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Preaching on Haggai

An overview of the historical background and theology of Haggai to help you develop your sermon series and apply it to your hearers.
Preaching on Haggai
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Historical Background

Haggai is the contemporary of Zechariah the prophet, and the time period is described in Ezra 1-6. Haggai and Zechariah are mentioned together in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14.

Haggai is the most clearly dated OT prophecy. His messages occur between August 29th and December 18, 520 BC, a period of four months. This post-exilic prophet was a part of a group of 50,000 returnees to the land under their new governor Zerubbabel after their 70-year exile to Babylon. Cyrus the Great permitted them to return (see Isa. 45:1-7) and encouraged them to rebuild their Temple to Yahweh, as Persian foreign policy sought to gain the favor of all the gods of the peoples in their empire.

They returned to a totally devastated country—think of New Orleans after Katrina, only let it remain untouched for an additional 70 years! What would happen to the street where you live if it were deserted for 70 years? What would you find when you returned? What would houses, yards and farms look like? No economy, trade, or markets existed, no working farms for food, no infrastructure, no military or police, no government services, and no Temple. Just wreckage—piles and piles of it, overgrown with weeds, brush, and trees.

The tasks were overwhelming, even with an army of motivated people. Where do you start? What do you do first when everything is wrecked? Leaders must help people set and maintain proper priorities. It takes enormous spiritual sensitivity and clarity of vision to know what to do.

They started rebuilding quickly. But then the Samaritans (a people resettled in the Northern Kingdom of Israel by Assyria two centuries earlier) offered to help. It is hard to know their motive, whether the offer was honest or duplicitous—but the Jews refused their help. Men like Ezra knew Israel’s history and the impact of integrating with idolatrous peoples that surrounded them. The Samaritans were highly insulted by the rejection, and they became a threat politically and militarily. Exactly what that looked like, again we are not sure, but their threat discouraged the people enough to stop their work on rebuilding the Temple.

The first return of exiles was in 538-37 BC and sixteen years have passed. Haggai addresses the primary situation with regard to neglect of Temple reconstruction and a couple of secondary ones related to obedience, purity, and leadership. What is remarkable is that he explains their struggling circumstances in the context of divine corporate discipline, and how things change when people start listening to God and allowing him to set their priorities.

Not only does Haggai give us clarity in the dates of his messages, he also clearly states his audience for each of his four sermons. His primary focus is on the leadership of the country: Zerubbabel, the governor and Joshua, the High Priest.

Therefore, this book is about “main things” and what should be first among the corporate body of God’s people, their primary concerns when there are strong competing interests. It also records what happens when the proper priorities get neglected, even if there were good reasons initially. They had to learn again that, living in the land God gave to them, took away, and then gave back to them a second time, they are still governed by the covenant promises and warnings of Deuteronomy 28-29.

Haggai is a “practical” guy, with dirt under his fingernails. He gives a very direct, practical statement of that retraining process, a call to remember their covenantal identity, and an explanation of how their corporate painful circumstances point to unrectified spiritual issues. That must be true for us too as believers. We are collectively the Body of Christ, his bride. If we forget that, and forget how that means we must live with, and love, each other, then we are in the place of needing “retraining” in the core issues of our identity as well.

The prophets were primarily preachers, and the best way to divide their material is to discern their “sermons” and to understand the context which stimulated them. Haggai is easy because he dates his messages. They also often allow us to overhear their conversations with and questions to God. Haggai’s four sermons are short but potent.

Sermon Series

Possible Titles: Considering Our Ways; or Spiritual Priorities in Tough Times; or First Things First; or Time to Reprioritize, a four-week series.

If you are the spiritual leader in a ministry that has just experienced any sort of devastation—a natural disaster (fire, flood, hurricane), a moral failure of previous leadership, a split or mass exodus of people—then Haggai is a great book to call people back to biblical priorities, to remember what is important to God (and should be to us). It is short, concise, and focused. Its message is clear. It also would be a good series to start off a new year.

Text: Haggai 1:1-15
  • Audience: Zerubbabel the governor, Joshua the High Priest (1:1)
  • Need/Situation: Under their leadership, they neglected the rebuilding of the Temple and focused on “paneling” their own homes. This resulted in specific divine discipline: loss of resources and frustration at how hard they worked for so little results.
Text: Haggai 2:1-9
  • Audience: Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the remnant of the people (2:1)
  • Need/Situation: People were discouraged because the rebuilt Temple did not match the glory of Solomon’s Temple. It is a common experience of older believers to think the “glory days” are in the past.
Text: Haggai 2:10-19
  • Audience: The priests (2:11)
  • Need/Situation: Religious defilement that transfers by touch (but cleanliness doesn’t!) is an object lesson for how wrong priorities resulted in national defilement (and painful divine discipline), but from the moment they start to obey, he will bless them.
Text: Haggai 2:20-23
  • Audience: Zerubbabel (2:20)
  • Need/Situation: Zerubbabel struggled with how weak/unstable their situation was, given the ruin and wreckage he inherited. Everyone around them had armies and were a threat. God lets him know that he will “shake” those nations and armies and will establish him.

Big idea for whole series: If we want God’s blessing, we should maintain biblical/spiritual/godly priorities, especially when it is most challenging and difficult to do.

Text: Haggai 1:1-15
  • Title: Priority 1: God First and Always
  • Exegetical Idea: Israel must realize that some of their painful struggle is divine discipline for their wrong priorities.
  • Big Idea: Considering our ways: We must put God’s interests above our own.
Text: Haggai 2:1-9
  • Title: Priority 2: Work Smart and Hard
  • Exegetical Idea: God encourages the discouraged remnant that their work on the Temple will be profoundly blessed.
  • Big Idea: Considering our ways: Work done for God is never wasted.
Text: Haggai 2:10-19
  • Title: Priority 3: Stay Clean and Committed
  • Exegetical Idea: God calls Israel to consider how he disciplined them when they ignored his agenda, but how he will bless them now that they have begun to work.
  • Big Idea: Considering our ways: God lets us know how to get back on track.
Text: Haggai 2:20-23
  • Title: Priority 4: Be Assured and Encouraged
  • Exegetical Idea: God lets leaders know they will be uniquely blessed when they get it right.
  • Big Idea: Considering our ways: Keeping God’s priorities when it’s tough is the path to blessing.


Part of the challenge of preaching the Prophets, whenever they appear in Israel’s history, is to grasp the unique “corporate, covenantal” nature of their ministry. Though they sometimes addressed individuals (think Nathan with David), most often their focus was the nation. They were sent to connect painful current events with Israel’s failure to be obedient to the Mosaic covenant (think Elijah telling Ahab about there being no rain) and to call God’s people back to “corporate, covenantal faithfulness.”

Our modern Western challenge in hearing these prophetic messages is that we have been schooled in individualism, so we shape our applications at an individual level. But Israel’s covenant was corporate and national in nature, and in Deuteronomy 28-29, God explains exactly what he would do to them as a nation if they were unfaithful to it. Therefore, it is much clearer when you connect prophetic messages to a body of people, not just individuals. We are taught that we are a body in the NT, but we do not always grasp the unique way God deals with and disciplines us as a body. I am part of a consulting ministry that helps churches and ministries understand the nature of corporate or “bodily” pain. It is how I came to understand the ministry of the OT prophets.

Israel had learned hard lessons as a result of the Babylonian Exile. Nothing that God did sending them there should have been a surprise. God made the national covenantal consequences of idolatry crystal clear in Deuteronomy 28-29. The Deuteronomy scroll had been found in the generation before the exile under the reign of Josiah, and that godly king realized the implications when it was read to him and tore his robes in grief.

But the ruin that Nebuchadnezzar wrought on Judah’s cities, Temple, and people, and the seventy-year exile burned idolatry out of the hearts of a large segment of the Jewish captives. Idolatry was crammed down their throats in Babylon! Daniel illustrates how the Babylonians did this, requiring everyone to bow to their gods and threatening those who didn’t. Ziggurats, like mountains, towered over the visual landscape, and every clay brick on the bricked highways was stamped with “To the Glory of Marduk.”

The exiles were reminded of their sin and called to repentance and to covenantal faithfulness by men such as Ezekiel and, later, Ezra. The commitment of heroes like Daniel in the face of enormous pressure would have inspired them. Many returned to their covenantal commitments to God over those seventy years. The synagogue became the center of Jewish life and culture while in exile, and the center of Scripture study. It still is in many places, but it all started in Babylon.

I believe it is always best for preachers to immerse themselves into the context of the biblical author, to become an audience member listening to them to sense those issues. The post-exilic prophets thus had a unique cultural/religious context in that devastated country to which they spoke. To grasp this, modern preachers should use their imaginations to “breathe the post-exilic air, smell the post-exilic smells, see the post-exilic sights, and swat the post-exilic flies” of life on the ground where Haggai delivers his prophetic message.

The more deeply one immerses into the cultural context of post-exilic Israel, the more clearly one sees applications and touchpoints within our own cultural context. In this case it was about REBUILDING. There were a people, a community, a culture, and a country that needed rebuilding. The surroundings produced a continual mixture of sorrow and grief (for what they had lost as a people) and hope that they could dig out from the ruins.

Haggai is a fortunate preacher because his audience is responsive to his message. The leadership of the community takes God’s rebuke to heart, and they whole-heartedly reorient their priorities.

Theological Themes

A key to Haggai (and to understanding the OT prophets, as I said earlier) is connecting corporate pain of the nation to a divine “metamessage” that they have violated their contract/covenant with him. A “metamessage” is underlying communication in an event or context. An example of “corporate disciplinary pain” is found in Haggai’s phrase of their “sowing much but harvesting little.” This impact on their resources has a metamessage attached to it, revealed in Deuteronomy 28-29. God sent Haggai to help them connect their present community frustration and pain with their failure to prioritize rebuilding the Temple, that symbol of God and his worship being central in their lives. They needed corporate repentance—repentance at a group level.

Repentance and obedience bring “blessing,” and Israel’s experience is not dissimilar to our own. God starts to “show up” in their midst corporately (1:13), and all the manifestations of corporate pain start to diminish or stop (2:15-19).

Modern church leaders generally do not understand the Divine metamessages in corporate pain, especially when their corporate pain is cyclic (around business meetings, staff firings, splits, distrust of leaders, loss of resources, etc.). Jesus operates as Lord of his churches (Rev. 1:12-20), and he will use corporate pain to communicate a metamessage of displeasure just like he did in Israel. One sees this in his letters to the seven churches of Revelation (Rev. 2-3). Israel struggled to understand this in the days before the Exile, and part of the prophetic purpose for Haggai’s ministry was to bring that truth home again.

In the light of that fundamental theological truth, here are some specific theological themes of Haggai:

The Doctrine of God

We see God’s covenantal concerns as well as his continued use of “the blessing and the curse” disciplinary aspects of Deuteronomy 28-29 (1:5-6; 9-11; 2:14-17) to have them to return to him (2:17). He is also “shaking the heavens, the earth, all nations” (2:6, 21-22), overthrowing kingdoms but establishing his people.


Handel’s “Messiah” musically uses the passage of Haggai (2:5-7) to describe prophetically the coming of Christ and his presence filling this rebuilt Temple with a greater glory than Solomon’s Temple possessed.

The Holy Spirit

God tells them that the Spirit, Who was promised to be “abiding in their midst” from the time they left Egypt, is present with them now and they should not fear as a result (2:5)


The “shaking” of earthly kingdoms prophetically describes the time and process as God establishes his kingdom on earth and will elevate his servants to reign with him, like Zerubbabel (2:20-23).

The Gospel

The grace and graciousness of God is seen throughout as he calls them to return to him (2:17), despite the failure to give him and his work its rightful place in their lives.

My Encounter with Haggai

My backstory involves a painful pastoral experience in Toronto, Canada that almost drove me from the ministry. It did drive me to pursue a second doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy, so I might escape the pastorate and become a counselor instead. But God in his mercy used the work I had to do for that doctorate to change my priorities and help me understand what he was doing in my church. My church had experienced a devastating split ten years before I arrived, and I had not realized the repercussions of the broken trust in leadership the split caused.

When people deal with ongoing pain and frustration, especially corporate/community pain a devastating event is produced, it is easy to lose perspective and make the priority self-protection. The result of this can be a failure to address the priority issues that prevent the corporate pain from healing. Mercifully, God led me to help our church deal with its painful history by reconciling with the group that split off from us in a service of corporate repentance, and that powerfully transformed our ministry, changing the spirit of the church and the relationships between congregation and boards, and the vibrancy of our worship.

When I was called to be a seminary professor three years later, the renewal continued in the church. But Haggai became the touchpoint, describing our coming to the “point of blessing” by being obedient to what Christ had wanted us to do to make things right. Haggai puts it this way:

“I smote you and every work of your hands with blasting wind, mildew and hail; yet you did not come back to Me,” declares the Lord. “Do consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month; from the day when the temple of the Lord was founded, consider: Is the seed still in the barn? Even including the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree, it has not borne fruit. Yet from this day on I will bless you.” (Hag. 2:17-19)

Our spiritual condition made spiritual fruit hard to come by, but from the day of our reconciliation with the former split, we felt the corporate impact of divine blessing. Thus was born Blessing Point Ministries, geared to help broken or wounded churches.


Pieter A. Verhoef, The Books of Haggai and Malachi: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987).

Mark J. Boda, Haggai, Zechariah. The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004).

Eugene H. Merrill, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Exegetical Commentary (N.L.: Create Space, 2014).

Kenneth Quick is Professor Emeritus of Practical Theology at Capital Seminary and Graduate School in Greenbelt, Maryland. Previously, Ken was a Senior Pastor for 23 years. He now serves as Director of Consulting for Blessing Point Ministries.

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