As predicted by Jeremiah and others, after their 70 years of captivity in Babylon were fulfilled, Cyrus, the Emperor of the new empire, sent the Jews back to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple in 538 BC. After seventeen years of failing to progress on this construction project God sent Haggai to correct the people’s attitudes and sharpen their awareness of God’s intentions for them in the year 520.
Indeed the returning Jews did not return to a beautiful, functioning city in Jerusalem. They returned
to the destroyed remains of what was left from Nebuchadnezzar’s battering rams and fire in 586. These Jews had to not only build shelters for themselves but they also had to re-create the entire infrastructure (roads, water supply, sewer, shopping, industry, etc.), establish a local
government, and generate an economy - all while they dealt with rival communities and businesses
already established in the area.
These challenges they had faced, but the pressures of life demanded that they prioritize their
efforts and their resources. After almost 20 years, the one thing that always ended up on the
bottom of the must do or must have list was the construction of the Temple. The people’s residences where built (and, paneled according to Haggai!). The economy was competing
with the Samaritans (which was another problem dealt with by Ezra and Nehemiah). But the
people had consistently decided that, since it was too difficult and too much of a challenge, it
must not be God’s time to rebuild the Temple. They were waiting for a more convenient time.
But, Haggai asks, Is it time for you to panel your houses, yet you have not time for the Temple?
Is it convenient to meet your personal needs and goals, but too difficult to build the Temple
and meet the Lord’s goal?
Haggai spoke these words to the people on August 29, 520 BC and within forty-three months the Temple was completed. The Temple was burnt and destroyed by Babylon on August 14, 586, and exactly 70 years later the rebuilt Temple was completed on March 12, 516.