Haggai 1.2 – The Historical Context

“The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.”  These are the words that are placed in the mouths of the people of Israel in Haggai 1.2.  So, what’s the big deal?  What many do not realize is that the people have been back in the land for nearly twenty years.  They returned to the land in 539 (well, at least some of them did – the people did not all come back at one time) and Haggai 1.1 places this text around the year 520.  So, the temple has not been rebuilt for twenty years and the people are now living in fine homes (There is some debate over the translation “paneled,” “covered,” etc. in verse 4, but the gist seems to be that the people have nice homes).

Certainly, one can understand getting personal affairs in order before rebuilding the temple.  How are people going to work to rebuild the temple if they have nowhere to rest?  But 20 years is a considerable period of time.  And, having a fine home is different than having a roof over one’s head.  This is what draws the ire of God and, according to the prophet, what results in a drought, which is made clearer in 1.11 (Interestingly, not having enough to drink to drunkeness is part of the punishment here).  Of course, one might wonder here about the interpretation of the prophet.  How would sending a strength sapping famine result in the temple being rebuilt more quickly?  But, according to the rest of the book, the prophetic message gets the people to get things done.

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