Building the House
Haggai 1:14, 15 says,
14 So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of Darius the king.
Haggai had begun to exhort the people on the first day of the sixth month, and the people then gathered together to begin rebuilding the temple 23 days later on the 24th day of the same month. The second year of Darius was 520 B.C. The temple was completed nearly five years later on March 15, 515 B.C. Ezra 6:15 says,
15 And this temple was completed on the third day of month Adar [the 12th month]; it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.
At the end of the month Adar, in the spring, a new year started in the Persian calendar. So the temple was completed just before start of the seventh year of Darius.
The Foundation of the Temple
In 520 B.C. Haggai exhorted the people and their leaders to build the temple. The building project had been started 13 years earlier after the first group of exiles returned to their land. Babylon was overthrown in 537 B.C., and Darius the Mede re-organized the kingdom for the first few years. Then Cyrus took direct rule over the kingdom, and Darius the Mede returned to his own land in 534 B.C.
In the first year of Cyrus (534) he issued a decree allowing the exiles of Judah to return to their old land. A remnant returned, and “in the second year… in the second month” (Ezra 3:8) they began to rebuild the temple. This was about the month of May in 533 B.C.
They laid the foundation (Ezra 3:10) with praise and great joy. As we will see later, Hag. 2:18 implies that the foundation was actually laid (or finished) on the 24th day of the 9th month, which means it took about 7 months of preparation before they could lay this foundation. The prophet then shows how this event prophesied of another event—when the foundations of all the nations would be shaken.
Zerubbabel, the governor, was given credit for laying the foundation of the temple (Zech. 4:9) in 533 B.C. During the seven-month interim, while they worked on the foundation for the temple, they built an altar of sacrifice (Ezra 3:3) and began offering sacrifices on the first day of the seventh month (Ezra 3:6). This was the feast of Trumpets, Rosh Hoshana, the Hebrew New Year.
They were then able to keep the Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles (Ezra 3:4). This feast was observed in a limited manner, because many years later, we read in Neh. 8:17 that the people kept the feast by making booths, something that “the sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day.”
The implication is that the feast in Zerubbabel’s time (533) was a partial observance, focusing upon the altar of sacrifice but not including the booths made of tree branches. Decades later, after Nehemiah arrived as the new governor in 458 B.C. having the mandate from Artaxerxes to rebuild the city and its wall, he and Ezra read the law to the people which caused the people to repent. “Ezra the priest and scribe” (Neh. 8:9) was the one who compiled the Scriptures into what is today commonly called the Old Testament.
The People in Samaria
Once the foundation of the temple had been laid, the other people of the land wanted to help built this temple. Ezra 4:2 says of them,
2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ households, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we, like you, seek your God; and we have been sacrificing to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here.”
These were the descendants of the people who replaced the Israelites, as we read in 2 Kings 17:23, 24,
23 until the Lord removed Israel from His sight, as He spoke through all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away to Assyria until this day. 24 And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon and from Cuthah and from Avva and from Hamath and Sephar-vaim, and settled them in the cities of Samaria in place of the sons of Israel. So they possessed Samaria and lived in its cities.
They seemed friendly enough, but their form of worship was a mixture of pagan practice and what little they had learned from certain Levites who had been sent to teach them some of the ways of the God of Israel. When 2 Kings 17:23 says that “Israel was carried away to Assyria until this day,” it meant until the days of Ezra, who compiled the Scriptures in its present form.
In other words, the ten tribes of the northern House of Israel did not return from Assyria when the remnant of Judah returned from Babylon. Those who think that Israel and Judah merged during this time are mistaken. Only Judah and Benjamin and a few priests of Levi returned to establish the nation of Judah (Greek: Judea).
The replacements that Esarhaddon had sent to Samaria (the land of Israel) were people of other nations. When they arrived, they had problems with lions. 2 Kings 17:25 says,
25 And it came about at the beginning of their living there, that they did not fear the Lord; therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them.
The common view of that time was that gods were local deities, and if a person moved to another land, he had to worship the local deity. But having been brought there from foreign lands, these people did not know how to worship the deity of Israel. So they petitioned the king to send priests of Levi to teach them how to appease the God of that land.
2 Kings 17:28, 29 continues, saying,
28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away into exile from Samaria came and lived at Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the Lord. 29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the houses of the high places which the people of Samaria had made, every nation in their cities in which they lived.
The result was a mixture of pagan idolatry with some of the forms of Mosaic teaching. The conclusion of this matter is stated in 2 Kings 17:33-41,
33 They feared the Lord and served their own gods according to the custom of the nations from among whom they had been carried away into exile. 34 To this day they do according to the earlier customs; they do not fear the Lord, nor do they follow their statutes or their ordinances or their law, or the commands which the Lord commanded the sons of Jacob, whom He named Israel… 41 So while these nations feared the Lord, they also served their idols; their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day.
It is obvious that the compiler of the book of Kings did not write this passage, for it gives later history of the “children” and “grandchildren” of those who had been brought to Samaria after the Assyrian conquest of Israel.
It is understood by most scholars that these additional comments were made by Ezra, no doubt by inspiration by the Holy Spirit.
This is the background showing why, 150 years later, Zerubbabel did not allow the Samaritans to assist in building the temple.
In like manner, as we build the New Temple in the New Jerusalem, there are many who desire to be part of this work. The problem is that “to this day” they “fear the Lord” but serve their own gods. That is, “they do according to the earlier customs,” trying to bring their non-biblical traditions into the temple of God. They want to serve the true God, but like the Samaritans, they obey the laws of other gods and reject the Law given by the God of Israel.
So the Samaritans, having been rejected, felt insulted and became enemies of Judah, a situation which continued into the time of Christ. They “hired counselors” (lawyers) to hinder the work of temple building for 13 years from the days of Cyrus until the reign of Darius, when Haggai stirred up the people to begin the work again.