Israel’s prophets usually dated their prophecies by the reign of Jewish kings (Isa. 1:1;Jer. 1:1-3; Ho. 1:1; Mic. 1:1; Zeph. 1:1) But Israel had persisted in sin and rebellion so God allowed the Babylonians to conquer them. Then when the Persians conquered them, Hosea and Zechariah were forced to date their prophecies by a pagan king (1:1 cf. Zech. 1:1). God warned this would happen (Deut. 28:1-44).
Babylon’s victory over Israel began “the times of the Gentiles,” i.e., the time when Gentiles rule the world instead of Jews as God intended. These times will continue till the Lord returns and the Jews once more rule the earth under Him (Lu. 21:23-27). They are why we must obey the government even if unbelievers are our rulers (Rom.13:1-8).
You’re not under the law that says God will make someone else your king if you disobey Him (Rom.6:15), but you can make sin your king (Rom. 6:16). Balaam couldn’t curse Israel but taught Balak how to get them to curse themselves (Num. 31:16). No one can curse you, but you can curse yourself by not obeying God.
The Persian king allowed Israel a “governor” (1:1). His name means “born in Babylon,” which means he was born on the wrong side of the tracks, spiritually speaking, but he built Israel’s temple and helped bear the Messiah (Mt. 1:12,13; Lu. 3:23-27). You too can be used of God no matter where you were born.
Haggai prophesied “in the second year of Darius” (1:1) which means right after some troublemakers convinced the king to order work on the temple stopped (Ezra 4:1—5:2). Haggai wrote “the governor” because he could order the Jews back to work (1:1), but he also wrote “the high priest” because the problem wasn’t the king’s order to stop the work, the problem was how the Jews were reacting to it. They were too quick to give up (1:2).
“Aren’t God’s people supposed to obey the government?” Yes, unless they order something contrary to God’s orders (Acts 4:19,20). If they order us to stop preaching Christ, we shouldn’t because we are building the temple of Christ’s Body (I Tim. 3:15).
God called the Jews “my people Israel” 28 times, but called them “this people” when He was displeased with them, like the Lord called His Father’s house “your house” in speaking to those who rejected Him (cf. Jo.2:16; Mt. 23:37,38).
Only the most luxurious houses were ceiled (1:2) or plastered, so God was saying, “How come it’s not time to build Me a nice house but it is time to build yourselves nice homes?” They should have felt as David did (II Sam. 7:2), and challenged the ruling on legal grounds. Long before a Persian king ruled the temple not be built, an earlier king ruled it be built (Ezr. 1:1-3). They should have pointed out that that earlier law could not be altered (Dan.6:8).
Instead they did what Christians today do, they interpreted God’s will by their circumstances instead of by God’s Word. They knew Cyrus was right to order the temple built because Isaiah predicted he would (Isa. 45:28). Instead of interpreting the opposition to the work as God’s will, they should have remembered that any time you serve God you will experience opposition.
It’s always easier to let opposition make you think something is not God’s will and then find ways to justify it. God says men should work for a living, but men come up with excuses not to (Pr. 26:13-16; Eccl. 11:4). If you stop serving God every time the going gets tough, you’ll never accomplish anything for Him. Paul says we are appointed to opposition (Acts 14:22; I Thes. 3:3).
Instead of giving up on building the temple, the remnant should have had the same attitude David had when he was just trying to find a place to pitch the tabernacle for God. He said he wouldn’t sleep in his bed till he found it (Ps. 132:1-5), and he said that amid his “afflictions.” They included dodging javelins chucked at him by Saul! So no matter what afflictions are in your life, why not choose to say with David that God’s will comes first in your life?