When Cyrus, king of Persia, conquered Babylon in 539 BC, he allowed the exiled Jews to return home and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. One group returned the next year, completing and dedicating the temple foundation within two more years. But they were stopped by suspicious and resentful neighbors who had influence in the Persian court (see Ezra 4:4–6:22). Sixteen years later, when King Darius takes the throne, the prophet Haggai urges the people to restart their work. He calls specifically on Zerubbabel, the appointed governor, and Joshua the high priest, to lead the project. Within four years the reconstruction was completed and worship in the temple resumed.
Haggai delivers his four messages during a strategic four-month period at the beginning of Darius’ reign. The first message explains that Israel’s crops aren’t being blessed because God’s house has been left in ruins. The second message gives encouragement to those who found the new temple disappointing compared to Solomon’s original temple. God promises that its glory will outshine the first temple. The third message assures the people that from now on their crops will be blessed. The final message is a personal encouragement to Zerubbabel himself, the heir to the throne of David. The people are back in their land, and so is God’s blessing.