2. Background to Haggai
The prophecies of Haggai were given during the time of the return of Israel from the Babylonian captivity in about 520BC. Israel had been a very strong nation around 1000BC, under the rule of the kings David and Solomon, but since that time had been in a decline. The Bible attributes this decline to their departure from following the ways of God correctly. Finally, at about 600BC, God declared that the nation was to be punished for their wickedness. He spoke this many times through his prophets. The prophet Jeremiah recorded this,
Jer 1:15.: For behold, I am calling All the families of the kingdoms of the north," says the LORD; "They shall come and each one set his throne At the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, Against all its walls all around, And against all the cities of Judah. 16. I will utter My judgments Against them concerning all their wickedness, Because they have forsaken Me, Burned incense to other gods, And worshiped the works of their own hands. NKJV
The punishment was that they were to be taken away in a captivity to the nation of Babylon, which is in the modern Iraq. This captivity, however, was to only last seventy years, as Jeremiah again recorded,
Jer 25:11.: 'And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. NKJV
At the conclusion of those seventy years, they were to again rebuild the nation of Israel. It was to be, however, a weaker nation than it was originally. In 539BC the Babylonian kingdom fell to the Persians, which opened the way for a return of the Israelites to their homeland. At that time a small number of captives returned, but they found it a difficult task.
The book of Haggai was set sixteen years after the first return of captives. This was before the reconstruction of the temple or the walls of Jerusalem. It was a time when the Israelites were strangers and pilgrims in their own land. The words given to Haggai urge the people to consider their ways and strengthen what they had.
The Structure of Haggai
There are four prophecies contained within Haggai. These divide the message as follows:
- Haggai 1:1-15: There is a call to “consider your ways” and rebuild the temple as a warning against working for self and neglecting God.
- Haggai 2:1-9: A promise of the temple to come is given to console the people who remembered the far greater glory of the previous temple.
- Haggai 2:10-19: An analogy of uncleanness is used to show that dedication to God must be complete.
- Haggai 2:20-23: A promise of the future overthrow of heathen.
History of the period
The following are some approximate dates of events of the time.
- 705: Israel (Northern tribes) taken into captivity by the Assyrians.
- 605: Nubuchadnezzar's first invasion - taking some captives including Daniel. Jeremiah urged the people of Israel to submit to the king of Babylon
- 597 Second invasion, Jehoiachin and Ezekiel taken
- 589 Third invasion and siege of Jerusalem 2Kings 25:1, 2Chron 36:21
- 587/586 Siege broken
- 550: Begin of the Rule of Cyrus
- 539: Fall of Babylon to Cyrus
- 538 Decree of Cyrus - 1st Year (Ezra 1:1). Some captives return and an attempt is made to rebuild
- 530: Cambyses rules over Persia
- 522: Darius rules over Persia
- 520 Second year of Darius -- Work on the temple was resumed
Desolation of the land for 70 years
During his ministry, Jeremiah gave two prophecies about the length of the Babylonian captivity. The first of these was in the 25th chapter.
Jer 25:11: And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the LORD, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations.
This was a prophecy to say that the land would be desolate for seventy years. The date of this prophecy is set by the writings of Daniel,
Dan 9:1: In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, ... 2. ...I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.
Daniel understood the end of the 70 years of desolations to be in the first year of Darius. This would place the start of the period at about 590BC. This was the time of Nebuchadnezzar's third invasion of Jerusalem which led to the final downfall and destruction of the temple. The end of the period marks the rebuilding of temple at the time of Haggai. The period here is about the desolation of temple (cf the Dan 11:31 “the abomination that maketh desolate” which referred to the pollution of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes in 167BC).
The other prophecy regarding the length of the captivity was given in the 29th chapter of Jeremiah,
Jer 29:1: Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon; ...10...For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.
This prophecy was specifically regarding the captivity, not the desolation. The captivity first started in 605BC when the first group of captives were taken off to Babylon. The seventy years from that time elapsed in 535BC which was when the Jews were starting to return under Cyrus of Persia.
--time period stuff inspired by the 1290 yeas in Revelation-- It can be difficult to deal with time periods that apply to more than one time interval. We are used to being able to solve problems by elimination. This means that given a time period, we first try to find that period in history and then fit the events around it. This is perfectly valid reasoning, but it does complicate matters if the time period has more than one start and end time. It is easier to apply the concept by considering the period to indicate the time between two processes and not two events. Consider the seventy years of captivity and desolations decreed by God on the people of Judah.