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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Haggai 2

 

 

Verses 1-9

2. COURAGE, ZERUBBABEL! COURAGE, JEHOSHUA AND ALL THE PEOPLE!

[Haggai 2:1-9]

The second occasion on which Haggai spoke to the people was another feast the same autumn, the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles, [Leviticus 23:34; Leviticus 23:36; Leviticus 23:40-42] the twenty-first of the seventh month. For nearly four weeks the work on the Temple had proceeded. Some progress must have been made, for comparisons became possible between the old Temple and the state of this one. Probably the outline and size of the building were visible. In any case it was enough to discourage the builders with their efforts and the means at their disposal. Haggai’s new word is a very simple one of encouragement. The people’s conscience had been stirred by his first; they need now some hope. Consequently he appeals to what he had ignored before, the political possibilities which the present state of the world afforded-always a source of prophetic promise. But again he makes his former call upon their own courage and resources. The Hebrew text contains a reference to the Exodus which would be appropriate to a discourse delivered during the Feast of Tabernacles, but it is not found in the Septuagint, and is so impossible to construe that it has been justly suspected as a gloss, inserted by some later hand, only because the passage had to do with the Feast of Tabernacles.

"In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of Jehovah came by Haggai the prophet, saying:-"

"Speak now to Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, Satrap of Judah, and to Johoshua’, son of Jehosadak, the high priest, and to the rest of the people, saying: Who among you is left that saw this House in its former glory, and how do ye see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? And now courage, O Zerubbabel-oracle of Jehovah and courage, Jehoshua, son of Jehosadak, O high priest; and courage, all people of the land!-oracle of Jehovah; and get to work, for I am with you-oracle of Jehovah of Hosts-and My Spirit is standing in your midst. Fear not!"

"For thus saith Jehovah of Hosts: It is but a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the costly things of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this House with glory, saith Jehovah of Hosts. Mine is the silver and Mine the gold-oracle of Jehovah of Hosts. Greater shall the latter glory of this House be than the former, saith Jehovah of Hosts, and in this place will I give peace-oracle of Jehovah of Hosts."

From the earliest times this passage, by the majority of the Christian Church, has been interpreted of the coming of Christ. The Vulgate renders Haggai 2:7 b, "Et veniet Desideratus cunctis gentibus," and so a large number of the Latin Fathers, who are followed by Luther, "Der Trost aller Heiden," and by our own Authorized Version, "And the Desire of all nations shall come." This was not contrary to Jewish tradition, for Rabbi Akiba had defined the clause of the Messiah, and Jerome received the interpretation from his Jewish instructors. In itself the noun, as pointed in the Massoretic text, means "longing" or "object of longing." But the verb which goes with it is in the plural, and by a change of points the noun itself may be read as a plural. That this was the original reading is made extremely probable by the fact that it lay before the translators of the Septuagint, who render: "the picked," or "chosen things of the nations." So the old Italic version: "Et venient omnia electa gentium." Moreover this meaning suits the context, as the other does not. The next verse mentions silver and gold. We may understand what he says, writes Calvin, "of Christ; we indeed know that Christ was the expectation of the whole world; but as it immediately follows, ‘Mine is the silver and Mine is the gold,’ the more simple meaning is that-which I first stated: that the nations would come, bringing with them all their riches that they might offer themselves and all their possessions a sacrifice to God."


Verses 1-23

HAGGAI AND THE BUILDING OF THE TEMPLE

Haggai 1:1-15; Haggai 2:1-23

WE have seen that the most probable solution of the problems presented to us by the inadequate and confused records of the time is that a considerable number of Jewish exiles returned from Jerusalem to Babylon about 537, upon the permission of Cyrus, and that the Satrap whom he sent with them not only allowed them to raise the altar on its ancient site, but himself laid for them the foundation-stone of the Temple.

We have seen, too, why this attempt led to nothing, and we have followed the Samaritan obstructions, the failure of the Persian patronage, the drought and bad harvests, and all the disillusion of the fifteen years which succeeded the Return. The hostility of the Samaritans was entirely due to the refusal of the Jews to give them a share in the construction of the Temple, and its virulence, probably shown by preventing the Jews from procuring timber, seems to have ceased when the Temple works were stopped. At least we find no mention of it in our prophets; and the Jews are furnished with enough of timber to panel and ceil their own houses. [Haggai 1:4] But the Jews must have feared a renewal of Samaritan attacks if they resumed work on the Temple, and for the rest they were too sodden with adversity, and too weighted with the care of their own sustenance, to spring at higher interests. What immediately precedes our prophets is a miserable story of barren seasons and little income, money leaking fast away, and every man’s sordid heart engrossed with his own household. Little wonder that critics have been led to deny the great Return of sixteen years back, with its grand ambitions for the Temple and glorious future of Israel. But the like collapse has often been experienced in history when bands of religious men, going forth, as they thought, to freedom and the immediate erection of a holy commonwealth, have found their unity wrecked and their enthusiasm dissipated by a few inclement seasons on a barren and a hostile shore. Nature and their barbarous fellowmen have frustrated what God had promised. Themselves, accustomed from a high stage of civilization to plan still higher social structures, are suddenly reduced to the primitive necessities of tillage and defense against a savage foe. Statesmen, poets, and idealists of sorts have to hoe the ground, quarry stones, and stay up of nights to watch as sentinels.

Destitute of the comforts and resources with which they have grown up, they live in constant battle with their bare and unsympathetic environs. It is a familiar tale in history, and we read it with ease in the case of Israel. The Jews enjoyed this advantage, that they came not to a strange land, but to one crowded with inspiring memories, and they had behind them the most glorious impetus of prophecy which ever sent a people forward to the future. Yet the very ardors of this hurried them past a due appreciation of the difficulties they would have to encounter, and when they found themselves on the stony soil of Judah, which they had been idealizing for fifty years, and were further afflicted by barren seasons, their hearts must have suffered an even more bitter disillusion than has so frequently fallen to the lot of religious emigrants to an absolutely new coast.


Verses 10-19

3. THE POWER OF THE UNCLEAN

[Haggai 2:10-19]

Haggai’s third address to the people is based on a deliverance which he seeks from the priests. The Book of Deuteronomy had provided that, in all difficult cases not settled by its own code, the people shall seek a "deliverance" or "Torah" from the priests, "and shall observe to do according to the deliverance which the priests deliver to thee." Both noun and verb, which may be thus literally translated, are also used for the completed and canonical Law in Israel, and they signify that in the time of the composition of the Book of Deuteronomy that Law was still regarded as in process of growth. So it is also in the time of Haggai: he does not consult a code of laws, nor asks the priests what the canon says, as, for instance, our Lord does with the question, "how readest thou?" But he begs them to give him a Torah or deliverance, based of course upon existing custom, but not yet committed to writing. For the history of the Law in Israel this is, therefore, a passage of great interest.

"On the twenty-fourth of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of Jehovah came to Haggai the prophet, saying: Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts, Ask, I pray, of the priests a deliverance, saying":-

"If a man be carrying flesh that is holy in the skirt of his robe, and with his skirt touch bread or pottage or wine or oil or any food, shall the latter become holy? And the priests gave answer and said, No! And Haggai said, If one unclean by a corpse touch any of these, shall the latter become unclean? And the priests gave answer and said, It shall."

That is to say, holiness which passed from the source to an object immediately in touch with the latter did not spread further; but pollution infected not only the person who came into contact with it, but whatever he touched.

"The flesh of the sacrifice hallowed whatever it should touch, but not further; but the human being who was defiled by touching a dead body, defiled all he might touch." "And Haggai answered and said: So is this people, and so is this nation before Me-oracle of Jehovah-and so is all the work of their hands, and what they offer there"-at the altar erected on its old site-"is unclean."

That is to say, while the Jews had expected their restored ritual to make them holy to the Lord, this had not been effective, while, on the contrary, their contact with sources of pollution had thoroughly polluted both themselves and their labor and their sacrifices. What these sources of pollution are is not explicitly stated, but Haggai, from his other messages, can only mean, either the people’s want of energy in building the Temple, or the unbuilt Temple itself Andree goes so far as to compare the latter with the corpse, whose touch, according to the priests, spreads infection through more than one degree. In any case Haggai means to illustrate and enforce the building of the Temple without delay; and meantime he takes one instance of the effect he has already spoken of, "the work of their hands," and shows how it has been spoilt by their neglect and delay.

"And now, I pray, set your hearts backward from today, before stone was laid upon stone in the Temple of Jehovah: when one came to a heap of grain of twenty measures, and it had become ten, or went to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, and it had become twenty. I smote you with blasting and with withering, and with hail all the work of your hands, and - oracle of Jehovah. Lay now your hearts on the time before today (the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month), before the day of the foundation of the Temple of Jehovah-lay your hearts" to that time! "Is there yet any seed in the barn? And as yet the vine, the fig-tree, the pomegranate and the olive have not borne fruit. From this day I will bless thee."

This then is the substance of the whole message. On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, somewhere in our December, the Jews had been discouraged that their attempts to build the Temple, begun three months before, had not turned the tide of their misfortunes and produced prosperity in their agriculture. Haggai tells them, there is not yet time for the change to work. If contact with a holy thing has only a slight effect, but contact with an unclean thing has a much greater effect (Haggai 2:11-13), then their attempts to build the Temple must have less good influence upon their condition than the bad influence of all their past devotion to themselves and their secular labors. That is why adversity still continues, but courage from this day on God will bless. The whole message is, therefore, opportune to the date at which it was delivered, and comes naturally on the back of Haggai’s previous oracles. Andree’s reason for assigning it to another writer, on the ground of its breaking the connection, does not exist.

These poor colonists, in their hope deferred, were learning the old lesson, which humanity finds so hard to understand, that repentance and new-born zeal do not immediately work a change upon our material condition; but the natural consequences of sin often outweigh the influence of conversion, and though devoted to God and very industrious we may still be punished for a sinful past. Evil has an infectious power greater than that of holiness. Its effects are more extensive and lasting. It was no bit of casuistry which Haggai sought to illustrate by his appeal to the priests on the ceremonial law, but an ethical truth deeply embedded in human experience.


Verses 20-23

4. THE REINVESTMENT OF ISRAEL’S HOPE

Haggai 2:20-23

On the same day Haggai published another oracle, in which he put the climax to his own message by reinvesting in Zerubbabel the ancient hopes of his people. When the monarchy fell the Messianic hopes were naturally no longer concentrated in the person of a king; and the great evangelist of the Exile found the elect and anointed Servant of Jehovah in the people as a whole, or in at least the pious part of them, with functions not of political government but of moral influence and instruction towards all the peoples of the earth. Yet in the Exile Ezekiel still predicted an individual Messiah, a son of the house of David; only it is significant that, in his latest prophecies delivered after the overthrow of Jerusalem, Ezekiel calls him not king any more, but prince.

After the return of Sheshbazzar to Babylon this position was virtually filled by Zerubbabel, a grandson of Jehoiakin, the second last king of Judah, and appointed by the Persian king Pehah or Satrap of Judah. Him Haggai now formally names the elect servant of Jehovah. In that overturning of the kingdoms of the world which Haggai had predicted two months before, and which he now explains as their mutual destruction by war, Jehovah of Hosts will make Zerubbabel His signet-ring, inseparable from Himself and the symbol of His authority.

"And the word of Jehovah came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, saying: Speak to Zerubbabel, Satrap of Judah, saying: I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and I will overturn the thrones of kingdoms, and will shatter the power of the kingdoms of the Gentiles, and will overturn chariots and their riders, and horses and their riders will come down, every man by the sword of his brother. In that day - oracle of Jehovah of Hosts-I will take Zerubbabel, son of She’alti’el, My servant-oracle of Jehovah-and will make him like a signet-ring; for thee have I chosen-oracle of Jehovah of Hosts."

The wars and mutual destruction of the Gentiles, of which Haggai speaks, are doubtless those revolts of races and provinces which threatened to disrupt the Persian Empire upon the accession of Darius in 521. Persians, Babylonians, Medes, Armenians, the Sacae and others rose together or in succession. In four years Darius quelled them all, and reorganized his empire before the Jews finished their Temple. Like all the Syrian governors, Zerubbabel remained his poor lieutenant and submissive tributary. History rolled westward into Europe. Greek and Persian began their struggle for the control of its future, and the Jews fell into an obscurity and oblivion unbroken for centuries. The "signet-ring of Jehovah" was not acknowledged by the world-does not seem even to have challenged its briefest attention. But Haggai had at least succeeded in asserting the Messianic hope of Israel, always baffled, never quenched, in this re-opening of her life. He had delivered the ancient heritage of Israel to the care of the new Judaism.

Haggai’s place in the succession of prophecy ought now to be clear to us. The meagerness of his words and their crabbed style, his occupation with the construction of the Temple, his unfulfilled hope in Zerubbabel, his silence on the great inheritance of truth delivered by his predecessors, and the absence from his prophesying of all visions of God’s character and all emphasis upon the ethical elements of religion-these have moved some to depress his value as a prophet almost to the vanishing point. Nothing could be more unjust. In his opening message Haggai evinced the first indispensable power of the prophet: to speak to the situation of the moment, and to succeed in getting men to take up the duty at their feet; in another message he announced a great ethical principle; in his last he conserved the Messianic traditions of his religion, and though not less disappointed than Isaiah in the personality to whom he looked for their fulfillment, he succeeded in passing on their hope undiminished to future ages.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Haggai 2:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/haggai-2.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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