HAGGAI - INTRODUCTION
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
The practical lessons of this much neglected little book are not always understood, and it is with a view to examining those lessons that this series of studies is being undertaken; as it is with the prayer that God will use them to prompt a more diligent obedience to the Lord's command, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," Mark 16:15.
Since, as with every part of Scripture, a familiarity with the background will contribute much to our understanding of that part, we will look briefly at the setting of Haggai.
Because of Israel's continued disobedience, God had sent against them Nebuchadnezzar, who razed both temple and city, and carried the majority of the people captive into Babylon, where they remained for seventy years, during which time Jerusalem and the temple lay in ruins, while the land became desolate because of neglect. By the time the seventy years were expired, the Babylonian empire had been conquered by the Persians, and God put it into the heart of Cyrus the Persian to permit the Jews to return to their land, and to rebuild the temple, as recorded in Ezra 1:1-8.
It should be noted that his decree authorized those returning to rebuild "the house of the Lord God of Israel" (Ezra 1-5), and according to Ezra 3:8-11 "...the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid," in the second month of the second year of their return.
Due to opposition from enemies in the land, and apathy on their own part, the returned remnant, having laid the foundation, ceased construction of the temple, with the result that at the end of approximately another sixteen years, there was still nothing to show except that foundation. It was because of this negligence that God sent Haggai "in the second year of Darius" to rebuke their indolence, and encourage completion of the work begun in the second year of their return.
It is necessary however, not only to know the background of this passage, but to understand also that that literal house is a type of the mystical, but nonetheless real house in which God dwells today. "God that made the world... dwelleth not in temples made with hands" (Acts 17:24). His dwelling place today is the Church, built of living stones (men and women born again through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior), "Ye also (believers), as lively (living) stones, are built up a spiritual house" (1 Peter 2:5), and in Hebrews 3:6 the same truth is emphasized, "...whose house are we."
It is necessary to recognize also that that returned remnant is a picture of ourselves. Where had they come from? Babylon. But Babylon is the Biblical symbol of the world's false religious systems. Where have we come from? Babylon. Whether it be from spiritually dead Christendom, or a heathen cult, every believer has come spiritually from "Babylon." And where had they come to? They found themselves in a desolate land, Jerusalem (God's governmental center), piles of rubble, and the once magnificent temple of Solomon (God's house), in ruins. And we have come to the spiritual equivalents. We find ourselves in a world that is a spiritual desolation, a wilderness; and as the land to which the remnant had returned was governed from Babylon by the enemy Persian, so is the world today governed spiritually from "Babylon" by the arch enemy Satan, the prince of this world. As God's literal house was then a ruin, so today is that part of His spiritual house the Church which is still here on the earth. Scattered stones were all that remained of the once glorious temple built by Solomon, a condition in which we see clearly portrayed the present state of that part of the Church still here on earth, for individual believers, and local churches are as widely separated as were those fallen temple stones. As those returned Jews could look back to a temple that had once been unique in its glory, so can we look back to the early days of the Apostolic age, and see a Church which was also unique in her glory. But as "Ichabod" meaning woe, where the glory? could have been asked relative to that ruined temple, so can the same question be asked today in regard to that part of the Church still on the earth.
They had been sent back however, with a specific commission, "...go up to Jerusalem ... and BUILD THE HOUSE of the Lord...." (Ezra 1:3). The Lord's commission to us is no less specific, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15). It is through that Gospel that sinners are converted, and transformed into the "living stones" of which the Holy Spirit builds God's house, the Church. As the delinquency of the remnant called forth God's rebuke in the days of Haggai, so does our delinquency make that same rebuke applicable to us today. The ruined state of God's house on earth now is no less the result of our failure to bring "living stones" to be built upon the foundation laid by the Apostles when they themselves came out of spiritual Babylon two thousand years ago.