Because of how the book of Haggai opens, we see it is a post-exilic prophet. Most commentators think he is the first to write to Israel after the fall of Jerusalem. Israel, in the north, had been scattered by Assyria in 722 BC. Judah, in the south, had been destroyed along with the temple in Jerusalem in 586 BC. The first verse says, “In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Jeshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest.” Scholars agree that the date of Haggai’s first sermon in the book puts it at about 520 BC. There are only two chapters in this book, but it’s full of messages from God. “No less than 25 times in his two short chapters Haggai affirmed the divine authority of his messages. Not only did he introduce his sermons with, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says,’ but also he concluded them with a similar formula (‘declares the Lord Almighty’), and sprinkled those expressions throughout his messages. He was fully aware he was God’s messenger.”[1]

The message from the Lord that Haggai brought was addressed specifically to two people: Zerubbabel and Joshua. They had been commissioned by Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, who preceded Darius, to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. They had taken up to 50 thousand exiles back to Jerusalem with them. But, because of opposition from the Samaritans that lived in the land, they became discouraged and ceased rebuilding the temple and focused on building their own houses. God then sent Haggai to tell them to get back to work on the temple. Zerubbabel was the son of Shealtiel, a grandson of Jehoiachin, one of the last kings of Judah. He was therefore a descendant of David and a legitimate heir to the throne of Judah. Jeshua was the High Priest mentioned in Nehemiah chapter 7. Some translations call him Joshua, but that might confuse him with the more famous Joshua of the book with that name.

Darius had just succeeded Cyrus the great who had magnanimously sent the Israelites back to their land to restore their nation. Boda says, “Haggai speaks into a community still feeling the aftershocks of a recent Persian political earthquake. The prophetic work of Haggai, the political work of Zerubbabel, and the priestly work of Joshua must be seen against the backdrop of these recent events as the new emperor moved to restore peace to the edges of his empire.” Egypt revolted the next year (521 BC) and Darius had to invest in a major war effort to maintain peace in the Persian Empire.  “There are signs of economic hardship during Darius’s early years as emperor because of economic “reforms” (i.e., taxation resulting in inflation). Any financial resources of those who returned from exile in the waves of people accompanying Zerubbabel and Jeshua would have been rendered worthless in the early years of Darius.”[2] There is evidence of a lack of food, the harvest was not good, and the economy was bad. In today’s economy, gas prices would double, store shelves would be sparse and sometimes empty, prices would soar and people would worry about their own livelihood. Opposition from without, the Samaritans, and opposition from within, the economy, led the returning exiles to focus on their own needs and neglected the worship of God. I suppose we call all relate to such a situation in some way. But Haggai tells them not to forget God amid their hardships. Haggai’s message is relevant for us too.

[1] Lindsey, F. Duane. 1985. “Haggai.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, 1:1536–37. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2] Boda, Mark J. 2004. Haggai, Zechariah. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.