|Minor Prophets: Major Messages
The Book of Haggai
1. A slow, unhurried reading of Haggai is essential. Reading the chapter before looking at the notes, while working with the notes, and after finishing with the notes will give each researcher a powerful sense of the series of meanings within each chapter. It is important to be comfortable with all the names and places in the prophecy and to understand the announcements the prophet makes on behalf of the Lord. When possible, historical information will be included in the notes to increase reading comprehension and enhance application.
2. Our study of each chapter of Haggai will begin with quotes from a work of the Writings called Summary Exposition of the Prophets and Psalms (P&P). This work includes a verse-by-verse overview of both chapters of Haggai that provides general information about the internal sense. Our research will help move us from the generals to the particulars of the internal sense.
3. Another important reference tool is Searle’s General Index to Swedenborg’s Scripture Quotations. This reference is used to find passages in the Writings where a verse(s) from the Word is either explained specifically or used to illustrate a doctrinal point that we can use in our study. There is also another use of this work. As we study, each researcher will be led by the Lord’s Providence in myriad ways, according to specific needs or states. Knowing how to use this book will help each of us to explore relevant topics and look up related passages to increase our knowledge of the three-fold Word.
4. You will soon discover that not every verse, word, name, etc. is directly quoted in the Writings. But there are often other references to the same name, place, or thing in the explanation of a different verse of the Word. The hope is that reflection on these other doctrinal explanations will help us see possible applications to our study of Haggai. We will need to use "derived doctrine" often. Please don’t run away from this maligned term. If we use it properly and admit openly that it is derived doctrine, we bring no harm to the internal sense.
5. Keep some kind of notebook handy during your study times. Write out insights, questions, and any summaries you find helpful in organizing your thoughts about each chapter. The goal of this study guide is not to give a detailed summary of the internal sense but to start each researcher’s quest for deeper insight.
6. At the end of each chapter in the study guide, you will find a study review. The review includes a summary of each section to help you reinforce and build on your understanding of several of the key points.
7. Begin each study unit with a devotional prayer asking the Lord to guide and direct your thoughts. Certainly beginning in this sphere has the power to inspire and open our minds with a higher spiritual priority that will keep us in the company of the Lord’s angels. As the Writings teach, we must seek to love truth for truth’s sake. Such an approach will free each reader from preconceived ideas that might limit his or her ability to "see" the intent and message of the Lord’s Word.
The book of Haggai is the second smallest book of the Old Testament. To grasp its full significance, we require knowledge about the books of Ezra, Jeremiah, Malachi, and Zechariah. All of these prophetic books contain a piece of the puzzle that contributes to the total historical/spiritual picture. This might partially explain why there are only two chapters in Haggai. It is as if the writer assumed the reader knew the sad news of what happened to Jerusalem almost 100 years prior to this prophecy.
Of course, we know that there is a deeper reason why all the books of the prophets were written. Within the stories of natural history, we can find spiritual truth. This spiritual sense must be relevant for eternity, and the angels care about this sense more than they care about names and history. Theirs is a world of spiritual concepts and love of the Lord. For us, history forms an interesting outline from which we begin to see truths emerge that apply to our lives. So here are some historical points to keep in mind while reading the literal sense of Haggai.
1. The Jewish nation for years enjoyed, and benefitted from, the leadership of David and Solomon. Israel’s power and influence reached far and wide. The power of David and Solomon’s armies put fear and respect in the hearts and minds of neighboring nations. Israel’s armies subdued the external nations and enemies, but more potent and deadly enemies lived and grew within their hearts. As their peace and prosperity increased, the quality and sincerity of worship declined in their temple. Their acts of worship became pretentious and empty of sincere love for the Lord. Instead of loving the Lord, they loved treachery, greed, and selfishness; they turned to idolatry and "polluted" the forms of worship. So the Lord spoke through His prophet Jeremiah and told the people they would be brought to their knees. The work of their hearts would be responsible for the coming events in their lives. They would suffer under Babylonian captivity for seventy years:
Jeremiah 1:15. "For behold…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."
Jeremiah 25:11. "And this whole land shall be a desolation [and] an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years."
2. On or about 586 BC, the reign of captivity began with the sacking of Jerusalem. The Babylonians, under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar, spoiled the city and defiled the temple. The burning, sacking, and looting of Jerusalem "ripped out the heart" of the people. The great temple built by Solomon was burned and destroyed. With disbelief, the children of Israel looked at the ashes and charred timbers of their beloved temple; what was once the marvel and envy of the world was no more. We can identify somewhat with this story if we think about the day we watched, in horror, the destruction and devastation of the World Trade Center. Now imagine how you would feel if such an attack were made on a great, beloved church.
The captors carried away the best, the brightest, the young, and the skillful people from Israel. The elderly and infirm were left behind in a shell of a city that could not function. The "cream of the crop" was distributed throughout Babylon. Families were uprooted and separated from one another. Any integrity of morale and tradition was severely attacked and discouraged. Their new ruler demanded to be worshiped as a god.
One can only imagine how the captive Jews must have reflected about what had been. Can we imagine them telling those who were born in captivity what it was like in the holy city of Jerusalem? As well as they could, they must have talked about the good old days and the magnificent grandeur and beauty of "their temple."
For seventy years, the Israelites were kept in Babylon and subjected to the philosophy and religion of the Babylonians. Israel’s children, listening to the ideals and morals of Babylon, must have been badly confused and unsure of why they should oppose the ways of Babylon. Like "spiritual gentiles," they were vulnerable to falsity, ignorance, and idol worship.
3. Did the Lord forget Israel during those seventy years? History records the defeat of the Babylonian kingdom under the Persians. Cyrus, the king of Persia, was moved providentially to decree that the Israelites should return to their homeland. He ordered their restoration of the temple in Jerusalem and provided some funding for its completion.
Such news brought joy to the repatriated Jews. However, not all of them returned at once; they came over a period of time, journeying in small groups. For all practical purposes, this made their nation weak, an unorganized group of people with no strong leadership.
When they reached Jerusalem, they began work on the temple with enthusiasm and a sense of urgency. Ezra 3:8-10 tells us they "arose as one to oversee these workings on the house of God…" They got the foundation done. Ezra paints a picture of the tears and initial joy for the progress they made. But then a setback occurred. The Samaritans who resided in the region offered to help them with the rebuilding. Israel turned them down. The rejection did not sit well with the Samaritans so they appealed to Cyrus and his successor Cambyses to stop the work on the temple. What reason did the Samaritans offer? The Jews had a "rebellious nature." In effect, the Samaritans were warning these leaders that Israel would turn against them once the temple was completed and became the center of their lives.
Therefore, a decree came from the Persian nation that all work was to cease. As disappointing as the news was, the Jews complied with the decree. For sixteen years, nothing more was done to the temple. The unfinished foundation and beams must have served as a grim reminder of their futile efforts to regain a sense of "normalcy" in a world of servitude.
For sixteen years, Israel did no work for the restoration of the temple. Nor did they make any effort to petition for the right to continue restoring the temple. Instead, they turned their attention to their homes, their businesses, and the restoration of financial stability.
To placate their consciences, the children of Israel offered excuses. They complained about the meager crops because of drought conditions. They noted that food and drink were scarce, as were many other necessities of life. Furthermore, their efforts to broaden the base of their financial resources brought in low returns. So they allowed the work on the temple to cease, excusing themselves by saying, "It’s not our fault."
4. The Lord called a prophet named Haggai to speak to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and Joshua, the high priest. Haggai would tell these two leaders to rally the people to return and assume the real task at hand, to build spiritual things first. Haggai was called to be a motivator and a conscience to the people. There are basically four themes or prophecies in the book of Haggai:
5. Who was Haggai? His name means "the festive one." We don’t have much information about his personal life. It is generally agreed that Haggai’s family was carried off in the great Babylonian sacking of Jerusalem and that Haggai was born in Chaldea, a Babylonian city. Those who lived in this region of south Babylon were called "Chaldeans." The Chaldeans lived in loosely organized tribal groups, "…shifting allegiances…refusing to recognize any loyalty beyond that of the clan…." (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible.)
The Writings do not speak well of the Chaldeans. They signify worship that contains no truth, or truths profaned in worship. See Arcana Coelestia (AC) 1368. Apocalypse Explained (AE) 355  points out that Chaldeans signify those who profane worship and destroy the church. Did the Lord choose a Chaldean-born lad to turn things around?
As a young man, Haggai came back to Jerusalem with the returning exiles. What was in him that allowed the Lord to use him in this special way? We have no direct teachings. One can only think that he had a willing heart and a desire to serve the Lord. Loyalty comes out in his call to the children of Israel. Not once does he speak for himself. "Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying…."
It is important to have this information as we turn to the story of the rebuilding of the temple because it helps us compare our own state with that of the Israelites and hear the message given to them as a message given to us. It is important to read this prophecy with expectancy and hope so we will hear the Lord talk about the New Church as the temple that "shall be greater than the former…and in this place I will give peace…."
With prayer and a desire for enlightenment, let’s open the book of Haggai and share together the news of the "festive one" regarding the Lord’s New Church.