Haggai 1:6 implies that the people were suffering crop failures because they had lost interest in rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem.
6 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.”
What was the reasoning behind this prophetic statement? What does building the temple have to do with prosperity and the land’s fruitfulness?
As we have already shown, the temple represented the house of God. God indwelt a physical temple under the Old Covenant, but He has intended from the beginning to upgrade His residence to a temple made of living stones.
Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 3:16 that we are the temple of God and that “the Spirit of God dwells in you.” How does He indwell our bodies? It is by begetting Christ in us by faith, and the holy seed in us is the spiritual “fruit” that God has always intended to produce in the earth.
This dates back to Gen. 1:28, when God commanded us to “be fruitful and multiply.” This Fruitfulness Mandate, along with the Dominion Mandate in Gen. 1:26, is our Birthright. In later years, Judah received the Dominion Mandate, or the divine right to rule the Kingdom (Gen. 49:10), while Joseph received the Fruitfulness Mandate (Gen. 49:22).
Haggai did not concern himself with the Dominion Mandate, but focused rather on the Fruitfulness Mandate. In order for the people to “be fruitful and multiply,” they had to prepare the house of the Lord, for it represented their bodies for a divine marriage. For this marriage to become fruitful, faith was required to receive the spiritual “seed” of the word that would beget Christ. This was why they were required to rebuild the temple.
Though that physical temple could never truly contain the Creator of the Universe, nonetheless, it was a type and shadow of the true Temple that God would indeed indwell. Their reluctance to build God’s house manifested the true condition of their hearts—that is, their lack of faith. They did not realize that their hearts lacked the faith to hear the word and to receive the spiritual “seed” necessary to “be fruitful and multiply.”
For this reason, they sow much, but harvest little. No matter how much they eat, they are never satisfied, because physical food can never truly satisfy one’s spiritual hunger. Physical water can never quench one’s inner thirst for truth. So Isaiah 55:1 tells us to “buy wine and milk without money and without cost” and to stop spending money for bread that does not satisfy. Jesus, too, said in John 4:13, 14,
13 … Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.
The bottom line is that if the people in Haggai’s day had desired to build the temple, it would have manifested faith in their hearts and a desire to receive true food and drink. But because they lacked such faith, their land was only partially productive, and what they did produce was insufficient to meet their needs.
To change the conditions around them on earth, they had to change their spiritual condition. The conditions on earth are the outworking of spiritual conditions. So Haggai exhorted them with the word of God, and his gospel produced results.
The people responded by rebuilding the temple, and all of us are now able to learn the same lessons. Even though the temple was not nearly as glorious as the first temple, nor was the second temple filled with God’s presence, God was pleased because they had responded to the word. Even though their faith was as limited as their architecture, it was at least a starting point.
The Exhortation and Reward
Haggai 1:8 says,
8 “Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the Lord.
The amount of glory that God would receive from that temple was small in comparison to what God had in mind, but it was sufficient for that time. God was “pleased with it,” because they showed signs of faith. Heb. 11:6 says,
6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
To believe is to have faith. If God was pleased with their decision to rebuild the temple, it was because of their faith.
In the end, God’s glory is not to inhabit a temple made of wood and stone, but to fill us with His Spirit. When He is glorified in us, then He is truly glorified, for that is His real purpose for creating us. Paul says in 2 Thess. 1:10-12,
10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end also, we pray for you always that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power; 12 in order that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When Christ is fully glorified in His saints, then and only then can it be said that we have fulfilled the Fruitfulness Mandate for which we were created.
Hag. 1:9 continues,
9 “You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?” declares the Lord of hosts, “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.
We all need shelter, of course, but when our priorities in life are self-centered, rather than God-centered, then it is plain that we are ruled by idols in the heart and do not have a proper view of God.
Even Solomon himself did not build his own house until the temple was finished (1 Kings 7:1). Those were the days when he was still wise (1 Kings 4:30).
The word of God continues in Hag. 1:10, 11,
10 “Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 And 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 our hands.”
It is clear that the land was experiencing drought. The prophet attributes this drought to God and to divine judgment. Years earlier, Solomon had foreseen that Israel would sin and come under divine judgment, so while dedicating the temple, he prays in 1 Kings 8:35, 36,
35 When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain, because they have sinned against Thee, and they pray toward this place and confess Thy name and turn from their sin when Thou dost afflict them, 36 then hear Thou in heaven and forgive the sin of Thy servants and of Thy people Israel, indeed, teach them the good way in which they should walk. And send rain on Thy land, which Thou hast given Thy people for an inheritance.
Haggai’s message many years later was designed to cause the people to repent and turn from their ways, so that God would send rain to bless their land. While modern skeptics scoff at the connection between sin and drought, or between rain and righteousness, those who understand that earthly conditions have spiritual roots can discern the underlying problems and find the real solutions.
The physical drought was an earthly indication of a spiritual drought, a lack of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:23), and a famine of hearing the word of God (Amos 8:11).
The Response of Faith
Judah had godly leadership in those days. Zerubbabel, the governor, was a godly man, and so was Joshua, the high priest. Yet somehow they had failed to discern the need to rebuild the temple, and so God raised up a prophet to speak forth this revelation.
The response is seen in Hag. 1:12,
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.
As we see so often, the people tend to follow the lead of their leaders. If their leaders respond by faith, the people also respond. If the leaders reject the word of the Lord, most of the people also reject the word. In this case, Zerubbabel and Joshua were godly leaders who were willing and able to hear the word and to respond in obedience to it.
The Hebrew word shama means both “to hear” and “to obey.” Zerubabbel and Joshua “obeyed” (shama). In other words, they “heard” and this was proven by the evidence—they “obeyed.”
Faith comes by hearing, Paul says in Rom. 10:17. James adds the fact that faith without works (obedience) is dead (James 2:17). Both are correct; there is no contradiction.
The Divine Promise
The response to the word of the Lord was satisfactory, as Hag. 1:13 shows,
13 Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke by the commission of the Lord to the people, saying, “‘I am with you,’ declares the Lord.”
It was the same reassurance that God gave to Moses when he was sent on the great mission to set Israel free from their Egyptian bondage (Exodus 3:12). It was also the word given to Jeremiah when God sent him to confront the stubborn people of Judah and Jerusalem (Jer. 1:8).
Finally, Jesus gave this promise to His disciples in Matt. 28:20, saying, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Without His presence, nothing worth doing is possible. With His presence, all things are possible.
The people in Haggai’s day knew by this promise that rebuilding the temple was the will of God, and that they would succeed in finishing the temple. As we will see, the project took about five years to accomplish.
Hag. 1:14, 15 says,
14 So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.
Haggai had begun to exhort the people on the first day of the sixth month, and the people actually gathered together to begin rebuilding the temple 23 days later on the 24th day of the same month. The second year of Darius was 520 B.C. The temple was completed five years later on March 15, 515 B.C. Ezra 6:15 says,
15 And this temple was completed on the third day of month Adar [the 12th month]; it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.
At the end of the month Adar, a new year started in the Persian calendar. So the temple was completed just before start of the seventh year of Darius.
The Foundation of the Temple
In 520 B.C. Haggai exhorted the people and their leaders to build the temple. The building project had been started 13 years earlier after the first group of exiles returned to their land. Babylon was overthrown in 537 B.C., and Darius the Mede re-organized the kingdom for the first few years. Then Cyrus took direct rule over the kingdom, and Darius the Mede returned to his own land in 534 B.C.
In the first year of Cyrus (534) he issued a decree allowing the exiles of Judah to return to their old land. A remnant returned, and “in the second year… in the second month” (Ezra 3:8) they began to rebuild the temple. This was about the month of May in 533 B.C.
They laid the foundation (Ezra 3:10) with praise and great joy. As we will see later, Hag. 2:18 KJV implies that the foundation was actually laid (or finished) on the 24th day of the 9th month, which means it took about 7 months to lay this foundation. The prophet then shows how this event prophesied of another event—when the foundations of all the nations would be shaken.
Zerubbabel, the governor, was given credit for laying the foundation of the temple (Zech. 4:9) in 533 B.C. During the seven-month interim, while they worked on the foundation for the temple, they built an altar of sacrifice (Ezra 3:3) and began offering sacrifices on the first day of the seventh month (Ezra 3:6). This was the feast of Trumpets, Rosh Hoshana, the Hebrew New Year.
They were then able to keep the Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles (Ezra 3:4). This feast was observed in a limited manner, because many years later, we read in Nehemiah 8:17 that the people kept the feast by making booths, something that “the sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day.”
The implication is that the feast in Zerubbabel time (533) was a partial observance, focusing upon the altar of sacrifice but not including the booths made of tree branches. Years later, after Nehemiah arrived as the new governor (458 B.C.) with the mandate from Artaxerxes to rebuild the city, he and Ezra read the law to the people which caused the people to repent. “Ezra the priest and scribe” (Neh. 8:9) was the one who compiled the Scriptures into what is today commonly called the Old Testament.
The People in Samaria
Once the foundation of the temple had been laid, the other people of the land wanted to help built this temple. Ezra 4:2 says of them,
2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ households, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we, like you, seek your God; and we have been sacrificing to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here.”
These were the descendants of the people who replaced the Israelites, as we read in 2 Kings 17:23, 24,
23 until the Lord removed Israel from His sight, as He spoke through all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away to Assyria until this day. 24 And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon and from Cuthah and from Avva and from Hamath and Sephar-vaim, and settled them in the cities of Samaria in place of the sons of Israel. So they possessed Samaria and lived in its cities.
They seemed friendly enough, but their form of worship was a mixture of pagan practice and what little they had learned from certain Levites who had been sent to teach them some of the ways of the God of Israel. When verse 23 says that “Israel was carried away to Assyria until this day,” it meant until the days of Ezra, who compiled the Scriptures in its present form.
In other words, the ten tribes of the northern House of Israel did not return from Assyria when the remnant of Judah returned from Babylon. Those who think that Israel and Judah merged during this time are mistaken. Only Judah and Benjamin and a few priests of Levi returned to establish the nation of Judah (Greek: Judea).
The replacements that Esarhaddon had sent to Samaria (the land of Israel) were people of other nations. When they arrived, they had problems with lions. 2 Kings 17:25 says,
25 And it came about at the beginning of their living there, that they did not fear the Lord; therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them.
The common view of that time was that gods were local deities, and if a person moved to another land, he had to worship the local deity. But having been brought there from foreign lands, these people did not know how to worship the deity of Israel. So they petitioned the king to send priests of Levi to teach them how to appease the God of that land.
2 Kings 17:28, 29 continues, saying,
28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away into exile from Samaria came and lived at Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the Lord. 29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the houses of the high places which the people of Samaria had made, every nation in their cities in which they lived.
The result was a mixture of pagan idolatry with some of the forms of Mosaic teaching. The conclusion of this matter is stated in 2 Kings 17:33-41,
33 They feared the Lord and served their own gods according to the custom of the nations from among whom they had been carried away into exile. 34 To this day they do according to the earlier customs; they do not fear the Lord, nor do they follow their statutes or their ordinances or their law, or the commands which the Lord commanded the sons of Jacob, whom He named Israel… 41 So while these nations feared the Lord, they also served their idols; their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day.
It is obvious that the compiler of the book of Kings did not write this passage, for it gives later history of the “children” and “grandchildren” of those who had been brought to Samaria after the Assyrian conquest of Israel.
It is understood by most scholars that these additional comments were made by Ezra, no doubt by inspiration by the Holy Spirit. This is the background showing why, 150 years later, Zerubbabel did not allow the Samaritans to assist in building the temple.
In like manner, as we build the New Temple in the New Jerusalem, there are many who desire to be part of this work. The problem is that “to this day” they “fear the Lord” but serve their own gods. That is, “they do according to the earlier customs,” trying to bring their non-biblical traditions into the temple of God. They want to serve the true God, but like the Samaritans, they obey the laws of other gods and reject the Law given by the God of Israel.
So the Samaritans, having been rejected, felt insulted and became enemies of Judah, a situation which continued into the time of Christ. They “hired counselors” (lawyers) to hinder the work of temple building for 13 years from the days of Cyrus until the reign of Darius, when Haggai stirred up the people to begin the work again.