The teachings of the great Chinese philosopher Confucius have for centuries influenced culture, social morality, philosophy, and political theory throughout Asia and the world. He emphasized order and propriety in relationships, justice, and harmony. He believed strongly in the value of education as a key dimension of self–improvement, and he also promoted study of the classics as a highly virtuous pursuit. He is perhaps best known for his version of the Golden Rule, “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself,” which he called the virtue of “reciprocity.”
Did you know Confucius was a contemporary of the prophet Haggai? Considering Haggai’s ministry in this final week of our month’s study, we begin by noting his book is the second shortest (to Obadiah) in the Old Testament. Its two chapters contain four brief messages delivered during a four–month timespan: chapter 1, 2:1–9, 2:10–19, and 2:20–23. It was written in 520 B.C., in the second year of the reign of Darius. It is permeated by a strong sense of being a message from God, as more than two dozen times we are reminded that this is the “word of the LORD.” Haggai is regarded as the first postexilic prophet, joined soon after by Zechariah. Nothing is known about his personal background, though it is speculated he was perhaps in his 70s. This is based on a possible inference (from 2:3) that Haggai was one of the people who had seen the original temple, which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.
The book’s main purpose was to encourage the rebuilding of the temple. During the reign of Cyrus, 50,000 Jews returned home under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest. In the second year of their return, the foundation for a new temple was laid, but then construction halted due to Samaritan harassment, political shifts in the empire, and the people’s own spiritual apathy. Sixteen years later, Haggai appeared on the scene. The ministry of Haggai and Zechariah would be successful: The people obeyed and finished building a new temple about 515 B.C.