Haggai - When It's Not the Best

Haggai is a book about "when it's not the best". It is the second shortest Old Testament book, after Obadiah. We do not know much about the prophet, except his name means "festive" or "festival" and that he and Zechariah are mentioned in Ezra 5:1; 6:14 (c.458 B.C.). Allusions to Haggai are in Zechariah 8:9 and Hebrews 12:26. In Haggai we will learn some things about God and people, but teaching truth is not the main point of the book. The main point is that the people, and us, are supposed to change.

Dating of Haggai is 520 B.C. based on dates given in the book. Precise dating is a feature of Babylonian and Persian writings, such as the Babylonian Chronicle, which precisely dates every event. Haggai lived under Babylonian and Persian rule, and thus dates things by the Babylonian calendar, not the Old Testament calendar, as one who had lived his life under their rule. Haggai is also unusual in mentioning minted coins, which Darius learned about from the kingdom of Lydia. (New International Bible Commentary p.960)

Relevant world events of that time include:
538 B.C. About 50,000 Jews were allowed to return home when Cyrus conquered Babylonia.
538 B.C. The Jews work on the temple for 2 years and then stop.
530 B.C. Cyrus died in battle and Cambyses became king. Cambyses was a tyrant who mismanaged the empire. All was at peace in the Persian Empire (pax Persiaca) except for rebellious Egypt, which Cambyses marched to Palestine at the head of his army to subdue.
522 B.C. Cambyses died mysteriously and there was a revolt in Persia.
522-486 B.C. Darius Hystaspis became king and put down the revolt.
520 B.C. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah
519-518 B.C. Persian army marches through Palestine and conquers Egypt
Haggai and Zechariah were contemporaries and it is interesting to contrast the styles of these two prophets. While Haggai use rhyme, a play on words, and a chiasm, his style is on the whole plain, organized, and direct compared to the symbolic and inspiring Zechariah. God used both styles.

Different levels: Haggai can be studied on two levels: building God's house, and turning back to God. This study is going to focus on a third level: when things are not the best. First, when God's people are not giving their best, and second remain encouraged when the results do not appear to be the best. Haggai is clearly divided into four messages:
Hag 1:1-15 First Message - Stop Delaying and Build God's House Now (Aug 29, 520 B.C.)
Hag 1:1-11 Consider God's discipline of His procrastinating people
Hag 1:12-15 God's remnant responded in obedience
Hag 2:1-9 The Glory of God's House (Sept 21, 520 B.C.)
Hag 2:1-4 Yes, the Temple does not look so good like it used to
Hag 2:5-9 God's Spirit remains, but once more God will shake the heavens and earth
Hag 2:10-19 God Can Even Bless What is Defiled (Oct 17, 520 B.C.)
Hag 2:10-15 Holiness is not contagious; uncleanness is; no natural hope for this people
Hag 2:16-19 God solemn promise to overturn this with His people
Hag 2:20-23 Reversing Curses (Dec 18, 520 B.C.)
Hag 2:20-22 Overturning foreign nations
Hag 2:23 Zerubbabel, descendant of Jehoiachin and the signet ring

Haggai 1 - When You are Not Doing Your Best

Only 50,000 Jews returned 538 B.C. They started building the temple or a couple of years and then stopped. And now, 18 years later, the temple still had not yet been built. The first message, on the new moon festival (Numbers 10:10), exhorted God's people, who had lost their vision.

1. In Hag 1:1-3, what were the people doing wrong?

2. In Hag 1:2-4, why do you think the enthusiasm of God's people sometimes wanes?

3. Why do people procrastinate in general? Why do people procrastinate in doing God's will? What does Mt 6:33 say about this?

4. In Hag 1:3-4, why do you think God punished first, and explained later, instead of vice versa?

5. In Haggai 1:5-7; 2:15,18 how can we consider our ways.

6. Why does Haggai 1:10,11 mentions dew instead of rain? God sent a drought (horeb) of no dew, because His temple remained a ruin (hareb). How does James 5:17 relate to this?

7. "I am with you, says the Lord" (Hag 1:13; 2:4) Haggai 2:5 and 2:19 also give the same promise of blessing. How is this the best blessing of all? (See 1 Kings 19:11-13 for a hint)

8. In Hag 1:14, how does God stir up the spirit of someone?
In 23 days they decided to build. This gave them time to organize and finish harvesting of figs, grapes, and pomegranates. They might not have felt they had enough resources, but Ezra 6:8,9 says that king Darius even gave them money! Ezra 6:15 says it was finished about 4 years later.

9. How might James 1:6-7 relate to Haggai 1?

10. 1 Peter 2:5 says that God's house is not a building, but us, His church. How might Christians in the U.S. be neglecting to build God's house? Guess what percent, on average, churches give to foreign missions.

11. Answer these ten excuses why a Christian procrastinate in being devoted to God, preferably using the Bible. I already tithe. (hints: Lk 21:1-4; 2 Cor 8:2-3)
It might not always be so fun. (hints: 2 Cor 1:8-9; Php 3:14; 1 Cor 3:12-15; 1 Cor 9:23-25)
If I gave everything over to God, my family would starve. (hints: 1 Tim 5:8; Prov 31:21-25)
I might not advance so far in my career. (hints: Heb 11:24-26; 11:37; 1 Tim 6:9-10)
It might not be safe for me. (hints: 1 Kings 19:10; Abram and the Elamite invasion)
I want some assurance that my family will be safe. (hints: Ezek 24:18; Job 1:2-3 vs. 42:12-13)
Prior to knowing God, I had gone too far away from righteousness for God to use me. (Paul)
After knowing God, I have gone too far away from God's will. (Jonah, Peter; 2 Cor 2:5-10)
Currently, I'm not so perfect myself. (hints: 2 Cor 12:7-10)
If only gives me what we need, and I have squandered part of what He gave. (hint: Ex 34:1)
Assignment for next week: This week honor God in a special way. Find something that you know God wants you to do, but you are procrastinating about, and start doing it now. Or instead, find a habit God wants you to stop doing, but you are procrastinating on, and stop doing it now.
Some Reasons why people procrastinate and go against James 4:17

Too many other things
If cannot do it properly, then do not do it at all
Work better under pressure
Lack of familiarity, out of our comfort zone
Do not see the deadline
Give permission to yourself, take the initiative (Nobody on earth gave Haggai permission to speak - except Haggai)
Do not see the immediate consequences
No accountability
We just don't want to. We do not see sufficient pleasure or benefit
Lack of Self-discipline, which is doing what you know is best, whether you feel like it or not.
Fear of lack of success

"Give thought to your ways" (Haggai 1:5,7; 2:15,18 (2 times) includes taking inventory of:

Your time
Where you are headed
Pleasure - where is your heart
Our homework assignment

Either: find one think you know God wants you to do, but you have not started, and start doing it this week.
Or: find one think you know God wants you to stop doing but have not, and this week stop doing it.

- - - - - - -

Imagine a marathon runner flying to Boston and running the 26.2 mile marathon, who suddenly stops on mile 25. When asked why he stopped, he said he was a little tired, it had taken a long time to run those 25 miles, and he had other things to do that afternoon. Do you think that would ever happen? It may not happen in the Boston marathon, but it happens all the time in the marathon of life. It is surprisingly easy for some to give up, or else just stop in their tracks, after running so far.
In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Paul writes, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (NIV)
The prize to be lost is not salvation but the rewards or crowns we can get in heaven. Paul speaks of varying rewards for believers in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. While we do not know all the details on different types of crowns, one type of crown Paul had was the Philippians themselves in Philippians 4:1.

Haggai 2 - When Results do not look the Best

In studying chapter 1, one reason people procrastinate in doing God's will is that they do not think it will be successful, at last as they define success. But at Haggai's urging, they started to build anyway. Then they started seeing the results. The timing of this second message, on October 17, 520 B.C. is significant for two reasons. First, it was the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Exactly 400 years before, in 960 B.C., Solomon dedicated the temple in 1 Kings 6:38; 8:2. Second, it was a month later, so they could already see some results. Ezra 3:10-13 said that while some shouted for joy, others wept. Some of the older returnees probably remembered the great glory of the former temple.

1. In Hag 2:1, why does he speak of the "remnant of the people" vs. just the people?

2. In Hag 2:1-4, how can paradoxically a desire for success lead to failure by procrastination?

3. In Hag 2:1-4, how do people respond when things are not going as good as they once were?

4. In Hag 2:1-4, do you see any disappointment from God that this temple was not a beautiful as Solomon's?

5. In Hag 2:1-4, sometimes it is natural to compare various ministries, but when should we not, and how should we?

6. This temple did not lack anything, but it did not have the beautiful adornments of Solomon's Temple. How are can some Christians, relying on "adornments" to bring attention to the gospel, losing their focus on the gospel itself?

7. In Hag 2:4, why is it significant to tell a priest name Joshua to be strong, and what does this have to do with coming out of Egypt in Hag 2:5? How is this "command" really a precious promise?

8. In Hag 2:5, God told the people not to fear. What are three things they might be fearful about?

9. In Hag 2:7, do you think "the desired of nations" is messianic or not?

10. In Hag 2:9 why do you think God said that in Jerusalem he would grant peace (shalom)?

11. In Hag 2:9, Herod the Great, mentioned that the temple was currently 60 feet short than Solomon's and he persuaded the Jews to let him restore the temple to its former glory. (Josephus Antiquities of the Jews book 15 ch.11.1 p.334.) But that is not what God meant when he said this temple would have greater glory than Solomon's. How can unspiritual attempts to make a ministry successful actually be a counterfeit for the true purpose of a ministry?

12. In Hag 2:10-19, why is God making the point that defilement is contagious and holiness is not?

13. In Hag 2:15 the Hebrew is unusual, literally saying, "from this day and upward". How is our life to be "from this day and upward"?

14. How was Zerubbabel chosen for the future? (hint Mt 1:12-13,16)

15. In Hag 2:23, what is the significance of a signet ring? (hint on 1 of 2 answers: Jer 22:24,30)

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by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.