Haggai 1–2. Doing God's Work.

Key Notes: The beauty of the Temple vs. private houses. Holiness is not contagious; evil is. The Desire of all nations. Futility and spirituality. The seal.

Israel lay in exile in Babylon for seventy years after the sack of Jerusalem 606–586BC. In 536AD Cyrus king of Persia authorized the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. Local resistance prevented the exiles from proceeding. Ezra 5–6 introduces both Haggai and Zechariah as prophets to the exiled prophets who urged the people to resume building. As soon as work began, the provincial governor representing the Persian Empire sent a letter to the new king, Darius, complaining that the previous decree was being ignored by the Jews. Darius made investigation into the official records and found Cyrus' original permission for the Jews to return and rebuild their temple.

His decree had several provisions:
*permission for Jews to rebuild was granted;
*pay for workers and materials was to be provided from the royal treasury (actually from local taxes);
*sacrifice offerings were to be made freely available;
*prayers for the life of the king and his sons should be offered.
*The decree carried the risk of death and ruin to the violator. Ezra 6:1–12

Haggai came to coach the people, giving them four pep-talks in less than four months. He will give us clues to their lack of motivation. Note how frequently the name “Lord of Hosts” is given, and how often the prophet uses the word “consider.”  Note also how specific the prophet is about time, and what part that plays in his message.

1:1–11 Time: 6/1/520BC. ( Aug.-Sept.)  This was the second year of the reign of Darius, king of Persia. The sixth month, first day was a new moon and the beginning of the harvest of grapes, figs and pomegranates. Haggai addressed his message to the people through their leaders, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel the governor of Judah, and Joshua, son of Jehozadak the high priest. “This people” sets a tone of criticism.
They had said it was not yet the right time to build the Temple, but their own houses were show-places. Paneling is expensive today and it was much more so then. It was typically used in the king’s palace. I K. 7:7; Jer.22:14

Haggai said there was a relationship between the futility of their daily work and their neglect of the Temple building.  God had called a drought in response to their self-preoccupation. Haggai told them to cut timber and build the house so that God might have pleasure in it.

1:12–15   The people heard, feared and obeyed. Haggai said God was with them. They were at work three weeks later, on 6/24/520, after presumably making provision for their own affairs.

2:1–9   Time 7/21/520, about a month later. The Second Temple may be puny compared to Solomon’s, but governor, priest, and people should all take courage and work, for God is with them. "Take courage" is said three times.
In a little while God will shake heaven and earth and treasure will flow in the Temple. And the splendor of the last Temple will be greater than the first (Solomon’s).

2:10–19   Time 9/24/520. The Lord directed Haggai to get an official reading from the priest on an ethical question—a law or a “torah.”
""If one carries holy flesh in the skirt of his garment and touches...any kind of food, does it become holy?"
Is holiness contagious? No.
"If one who is unclean...touches any of these (foods), does it become unclean?" Is uncleanness contagious? Yes.
Haggai makes the application: “this people” remains unclean. Working on the holy Temple has not made them holy.

By now the harvest of grapes, figs, pomegranates, and olives is complete, and the harvest has been poor as expected after Haggai had proclaimed a drought. 1:10
The people had evidently not returned to the Lord (2:17) until now; however, they had heard, obeyed and feared the Lord at the first (1:12). Had there been backsliding in such a short time as three months? It certainly happened in such a short time to Israel after crossing the Red Sea (Ex.16:1–3). Hereafter God would bless them.

Carnality is our natural downward slide. Holiness must be implanted by God. We are easily contaminated. We are soiled by daily contact with our culture and in need of daily cleansing.

2:20–23   The same day God sent a word to Zerubbabel, the Governor.
God intends to shake the kingdoms and destroy their strength and their ability to make war. On that Day, God will make Zerubbabel like a signet.

This is a rich, brief, enigmatic prophecy.
* Zerubbabel is in the line of the Messiah through David (Matt.1:12), but through Nathan, not Solomon’s line, which died out with Josiah’s sons. Lk. 3:27, 31
* He was Governor of Israel, although not king.
* He is called, “Servant” and “Chosen.”
* In the last day, he will be like a signet or seal.

The signet was a small, unique mark engraved on a ring or carved in stone or pottery. It would be pressed into soft wax stuck on a paper or other object. Anyone might have a seal which gave legal protection and a sign of ownership. Wills and property deeds were sealed. Valuable objects like large pots could be sealed in the clay to identify the owner.
The seal was the king’s mark on official papers and represented him like a fingerprint. Joseph was given Pharaoh’s signet ring, enabling him to do business in the king’s name. Gen. 41:42
Jesus said, “…on Him has the Father set His seal.” Jn. 6:27
“…He reflects the glory of God and bears the exact stamp of His nature…” Heb.1:3

 Christ is God’s seal, His signet, His exact imprint. Zerubbabel, then, is seen as a type of the Messiah, as David was. He is part of the shoot from the stem of Jesse. He is a chosen servant of God. One day he will be like a signet, bearing the mark of the Great King.

Haggai’s four messages can be summarized and applied.
*The Lord’s work has priority and may not be neglected while we go about our business.
* Those who work effectively for the Lord will not experience futility in their own pursuits.
* God’s work requires diligence and courage, until Messiah returns.
*Holy work does not make holy people. Repentance and cleansing is required.
* God’s chosen servants will bear His likeness in the Last Day.

The “treasures of all nations shall come in” (RSV) is also translated the “desire of all nations shall come in” (KJV). This makes the passage a Messianic reference, and Handel put these words into his chorale masterpiece, “The Messiah.”  The commentators are divided between the two translations. The reference to silver and gold makes “treasure” more likely in context; however, the Messiah is God’s ultimate gift to the nations. Some argue that Christ is not the desire of all nations, but John calls Him “The light that lights everyone who comes into the World.” Jn. 1:9

Thomas Cahill’s conclusion to his book, "Desire of the Everlasting Hills", reads:

"But whether we are Jew or Christian, believer or atheist, the figure of Jesus—as the final Jewish prophet, as innocent and redeeming victim, as ideal human being—is threaded through our society and folded into our imagination in such a way that it cannot be excised. He is the mysterious ingredient that laces everything we taste, the standard by which all moral actions are finally judged.” (Doubleday,’99; p.319)