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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Haggai 1

Verse 1


Haggai 1:1-11

The Setting (1:1)

The Book of Haggai begins by defining the setting of the prophet’s work. The first word of the Lord came to Haggai in the year 520 B.C., two years after Darius Hystaspes had killed the usurper Gaumata (or Gomates) and had thus regained control of the Persian Empire for the Achaemenid Dynasty. The first message came "in the sixth month, on the first day of the month," approximately the first of September. It was delivered by the prophet to the two principal personages of Jerusalem. These were the Persian-approved governor of the Judean subdivision of the satrapy "beyond the River" (that is, west of the Euphrates; see Ezra 4:11), Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and the high priest of Jerusalem, Joshua son of Jehozadak. Both were Jews, permitted to hold office in the Persian Empire under the enlightened policy of local self-government which Cyrus initiated after the capture of Babylon. In the two years of conflict in the east, while Darius put down all opposition to his rule, hopes may have arisen in the west for still greater freedom from the control of foreign powers. If such hopes had arisen during the beginning of the reign of Darius, they had not yet crystallized into plan or action in Jerusalem.

Verse 2

The Unrebuilt Temple (1:2)

The first brief word from "the Lord of hosts" is simply a recognition of the uncertainty and hesitation of the people. "This people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord." The words of Haggai show no awareness of the elaborate preparations and auspicious laying of the foundation of the Temple described in Ezra 1:1 to Ezra 3:13. Nor do they specifically refer to the kind of discouragement described in Ezra 4:1-5. The popular attitude described in Haggai 1:2 suggests rather that the Ezra account is considerably overdrawn. It is likely that occasional small groups of Jews had gathered to make the return trip from Babylon in accord with the permission granted by the decree of Cyrus (see Ezra 1:2-4), and that as these exiles came, they brought with them gifts intended for the rebuilding of the Temple. The accumulated sum of these gifts during the nearly twenty years that had preceded the second year of Darius can hardly have been as great as is indicated in Ezra 2:69. The words of Haggai indicate that no such wealth was available to the returned Jews of Jerusalem in his time.

Verses 3-11

The Hard Times (1:3-11)

The next word of God which came by the prophet concerned the people as a whole, not just the leaders. It asked, "Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?" Then it called for a consideration of the economy of the Jerusalem community. The people were reminded that their bountiful sowing had produced only limited harvests, that they did not have enough food to eat or sufficient clothing to keep them warm. No savings were possible. Times were bad.

The remainder of this message is an explanation of the hard times, combined with an exhortation to "go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house." In the prophet’s word the Lord himself took the responsibility for the scarcity of material things. "When you brought it home, I blew it away," he says. The reason for this is simply stated: "My house . . . lies in ruins." This is the explanation of a drought which has kept the earth from producing. The Lord was not pleased to see people busy building their own houses while his was in ruins. "Build the house," he says, "that I may take pleasure in it and that I may appear in my glory."

Verses 12-15


Haggai 1:12 to Haggai 2:9

The Presence of God (1:12-15)

With their leaders, the people responded promptly and effectively to the words of Haggai. Zerubbabel, Joshua, and all the people obeyed God as his word had been voiced by the prophet. The "remnant" may be understood as referring to the fact that the people then in Jerusalem were but a small part of the once numerous and great people of Israel, but it must also be understood as referring to all the people except the leaders mentioned.

The opening sentences of the paragraph are concerned with a change of attitude which took place after Haggai’s message on the first of the sixth month. At this point the people paid attention to the words of the prophet and took a more reverent attitude toward the house of God. Within three weeks the change in attitude took the form of actual accomplishment. No doubt much soul-searching and discussion followed the prophet’s earlier words, and perhaps orders for the work were given by the leaders immediately after the first message of Haggai.

It was, however, on the twenty-fourth day of the month that "they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God." This was apparently the day on which the foundation of the Temple was laid (referred to in 2:18 and in Zechariah 4:9; Zechariah 8:9), the day, that is, on which definite construction began. What clearing away was needed may have been done during the three weeks after the first message of Haggai; it probably did not require the months between the twenty-fourth of the sixth month and the twenty-fourth of the ninth month.

No date is given for the brief word of God which came in connection with the changed attitude of the people and the beginning of their work on the house of God. It is nevertheless set between the reference to the changed attitude and the reference to the beginning of the work. It is a word of encouragement and assurance, "I am with you, says the Lord." Important as chronological data were to the compiler of the words of Haggai, the assurance of God’s presence with those who hear and obey his words is of far greater significance. No glory can yet be seen in the Temple; no blessing is yet apparent in the fields; clothes are still thin, and the approaching winter will find many of the people cold. But God is present. This assurance the prophet can now give.

On what basis does the prophet make this statement that God is with the people? It did not come in response to something the prophet could detect about his fellows, but through the mysterious working of God with his chosen messenger. The prophet speaks because God has spoken. Thus the word of the prophet appears to come in response to a change of attitude on the part of the people, and at the same time it serves to motivate that attitude into action. The moment of its delivery is therefore irrelevant, and so also is the question whether the prophet was influenced by his observations of his people.

What appears significant is that with this word God accomplished his purpose with the people and their leaders. "The Lord stirred up the spirit" of leaders and people and they came and worked on the house of God. He was truly with them.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Haggai 1". "Layman's Bible Commentary".