The prophet Haggai began his work in the second year of Darius I (1:1), 520 B.C. He played a vital role in the return of God’s people from Babylonian captivity. He had one goal given from God: “Complete the Building of the Temple.” But the people were only seeking their own well-being.
When the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar began to conquer and capture God’s people ca. 586 B.C., the walls of Jerusalem were destroyed and God’s temple was razed. However, God had promised through the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11, 12; 29:10) that they would return to their homeland after seventy years. This was providentially accomplished though the aid of three Persian kings (Cyrus, Darius 1, and Artaxerxes) as well as Jewish leaders such as Zerubbabel, Joshua, Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra. In keeping with that promise, and after Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians in 539 B.C., king Cyrus issued a decree in 538 which allowed the captive Jews to return. (Cf. 2 Chron. 36:22, 23; Ezra 1:1-4). The foundation for the temple had been laid about 16 years earlier (535), during Ezra’s time (Ezra 3:10-13), but construction had halted due to opposition from people in the land (Ezra 4:24). Under Haggai’s leadership, God would have it finished.
The problem. The people were building their own houses and ignoring the building of God’s house. God, in His divine displeasure, had brought drought on the land, thus affecting their produce and their cattle. The people were sowing much but reaping little, like putting wages in a purse with holes (1:6).
The solution. The temple, being the only center of worship to God, was therefore their only connection to God. God wanted to bless them, but they had to put Him first! Thus, we read: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,’ says the Lord” (1:7-8).
Haggai presented four oracles from God. First, the call to the construction of the temple (1:1-15). Second, the call to have courage in the Lord (2:1-9). Third, the call to a consecrated life (2:10-19). Finally, the call to have confidence in the future (2:20-23). Homer Hailey noted, “Within three weeks and a few days after his first address to the people they began to work on the project.”
What can we learn from this today? First, there is a direct connection to faithfulness and blessings from God. Second, offering God what is inferior is not an offering at all. Third, God’s work is to be done now, not when it is convenient to us! Finally, successful preaching is a “Thus says the Lord.”
Let us now turn our attention to Malachi. God’s man Malachi began prophesying to Israel ca. 430 B.C., some 100 years after the Jews had begun to return from Babylon to their homeland by the decree of Cyrus in 538. The completion of the rebuilding of the temple was around 515 B.C., and the city walls around Jerusalem had been rebuilt by 443 B.C.
The book may be outlined in the following way.
First, Malachi declares God’s compassion for Israel (1:1-5). After proclaiming his compassion (1:1-2a), Malachi deals with doubts the people had about God’s compassion (1:2b) by demonstrating His compassion (1:3-5).
Second, Malachi declares God’s complaint against Israel (1:6-3:15). The sins committed by Israel involved cheating (1:6-14), unfaithfulness committed by the priests and people (2:1-9), marriages to foreigners outside of Israel (2:10-12), divorce from covenant wives (2:13-16), and impiety and impertinence (2:17). After a parenthetical prophesy about the coming of John the Baptist and the Christian age (3:1-6), Malachi then lists more of Israel’s sins: robbery (3:7-12) and arrogance (3:13-15).
Finally, Malachi declares God’s condemnation of the people’s religious indifference (3:16-4:6). He condemns them as an ungodly people (3:6-18) before describing the nature of God’s judgment (4:1-6).
The Problems. By Malachi’s time, the earlier enthusiasm had diminished considerably. While there were many transgressions among God’s people, the main sin was the irreverent attitudes of the priests toward God (1:6) and their indifference toward His Law and the sacrifices that He had commanded (1:7-8). Malachi therefore specifically challenged God’s priests (2:1), whose job it was to instruct God’s people in the Law (2:7; cf. Lev. 10:11), to judge between the people regarding matters decided by the Law (Deut. 17:8-13), and to present acceptable sacrifices.
Malachi’s preaching method was done by a question-and-answer. No less than 23 questions were asked in the book. He questioned them about their despising the table of the Lord (1:12), how they saw serving God as “tiresome” (1:13). Consequently, they offered blemished and even stolen sacrifices (1:8, 13). Malachi said to the priests, “You turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the way of Levi” (2:8). What the priests did and said had also “wearied the Lord” (2:17a). They were “arrogant” by saying “It is vain to serve God, and what profit is it…” (3:13-14). Therefore, many sins had resulted among the people!
The Solution. Malachi challenged the priests, “But now, will you not entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us?” (1:9) And his message was received positively by some! “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name” (3:16, 17).
What can we learn for today? First, God’s leaders (elders, deacons, preachers, Bible teachers) can deeply affect attitudes and actions in the church, positively or negatively. Secondly, people can assume sin is acceptable to God if it is tolerated by false teaching or there is an indifference towards God’s Word. Third, every area of life is potentially affected by the attitudes and teaching from the leadership. It may concern worship and indifference toward holy things, the home (marriage, divorce, domestic violence), selfishness in our giving to the Lord, or an overall disposition toward God and his will, etc. Fourth, God promised a penalty for sin and rebellion against Him then (2:1-3), and so it is today (cf. Acts 3:23). Fifth, He also promised the preparer of the way for Christ and Christianity through John the Immerser (cf. Matt. 11:10). We are beneficiaries of this fulfilled promise! Finally, God has a book of remembrance for obedient people today. It is called the Book of Life (cf. Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 17:8; 20:12, 15).
Roger preaches for the church of Christ in Adel, GA. He also teaches and preaches in foreign countries once or twice a year.