Haggai and God’s House: The Foundation Laid

This article is the first in a series about the book of Haggai. The goal of these articles is to provide an overview of the prophetic ministry of Haggai that will encourage the reader to look up the references, study and apply what was written for our learning (Rom 15:4). This article summarizes the setting and state of the Jewish people when Haggai was used by the Lord to be “the LORD’s messenger in the LORD’s message unto the people” (Hag 1:13).1 This history is summarized in Ezra 1-5 and should be required reading for anyone studying this book.

We will notice continual references throughout these articles to Haggai’s younger contemporary, Zechariah, who together with Haggai was used to strengthen the hands of the people until the completion of the temple. Often God uses younger and older together to serve His purposes, including discipling the next generation, like Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and Paul and Timothy. There was a desire among the godly for God’s testimony on earth to return. A message needed to be delivered to the people to reawaken them from the laxity that had crept in after the temple foundation was built. Despite the book’s brevity, the lessons from the minor prophet Haggai about building the house of God are relevant in these “last days” (2Ti 3:1).

Conclusion of the 70 Years

Babylon was home to the Jewish people after a series of deportations from the Promised Land (Jer 52:28-30). Though the Jews in captivity built houses in Babylon, some anticipated the call to return to Jerusalem (29:5-7). Isaiah 40-66, specifically, sustained the people, as well as the oral ministry and dramas of Ezekiel at Chebar. Daniel demonstrated that the appointed time to return was coming, mentioning the 70 years and prompting a prayer of confession on behalf of the nation (Dan 9:1-21). As time ticked on, scripturally intelligent Jews were aware that the return to Jerusalem was imminent (Jer 25:11; 29:10).

Invitation to Build

In a shocking change of policy from the previous ruler, Cyrus, King of Persia, immediately decreed that the Jews may return to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem (Ezr 1:1-4). Before his birth, Isaiah prophesied that a chosen one named Cyrus would do the righteous act of freely permitting the construction of Jerusalem by God’s people (Isa 45:1,13). Thus, God fulfilled His word and Haggai returned with Zerubbabel, Joshua the high priest, and about 50,000 former captives to Jerusalem, and they even carried with them 5,400 vessels of gold and silver from the temple plundered and razed by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezr 1:7-11; 2:64-65). There could be no excuses; the highest authority on earth decreed that they must “build the house of the LORD God of Israel” with every provision supplied (1:3).

An Altar Built

In the seventh month and first day, the people united in Jerusalem for the Feast of Trumpets (Lev 23:24). The festival required “an offering made by fire unto the LORD” (v25), prompting Zerubbabel, the governor and descendant of David, and Joshua, the high priest, to build an altar (Ezr 3:2). This established Jerusalem as the gathering center for worship once again. Ezra states that the people also observed the Feast of Tabernacles (3:4).2 This feast commemorated Israel’s being called out of Egypt and idolatry to worship God, and they set up tents to remember that journey. Fittingly, after going into captivity for their idolatry (Jer 25:5-7), the people came out of Babylon to worship God with this feast again. Israel will gather for this feast yet again, when the Lord Jesus will be worshipped as King over all the earth (Zec 14:9-19).

Foundation Laid

In the second year and second month, the Levites broke ground on the temple project. The “but” in Ezra 3:6 suggests that though the altar was built, but with the temple construction not yet started, an altar without the house of God is incomplete. Thus, in Ezra 3:7-12, they gathered materials and manpower, then enthusiastically laid the foundation. Mixed emotions spilled over when the foundation was finished. Perhaps Psalm 136 is the hinted psalm sung by the Levitical choir, followed by a loud shout by the people, concluding with weeping by the older ones who remembered Solomon’s Temple. If you are an older one lamenting a former blessing compared to a meager present blessing, you might find encouragement and perspective by examining Haggai 2:1-9.

Work Stopped

Haggai opens with the house’s foundation crumbling. Cyrus originally sent them to build the house, but they had not finished. It may have started with discouragement from the older men disheartened by the lack of potential grandeur of the new temple before adversaries moved in to stop the work (Ezr 4). When Haggai’s first message came to the people, they had no desire to resume building and were resigned to adversaries winning the day. Are we building actively and circumspectly upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, or are we content with dissuasion (1Co 3:10-11)?

Haggai’s Messages

Haggai delivered five messages from the Lord within four months to a particular audience for a specific purpose, with a time marking date and the phrase “the word of the LORD came” (ESV) or “the LORD’s message.” The first was given to Zerubbabel and Joshua to remind them that God’s people said it was not time to build the Lord’s house (1:1-2) before challenging these people who built their own elaborate houses while leaving the new temple construction site quiet (1:3-11). The second message was addressed to the people to encourage them that the Lord was with them (1:12-15). The third was to Zerubbabel, Joshua and the people because they were discouraged when comparing this house to the grandeur of Solomon’s, telling them again that the Lord was with them as He promised Moses (2:1-9). The fourth message was given to warn the priests that cleanliness must pair with their new proper position for the LORD to bless (2:10-19). Lastly, a message to Zerubbabel was given to confirm that God’s plans for a future kingdom ruled by the line of David had not changed (2:20-23). Future articles will examine these five messages with their implications. We need men today like Haggai with the Lord’s message from the Scriptures, leaders and the people who will obey, a commitment to holiness by God’s people, and a long-term perspective and confidence to see that God’s house is built for His glory, bringing our blessing.

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

2 See Jack Hay’s article in Truth and Tidings, June 2023, for more on the Feast of Tabernacles.