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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

- Haggai

by Thomas Constable



The title of this prophetic book is also the name of its writer. Haggai referred to himself as simply "the prophet Haggai" (Hag_1:1; et al.) We know nothing about Haggai’s parents, ancestors, or tribal origin. His name apparently means "festal" or possibly "feast of Yahweh." This is appropriate since much of what Haggai prophesied deals with millennial blessings. His name is a form of the Hebrew word hag, meaning "feast." This has led some students of the book to speculate that Haggai’s birth may have occurred during one of Israel’s feasts. [Note: E.g., Joyce G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 28; Richard A. Taylor and E. Ray Clendenen, Haggai, Malachi, p. 44. Taylor wrote the commentary on Haggai.] Ezra mentioned that through the prophetic ministries of Haggai and Zechariah the returned Jewish exiles resumed and completed the restoration of their temple (Ezr_5:1; Ezr_6:14; cf. Zec_8:9; 1Es_6:1; 1Es_7:3; 2Es_1:40; Sir_49:11). Haggai’s reference to the former glory of the temple before the Babylonians destroyed it (Hag_2:2) may or may not imply that he saw that temple. If he did, he would have been an old man when he delivered the messages that this book contains. In this case he may have been over 70 years old when he prophesied. However it is not at all certain that the reference in Hag_2:2 implies that he saw the former temple.

Some editions of the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate versions of the Book of Psalms attribute authorship of some of the Psalms to Haggai and or Zechariah (i.e., Psalms 111-112, 125-126, 137-138, , 145-149). There is no other evidence that either prophet wrote any of these psalms. The reason for the connection appears to have been the close association that these prophets had with the temple where these psalms were sung.


The Babylonians, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed the city of Jerusalem, including Solomon’s temple, in 586 B.C. and took most of the Jews captive to Babylon. There the Israelites could not practice their formal worship (religious cult) as the Mosaic Law prescribed because they lacked an authorized altar and temple. They prayed toward Jerusalem privately (cf. Dan_6:10) and probably publicly, and they established synagogues where they assembled to hear their Law read and to worship God informally.

King Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jewish exiles to return to their land in 538 B.C. At least three waves of returnees took advantage of this opportunity. The first of these was the group of almost 50,000 Jews that returned under the leadership of Sheshbazzar, and Zerubbabel who replaced him, in 537 B.C. (Ezr_1:2-4). Ezra led the second wave of 1,700 men plus women and children (perhaps about 5,000 individuals) back to Jerusalem in 458 B.C., and Nehemiah led the third wave of 42,000 Israelites back in 444 B.C. Haggai and Zechariah appear to have been two of the returnees who accompanied Sheshbazzar, as was Joshua the high priest, though Haggai’s name does not appear in the lists of returnees in the opening chapters of Ezra.

During the year that followed, the first group of returnees rebuilt the brazen altar in Jerusalem, resumed offering sacrifices on it, celebrated the feast of Tabernacles, and laid the foundation for the reconstruction of the (second) temple. Opposition to the rebuilding of the temple resulted in the postponement of construction for 16 years. During this long period, apathy toward temple reconstruction set in among the residents of Judah and Jerusalem. Then in 520 B.C., as a result of changes in the Persian government and the preaching of Haggai, the people resumed rebuilding the temple. [Note: For details concerning changes in the Persian government, see Robert L. Alden, "Haggai," in Daniel-Minor Prophets, vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 569-71; or Eugene H. Merrill, An Exegetical Commentary: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, pp. 5-9.] Haggai first sounded the call to resume construction in 520 B.C., and Zechariah soon joined him. Zechariah’s ministry lasted longer than Haggai’s. The returnees finished the project about five years later in 515 B.C. (cf. Ezra 1-6). One way to calculate the 70-year captivity is from the first deportation to Babylon in 605 B.C. to the year temple reconstruction began, 536 B.C. Another way is to count from the destruction of the temple in 586 B.C to the completion of temple restoration in 515 B.C.


Haggai delivered four messages to the restoration community, and he dated all of them in the second year of King Darius I (Hystaspes) of Persia (i.e., 520 B.C.). Ezekiel and Daniel had probably died by this time. Haggai’s ministry, as this book records it, spanned less than four months, from the first day of the sixth month (Hag_1:1) to the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month (Hag_2:20). Haggai’s ministry may have begun before 520 B.C. and continued a few years after it. [Note: Leon J. Wood, The Prophets of Israel, p. 365.] But that is speculation. In the modern calendar these dates would have been between August 29 and December 18, 520 B.C. This means that Haggai was the first writing prophet to address the returned Israelites. Zechariah began prophesying to the returnees in the eighth month of that same year (Zec_1:1). Haggai was the most precise of all the prophets in dating his messages.

The precision in dating prophecies that marks Haggai and Zechariah reflects the annalistic style of history writing that distinguished Neo-Babylonian and Persian times. [Note: For example, see D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings (625-556 B.C.) in the British Museum.] Ezekiel, who was probably an older contemporary of these prophets, was the third most precise in dating his prophecies, and Daniel, another contemporary, also was precise but not as detailed. Likewise Ezra and Nehemiah, who wrote after Haggai and Zechariah, showed the same interest in chronological precision.

Probably Haggai wrote the book between 520 and 515 B.C., the year the returnees completed the temple. Lack of reference to the completion of the temple, while not a strong argument for this view, seems reasonable since mention of the completion of the temple would have finished off the book nicely.


Haggai obviously preached and evidently wrote in Jerusalem, as is clear from his references to the temple in both chapters. Confirming this location is his reference to the nearby mountains (Hag_1:8; Hag_1:11). There were no real mountains in the area of Babylonia where the Jewish exiles lived.


Haggai was as specific about his audience as he was about when he prophesied. The first oracle was for Zerubbabel and Joshua, who were the Jewish governor of Judah and its high priest (Hag_1:1). The prophet delivered the second one to those men and the remnant of the people (Hag_2:1). The third oracle was for the priests (Hag_2:11), and the fourth one was for Zerubbabel (Hag_2:21). Obviously these oracles had a larger audience as well, namely, the entire restoration community and eventually the general population of the world.

"Haggai is a prophetic history that intends to interpret the religious and theological significance of the historical events that it recounts." [Note: Taylor, p. 56.]

Haggai’s purpose was simple and clear. It was to motivate the Jews to build the temple. To do this he also fulfilled a secondary purpose: he confronted the people with their misplaced priorities. They were building their own houses but had neglected God’s house. It was important to finish building the temple because only then could the people fully resume Levitical worship as the Lord had specified. They had gone into captivity for covenant unfaithfulness. Thus they needed to return to full obedience to the Mosaic Covenant. Furthermore, in the ancient Near East the glory of a nation’s temple(s) reflected the glory of the people’s god(s). So to finish the temple meant to glorify Yahweh.

". . . he also wrote to give the people hope by announcing that God’s program of blessing would come ’in a little while’ (Hag_2:6) when God would again ’shake the heavens and the earth’ (Hag_2:6; Hag_2:21)." [Note: Charles H. Dyer, in The Old Testament Explorer, p. 815.]


Central to Haggai’s emphasis is the temple as God’s dwelling place on earth, as a center for worship, and as a symbol of Yahweh’s greatness. For him the temple was more important than the palace, and the priests were more important than the princes. There was no king of the Jews after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Another theological emphasis was the relative importance of glorifying God compared to living affluently.

"Governments work on the assumption that a healthy gross national product is the consequence of a proper industrial base, efficient management, skilled workers, and the due operation of market forces-in other words, that economic health depends on an effective economic system. Haggai, however, rose to challenge the view that economics can be left to the economists. Here, too, we live in God’s world and unless he is given the central place and honor, the laws he created will work not for our blessing but for our bane. Thus Haggai speaks to our concern that world resources should meet world need and to our longing that not only will needs be satisfied but also that life will be satisfying. He addresses the problem of inflation more explicitly than any other prophet; his book is a tract for our times." [Note: J. Alec Motyer, "Haggai," in The Minor Prophets, P. 963.]

"The theological problem of this period was simply this: Where was the activity and presence of God to be found?" [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology, p. 250.]

Other important themes are holiness as a prerequisite for worship, the prophetic word as divine revelation, divine sovereignty, human responsibility, and a future for the Davidic dynasty. [Note: See Taylor, pp. 73-83, for discussion of these themes.]


Haggai is the second shortest book of the Old Testament, after Obadiah. The writer’s literary style is simple and direct. The book is a mixture of prose and poetry, the introductory sections being prose and the oracles poetry. The book contains four short messages that Haggai preached to the returned Jews in less than four months of one year, 520 B.C. Haggai was clearly aware that the messages he preached to the Israelites were from God. He affirmed their divine authority 25 times. In contrast to almost all the writing prophets, Haggai was successful in that the people to whom he preached listened to him and obeyed his exhortations.

"The truth is that few prophets have succeeded in packing into such brief compass so much spiritual common sense as Haggai did." [Note: Frank E. Gaebelein, Four Minor Prophets [Obadiah, Jonah, Habakkuk, and Haggai]: Their Message for Today, p. 199.]

"Interestingly, Haggai’s message has none of the elements so characteristic of the other biblical prophets. For instance, he wrote no diatribe against idolatry. He said nothing of social ills and abuses of the legal system, nor did he preach against adultery or syncretism. His one theme was rebuilding God’s temple." [Note: Alden, p. 573.]

"Most of the other prophetic books consist of collections of prophetic sermons and oracles. Haggai, on the other hand, consists of direct address oracles set in a prose narrative framework (Hag_1:1; Hag_1:3; Hag_1:12; Hag_1:15; Hag_2:1; Hag_2:10; Hag_2:20) such that the book appears as more of a report on Haggai’s utterances and the effect they had on the hearers . . ." [Note: Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 480.]

This book and Hosea are the only inspired prophetical writings in the Old Testament that do not contain one or more oracles against foreign nations.


Critics have not seriously challenged either the unity or the canonicity of Haggai. Its place in the canon is chronological, leading the postexilic prophetical books and following the pre-exilic and exilic ones.


There are only a few textual problems in the book (Hag_1:2; Hag_1:9; Hag_2:2; Hag_2:5; Hag_2:7; Hag_2:9; Hag_2:14; Hag_2:16). In addition to these, the Septuagint made some additions to the Hebrew text (Hag_2:9; Hag_2:14).


I.    A call to build the temple ch. 1

A.    Haggai’s first challenge Hag_1:1-6

B.    Haggai’s second challenge Hag_1:7-11

C.    The Israelites’ response Hag_1:12-15

II.    A promise of future glory for the temple Hag_2:1-9

III.    A promise of future blessing for the people Hag_2:10-19

IV.    A prophecy concerning Zerubbabel Hag_2:20-23

One writer saw a chiastic structure in the book. [Note: Adapted from Motyer, p. 968.]

A    A pair of oracles delivered on the same day that stress the negative consequences of the unfinished temple followed by a double call to take the Lord’s word to heart Hag_1:1-11

B    The promise of the Lord’s presence that would energize the reconstruction of the temple Hag_1:13-15 a

B’    The promise of the Lord’s presence that would guarantee coming glory Hag_1:15 to Hag_2:9

A’    A pair of oracles delivered on the same day that stress the positive consequences of the finished temple including a double call to take the Lord’s word to heart Hag_2:10-23


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_____. Material Culture of the Land of the Bible in the Persian Period 538-332 B.C. Warminster, Eng.: Aris & Phillipps; Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1982.

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_____. Haggai and Malachi. Everyman’s Bible Commentary series. Chicago: Moody Press, 1976.

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