A ROUGH GUIDE TO HAGGAI
A Study Guide
An extract from the Rough Guide to the Book of Haggai:
* Dates are important to Haggai (1:1, 15; 2:1, 10,20). They locate this book firmly in the autumn of 520BC.
* But why should this be important? The Judahites had returned from exile in 539, under discouragement work on the Temple had ceased in 536, sixteen years later… nothing.
* A new regime, that of Darius, commenced in 522. A usurper, by 520 he appeared to have secured his grip on power. If also visiting Paris, the Louvre has many spectacular artefacts of his subsequent long and impressive reign.
* Ezra 1-4 provides the essential historical context
* The book is composed of four short messages (1:1-15; 2: 1-9, 10-19, 20-23). These were given on 29th August, 17th October and, the last two on 18th December.
* The first is a call to obedience, the last three offer promises of glory, holiness and peace to those who responded.
* These suggest four possible itineraries. The first is:
Itinerary One (1:1-15)
• Everywhere you go you will see evidence of the people’s past glory (4, 9) and experience a sense of their deep discouragement: deepened by their sense of inability to meet a recognised obligation (2)
• As you move about you will recognise the signs of an economy in crisis (6, 10)
• If you try to engage the locals in conversation they will explain that the agricultural base of the economy has suffered from a succession of inexplicable disasters (9)
• At the same time you will note that some, at least, are prospering amid the ruins. The governor, in particular seems to be doing very well (4). The few activists, anxious to reverse the situation, are cried down as hopeless idealists…(2)
Post Card from Jerusalem:
16th September 520
Hi! What an incredible trip! Met this bloke called Haggai. Don’t know much about him (1) but some chap. Not really got charisma but gets right to the point (4 etc.): calls a spade a b****y spade: probably from ‘up north’. Gets under peoples’ skin but also gets them moving. Quite a sea –change of attitudes taking place here… people are planning to start rebuilding the Temple next week (13). Those Rough Guide people will have to revise the next edition.
Jerusalem Times, 22nd September 520
Going for Broke
Yesterday, after the briefest period of preparation and while harvest was still being undertaken, work commenced on the rebuilding of the Temple. Sixteen years after the previous attempt at undertaking the work ceased, the people resumed the task under the impetus of the preaching of a little-known ‘hack’ preacher: ‘Hackai’. See Editorial Page for in-depth analysis of this remarkable development.
Editorial Page: a special FEARURE.
The remarkable impact of the prophet Haggai to galvanise our whole nation (including senior political and religious figures) to the action of rebuilding the Temple demands analysis. His message may, perhaps, be summarised under the following heads:
1) He reminded us who God is and how our relationship with him is all important. Thus:
• He sought to remind us that though in the empire of an alien power, we were followers of the LORD Almighty: the one who is the supreme commander of heavenly armies (2)
• We recognise now that Haggai was correct to identify that our priorities were ourselves our pleasures and our comforts (4a). We had neglected the ‘bigger picture’ and our major priorities. His pleasure and glory should have been in first place (4b)
2) He reminded us that in a relationship we need to listen to the other person or else we will only hear them say what we want to hear. So,
• He emphasised how essential it is to true religion to think in the light of Scripture and interpret those things around us from this perspective (5f. and compare Deuteronomy 28:15ff.)
• He also pointed out to us that failure to place our obligations to God first meant that we could not ‘hear’ God in his Word or else we would misapply it (2-3, 9-11)
3) Indeed, he pointed out that when we abandoned God’s wisdom we were so blind that we couldn’t even use common sense properly.
• He pointed out how blind we had been to the obvious (9). How could we have continued to live as we were when the Lord’s work lay in ruins? How could we fail to notice that our own problems were the result of our own failures to honour him (10f) ?
• He emphasised how common sense had gone out of the window when we failed to honour God and how easy it was to continue blindly to fail to recognise the obvious. How blind we truly were (7).
4) He pointed out to us, in no uncertain terms, where we had failed.
Indeed, he challenged head-on and exposed the falsehood of arguments for inaction. Those of us who were ‘putting off’ our obligations by appealing to financial constraints, economic difficulties, manpower shortages and even offering theological grounds were exposed for the faithless and self-driven people we now recognise we were…. We had been finding excuses, good excuses, for inaction! We needed to learn that good churchmanship, politics and economics can be contrary to sound religion (3).
5) While brutally frank in telling us our responsibilities, we warmed to his realism and encouragement when we listened. Thus,
• We could hardly miss the point after all he said
• We were called to do our best and leave the rest to the LORD (8a)
6) He helped us to rediscover the nature of true religion.
• He showed us that awe of God and devoted obedience go hand in hand (8b)
• He offered immediate encouragement to those of us with smitten consciences who were ready to act on his words (13)
• Through responding to him we discovered that obedience results in an empowering which renders the impossible possible (14,15)
7) Perhaps, above all, we recognised the ring of truth in his words and that what he said was truly the word of God himself