The name Haggai is said to mean ‘the festive’ or ‘festival of Yahweh’. He is still mentioned in Ezra (Ezra 5:1; 6:14). Haggai is not mentioned in the lists of the returnees in the first chapters of the book of Ezra. We know nothing of his ancestry, to which tribe he belongs or where his grandparents lived. Nor is there any information about his profession, except that he acts as a prophet.
He performs his service after a remnant has returned from the Babylonian exile to the promised land. The period in which he pronounced the described prophecy is four months. The reason for his service is the resignation of the work on the rebuilding of the temple. The excuse for stopping the rebuilding is the opposition to it (Ezra 4:17-24). But the real reason lies deeper and is presented to the people by the prophet.
Opposition cannot be a real hindrance to God’s work. The real hindrance is a declining interest in the things of God. If what is the main thing with God is no longer the main thing for us, the cause is that our own interests have come to play a role. Haggai encourages the people to go back to work (Ezra 5:1). A prophet speaks to the conscience of God’s people when they have departed from Him and start pursuing their own interests. If the conscience is not active, the people will quickly explain the circumstances in a manner that best fits their own vision.
The words of the LORD “go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified, says the LORD” (Hag 1:8), indicate the core of the book. Everything in this short book is about this command: Build the house of God!
This command echoes through a great part of Israel’s history. We see it in the days of the tabernacle. Moses is commanded to build a sanctuary for the LORD in which He can dwell (Exo 25:8-9). We see it in the wish of David and in the command he gives his son Solomon to build a house for the LORD (1Chr 17:1-15; 28:6,10). To the exiles who are allowed to return to the land under Cyrus, the same is said with regard to the temple that was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezra 1:3).
The short report of the service of Haggai shows him as a man of conviction. He has the unique place among the prophets of someone God’s people really listen to and to whose words they are obedient. The people do what he preaches, with the result that in only four years the building of the temple is completed.
Another unique feature of Haggai is the precision with which he dates his prophecies. A few specific days are mentioned in his book. This shows that the duration of his service has been less than four months.
1. His first preaching is “in the second year of Darius the king, on the first day of the sixth month” (Hag 1:1). This sermon is addressed to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and to Joshua, the high priest (Hag 1:1).
2. The second date is “the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king” (Hag 1:15). The message on that day is for Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the people (Hag 1:14).
5. The fifth date is “the twenty-fourth [day] of the month” (Hag 2:20), which is the same month as mentioned in the previous point, the ninth (Hag 2:10). Then there is a word only for Zerubbabel (Hag 2:21).
The place where Haggai served as a prophet is apparently Jerusalem. The two chapters of his book contain references to the house of God, the temple in Jerusalem.
Division of the book
I. Call to build the house of God (Haggai 1:1-11)
1. Introduction (Haggai 1:1-3)
2. Ranking of priorities (Haggai 1:4-11)
II. The positive reaction (Haggai 1:12-15)
III. The promised glory of the rebuilt house (Haggai 2:1-9)
1. Encouragement for Zerubbabel (Haggai 2:1-5)
2. The glory of the rebuilt house (Haggai 2:6-9)
IV. Blessing for an unclean people (Haggai 2:10-19)
1. The former uncleanness (Haggai 2:10-14)
2. The future blessing (Haggai 2:15-19)
V. Zerubbabel, the signet ring of the LORD (Haggai 2:20-23)