As our country continues to struggle, the focus of solutions and reform efforts are almost exclusively centered on political remedies. COVID-19 and its economic impact, increasing social unrest, a cold war with China and the reality of a nuclear Iran are no small threats, nor is our runaway national debt; America’s challenges seem to be increasing exponentially. Are political solutions, policies, and elections, the total answer? Are they the ultimate way to fix these problems? Is this the way to properly diagnose, remedy, and cure our increasingly complex national ailments?
One need only peer for seconds into a tiny two-chapter Old Testament (OT) book, the book of Haggai, to catch an enormously different perspective and analysis—a heavenly, transcendent perspective, God’s perspective—as to what is the real, underlying problem: The book of Haggai more than suggests that it is a spiritual one.
What follows is an overview of this small but very powerful OT book. This is a book you need to master if you hold political office. Read on, my friend.
I. INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
Israel had been a very strong nation under the rule of kings David and Solomon, but even during their reigns and increasingly afterward, the people stopped obeying God and consequently, the nation suffered great decline. This should have come as no surprise to anyone, especially the Israelites, given the “if/then” structure of the Abrahamic Covenant found in the Torah, Genesis 12 and 17, and fleshed out even more so in Deuteronomy 28. If God’s chosen people obeyed God, He would prosper them, but if they disobeyed Him, He would chastise them (Cf. Joshua 1 and Psalm 1). Under the subsequent reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, in fact, the nation split into two entities: Israel and Judah. Many times God had warned them to cease from idolatry or be disciplined (cf. Hebrews 12:5–11).1 In that Judah (The book of Haggai is all about Judah)2 did not repent after years of God’s patience (similar to Israel), He orchestrated pagan Babylon to be His surrogate of discipline and punishment. Babylon, under King Nebuchadnezzar had sacked Judah, destroyed Solomon’s Temple, and took her people into captivity. Seventy years later, Babylon was sacked by a new world ruler, Persia. Under King Cyrus of Persia, by God’s design, the Jews were then permitted to return to their homeland and rebuild it. God, in His sovereignty and tough love, had orchestrated the sobering and humiliating conquest of His chosen people; He was at work through the pagan kings and their successors with the specific intent to wake up His people for His purposes.
Not much is known about the prophet Haggai other than the five prophesies recorded in this small book bearing his name. Haggai is the 37th of the 39 OT books and is named after the minor prophet, Haggai. The name Haggai means “festal one.” Perhaps he was born on a feast day. Of further insight and interest is Haggai 2:3, which states “who [else] is left among you who saw the temple in its former glory?” signifying that perhaps Haggai was over 70 years old (the time of the beginning of the Babylonian/Persian captivity) and had seen Solomon’s Temple before its destruction.3 The OT book of Ezra mentions Haggai twice (cf. Ezra 5:1; 6:14) in tandem with the prophet Zechariah, (another minor prophet with an OT book named after him. Zechariah follows Haggai in the OT, it being the 38th book). In that the book of Haggai is only two chapters long, it is the second shortest book in the OT after the one-chapter book of Obadiah. Whereas the book of Ezra provides an overall historical account of postexilic Judah, Haggai provides a spiritual insight and accounting of the same time period. The book can be outlined around the five separate prophesies of Haggai:
III. THE RETURN OF JUDAH
After the people had been held in captivity for 70 years, the Jewish civil leader Zerubbabel led 50,000 of the Judeans in the first of three waves of returnees. Joshua (or Jeshua as he is called in the book of Ezra) was the accompanying priest and Haggai was the prophet. Later Ezra and then Nehemiah would return with more people from Persia. Think of the three (Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah) as representing a later collective of Moses, in that Moses brought God’s people out of Egyptian captivity into the Promised Land (cf. the book of Exodus), these three did the same later in the life of Judah. Each of them faced the same post-exilic problems: to build/rebuild their capital city; to reinstitute Torah-based laws; to overcome foreign enemies; and to purify the people from idolatry. Ezra, per the book of Ezra, returns after the accounts here in Haggai, only to learn to his deep dismay, that Judah, after seventy years of punishment, had once again, so quickly fallen into the same egregious sins!
Soon after Zerubbabel and the 50,000 returned from Persia to Jerusalem, the local residents became upset with the Judeans temple-rebuilding efforts. The flak from the locals proved effective and the returned-from-exile Judeans soon “spiritualized” the reason they had stopped rebuilding God’s temple. Note Haggai 1:2 wherein Haggai parrots their “spiritualized” procrastination and lack of courage:
“The time has not come, even the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt.”
Ironically however, the people were very much about the business of building their own homes! The “time had come” for that! God was not pleased. It was now 16 years after their return, about 520 BC, and herein God delivers the five prophecies via Haggai to once again disobedient Judah reminding them that what was indeed presently happening in their lives was a result of their once again disobedience. But especially take note:
IV. HOLDING LEADERS ACCOUNTABLE
God’s rebuke was not aimed at the 50,000 returnees. Rather, God’s rebuke was specifically aimed at Judah’s civic and spiritual leader.
This important distinction appears in the opening verse:
“The word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest saying,…”
What follows in subsequent passages are numerous pronouns, you.4 The yous relate to just those two individual leaders. Again, Haggai’s first admonitions are centered on these two individual leaders who name His name.
Later Haggai will widen his remarks to include all the remnant who returned from captivity, but it is not until verse 12 of chapter 1 that they are included.
God the Father, through His mouthpiece, the prophet Haggai, first addresses His follower, Zerubbabel, the civil leader of Judah, stating that the reason Judah is not being blessed is because of his and Joshua’s spiritual lethargy! Notice how God couches this in order to get their attention in 1:5–6:5
“Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Consider your ways! You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.’”
Haggai’s rebuke can be similarly applied to every civil and spiritual leader today who names the name of Christ who procrastinates or outright ignores fulfilling God’s purposes.
Upon their return from Persian captivity, Judah was making excuses as to why, as a nation, they couldn’t devote more of their energies to God. Seemingly Zerubbabel and Joshua were going along with these pretexts if not posturing them themselves. They supposedly, outwardly at least, journeyed to the nation’s capital to reconstruct the Temple, but in reality, they had lost their resolve and were now spending their time paneling their own homes and were lax about God’s purposes.6 Being self-deceived they now made “spiritualized” excuses, phony defenses, as they dragged their feet relative to communing with their God and achieving His purposes. Note Haggai’s specific rebuke in 1:4 in this regard:
“Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?”
Because of their unfaithfulness to be about God’s purposes, it was God Himself who was orchestrating the withholding of national blessing! In 1:11 God states this very thing:
“I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands.”
The leaders of the nation started back from Persia with good motives, but the resistance to their dreams coupled with the affairs of everyday life began to crowd out their earnestness and original intent; after 16 years they no longer had the time or desire to serve God’s purposes. Their selfish pursuits had found more “important” things.
They hadn’t made it a priority to give attention to their personal spiritual vitality! It follows that this book serves to not only vividly illustrate the violation of Matthew 6:33 in the New Testament (NT): “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” but also serves as a narrative paralleling the gist of God’s message in the Book of Ecclesiastes, that everything apart from the pursuit of God is all for naught, vanity.
V. INSIGHTS FROM SODOM AND GOMORRAH VS. POST-EXILE JUDAH
As we have just seen, the Scriptures indicate that God withheld His blessings of Judah—that is to say He withheld national blessing—due to their leader’s personal spiritual lax. This causal insight is very interesting when compared to the cause of God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18 and 19. God was ready to reduce the cities to ashes because the debauchery of Sodom and Gomorrah was “indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave” (cf.18:20). But prior to their destruction, note that Abraham inquires if God would “sweep away the righteous with the wicked” (vs. 23) and begins to negotiate. He asks if God would spare the cities if 50 righteous people were found. God answers, “I will spare the whole place on their account” (18:26). Probably knowing there weren’t that many, Abraham reduces the number of righteous to 45 and God agrees to spare the cities for that number. Abraham continues to bargain, going down to 40, then 30, then 20 and finally, just if 10 were found! God’s patience is so generous. “‘I will not destroy it on account of the ten,” God said (vs. 18:32).
Contrast this Genesis 18 insight into the mind of God as it pertains to His determination whether to judge a city or a nation with the insight provided from Haggai 1: In Genesis 18, God’s enactment of judgment is not enacted if there are just a few faithful in a city or a nation! If there are just a few faithful to Him, He will not judge the whole. Whereas in the book of Haggai, God’s judgment was enacted when the leaders who name His name were spiritually lethargic!
VI. WHAT MIGHT HAGGAI SAY TO D.C. OFFICEHOLDERS?
Given this insight into God’s way of thinking as it relates to His willingness to not pour out His judgment, it follows that Haggai would say to D.C. leaders today who name the name of Christ:
“My blessing on your nation is primarily determined by the faithfulness of My political and spiritual leaders whom I have put into office.”
Genesis 18:28–33 reveals that God was willing to not judge Sodom and Gomorrah if only 10 individuals were found there who were faithful to Him! America has millions of faithful and committed Christians! So the number of faithful believers in a nation is not the determining factor relative to God invoking His wrath on a nation; it only takes a few to ward off His judgment.
It stands to reason:
The often citied cliché, “If God doesn’t judge America today, He will owe Sodom and Gomorrah an apology” is erroneous.
Again, this insight into the mind of God is beyond value to believers in office relative to this matter! Bottom line:
The book of Haggai indicates that it is vital for D.C. leaders who name the name of Christ to be passionate, active, and obedient to their special calling in the capital.
The health of a nation is dependent on the faithfulness of believers in office. Such leads to God’s blessings—something our nation is in dire need of !7 So, here is the obvious application and takeaway from the book of Haggai: What are you doing in the capital to keep your heart kindled for Christ and His purposes? Has adversity caused you to lose heart? What are you doing while you are on the Hill most every week that witnesses to and underscores that you are seeking first the Kingdom of God? God is watching you and the blessing or not of the nation is at stake.
VII. OBEDIENT-TO-CHRIST LEADERS INFLUENCE THE PEOPLE AND BENEFIT THE NATION
God desires His called-out ones to passionately love and obey Him. The great extent to which He will go in order to accomplish this displays His great love. As mentioned in the introduction, the book of Haggai therefore parallels and serves to illustrate the principle found in the NT book of Hebrews 12:5–11, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.”
How do you avoid His chastening discipline? Matthew 6:33 provides the answer: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” When the prophet Haggai, post exile, brought this perspective up to those who had taken up the challenge to return to the capital city of Jerusalem and rebuild it, they responded appropriately (1:12):
“Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him. And the people showed reverence for the Lord.”
God’s leaders and His people first looked inwardly at their own sin of materialism and selfishness (1:4) and repented. This poignant, sobering short narrative of Haggai 1 serves to underscore and parallel the timeless truths of 2 Chronicles 7:14 and 1 Peter 4:17.
“And My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
“For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”
A survey of this book would not be complete without mention of the second chapter. In addition to all that Haggai states that is related to the continuation of the Davidic line, He speaks about God’s coming splendor.
VIII. THE FUTURE TEMPLE
This book also exclaims the glorious Second Coming of the Messiah. The present rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem is only a foretaste of the coming Millennial Temple from which Christ will reign over the earth! That temple will far outshine Solomon’s temple and the one Zerubbabel and Joshua were about to rebuild. Accordingly, Haggai 2 contains prefiguring, or what is known as “eschatological telescoping.” States 2:9 in this regard:
“‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts.”
Haggai is motivating the remnant to be about rebuilding the temple by way of providing a foretaste, a foreshadowing of the coming Millennial Temple wherein Christ will reign with all the saints as recorded most specifically in the book of Revelation. His motivating words could be titled, “Small beginnings can lead to great things.” To gain a more comprehensive understanding of temples throughout the Bible, note the following (and see endnote No. 6):
In order to achieve a better understanding of The Present Temple (the fifth one on the sidebar) relative to the believer in the NT times (in which we presently find ourselves living), note 1 Corinthians 6:19–20:
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”
This passage has profound implications for those who name the name of Christ; this is a magnificent truth that should sober every true believer as to his divine calling and the urgency and necessity of fulfilling his mission—especially those at whom these Bible studies are aimed—those called to leadership of a nation! You are in leadership because God placed you here (cf. Ephesians 1:3–14). It follows that He has expectations of you: “Everyone who has been given much, much will be required,” states Jesus in Luke 12:48. It stands to reason that believers in office who fail to get this will often be removed by Him. Psalm 75:7 states, “But God is the Judge, He puts down one and exalts another.” (How many times I have seen this in 24 years of ministry in capitols.)
Zerubbabel and Joshua had become irresponsible with their temple. How about you with yours?
IX. APPLICATION TO GOVERNING AUTHORITIES
As already noted, this book has profound implications for civil leaders who name the name of Christ; it is a sobering, hugely insightful, godly perspective on why a nation declines (cf. 2 Chronicles 7:14; 1 Peter 4:17). Don’t miss this: It places the demise of a country squarely on the shoulders of the followers of Yahweh—those whom He has placed in leadership! Notice the following additional passages (from an agrarian based culture) that so depict and parallel America’s enormous problems today (Haggai 2:16–17; 19):
“‘From that time when one came to a grain heap of twenty measures, there would be only ten; and when one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there would be only twenty. I smote you and every work of your hands with blasting wind, mildew and hail; yet you did not come back to Me,’ declares the Lord .”
“Is the seed still in the barn? Even including the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree, it has not borne fruit.”
God blamed the civil and spiritual leaders of Judah for the country’s economic woes and overall decline. Most specifically, it was not the overall populace of the nation that He initially blamed; the responsibility was laid first on the shoulders of God’s civil and spiritual leaders: They who were not seeking first the Kingdom of God, but rather seeking first the god of self-interest (cf. 1:4)! Today, God is watching you (2 Chronicles 16:9). Will your heart ever shift to using your position and power not for the betterment of the nation, but for personal gain? Has it already? It is a subtle and privately kept temptation—you know I mean. War against that at all times! Herein I believe is the tightest application of this book to your life:
Your private surrender or not determines the course of a nation.
As Haggai sees it, the solution to a nation’s woes is not political—it is first spiritual; that’s what’s most important to God—that’s what triggers His transcendent blessing or not on a nation. Your faithfulness to continue or not to serve Him now that you are in D.C. is the real determining factor as to whether He blesses or disciplines the nation. Don’t miss this truth.
How committed to Christ are you in your heart of hearts? How are you manifesting those commitments? Do you prioritize your church when in the district? Do you prioritize the Body of Christ when in the capital? Do you instruct your scheduler to block your appointment calendar in order to participate in Bible studies that honor Him—where the Word of God is consistently taught and there is a full-throated exclusive Gospel of Jesus Christ? Those are just basics, a starting point, par for the course.
Will you be like Zerubbabel who, when confronted, obeyed the voice of the Lord (1:12)? Haggai says that that is the biggest issue in the nation. cm
1. The Bible student will note that oftentimes a NT principle, stated in a tight fashion is illustrated by a long narrative passage in the OT. Such is the case here: Hebrews 12:5–11 is illustrated in and by the events recorded in Haggai, chapter 1. This speaks to the analogy of Scripture—written by God via different authors at different times. The reader will note later in this study the same with Matthew 6:33.
2. After the death of King Solomon (sometime around 930 B.C.), God’s kingdom of Israel split into a northern kingdom, which retained the name Israel (also called Ephraim) and a southern kingdom called Judah. Judah and Ephraim both got their names after the tribe of Judah and the tribe of Ephraim respectively, two of the twelve tribes of Israel that dominated those kingdoms. Both kingdoms would go into exile. The book of Haggai provides a spiritual insight into the kingdom of Judah right after Judah had returned from Babylonian/Persian captivity.
3. J. Vernon McGee, in his commentary on Zephaniah and Haggai, is careful to include the parallel passage found in Ezra 3:8–13. Therein revealed is the fact that the older remnant who returned to the Promised Land, those who had seen Solomon’s Temple before their exile were complaining by making comparison. See J. Vernon McGee, Zephaniah and Haggai (El Camino Press, LaVerne, California, 1979) p 82–86.
4. There are 12 second-person plural pronouns—you that follow 1:1 prior to 1:12. It follows that all of them directly and only apply to Zerubbabel and Joshua. It is not until verse 12 that Haggai includes “all the remnant of the people” and states thereinafter, “their God” utilizing third person pronouns. In fact, many of the 12 yous are supplied in the NASB English translation of the original Hebrew text for the sake of readability, but the point still stands that only two individuals are initially held responsible for Judah’s possible judgment by God (yet again!).
5. This passage serves to reveal that God continues to abide by—and expects His post exilic chosen people to continue to abide by the “if/then” promise of the Abrahamic Covenant as recorded in Deuteronomy 28.
6. The Temple represents God’s dwelling place; it symbolizes God’s manifest presence with His chosen people. It carries with it the idea of God’s dwelling glory with His people (cf. Ezekiel 8–11). Accordingly, when Haggai speaks about the people’s lax in rebuilding His Temple, it carries the idea of the existence of an overall spiritual lethargy, if not rejection of God in their lives.
7. The dual address of Haggai’s rebuke in 1:1 is not forgotten here; it is just that these Bible studies are aimed at civil leaders, versus church pastors. In Haggai 1:1, the prophet is rebuking both the civil leader, Zerubbabel, and the spiritual leader, Joshua. Our nation today (in addition to the obedience of our civil leaders who name the name of Christ) is in dire need of our spiritual leaders too—church pastors—walking in obedience to God’s purposes. The primary responsibility of today’s pastors is teaching the whole counsel of God to their congregations (cf. Hosea 4:6; Acts 20:27–28), and making disciples (Matthew 28:18–20). Most churches today do not do that and it stands to reason that our nation suffers as a result. There are many reasons the American church is impotent today as compared to the first century church which “turned the world upside down” (cf. Acts 17:6). First, theologically liberal churches do not preach a salvific gospel, rather they teach a “Social Gospel” which is not biblical and does not lead to individual salvation nor the filling and empowering of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. See “Theological Liberalism” and “Liberal Theology’s Struggle with Modern Archaeology” at capmin.org. Additionally, many Evangelical churches are “seeker” driven, meaning they teach watered-down, feel-good messages to keep the unsaved coming back. Lastly, hyper-charismatic and prosperity church movements are at their core, experiential and self-interest-oriented. Few churches today are biblical and committed to teaching the “whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). All those aberrant forms of Christianity stand in juxtaposition to expository, exegetical regular instruction from the spiritual leader. Biblically driven churches explain mankind’s need for Jesus as Savior, feed the Saints a high-protein diet of the unedited Word of God, build spiritual musculature, and mature believers: they “make disciples,” per the command in Matthew 28:19–20. At the end of the day, “churches”—and it is the vast majority of them today—that are theological liberal, watered down, experiential and/or self-interest-oriented do not create strong ambassadors for Christ that impact the direction of our nation. Haggai would rebuke all of those aberrant spiritual leaders today.
8. Cf: Chisholm, Jr., Robert B. Interpreting the Minor Prophets (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Academie Books, 1989) p 221.