Lecture 29: Haggai and Zechariah
Course: Old Testament Survey
Lecture: Haggai & Zechariah
I. Overview of Haggai
A. Three months in 520 BC
This is a little two-chapter book of prophecies that take place all within three months in a single year. The year is 520 BC; it is all clearly dated. Haggai is the only prophet that provides a date for all of his prophecies. There are a total of four prophets who give some specific dates to the times that they received oracles from the Lord. Daniel has a couple, Ezekiel has a bunch, Zechariah has a bunch, and Haggai has four, but Haggai has only four total prophecies. Haggai alone dates all of his prophecies and they are all right within this short period of time.
B. Theme: Encourage the building of the temple
The building of the temple is a big, big theme in 520 BC when he is writing. The temple now, at 520 BC, had been in ruins since 586. That is sixty-six years that that temple had stayed absent from the scene. The Babylonians had systematically taken it down and left only the bedrock so that it had to be rebuilt, even its foundations, as we read in the actual description in the Book of Ezra which covers back to that time in its prologue portions. A big thing about what Haggai is doing is encouraging a couple of people, one named Zerubbabel and one named Jeshua. Who are they? Zerubbabel is the governor of Judah. He is actually a descendant of David and presumably under the influence of Daniel. The Persians appointed him a descendent of David which everybody felt was appropriate for leadership in Judah. He is not a king, but at least there is a descendent of David in leadership in Jerusalem. He is a Jew who is allowed to come back from Babylon to Judah and be the governor. He gets an official Persian appointment. Also Jeshua or Joshua. It is usually written Jeshua, but it is essentially the same name as Joshua. It is a little like Richard, Dick, Rich, Ricky, all those forms. These are not different names so it is just a question of how you may choose to do it or how you might spell John or Jon. All the different ways you can spell some names like Amy. You can think of a lot of possibilities. Joshua or Jeshua is the high priest. These are the two leaders; the political leader and the religious leader. They were leaders at 520 BC and they need encouragement. A lot of what Haggai does is to encourage them as much as he can. They get mentioned prominently and in particularly Zerubbabel gets a lot of encouragement, as he got the organizational responsibility to get all the people of Judah together and get them going and supporting this and giving their money to it and coming to work as laborers.
1. Problem unless temple is rebuilt
He talks about the problems that will happen unless the temple is rebuilt, problems that are already happening.
2. Promise of glory for future temple
Haggai talks about what a great thing it will be to have the temple, how important it will be, and how there will be future glory in it. If you read the first chapter of the Gospel of John, it starts to make sense to you what Haggai predicted because John talks about how we have seen His glory and then Christ comes into the temple Himself and does the things He does there as part of the way that God’s glory returns in the fullest sense to the temple.
3. Susceptibility of defilement
We also have a passage about how easy it is for sin to grow. How easily people naturally get defiled by sin. If you do nothing, sin will find you. But how careful one must be to find righteousness. Nobody accidentally gets righteous with God. Nobody can say, “You know, I didn’t do a thing about it but somehow here I am in heaven.” It will not work that way. But plenty of people can say, “You know, I didn’t do a thing about it and I ended up somehow here in hell. How did that happen?” Plenty of people will be able to say that. They will not be accurate in saying, “I did not do a thing about it,” they did plenty, but it will feel so natural. That is part of what Haggai teaches.
4. Power over the nations
Finally, it will eventually become more obvious to them that the Lord is over all nations and He has chosen Zerubbabel to do His will.
D. Similarity to Zechariah
Interestingly, this is also one of the themes that we find in the Book of Zechariah, encouragement to the same two people with some of the prophecies from the same year. You will see that when we get to it. Zechariah, Haggai’s friend, associate, and co-prophet, encourages people to listen to those guys Zerubbabel and Jeshua and says, “‘Let me tell you,” says the Lord, “these are my people, I have chosen them. I want them to be absolutely listened to. I’m backing them and they have my authority behind them,’” and so on. All kinds of encouragement for these two people, which is unusual. You do not find other books which give that sort of level of encouragement to two particular leaders by name. You can find psalms, the royal psalms, that give a lot of encouragement to the kingship in general, and we appreciate those, and you can certainly find prophecies that upon careful examination are intended to support the plan of a given king. You can find prophets encouraging kings to be strong and so on, but the kind of words that are said about Zerubbabel and Joshua are awfully grand. Found at the end of Haggai, “Zerubbabel is my signet ring says the Lord. He is the ring on my finger,” kind of thing. Just very, very substantial assurance for these two.
E. Why the emphasis on encouragement?
1. Started building the temple in 538 BC
If you turn to Ezra 3, you will read about how Zerubbabel and Joshua were involved in rebuilding the alter in Jerusalem and celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles, which was very important, and then in rebuilding the temple. But, this was 538 BC. In other words, what Ezra 3 describes is the beginning of rebuilding under the leadership of these two guys in 538. It is really right after they got back; First the Decree of Cyrus in 540, and then the first wave of exiles return 539. They do not waste too much time and they start rebuilding the temple. Here is the way it is described in Ezra 3:10. “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests, the Levites, and the others took places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: ‘He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.’ All the people gave a great shout because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid and many of the older folks were weeping,” I do not think they were weeping because they were miserable, I think they were weeping for joy, “others shouted for joy.” It says in the final verse, “People couldn’t distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping because the people made so much noise. The sound was heard far away.” Then it says in chapter 4, “When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, ‘Let us help you,’ this was turned down.” In verse 4 of chapter 4, “The peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and to make them afraid to go on building.” A lot of fear is described in subsequent chapters.
2. Zerubbabel and Jeshua caved when opposition came
The problem was simple enough. Zerubbabel and Jeshua had lead the initial rebuilding effort in 538 BC but had chickened out when opposition came. Here it is in Haggai’s day and in Zechariah’s day too, eighteen years later; these are not the kind of people most are going to rally behind.
3. Why support failures?
Why would you go with a has-been? It is just not the kind of thing most folks will do. We do not see a huge wave of sentiment for bringing back Jimmy Carter as president do we? It is not necessarily that Carter is such a bad guy, but there is not much sentiment there. People do not tend to do that. It is not a way that most people think. If there is a feeling that perhaps somebody failed in a large way, that can be the last person you want to vote for to lead you once again. So these two guys had been failures. You did not have a voting system there so the high priest inherited his office and the governor was appointed. If they were going to have the ability to get people to join them in rebuilding they had a terrible problem to overcome. They were the failures of eighteen years prior. They were the ones who, when the opposition came, backed off. That is why God needs to give them an extra measure of encouragement.
4. Public endorsement by God through prophets
He needs to tell everybody through His prophets, “No, I’m endorsing these guys. Your leaders are these guys. They are not just your leaders, they are My choice. I’ve chosen them. I have put them here and the fact that they failed almost two decades ago is of no relevance now. They are going to do it now. It is going to happen because I have decided it is going to happen.” Here you have God working with previously failed leaders. This will be a challenge for many of you in a church. It is very hard if the kid who was president of your youth group and could think only of car-washes and dances as the purpose of the youth group last year gets reelected this year, you are going to go, “Oh great.” In a church, if somebody who has not done what he or she should have done in prior years, is suddenly made chair of the Board of Deacons, that is no fun, but it can be that it is exactly what God has in mind. You cannot rule it out. God’s choices are often completely different from what ours would be. Anyway, Haggai is just encouraging this and saying, “It is high time to get the temple rebuilt; indeed, we don’t have much time left.” These are just some truths from Haggai.
II. Themes in Haggai
I am always trying to encourage you folks not merely to learn this stuff but to use it and in your class or Bible study or sermon series here is just some of the things that you can get from Haggai. What I did, in this case, was to look in a one-volume Bible commentary. There is an evangelical Bible commentary which is published by Baker Books and edited by Walter Elwell and Herman Austel did the article on Haggai. I just turned to it and I said, “Let me see what I can find.” It turned out to be a very good, nice, brief article, and it give these four points from the Book of Haggai. I have condensed and put them in my own words. These are great things for people to get, great concepts.
A. God and his work must take first place
God and His work must take first place in the life of His people, only that way is God honored. That is a big theme in this book. Why are you spending money on yourselves? Why are you paying attention to yourselves? Why don’t you get going? You have got to get going. Yes, it will be hard to build the temple. Of course it will be expensive. Of course it will take time. Of course you will have to leave what you otherwise would be doing and come and help, but it has got to happen.
B. Putting personal interests ahead of God is self-defeating
Haggai says that putting personal or selfish interests ahead of God is self-defeating. It is the reason that you have got economic and agricultural problems of all sorts. If you read through Haggai you notice that he talks about crop disasters, people having produce of all sorts rotting away, many sorts of difficulties financially, some very rich people doing well but many poor struggling. It is self-defeating to try to solve that problem without first solving your relationship to God.
C. God blesses those who put him first
God does give His blessings richly to those who put His interests before their own. Malachi has some of the same teaching in it that Jesus has, in say, Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God,” and that is when the other things that God wants you to have, you get.
D. Work is valued by how it conforms to God's will
What is the value of somebody’s work? It is not to be compared to work of others. You value what your work is by how it conforms to God’s will. If you think about Zerubbabel’s temple, at the time it probably was insignificant compared to Solomon’s. It was probably as big as Solomon’s but not nearly so fancy. What Solomon was able to do was to build an ornate, truly beautiful and impressive looking temple. This temple was the same size but probably not at all as fancy. It had the bulk but not the quality of decoration. But, in God’s sight it is was very important to His overall purpose. He cannot be properly worshipped without it, which is the most basic thing that you are supposed to do as His follower is to worship Him. In the Old Covenant you just cannot properly worship without a building. You have got to have a building in the Old Covenant. In the New Covenant you have got to have people who belong to Him and who come together and are His temple. That is how it works.
III. Dates in Haggai and Zechariah
This may be more information than you need, but I want to illustrate something. The Persian king in 520 BC is named Darius the first, and 520 BC is his second year as king. He started in 522. These are the times when Haggai and Zechariah prophesied during his time:
1. Haggai, second year sixth month.
2. Haggai, second year, seventh month.
3. Zechariah, second year, eighth month (we are not sure of the day).
4. Haggai, second year, ninth month.
5. Haggai, second year ninth month again.
6. Zechariah, second year eleventh month.
7. Zechariah, fourth year ninth month.
This is the way they date their prophecies. Obviously there was something very important about the second year of Darius. Let me just give you a bit of historical sense of this. Cyrus is the Great is the emperor who created that huge Persian Empire and then died a few years later leaving his weak son Cambyses in charge starting about 532 BC. Not long afterwards Cambyses died or was assassinated, it is not totally clear. Then a series of different people began vying for this vast empire. From roughly 531 to 522 BC there was a lot of misery, unhappiness, and uncertainty. What was left of the few people in Judah wondered what was going to happen. But this guy Darius, who was not in the Cyrus family, had been a military leader in the Persian Empire, took over and really absolutely wrapped it up.
So, from 522 to 520 he put the military in great shape, went all over the empire, suppressed all rebellion as far away as necessary, and reestablished the empire stronger than ever. By the second year, he boasts of having defeated ten different kings who tried to give him grief either on the borders of the empire or within the empire, various people who had been captured previously and now would love to have been free from the Persians or anybody else; nobody likes to be a captive of anybody else. You do not want to be in anybody else’s empire, you want to have your own. By 520 BC in the providence of God he just had stabilized everything and this allowed for the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple. How did He allow it? How was that massive, general stability going to do that? The answer is that it is going to prevent lawlessness over in Palestine.
If you have a weak central government busy trying to fight off enemies, maybe up here in Sogdiana or something, you are not going to worry about it. The Persians are located far away, they are not going to worry about what is going on over there and therefore the Samaritans, Edomites, and Moabites can really threaten the Jews to prevent them from rebuilding that temple. But if you have a tremendous, strong, central empire that is firmly in control and has troops well-distributed and so on, people cannot take the law into their own hands. All they can do is to say to government in Persia, “We don’t think this temple should be allowed.” What the Book of Ezra partly tells about is how the Jews in Jerusalem finally wrote during the days of Darius and got a letter back, an official decree saying, “Get out of there. Leave these people alone. They have a perfect right to build that temple. Indeed they are doing it on Persian government authority.” So that was the kind of security that God was able to bring about and that under girded the whole process, gave everybody a sense that it could happen because otherwise people would be inclined to say, “Look, things are in turmoil. Who knows what is going to happen? We have got permission, we think, to build this but suppose we are attacked by our enemies? Nobody around from the Persian government can help us and support us and set this thing right.” When that tremendously well-established stability came about in 520 BC the whole scene was entirely different. It was a big part of how God allowed the temple to be rebuilt. That is really what I want to say about our pal Haggai. It is a little book and we spent plenty of time on it, but it is useful to get the perspective of that aloud.
IV. Orienting Data for Zechariah
Remember that Haggai and Zechariah are not just next to each other in the Old Testament, they were also friends with each other. Mention is made in the Book of Ezra that they were supporting one another. Here is the clearest case we know of prophets working together, other than Elijah and Elisha. Did Isaiah and Micah probably work together, pray for each other, regularly go to hear each other preach the word of God, and pray and so on? Sure, probably they did. The same thing with many other people. Did Ezekiel cheer on Jeremiah and vice versa? In all probability, yes. But we do not know that. What we do know is that sometimes you have records of cases where they really were contemporaries and associates and we know that about Haggai and Zechariah.
It is not surprising that we would get things related to rebuilding the temple, especially in visions. However, Zechariah is much more apocalyptic than Haggai. Indeed, the first nine chapters have a lot of apocalyptic in them. A preponderance of those chapters is apocalyptic so basically half the book of Zechariah. They both want to get the temple rebuilt and the community of Judah so that there will be a future hope just has Haggai said. They both extrapolate the need to remain faithful.
Zechariah goes a lot further in time than Haggai. Haggai cuts off still in 520 BC, Zechariah is moving down to 500 or 495 or so and he is looking forward in a much broader scheme of things as apocalyptic does. As you might imagine, Zechariah has prophecies directly about the coming of Christ, the death of Christ on the cross, actual crucifixion language, and Christ’s reign. I think Zechariah also even has things that relate to Christ’s second coming. We will not talk a huge amount about that now, but if you preach Zechariah, you will be preaching Messianic messages very substantially as you get toward the end of the book.
B. He too is a Jerusalem prophet.
C. Same time period but he goes further.
D. And again, his emphases
1. Get that temple rebuilt because that is what is part of the way God chose to work under the Old Covenant and if you do not have a temple you do not have His presence and blessing.
2. Encouragement to Zerubbabel and Joshua to lead the Jews properly.
3. The certainly of God’s final victory.
4. The need to get the temple completed by 516 BC.
5. The final victory of the Messiah over all opposing forces. Those are great themes of Scripture.
V. Overview of Zechariah
I would also like to give just a special feel for how Zechariah’s visions fit together. We have talked about it some in connection with other prophets, but Zechariah is just so dominated by visions early on that when you study Zechariah you really need to be reminded of the rules of interpreting visions, what they are like and the kinds of things you find. There is an introduction to the book which is a lovely thing, but then comes his first vision. It is quite interesting.
A. First Vision
He sees horseman who have been going all around the world. “We’ve been riding around the world,” they say. They report to a certain angel. They say, “The whole world is stable.” Could God have seen that just by looking? Of course, but God loves to work through people including through angels. Remember, they are a prior creation and undoubtedly in His plan. He chose to work through them just has He does in our creation. He works through us. He will even wait for us to get it. He will wait. That is an amazing thing. If I were God, I would not do it. If He uses us He certainly uses angels. In this picture Zechariah just sees this happen right on the edge of Jerusalem. He sees these angels all come riding in from around the world on their super angelic horses and they report, “We’ve seen everything and now blessing can be given to the temple, to the city, and to the land.”
B. Second Vision
In the second vision he sees four horns coming at him. Now, the second vision is very nice in terms of the way that it illustrates how visions tend to get clearer as the prophet keeps looking. There is a lot of visionary material in Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation about seeing something and trying to understand it, then seeing a little more and trying to understand that, and then seeing a little more and trying to process that. That is the way that it commonly happens. Let me read from that vision, 1:18 and following: “I looked up—and there before me were four horns! I asked the angel speaking to me, ‘What are these?’” Zechariah has an angel that God assigns to him to explain visions. That is how he learns a lot of stuff; he just has this angel show up. So he sees a vision and then there is an angel by him, so he can ask the angel for explanations because he does not know. “And he answered me, ‘These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.’” If you think about it horn is a symbol of power, indeed the Hebrew word meaning horn can also be translated power. What four horns scattered Israel and Judah? It is the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and the Persians, those are the four. The four greatest superpowers that the Israelites ever had to deal with. They all played a role in keeping the people out somewhere. The Persians least of all because the Persians were not practicers of exile but they are one of the powers that has to be worried about if the people are going to be able to feel secure. Then he sees more.
“Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen,” the NIV says craftsmen. I do not blame the NIV, it is a difficult word to translate, but I do not think that is what it means at all. In my forthcoming commentary on Zechariah, I have a long explanation of why that word has to mean, it is a rare word in Hebrew, farmhands. That is what it is. It is not craftsmen, it is people who work on a farm; farm workers. “So four farm workers come and I ask, ‘Well, what are these coming to do? I see the four horns, what are the four farm workers coming to do?’” These are the horns that scattered Judah so that no one could raise his head. Everybody was ashamed and embarrassed, All had been in trouble, but the farm workers were coming to scare them and, actually it says, to throw down these horns in the NIV. I think it basically means, make them go back. That is another translation question. “The nations who lifted their horns against the land of Judah and scattered its people are going to go home.” Basically what happens is this—it is four horns on a couple of oxen or something; that is the way it is symbolized. So he sees these oxen coming along, but all he sees are the horns. He does not really see the animal, just the horns. Who is capable of rounding up the oxen and saying, “Come on, come on. Shame on you for breaking out of the pen. Let’s go.” And they throw ropes around them. In those days they put rings in the noses of the big animals and pull them. Simple.
Almost all visions are really very simple. When you analyze them they are super simple because it is not the vision that is the issue. The issue is not what he saw, that there were four horns and four farm workers. That is not it. The issue is what God is promising by that simple visual aide. What he is promising is no more grief from those great nations. You are going to have a long period of stability. Nobody is going to scatter you anywhere. You’re never going to be exiled again and they never were. When God changed Israel over to the kingdom of God to the church there was a wonderful diaspora that you know took place when the Romans attacked Jerusalem in 70 AD. That is a different thing. You can build the temple, you can settle down, you can re-worship, you can do all the things you should do because now there is stability.
C. Third Vision
The third vision is a man who wants to measure Jerusalem. “No, no, can’t measure it, it is going to be un-measurable. Jerusalem in the New Covenant, ultimately, will be so big nobody can put boundaries on it because we are all going to live there; all the redeemed are going to live in Jerusalem. In other words, everybody is going to be in the presence of God. In the final analysis we are all going to have the same address and we are all going to have the same father, we are all going to be brothers and sisters for all eternity. It is a great picture. Even Zechariah is starting to look forward to that. Then there are some commands corresponding to visions.
D. Fourth Vision
Then comes the fourth vision which is of the high priest Joshua getting reassurance. He comes in wearing dirty, old clothes that priest cannot wear, as priests have to have pure beautiful clothing on properly to honor God. The priest gets a change of clothing and that symbolizes his acceptance before God.
E. Fifth Vision
The fifth vision is very simple again. The temple lampstand had an olive tree motif on either side. It was a decorated lampstand and there were these olive branch decorations, nice metal work in olive branch style. We know that because that is described back in the Book of Exodus. He sees that temple lampstand and those olive branches symbolizing the good old governor Zerubbabel and the good old high priest Joshua. Again, another simple imagistic way of saying, “These are my people, they are the ones I have chosen, it will work, the temple will be rebuilt. These losers are going to lead the people successfully and get this temple built.” What a promise.
F. Sixth Vision
The sixth vision is a scroll flying around. The problem is that it might also be a sickle and that is just a question of translation. We have just got a word that happens to have the possibility of meaning either scroll or sickle. A scroll is curved because you curve the paper, and a sickle has a curved blade. So it is a curved, the Hebrew says a curved, and that is the challenge. It symbolizes the purification of both civil and religious strife. Could be the way a sickle cuts and cleans. It could be the way a scroll is truth and brings purity. Hard to know.
G. Seventh Vision
In the seventh vision, there is a measuring basket with a woman in it who represents evil. This is not because Zechariah thinks women are evil, that is just a symbol. What happens to this woman? She is sent away to Babylon, deported to Babylon, let them have the sin. It is just a simple way of saying, “I’m forgiving you. I am not holding anything against you. I will punish Babylon but not you. My punishment for you is over.”
H. Final Vision
In the final vision there are four horse drawn chariots symbolizing the four winds of heaven or spirits. Another problem in Hebrew: wind and spirit are the exact same word, indicating God’s omnipotence throughout the earth. Not so much bringing a report back that all is peaceful, but they are now saying that God is in control. He is projecting His power by these chariots; the chariot being the ultimate fighting machine of ancient times, all around the world. It is just a feel for what you have got.
If you were to preach from the Book of Zechariah, you have got eight great sermons just on the visions. Because all of them are making big points, not just things that will relate only to Zechariah’s day in the temple but are talking about God’s sovereignty, the need to be faithful, the nature of God’s covenant, God’s promises being fulfilled, great themes that you can preach and that is just a relatively small portion of the whole book.