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Bible Commentaries

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

Haggai 1

Verse 1

This chapter contains the the salutation and dating of the prophecy and the first of Haggai's four messages.

Haggai 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 Jehovah by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the High Priest, saying:"

FIRST MESSAGE

"Darius the king ..." This was Darius the Great of Persia, also called Darius Hystaspes, after the name of his father. He reigned over the Medo-Persian Empire from 522-486 B.C.[1] He continued the benevolent policies that had characterized the reign of Cyrus who issued the original order for the rebuilding of the Temple and the return of the Jewish captives to Jerusalem.

"In the sixth month, in the first day of the month ..." This corresponds to "Elul, answering to parts of our August and September."[2]

"The word of Jehovah by Haggai ..." Twenty-six times the prophet affirmed in the space of these two short chapters that his word was not his own, but the word of the Lord. Commentators will never be able to understand prophecy until they are willing to take this into account. All of the speculation and wild guesses about what the prophet supposed, or thought, are absolutely immaterial and irrelevant. No matter what the prophets might have thought, and we may be reasonably certain that they thought a lot of things that were not true, it was what they wrote that constitutes the Word of God; and, as an apostle has declared unto us, the prophets themselves did not always know the meaning of what they declared to be the Word of God (See 1 Peter 1:10-12).

"Unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah ..." Note that Zerubbabel here is a deputy of Darius the Great; and despite his being of the royal seed of David, he was in no sense a true king of Judah. The name Zerubbabel means, "Seed of Babylon," indicating that he was probably born during the Babylonian captivity. He was a friend and favorite of Darius the Great who made him governor of Judah. Zerubbabel successfully competed in a contest to determine what was the strongest thing in the world - wine, kings, women, or truth. Zerubbabel, having demonstrated that truth was the mightiest of all, was called the `king's cousin,' and was granted permission to go up to Jerusalem to build the temple."[3]

"Son of Shealtiel ..." Scholars, have long puzzled over the riddle posed by other passages which affirm that he was the son of Pedaiah (1 Chronicles 3:19). Several plausible solutions involving Levirate marriages, adoptions, etc., have been proposed, but they are of minor interest. Zerubbabel was universally known as the "son of Shealtiel" (Luke 3:27; Matthew 1:12) and is so listed in the genealogies of both Matthew and Luke. "Salathiel" is another form of the same name. In harmony with Jeremiah's prophecy that no seed of Jeconiah should sit upon David's throne, it would appear that Zerubbabel was not a blood relative of that weak and incompetent monarch. Nevertheless, he was "most certainly his successor of the 3or 4th generation, and the legitimate heir to the throne of David."[4] The two New Testament genealogies of Matthew and Luke both list his name; and it would appear that Christ was both a literal descendant of Zerubbabel through Mary the daughter of Heli, and the legal descendent and heir of David through Zerubbabel and Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was the legal son, but not his actual son.

"And Joshua ... the High Priest ..." Note the prominence of the Jewish high priest. Not to the governor only, but to the High Priest likewise came the sacred message. Henceforth in Israel (Judah), the king would not be the "all in all" of former days, but the High Priest would move into a similar position of authority as the custodian of the peoples' fortunes. This was continued throughout the subsequent history of Judah until the coming of Christ, at which time the high priest, Caiaphas, appears as one of near-equal authority with the governor, or procurator, Pontius Pilate.

Verse 2

"Thus speaketh Jehovah of hosts, saying, This people say, It is not the time for us to come, the time for Jehovah's house to be built."

The awkward rendition here is due to uncertainties in the text, which despite any flaws is nevertheless clear enough The people did not wish to rebuild the Temple, because they said, "It is not time!" What fund raiser has not heard that? "It is not a good time ..." "This is hardly the right time for it ..." etc. Other versions have rendered the clause: "The time is not yet come for building the house of the Lord."[5] "This people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord" (RSV). "These people say that this is not the right time to rebuild the Temple" (Today's English Version).

"This people ..." This must be one of the most important things in the verse. Note that God does not refer to Judah as "my people," but as "this people." In no sense, were they to be received back with all the privileges and blessings of former years. Their autonomy would never be fully restored, and the nation would suffer innumerable hardships before the coming of the Messiah.

We are not informed as to the manner of the people's conclusion that the time had not come. Instead of counting the captivity from 606 B.C., when the first captives were removed, they might have been counting from the destruction of the Temple (586 B.C.), in which latter case the full seventy prophetic years had not fully elapsed. But whatever the reason for their excuse, God did not allow it. One receives the impression that the principal thing they meant was, "It is not convenient for us, at this time, to rebuild it!"

"At root, however, the community's objection to rebuilding was not due to selfishness. They were preoccupied with personal matters to the the neglect of larger issues of importance to the whole community. In short, they had placed themselves before God."[6]

Verse 3

"Then came the word of Jehovah by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your ceiled houses, while this house lieth waste?"

"Then came the word of Jehovah ..." Through his repetition of this formal affirmation that it was God's Word, not his own, that Haggai was delivering, he dramatically confronted the people with the fact of their disobeying the will of God.

"To dwell in your ceiled houses ..." There are a number of other possible renditions of "ceiled," including "paneled" and "roofed,"[7] also "wainscoted."[8] The supposition that none of the exiles who had returned were able to build expensive houses is groundless. We have already noted that the Jews prospered during their captivity and that many of them were very wealthy. Haggai's words here surely carry the impression the the returnees were living in excellent houses. What he condemned was the fact of their lavishing wealth upon themselves and neglecting to rebuild the Temple.

Verse 5

"Now therefore thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes."

The picture that emerges here is one of general want and frustration, which seems to conflict with the paneled homes just mentioned; but such a conflict evaporates when we discern that Haggai may have been using this language to depict the spiritual poverty of the people. The basic spiritual lesson of the whole Bible is "that man shall not live by bread alone"; and that was true when Haggai wrote as well as at the present day. How many are there in our society now who eat, drink, and clothe themselves, live in substantial houses, and yet, in the spiritual sense, are hungry, thirsty, poor, and naked?

Most of the scholars we have consulted reject that possible interpretation of what Haggai wrote, and apply the words as a description of the economic hardship and near-destitution of the returnees. Certainly, this could be the correct view, supported by the sheer impact of the literal words, "ye bring in little ... ye have not enough ... ye are not filled with drink ... there is none warm ... a bag with holes !" Feinberg viewed the poverty here as real:

"There is no contradiction between the description of poverty here, and the description of the expensive, ceiled houses in Haggai 1:4. As in other societies, the wealthy were found along with the poor. That age, as every age in man's history, proved the truth of Matthew 6:33. When God is forgotten, all labor is without profit."[9]

Jamieson summarized the teaching of Haggai 1:6 - "Nothing has prospered with you while you neglected your duty to God."[10]

Verse 7

"Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Consider your house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith Jehovah."

Haggai 1:7, except for the words "now, therefore" is identical with Haggai 1:5. The order which the prophet here gave the people was to go at once to the mountains and cut timber that would be needed in rebuilding the Temple, and to get on with the job! Nothing is indicated by this regarding the stone which was also required, because the rubble ruins of the devastated city and Temple provided all they needed.

"I will take pleasure ... I will be glorified ..." God always takes pleasure and is glorified when his people obey his word; and the reconstruction of the ruined Temple was clearly a project included in the will of God. It was God's spirit that stirred up Cyrus to command it; and it was the same which launched the burning words of Haggai against the indifferent laziness of the returned exiles. How could that rude pile of stone and timber glorify God? It was God's promise that the ancient covenant with Abraham still existed, despite the chosen people's having broken it and having been repudiated by their God and removed from many of their ancient privileges. It was the visible promise of God Himself that, in time, the Messiah would appear. It meant that Judah, unlike the northern Israel, would never disappear until God's purpose relative to their Messiah was accomplished. Such indeed did glorify the God of heaven and earth.

Verse 9

"Ye looked for much, and lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why; saith Jehovah of hosts. Because of my house that lieth waste, while ye run every man to his own house."

"When ye brought it home, I did blow upon it ..." In his youth, this writer knew a man who reaped an abundant harvest of wheat and built a large new granary to store it, whereupon a tornado touched down and scattered wheat all over Callahan County! His first name was Newt; and, shortly afterward, while reading this passage, he accepted the disaster as a personal judgment against himself and promptly became a Christian. Of course, we cannot believe that God provides an individual determination and judgment upon every man by any such events during this whole dispensation. Nevertheless, the judgments are general and abundant enough to allow any perceptive soul to get the message, whether the judgment falls upon him individually, or upon another. The judgments are clearly of God, being a part of the primeval curse (Genesis 3:17-22), and they are very much in the world until this very hour.

The great impact from this verse is the truth that God simply will not bless a people determined not to do his will. The returnees were having a very hard time; the message of the Lord was simply this: "If you would have better times, turn to your God." The message is perpetual and eternal.

"Doubtless, as Dr. Pusey observes, they ascribed the meagerness of their crops to natural causes, and would not see the judicial nature of the infliction; but Haggai brings the stern truth home to their conscience by the stern question, `Why?'"[11]

Modern man has a great deal to learn in the context that appears in these verses. No matter what kind of disaster may descend upon mankind today, it is usually ascribed to "natural causes," which more and more tend to be written off as things which men know all about. Well, do they? Do men know all about the vicissitudes that plague our existence upon earth? Alas, the answer is negative, whether men are willing to have it so, or not. These passages emphatically declare:

Back of the loaf is the flour,

And back of the flour the mill;

And back of the mill is the wheat

That waveth on yonder hill.

And back of the hill is the sun

And the rain and the Father's will.

Verse 10

"Therefore for your sake the heavens withold the dew, and the earth witholdeth its fruit."

"For your sake ..." These are most significant words, and they point squarely to the following passage from Genesis: "Cursed is the ground FOR THY SAKE!" (Genesis 3:17). The teaching of the Bible reveals emphatically that providential intervention is continual, and a constant possibility in all of the affairs of men. God often called for drought upon Israel, and sent prophets to announce it in advance; nor are such episodes confined to the Old Testament. Agabus prophesied a four-year famine under Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:28). That was in this current dispensation; and the same God who can foretell a great drought can as easily send or withhold it! All such impediments to man's ease and prosperity are intended as guideposts to point him to the Father in heaven. "For Adam's sake" (Genesis 3:17) ... "For your sake" ... (Haggai 1:10).

Verse 11

"And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the grain, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labor of the hands."

Here is an elaboration of the truth that all productivity of every conceivable kind depends, in the last analysis, upon the will of God. Such an uncontrollable and unpredictable thing as a shift in the jet stream that roars through the earth's atmosphere at vast altitudes could wipe out a whole civilization. A sudden increase of the earth's temperature in the south polar region could increase the depths of the oceans by more than a hundred feet, wiping out most of the cities of the whole world. The chairman of the Rockefeller Medical Foundation once said that over four thousand viruses, capable of bringing death to multiplied millions, are already identified and awaiting only some propitious moment to spread death and devastation all over the earth. One such unpredictable outbreak in the 14th century destroyed the majority of mankind! "Oh, it cannot happen now!" The wisest men on earth know it can happen now and have not failed to warn us. If men would continue to enjoy the blessings of God, may they never neglect to honor the God of all blessing and to obey his will.

"Men simply have not learned the lesson that God's Temple comes first (the church, in our age). They do not believe that Jesus spoke the truth for our times, when he said, `Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and these things shall be added unto you' (Matthew 6:33)."[12]

Verse 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 Jehovah their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as Jehovah their God had sent him; and the people did fear before Jehovah."

"With all the remnant of the people ..." is a reference to the balance of the returnees, all of them who had returned from Babylon. They constituted the remnant.

The double reference in this verse to the "word of Jehovah" and "the word of Haggai the prophet" is for the purpose of showing that, "The voice of the Lord and the words of Haggai the prophet are identical. This is true prophecy."[13] The people recognized this and acknowledged the authority of God's Word as binding upon themselves and responded in fear of God and obedience of his word. What a blessing would be poured out upon our beloved country this day if any great proportion of the people responded in a similar way to the word of the Lord!

"Joshua the son of Jehozadak ..." Strangely, the name of the great High Priest who accompanied the returnees to Babylon was the same as that of the great leader who brought the children of Israel into Canaan. The name "Joshua" means "Salvation,"[14] and is identical with the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus being the Greek form of Joshua. Just as the Joshua who entered Canaan was in some ways typical of Jesus Christ, there likewise seems to be some important typical aspects of the life of this Joshua. Two visions of him are in the prophecy of Zechariah, that of the attack of Satan against Joshua (Zechariah 3:1-10), and that of the Crown (Zechariah 6:9-15). These will be discussed in the notes on Zechariah. "His father was among the captives at the fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.), and also his grandfather Seraiah, who was put to death at Riblah (2 Kings 25:18ff, 1 Chronicles 6:15)."[15]

Verse 13

"Then spake Haggai Jehovah's messenger in Jehovah's message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith Jehovah."

"Even before they actually set to work, God passes at once from the reproving tone to that of tenderness. He hastens as it were to forget their former unfaithfulness, and to assure them that, when obedient, that he both is and will be with them."[16]

"Jehovah's messenger ..." This title is applied to himself by Haggai alone, among all the prophets. Deane assures us that, by implication, it is also applied to Moses, Malachi, John the Baptist, and to our Lord Jesus Christ.[17] Malachi referred to Christ as "the messenger of the covenant" (Malachi 3:1).

Verse 14

"And Jehovah came and stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozodak, the High Priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work on the house of Jehovah of hosts, their God."

All of this verse has the concise meaning of, "All the leaders and all the people were stirred by the spirit of God, and they arose and began work on the Temple."

"Stirred up the spirit ..." "To awaken the spirit of any man is to make him willing and glad to carry out his resolutions."[18]

Verse 15

"in the four and twentieth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king."

The Catholic Bible and some other versions associate this verse with the next chapter, but the appearance of a similar dating in the very next verse surely would seem to forbid it. The significant thing here would appear to be the promptness with which the people had responded. The call to work was made on the first day of this same month (verse 1); and therefore, only about three weeks had elapsed before the work actually commenced. Deane agreed that, "The note of time was introduced to show how prompt was their obedience."[19]

It is quite obvious to practically all scholars that the Douay Version is wrong in associating this verse with the next chapter; and the amazing fact of the Tischendorf's Septuagint having done the same thing show how easily, sometimes, scholars merely adopt what is popular, instead of what is obviously true.

Copyright Statement
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Haggai 1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/haggai-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.