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Icons of the Bible: Haggai the Prophet - Rebuilding YHWH's Temple

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

Icons of the Bible: Haggai the Prophet - Rebuilding YHWH's Temple
Icons of the Bible: Haggai the Prophet - Rebuilding YHWH's Temple

Icons of the Bible

How Haggai Encouraged the Rebuilding of the Second Temple

"With Haggai’s ongoing exhortations and hope-filled encouragements, the Jewish people complete all of the work on the Second Temple in less than five years.

We don't hear the name Haggai float around Christian circles too much these days. Christians can't seem to have one pronunciation for this minor prophet, and many of us, off the top of our heads, couldn't say what he's known for. But every book in the Bible has an important purpose. Let's take a look at the story of Haggai and what message God gave him to deliver to the Israelites after they'd returned from decades of captivity in Babylon to a broken and scattered city in Jerusalem.

Who Was Haggai and What Is the Book of Haggai About?

Haggai’s name essentially means “Let’s celebrate the Lord!” Haggai is the first of three prophets to exhort, encourage, and inspire God’s people after the Babylonian captivity. Before they can celebrate big-time, they need to repent of their misplaced priorities. Here’s why...

Although more than fifty thousand forsake their idolatrous ways, return to the land of

Judah, and start to rebuild the Second Temple, they have not wholeheartedly committed themselves to serving the Lord.

Eventually, the preparatory work laying the temple foundation stops. Years go by. Nothing happens. Then the Lord gives Haggai a series of five messages for the leaders of His people.." from the article: How Haggai Encouraged the Rebuilding of the Second Temple

The Book of Haggai and the Rebuilding of the Temple in the Early Persian Period

It is more likely that any work that might have begun on the temple came to a halt because of problems within the community. This is suggested by the fact that the books of Haggai and Zechariah both assume that the people of Yehud, not outsiders, are to blame for not rebuilding the temple. The reasons for the slow progress on the temple are never directly stated in these books, but we can surmise what at least some of the obstacles to reconstruction may have been on the basis of what we know of the economic, social, political, and religious role of temples in the ancient Near East.

"Until recently, the period of biblical history known as the postexilic, or Persian, era has suffered from relative neglect by biblical scholars. True, there are have always been those scholars who dedicated their lives to the study of the books that reflect this period – Ezra, Nehemiah, and the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi – but it is only in the last few decades that Persian period studies have come into their own, giving rise to a vigorous and rich field of inquiry, the fruits of which have only begun to emerge. One reason for the relative neglect had been that we simply did not have much information about this period, which stretches from the end of the Babylonian exile (c. 539 BCE) to the advent of Alexander the Great and the beginning of the Hellenistic period (c. 330 BCE). Compared to the abundant archaeological and historical information available for the centuries before and after the Persian period, only a little evidence from outside the Bible was available to shed light on the two centuries after the exile. Yet recent decades have seen a surge in archaeological work focusing on this period that has provided a wealth of insights into economic, political, social, and religious realities in the Persian province of Yehud (the former kingdom of Judah). On the heels of this increased information has come an increased interest by biblicists. Now Persian period studies of all kinds are flourishing and contributing greatly to our appreciation of the challenging and contentious, yet theologically productive, period of the 6th–4th centuries.

One example of these studies is the work that has been done on the book of Haggai. This short book of thirty-eight verses focuses solely on the reconstruction of the Jerusalem temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. In the past, the book’s completely time-bound topic and lack of beautifully poetic, theologically rich passages had led to an unfavorable assessment of both book and prophet by many scholars and theologians. It was not that long ago, for example, that the authors of an introduction to the Old Testament stated that “Haggai is called a prophet, but compared to the pre-exilic prophets he is hardly deserving of the title…. his mind was concentrated only on earthly things…. His whole mental outlook and utilitarian religious point of view…is sufficient to show that he can have no place among the prophets in the real sense of the word.” (Oesterley & Robinson, 1961, pp. 408-9) This particularly blunt evaluation appears to have been shared by others, leading to the book’s general neglect. It simply did not seem to have much to offer the serious student of the Bible or, for that matter, of the history behind it.

But in recent decades the book of Haggai has been subjected to serious and sustained scrutiny by scholars such as Elie Assis and John Kessler, whose excellent work along with others has shown this short book to be much more interesting and complex than previously thought. My own work on Haggai, which engages the text through rhetorical analysis, joins this effort by seeking to reexamine the persuasive intention and strategies of the text (Barker, 2017). Rather than being simply a dull record of an uninteresting prophet and his mundane message, the book of Haggai is in fact a carefully composed and complex counterargument to serious objections to the reconstruction of the temple in 520 BCE. It is also an interpretation of what it meant either to accept or to reject the prophetic call to rebuild. This means that a careful study of the book as a persuasive text can contribute to our understanding of both the book and the nature of the debates surrounding the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem in the early years after the exile. This in turn contributes in a specific way not only to the emerging portrait of the early Persian period but also to our appreciation of the nature and strength of the struggles and conflicts among the people who considered themselves the surviving “remnant” of Israel in that time and place..' from the article: The Book of Haggai and the Rebuilding of the Temple in the Early Persian Period

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