Background

The name Haggai is commonly derived from or linked to the Hebrew word hag meaning “festival” or “festival sacrifice,” and thus is believed to mean “festive” or signifying that Haggai may have been born during an Old Testament festival period.1The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.

Haggai delivered his messages on behalf of the Lord during a four-month period, from the start of the sixth month to near the end of the ninth month of 520 BC (see Hag 1:1, 2:10, 2:20). Less than two months after Haggai began to deliver his oracles Zechariah began his work as companion prophet to the same people in Jerusalem. This was during the second year of Darius I (Hystaspis), who ruled 521-486 BC. The biblical voice and story of Haggai end abruptly upon the completion of his divine commission.

From Ezra (especially chapters 5 and 6) we know the historical setting for the work of Haggai and Zechariah. The focal point was the building of the second temple. The project had stalled. The original high hopes of the returning remnant for a quick completion of this work had languished and for some fifteen years the work had ceased. Ezra had focused primarily on the opposition to the project that stemmed from outsiders, while Haggai and Zechariah deal more with the indifference and disobedience of the Jewish people who were simply not setting themselves to the task. The completion of the temple was ultimately marked in 516 BC.

See also the Chronology of the Prophets and the Chronology of Latter Prophets and Intertestamental Period.

Authorship

We know nothing about Haggai or his life other than what is mentioned in this book (and a couple of references in Ezra). It is often assumed that he had been born in Babylon and had returned with the first wave of exiles following the decree and under the protection of Cyrus (approximately 538-537 BC). Epiphanius, in the fourth century AD, specifically preserved this tradition, but Haggai’s name nowhere appears in the lists of returnees in Ezra 2 or Nehemiah 7. Perhaps Haggai had known Daniel in Babylon. Based on the phrases used in Haggai 2:3 some believe that Haggai had personally seen the Temple of Solomon and, if so, must have been at least in his seventies when he received these revelations. This is by no means certain, however. According to the Talmud, Haggai (with Zechariah and Malachi) was a member of the Great Synagogue.

Purpose

The purpose and message of Haggai clearly focus on the reconstruction of the Jerusalem temple. His task was to awaken the people of God to the responsibilities, obligations, privileges, and promises of their covenant heritage in anticipation of the coming Messiah. The Messianic emphases of Haggai 2:7 and 2:23 are prominent in the comfort and encouragement given to the people. He rebukes selfish materialism and calls the people to “give careful thought to [their] ways” but at the same time points them to the patient and faithful ways of the Lord who maintains the Davidic dynasty for the sake of the promise of the Savior.

Content

There are four series of brief prophecies, with each specific message linked to the date of its revelation (Hag 1:1, 2:1, 2:10, 2:20). This chronological arrangement of the material follows a linear progression that is easy to recognize and follow.

In a style that Malachi would later use, Haggai makes good use of penetrating rhetorical questions (Hag 1:4, 2:3, 19). The use of chiasms (1-2-2-1 pattern – Hag 1:4, 9, 10), wordplays (Hag 1:4, 1:11), and repetitions (for example, Hag 1:5, 7; 2:15, 18) also characterize the book. Also, “The repetition of the messenger formula (“thus says the Lord” and its variations) some 29 times in two short chapters underscored the gravity of the message and the urgency of the hour for the people of God.”2Hill, Andrew E. and Walton, John H. A Survey of the Old Testament. 530.

Christ Connection

Since the temple represented God’s presence among his people, it’s easy to see why Haggai would be given these strong messages for the people. Even after they turned their back on God, God was still graciously with them for the sake of the coming Savior he had promised. As Haggai prophesied, the glory of this rebuilt temple was going to be even greater than the first because of what Jesus would do there.  Five hundred years later he would be at this very temple to teach the people (Mt 21:23; 26:55), to cleanse it of greedy merchants (Jn 2:13-22; Mt 21:12-13), to receive praise from the lips of children (Mt 21:14-16), and to cause the curtain to tear in two after winning our peace with God (Hag 2:6-9; Rom 5:1; Mt 27:51; see also Lev 16:2 and Heb 9:11-14).

Notable Passages

  • Haggai 1:3-4
  • Haggai 1:11; 2:17
  • Haggai 1:12
  • Haggai 2:6-9

Outline

The Messages of Haggai

  1. First Message: A Call to Action (Hag 1:1-15)
  2. Second Message: A Word of Encouragement (Hag 2:1-9)
  3. Third Message: A Call to Holiness (Hag 2:10-19)
  4. Fourth Message: A Promise of Restoration (Hag 2:20-23)

References   [ + ]

1. The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.
2. Hill, Andrew E. and Walton, John H. A Survey of the Old Testament. 530.