In a sense the prophet Haggai speaks to the Israelites who have returned to the land just like my mother spoke to me. This devout collection of people returned to a decimated land with very little resources to work with (although Cyrus did agree to underwrite some of the costs). Their main objective at the start was to rebuild the Temple as per Cyrus' edict (Ezr. 1:1-4, 6:3-5). The enthusiasm of returning to the homeland gave them the incentive to lay the foundation of the Temple rather quickly. But once the excitement wore off and opposition rose from the Samaritans in the north (Ezr. 4:1-5), it became easier to focus attention on other projects (Hag. 1:3-11). Eventually construction on the Temple stopped altogether and it wasn't until the time of Haggai that it was renewed- some 16 years later!
It has been said that Haggai was a man with one message: take care of the Temple (Hag. 1:8)! And interestingly his name which means "my festival" and his four messages which occurred in a brief time frame in the Fall of 520 B. C. seem to underscore his passion for giving God's "House" and His Law top priority in life. This is even more evident in the fact that the second of his four sermons occurred on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, a festival which emphasized God's faithfulness in providing for Israel while she wandered in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. During the Feast, the Israelites would construct tents (a. k. a. sukkot or tabernacles) which reminded them of how the Lord always made sure they had a place to rest their heads and share a meal. But now they were too concerned with themselves and their needs to do the same for the Lord.
Haggai is clearly speaking on God's behalf and states that he is "God's messenger" (Hag. 1:7) indicating that his sermons are not his opinion, they are God's. He uses the traditional "message formula" (Thus says the Lord) but instead of placing it before his oracles, Haggai puts the phrase at the end of his sermons (Hag. 2:7, 9, 23) or sometimes even inside them (2:4, 14) which also emphasizes that these are the Lord's statements, not something Haggai happened to say because he was disturbed by the lack of progress on the Temple.
Why was it so important to rebuild the Temple? In order to answer this question we must enter the mindset of those who dwelled in these ancient times. Most people groups followed a god, or multiple gods. Temples were advertisements on the greatness and power of your god. In the ancient world, the bigger the temple the better it demonstrated the power and greatness of your god. And the more opulent and expensive, the better the testimony to the glory and majesty of your god. Haggai challenged the people to think about what kind of message they were sending about God with an unfinished Temple. While in captivity, the ruins of the Temple reminded them as to why God allowed it to be destroyed in the first place. But now, its condition merely perpetuated the low opinion and ridicule that the other nations had of the Jews and their God. It was time to set the record straight!
Haggai's admonition "Consider your ways!" (1:5, 7; 2:15, 18) is just as appropriate for you and I as it was for those who returned from the Exile and became distracted from completing their mission to rebuild the Temple. It is echoed across the New Testament in Jesus' teaching and the writings of Paul, Peter, James, and John (Mt. 5:43-48; Mk. 7:14-23; Lk. 6:39-45; Rom. 12:9-21; Js. 4:1-17; 1 Pet. 1:13-19; 1 Jn. 1:1-10). I confess that I am an introspective person. I often "consider my ways" and "look before I leap" as it seems to be ingrained in my personality type. But I have also stumbled over my own two feet when I've insisted on doing things my own way and not allowing God to be at the helm of my life. This is when I must ask myself, "Am I being a good advertisement for God?" The people responded to Haggai's challenge by completing the Temple; one of the few times a prophet was actually listened to (Hag. 2:2)! Will I respond to the Lord and reorder my priorities when He challenges me? Will you?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div. 8/2/2015