Prophecy and the Prophets

By Barnard C. Taylor

Part II - A Story of the Individual Prophets

Chapter 14



Parallel reading: Ezra i to 6; Zechariah i to 8.

1. Date and Historical Occasion

This prophet gives the precise date of the prophecies that he delivered. Not only the time in general, but the year and month, and even day of the month. He prophesied in the second year of the reign of Darius, king of Persia. (520 B. C.)

He is one of two prophets belonging to the period after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile, the post-exilic period. Cyrus had issued his decree permitting the Jews who wished to do so to return to their own land to build their temple. This was in 536. They began the work the next year (535), but were hindered in it by their neighbors, so that the work ceased altogether. But after Darius became king of Persia, to which power the Jews were tributary, under the influence of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah the temple work was resumed, and was finished in the sixth year of Darius.

The Jews who had come back to their land were not numerous, and for the most part they belonged to the cities and villages scattered throughout Judea. Their original homes were not in Jerusalem. They were poor. They were oppressed by their jealous neighbors. These conditions account for the fact that they at length not only became discouraged about being able to finish the temple, but became indifferent to the work. They must have acquired some property, for they were able to build houses for themselves, as Haggai says. They did not regard their possessions sufficient to build the temple, however.

It was at such a time, and under such conditions that Haggai prophesied. The people were few; they were oppressed and hindered by enemies; they were poor; they had become discouraged, and they had become indifferent.

The entire work of these two prophets was to meet these conditions.

2. The Theme of the Prophecy

The purpose of the prophet was to arouse the people to the obligation of building the temple, rebuking them for their neglect, and assuring them of success. Evidence of their sin is found in the fact that their crops had failed as a punishment from God. The word of the prophet came to them just after the time of the harvest in the fall. It is probable that their recent crops were poor.

They are assured that they will be blessed in all their possessions if they will enter with zeal upon the work for the Lord. They are also told that means to finish the temple will be furnished by the nations around them.

The prophecy is thus very definite and special. It contains thoughts connected with the more general truths taught by the former prophets. It does not really add to those truths. The development of prophetic thought had in reality reached its climax in the prophecies of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.

3. The Different Messages of Haggai

The first message of the prophet was spoken especially to Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest on the first day of September, 520 B. C. The people are condemned because they think they cannot build the house of God, that the time for that has not yet come, though they can build fine houses for themselves. They are reminded that they have suffered in their crops. There had been drought on the land. They are urged to go to work on the temple.

The people were roused to the work on the twenty- fourth day of the same month.

On the twentieth day of October the prophet gave another message. This also was addressed to the two leaders, though all the people were meant. They are reminded that the prospects of the present building are small compared with the old temple that had been destroyed. But they are assured that the latter glory of the house will be greater than the former, because God will shake all the nations, and they will bring their desirable things, which belong to Jehovah, to make the house glorious. This special promise is to be kept in mind in the study of Zechariah.

On the twenty-fourth day of December, in the winter, the rainy season, perhaps when the work had begun to slacken, the prophet speaks again. He cites a well- known ceremonial law to the effect that anything unclean defiles what it touches, in order to teach them that their own sin has been the cause of the calamities that have come upon them, and that hitherto they have not heeded the teaching of these calamities. They are now assured that from this very day, when they go to work on the temple, God will bless them.

On the same day the prophet also declared that the enemies would be overthrown.