“Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD’”.
– Haggai 1:2-11
Sheshbazzar, “the prince of Judah,” was the first governor Cyrus appointed over Judah when he allowed the Jewish exiles to go home in 538 BC (Ezra 1:8–11). We know nothing about him other than that he was of the tribe of Judah. On the other hand, Scripture tells us more about Zerubbabel, who succeeded Sheshbazzar as Judah’s governor. The grandson of Jeconiah—Jehoiachin—the last legitimately appointed king of pre-exilic Judah (1 Chron. 3:17–19; 2 Chron. 36:9–10), Zerubbabel was among the first Jews who returned with Sheshbazzar (Ezra 2). Since Zerubbabel was David’s descendant, he became a focus of messianic hope (Zech. 4:1–10). Notably, Zerubbabel, a prominent figure in the biblical accounts of post-exilic life (Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah), disappears without comment from the scriptural narrative. Some scholars speculate that the Persians eventually deposed him from his governorship for fear that the Jews’ messianic hopes might lead finally to rebellion.
Zerubbabel, along with Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, led the rebuilding of an altar to God on Mount Zion and the reinstitution of the sacrifices. He and Joshua also commissioned the rebuilding of the temple itself. This all happened in about 536 BC. When the foundation was laid, however, the people did not see the spectacular new beginning they had hoped for but a building so pitiful in comparison to Solomon’s temple that it made those who had seen the former temple mourn bitterly (Ezra 3). Doubtless this discouraged Zerubbabel and Joshua, but even worse were their enemies, who convinced Judah’s Persian overlords to stop work on the temple (chap. 4). For sixteen years, the temple remained little more than a foundation. Then, God called Haggai in 520 BC to wake His people from their slumber.
Haggai criticized the people for their complacency. They showed little care for rebuilding God’s house. Even though the rebuilding was illegal, they apparently did not even try to get Persia to lift its ban. On the other hand, they did not fail to improve their own properties. They lived in paneled houses, dwellings that were rich enough to resemble Solomon’s temple and its panels (Hag. 1:1–4; see 1 Kings 7:1–5). Still, they were not satisfied. While they were somewhat well off, their success did not match their efforts (Hag. 1:5–6). Dissatisfaction, not poverty, is the picture we see—people who were not getting what they really wanted. Haggai said they were not being blessed because they had not made God’s house a priority. Worship according to the Mosaic law was not really their consideration.
The Bible warns us not to make a one-to-one correlation between God’s favor and our success. However, that does not mean that we should not be alert to disobedience being a potential reason for why we might find ourselves in trouble. Failure is an opportunity to reflect on faithfulness. When we are struggling, we must not automatically assume that it is because the Lord is displeased with us, but neither must we immediately discount it as a possibility.