Haggai wants you to restore the glory of the Lord’s Temple. Why won’t you do it? Just do it, dude. K? Alright, here’s what Haggai has going for it: 1) It’s short and sweet: only 2 chapters. 2) Haggai lived in a later time period than all the other prophets so far, which makes his book juusst different enough from the same tired stuff we’ve read for the past 15 books or so, to make it somewhat palatable. Of all the previous prophet books, the one that had covered the latest time period was Daniel, which covered the period after Babylon defeated and destroyed Judah/Jerusalem, while the Jews were exiled in Babylon. Haggai comes even after Daniel’s timeframe, which I’ll get into more below. Is it interesting? Mmmm Nah. It’s still pretty boring. But at least it’s a teeny bit different.
Actually, I should be clear about how I’m defining “different” – Haggai actually does cover much of the same historical territory as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Remember those ones? They were the first books to cover the return of the Jews from their 70 years of exile in Babylon, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Lord’s Temple. Those books covered this territory in a more interesting fashion,* in terms of actually telling us how it all went down. They had an actual narrative. Haggai though, like most of the prophet books, doesn’t tell this in story form so much as it just involves a prophet yelling at everyone about what they should and shouldn’t be doing in this particular setting.
* After writing this, I went back and re-read my Ezra review, and realized that I described Ezra as “a snoozefest and a half.” Heh. But that was 21 books ago, I was very innocent back then. It’s all relative and I had no idea how incredibly monotonous my journey was about to become. Ah, to be young and starry-eyed again.
OH, I just remembered, Haggai actually does have a third thing going for it: It gives dates for its setting! That allows us to far more easily figure out what the hell this particular prophet is yelling about, and where all this stuff falls in the context of all the other books we’ve read so far. And it’s suuuper specific. Good job, Haggai. To be clear, this story starts off in the 2nd year of King Darius (of Persia), on the first day of the 6th month. Google searches tell me that this was in the year 520 BC.
2nd Chronicles and Ezra taught us that king Cyrus (of Persia – Cyrus conquered and overtook Babylon) was “moved by God” to make a proclamation that the Jewish exiles would be allowed to go home to Jerusalem, and he also promised to help them rebuild the Lord’s temple there. Ezra tells us that the initial attempt to rebuild the temple hit some snags with neighboring nations not being too thrilled about the whole thing. Actually, as I wrote in my Ezra review, it was far more than just a few snags – the neighbors caused issues with the rebuilding for a good number of years, through the entire reign of Cyrus and another couple kings after him, until the 2nd year of king Darius, which is exactly where Haggai starts.
And thus, the entire purpose of the book of Haggai seems to be for Haggai to yell at the people of Judah, “Hurry up and get that temple (re-)BUILT already, bitches!! Time’s a wastin’ and God is not known for his patience! Chop chop!”
Haggai gives his messages/prophecies specifically to some dudes named “Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest.” Oddly, these guys are not even mentioned in Ezra, yet in Haggai they seem to be crucial figures in getting the temple rebuilt. Then again, Ezra tells the temple-rebuilding story in past tense, as backstory, because Ezra’s life and involvement in the story don’t even begin till way later. So, I dunno. I guess Ezra just didn’t get into that much detail? Who knows. In any event, Zerubbabel is the governor of Judah and Joshua is the high priest. So obviously they are going to be key figures in getting this project completed.
Here’s some excerpts showing how Haggai appeals to these guys, along with the people of Jerusalem:
1:2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’ ”1:3 Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 1:4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
1:5 Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 1:6 You have planted much, but 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.”
1:8 “Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. 1:9 “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 your own house. 1:10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 1:11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”
So, God is saying that because his people are just milling about wasting time with their own personal crap instead of building his temple, he is punishing them with a drought. Because that’s how God rolls. Go big or go home. So of course, Zerubabbel and Joseph and the people of Jerusalem obey, because they “fear the Lord.” God stirs up their spirits to get their lazy asses moving on this temple, and they do. “They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, 1:15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month.” So I guess that’s only a couple weeks after Haggai gave his initial message from God.
And then, a month later, on the 21st day of the 7th month, God has another message for his people. “Keep going dudes! I swear, this thing is gonna be awesome when you finish. I’m behind you all the way. This is the place I’ve been trying to get to with you guys ever since I led you out of Egypt all those years ago. It’s gonna be SO amazing and I’m gonna grant you peace and love from here on out.” At least, I think that’s what he’s saying. I honestly can’t tell here if he is encouraging his people, berating them, or sarcastically pretending to be encouraging while lowkey throwing shade at them and rolling his eyes.
Now skip ahead to 2 months later, on the 24th day of the 9th month. God (via Haggai of course) tells his people that they are defiled, and therefore so is everything they do and everything they offer to God. Essentially because of all these years of sin and debauchery and general badness, they are tainted. He acknowledges that everything has sucked and nothing has been quite right, but now, once this temple is rebuilt, everything is going to be awesome again. God is going to once again bless his people and make everything awesome again. The drought will go away and the crops will grow and the birds will chirp and life will be grand. And I guess, the people won’t be defiled anymore. I think that’s what that means. The temple is the magic key to washing away their dirty dirty sinfulness and being blessed again.
The book of Haggai ends with one more message from God, later on this same day, the 24th day of the 9th month.
2:21“Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. 2:22 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. 2:23 “ ‘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.”
Cool … thanks … God. What’s a signet ring, exactly? Thank you, internet: “Ancient kings used signet rings to designate authority, honor, or ownership. A signet contained an emblem unique to the king. Official documents were sealed with a dollop of soft wax impressed with the king’s signet, usually kept on a ring on his finger.” As mentioned earlier, Zerubbabel already is the governor of Judah, and he comes from a royal line – “being a descendant of David and the grandson of Judah’s King Jehoiachin.” In the book of Jeremiah, “God pictured Jehoiachin as a signet ring being removed from God’s finger (Jeremiah 22:24). Now, God calls Zerubbabel the ‘signet ring,’ but this time it won’t be removed.” Hmm, this all sounds a bit familiar …
I kid, I kid. I don’t think the ring is that ominous in this setting. I guess all this means is that Governor Zerubbabel is officially chosen and endorsed by God, to do God’s work in ruling the people of Judah. So, I mean, cool. Good for him.
And that’s Haggai for ya. Like Zephaniah, I’m not going to bother with a Good Stuff and Bad Stuff section here. The book is too short and there’s just nothing new here that falls into either of those categories. Actually, scratch that, I’ll give a quick summary of each. Good Stuff: No one dies. At least, not explicitly. It’s mostly just people rebuilding a temple, which is a perfectly acceptable activity. Bad Stuff: Although no one dies explicitly, God does punish his people with a drought, per usual. This implies starving people. And God also throws out several of his typical threats, including stating his intentions to destroy all Judah’s enemies. This will involve “overthrow[ing] chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.” Mmm yeah, more of that Bible sweet talk.
I struggled with this rating a little bit, because I do like books with little to no violence. But at the same time, the story is the same and as unhealthy-sounding as ever: God threatening and coercing his people to obey him, and in this case, build stuff for him. So, 4/10 is the best I can do here.
Next up, Zechariah. 14 chapters … WWAAHH.