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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Haggai 2

Verses 1-9

The Future Glory of the Temple (2:1-9)

Progress on the Temple must have been slow. Nearly a month after the day on which the people came to work at the reconstruction of the Temple, the word of the Lord came again to the leaders and people through Haggai. This message was delivered on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles in the year 520 B.C., probably to those who were gathered in Jerusalem for the holiday period. It concerns particularly the people who were old enough to remember the former Temple of Solomon. Haggai’s words invite comparison of the present efforts with the glory of the Temple which once had been. "Who is left . . . that saw . . .?" How does it look now? "Is it not in your sight as nothing?" The language indicates that some work had been accomplished, but that anyone who remembered the Solomonic structure would consider the present accomplishment either with contempt or with pity. We can only guess how far walls had been erected on the foundations, but it is clear that the building would be too insignificant to suit those who had remembered the earlier building. Haggai may have been one of these.

The message from God was, however, no rebuke; its spirit was not one of contempt or pity. It was a thrice-repeated message of encouragement, directed individually to the two leaders, Zerubbabel and Joshua, and to the rest of the people: "Take courage, . . . work, for I am with you . . ." The basis for this encouragement is the Covenant promise, made when God led his people out of Egypt, that his Spirit would remain in their midst. Exodus 19:5; 29:45-46; and 33:14 provide examples of the sort of assurance in Haggai’s mind without using his exact phrasing.

The references to the past and present are now succeeded by a prediction regarding the future. "Once again, in a little while," the Lord promises to shake heavens and earth, sea, dry land, and particularly "all nations." The prophet’s "once again" suggests a previous shaking of the realms of nature and of human government, such as took place in the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites at the time of the Exodus, but it does not exclude other more recent events such as the fall of Jerusalem.

The particular effect of the anticipated upheaval is that the treasures of the nations will come in, and thus that the Lord will fill his house with splendor. All the silver and gold belong to God, and it is his determination that the building now under construction will be more glorious than the former Temple. This new Temple will be rich and the people will be prosperous.

Verses 10-14

THE COMING BLESSINGS

Haggai 2:10-23

A Question of Purity (2:10-14)

On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month in the same year, that is, in mid-December, a group of messages came to the prophet. Whether the messages are to be considered as two (as paragraphed in the Revised Standard Version) or as three is difficult to decide. The question is whether verses 15-19 of Haggai 2 belong to the message included in verses 10-14, or whether they should be considered as belonging between the first and second parts of 1:15. In either case the words of Haggai are so brief as to make the interpretation of the final section of the book difficult and somewhat uncertain.

Haggai’s words on the twenty-fourth of the ninth month begin with a question for the priests. The question concerns the priestly understanding of the rules of ritual purity. The priests had no difficulty in answering Haggai’s divinely guided questions. The mere possession of "holy flesh" — meat that had been set apart for use in the Temple or for the priests — does not give its bearer’s clothes any power to make other food holy by contact. On the other hand, anyone who has become impure by contact with a dead body has the power to communicate his ritual impurity to any food he might touch. As the priests understood the matter of ritual purity and impurity, the one, ritual impurity, was felt to be communicable but the other was not.

Thus far in the text no difficulty is felt, but when Haggai applies the priestly understanding of purity and impurity to "this people" and "this nation" in verse 14, the reader at first assumes that the prophet is referring to the unworthiness of the people of Jerusalem. Then, if he seeks help, he finds that many commentators consider this to be a reference to the Samaritans and their desire to participate in the rebuilding of the Temple, as narrated in Ezra 4:1-3. From Zechariah 7 it appears that contact with the Samaritans continued during the reign of Darius, and it may be that Haggai’s message regarding impurity through contact with the unclean refers to the participation of Samaritans in the worship being carried on at the Temple site. It is evident that "the work of their hands" refers to "what they offer there," that is, at the Temple. On the whole it seems better to consider that "they" were simply the people of Jerusalem; the exact source of their uncleanness is not clear from Haggai. Association with "the people of the land" (Ezra 4:4), who had carried on a cult of sacrifice both at Bethel and at Jerusalem, was without doubt coupled with failure to reconstruct a proper house of God at the site of the Temple. The precise cause of the uncleanness Haggai denounced remains a question, but there is no question about the principle which he enunciated. Impurity is easier to communicate than purity. Is this not true in the twentieth century as well?

Verses 15-19

A Promise of Material Blessing (2:15-19)

Verses 15-19 have been understood rather widely as belonging to the end of chapter 1. By promising, "From this day on I will bless you," they serve to complete the contrast between the current hard times and the much desired prosperity. Again the prophet explains the scarcity of material things; God assumes full responsibility for the blight, mildew, and hail which have smitten the products of toil. With the thrice-repeated word "consider," the prophet invites the people to note "what will come to pass from this day onward."

In the ninth month, exactly three months after the beginning of the work on the house of God, on the twenty-fourth of the month, it was possible to see the prospect of God’s blessing. Planting was complete; seed was no longer in the barn. Vine, fig tree, pomegranate, and olive tree may still not have produced heavily, but blessing was ahead. After three months of work on the Temple, the people needed to be reminded that their plantings had not been hindered and the necessary care of vines and trees had not suffered. Again, the words of the text do not provide sufficient background fully to illuminate the setting, but the prophetic message is clear: because stone has now been placed on stone and the foundation of the Temple has been laid, God will bless. Action taken in faith will lead to blessing from God.

Verses 20-23

The Establishment of Zerubbabel (2:20-23)

A second word of the Lord came to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. This message was addressed to Zerubbabel and concerned his special position under God. Haggai at the opening of the message addressed him as "governor of Judah," but before long God’s oracle described him as "my servant" and promised to make him "like a signet ring," explaining "for I have chosen you."

This brief utterance must be understood in connection with the divine messages, such as the fourth chapter of Zechariah, which suggest that the two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, expected Zerubbabel to be established as the Messianic successor to David. The "signet ring" served as a man’s signature; it was the instrument by which he accomplished his financial and legal transactions; it was the specific means through which he communicated his will to the world around him. As God’s signet ring, Zerubbabel is seen to be God’s chosen instrument of government. As at other points in the Book of Haggai the language is scanty, and the reader must use his imagination to fill in the details. Assuming that word of the victories won by Darius in the east had not yet reached Jerusalem in the ninth month of his second year, some commentators suggest that the prophets Haggai and Zechariah attempted to promote a rebellion against the Persians. It is more likely that the prophets simply expressed hopes for a divine intervention which would establish a Messianic king in Jerusalem.

Whatever Haggai’s expectation regarding the establishment of Zerubbabel, his language sketches vividly the circumstances of divine intervention. It borrows from the figures of cosmic and political upheaval commonly used to indicate an intervention of God on "that day," the Day of the Lord. Heavens and earth will be shaken; kingdoms will be overthrown; military forces will destroy one another.

Nothing more is known of Haggai than appears from the brief record of his book. His contribution to the times in which he lived was the stimulation of his people to begin and to continue work on the Temple, and his spiritual legacy is the assurance that God will be with his people when they act in faith and obedience to his demand that he be given first place.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Haggai 2". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/haggai-2.html.