I recently posted on one of my social media sites: Did you know? Haggai used eight questions to make the people think. I went and re-read Haggai to see what the 8 questions were. As I was reading I thought how if someone reading this didn't know the background history, they would have minimal understanding. Then I thought about someone recently telling me that it can be hard to read the Bible because it is so confusing. I looked at all of my writings and highlights in my Bible and I realized it might be helpful for me to explain how I study the text of the Bible.
The first thing I did was go to Haggai and read the text looking for the 8 questions. As I was reading I noticed certain words used a few times. From the get go I see the events occurred in "the second year of Darius the king." I know who King Darius is because I teach on the historical eras of the Bible, but you might not. I'll explain who he is further down.
I read from a Giant Print Bible (not large, but giant!) because my eyes aren't what they used to be. I don't read from a study Bible because of my eyes - the point (font) is usually small in a study Bible, but also because when I read from a study Bible I get sidetracked with the biblical text notes. I highly recommend getting a study Bible though. The study Bible text notes give you a lot of historical, cultural, geographical, and theological information. You will learn so much by referring to them. But I start out by just reading the text.
As I'm reading I highlight the verses which speak to me or seem important to me. I always use a yellow Sharpie highlighter. I just like the neatness of it. If I come across a key word in the Bible like "covenant", "lovingkindness", "the fear of God" or "inheritance", I highlight it and underline it so it will stick out to me in future readings.
I know a lot of people don't like to mark up or write in their Bible because they think it is holy. It is. Writing and highlighting in a Bible helps me the next time I read that particular book or passage. I believe God is pleased I am reading and studying it and I don't believe He minds. I wrote a blog about this if you want to read it. Should I Write in my Bible?
If I want to dig deeper into something or don't quite understand a concept or want to just learn more, I typically turn to my study Bibles' text notes. I have 3 study Bibles (1984 NIV, ESV, and CSB) and I sometimes borrow my son's study Bible (Life Application 2011 NIV.) If I really want to dig deep, then I turn to a commentary.
A Bible commentary is a written, systematic series of explanations and interpretations of Scripture.
Commentaries often analyze or expound on individual books of the Bible, chapter by chapter and verse by verse.
What is a Commentary? by Mary Fairchild
Now to the actual text in Haggai. When you are reading the Bible it is important to ask yourself the who, what, where, why, and when of the text you are reading so that you are reading it in context. (I didn't say ask yourself how. I guess because I never ask myself that one. I have no clue the how - especially when it comes to things spiritual.) More often the who, what,... is obvious, but sometimes it isn't. I've found it helpful to read the introduction of that book of the Bible in a study Bible to get some of the background information. If you don't have a study Bible, I would definitely invest in a books-of-the-Bible book like the ones mentioned in this blog: Something to have for your Library.
From my Christian Standard study Bible (CSB) introduction to Haggai:
WHO: ...the words recorded are repeatedly connected to what God spoke to the prophet Haggai.
WHAT: Haggai is speaking God's words to the people. I had written in my Bible: Consequences of disobedience as well as the blessings of obedience. But Haggai is more than that. My CSB study Bible puts it much better: Haggai challenged the discouraged people in Jerusalem to examine the way they were living and to set new priorities that would please God. They must remember that God was with them; He controls their future and wants His people to be holy.
WHERE: Jerusalem. The text does not specifically say Jerusalem, but it is talking about building the second temple and the temple was in Jerusalem.
WHY: People must glorify God, stay committed to God's plans, please God by living holy lives, and serve Him faithfully.
And here is the application for us too.
WHEN: In the text there are two clues to the when. The very first verse and other verses refer to the reign of King Darius and to the building of the temple. The temple they are referring to is the second temple. A study Bible introduction to the book will explain the when. I knew who Darius was, but if I hadn't I would have looked at a dictionary in the back of my Bible. You probably don't have one. So google it. Darius refers to Darius I, the king of Persia. There were 3 kings of Persia called Darius. Persia ruled Jerusalem. Because the calendar did not exist at this time period, they tell the year by the reigns of kings. King Darius I ruled from 522-486 BC.
Short run down on history. Babylon was the world power, and some Jews were taken there. A little while later Babylon takes some more Jews. Then the bad Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, laid siege to Jerusalem. Starved the Jews. Destroyed the city in 586 BC including the temple Solomon had built. The surviving Jews in Jerusalem are taken to Babylon. Then Persia takes over Babylon and becomes the world power. The Persian king Cyrus allows a remnant of Jews (about 50,000 - see Ezra 2:64,65) to return to Jerusalem to rebuild it. The Jews build the foundation of the temple and then the rebuilding halts because of a problem with the Samaritans. Darius becomes king and he permits the second temple to be rebuilt. This is the time period Haggai spoke God's words.
Haggai is a contemporary of Ezra and Zechariah. So I note I should read these three books together because they are from the same time period.
Now to what I noticed about the text. Haggai is a short book - just 2 chapters. And in those 2 chapters God is referred to as "the LORD of the hosts" 14 times. Some Bible versions translate this "the LORD of armies." Anytime a word or phrase is repeated it is important. My CBS text note says: This title views God as the Divine Warrior in charge of the armies of heaven, thus He is all-powerful and directs the fiery forces of the armies of heaven. He is sovereign.
I see two names in the text, Zerubbabel and Joshua mentioned in Haggai 1:1. I ask myself who are these guys? In this verse it tells me that Zerubbabel is the governor of Judah and Joshua is the high priest.
I note in verse 1:12 the concepts of obedience and feared the LORD (showed reverence for the LORD.) These are key concepts/ words in the Bible. So I highlight them and underline them.
I get to the end of Haggai and I see in Haggai 2:23 Zerubbabel mentioned again and God calling him, "My servant." Again the concept of being a servant of God is a key concept and I highlight it and underline it. But what is this signet ring? I turn to my dictionary in the back of the NASB Bible which says:
Zerubbabel A leader who returned to Israel with the exiles from Babylon. He helped in the rebuilding of the temple and was appointed by Cyrus as governor of a province.
line of David ... 1 Chronicles 3:1-19
helped rebuild temple ... Ezra 3:8
Then I turn to my CSB study Bible text note for Haggai 2:23 which says about the signet ring:
Make you like my signet ring indicates that Zerubbabel will carry the authority to act as God's legitimate Davidic ruler, a right that God removed from the evil King Jehoiachin (Coniah) in Jeremiah 22:24. This no doubt gave some hope about a future Davidic ruler who would someday rule on David's throne (Isaiah 9:6-7; Jeremiah 23:5-6).
What are they talking about here?! They are referring to the Davidic Covenant - that a descendent of King David will rule on the throne of David forever! Zerubbabel is in the Davidic line to the throne! And who is that future king? It is Jesus, our Lord and Savior. I immediately turned to the genealogy of Christ and read in Matthew 1:12,13.
After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud,...
I read the biblical text.
As I'm reading I highlight what seems important to me/ what speaks to me.
I note words or phrases that are repeated several times by highlighting them.
I note key words and concepts by highlighting them and underlining them.
As I read I ask myself who, what when, where, why.
To get an overall look at the book, I read the introduction to that book in a study Bible or in an books-of-the-Bible book.
I look up information I am not sure what it means or that I want to explore further by reading the text note for that particular verse in my study Bible. And I look up referenced Scripture verses to that verse. [I can't emphasize enough the importance of these steps in Bible study. It is the taking the time to at least go part way down a path to understand the text which leads to real learning. In doing this, things will stick with you. I know it can be time-consuming, but the benefit of looking up what you don't quite understand is enormous.]
I write in the margin the things I learn.
I did not mention this, but this is a biggie in Bible study!
Pray before you read Scripture (for understanding) and pray after you have finished (thanking God for His Word and what He is teaching you.)
And sometimes it isn't the time to go analyzing every meaning and every concept and figuring everything out. Sometimes it is just time to sit still and just read.