The prophets to the returned remnant were Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Haggai, the writer of this short book, is mentioned in Ezra 5:1–2 and 6:14 as one of the two prophets who encouraged the remnant (that returned after the Babylonian captivity) to rebuild the temple in spite of the difficulties that beset them on every hand. From this and the brief references that he made to himself in his prophecy, four things become apparent:
1. Haggai was self–effacing—he exalted the Lord. He took the same position that John the Baptist took: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
2. He was God’s messenger. The expression “Thus saith the Lord” characterizes his message.
3. He not only rebuked the people; he also cheered and encouraged them in a marvelous way.
4. He not only preached; he also practiced.
Haggai begins his book by saying, “In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month.” Hystaspes (the Darius mentioned here) began to reign in 521 B.C., making the second year of his reign about 520 B.C. “The second year of Darius” enables the historian to pinpoint the time of this prophet in profane history. It is interesting to note that the post–Captivity prophets begin to date their prophecies according to the reign of gentile rulers. Those prophets who prophesied before the Captivity always tied the dates of their writings into the reign of either a king of Israel or a king of Judah or both. After the Captivity, since there was no king in either the northern or the southern kingdom, Haggai dates his prophecy according to a gentile king. The Lord Jesus said, “… Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). In Haggai’s day the “times of the Gentiles” had already begun (in fact, it began with the captivity of Judah under Nebuchadnezzar). Since that time Jerusalem has been under gentile domination, and Haggai dates his prophecy accordingly.
The theme of Haggai is the temple. The reconstruction and refurbishing of the temple were the supreme passion of this prophet. He not only rebuked the people for their delay in rebuilding the temple, but he also encouraged them and helped them in this enterprise.
Haggai constantly referred to the “word of the LORD” as the supreme authority. He willingly humbled himself that the Lord might be exalted. His message was practical. It was as simple and factual as 2+2=4. The prophecy of Haggai and the Epistle of James have much in common. Both put the emphasis upon the daily grind. Action is spiritual. A “do nothing” attitude is wicked. Both place this yardstick down upon life. Work is the measure of life.
Haggai’s contemporary, Zechariah, was visionary and had his head in the clouds, but pragmatic Haggai had both feet on the ground. The man of action and the dreamer need to walk together. First Corinthians 15:58 can appropriately be written over this book: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
There are two keys verses in this book: “Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD…. And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God” (Hag. 1:8, 14).
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 31: Zephaniah & Haggai. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)