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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible


- Haggai

by Albert Barnes

Introduction to Haggai

Haggai ישׁישׁי yeshı̂yshây, the termination “-ai” is more frequently an abbreviation of the name of God which enters so largely into Hebrew names, as indeed we have חגיה chaggı̂yâh, 1 Chronicles 6:30. And this occurs not only, when the first part of the word is a verb, אחסבי 'ăchassebay, יהדי yehedday, יהמי yı̂hemay, יעני ya‛enay, יעשׂי ya‛ăs'ay, אחזי 'achezay, ישׁמרי yı̂shemeray, יריבי yerı̂ybay, יאתרי ye'ateray (as Kohler observes p. 2.), but when it is a noun, as מתני matenay, הדי hı̂dday, אמתי 'ămı̂tay, שׁלמי shalemay, צלתי tsı̂lletay (coll. מתניה mattaneyâh, and מתניהוּ mattaneyâhû), שׁמשׁי shı̂meshay, Ezra 4:0. פעלתי pe‛ulletay 1 Chronicles 26:5 perhaps שׁבתי shabbetay, שׁטרי shı̂ṭeray or again אתי 'ı̂ttay.) is the oldest of the three-fold band, to whom, after the captivity, the Word of God came, and by whom He consecrated the beginnings of this new condition of the chosen people.

He gave them these prophets, connecting their spiritual state after their return with that before the captivity, not leaving them wholly desolate, nor Himself without witness. He withdrew them about 100 years after, but some 420 years before Christ came, leaving His people to yearn the more for Him, of whom all the prophets spoke. Haggai himself seems to have almost finished his earthly course, before he was called to be a prophet; and in four months his office was closed. He speaks as one who had seen the first house in its glory Haggai 2:3, and so was probably among the very aged men, who were the links between the first and the last, and who laid the foundation of the house in tears Ezra 3:12. After the first two months Zechariah first prophesies in the 8th month Zechariah 1:1.

Haggai resumes at the close of the 9th month and there ends Haggai 2:10, Haggai 2:20. On the same day in the 11th month, the series of visions were given to Zechariah Zechariah 1:7.) of his office, Zechariah, in early youth, was raised up to carry on his message; yet after one brief prophecy was again silent, until the aged prophet had ended the words which God gave him. Yet in this brief space he first stirred up the people in one month to rebuild the temple , prophesied of its glory through the presence of Christ Haggai 2:1-9, yet taught that the presence of what was holy sanctified not the unholy, Haggai 2:12. and closes in Him who, when heaven and earth shall be shaken, shall abide, and they whom God hath chosen in Him. Haggai 2:20-23.)

It has been the custom of critics, in whose eyes the prophets were only poets , to speak of the style of Haggai as “tame, destitute of life and power,” showing “a marked decline in” what they call “prophetic inspiration.” The style of the sacred writers is, of course, conformed to their mission. prophetic descriptions of the future are but incidental to the mission of Haggai. Preachers do not speak in poetry, but set before the people their faults or their duties in vivid earnest language. Haggai sets before the people vividly their negligence and its consequences; he arrests their attention by his concise questions; at one time retorting their excuses Haggai 1:4; at another asking them abruptly, in God’s name, to say why their troubles came Haggai 1:9.

Or he puts a matter of the law to the priests, that they may draw the inference, before he does it himself Haggai 2:12-13. Or he asks them, what human hope had they Haggai 2:19, before he tells them of the divine. Or he asks them (what was in their heart), “Is not this house poor?” Haggai 2:3 before he tells them of the glory in store for it. At one time he uses heaped and condensed antitheses Haggai 1:6, to set before them one thought; at another he enumerates, one by one, how the visitation of God fell upon all they had Haggai 1:11, so that there seemed to be no end to it. At another, he uses a conciseness, like John Baptist’s cry, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” in his repeated Haggai 1:5-7. “Set your heart to your ways;” and then, with the same idiom, “set your heart” Haggai 2:15-18 namely, to God’s ways, what He had done upon disobedience, what He would do upon obedience. He bids them work for God, and then he expresses the acceptableness of that work to God, in the three words Haggai 1:8, “And-I-will-take-pleasure in-it and-will-be-glorified.” When they set themselves to obey, he encouraged them with the four words Haggai 1:13, “I with-you saith the-Lord.” This conciseness must have been still more impressive in his words, as delivered . We use many words, because our words are weak. Many of us can remember how the house of lords was hushed, so hear the few low, but sententious words of the aged general and statesman. But conceive the suggestive eloquence of those words, as a whole sermon, “Set your-heart on-your-ways.”

Of distant prophecies there are only two Haggai 2:6-9, Haggai 2:21-23, so that the portion to be compared with the former prophets consists but of at most 7 verses. In these the language used is of the utmost simplicity. Haggai had only one message as to the future to convey, and he enforced it by the repeated use of the same word , that temporal things should be shaken, the eternal should remain, as Paul sums it up Hebrews 12:26. He, the long-yearned for, the chosen of God, the signet on His hand, should come; God would fill that house, so poor in their eyes, with glory, and there would He give peace. Haggai had an all-containing but very simple message to give from God. Any ornament of diction would but have impaired and obscured its meaning. The two or three slight idioms, noticed by one after another, are, though slight, forcible.

The office of Haggai was mainly to bring about one definite end, which God, who raised him up and inspired him, accomplished by him. It is in the light of this great accomplishment of the work entrusted to him on the verge of man’s earthly course, that his power and energy are to be estimated. The words which are preserved in his book are doubtless (as indeed was the case as to most of the prophets) the representatives and embodiment of many like words, by which, during his short office, he roused the people from their dejection indifference and irreligious apathy, to the restoration of the public worship of God in the essentials of the preparatory dispensation.

Great lukewarmness had been shown in the return. The few looked mournfully to the religious center of Israel, the ruined temple, the cessation of the daily sacrifice, and, like Daniel Daniel 9:20, “confessed” their “sin and the sin of their people Israel, and presented their supplication before the Lord their God for the holy mountain of their God.” The most part appear, as now, to have been taken up with their material prosperity, and, at best, to have become injured to the cessation of their symbolic worship, connected, as it was, with the declaration of the forgiveness of their sins. Then too, God connected His declaration of pardon with certain outward acts: they became indifferent to the cessation of those acts, because few returned. The indifference was even remarkable among those, most connected with the altar. Of the 24 1 Chronicles 24:3-19. orders of priests, only 16, 4 orders Ezra 2:36-39. returned; of the Levites, only 74 individuals Ezra 2:40; while of those assigned to help them, the Nethinim and the children of Solomon’s servants, there were 392 Ezra 2:58.

This coldness continued at the return of Ezra. The edict of Artaxerxes Ezra 7:13-14, as suggested by Ezra, was more pious than those appointed to the service of God. In the first instance, no Levite answered to the invitation Ezra 8:15; on the special urgency and message of Ezra Ezra 8:18-19, “by the good hand of God upon us they brought us a man of understanding,” of the sons of Levi; some 3 or 4 chief Levites; their sons and brethren; in all, 38; but of the Nethinim, nearly six times as many, 220 Ezra 8:20. These who thought more of temporal prosperity than of their high spiritual nobility and destination, had flourished doubtless in that exile as they have in their present homelessness, as “wanderers among the nations.” Haman calculated apparently on being able to “pay out” of their spoils “ten thousand talents of silver (Esther 3:9. Ahasuerus apparently, in acceding to Haman’s proposal, made over to him the lives and property of the Jews. The silver is given unto thee the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee. Esther 3:11). The Jew’s property, was confiscated with their lives. On the contrary, it was noticed, that the Jews, when permitted to defend their lives, did not lay their hands on the prey, which, by the king’s decree, was granted to them, with authority to take the lives of those who should assault them. Esther 8:11; Esther 9:10, Esther 9:15-16.) some 300,000,000 British pounds, two-thirds of the annual revenue of the Persian Empire “into the king’s treasuries.”

The numbers who had returned with Zerubbabel had been (as had been foretold of all restorations) only “a remnant.” There were 42,360 free men, with 7,337 male or female slaves Ezra 2:64-65; Nehemiah 7:66-67. In the time of Augustus, it was no uncommon thing for a person to have 200 slaves (Hor. Sat. i. 9. 11) it is said that very many Romans possessed 10,000 or 20,000 slaves. Athenaeus vi. p. 272). The whole population which returned was not more than 212,000, free men and women and children. The proportion of slaves is about 112, since in their case adults of both sexes were counted. The enumeration is minute, giving the number of their horses, mules, camels, asses. . The chief of the fathers however were not poor, since (though unspeakably short of the wealth, won by David and consecrated to the future temple) they Ezra 2:68-69 offered freely for the house of God, to set it up in its place, a sum about 117,100 British pounds of our money. They had, beside, a grant from Cyrus, which he intended to cover the expenses of the building, the height and breadth whereof were determined by royal edict Ezra 4:3.

The monarch, however, of an eastern empire had, in proportion to its size, little power over his subordinates or the governors of the provinces, except by their recall or execution, when their oppressions or peculations notably exceeded bounds. The returned colony, from the first, were in fear of the nations, “the peoples of those countries” Ezra 3:3, their old enemies probably; and the first service,” the altar to offer burnt-offerings thereon,” was probably a service of fear rather than of love, as it is said Ezra 3:3, “they set up the altar upon its bases, for it was in fear upon them from the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt-offerings thereon unto the Lord.” They hoped apparently to win the favor of God, that He might, as of old, protect them against their enemies. However, the work was carried on Ezra 3:7 “according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia” and the foundations of the temple were laid amidst mixed joy at the carrying on of the work thus far, and sorrow at its poverty, compared to the first temple Ezra 3:11-13.

The hostility of the Samaritans discouraged them. Mixed as the religion of the Samaritans was - its better element being the corrupt religion of the ten tribes, its worse the idolatries of the various nations, brought there in the reign of Esarhaddon - the returned Jews could not accept their offer to join in their worship, without the certainty of admitting, with them, the idolatries, for which they had been punished so severely. For the Samaritans pleaded the identity of the two religions Ezra 4:2, “Let us build with you, for we serve your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto Him since the days of Esarhaddon which brought us up hither.” But in fact this mixed worship, in which 2 Kings 17:33 they feared the Lord and served their own gods, came to this, that 2 Kings 17:34 “they feared not the Lord, neither did they after the law and commandment which the Lord commanded the children of Jacob.” For God claims the undivided allegiance of His creatures “these 2 Kings 17:41, feared the Lord and served their graven images, both their children and their children’s children: as did their fathers, so do they to this day.” But this worship included some of the most cruel abominations of pagandom, the sacrifice of their children to their gods 2 Kings 17:31.

The Samaritans, thus rejected, first themselves harassed the Jews in building, apparently by petty violence, as they did afterward in the rebuilding of the walls by Nehemiah “The people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and wore them out in building.” This failing, they Ezra 4:5 “hired counselors” (doubtless at the Persian court), to “frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, until the reign of Darius king of Persia.” The object of the intrigues was probably to intercept the supplies, which Cyrus had engaged to bestow, which could readily be effected in an eastern court without any change of purpose or any cognizance of Cyrus.

In the next reign of Ahashverosh (i. e., Khshwershe, a title of honor of Cambyses) Ezra 4:6 they wrote accusations against the Jews, seemingly without any further effect, since none is mentioned. Perhaps Cambyses, in his expedition to Egypt, knew more of the Jews, than the Samaritans thought, or he may have shrunk from changing his father’s decree, contrary to the fundamental principles of Persism, not to alter any decree, which the sovereign (acting, as he was assumed to do, under the influence of Ormuzd) had written. Pseudo-Smerdis (who doubtless took the title of honor, Artachshatr) may, as an impostor, have well been ignorant of Cyrus’ decree, to which no allusion is made Ezra 4:7. From him the Samaritans, through Rehum the chancellor, obtained a decree prohibiting, until further notice, the rebuilding of the city. The accusers had overreached themselves, for the ground of their accusation was, the former rebellions of the city Ezra 4:12-13, Ezra 4:15-16; the prohibition accordingly extended only to the city Ezra 4:19, Ezra 4:21, not to the temple.

However, having obtained the decree, they were not scrupulous about its application, and “made” the Jews “to cease Ezra 4:23 by arm and power,” the governor of the Jews being apparently unable, the governor of the cis-Euphratensian provinces being unwilling, to help. As this, however, was, in fact, a perversion of the decree, the Jews were left free to build, and in the second year of Darius Hystaspis Ezra 5:1-2, “Haggai, and then Zechariah, prophesied in the name of the God of Israel” to Zerubbabel, the native governor, and Joshua the high priest, “and the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem; and they began to build the house of God in Jerusalem.” Force was no longer used. Those engaged in building appealed to the edict of Cyrus; the edict was found at Ecbatana Ezra 6:2, and the supplies which Cyrus had promised, were again ordered. The difficulty was at the commencement. The people had been cowed perhaps at first by the violence of Rehum and his companions; but they had acquiesced readily in the illegal prohibition, and had Haggai 1:9 run each to his own house, some of them to their Haggai 1:4 “ceiled houses.”

All, employers or employed, were busy on their husbandry. But nothing flourished. The laborers’ wages disappeared, as soon as gained Haggai 1:6. East and west wind alike brought disease to their grain; both, as threatened upon disobedience in the law Deuteronomy 28:22. The east wind scorched and dried it up ; the warm west wind turned the ears yellow and barren; the hail smote the vines, so that when the unfilled and mutilated clusters were pressed out, only two-fifths of the hoped-for produce was yielded; and of the grain, only one half Haggai 2:16.

In the midst of this, God raised up an earnest preacher of repentance. Haggai was taught, not to promise anything at the first, but to set before them, what they had been doing, and what was its result Haggai 2:5-11. He sets it before them in detail; tells them that God had so ordered it for their neglect of His service, and bids them to amend. He bids them quit their accustomed ways; “go up into the mountain; bring wood; build the house.” Conceive in Christian England, after some potato disease, or foot-and-mouth-disease (in Scriptural language “a murrain among the cattle”), a preacher arising and bidding them, consider your ways, and as the remedy, not to look to any human means, but to do something, which would please Almighty God; and not preaching only but effecting what he preached. Yet such was Haggai. He stood among his people, his existence a witness of the truth of what he said; himself one, who had lived among the outward splendors of the former temple; a contemporary of those, who said Jeremiah 7:4, “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these;” who had held it to be impossible that Judah should be carried captive; who had prophesied the restoration of the vessels of God Jeremiah 27:16; Jeremiah 28:3, which had been carried away, not, as God foretold, after the captivity, but as an earnest that the fuller captivity should not be Jeremiah 28:2; yet who had himself, according to the prophecies of the prophets of those days, been carried into captivity, and was now a part of that restoration which God had promised.

He stood among them “in gray-haired might,” bade them do, what he bade them, in the name of God, to do; and they did it. When they had set about the work, he assured them of the presence of God with them Haggai 1:13. A month later, when they were seemingly discouraged at its poorness, he promised them in God’s name, that its glory would be greater than that of Solomon’s Haggai 2:3-9. Three days after, in contrast with the visitations up to that time, while there was as yet no token of any change, he promised them in the name of God Haggai 2:19, “From this day will I bless you.”

He himself apparently saw only the commencement of the work, for his prophecies lay within the second year of Darius and the temple was not completed until the sixth Ezra 6:15. Even the favorable rescript of Darius must have arrived after his last prophecy, since it was elicited by the inquiry of the governor, consequent upon the commenced rebuilding Ezra 5:3, only three months before his office closed Haggai 1:15; Haggai 2:10, Haggai 2:20.

While this restoration of the public worship of God in its intregrity was his main office, yet he also taught by parable Haggai 2:10-15 that the presence of what was outwardly holy did not, in itself, hallow those, among whom it was; but was itself unhallowed by inward unholiness.

Standing, too, amid the small handful of returned exiles, not, altogether, more than the inhabitants of Sheffield, he foretold, in simple all-comprehending words, that central gift of the Gospel Haggai 2:9, “In this place will I give peace, saith the Lord.” So had David, the sons of Korah, Micah, Isaiah, Ezekiel prophesied Psalms 72:3-7; Psalms 85:8, Psalms 85:10; Micah 5:5; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 26:12; Isaiah 32:17; Isaiah 52:7; Isaiah 53:5; Isaiah 54:10, Isaiah 54:13; Isaiah 57:19; Isaiah 60:17; Isaiah 66:12; Ezekiel 34:25; Ezekiel 37:26, but the peace was to come, not then, but in the days of the Messiah. Other times had come, in which the false prophets had said Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 8:11; Jeremiah 14:13, “Peace, peace, when there was no peace;” when God had taken away His peace from Jeremiah 16:5; “this people.” And now, when the chastisements were fulfilled, when the land lay desolate, when every house of Jerusalem lay burned with fire 2 Chronicles 36:19 and the “blackness of ashes” alone “marked where they stood;” when the walls were broken down so that, even when leave was given to rebuild them, it seemed to their enemies a vain labor to Nehemiah 4:2; “revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish which were burned;” when Nehemiah 2:3 “the place of their fathers’ sepulchres lay waste, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire;” when, for their sakes, Zion was Micah 3:12 “plowed as a field” and “Jerusalem was become heaps” - let any one picture to himself the silver-haired prophet standing, at first, alone, rebuking the people, first through their governor and the high priest, then the collected multitude, in words, forceful from their simplicity, and obeyed! And then let them think whether anything of human or even divine eloquence was lacking, when the words flew straight like arrows to the heart, and roused the people to do at once, amid every obstacle, amid every down-heartedness or outward poverty, that for which God sent them. The outward ornament of words would have been misplaced, when the object was to bid a downhearted people, in the name of God, to do a definite work. Haggai sets before his people cause and effect; that they denied to God what was His, and that God denied to them what was His to give or to withhold. His sermon was, in His words whom he foretold; “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” He spoke in the name of God, and was obeyed.

“The Holy Spirit, who spake by the mouth of the prophets, willed that he by a foreboding name should be called Haggai, i. e., ‘festive,’ according to the subject whereof He should speak by his mouth. Yet was there not another festiveness in the prophet’s heart, than the joy which he had or could have with the people, from the rebuilding of that temple made with hands, again to be defiled and burned with fire irrecoverably? Be it that the rebuilding of that temple, which he saw before him, was a matter of great festive joy; yet not in or for itself, but for Him, the festive joy of saints and angels and men, Christ; because when the temple should be rebuilt, the walls also of the city should be rebuilt and the city again inhabited and the people be united in one, of whom Christ should be born, fulfilling the truth of the promise made to Abraham and David and confirmed by an oath. So then we, by aid of the Holy Spirit, so enter upon what Haggai here speaketh, as not doubting that he altogether aimeth at Christ. And so may we in some sort be called or be Haggais, i. e., ‘festive,’ by contemplating that same, which because he should contemplate, he was, by a divine foreboding, called Haggai.”