Haggai : Part I, Background

I finished preaching through the first nine minor prophets (Hosea-Zephaniah) in November. I did not preach the final three prophets (Haggai-Malachi) who prophesied to Israel after their return to the land following the exile. However, I did want to give my people a short introduction to these three post-exilic prophets. Here is the first part of that introduction. It has two parts; a general introduction to Israel’s history following the conquering of the Northern Kingdom by Assyria in 722 B.C. and then a short introduction to Haggai.

General Background to the Minor Prophets
You may have noticed that there are twelve Minor Prophets. You may also have noticed that I only preached through the first nine. These first nine are referred to as pre-exilic prophets. All of them were written prior to Israel going into exile in 587/586 B.C. The last of these nine written was probably Habakkuk. The last three of the twelve Minor Prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, are called the post-exilic prophets. These three prophesied following Israel’s return to the land. Here is the first of three short outlines on these final three Minor Prophets. The timeline below visualizes the chronology of Israel’s exile into Babylon, return to the Promise land, the rebuilding of the Temple and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

722 B.C. The Northern Kingdom is conquered by Assyria
715 B.C. Hezekiah’s reformation
622 B.C. Josiah’s reformation (Zephaniah’s Prophecy)
612 B.C. Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, falls to Babylon
609-605 B.C. Habakkuk’s prophecy
605 B.C. Final assault by Egypt/Assyria against Babylon fails. Babylon gains total supremacy. The first deportation of Israelites to Babylon takes place. Daniel and his friends were probably in this first deportation.
597 B.C. First major invasion of Israel by Babylon
586 B.C. Final destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians occurs.
539 B.C. Persians conquer Babylon
538 B.C. Cyrus, King of Persia, issues a decree allowing Israel to return to the land. (II Chron. 36:22-23, Ezra 1)
538 B.C. First return to Israel takes place under Zerubbabel. (Ezra 1-6)
536 B.C. Restoration of the Temple begins, but stalls
520 B.C. Haggai and Zechariah are sent by God to encourage Israel to finish building the Temple. (Ezra 5:1-2)
515 B.C. The Temple is finished.
460 B.C. God sends Malachi to prepare the people for the ministry of Ezra and Nehemiah.
458 B.C. Ezra returns to the land. (Ezra 7-10)
445 B.C. Nehemiah returns to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

The chronology here, as it is throughout the Scriptures, is important. The prophets are almost always placed in a very specific situation in history. They did not usually prophesy to the air. They prophesied to specific people in specific places who are concerned about specific things in their lives. We cannot understand or apply what is written if we do not first understand when and to whom it was written. Knowing the history of Israel is invaluable in understanding God’s Word.

Background to Haggai
Haggai consists of four sermon summaries that Haggai preached on three days in 520 B.C. These sermons were designed to push Israel to finish rebuilding the temple and to grow in holiness. Haggai is one of the most precisely dated books in the entire Bible. We cannot just date it to a general time period or even to a specific year. We can date Haggai to probably the day the sermons were preached. Here are the probable dates for the sermons that Haggai preached.

1st Sermon: Haggai 1:1-15, preached on August 29th, 520 B.C.
2nd Sermon: Haggai 2:1-9, preached on October 17th, 520 B.C.
3rd Sermon: Haggai 2:10-19 preached on December 18th, 520 B.C.
4th Sermon: Haggai 2:20-23 preached on December 18th, 520 B.C.

There is one other important date, September 17th. On this day, a short time after the first sermon, the people began to work on the temple again. Thus the last three sermons were preached while the temple was being worked on. The temple was not finished until March, 515 B.C.