THE BOOK OF HAGGAI

Haggai’s words concern conditions in the Persian province of Judah at the beginning of the postexilic period during the reign of the Persian king Darius I (522–486 B.C.). The community in Judah is struggling with its identity in light of the loss of its statehood through the demise of the monarchy and the destruction of the Temple. Haggai’s oracles address both these problems. First, the provincial government, despite its subordination to Persian hegemony, is seen as the legitimate heir to the Davidic monarchy; the governor Zerubbabel, himself a descendant of the Davidic line, and the high priest Joshua together provide political, economic, and religious leadership for the survivors of the Babylonian destruction and the returnees from the Babylonian exile who live together in Judah. Still, the possibility for restoration of Davidic rule is not relinquished but rather is shifted to the eschatological future. Second, the Temple’s ruined state is addressed by a rebuilding program. The prophet links the well-being of the community to the work of Temple restoration, and his exhortations to the leaders and the people to begin work on this project are apparently heeded. The brief period of Haggai’s ministry (August to December 520 B.C.) marks the resumption of work on the Temple, the symbol of divine presence among the people.

Six date formulas (1:1, 15; 2:1, 10, 18, 20) are an important feature of the Book of Haggai. In their specificity and in their link to the reign of a foreign king (Darius), the dates underscore God’s control over history, as do similar chronological references in Zechariah, a prophetic book connected in literary and thematic ways to Haggai.

The prophecies of Haggai can be divided into two major parts:

  1. The Restoration of the Temple (1:115)
  2. Oracles of Encouragement (2:123)

CHAPTER 1

Prophetic Call To Work on the Temple. 1On the first day of the sixth month in the second year* of Darius the king, the word of the LORD came through Haggai the prophet to the governor of Judah, Zerubbabel,a son of Shealtiel, and to the high priest Joshua, son of Jehozadak:b 2Thus says the LORD of hosts: This people has said: “Now is not the time to rebuild the house of the LORD.”

3Then the word of the LORD came through Haggai the prophet: 4Is it time for you to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies in ruins?* c

5Now thus says the LORD of hosts:

Reflect on your experience!*

6You have sown much, but have brought in little;

you have eaten, but have not been satisfied;d

You have drunk, but have not become intoxicated;

you have clothed yourselves, but have not been warmed;

And the hired worker labors for a bag full of holes.

7Thus says the LORD of hosts:

Reflect on your experience!

8Go up into the hill country;

bring timber, and build the house

that I may be pleased with it,

and that I may be glorified,* says the LORD.

9You expected much, but it came to little;

and what you brought home, I blew away.

Why is this?—oracle of the LORD* of hosts—

Because my house is the one which lies in ruins,

while each of you runs to your own house.

10Therefore, the heavens withheld the dew,

and the earth its yield.

11And I have proclaimed a devastating heat*

upon the land and upon the mountains,

Upon the grain, the new wine, and the olive oil,

upon all that the ground brings forth;

Upon human being and beast alike,

and upon all they produce.

Response of Leaders and People. 12Then Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, and the high priest Joshua, son of Jehozadak, and all the remnant of the people* obeyed the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, since the LORD their God had sent him; thus the people feared the LORD. 13Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, proclaimed to the people as the message of the LORD: I am with you!—oracle of the LORD.

14And so the LORD stirred up the spirit of the governor of Judah, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, and the spirit of the high priest Joshua, son of Jehozadak, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people,e so that they came to do the work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, 15on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year* of Darius the king.

* [1:1] First day of the sixth month in the second year: August 29, 520 B.C. This is the first of six chronological indicators in Haggai. Darius: Darius I, emperor of Persia from 522 to 486 B.C. Governor: term used for local rulers of provinces in the Persian imperial structure. Zerubbabel: grandson of King Jehoiachin (cf. 2 Kgs 24:817).

* [1:4] Your paneled houses…house lies in ruins: the contrast here is between the unfinished Temple and the completed houses of the Judeans.

* [1:5] Reflect on your experience: the prophet exhorts the people to consider the futility of their efforts as a result of their neglecting work on the Temple. The following verses call attention to harsh conditions in Judah after the return from exile and the preoccupation of the people with their personal concerns.

* [1:8] That I may be glorified: for the prophet, the rebuilding of the Temple restores the glory God had lost in the eyes of the nations by the Temple’s destruction.

* [1:9] Oracle of the LORD: a phrase used extensively in prophetic books to indicate divine speech.

* [1:11] Devastating heat: this pronouncement of natural disaster, which functions as a warning to the people for their failure to rebuild the Temple, concludes the opening oracular section of Haggai.

* [1:12] The remnant of the people: here the phrase appears to refer to the prophet’s audience, but the “remnant” theme, though often in different Hebrew terminology, suggesting especially those whom the Lord will call back from exile and re-establish as his people, is important in the prophets (cf. Is 4:3; 37:3132; Jl 3:5; Mi 4:7; Ob 17) and in the New Testament (cf. Rom 11:110).

* [1:15] Twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year: September 21, 520 B.C. The resumption of work on the Temple occurred twenty-three days from the beginning of Haggai’s prophecy. This date formula repeats in reverse order the formula of v. 1, thereby bringing to conclusion chap. 1; it also initiates the next unit in 2:1.

a. [1:1] Zec 4:610.

b. [1:1] Zec 3:110.

c. [1:4] 2 Sm 7:2.

d. [1:6] Lv 26:26; Hos 4:10.

e. [1:14] Ezr 1:5; 5:12.

CHAPTER 2

Assurance of God’s Presence. 1On the twenty-first day of the seventh month,* the word of the LORD came through Haggai the prophet: 2Speak to the governor of Judah, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, and to the high priest Joshua, son of Jehozadak, and to the remnant of the people:

3Who is left among you*

who saw this house in its former glory?

And how do you see it now?

Does it not seem like nothing in your eyes?a

4Now be strong, Zerubbabel—oracle of the LORD

be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, high priest,

Be strong, all you people of the land—oracle of the LORD

and work! For I am with you—oracle of the LORD of hosts.

5This is the commitment I made to you

when you came out of Egypt.

My spirit remains in your midst;

do not fear!

6For thus says the LORD of hosts:*

In just a little while,

I will shake the heavens and the earth,b

the sea and the dry land.

7I will shake all the nations,

so that the treasures of all the nations will come in.

And I will fill this house with glory—

says the LORD of hosts.c

8Mine is the silver and mine the gold—oracle of the LORD of hosts.

9Greater will be the glory of this housed

the latter more than the former—says the LORD of hosts;

And in this place I will give you peace—*

oracle of the LORD of hosts.

Priestly Ruling with Prophetic Interpretation.* 10On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month in the second year* of Darius, the word of the LORD came to Haggai the prophet: 11Thus says the LORD of hosts: Ask the priests for a ruling:* 12If someone carries sanctified meat in the fold of a garment and the fold touches bread, soup, wine, oil, or any other food, do they become sanctified? “No,” the priests answered. 13Then Haggai asked: “If a person defiled from contact with a corpse touches any of these, do they become defiled?” The priests answered, “They become defiled.”e 14Then Haggai replied:

So is this people,* and so is this nation

in my sight—oracle of the LORD

And so is all the work of their hands;

what they offer there is defiled.

15Now reflect,* from this day forward—before you set stone to stone in the temple of the LORD, 16what was your experience?

When one went to a heap of grain for twenty ephahs,

there were only ten;

When one went to a vat to draw fifty ephahs,*

there were only twenty.f

17I struck you, and all the work of your hands,

with searing wind, blight, and hail,

yet you did not return to me—oracle of the LORD.g

18Reflect from this day forward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month.* From the day on which the temple of the LORD was founded, reflect!

19Is there still seed in the storehouse?

Have the vine, the fig, the pomegranate,

and the olive tree still not borne fruit?

From this day, I will bless you.*

Future Hope.* 20The word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month:* 21Speak to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah:

I will shake the heavens and the earth;

22I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms,

and destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations.

I will overthrow the chariots and their riders,

and the riders with their horses

will fall by each other’s swords.h

23On that day—oracle of the LORD of hosts—I will take you, my servant, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel—oracle of the LORD—and I will make you like a signet ring,* for I have chosen you—oracle of the LORD of hosts.i

* [2:1] Twenty-first day of the seventh month: October 17, 520 B.C.

* [2:3] Who is left among you: i.e., who is old enough to have seen the first Temple prior to its destruction in 587 B.C.? Compare the reaction of priests who were alive then (Ezr 3:1213).

* [2:69] These verses emphasize that the total fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel is on the horizon. Such an eschatological event, which will shake the nations (v. 6; cf. v. 21), finds an echo not only in the political revolts in the Persian empire in 521 but also in the formative events of Israel’s history (Ex 19:18; Jgs 5:4; Ps 68:89) when God intervened on behalf of the Israelites. The bringing of treasures of all the nations (v. 7) to Jerusalem recalls the visionary passages of Isaiah of the pilgrimage of all nations to Jerusalem (Is 2:24; 60:69).

* [2:9] Peace: after God’s presence or glory has returned to the Temple, Jerusalem will receive the treasures from the nations, making the Temple more glorious than ever; and from that place God will extend shalom, a peace which embraces prosperity, well-being, harmony.

* [2:1014] A request for a priestly ruling (Heb. torah) is made in the form of a dialogue between Haggai and the priests. Explicit examples where such priestly rulings are quoted are rare in prophetic books. The interchange illustrates an essential role of the priesthood: the interpretation of God’s law (cf. Lv 10:911).

* [2:10] Twenty-fourth day of the ninth month in the second year: December 18, 520 B.C.

* [2:11] Ask the priests for a ruling: i.e., a determination on whether defilement and sanctity can be physically transmitted. The priests are expected to make a legal decision. The answer is that sanctity cannot be transmitted (v. 12) but defilement can (v. 13). Priestly duties are enumerated in Lv 10:1020.

* [2:14] So is this people: the prophet’s interpretation is that the restored sacrifices were not acceptable because the people’s behavior was tainted.

* [2:1519] This prophecy is retrospective and should be read with 1:511, a description of the conditions of economic deprivation before the rebuilding of the Temple.

* [2:16] Ephahs: see note on Is 5:10.

* [2:18] Twenty-fourth day of the ninth month: December 18, 520 B.C., the date of the refounding of the Temple (vv. 10, 20), the central date in Haggai.

* [2:19] I will bless you: from the day of the refounding of the Temple, agricultural plenty and fertility are assured. This link between temple and prosperity is part of the ancient Near Eastern temple ideology that underlies Haggai and Zec 18.

* [2:2023] This final oracle of hope is uttered on the day of the refounding of the Temple. Unlike the other oracles it is addressed to Zerubbabel alone, who, as a Davidic descendant, will have a servant role in God’s future Israelite kingdom to be established when God intervenes to overthrow the nations.

* [2:20] Twenty-fourth day of the month: December 18, 520 B.C. (as in v. 18).

* [2:23] Like a signet ring: this promise to Zerubbabel reverses the punishment of his grandfather (Jer 22:2325). A signet is a ring or other instrument used to mark documents or materials with the equivalent of an official signature. A lower official could thus be authorized to act on behalf of a higher official. Like a signet ring, Zerubbabel represents the Lord.

a. [2:3] Ezr 3:1013.

b. [2:6] Heb 12:26.

c. [2:7] Is 60:711.

d. [2:9] 1 Kgs 8:11.

e. [2:13] Lv 22:47.

f. [2:16] Hos 4:3a.

g. [2:17] Am 4:9.

h. [2:22] Sir 49:11.

i. [2:23] Zec 6:1213.