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by Peter Pett
Commentary on the Prophecy of Haggai
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons - London) DD
Over a period from the mid 8th century BC onwards many Israelites had been exiled from Palestine to various countries in the Ancient Near East, first as a result of Assyrian action (see e.g. 2 Kings 15:29; 2Ki 16:9 ; 2 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 18:11; 2 Kings 18:13; Isaiah 11:11), and then as a consequence of Babylonian invasions which on three separate occasions resulted in hostages being taken and culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/6 BC (2 Kings 24:2; 2 Kings 24:14-15; 2Ki 25:1-7 ; 2 Kings 25:11; 2 Kings 25:21. That was how Daniel found himself in Babylon. Others had also found their way to Egypt and the lands beyond (Isaiah 11:11; 2 Kings 25:26). And after the final destruction of Jerusalem large numbers were transported to Babylonia. Ezekiel tells us something about them in his prophecy.
But when Cyrus the Persian entered Babylon in triumph in 539 BC it was as someone who had a more enlightened policy. He actually encouraged exiles to return to their homelands if they wished, restored to them their religious paraphernalia (Ezra 1:7; and in the cases of other religions their stolen gods), and offered government support in the restoration of their temples (Ezra 3:7). He wanted the gods on his side.
An example of the kinds of edicts that he made is found in Ezra 1:2-4, but we must not read too much into it, for he did the same thing for peoples of many nations, in each case indicating his adherence to their gods. He was a syncretist.
The result was, as the book of Ezra demonstrates, that a good number of exiles did return from Babylonia, and one of their first actions was to build an altar in Jerusalem so that they could restore true YHWH worship (Ezra 3:2). And for the first time for decades they were able to celebrate the feast of Tabernacles. They even began to lay the foundations for a temple, but life was very much of a struggle for survival, and there was intense opposition from outsiders, and the result was that work stopped on the temple while they sought to re-establish themselves in the land (Ezra 3:8 to Ezra 4:6). The building of the Temple was something that could be taken up later. The result was that they got used to their present conditions of worship and the vision faded.
It is to this situation that Haggai and Zechariah addressed themselves in c.520 BC. They felt that it was their responsibility under God to arouse the restored exiles to a sense of what was necessary, and they were so successful that work began again on the temple and by 515 BC the temple was completed. Now they could begin to look forward with hope to the future.
But we must not just see Haggai as a prophet who was concerned about the building of the Temple, for, as his further prophecies make clear, to him the rebuilding of the Temple was only the first stage in achieving what the previous prophets had promised, the reaching out of the Temple to all nations (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-2), and the coming of the promised King (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-9).
Haggai is also mentioned along with Zechariah in Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14 where the success of their ministry in respect of the building of the Temples is being described. Otherwise we know nothing about him or about any further ministry, although in the ancient versions his name is connected with some of the Psalms, especially Psalms 145-148.
The book has been described as poetic prose, and in order to bring out the parallels we have put much of it in ‘poetic’ form. But it is not strictly constructed as Hebrew poetry.
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