Haggai is one of the minor Old Testament prophets. His prophecies make more sense in the correct historical background. We all remember the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem about 589 BC. Hopefully, we remember that the Jews were taken captive to Babylon for about 70 years afterwards (the 70 year captivity spoken of by Jeremiah began in 589 BC and ends in the 2nd year of Darius when Zechariah and Haggai prophecy, see Zech. 1:12). In 537 BC, Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon. On the night of the big feast, Daniel had warned Belshazzar by interpreting the words written on the wall (Dan 6). That same night, the Persian army, having diverted the Euphrates River, gained access to the heavily fortified city through the dried up river bed. Cyrus’ timing was perfect. In the middle of the night when the Babylonians were all drunk from celebrating a holiday, Cyrus was able to sneak his entire army into the walls of Babylon and take the city. Belshazzar was slain according to Daniel’s prophecy. The year was circa 538 BC.
He considered the Babylonian rule tyrannical and exhibited a much more magnanimous spirit towards those conquered by the Babylonians. Filled with the Spirit of God according to the prophecies of Isaiah (Isa 44:28), Cyrus liberated the Jews. In his first year of power in Babylon, he made a proclamation that the Jews could return to their homelands (2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-2). Not all of them went, but a group of over 42,000 made the journey back to Jerusalem and Judea. Led by governor Zerubabbel and high priest Jeshua (or Joshua), the Jews began to rebuild the Temple. Cyrus even funded much of the temple construction from the tributes obtained from the neighboring peoples.
The priests built the altar first, then the foundation for the temple. Within a few years, the Jews had made significant progress. The Temple was taking shape. Those old enough to remember the grandiosity of the Temple of Solomon, shed tears of sorrow that their new temple was not so impressive (Ezra 3:12; Hag. 2:3). Zerubbabel and Joshua were careful to teach the Law of Moses and institute the Jewish Feasts according to Moses’ command. Everything was going well until the neighbors got jealous. The Samaritan peoples began to get nervous as the walls of the Temple were going up. To them, it looked like a fortress and they became concerned about the military implications of a strong Jewish nation. They decided to write a letter to the King, but Cyrus was gone.
Cyrus, the great benefactor of the Jews, was now dead. Instead, the Samaritans wrote his son Cambyses II (called Artaxerxes in Ezra), warning him of the rebellious and insolent spirit of the Jews. The king was told the Jews were not to be trusted, that they would surely stop paying tribute to the capital and that the building of the temple must be stopped. Unaware of his father’s decree to the contrary, Cambyses commanded the Jews to stop their work on the temple (Ezra 4:17-24). The Jews continued to offer sacrifices and enjoy their festivals, but the temple and surrounding walls were half-built. There was no more construction allowed. This hiatus lasted 9 years according to Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, Book XI, 2:2.
Enter the prophet Haggai. Along with his contemporaries, the prophet Zechariah and the governor Zerubbabel, the word of the Lord to the Jews was, “be up and building the temple of your God. Finish what you have started.” A third king now reigns in Persia. His name is Darius.
“By the time Zechariah is mentioned in the scriptures, Haggai had already sounded the call for the completion of the temple in Jerusalem.
“Zechariah and Haggai, while working toward the same goal, were very different. Haggai was practical and direct. There was little eloquence and no poetry about Haggai's delivery of his prophecy. He used ‘commonplace’ language, stating plainly that the temple must be built or there would be no blessings for the people. Zechariah was also practical, but he spoke in language clothed in symbolism.” (LDS Church News, 1990, 10/06/90)
“We know very little about Haggai. He is mentioned only in this short book (two chapters) that bears his name and in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14. His book is to be read in conjunction with Ezra 5 and 6. Haggai and Zechariah are the earliest known prophets of the post-Exilic restoration of Judah. It is generally assumed that Haggai was among the main contingent of returning exiles to come out of captivity after Cyrus issued his edict (538 B.C.). If that is the case, he probably witnessed the initial attempts to rebuild the temple and the subsequent hiatus caused by Samaritan and official Persian opposition.” (Kent P. Jackson, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 4: 1 Kings to Malachi [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1993], 347)
Haggai 1:2 This people say, The time is not come… that the Lord’s house should be built
The Jews were not in a position of strength at this point. Their feelings made them skeptical about the wisdom of resuming construction. The Lord is in more of a hurry than the people. He was “hastening his work in its time” (D&C 88:73) by calling Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the work resume. Do we struggle to believe the time is right? How often do we lack the faith that the Lord’s kingdom must move forward more rapidly?
Haggai 1:4 Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses…?
The Lord complains, “My house doesn’t have a roof! Does your house have a roof? If your house has a roof, don’t you think my house should have a roof?”
Haggai 1:5 thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways
L. Tom Perry
Isn’t this the time and isn’t this the hour to follow the admonition of the Lord to “consider your ways”?
I have spent considerable time since the last general conference examining my ways to determine what I have to do to measure up to the calling the Prophet has issued to me. Let me share one or two of these lessons that this new experience has given me…
…let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of [page 21] the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion… (D&C 121:45–46.)
…Isn’t this spirit a constant companion you need in your life? “Consider your ways.” Isn’t now the time to follow the Lord’s direction and receive the divine assurance that he is with you, guiding you in the paths that will make your life meaningful, rewarding, and satisfying?
Secondly, I was reared in a home by noble parents who gave their children the security of love. We as a family were tied together by those great bonds. During our married life, with the exception of an occasional visit, we have lived at least a thousand miles away from our family center. What a great enjoyment it is to be near them again!
…One of our prophets has said: “I have but one thought in my heart for the young folk of the Church and that is that they be happy. I know of no other place than home where more happiness can be found in this life. It is possible to make home a bit of heaven; indeed, I picture heaven to be a continuation of the ideal home.” (President David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, p. 490.)
“Consider your ways.” Isn’t this the time to bring that sweet influence of the Lord into your home?
The home we have just purchased since moving west has one unique feature. The small study provided has an adjoining large closet about one-fourth the size of the entire study. We thought when we were considering the purchase of the home that this closet was an error in design. Since occupying the home, it has become one of my favorite places. Here is where I can shut myself off from the world and communicate with my Father in heaven. “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Matt. 6:6.)
“Consider your ways.” Couldn’t your life stand some open rewarding by the Father? Isn’t this the time to learn how to communicate with our Father which is in heaven?...
“Consider your ways.” If that witness has not been given to you, isn’t now the time to seek it? Come and join with us, and let us continue to build the kingdom of God here and now, I humbly pray, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. (“Consider Your Ways,” Ensign, July 1973, 20–21)
Haggai 1:9-11 Because of mine house that is waste… I called for a drought upon the land
The drought wasn’t just part of some meteorological cycle; it was a direct consequence of the apathy of the people. They were content to hold off on building the Temple until someone else did something. There are consequences for spiritual mediocrity. If the money in your pocket seems to disappear as if in “a bag with holes,” if heaven seems to be holding back the dew, if the crops just aren’t as fruitful as they ought to be, perhaps there is a spiritual answer. All of us have to “consider our ways” and ask that question.
Haggai 1:13 I am with you, saith the Lord
Spencer W. Kimball
There seems to be a great movement afoot in many nations to prepare people for the further light and knowledge that only we can give them. The Lord by his Spirit is preparing people for the day when the gospel will be taught them in plainness. We must be ready.
The Lord said, “And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). In 1830 when the Lord sent Parley P. Pratt and others on a very important mission, he said, “I myself will go with them and be in their midst; and I am their advocate with the Father, and nothing shall prevail against them” (D&C 32:3). (Ensign, July 1979, 7)
Thomas S. Monson
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.)
…To you He speaks the heavenly and divine assurance: “I am with you; you are never alone.” (Ensign, May 1991, 62)
The reconstruction of the temple
Haggai 1:14 the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel… and the spirit of all the remnant of the people
“After the Babylonian captivity, the remnant of Israel returned to their land and once again faced tremendous opposition and danger. This, too, was a critical time. Israel's small force faced the power of the worldly elements that surrounded them. They were struggling and poor…
“Haggai's message stirred the spirit of the people, ‘and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.’ (Haggai 1:14.) This reordering of priorities immediately brought the Lord's blessings upon them, both spiritually and temporally. It also brought this comforting promise: ‘Be strong, all ye people . . . and work; for I am with you . . . my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not. . . . I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory . . . and in this place will I give peace.’ (Haggai 2:4-9; emphasis added.) Their commitment to place the Lord's house first solved their other problems, even their financial ones. Perhaps John A. Widtsoe had this story in mind when he promised the Saints: ‘Whoever seeks to help those on the other side receives help in return in all the affairs of life. I can think of no better preparation for one's labor on the farm, in the office, wherever it may be, than to spend a few hours in the temple, to partake of its influence and to give oneself unselfishly for the benefit of those who have gone beyond the veil.’ (Improvement Era, October 1952, p. 719)” (S. Michael Wilcox, House of Glory: Finding Personal Meaning in the Temple [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 66 - 67)