HAGGAI, ZECHARIAH, MALACHI: Return to Me, and I Will Return to You
Israel and Judah broke their covenant with Yahweh, so he scattered them among the nations. Jerusalem was an embarrassing pile of rubble. But the prophets had promised that one day the people would return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the city. The shame of Jerusalem would be gone. The city would dwell secure forever. In 539 BC, Cyrus King of Persia declared that the Hebrews could return to rebuild their temple. Led in part by Zerubbabel and Jeshua, over 42,000 people returned to rebuild. But external forces caused work on the temple to cease. These years were terribly discouraging for the remnant. Just when they thought they were on the brink of a glorious future, all earthly powers had turned against them. Sustained hope had not existed in Jerusalem for many years.
Ezra 5:1-2 sheds light on what happened next in 520 BC. After fifteen years of nothing, God’s Spirit roused the remnant to work through the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah. What did these prophets see and say that encouraged this remnant so much? Both Zechariah and Malachi (who came after the temple was rebuilt) summarize the message well: “Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you.” The people wanted the glorious future God promised, but they hadn’t been willing to work toward it or be obedient to the God who promised to bring that future.
Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi have similar themes and wording - showing they are probably meant to be read together. We will spend the majority of our time in Zechariah. Zechariah is filled with wild visions in the first half and inspiring pictures of a restored people of God in the second half.
These books can be challenging for modern readers to understand, especially Zechariah. But, with some work, these prophets pay out very inspiring and encouraging messages for us today. Our goal will not be to merely understand the message to the original audience, but to also interpret and apply that message for us today. Both the rebukes and the hopeful promises of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are especially helpful for Christians. As Peter reminds us in his letters: “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you,” “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (1 Peter 1:12; 2 Peter 1:19).
Zechariah material is written by Travis Wise (except where noted).
Haggai and Malachi material is written by Scott Kercheville.