We're not talking about the famous ones (Esther, Jonah, James) We’re talking about the TINY ones. The ones rarely quoted in sermons. And when they are, it takes you twice as long to find them, because they're only 1 to 15 pages long. Squashed between longer books, what's in these itty bitty books, and what's so important about them that they're in the Bible?
Second up in our TBOTB series (reminds me of TCBY, or ICBINY, and now I’m craving some Yogurtland) is Haggai.
When I was a kid, I used to think this book was written by Hagar, the Egyptian slave that had to sleep with Abram because Sarai couldn’t bear him any children, and Hagar bore Ishmael (Genesis 16).
But nope, Haggi does not equal Hagar, nor do either of those equal Hagar the Horrible. Haggi is Haggi alone.
IT’S SO SMALL! I CAN’T FIND IT! WHERE IS IT?
Haggai is between Zephaniah and Zechariah, but it’s probably easier just to go to the beginning of the New Testament and page backwards, because Haggai is the third to the last book of the Old Testament.
HOW SMALL IS IT?
Haggai is two chapters, and two pages long (by my Bible, anyway).
WHO WROTE IT?
Haggai was a prophet. You could argue that all the Tiny Books Of The Old Testament are written by prophets, and all the Tiny Books Of The New Testament are written by disciples, or more generally, followers of Jesus.
WHAT’S THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT?
So! Remember back in 586 B.C. with Obadiah and how Jerusalem fell and Judah was ransacked and God’s people, the Israelites, were sent to live in exile? Fast forward to 538 B.C., and the Persian king Cyrus is allowing the Jewish exiles back into Judah, and even allows them to rebuild their temple.
So they come back, and start to rebuild the temple. But their neighbors the Samaritans (not all of them are Good Samaritans. In fact, that was the whole point of the Good Samaritan story, because Samaritans in general were not nice people, but I digress) give them a lot of grief for it, so, much like kicked dogs, they stick their metaphorical tail between their legs, we-don’t-want-any-trouble-we-just-got-back-from-exile-you-know, and stop working on the temple, and start going about their lives, and building their own homes for them to live.
But God wants His temple to be rebuilt. So he speaks through the prophet Haggai and prods the Israelites to get a’cracking.
Haggai’s prophecy to the people of Judah and their response is done in the pretty speedy (especially in Biblical times) timeline of three and a half months.
WHAT’S THE BOOK ABOUT?
God, through Haggai, tells the Jews to get back to work to rebuild the temple. He points out that the Jews have been working a bunch, but don’t have a lot to show for it. That’s because God’s been messing with their work (no crops, drought, etc.), because it’s not fair that the Jews get to lives in houses while God’s temple is still in ruins. But God through Haggai promises His people that He is with them, so that inspires the Jews to get back to work.
So the Jews do get a’cracking, and God through Haggai tells His people that once the temple is rebuilt, it will be glorious, and how from this day on, God will bless His people.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN? WHY DO YOU THINK IT WAS IN HERE?
Whereas most prophets in the Old Testament are saying “REPENT! REPENT, DAMN YOU (NOT REALLY, BUT YOU PROBABLY WILL BE DAMNED IF YOU DON’T REPENT!) and lone gloomy Obadiah is saying, “NEVER MIND REPENTING, YOU’RE DOOMED BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU DID.” Then all prophet Haggai is saying is, “GET OFF YOUR BUTT AND REBUILD!” Which is probably the nicest of things that a prophet could say, huh.
Since in today’s times, we’re told repeatedly that God isn’t in a building per se, this emphasis of God to his people to rebuilt HIS building seems kinda strange.
But I think what’s happening here is that God was all about His temple in the Old Testament, until he sent Jesus in the New Testament. When Jesus was crucified for our sins, the curtain in the temple tore in two, and I think that symbolizes that everyone is allowed into the Holy Place in the temple (as opposed to it being priests previously). When the temple was officially destroyed in (70 AD), the idea was that God’s people didn’t need a temple anymore, because they had Jesus.
But here in OT times, God’s people DO need a temple.
Additionally, it’s a sign of respect to rebuild God’s temple, and give the people a way to focus their attention and worship toward God, instead of themselves.
In the tradition of Back Up Testimony, Haggai might be in the Bible to back up Zechariah, a prophet in the same time as Haggai, saying (in Zechariah 7 and 8) the same thing as Haggai, but without all the wackadoo imagery (four horns, four craftsmen, gold lampstands, olive trees, woman in a basket, flying scrolls, etc.) that Zechariah has.
And it’s nifty to see how God promises to be there for his people, “I am with you,” declares the Lord (Haggai 1:13) and again “From this day on, I will bless you.” (Haggai 2:19)
So it’s nice to be reminded that even when you’ve slacked off on stuff, God doesn’t give up on you.