After a brief introduction, Haggai begins his prophecy by declaring, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD” (Haggai 1:2). Why were the Israelites not rebuilding the temple?
During his first year as king of Persia, in 538 B.C., Cyrus issued an edict allowing the Jews to return from Babylon to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple (Ezra 1:1-4). The altar was repaired, and the foundation of the temple probably began sometime in 537 B.C. Then Samaritan opposition brought construction to a halt in 536 B.C. Ezra 4:24 notes, “Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.” The temple project languished for 16 years, until 520 B.C.
Therefore, originally, the Jews stopped rebuilding the temple due to opposition from the neighboring Samaritans. But other reasons crept in. At the time of Haggai’s prophecies, some Jews simply said that the timing was not right (Haggai 1:2). Yet the time was right for them to build their own homes. In fact, Haggai rebukes the people for their concern for their own houses while neglecting God’s house.
Haggai taught that God was sending His judgment because of the Jews’ neglect of the temple of the Lord. Their harvest had failed, and their finances were not blessed: “He who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes” (Haggai 1:6). No matter how hard the people worked, their food, drink, and finances were not adequate. Haggai said that their needs would only be met when they obeyed God and rebuilt the temple (Haggai 1:7-11).
Together with the prophet Zechariah (Ezra 5:1), Haggai prompted the restart of the temple building project (Ezra 5:2). Once God’s people were back on track, the temple was soon completed, on March 12, 515 B.C. (Ezra 6:13-15). This fulfilled Jeremiah’s prediction of a 70-year captivity (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10) that lasted from Nebuchadnezzar’s burning of the temple in the fifth month of 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:8-9) until the new temple’s reopening in the twelfth month of 515 B.C.