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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Haggai 1

 

 

Verse 1

Introduction.

Haggai 1:1

‘In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of YHWH by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying,

The date was 520 BC. Having taken over the throne on the death of Cambyses, son of Cyrus, Darius had established his position, and by the time of his second year the only thing that awaited his attention was a rebellious Egypt that had claimed independence. He would deal with that small problem in the following year. So in this particular year nothing special was happening. He was totally oblivious of the fact that in one small part of his empire things were stirring, not politically but religiously. Things that would have a profound effect on the world, for they were beginnings which would lead to profound changes.

The dating of the prophecy in terms of Darius instead of a king of Judah was indicative of the situation in which the people found themselves. They had no king. They had no army. They were in no way a nation. Instead they were simply a small group of returned exiles struggling to survive in not very helpful conditions. It may, however, be that we are to see in this dating a sign of YHWH’s approval of the kings of Persia whom He had chosen for the purpose of re-establishing His people and His Temple (Isaiah 44:28 to Isaiah 45:1). They too were part of His new plan.

The returned exiles were finding things particularly hard at this time. Their neighbours had not been pleased to see them arrive, especially when they appeared to be religiously exclusive (Ezra 4:2-3), and were far from welcoming, and they had had a series of bad harvests. They had also probably found that the best land was already being farmed. Things were at a low ebb, and the initial confidence that they had had on first arriving from Babylonia had waned.

They were ruled over at the local level by Zerubbabel, a prince of the house of David, and their religious affairs were in the hands of Joshua the High Priest. But Zerubbabel was not governor of a Persian province. He was simply the local governor, appointed because of his royal connection to oversee the exiles and the land allotted to them.

Joshua’s grandfather Seraiah had been High Priest when Jerusalem was taken by Nebuchadnezzar, and had been executed along with the other leading men (2 Kings 25:18-21; Jeremiah 52:24-27) because they were seen as leaders of the resistance of Jerusalem. His son Jehozadak had been spared and taken captive to Babylon (1 Chronicles 6:15). Now his grandson Joshua had received the High Priesthood.

And it was to these two men, Zerubbabel and Joshua, that Haggai the prophet came with a message from YHWH. It is significant that he approached the leaders. Clearly they were seen as godly men who could be depended on to respond once they knew that YHWH had spoken. All they needed was a push from God.

How often that is precisely what we need as well. How easily we settle down and accept things as they are without stirring ourselves and doing something about it. If only we had a Haggai to give us a similar push.


Verses 2-11

YHWH’s Grievance With His People (Haggai 1:2-11).

In a series of consecutive prophecies YHWH’s grievance with His people is established, and the call comes to build the Temple. For YHWH knows that until the Temple is built they will not feel themselves to be one people, and the exiles far from home will see no reason to return.

Haggai 1:2

‘Thus speaks YHWH of hosts, saying, “This people say,

It is not the time to come,

The time for YHWH’s house to be built.

His message was simple. The people were simply saying that the time had not yet come to build the house of YHWH. Initial work had ceased on it twenty years before, and as far as they were concerned it would have to wait its time. Life was at present too hard. But he is saying that it was time that they thought again, for they were not behaving like true people of God. That indeed is why He refers to them indirectly as ‘this people’ rather than ‘His people’.

It would appear that what God was trying to do through him was to arouse the people from their apathy and listlessness, and from their grinding toil and give them something to aim at. He was seeking to refocus their attention on the future that He had promised them if only they were faithful to Him. But it was a future hope that had clearly been lost along the way. For we must remember that from their knowledge of their past history these men should have known the importance of having a spiritual sanctuary around which to gather. Its aim would be to serve as a focal point for bringing back the distant exiles, and thus re-establishing the people of God. But they had lost their vision.

Notice the continual emphasis on the Name of YHWH and His words in these first few verses. The name is found once in Haggai 1:1, twice in Haggai 1:2, once in Haggai 1:3, once in Haggai 1:5, once in Haggai 1:7, once in Haggai 1:8 and once in Haggai 1:9. And on four of these occasions it is as ‘YHWH of hosts’, the One Who has authority over the hosts of Heaven and earth and all that is in them. It was important that they should recognise Who it was Who was there, ready to act, and Who it was Who was speaking to them.

Haggai 1:3-4

‘Then came the word of YHWH by Haggai the prophet, saying,

“Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your roofed (panelled) houses,

While this house lies waste?”

Haggai again comes with a message from YHWH. This time the emphasis is on the fact that each of them has his own roofed house, while YHWH’s worship is conducted out in the open, and there is nowhere to satisfactorily store the religious vessels, because His house lies waste. It is just an empty ruin. No doubt they were stored in tents or sheds et up around the altar.

Some translate as ‘panelled’ and see them as living in some kind of luxury, which would contrast with how they were treating YHWH, but others point to the evidences of poverty and struggle and translate simply as ‘roofed’. Even the simplest house had to have a roof. (The word itself means ‘a covering’).

It was, of course, true that they had returned with a good amount of silver and gold (Ezra 1:6), but that may well have been spent on the preparations for the Temple which had come to nothing (Ezra 3:7). Perhaps on the other hand they had used the cedar from Lebanon to panel their houses. Either way what follows dose not depict them as living in luxury.

Haggai 1:5-6

‘Now therefore thus says YHWH of hosts:

“Consider your ways.”

“You have sown much, and bring in little,

You eat, but you do note have enough,

You drink, but you are not filled with drink,

You clothe yourselves, but there is none warm,

And he who earns wages, earns wages to put it into a bag with holes.”

So now YHWH calls on them to consider what has been their experience in the last few years. They have sown much seed, but it has brought little reward, they have eaten but never had enough, wine was sparse with not enough to satisfy, water was short and not easily available, their threadbare clothing was insufficient to keep them warm, and any wages that they earned disappeared as quickly as if they had put it into a bag full of holes (a first indication of the use of actual money in the Old Testament). The very descriptions bring out the destitution that they were experiencing. Life was unquestionably very hard.

Haggai 1:7-8

‘Thus says YHWH of hosts,

“Consider your ways.

Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house;

And I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified,” says YHWH.

Note the repetition of the command to consider their ways. But this time it was in order to tell them to think about their ways positively (contrast Haggai 1:5), and to go up to the hill forests, and collect wood with which they can build His house. Then, He promises, however meagre the product, He will take pleasure in it and will be glorified by it, for it will be a house built at cost to themselves, and as a confirmation of the covenant, and will turn many eyes towards Him. Alternately the point might be that He will be glorified, if they are obedient, by the coming of the Messiah. In other words this was a first step towards their messianic expectations.

We need no such house, for our focus is fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ, but the underlying demand is the same, that we are willing to engage in building up His body, the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:10-16), by our personally costly and sacrificial efforts (Romans 12:1-2).

Haggai 1:9-11

“You looked for much, and, lo, it came to little;

And when you brought it home, I blew on it.

Why?” says YHWH of hosts.

“Because of my house which lies waste,

While you run every man to his own house.

Therefore for your sake the heavens withhold the dew,

And the earth withholds its fruit.

And I called for a drought on the land,

And on the mountains, and on the grain,

And on the new wine, and on the oil,

And on that which the ground brings forth,

And on men, and on cattle,

And on all the labour of the hands.”

God now repeats in more depth what He has already said, that their sad condition is partly due to the fact that they have neglected Him and His house. They had looked hopefully for much, but all that they had received had been little. And even that had been ravaged by high winds. Or the ‘blowing’ might simply refer to some other activity of God which affected their stored goods. And why had He done it? ‘Because of My house which lies waste while you run every man to his own house.’

This was why the rain and dew had not come, this was why the earth had not been fruitful, this was why everything was affected by drought. Thus there had been a shortage of food, wine, oil and water. And all had suffered, both man and beast.


Verses 12-15

The Leaders And People Make Their Response (Haggai 1:12-15).

The result of Haggai’s persistence was that the leaders and people responded to his urgings, and to the word of YHWH, and began again on the work of building the Temple. Note again the great emphasis on the use of YHWH’s name. It appears three times in Haggai 1:12, three times in Haggai 1:13 and twice in Haggai 1:14. The emphasis is on the fact that this is YHWH’s doing and YHWH’s activity.

Thus they obeyed the voice of YHWH their God, through the word of the prophet whom YHWH had sent, because they feared YHWH. For YHWH’s messenger had brought YHWH’s message saying that YHWH was with them. And it was because YHWH had stirred the spirits of the leaders and people that work was being done on the house of YHWH. So in the end it was all YHWH’s doing.

Haggai 1:12

‘Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of YHWH their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as YHWH their God had sent him, and the people did fear before YHWH.

Thus with one accord Zerubbabel, Joshua and ‘the remnant of the people’ obeyed YHWH’s voice and the words of the one whom YHWH had sent, and demonstrated thereby their genuine and holy fear and their love for YHWH. It was a crisis point for the new Israel and they responded and ‘obeyed’. It was like a renewal of the covenant, a new beginning. Obedience was ever the sign the His people were in a right relationship with Him. ‘Now therefore if you will obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you will be a special treasure to Me among all nations’ (Exodus 19:5; Exodus 19:8; contrast Jeremiah 22:21). And they obeyed, and that obedience resulted in and from a new awareness of ‘fear before YHWH’. ‘Fear before YHWH’ was not simply the same as ‘the fear of YHWH’ which is the beginning of wisdom. It arose from a genuine sense that they had previously displeased YHWH and had come under His judgment. They knew ‘the terror of the Lord’. Compare the same use of the phrase in Deuteronomy 5:5. It was a whole new spiritual experience.

Note the use of the term ‘remnant’. These were the few from whom the many would be established. Tens of thousands had had the opportunity to return from all parts of the empire, but only these had done so. But this remnant represented the true Israel. So often the Lord’s work has to be done by a remnant. They no doubt also included faithful Jews who had remained in the land without being tainted by the syncretistic religion around them. But the idea of the ‘remnant’ as representing those who are faithful to YHWH is a regular one in Scripture (compare Isaiah 6:13; Isaiah 10:20-22; Isaiah 37:32; Jeremiah 23:3; Micah 4:7; Zechariah 8:6).

Haggai 1:13

‘Then spoke Haggai, YHWH’s messenger, in YHWH’s message to the people, saying, “I am with you, says YHWH.”

As we have seen, the repeated repetition of the Name is designed to bring out that all this is due to the activity of YHWH. Haggai is YHWH’s messenger, bringing YHWH’s message so that they might know that YHWH is with them. No one can be in any doubt as to Whose impetus is responsible for the house being built. Small and insignificant it might appear, but it is the product of YHWH’s activity and the people’s obedience and therefore glorious.

And now on seeing their ‘fear before Him’ YHWH gives them a message of assurance. YHWH’s messenger (angel) gives them the assurance, ‘I am with you, says YHWH.’

Haggai 1:14-15

‘And YHWH stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people, and they came and did work on the house of YHWH of hosts, their God, in the four and twentieth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.’

Indeed having brought them to a position of obedience it was YHWH Himself Who stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel (compare Zechariah 4:6) and stirred up the spirit of Joshua the High Priest (Zechariah 3-4), and stirred up the spirit of the remnant of the people to begin work on the house of YHWH of hosts, their God. It had taken twenty four days from when Haggai had first received the world of YHWH (Haggai 1:1). It was not, of course, just a matter of building. First the site had to be cleared and the necessary building materials gathered. The actual laying the new foundation would not commence for three months (Haggai 2:18).

The ‘spirit’ in a man is that which is Godward within him. When a man dies his spirit returns to the God Who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7). It is with his spirit that he looks to God (1 Corinthians 2:9-16). And it is through a man’s spirit that God stirs him (as here).

In this we have a reminder that hen God calls us to obedience and we respond He never leaves it there. He ‘works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure’ (Philippians 2:13). He stirs our spirit to do His will. He does not just leave us on our own.

Note On The Importance of the Temple For Israel At This Juncture.

As we look at this situation in our own day we may ask, ‘Why was God so concerned that they rebuild the Temple?’ He was clearly not so concerned that it be a grand place or one that drew admiration from passers-by. So what then was its purpose?

The first purpose that God had in the rebuilding of the Temple was to raise the hearts of the people in the land themselves to a remembrance of the vision that should be theirs, the vision of the coming King described in Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17; 2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16; Psalms 2; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-9, and to cause them to take the first tentative steps towards it.

In 2 Samuel 7 especially the building of the first Temple had been very closely linked in with the building of the house of David and the bringing in of the everlasting kingdom. Thus the building of a new Temple was to be a visible reminder of those promises, and was to stir their hearts towards the fulfilment of the greater vision. This in fact is what Haggai will bring out in the second chapter which clearly demonstrates that he saw the rebuilding of the Temple as but a prelude to the gathering of the nations to YHWH (Haggai 2:7) and the rebuilding of the nation under the coming new King (Haggai 2:21-23).

Secondly the news that the Temple had been ‘restored’ would spread like wildfire to many of the Jewish communities around the world who kept in constant contact with each other. It would be to them the same symbol of hope, putting new heart within them, and even acting as a magnet to draw some back to Jerusalem to participate in the new venture so as to build up a new nation, obedient under God. It would be an indication that things were ‘back on track’. In their case too the Messianic hopes would be revived.

Thirdly it would unite the true worshippers in the land, freed from the taints of idolatry, as one recognised community around the Temple. It would give them a focal point for their purified faith. For there were many in the land who would gladly have drawn them back to the old failings and the old syncretistic ways, and who indeed sought to have their part in the new Temple so as to nullify it before it had even been built (see Ezra 4:2). And they had had to be firmly rebuffed. For if the bitter experiences of the Exile had taught this new community anything, it was that any new Temple had to be free from all connection with the old syncretism. It had to be true to the Law of Moses. Thus its purity had to be jealously guarded.

It is interesting to note in Haggai how in respect to this new community his reference to them as ‘the remnant of the people’ in Haggai 1:12; Haggai 1:14; Haggai 2:2, changes in Haggai 2:4 to ‘the people of the land’ (Haggai 2:4). The Temple will give them a new status within the land. They are the seeds of the new nation.

End of note.

Note On The Difficulties Encountered In Building The New Temple.

Haggai does not deal with the question of the difficulties that arose when God’s people began to rebuild the Temple. He was not concerned with difficulties. What were difficulties when YHWH had spoken? But nevertheless they were very real.

The original work on the Temple had been stopped by the activities of the people present in the land before the exiles had returned, who had been rebuffed when they had offered to join in with the building of the Temple, (in which they would have expected to be allowed to carry out their syncretistic rites), and had then done all that they could to prevent it from being built (Ezra 4:1-6), efforts which had proved successful. We do not know how far the work had got, but the work ceased and the proposed Temple had remained only partly built.

Once, however, the new rebuilding work began as a result of the activities of Haggai and Zechariah, the ‘Governor Beyond The River’ (named Tattenai), who was probably the governor of the Persian province in which Jerusalem was situated, along with other powerful men, had written to Darius asking that the work be made to cease (Ezra 5:6-17). Meanwhile, on being notified of this, Zerubbabel, Joshua and their followers continued work on the Temple, confident that they were doing God’s will and that He would therefore protect the work.

On search being made in the archives it was discovered that Cyrus had indeed given permission for the rebuilding of the Temple, and not only that, but had required that provision be made from state funds towards its rebuilding. Thus an order was issued by King Darius to the effect that the work should continue, and financial assistance be given towards the completion of the project and the provision of sufficient sacrifices to fulfil daily requirements so that they might make their offerings to the God of Heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons (Ezra 6:6-12).

End of note.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Haggai 1:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/haggai-1.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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