Buried and nudged between the two “Z” books is Haggai. I am so glad I slowed down to read this shortest book in the Old Testament and not skim over it. It spoke to me immediately upon this reading on how I was living at the time, in a paneled house (1:4) as I think carefully about my thoughts and my ways (1:5-6)…with the hope of staying in this place which hints at a promise of a latter type of glory in my life greater than experience before along with a peace that goes beyond understanding (2:9). These are all key verses in this prophetic book.
In a biblical summary of the book of Haggai, another approach by the prophet was to denounce the ongoing idolatry to the people of Israel. He pointed out that holiness is not contagious, however, evil is (Hag. 2:11-19). He compared his viewpoint to a healthy person whose well-being cannot be caught by touching him whereas a cold, more easily transmittable, of a sick man, can. Evil lends itself more transmittable or infectious (i.e., today’s over coverage of “bad” new topics versus good by media outlets or of the copycat crimes, people who are perpetually negative). How often do we hear of a breaking story, then see another similar one then another and wonder has this event always been going on or is it just now?
Found with the last of the three books of the Old Testament, although Haggai is not written at the same time as the remaining three, continues to point to the future Jesus. They wrap up the Jewish era.
To recapture the prophets, some overlapping audiences they served:
- Jonah (to Nineveh), Amos, and Hosea prophesied to the northern kingdoms (the 10 tribes known as Israel), with Obadiah (also a witness to the exile), Joel , Micah, Nahum (to Nineveh), Zephaniah (witnessed exile), and Habakkuk who tried to forewarn Judah (the southern kingdom, which includes Benjamin). Isaiah prophesied to both the northern and the southern tribes. Many of these prophets witnessed the fall of the northern tribes to Assyria and the southern tribes, about 100, years later to Babylon (then Persia).
- The exile prophets (after the siege of Jerusalem in 597 BC) were Jeremiah, Ezekiel (two who both were pre-exile prophets as well), and Daniel.
- The post-exilic prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, returned to Jerusalem in the rebuilding of the temple to prophesy.
It’s significant to point out, and can’t be said with enough emphasis, that the exile period and then the return to Jerusalem was one of the greatest challenges and crises for the Israelites. That and the future influence of the Hellenism plus the temple destruction of 70 AD. It shaped them into who they are today. But back to this moment, it’s been seventy years without their temple and they no longer are living in their home country as a chosen people.
This book is a goldmine of inspiration. One that keeps on giving which may explain why there are more words in my chapter that are in this biblical one. It’s for one of those times when you have to keep on living but think of it a just existing, unsure which way to turn. God assurances for us to move beyond our past with a renewed perspective, for us to give careful thought to our ways, that he is with us (Hag. 2:1-9) then reminds us that he promises to be with us always (1:13), not to be afraid (2:5), His spirit remains with us, He will bless us (2:19) and His reminder that He will take and make us for He has chosen us (2:23).
Haggai 2:6-7 links a context of Jesus to the temple they rebuilt as it restored them back symbolically to their worship. It foretells of how God will shake up all the nations with and through the acts of Jesus. The period of the writing for Haggai (and the next book Zechariah) is during the rebuilding of the temple, a stop-and-go process with it ending up taking additional fifteen years to complete. The work resumed through the inspirational efforts of Haggai and Zechariah (cf. Ezr. 6:14), who roused the people from their lethargy through the encouragement from God depicted by the favorable governing policy of the Persian.
Haggai’s prophecies are in four discourses each respectively written consecutively given in a four-month span. He prophesied that to be selfish is stupid (his first discourse dated supposedly in the month September) to how being generous brings many benefits shared the following month. November’s missive is on how a bad model of behavior is dangerously copied by others with his final prophecy to not to forget about the future that he wrote in December. If the writing sequence is indeed the months mentioned above, I find it coincidental that December is the month we recognized as the advent of expectant, waiting for the upcoming Savior’s birth.
Haggai was fortunate to see the completion of his temple rebuilding mission. Many of the prophets (for that matter many in ministry in general) don’t always see the results of their God-breathed endeavors.
Periodically I am fortunate to see the immediate outcome of efforts of ministry when I am in the right place at the right time when opportunity and preparedness meet. For a few summers, I coordinated the classic Vacation Bible School (VBS) that uniquely carried out off-site of the church at a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) apartment complex. In the 1950s this church was designated as the sponsoring organization for this HUD project thus allowing the event on government property. I helped to host this VBS for about four years, and it was laborious, to say the least, but the kind of soul filling labor of love. All the supplies and curriculum, along with tables, chairs, sound systems, and tents were brought in for this outdoor event held under tent top – come rain or shine. Each night we would pack up the supplies and props in a vacant apartment for security, with instruction to the attending children of the complex to watch over the tents diligently. One summer we had to evacuate the night’s session because of a tornado that had touched down nearby in the county.
One VBS theme done included the narrative of Noah’s Ark. In addition to being the coordinator, I told the accounts of that day’s Bible theme. It was a drizzly, overcast day as I told about the God’s watery wrath. I remember looking at the forty-some kids, ages five to eleven, attending with the teaching volunteers standing behind them. It was one of those moments when all eyes were on me, an encouragement that made me all more animated. I ended with the finale of the rainbow representing God’s promise that He would never destroy the world again by rain. When I was done, I asked if anyone had questions. After a pregnant pause, with everyone staring even more wide-eyed, I became aware something else was going on.
Finally, a little one raised his hand and asked how I did that. Still clueless I respond, “How did I do what, sweetie?” when one of the teachers said, “Turn around.” Behind me was a break in the clouds and a brilliant double rainbow. Apparently, it appeared right on cue at the end of the narrative. I told the kids I didn’t do that; God did. It was the only time I told a Biblical account that got an applause.
That summer and the others, kids more readily came forward to learn about Jesus one on one with a volunteer personally. It was a watershed event for the child but also for the volunteer to witness. I was fortunate to have the same returning volunteers each year who knew the propensity was real to see the fruit of their labor a blessing not to miss. We also had a group of kids who regularly attended our church come to the VBS to participate. It was pure joy to watch them peer mentor their new friends from different ethnic and economic backgrounds. It’s said that it takes a person six times to hear an invitation to Christianity before venturing out forth in faith. I will never know the full harvest from the seeds of witness planted. I do not know where the youth were in their sequence of hearing the message (seeds), but the message was planted, and hopefully took root for blooms to appeared. All anyone can do is plant the seeds to bring people closer to a relationship with Jesus. Only the Holy Spirit though can consummate it.