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Overview of Haggai

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(By Mark Fontecchio)

It is not uncommon for the Old Testament Prophets to address the coming judgment of God (especially at the hand of the Assyrians for the Northern Kingdom and the Babylonians for the Southern Kingdom). But, what makes the revelation in Haggai different from some of the other prophetic books is that it was given after the Babylonian exile. As shall be demonstrated, Haggai plays an important role in understanding the work of God during this time in the life of the nation of Israel.

Historical Background

Jerusalem laid in ruins. The temple had been destroyed and the people of Judah had been hauled off to Babylon in Nebuchadnezzar’s final attack in 586 B.C. Yet, the winds of change had already begun to swirl. Jeremiah had predicted that the people would be in Babylon for seventy years from the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s first attack in 605 B.C. (Jer. 25:11-12). Now that the Medo-Persian Empire had arisen a change was afoot. Cyrus, the King of Persia, allowed the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple of their God (Ezra 1:2-4). The sacrifices were restarted and even the foundation of the new temple had been laid (Ezra 3:1-6, 11). Surely, this was an exciting time for the people of God! Things seemed to be headed in the right direction, but this was not the case, “Samaritan harassment and eventual Persian pressure brought a halt to the rebuilding of the temple. Then spiritual apathy set in; and for about 16 more years—until the rule of the Persian king, Darius Hystaspes (521–486 b.c.)—the construction of the temple was discontinued.”[1]


This is where the book of Haggai meets the reader in 520 B.C., “In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest” (Hag. 1:1).[2] God still had a plan for the people of Israel, and the temple needed to be completed. Haggai was used by God to exhort the Jewish people to rebuild the temple. Thankfully, they listened:

Then the prophet Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophets, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. So Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them, helping them (Ezra 5:1-2).

This same message is conveyed in Haggai 1:12, that the remnant of the people, “obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet.” They could be strengthened in the knowledge that their God was with them (Hag. 2:4).


Amidst the historical details interspersed throughout the book of Haggai, it is generally agreed that there are four messages from God to His people contained in this book (1:1-11; 2:1-9; 2:10-19; 2:20-23). Because of this Haggai can be outlined with four main units:

1:1–15 The exhortation to rebuild the temple

2:1–9 The future glory of the temple

2:10–19 From defiled to blessed

2:20–23 Yahweh’s signet ring[3]

It should be noted that in-between the first and second message we have the response of the people to the exhortation revealed by Haggai to rebuild the temple (Hag. 1:12-15).

Themes and Theological Messages

Haggai included a significant amount of historical detail which aids in understanding the circumstances in Israel during this time. However, for the Prophet Haggai it is quite evident that, “if anything was central to his theology, it was the temple.”[4] The temple was the center of the spiritual life for Israel. Without it, their worship of God floundered. It needed to be rebuilt.

And yet, there are other themes present in this short prophetic book. There can be no doubt that the people were taking their own comfort more seriously than providing a place for the people to worship God (Hag. 1:4).

The second chapter of Haggai contains further development of truth that needs to be considered. In verses 10-19 a dialogue between Haggai and the priests unfolds which teaches several theological lessons about God. In this discussion, it is observed that meat that had been set apart for God could not make other meat holy by simple contact (Hag. 2:12). But under the Mosaic Law if someone became unclean by touching a dead body and then they touched food, it would become unclean (Lev. 22:4-6). In the same manner, it was wrong for the people to assume that because they worked on the Temple of God that this made them clean (similar to the first example). Merely working on the temple did not make them acceptable to God. Their defilement before God meant that their sacrifices were unclean (similar to the second example) (Hag. 2:14). God was not looking for them to only rebuild the temple. He desired sincere, faithful worship.

In like manner of the contemporary prophets of the nation, Haggai’s message also looked to the future. Haggai boldly proclaimed:

For thus says the Lord of hosts: “Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,” says the Lord of hosts (Hag. 2:6-7).

God had directly intervened to reveal Himself to the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai when her people had come out of Egypt (v. 5). God will do this again when He returns to establish His Kingdom at the Second Coming (Joel 3:16; Matt. 24:29-30).

Again, this future emphasis is witnessed in the closing verses of the book. There it is seen that Haggai addressed Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah (Hag. 2:21). The day will come when God will judge the Gentile Kingdoms (Hag. 2:22). This again looks forward to the Second Coming of Christ:

Three facts are prominent in this verse: (a) the Lord will fulfill this prophecy on the future day of Gentile judgment (cf. vv. 21–22); (b) the Lord will make Zerubbabel … like My signet ring; and (c) the Lord had chosen Zerubbabel as the channel of the Davidic line and therefore representative or typical of the Messiah. The title My servant frequently marked out the Davidic king.[5]

Haggai ends with the promise that God would keep His covenants with Israel. One day, the Son of David (Jesus) will rule from His Temple in Jerusalem over the world. Knowledge of this should have motivated the people to be faithful to Him.

Contemporary Significance

Despite the brief nature of the book of Haggai the contemporary significance is remarkable. It could be argued (quite successfully) that the same sins are present in the Western Church today. Many Christians stand guilty of enlarging their homes and living in luxury while the work of Christ suffers. Resources and workers are frequently in short supply. It is also notable that God still desires sincere, faithful worship. The projects that believers accomplish for God do not earn them favor with Him. Rather, He is looking for Christians to live in fellowship with Him and to walk by faith (Heb. 10:38). The future hope promised in Haggai should also provide encouragement to the Church today. God’s sovereign plan for Israel and the Gentile nations provides encouragement for believers to be able to know that one day Christ will rule in perfect justice and peace on the earth (Isa. 2:4).

The Prophet Haggai lived at a time when the work of God’s people stood incomplete. Now under Persian rule, the Jews had been allowed to return to Jerusalem. Even though the temple had been started, it remained unfinished. Haggai was used by God to call the people to complete the work they had begun. But it was not mere outward obedience that God was looking for. He wanted genuine worship (Hag. 2:14). The Jewish people could look forward to the day when the Son of David would fill the temple with His glory and give His peace (Hag. 2:7, 9).


[1] F. Duane Lindsey, “Haggai,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1536–1538.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible: The New King James Version. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982).

[3] J. Daniel Hays, Message of the Prophets: A Survey of the Prophetic and Apocalyptic Books of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 357.

[4] Robert L. Alden, “Haggai,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 574.

[5] F. Duane Lindsey, “Haggai,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1544.


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