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Commentary on the Prophecy of Haggai

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons - London) DD

Introduction.

Over a period from the mid 8th century BC onwards many Israelites had been exiled from Palestine to various countries in the Ancient Near East, first as a result of Assyrian action (see e.g. 2 Kings 15.29; 16.9; 17.6; 18.11, 13; Isaiah 11.11), and then as a consequence of Babylonian invasions which on three separate occasions resulted in hostages being taken and culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/6 BC (2 Kings 24.2, 14-15; 25.1-7, 11, 21. That was how Daniel found himself in Babylon. Others had also found their way to Egypt and the lands beyond (Isaiah 11.11; 2 Kings 25.26). And after the final destruction of Jerusalem large numbers were transported to Babylonia. Ezekiel tells us something about them in his prophecy.

But when Cyrus the Persian entered Babylon in triumph in 539 BC it was as someone who had a more enlightened policy. He actually encouraged exiles to return to their homelands if they wished, restored to them their religious paraphernalia (Ezra 1.7; and in the cases of other religions their stolen gods), and offered government support in the restoration of their temples (Ezra 3.7). He wanted the gods on his side.

An example of the kinds of edicts that he made is found in Ezra 1.2-4, but we must not read too much into it, for he did the same thing for peoples of many nations, in each case indicating his adherence to their gods. He was a syncretist.

The result was, as the book of Ezra demonstrates, that a good number of exiles did return from Babylonia, and one of their first actions was to build an altar in Jerusalem so that they could restore true YHWH worship (Ezra 3.2). And for the first time for decades they were able to celebrate the feast of Tabernacles. They even began to lay the foundations for a temple, but life was very much of a struggle for survival, and there was intense opposition from outsiders, and the result was that work stopped on the temple while they sought to re-establish themselves in the land (Ezra 3.8-4.6). The building of the Temple was something that could be taken up later. The result was that they got used to their present conditions of worship and the vision faded.

It is to this situation that Haggai and Zechariah addressed themselves in c.520 BC. They felt that it was their responsibility under God to arouse the restored exiles to a sense of what was necessary, and they were so successful that work began again on the temple and by 515 BC the temple was completed. Now they could begin to look forward with hope to the future.

But we must not just see Haggai as a prophet who was concerned about the building of the Temple, for, as his further prophecies make clear, to him the rebuilding of the Temple was only the first stage in achieving what the previous prophets had promised, the reaching out of the Temple to all nations (Isaiah 2.2-4; Micah 4.1-2), and the coming of the promised King (Isiah 9.6-7; 11.1-9).

Haggai is also mentioned along with Zechariah in Ezra 5.1; 6.14 where the success of their ministry in respect of the building of the Temples is being described. Otherwise we know nothing about him or about any further ministry, although in the ancient versions his name is connected with some of the Psalms, especially Psalms 145-148.

The book has been described as poetic prose, and in order to bring out the parallels we have put much of it in ‘poetic’ form. But it is not strictly constructed as Hebrew poetry.

Commentary.

Introduction.

1.1 ‘In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of YHWH by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying,

The date was 520 BC. Having taken over the throne on the death of Cambyses, son of Cyrus, Darius had established his position, and by the time of his second year the only thing that awaited his attention was a rebellious Egypt that had claimed independence. He would deal with that small problem in the following year. So in this particular year nothing special was happening. He was totally oblivious of the fact that in one small part of his empire things were stirring, not politically but religiously. Things that would have a profound effect on the world, for they were beginnings which would lead to profound changes.

The dating of the prophecy in terms of Darius instead of a king of Judah was indicative of the situation in which the people found themselves. They had no king. They had no army. They were in no way a nation. Instead they were simply a small group of returned exiles struggling to survive in not very helpful conditions. It may, however, be that we are to see in this dating a sign of YHWH’s approval of the kings of Persia whom He had chosen for the purpose of re-establishing His people and His Temple (Isaiah 44.28-45.1). They too were part of His new plan.

The returned exiles were finding things particularly hard at this time. Their neighbours had not been pleased to see them arrive, especially when they appeared to be religiously exclusive (Ezra 4.2-3), and were far from welcoming, and they had had a series of bad harvests. They had also probably found that the best land was already being farmed. Things were at a low ebb, and the initial confidence that they had had on first arriving from Babylonia had waned.

They were ruled over at the local level by Zerubbabel, a prince of the house of David, and their religious affairs were in the hands of Joshua the High Priest. But Zerubbabel was not governor of a Persian province. He was simply the local governor, appointed because of his royal connection to oversee the exiles and the land allotted to them.

Joshua’s grandfather Seraiah had been High Priest when Jerusalem was taken by Nebuchadnezzar, and had been executed along with the other leading men (2 Kings 25.18-21; Jeremiah 52.24-27) because they were seen as leaders of the resistance of Jerusalem. His son Jehozadak had been spared and taken captive to Babylon (1 Chronicles 6.15). Now his grandson Joshua had received the High Priesthood.

And it was to these two men, Zerubbabel and Joshua, that Haggai the prophet came with a message from YHWH. It is significant that he approached the leaders. Clearly they were seen as godly men who could be depended on to respond once they knew that YHWH had spoken. All they needed was a push from God.

How often that is precisely what we need as well. How easily we settle down and accept things as they are without stirring ourselves and doing something about it. If only we had a Haggai to give us a similar push.

YHWH’s Grievance With His People (1.2-11).

In a series of consecutive prophecies YHWH’s grievance with His people is established, and the call comes to build the Temple. For YHWH knows that until the Temple is built they will not feel themselves to be one people, and the exiles far from home will see no reason to return.

1.2 ‘Thus speaks YHWH of hosts, saying, “This people say,

It is not the time to come,
The time for YHWH’s house to be built.

His message was simple. The people were simply saying that the time had not yet come to build the house of YHWH. Initial work had ceased on it twenty years before, and as far as they were concerned it would have to wait its time. Life was at present too hard. But he is saying that it was time that they thought again, for they were not behaving like true people of God. That indeed is why He refers to them indirectly as ‘this people’ rather than ‘His people’.

It would appear that what God was trying to do through him was to arouse the people from their apathy and listlessness, and from their grinding toil and give them something to aim at. He was seeking to refocus their attention on the future that He had promised them if only they were faithful to Him. But it was a future hope that had clearly been lost along the way. For we must remember that from their knowledge of their past history these men should have known the importance of having a spiritual sanctuary around which to gather. Its aim would be to serve as a focal point for bringing back the distant exiles, and thus re-establishing the people of God. But they had lost their vision.

Notice the continual emphasis on the Name of YHWH and His words in these first few verses. The name is found once in verse 1, twice in verse 2, once in verse 3, once in verse 5, once in verse 7, once in verse 8 and once in verse 9. And on four of these occasions it is as ‘YHWH of hosts’, the One Who has authority over the hosts of Heaven and earth and all that is in them. It was important that they should recognise Who it was Who was there, ready to act, and Who it was Who was speaking to them.

1.3-4 ‘Then came the word of YHWH by Haggai the prophet, saying,

“Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your roofed (panelled) houses,
While this house lies waste?”

Haggai again comes with a message from YHWH. This time the emphasis is on the fact that each of them has his own roofed house, while YHWH’s worship is conducted out in the open, and there is nowhere to satisfactorily store the religious vessels, because His house lies waste. It is just an empty ruin. No doubt they were stored in tents or sheds et up around the altar.

Some translate as ‘panelled’ and see them as living in some kind of luxury, which would contrast with how they were treating YHWH, but others point to the evidences of poverty and struggle and translate simply as ‘roofed’. Even the simplest house had to have a roof. (The word itself means ‘a covering’).

It was, of course, true that they had returned with a good amount of silver and gold (Ezra 1.6), but that may well have been spent on the preparations for the Temple which had come to nothing (Ezra 3.7). Perhaps on the other hand they had used the cedar from Lebanon to panel their houses. Either way what follows dose not depict them as living in luxury.

1.5-6 ‘Now therefore thus says YHWH of hosts:

“Consider your ways.”
“You have sown much, and bring in little,
You eat, but you do note have enough,
You drink, but you are not filled with drink,
You clothe yourselves, but there is none warm,
And he who earns wages, earns wages to put it into a bag with holes.”

So now YHWH calls on them to consider what has been their experience in the last few years. They have sown much seed, but it has brought little reward, they have eaten but never had enough, wine was sparse with not enough to satisfy, water was short and not easily available, their threadbare clothing was insufficient to keep them warm, and any wages that they earned disappeared as quickly as if they had put it into a bag full of holes (a first indication of the use of actual money in the Old Testament). The very descriptions bring out the destitution that they were experiencing. Life was unquestionably very hard.

1.7-8 ‘Thus says YHWH of hosts,

“Consider your ways.
Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house;
And I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified,” says YHWH.

Note the repetition of the command to consider their ways. But this time it was in order to tell them to think about their ways positively (contrast verse 5), and to go up to the hill forests, and collect wood with which they can build His house. Then, He promises, however meagre the product, He will take pleasure in it and will be glorified by it, for it will be a house built at cost to themselves, and as a confirmation of the covenant, and will turn many eyes towards Him. Alternately the point might be that He will be glorified, if they are obedient, by the coming of the Messiah. In other words this was a first step towards their messianic expectations.

We need no such house, for our focus is fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ, but the underlying demand is the same, that we are willing to engage in building up His body, the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3.10-16), by our personally costly and sacrificial efforts (Romans 12.1-2).

1. 9-11

“You looked for much, and, lo, it came to little;
And when you brought it home, I blew on it.
Why?” says YHWH of hosts.
“Because of my house which lies waste,
While you run every man to his own house.
Therefore for your sake the heavens withhold the dew,
And the earth withholds its fruit.
And I called for a drought on the land,
And on the mountains, and on the grain,
And on the new wine, and on the oil,
And on that which the ground brings forth,
And on men, and on cattle,
And on all the labour of the hands.”

God now repeats in more depth what He has already said, that their sad condition is partly due to the fact that they have neglected Him and His house. They had looked hopefully for much, but all that they had received had been little. And even that had been ravaged by high winds. Or the ‘blowing’ might simply refer to some other activity of God which affected their stored goods. And why had He done it? ‘Because of My house which lies waste while you run every man to his own house.’

This was why the rain and dew had not come, this was why the earth had not been fruitful, this was why everything was affected by drought. Thus there had been a shortage of food, wine, oil and water. And all had suffered, both man and beast.

The Leaders And People Make Their Response (1.12-15).

The result of Haggai’s persistence was that the leaders and people responded to his urgings, and to the word of YHWH, and began again on the work of building the Temple. Note again the great emphasis on the use of YHWH’s name. It appears three times in verse 12, three times in verse 13 and twice in verse 14. The emphasis is on the fact that this is YHWH’s doing and YHWH’s activity.

Thus they obeyed the voice of YHWH their God, through the word of the prophet whom YHWH had sent, because they feared YHWH. For YHWH’s messenger had brought YHWH’s message saying that YHWH was with them. And it was because YHWH had stirred the spirits of the leaders and people that work was being done on the house of YHWH. So in the end it was all YHWH’s doing.

1.12 ‘Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of YHWH their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as YHWH their God had sent him, and the people did fear before YHWH.

Thus with one accord Zerubbabel, Joshua and ‘the remnant of the people’ obeyed YHWH’s voice and the words of the one whom YHWH had sent, and demonstrated thereby their genuine and holy fear and their love for YHWH. It was a crisis point for the new Israel and they responded and ‘obeyed’. It was like a renewal of the covenant, a new beginning. Obedience was ever the sign the His people were in a right relationship with Him. ‘Now therefore if you will obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you will be a special treasure to Me among all nations’ (Exodus 19.5, 8; contrast Jeremiah 22.21). And they obeyed, and that obedience resulted in and from a new awareness of ‘fear before YHWH’. ‘Fear before YHWH’ was not simply the same as ‘the fear of YHWH’ which is the beginning of wisdom. It arose from a genuine sense that they had previously displeased YHWH and had come under His judgment. They knew ‘the terror of the Lord’. Compare the same use of the phrase in Deuteronomy 5.5. It was a whole new spiritual experience.

Note the use of the term ‘remnant’. These were the few from whom the many would be established. Tens of thousands had had the opportunity to return from all parts of the empire, but only these had done so. But this remnant represented the true Israel. So often the Lord’s work has to be done by a remnant. They no doubt also included faithful Jews who had remained in the land without being tainted by the syncretistic religion around them. But the idea of the ‘remnant’ as representing those who are faithful to YHWH is a regular one in Scripture (compare Isaiah 6.13; 10.20-22; 37.32; Jeremiah 23.3; Micah 4.7; Zechariah 8.6).

1.13 ‘Then spoke Haggai, YHWH’s messenger, in YHWH’s message to the people, saying, “I am with you, says YHWH.”

As we have seen, the repeated repetition of the Name is designed to bring out that all this is due to the activity of YHWH. Haggai is YHWH’s messenger, bringing YHWH’s message so that they might know that YHWH is with them. No one can be in any doubt as to Whose impetus is responsible for the house being built. Small and insignificant it might appear, but it is the product of YHWH’s activity and the people’s obedience and therefore glorious.

And now on seeing their ‘fear before Him’ YHWH gives them a message of assurance. YHWH’s messenger (angel) gives them the assurance, ‘I am with you, says YHWH.’

1.14-15 ‘And YHWH 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 did work on the house of YHWH of hosts, their God, in the four and twentieth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.’

Indeed having brought them to a position of obedience it was YHWH Himself Who stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel (compare Zechariah 4.6) and stirred up the spirit of Joshua the High Priest (Zechariah 3-4), and stirred up the spirit of the remnant of the people to begin work on the house of YHWH of hosts, their God. It had taken twenty four days from when Haggai had first received the world of YHWH (1.1). It was not, of course, just a matter of building. First the site had to be cleared and the necessary building materials gathered. The actual laying the new foundation would not commence for three months (2.18).

The ‘spirit’ in a man is that which is Godward within him. When a man dies his spirit returns to the God Who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12.7). It is with his spirit that he looks to God (1 Corinthians 2.9-16). And it is through a man’s spirit that God stirs him (as here).

In this we have a reminder that hen God calls us to obedience and we respond He never leaves it there. He ‘works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure’ (Philippians 2.13). He stirs our spirit to do His will. He does not just leave us on our own.

Note On The Importance of the Temple For Israel At This Juncture.

As we look at this situation in our own day we may ask, ‘Why was God so concerned that they rebuild the Temple?’ He was clearly not so concerned that it be a grand place or one that drew admiration from passers-by. So what then was its purpose?

The first purpose that God had in the rebuilding of the Temple was to raise the hearts of the people in the land themselves to a remembrance of the vision that should be theirs, the vision of the coming King described in Genesis 49.10; Numbers 24.17; 2 Samuel 7.13, 16; Psalm 2; Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-9, and to cause them to take the first tentative steps towards it.

In 2 Samuel 7 especially the building of the first Temple had been very closely linked in with the building of the house of David and the bringing in of the everlasting kingdom. Thus the building of a new Temple was to be a visible reminder of those promises, and was to stir their hearts towards the fulfilment of the greater vision. This in fact is what Haggai will bring out in the second chapter which clearly demonstrates that he saw the rebuilding of the Temple as but a prelude to the gathering of the nations to YHWH (2.7) and the rebuilding of the nation under the coming new King (2.21-23).

Secondly the news that the Temple had been ‘restored’ would spread like wildfire to many of the Jewish communities around the world who kept in constant contact with each other. It would be to them the same symbol of hope, putting new heart within them, and even acting as a magnet to draw some back to Jerusalem to participate in the new venture so as to build up a new nation, obedient under God. It would be an indication that things were ‘back on track’. In their case too the Messianic hopes would be revived.

Thirdly it would unite the true worshippers in the land, freed from the taints of idolatry, as one recognised community around the Temple. It would give them a focal point for their purified faith. For there were many in the land who would gladly have drawn them back to the old failings and the old syncretistic ways, and who indeed sought to have their part in the new Temple so as to nullify it before it had even been built (see Ezra 4.2). And they had had to be firmly rebuffed. For if the bitter experiences of the Exile had taught this new community anything, it was that any new Temple had to be free from all connection with the old syncretism. It had to be true to the Law of Moses. Thus its purity had to be jealously guarded.

It is interesting to note in Haggai how in respect to this new community his reference to them as ‘the remnant of the people’ in 1.12, 14; 2.2, changes in 2.4 to ‘the people of the land’ (2.4). The Temple will give them a new status within the land. They are the seeds of the new nation.

End of note.

Note On The Difficulties Encountered In Building The New Temple.

Haggai does not deal with the question of the difficulties that arose when God’s people began to rebuild the Temple. He was not concerned with difficulties. What were difficulties when YHWH had spoken? But nevertheless they were very real.

The original work on the Temple had been stopped by the activities of the people present in the land before the exiles had returned, who had been rebuffed when they had offered to join in with the building of the Temple, (in which they would have expected to be allowed to carry out their syncretistic rites), and had then done all that they could to prevent it from being built (Ezra 4.1-6), efforts which had proved successful. We do not know how far the work had got, but the work ceased and the proposed Temple had remained only partly built.

Once, however, the new rebuilding work began as a result of the activities of Haggai and Zechariah, the ‘Governor Beyond The River’ (named Tattenai), who was probably the governor of the Persian province in which Jerusalem was situated, along with other powerful men, had written to Darius asking that the work be made to cease (Ezra 5.6-17). Meanwhile, on being notified of this, Zerubbabel, Joshua and their followers continued work on the Temple, confident that they were doing God’s will and that He would therefore protect the work.

On search being made in the archives it was discovered that Cyrus had indeed given permission for the rebuilding of the Temple, and not only that, but had required that provision be made from state funds towards its rebuilding. Thus an order was issued by King Darius to the effect that the work should continue, and financial assistance be given towards the completion of the project and the provision of sufficient sacrifices to fulfil daily requirements so that they might make their offerings to the God of Heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons (Ezra 6.6-12).

End of note.

Chapter 2. God Will Restore His People.

This second chapter divides up into three parts, conveying three promises:

  • 1). The promise that God will take this seemingly inadequate Temple that they have built and will make it more glorious than they could ever have dreamed of, so that it will bring blessing to all nations (2.1-9).
  • 2). The promise that from now on God will bless them in contrast with what has gone before because of their obedience (2.10-19).
  • 3). The promise of the establishment of the everlasting kingdom of which Zerubbabel, as the chosen Davidic heir, is the signet ring (2.20-23).

God’s House Will Become A House For All Nations, Filled With Glory (2.1-9).

God’s first promise springing from their obedience is that, in spite of unpromising beginnings, His House will attract all nations, so that His House will be filled with glory.

2.1 ‘In the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month, came the word of YHWH by Haggai the prophet, saying,

This was the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. The Day of Atonement would have been held on the tenth of the month (Leviticus 23.26-32, compare Leviticus 16) and then from the fifteenth to the twenty first day would be the Feast, followed on the twenty second day by a solemn rest (Leviticus 23.33-36). This was a time for celebration of the harvests of the past year, and especially for the summer fruits and vintage, and of prayer for the coming rains which would ensure a prosperous harvest in the coming year.

But from what has already been said there would be little cause for celebration. The harvests had been bad, and the rains had not been forthcoming. Thus to some extent at least the celebrations would have been muted. Furthermore their coming each day into the partial ruins of Jerusalem, and their seeing the altar of YHWH open to the skies, surrounded no doubt by the sheds in which the Temple vessels were stored, would remind them of the glories that had once been. Once on this site had stood the glorious Temple of Solomon. And now all that was there was the bare altar surrounded by its sheds.

True they had now determined to rebuild the Temple. But they were fully aware of what a meagre building it was going to be compared with the glory of King Solomon’s, Temple, made even more glorious by its being an enhanced memory from the past (all who were still alive who could remember it had seen it as small children who must have been filled with awe at the site). Indeed when initially they had begun to build it when they first returned, the joy had been mixed with weeping precisely for this reason (Ezra 3.10-13). And Haggai was aware that things were no different now (2.3). So it was in the light of these circumstances that Haggai gives his assuring words. Things are about to change.

2.2-3

“Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah,
And to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest,
And to the remnant of the people, saying,
Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory?
And how do you see it now?
Is it not in your eyes as nothing?”

Haggai is now told to speak to Zerubbabel, Joshua and ‘the remnant of the people’ (those whose hearts are true) and encourage them.

The sense of discouragement that there was among the people comes out here. They were still feeling battered from their poor harvest, and now as they were planning their new building it was coming home to them, and especially to those who had seen the former Temple, what a poor thing it was going to be compared with the one that it was replacing.

But Haggai will have none of it. They must not look at what they are about to build, but must look ahead to what is going to result from it. For on the foundations of the Temple which they are about to build God will do such great things that all men will marvel. He will make it a House for all nations (2.7), He will restore blessing to His people (2.19), and He will raise up from the house of Zerubbabel the King Who is to rule over all, of Whom Zerubbabel himself is the guarantee (2.20-23).

2.4-5

“Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, says YHWH,
And be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest;
And be strong, all you people of the land, says YHWH,
And work, for I am with you, says YHWH of hosts,
According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt,
And my Spirit abode among you, fear you not.”

They must not be discouraged but must be strong. Let them remember how God had made His covenant with them (‘cut with them’, used of cutting a covenant) when they came out of Egypt, and how His Spirit had dwelled among them. So it would be again (compare Zechariah 4.6-7, ‘not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit, says YHWH’). Thus they must not be afraid. For they must no longer see themselves as ‘Zerubbabel, Joshua and the remnant of the people’ but as ‘Zerubbabel, Joshua and the people of the land’. With the commitment to the rebuilding and completion of the Temple they are once again ‘the people of the land’ in the eyes of YHWH. And it will all come about in His own good time.

Haggai probably has in mind here the words of God spoke to Joshua on the death of Moses, ‘Be strong and of a good courage, for you will cause this people to inherit the land --- only be strong and very courageous --- be strong and of a good courage, do not be afraid nor be dismayed, for YHWH your God is with you wherever you go’ (Joshua 1.6, 7, 9). There also ‘be strong’ was repeated three times.

2.6-9 For thus says YHWH of hosts:

Yet once, it is a little while,
And I will shake the heavens, and the earth,
And the sea, and the dry land,
And I will shake all nations;
And the precious things of all nations shall come,
And I will fill this house with glory, says YHWH of hosts.
The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says YHWH of hosts.
The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says YHWH of hosts,
And in this place will I give peace, says YHWH of hosts.”

And all the He is promising will come about because of His word. For He will ‘shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land, and He will shake the nations’. In other words in every aspect of creation, including the nations, He will exercise His divine power in the bringing about of His will.

Initially this shaking of the nations took place as one after another of the great empires collapsed (as Daniel brings out), but it would continue as the early church went out to the nations and established the Kingly Rule which would shake the Roman Empire to its core. And the Scripture regularly bring out that there will be a final shaking of the nations at the end of time.

The writer to the Hebrews, referring to these words, takes this a step further. He points out that things that can be shaken are clearly temporary and will therefore be removed, leaving the things that cannot be unshaken, which will remain, which he sees as the eternal Kingdom (Hebrews 12.26-28). For to him Mount Zion was now in Heaven, along with the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (and Temple), the innumerable company of angels, the general assembly of the church and the firstborn who are written in Heaven, and the spirits of just men made perfect. Thus he sees these words as fulfilled in the heavenly kingdom established by Jesus Christ.

And the result will be that the nations will bring their precious things and their treasures to YHWH, and He will fill His house with glory. After all, all the gold and the silver already really belonged to Him. Thus He promises that the latter glory of His House will be greater than the former, that is, the initial house that they will build. They are to see it as a seed that will develop into a huge tree. This promise that the treasures of the nations would be brought to YHWH is found regularly in Isaiah (Isaiah 18.7; 60.5-10, 16; 61.6).

As often with God’s promises the fulfilment of this came in stages:

  • Firstly it literally happened in the building of Herod’s Temple, to which indeed people from all nations did come, and to which many treasures and gifts were brought by both Jews and Gentiles, which unquestionably increased the glory of the House.
  • The glory came even more to the Temple when the young baby was brought in Who was the future Messiah and of whom Simeon declared that He was ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel’ (Luke 2.38).
  • But even moreso was the glory revealed His new Temple, Jesus Christ, Who would be destroyed and in three days would rise again, the Temple that had replaced the Temple of Herod (John 2.19, 21).
  • Then it was revealed in His new people who became the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3.16 and often), who would receive glory after glory (2 Corinthians 3.18).
  • And finally it was fulfilled in the new Temple in Heaven in all its heavenly splendour (regularly in Revelation), as those from many nations flocked into it as the riches of the nations (Revelation 21.24), a new Temple confirmed in Hebrews 12. 22-24, compare Galatians 4.26.

The Restoration Of Current Blessing (2.10-19).

Two months after the previous message, on the day that the foundations or building of the new Temple were finally established, Haggai brings both a warning and a promise. He does this in terms of whether purity and holiness can be passed on by contact, and whether defilement can be passed on by touch. And the answer in the first case is ‘No’ and in the second case is ‘Yes’.

Thus they are to recognise that the presence of the new Temple among them will not be a guarantee of their holiness, for holiness cannot be passed on by contact. On the other hand they are to be aware lest defilement spread among them, which could so easily happen as they come in contact with each other as those who have not fulfilled YHWH’s requirements. The idea may indicate the fact that because the ‘dead body’ of the ruined Temple has been among them, it has continually defiled them.

So the warning is against them thinking that because they are building YHWH’s Temple that in itself will make them holy, and points out why they have been defiled in the past up to this point with the result that their misfortunes have come on them

2.10 ‘In the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of YHWH by Haggai the prophet, saying,

This was just two months after the previous prophecy, and three months after the words in chapter 1. That three months would have been a busy time with the gathering in of the harvest of summer fruits and the vintage (disappointing though it was), and the keeping of the feasts of the seventh month, including the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles. This would have been followed by the sowing of the seed for the coming year once the rains had come. And at the same time the wood for the building of the Temple would have had to be determined on and collected from the hills (1.8), the stones which were to be used on the Temple had to be dug out and reshaped, and the area where the Temple was to be built had to be suitably prepared.

2.11-12 ‘Thus says YHWH of hosts, “Ask now the priests concerning the law, saying, “If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any food, shall it become holy?” And the priests answered and said, “No.”

He now publicly asks the priests for a decision on a question of the interpretation of the Law. It was a part of the duty of the priests to explain and interpret the Law, and this demonstrates a fully functional priesthood who were serving the altar that had been built in Jerusalem. In view of the connection by date we are probably to see the two ideas here and in 2.20-24 connected

The question was as to whether holiness could be passed on from a holy object to one that was not holy, by touch. And the answer expected, and given quite specifically, was ‘no’.

The example used was of the flesh of freewill, votive and thanksgiving offerings, and of the flesh which was the priest’s portion from other sacrifices. All these were ‘holy’, and the part of the coat in which they were carried was holy (Leviticus 6.26-27). But touching that garment did not result in holiness. And the point of this was in order to determine that holiness cannot be passed on merely by contact. He was wanting to bring out that holiness does not work in that way. It rather comes from dedication of something to God. The connection with the foundation of the Temple makes it quite clear that his point in this is that having the Temple among them will not in itself make them holy. Their holiness will depend on what is in their hearts and whether they are obedient to the covenant, on how they behave and on how they live their lives, not on the presence of the Temple.

2.13 ‘Then said Haggai, “If one who is unclean by reason of a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean?” And the priests answered and said, “It shall be unclean.”

The next question was to whether contact with a dead thing will render a man unclean, and the expected reply is, ‘Yes’, for that was the clear teaching of the Law.

2.14 ‘Then answered Haggai and said, “So is this people, and so is this nation before me,” says YHWH, “and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean.”

In that case, replies Haggai, so is this people unclean, and so is the nation in front of him, including everything that they do and everything that they offer. (For ‘this people’ compare 1.2. It clearly refers to the people that Haggai is speaking with, and indicates that they are to some extent at least not His people). This would seem to indicate that their uncleanness is due to their not having built the Temple. Not having a Temple can render them unclean, because the old Temple is as a dead thing among them. Having a Temple, however, will not render them holy, for the reason already given. Nevertheless if they re to be clean they must carry on with the building of the Temple

2.15 “And now, I pray you, consider from this day upwards (backward or forward), before a stone was laid upon a stone in the temple of YHWH,”

As a consequence of his argument he now asks them to consider what has happened in the past and what is happening now as a result of the fact that no stones for the Temple have actually been laid, even though a great deal of preparatory work has already been done..

2.16-17

“Through all that time, when one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten,
When one came to the winevat to draw out fifty vessels, there were but twenty.
I smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the work of your hands;
And nothing you to me, says YHWH.”

What has happened over that time? The answer is that productivity has been miserable, and all the elements that trouble farmers have been against them. And the result was that they had only had disappointing harvests of various products and of wine once it was all gathered in and stored.

And part of the reason was because they had been smitten by the scorching east wind, by mildew and by hail. These are often described as instruments of YHWH’s judgments. Consider Deuteronomy 28.22; Amos 4.9.

‘And nothing you to me.’ This could mean, ‘you meant nothing to me’, or ‘you gave me nothing acceptable’ (it was all unclean - verse 14). On the other hand a similar idea in Amos 4-9 is summed up with ‘you did not return to Me’. Thus this may simply mean ‘I received no response from you’. In other words, they had not responded to Him by building the Temple and therefore all these troubles had come on them.

2.18-19 “Consider, I pray you, from this day and upwards (forward), from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, since the day that the foundation of YHWH’s temple was laid, consider it. Is the seed yet in the barn? Yes, the vine, and the fig-tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive-tree have not brought forth. From this day will I bless you.”

That has been the past as a result of their failing to build the Temple of YHWH through apathy and fear. But what now about the future? What does the future hold now that they have laid the foundation of YHWH’s Temple (or have started to restore YHWH’s Temple)? It does not look good. They have sown what seed they had and now there is nothing left in the barn if the harvests fail. The vine and the fig-tree and the pomegranate have previously been unproductive. So what will happen? YHWH give His answer, ‘From this day I will bless you.’ Now that they have demonstrated their faithfulness to Him in a practical way their future is assured. From now on all their efforts will be blessed.

The Glorious Future And The Coming Of The Messiah And Of God’s Kingdom (2.20-23).

Here we have the third of the three promises. The first was that the Temple would be for all nations, the second that their near future would flourish, and now thirdly that the Prince who has established the Temple is to be seen as God’s symbol of the coming of His everlasting Kingdom.

2.20 ‘And the word of YHWH came the second time to Haggai in the four and twentieth day of the month, saying,’

On that same day as fruitfulness was promised for the future, God comes with an even greater promise.

2.21-22 “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying,

I will shake the heavens and the earth,
And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms,
and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations,
And I will overthrow the chariots, and those who ride in them,
And the horses and their riders will come down, every one by the sword of his brother.”

Haggai is to speak to the Governor of Judah and declare that God was at some unstated time to act on Heaven and earth (shake Heaven and earth) and would overthrow the throne of the kingdoms (whoever at the time was ruling those kingdoms) and would destroy the strength of the kingdoms and the nations, and would overthrow the chariots and those who rode in them (the elite), and would bring down the horses and riders, and it would all happen as they fought each other.

As with many of the prophets before him he depicts the days before the everlasting kingdom as being days of warfare and trouble, as the nations of the world are involved in a universal struggle (compare Joel 3.9-16; Ezekiel 38-39; Zechariah 14.13-15), although ‘the world’ that they have in mind is mainly that in the Ancient Near East.

It is always possible that this shaking is also to be seen in terms of earthquakes or of other convulsions on the earth (caused say by asteroids), for both are possibly portrayed in Revelation depending on how literally we take the descriptions. But dogmatism is clearly ruled out. In the end it is YHWH Who will shake the world as He pleases.

2.23 “In that day,” says YHWH of hosts, “will I take you, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel,” says YHWH, “and will make you as a signet. For I have chosen you,” says YHWH of hosts.’

But His end purpose is that in that day He may take Zerubbabel His servant, through his seed, and make him His signet ring, because he is the chosen of YHWH.

At first sight this might appear to signify that Zerubbabel was necessarily to be the Messiah. But God’s promises were often given to a man and his seed. To Him a man included his seed. We can compare the promises made to Abraham which included his seed, for the land would never strictly be given to him (Genesis 12.2-3; 13.15, 17; etc), and the promises made to David and his seed (2 Samuel 7.9, 13, 16), so that future king could actually be called ‘David’ (e.g. Ezekiel 34.23, 24; 37.24, 25). Thus His promise here is given to Zerubbabel and his seed. Zerubbabel is being assured that his house will so prosper that one day a ‘son’ of Zerubbabel will arise who would be the coming King. And Jesus Christ was of the seed of Zerubbabel (Matthew 1.13-16). And He was God’s signet ring, the stamped out image of God’s substance (Hebrews 1.3). And the earth was shaken by His coming and today He reigns over His everlasting kingdom and will one day return to finally bring about its full consummation.

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