Haggai is one of three books,(Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi) that can be dated in the post-exilic period.The three books have in common a concern for the issues facing the people of Judah after the return of the exiles from Babylon after 539BC.Essentially there are two major topics of concern for Haggai. The first is the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem and the second is the future direction and leadership of the nation.
When in 587BCE the Babylonians successfully captured Jerusalem and removed most of the population to Babylon, the temple which had been built by King Solomon some 500 years before was demolished and many of the cultic objects such as the Ark of the Covenant were either destroyed or taken away to Babylon.
If one reads the books of Ezra and Nehemiah we see that power in the Eastern part of the Fertile Crescent had again shifted. By the end of 70 years the Babylonian kingdom was no more and an empire of the Medes and Persians had been established under King Cyrus. This king’s more lenient policy towards ethnic groups being allowed to worship in whatever way they wished was issued by the king as an edict. The evidence for this is found both in the Old Testament and in a cylindrical stone artefact known as Cyrus’ Cylinder. The latter was discovered by archaeologists and is now in the possession of the British Museum.
The result of this edict was that Jews began returning to their homeland around 538 BCE. According to Ezra 3 the returned exiles had begun to rebuild the temple in the second year after the arrival of the first wave.
This first attempt to rebuild was frustrated by local opposition which is fully described in Ezra chapter 4.
This opposition explains why, at the beginning of the reign of Darius in 522, the task had not been completed.
The early verses of the book of Haggai address this situation. The oracle relates the words of the Lord. “Is it a time for you to dwell in your panelled houses, while this house (The Temple) lies in ruins?”
The second major topic in the book concerns the future.
Here we are introduced to a very interesting character Zerubbabel.
1:12 “Then Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God , and the words of Haggai the prophet.”
Haggai’s language regarding this leader resembles that which was used for a king, especially a Davidic king.
In Haggai 2:21-23
“On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will take you O Zerubbabel, my servant and make you like a signet ring: for I have chosen you, says the Lord of hosts.”
It seems as if the prophet was hailing this person in the name of the Lord and regarding him as a potential messianic ruler.
It is not impossible that along with the return to the land and the reordering of the temple that there should be an upsurge in messianic expectation. For Haggai that messianic expectation was personified in Zerubbabel.
The structure of the book looks like this
1:1-15 First exhortation to build the temple
2:1-9 Encouragement to leaders and people
2:10-19 Warning against unclean offerings
2:20-23 A messianic promise
There is quite a lot of scholarly speculation which arises from the book.
Clearly Haggai does not operate alone. His prophecies are mirrored by those found in the book of Zechariah. The precise juxtaposition of Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, Nehemiah and the Book of Chronicles does produce some argument. They were all working at about the same time but their relative positions are not entirely clear.
Some scholars feel that Haggai was actually a priest in the temple which is why there is emphasis on the warnings against unclean offerings.
It is often suggested that there were two predominating views about the nature of the future.
In Israel at this time.
Some returning exiles in a sort of realized eschatology accepted that God was within the community and that was where they were hoping to remain.
Others were looking to the future for yet a further deliverance and the overthrow of all the nation’s enemies.
The question arises where Haggai fits in to all of this.
I feel, partly because of the Zerubbabel figure that Haggai’s sympathies rested with the latter group. We shall see in the book of Zechariah there is a progression from prophecy towards apocalyptic ideas. I feel that Haggai rests among those, who we might call progressives in the nation.
Sadly though any expectation surrounding Zerubbabel as a possible messiah figure seems to have passed quietly away with him.
Question can prophecy be mistaken – and if it is – is it false prophecy?