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Bible Commentaries
Haggai 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes



This first main part of the book contains two oracles that warned the returnees of the consequences of allowing the temple to remain unfinished, two exhortations to act, and a promise of the Lord’s help.

Verse 1

Like Ezekiel, Jonah, and Zechariah, the Book of Haggai contains no formal title. Yahweh sent a message to Zerubbabel ("born in Babylon" or "seed of Babylon," an allusion to his birthplace) and Joshua ("Yahweh saves") through the prophet Haggai, though it went to all the Israelites too (Haggai 1:2; Haggai 1:4). Zerubbabel was the political governor (overseer) of the Persian province of Judah who had led the returnees back to the land (Ezra 2:2; et al.). He was the son of Shealtiel ("I have asked of God," Ezra 3:2; Ezra 3:8; Ezra 5:2; Nehemiah 12:1; et al) and the grandson of King Jehoiachin (Jeconiah), one of the descendants of King David (cf. 1 Chronicles 3:17-19; Matthew 1:12).

Zerubbabel apparently had two fathers (1 Chronicles 3:17-19). Perhaps his other father, Pedaiah, was his uncle. If this was a levirate marriage (cf. Deuteronomy 25:5-10), Pedaiah would have married a woman and then died. Shealtiel, Pedaiah’s brother, would then have married the widow who gave birth to Zerubbabel in place of Shealtiel, Zerubbabel’s physical father. Another possibility is that Shealtiel adopted Zerubbabel after Pedaiah died. A third option is that one of these men was really a more distant ancestor of Zerubbabel, perhaps his grandfather.

Joshua was the high priest of the restoration community and a descendant of Aaron. He was the son of Jehozadak, who had gone into Babylonian captivity in 586 B.C. (1 Chronicles 6:15; cf. Ezra 3:2; Ezra 3:8; Nehemiah 12:1; Nehemiah 12:8).

The Lord gave Haggai this message on the first day of the sixth month in the second year that Darius I (Hystaspes) ruled as king over Persia. This was Elul 1 (August 29), 520 B.C. [Note: R. A. Parker and W. H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C.-A.D. 75, p. 30, established the equivalent modern (Julian) dates.] When the Israelites returned from exile in Babylon, they continued to follow the Babylonian calendar and began their years in the spring rather than in the fall (cf. Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:22). Each new month began with a new moon, and the Israelites commonly celebrated the occasion with a new moon festival (cf. Numbers 28:11-15; Isaiah 1:14; Hosea 2:11). This first prophetic revelation that God gave in the Promised Land following the return from exile came on a day when most of the Israelites would have been in Jerusalem. The meaning of Haggai’s name (festal, or festal one) was appropriate in view of when the Lord gave this first prophecy through him. The fact that the writer spoke of Haggai in the third person does not exclude Haggai himself from being the writer since this was a common literary device in antiquity. [Note: Taylor, p. 52.]

In the historical books of the Old Testament, the writers usually dated the events in reference to a king of Judah or Israel, but the Jews had no king now. They were under the control of a Gentile ruler, in "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24; cf. Daniel 2; Zechariah 1:1). "The times of the Gentiles" are the times during which Israel lives under Gentile control. These times began when Judah lost her sovereignty to Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C., and they will continue until Messiah’s second coming when He will restore sovereignty to Israel.

Verses 1-6

A. Haggai’s First challenge 1:1-6

Verse 2

Haggai announced that his message came from Yahweh of armies, Almighty Yahweh. This title appears 14 times in Haggai and 265 times in the Hebrew Bible. "Yahweh" occurs 34 times in the 38 verses of Haggai. The Lord told Zerubbabel and Joshua that the Israelites were saying that the time was not right to rebuild the temple. By referring to them as "these people" rather than "my people," the Lord was distancing Himself from them. Construction on the temple had begun 16 years earlier but had ceased due to opposition from the Israelites’ neighbors who were mostly Samaritans (Ezra 3:8-13; Ezra 4:1-5; Ezra 4:24). When the Jews considered resuming construction, most of them said it was not yet the right time. Contrast David’s great desire to build a house for the Lord (2 Samuel 7:2). Their decision may have rested on the continuing threat from their neighbors. Or perhaps they felt that to finish the temple then would violate Jeremiah’s prediction of a 70-year captivity (Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 29:10). Another possibility is that they thought God Himself would finish it (Ezekiel 40-48). [Note: See R. G. Hamerton-Kelly, "The Temple and the Origins of Jewish Apocalyptic," Vetus Testamentum 20 (1976):12.]

"To refuse to build the [Lord’s] house was at best saying that it did not matter whether the Lord was present with them. At worst it was presuming on divine grace, that the Lord would live with his people even though they willfully refused to fulfill the condition of his indwelling that he had laid down." [Note: Motyer, p. 974.]

"The need to rebuild is urgent, because temples in their world are the center for administering the political, economic, judicial, social, and religious life of the nation. In other words, rebuilding I AM’s temple would symbolize his rule over the life of his people and his prophesied rule of the world (cf. Zechariah 1:14-17)." [Note: Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, p. 846.]

Today many Christians do not do God’s will because they feel the time is not precisely right.

"Too often we make excuses when we ought to be making confessions and obeying the Lord. We say, ’It’s not time for an evangelistic crusade,’ ’It’s not time for the Spirit to bring revival,’ ’It’s not time to expand the ministry.’ We act as though we fully understand ’the times and the seasons’ that God has ordained for His people, but we don’t understand them (Acts 1:6-7)." [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, "Haggai," in The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets, p. 441.]

Verses 3-4

Haggai then spoke to the people for the Lord, in this disputation speech, not just their leaders (Haggai 1:2). He rhetorically asked if it was proper for them to build their own houses but not rebuild His. They should have put the glory of their God ahead of their own comfort (cf. 2 Samuel 7:2; Philippians 2:21). Their priorities were upside down.

"Their problem was not lack of goods but of good." [Note: Motyer, p. 977.]

"Paneled houses" apparently describes quite luxurious homes, though the Hebrew word sapan ("paneled") can mean simply houses with roofs. Wooden paneling or plaster that covered the walls and possibly the ceilings seems to be in view.

King Cyrus had provided the Jews with money to buy hardwood timber to rebuild the temple (Ezra 3:7; 1 Esdras 4:48; 1 Esdras 5:54). It appears that the restoration Jews had used this superior wood to build their own homes rather than to rebuild the temple.

"Many Christians are like those ancient Hebrews, somehow convincing themselves that economy in constructing church buildings [or financing God’s work] is all-important while at the same time sparing no expense in acquiring their personal luxuries." [Note: Alden, p. 581.]

"Whereas the house of God today is no longer material but spiritual, the material is still a very real symbol of the spiritual. When the Church of God in any place in any locality is careless about the material place of assembly, the place of its worship and its work, it is a sign and evidence that its life is at a low ebb." [Note: G. Campbell Morgan, The Westminster Pulpit, 8:315.]

Verses 5-6

The Lord called "the people" to evaluate what they were doing in the light of their present situation (cf. Haggai 1:7; Haggai 2:15; Haggai 2:18 [twice]). They were not experiencing God’s blessings very greatly. They sowed much seed but harvested only modest crops (cf. Haggai 1:10-11; Haggai 2:15-17; Haggai 2:19). The food and drink that they grew only met their minimal needs. They had so little fiber from which to make clothing that their clothes were very thin and did not keep them warm. Their purses seemed to have holes in them in the sense that the money they put in them disappeared before they could pay all their bills. This may be the first reference to coined money in the Bible. The Lydians in Asia Minor were the first to coin money, in the sixth century B.C., and there is archaeological evidence that there were coins in Palestine when Haggai wrote. [Note: See Ephraim Stern, Material Culture of the Land of the Bible in the Persian Period 538-332 B.C., pp. 215, 236; and idem, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible. Vol. II: The Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Periods, 732-332 BCE, pp. 558-59.] This was divine chastening for disobedience (cf. Leviticus 26:18-20; Deuteronomy 28:41). They should have put the Lord first.

"An affluent generation of Christians that is wasting God’s generous gifts on trivia and toys will have much to answer for when the Lord returns." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 445.]

Verses 7-8

Again the Lord called the people to reflect thoughtfully on what they were doing (cf. Haggai 1:5). He urged them to go to the mountains where trees grew abundantly, to cut them down, and to continue rebuilding the temple (cf. Ezra 3:7). The completed temple would please and glorify Him.

"The important thing is not the size or magnificence of the house, but the existence of it-that they want the indwelling God among them." [Note: Motyer, p. 977.]

"The hills of Judah were well wooded in Old Testament times, and from Nehemiah 8:15 we know that olive, myrtle and palm were available. It was customary to set layers of wood in stone walls to minimize earthquake damage (cf. Ezra 5:8); this wood, and heavy timber, long enough to stretch from wall to wall of the Temple to support the roof, would probably have to be imported (Ezra 3:7)." [Note: Baldwin, p. 41.]

"When work is gladly done in order to please God it also brings Him glory." [Note: Ibid.]

Verses 7-11

B. Haggai’s second challenge 1:7-11

Verse 9

The Israelites had looked for much blessing from the Lord, but they had found very little. When they brought their grain home, the Lord blew it away. Apparently their grain was so light and small that much of it blew away with the chaff when they threshed it. The reason was clear. They had neglected the temple and had given all their time and energy to providing for themselves by building their own houses.

There are six occurrences of the phrase "declares the LORD of hosts" in Haggai (Haggai 1:9; Haggai 2:4; Haggai 2:8-9; Haggai 2:23 [twice]) and six occurrences of the shorter phrase "declares the LORD" (Haggai 1:13; Haggai 2:4 [twice], 14, 17, 23). This is unusual for a book as short as Haggai. Obviously the writer wanted to emphasize the divine origin of his message to the people. [Note: Ibid., pp. 44-45, wrote an extended note on the name "the Lord of Hosts."]

Verses 10-11

The hot weather and poor harvests that the returned exiles were enduring were due to their selfish behavior (cf. Leviticus 26:19-20; Deuteronomy 28:22-24). Dew was the only form of moisture that plants enjoyed during the hot summer months, beside artificial irrigation, but even that was unavailable. The Lord had decreed drought that affected all their essential products and all aspects of their lives (cf. Deuteronomy 28:38).

"Those who plan to give to God ’once they have enough for themselves’ will never have enough for themselves!" [Note: Dyer, p. 816.]

Verse 12

Haggai’s preaching moved Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the remnant of Israelites who had returned from captivity to obey the Lord. This demonstrated reverence for Him.

"Haggai referred to the people as a remnant (here and also in Haggai 1:14 and in Haggai 2:2), not merely because they were survivors of the Babylonian Exile but also because they were becoming what the remnant of God’s people should always be-those who are obedient within their covenant relationship to the Lord (cf. Isaiah 10:21)." [Note: F. Duane Lindsey, "Haggai," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1540.]

This term probably refers to the entire Judean population, consisting of both those who had returned from Babylon and those who had remained in the Promised Land (cf. Jeremiah 8:3; Ezekiel 5:10; Ezekiel 9:8; Ezekiel 11:13). [Note: See Taylor, p. 139.]

"When times are prosperous, it may be easier to dismiss a word of prophetic rebuke; but hard times often expose raw nerves of the spiritual life that has grown insensitive to God’s spirit. Frequently it is in the midst of exceptional human difficulty that God’s word finds its greatest success." [Note: Ibid., p. 137.]

"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." [Note: C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 81.]

Verses 12-15

C. The Israelites’ response 1:12-15

Verse 13

The people’s obedient response resulted in the Lord sending another message to Haggai, His messenger. He reported that Yahweh was with them (cf. Haggai 2:4). This assurance of His divine enablement guaranteed their success as they continued obeying by rebuilding the temple. It is God’s presence with us more than anything else that guarantees our success as we carry out His will (cf. Joshua 1:1-9; Matthew 28:19-20). Our loving obedience results in Him drawing close, but our disobedience leads Him to withdraw His presence.

Verses 14-15

The Lord stirred up the two leaders and the people to resume work on the temple (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:5). Work began again on the twenty-fourth day of that very month. Perhaps it took three weeks for the people to make their decision and make preparations, including cutting wood (cf. Haggai 1:8). There was also a harvest of figs, grapes, and pomegranates in the month of Elul, which may also have delayed them. [Note: P. A. Verhoef, The Books of Haggai and Malachi, p. 88.]

"God is not portrayed here as a divine puppeteer who manipulates people, but as a sovereign king who rewards obedience by giving it a boost." [Note: Robert B. Chisholm Jr., Handbook on the Prophets, p. 452.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Haggai 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/haggai-1.html. 2012.
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