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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

- Haggai

by Johann Peter Lange




Instructor In Oriental Languages, Theological Seminary, Princeton, N. J.


§ 1. Person of the Prophet

The name Haggai (חַגּי, LXX., Ἀγγᾶιος, Vulg., Aggœus) is, in the Old Testament, borne only by our Prophet. It is usually held to mean Festive, from חָג, a feast, with the adjectival suffix —ֵי for –ִי (Green, Heb. Gram., § 194 b; Ewald,1 §164 c). Other explanations are: My Feast: Feast of Jehovah; but these are less tenable.2

All that we certainly know of the personal history of Haggai is gathered from a comparison of Haggai 1:1; Haggai 2:1; Haggai 2:10; Haggai 2:20 of his Prophecy, with Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14. These notices do not throw any light upon his private life or circumstances, but merely indicate the occasions of his official action. They inform us that he began his prophetic career in the second year of Darius Hystaspes (b. c. 520), and that his discourses bore chiefly upon the erection of the Second Temple. His recorded public addresses cover a period of about four months, during the latter half of which he enjoyed the coöperation of Zechariah (comp. Zechariah 1:1). We do not even know whether he was a native of Judæa or of Babylon, whether he was born before or during the Exile. Ewald has inferred from Haggai 2:3 that he had beheld the First Temple; but this is not necessarily implied in the passage. If he was born before the Captivity he must have been at least nearly seventy years old when he entered upon his ministry.3

We have, in the patristic age, statements by Pseudo-Dorotheus and Pseudo-Epiphanius (each of whom composed a history of the lives of the prophets), to the effect that Haggai returned to Jerusalem along with the other exiles, being then still a young man; that he survived the completion of the Temple (b. c. 516), and was interred with priestly honors close to the burial-place of the Priests. We know of nothing to disprove these assertions; but neither have we any evidence in their favor, and so many improbable accounts of the Prophets were in circulation both among the later Jews and the early Christians, that all unsupported extra-biblical statements concerning them must be regarded with suspicion. A notion had even gained currency in the time of Jerome (who thought it necessary to disprove it) that Haggai, as well as Malachi and John the Baptist, were angels and not men. This opinion was based upon a misunderstanding of Haggai 1:13; Malachi 3:1; Mark 1:2.

§ 2. Occasion and Aim of the Prophecy

Haggai was the earliest of the Prophets of the Restoration, preceding Zechariah by about two months. At the time of his appearance, the offices of a divine messenger were greatly needed among the Jews. In order to understand their situation as clearly as possible, it will be necessary to recur to the events which marked their history immediately after their return from the Exile. During this review we shall have to bear in mind that their conduct towards God, their neglect or fulfillment of their covenant duties towards Him, mainly determined their temporal and spiritual condition, as well as the matter and tone of the prophetic communications.
The first religious acts of the little colony promised favorably enough. After reinstituting the observance of the legal festivals in the seventh month (the month of feasts) of the first year of their return, which was also the first of the sole reign of Cyrus, they proceeded to hire workmen and purchase building material, and laid the foundation of the Second Temple in the second month of the second year, b. c. 535. But even on this joyful occasion there were indications of a feeling of despondency among those who had beheld the First Temple in its superior outward beauty (Ezra 3:12-13), a feeling which seems to have been soon communicated to the rest of the people, and to have contributed to that neglect of the Temple which the Prophet afterwards rebuked. The same symptom at all events reappeared even after the work of building had been more energetically resumed, for it was this that called forth his third address (Haggai 2:1-9). This point deserves attention here, for if we compare our Prophet’s discourses with the Book of Ezra, we shall find that the delay in the great work was due no less to the unfaithfulness and faint-heartedness of the people than to the machinations of their enemies. It was not long before the latter cause began to operate. The Samaritans, the heathen nations (Ezra 4:1; Ezra 4:9-10), who had been planted in the deserted cities of the ten tribes by Esarhaddon, offered, immediately after the founding of the Temple, to form an alliance with them, and to assist them in their labors, on the plea that both communities worshipped the same God. This proposal having been rejected, they next employed counsellors against the Jews at the Persian court. Their intrigues, after long perseverance, seemed to be at last quite successful, when, in reply to a petition addressed by them to Pseudo-Smerdis (b. c. 522, the Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:7), they were assured that the building of Jerusalem must be discontinued. The decree of this usurper was immediately carried into effect, and whatever efforts the Jews might be inclined to make in the way of completing the Temple were rendered impossible of execution during the remainder of his reign, which lasted less than a year. But on the accession of Darius Hystaspes (b. c. 521), who was soon found to be favorable to his Judæan subjects, the expostulations and exhortations of Haggai and Zechariah, as prophets of Jehovah, stirred them up to resume and finish the work.

In studying the disposition of the people during the interval between the founding of the Temple and their final and successful effort to complete it, and so seeking the justification of the Prophet’s ministry, we can gather enough from the Biblical record to show us that they were in need of just such a method of treatment as that which he adopted towards them in his addresses. That the slow progress or the lengthened intermissions in the work were not entirely owing to the opposition of the Samaritans, is abundantly manifest. (1.) The rescript of Pseudo-Smerdis against them was not issued until thirteen years had elapsed after the foundations were laid. The mere intrigues of their enemies were sufficient to deter them from serious, persevering effort. This shows that they were by no means zealous in the cause of God and religion. (2.) The reign of that usurper lasted only a few months, and it was not until the second year of his successor, and until they were incited by stern rebuke and expostulation, that they returned to their duty, although it must have occurred to them that the policy of the former monarch would naturally be opposed by the latter. (3.) We learn from the Prophecy itself, that, during the period we are considering, many of them had been employing their superfluous means to beautify their own dwellings, while the House of God was lying desolate, thus manifesting a selfish disregard of his superior claims. (4.) The scantiness of their harvests, and the want of success that had attended their labors generally, are adduced by the Prophet as an evidence of God’s displeasure, since under the theocracy, national and domestic prosperity or distress was determined by obedience or neglect of the Divine King. These calamities therefore proved them guilty of ignoring his demands, the most imperative of which at that time was the restoration of his Dwelling-place.
Such were the external circumstances which called forth the Prophet’s discourses. They indicate sufficiently the immediate object of his ministry. The bearing of his prophecies upon the interests of his people and of the Church of God, can be learnt to any satisfactory extent only from their exposition. At present a few remarks, in a most general way, will be all that it will be necessary to offer.

While it is characteristic of all the Prophets of the Restoration that they are much occupied with the Temple in its relations to God’s Kingdom, it is the distinction of Haggai that all his discourses, even the last (Haggai 2:20-23), relate more or less directly to this subject. It is not difficult to discover the reason of this. In the first place, the Temple was the very condition of the national existence. If the returned exiles were to be organized and to continue as a distinct people, the Temple must be restored and sacredly guarded. Other nations might exist without such a palladium; they could not. In the second place, those who were united by this common institution composed the Church of God, his covenant people. The Temple was his earthly dwelling, where in united worship they were accustomed to seek his covenanted favor and the bestowal of common blessings, the place where his Presence was specially displayed. It was therefore necessary that the earliest prophetic addresses to the little community should awaken in them a sense of the relation in which they stood to God as his subjects and chosen people, and of the obligation thereby entailed upon them to restore his neglected and desolate House. Then would He return to dwell with them (Haggai 1:14). Then would they enjoy the abiding presence of his Spirit (Haggai 2:5). Then, too, would He pour forth upon them perpetual blessings (Haggai 2:19) instead of the merited chastisements of the past. Then would they, as the objects of his peculiar care, be preserved among the commotions which should shatter the surrounding nations (Haggai 2:22-23). Thus in this aspect of the Prophet’s ministry its grand purpose was to subserve the progress of God’s kingdom by evoking and perpetuating among his people a spirit of ready obedience and love to his ordinances. This was the part he bore in laying the foundations of the Church of the Second Temple.

But the Second Temple was viewed by the Prophet distinctively in another aspect. While inferior to the first in outward splendor it was to be the seat of a more spiritual worship, which would constitute it a more fitting representative of the Church of Christ. This relation Haggai seems to have regarded in that one of his discourses which was at once the most cheering to his cotemporaries and the most instructive to future generations (Haggai 2:1-9). There he even assumes the identity of the Second Temple and the Church of Messianic times, and describes the former as sharing in the glories of the latter. He announces that the time is not far off when the privileges of Jehovah’s worship shall be extended over all the earth, and that the treasures of all nations will then be brought to adorn this Temple and to exalt its glory above the departed splendor of the former House, while peace and prosperity shall reign among the unnumbered worshippers. The divine purpose in this discourse was, on the one hand, to revive the drooping spirits of those who were engaged upon the Temple, by revealing to them the transcendent glory which should ultimately crown their work; and, on the other, to afford to the feeble and despised people of God, but lately emerged from their long captivity, a bright glimpse of the future which was in store for them, when they should embrace all the kingdoms of the earth.4

§ 3. The Book of the Prophet in Matter and Form

The Book of the Prophet Haggai consists of five addresses delivered to the Jewish people, within a period of about four months, in the second year of Darius Hystaspes, King of Persia. The first discourse (Haggai 1:1-11) is one of reproof, expostulation, and warning, being designed to arouse the people from their religious apathy, and, in especial, from their indifference to the condition of the Temple, which was then lying desolate. The second discourse (contained in the section Haggai 1:12-15), after a relation of the beneficial results of the first, holds out to them, in their returning obedience, the promise of God’s returning favor and of his aid in their work.5 The third discourse (Haggai 2:1-9), evoked by the despondency that had begun to affect some of the people, on account of the outward inferiority of the present temple, predicts for it a glory far transcending that of its predecessor, since the treasures of all nations were yet to adorn the Church of the Messiah, of which it was the representative. The fourth discourse (Haggai 2:10-19), teaches them, from the principles of the Ceremonial Law, that no amount of outward religious observance can communicate holiness, or secure acceptance with God and the restoration of his favor, the withdrawal of which had been so manifest in their late public and private distress. The fifth discourse assures the struggling community of their preservation in the midst of commotions which should destroy other nations, promising to its faithful rulers, represented by Zerubbabel, the special protection of their Covenant God.

These outlines of his addresses the Prophet has arranged in regular chronological order, carefully indicating the dates of their respective delivery. They are presented in a style, which, though lacking the poetical qualities of many of the earlier prophecies, is yet marked in various passages by great vivacity and impressiveness, to which, among other characteristics, the frequent use of interrogation (e. g., in Haggai 1:4; Haggai 1:9; Haggai 2:3; Haggai 2:12-13; Haggai 2:19) largely contributes. A striking peculiarity of the Prophet’s style has been remarked in his habit of “uttering the main thought with concise and nervous brevity, after a long and verbose introduction” (comp. chaps Haggai 1:2; Haggai 1:12; Haggai 2:5; Haggai 2:19). In addition to these more obvious characteristics, we can discern both rhetorical and grammatical peculiarities natural to the declining period of the Hebrew language and literature. Of the former class is, for example, the frequent recurrence of favorite phrases: of the latter are such anomalous constructions as are found in Haggai 1:4; Haggai 1:8-9; Haggai 2:3; Haggai 2:15-16; Haggai 2:18, to the critical discussion of which the reader is referred for fuller explanation.

§ 4. Special Works upon Haggai or upon the Prophets of the Restoration as a whole

J. P. Clinton, Comm. upon Haggai, London, 1560; J. Pilkington, An Exposition upon the Prophet Aggeus, London, 1560; J. Mercerus (or Mercier), Scholia et Versio ad Prophetiam Haggai, Paris, 1581; J. J. Grynæus, Comm. in Haggœum, Geneva, 1581 (translated into English by Chr. Featherstone, London, 1586); Fr. Baldwin, Comm. in Hagg., Zach., et Mal., Wittenberg, 1610; B. Willius, Prophetœ Hagg., Zach, Malach., Commentario Illustrati, Bremen, 1638; Aug. Varenius, Trifolium Propheticum, seu Tres Posteriores Prophetœ, scil. Hagg. Zach., et Mal., Explicati, Rostock, 1662, and Exercitationes Duœ in Proph. Hagg., Rostock, 1648; Andr. Reinbeck, Exercitationes in Proph. Hagg., Brunswick, 1692; Dan. Pfeffinger, Notœ in Proph. Hagg., Strassburg, 1703; Francis Woken, Annotationes Exegeticœ in Proph. Hagg., Leipzig, 1719; J. G. Scheibel, Observations Critical et Exegeticœ ad Vaticinia Haggœi cum Prologomenis, Wratislaw, 1822; T. V. Moore, The Prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, a New Translation, with Notes, New York, 1856; Aug. Köhler, Die Weissagungen Haggai’s erklärt, Erlangen, 1860. W. Pressel, Commentar zu den Schriften der Propheten Haggai, Sacharja und Malachi, Gotha, 1870.

For Commentaries upon the Minor Prophets which include Haggai, see the General Introduction to this volume.

The Messianic passage in Haggai (Haggai 2:6-9) is discussed by the following writers: Wm. Harris, Discourses on the Principal Representations of the Messiah in the Old Testament, Lond., 1724; Bp. Chandler, Defence of Christianity, from the Prophecies of the Old Test., Lond., 1725, pp. 71–84; J. H. Verschuir, In Haggai 2:6-9, Franecker, 1760, reprinted in his Dissertationes Philol.-exeget., 1773; Deyling, Observationes Sacrœ, Part 3. §18: Gloria Templi Posterioris; Hengstenberg, Christology, 3., pp. 265–295 (2d ed. Engl. Transl.); Hofmann, Weissagung und Erfullung, vol. 1, pp. 330 ff.; Tholuck, Die Propheten und ihre Weissagungen, p. 156; J. P. Smith, Scripture Testimony to the Messiah (5th ed.), i., pp. 283 ff.


[1]Grammatical references to this author in the present Commentary are to his Ausfiirliches Lehrbuch der Hebraischer. Sprache, 8th ed., 1870. His exegetical opinions are found in his Propheten des alten Bundes, ii., pp. 516–522.

[2]Compare the similar names in Genesis 46:16; Numbers 26:15.

[3]See the exegesis of Haggai 2:3. Keil, in animadverting upon Ewald’s supposition, asserts that Haggai must have been at that time eighty years old. But this he himself disproves by his correct observations upon the passage itself. In his Introduction to the Old Testament (i, p. 420, Engl, translation), he had favored the conjecture of Ewald.

[4]If this were the proper place for the discussion, it might be interesting to trace the relations subsisting between the several discourses of the Prophets of the Restoration, which bear upon the Temple, e.g., how Haggai assumes the identity of the Second Temple and the Church of Christ, while Zechariah (Zechariah 6:12-13) seems to contradict him by asserting that the Messiah would Himself build the Temple of Jehovah, and Malachi resolves into full harmony these seeming discords of the Prophetic lyre by predicting that Jehovah would come to his Temple, and purify the sons of Levi (Malachi 3:1-3). The subject is worthy of fuller consideration.

[5]Nearly all the Commentators regard Haggai 1:0 as comprising but one discourse, thus making the whole prophecy to consist of four. The following considerations will show that the passage Haggai 1:12-15 should form a separate division, as containing a distinct address. (1.) Haggai 1:13 seems to indicate that a new message was delivered by Jehovah to Haggai (2.) As far as Haggai 1:11 the words of the Prophet are objurgatory, thus giving a well-defined character to the discourse. His words in Haggai 1:13 express approval and convey encouragement, they must therefore form the subject of a distinct message. The reason of the contrast is obvious. A complete change (described in Haggai 1:12) had been effected in the disposition of the people. Before they had been apathetic and careless. But now the rebukes and denunciations of the Prophet had excited in them that true fear of God whose earliest fruit is repentance (comp. Haggai 1:14). Hence he was commissioned to assure them of God’s renewed favor. The brevity of the message as recorded, is accounted for on the assumption (probable upon all grounds) that Haggai, in accordance with the general usage of the Prophets, has given us a mere outline of his address. It is generally held that Haggai 1:12-15 are intended merely to set forth the effects of the first message. But it is to be remembered that the aim of the Prophet was not to write history, and that when he appears to be narrating, he is simply showing the occasions of his discourse, whose delivery was the sole object of his mission.

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