Sunday, Apr 23, 2006: “The Book Of Twelve (The Minor Prophets: Haggai): Session 7”

St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
“THE BOOK OF TWELVE (The Minor Prophets: Haggai)”
Group Leader / Handouts: Mike Kreutzer, Rector
Session 7
Sunday, April 23, 2006


The Book of the Twelve — Adult Forum Notes



In 538 B.C.E. the Edict of Cyrus not only allowed the Jewish exiles to return home from Babylon, but encouraged them to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (cf. Ezra 1:1-4). Darius I (521-485) ordered the governor of the Persian province of Transjordan to stop opposition to the project and to support and pay for the rebuilding of the temple and also to pay for its sacrificial offerings.

By 520, however, no significant work had been done. It was in that context that Haggai (during five months of 520) spoke the five oracles that comprise this book, calling for the work to be done. Specifically, Haggai exhorted Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest, to exercise leadership in this project; and he called on the priests to purify the cultic worship. Zechariah echoes this message. (Zerubbabel was the grandson of the exiled king, Jehoiachin; and Joshua was the grandson of the exiled chief priest, Seraiah.)

The entire situation of the people of Israel had changed since the days of the previous prophets. “Judah no longer existed as a national entity. Her territory was now a tiny sub-province of the vast Persian Empire. Her Israelite populace no longer made up a nation but a religious congregation of Jews. And her daily existence was a matter of staying alive in the face of hunger and devastation, of inflation and hostility from neighbors.” (E. Achtemeier, page 89) They faced opposition from their neighbors: cf. Ezra 4:3-5.

The only other mentions of Haggai and of (First) Zechariah are in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14. His name means “festival.”

The five oracles and their dates (given in the book according to the Babylonian calendar) are:

1:1-11 from August 29
1:12-15a from September 21
1:15b – 2:9 from October 17
2:10-19 from December 18 and
2:20-23 also from December 18, 520.

The background of the book is 2 Kings 25:8-9: “In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month — which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon — Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He burned the house of the LORD, the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down.”

The principal message of the book is contained in 1:8, “Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored, says the LORD.”

His is a strange message when seen beside other prophets who preceded him. Nathan (2 Sam. 7:4-7) opposed David’s plan to build a temple. “ 4But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: 5Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”

3 Isaiah (Is 66:1): “Thus says the LORD:

Heaven is my throne
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is my resting place?”
· Jeremiah (7:11) called the temple “a den [hide-out] of robbers”
· Ezekiel (8 & 24:15-24) condemned the temple as a place of sin and idolatry

But this was a different time and a different situation. This work was necessary for the unification and renewal of the nation and, in Haggai’s eyes, would prepare the way for the messianic age in which God would overthrow the Gentiles and establish Zerbbabel as king on the throne of David. The temple would be a sign of the presence and work of God among the people. 

1:1-11 the first oracle: God’s request is not a “quid pro quo”: “you rebuild the temple, and I’ll take care of you.” The Jews have fared badly because they have not returned to the Lord. That should be their first priority, instead of trying to take care of themselves first and giving God whatever is left.. Rebuilding the temple would be a sign of that return.

1:12-15a the second oracle: Haggai reassures the people (13), “I am with you, says the Lord.” The people and their leaders listened to Haggai and got to work.

1:15b – 2:9 the third oracle: Four weeks after the foundation of the new temple has been laid, the old people who remember Solomon’s temple, destroyed 67 years earlier, see it and weep (Ezra 3:11b-13) It was not nearly as glorious as the old temple. It had no Ark of the Covenant, no tablets of stone, no Aaron’s rod, no pot of manna. But Ezra reminds that that the presence of God was its true glory and that the presence of God will be the glory of this new temple as well.

2:10-19 the fourth oracle: The mere fact that the people are touching “holy” things (in rebuilding the temple) does not make them holy. Rather, their lack of holiness / righteousness in their lives contaminates the “holy” things that they touch. Will the winter rains, which have begun, produce a crop to nourish them? They don’t know at this point. Yet, despite their sins, God promises to bless them.

2:20-23: the fifth oracle: Over 550 years earlier, God had promised to David that a descendant of his would always sit upon the throne (2 Sam. 7:16). Through Zerubbabel, as a symbol of the Davidic line, God promises to be faithful to that promise. Jeremiah (22:24) pictured Jehioachin’s son as a signet ring that God would tear off his hand and throw into another country. Here, in the final verse, God promises to make Zerubabbel like his own signet ring.

Uses of Haggai in the Sunday readings of The Revised Common Lectionary

1:15b – 2:9 Year C, Proper 27