomy:
But if you will not obey the Lord your God by diligently observing all his commandments and decrees…The sky over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you iron. The Lord will change the rain of your land into powder, and only dust shall come down upon you from the sky until you are destroyed.
So even though the Jews thought they were comfortable in life, if they actually got real with themselves, they’d realize they weren’t actually living the kind of life that God wanted for them:
Now therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared.
I love how Haggai asked the people to consider their lives! It’s God’s gentle encouragement to let go of what they thought would give them a good life and instead follow what God told them to do. He didn’t require perfection, but just wanted them to set their hearts on making Him a priority in their lives. Then they would see the promises of God come through for them.
But even when the Jews did repent and obey, they didn’t feel like they had accomplished much and seemed discouraged in their efforts. So God encouraged them by promising even more blessings if they continued in perseverance:
Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage…all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear…The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.
Sometimes obedience seems like it is achieving nothing and the feeling of being stuck persists. But there are always promises on the other side if we don’t give up and keep trusting in God for everything!
The prophet Zechariah was also prophesying during the time of Haggai. He called them to repent and follow after God and to listen to the prophets.
Zechariah is one of the most Messianic prophecies. To me, it really was like reading a fifth gospel. He first showed them that the law was against those who transgressed it (everyone):
Again I looked up and saw a flying scroll…This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land; for everyone who steals shall be cut off according to the writing on one side, and everyone who swears falsely shall be cut off according to the writing on the other side…
They made their hearts adamant in order not to hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts.
He then pointed out their need for a holy priest to cleanse the people of sin. Zechariah saw a vision of Satan accusing Joshua, the High Priest at the time, for his uncleanness. But God rebukes Satan and puts clean garments on Joshua as a prophetic promise:
Then he showed me the high priest Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him…Now Joshua was dressed with filthy clothes…
“Take off his filthy clothes…See, I have taken your guilty away from you, and I will cloth you with festal apparel.”
How beautiful is this vision! God made us clean through His Son, and now Satan can no longer accuse us of sin! Praise Jesus.
He then shared how He was going to deal with sin, which to me, was the most beautiful of passages. Before, He had dealt with sin through His wrath when He sent His people into exile. Now, He was promising good:
For thus says the Lord of hosts: Just as I purposed to bring disaster upon you, when your ancestors provoked me to wrath, and I did not relent, says the Lord of hosts, so again I have purposed in these days to do good to Jerusalem…Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these are things that I hate…
The Jews should have been thrilled with this promise, that God, once and for all, was going to deal with sin that they themselves couldn’t overcome. They were finally going to love truth, justice, and peace, as God had always purposed for them.
Another recurring theme throughout Zechariah’s promises was the idea that other nations would partake in the blessing.
The Jews were commanded to be a blessing to the other nations when God gave His promise to Abraham, the father of their nation:
I will make of you a great nation, and I will blessed you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
God was now promising them that they would do what they always were supposed to do but couldn’t do because of their weakness:
Just as you have been a cursing among the nations…so I will save you and you shall be a blessing.
None of us, including the Jews, are able to fulfill our ultimate purpose in life without the help of God!
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from studying the Old Testament from start to finish is that God’s ultimate purpose on this earth is for all to worship Him. I’ve seen so much more of His heart to bless and love on all people, no matter what their sin. This really has helped me gain an even bigger heart for the nations:
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, the inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, “Come, let us go to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going. Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favor of the Lord…”
these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.