This book needs background info to be understandable. Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered the Babylonians around 538 BCE, releasing the Jews from their captors and ending the exile by issuing a decree allowing them to return to Jerusalem. So why didn’t the returning Jews immediately set about rebuilding the temple? Wouldn’t that have been a priority? Haggai wondered, too. He supposedly wrote this book around 520 BC, and its main theme was ‘get on with the job’. The temple reconstruction actually did start around that time, but wasn’t completed until 516.
Chapter 1 The Jews have been back in Jerusalem for almost 18 years already. They’ve rebuilt their homes and are now living in relative comfort, but still no temple. Yahweh’s pissed. He tells Haggai that as long as his house continues to lie in ruins, he will ruin things for his people – by causing droughts and winds that will starve the livestock and ruin the crops. He says they need to get their sh*t together and start building. Haggai relays this message to the people (see Ezra 5:1 and 6:14). So they get a work bee going and start in.
Chapter 2 The new temple isn’t looking as lavish as the one Solomon built. Of course, that had been looted, so all the former treasures are long gone. Yahweh tells Haggai not to worry (v 3-5). For god will shake the nations, and all the treasures will be brought back to the temple – gold and silver – and the new temple will be glorious! (v 6-9). Now… can someone explain to me how on earth Handel can turn the words of v 6-7 into a Messianic prophesy? Only by ending the lyrics before the part about the temple and the gold and silver, so that he can imply that the ‘treasure’ or ‘desire’ (in the KJV) of the nations is… Jesus – who else? It gets even worse after that, when Handel links these lyrics to unrelated verses from Malachi (which is coming right up).
V 10-19 are a morality lesson which basically says that if the religious laws are all followed, then life will be a bowl of cherries – bumper crops and everything. Farmers have been wishing for millennia that it were that easy. The book ends with Yahweh promising to protect the governor of Judah even while he trashes other nations.