From Apathy to Action- Thursday, 25th Week in ordinary time- Haggai 1: 1-8

Haggai lived more than half a century after that great exile at a time when a new page of history lay bare before the Jewish people.   Yet this time was also the lowest point in the experience of the Hebrew people throughout the whole biblical period. 

Some 66 years earlier, in 586 B.C., the city of Jerusalem had been defeated by the armies of Babylon and its temple had been desecrated.  A large portion of Jerusalem’s population had been exiled to live in the labour camps of Babylon. Others had escaped the invaders and had settled in foreign countries, far from their homeland.  Only a few had remained in the Promised Land. Devoid of any leadership, they had survived, but they had neither the vision nor the will to retain the vitality of faith which used to be celebrated in Jerusalem.

The international situation began to change in 539 B.C.  The newly powerful Persian Empire, under the leadership of Cyrus, defeated Babylon and thus became the new master of the fate of the exiled Jews who lived in the territories Persia now controlled.  Cyrus made it possible, perhaps as early as 538 B.C. for exiles that lived in his newly acquired territories to return to their homelands.  And so, some of the Jews, after half a century of residence in Babylon, began to move back to their own country, a land that many of them (having been born in exile) had never visited.

Of those who returned home, in and after 538 B.C., a few seem to have set about the task of restoring the temple, which had been destroyed in 586 B.C.  Their efforts, however, were too little.  Most of them would have been hard pressed to eke out a living in their new circumstances, and though the foundations for a restored temple were cleared and prepared, little progress seems to have been made with the reconstruction as such.

It is against this background that we are provided with a brief glimpse of the ministry of the prophet Haggai. Where the pre-exilic prophets had ministered to a violent and evil nation; Haggai was faced with the inertia of despair and sluggishness.  Some of this people sought merely to survive; others survived in reasonable comfort, but had no vision for the people as a whole.  

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