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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Haggai 2

 

 

Verse 1-2

THE GLORY OF THE NEW TEMPLE, Haggai 2:1-9.

These verses contain the second address of Haggai, a message of encouragement to the builders. The prophet promises, in the name of Jehovah, that the new temple, enriched by the wealth of the Gentiles and blessed with peace, shall be more glorious than that of Solomon.

Haggai 2:1 gives the date of the utterance.

Seventh month — Named Tishri, covering the latter part of September and first part of October.

The one and twentieth day — Less than a month after the beginning of the work. We must assume, and the assumption finds support in the contents of the message, that during the interval, when the first enthusiasm had died down, people began to think more soberly about the obstacles to be encountered. Their numbers were small, the building material was costly, some of it had to be brought from a distance, there were no resources such as Solomon could draw upon, and no allies to assist in the work; instead, they had to suffer much from their neighbors. Under these discouraging conditions the fervor of some grew cold, and some malcontents, who perhaps had held aloof from the beginning, found ready listeners. What was the use of it all? They could never expect to equal the temple of Solomon. Why not quit work? Haggai saw that the enterprise was threatened with complete failure unless he could revive the former courage and enthusiasm. This he sought to do by bringing to the discouraged builders a new message of hope and inspiration. Haggai 2:2 is similar to Haggai 1:1; Haggai 1:12 (see there).


Verse 3

3. The prophet does not deny that there is a marked contrast between the former temple and the one on which they are now laboring.

This house — The temple of Jehovah. The Jews did not think of the first, second, and third temples as separate buildings; they were all one and the same temple of Jehovah, only in different forms. Here the prophet has in mind Solomon’s temple.

Who is left… that saw — Probably only very few, for about sixty-six years had elapsed since the destruction of Solomon’s temple in 586.

First glory — R.V., “former glory” (compare 1 Kings 5:7).

How do ye see it now? — In what condition? Certainly it was not yet completed, but they knew the resources at their command, and were fully aware that in style of building and magnificence of equipment they could not possibly equal the former splendor (compare Zechariah 4:10).

Is it not… as nothing? — For the grammatical construction of the Hebrew see G.-K., 161c. R.V. reproduces it in smoother English: “is it not in your eyes as nothing?”


Verse 4

4. The prophet does not deny the justice of the estimate, but he does deny that the prospective inferiority of the temple is a valid ground for discouragement, or a sufficient reason for discontinuing the building operations.

Yet now — Nevertheless; in spite of the great difference.

Be strong — Do not permit appearances to discourage you, but remain confident as to the ultimate success. These words are addressed to all the people (compare Zechariah 4:6-10).

Work — Only if they do their share can God render assistance (compare 1 Chronicles 28:20). There is no need for discouragement, because Jehovah, the God of hosts (see on Hosea 12:5), is with them (Haggai 1:13). “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31.)

The translation of 5a is uncertain. Both English translations supply “according to,” but A.V. connects 5a with 5b, “According to the word… , so my spirit remaineth,” while R.V. connects it with 4b, “I am with you,… according to the word.” The chief difficulty lies in “the word,” which in Hebrew stands in the accusative, but whose syntactical relation cannot be determined very easily. Some supply the verb remember, hence margin R.V., “Remember the word,” but this is arbitrary. The grammatical difficulty cannot be solved, and we must be satisfied with saying that, if the text is correct, the promise of Jehovah to co-operate with the people is somehow brought in connection with a covenant promise made at the time of the Exodus (compare, for example, Exodus 6:7; Exodus 19:4-6). The difficulty vanishes if, following LXX., we omit 5a; LXX. reads 5b, “And my spirit shall remain in the midst of you, fear not.” This makes a natural continuation of Haggai 2:4. For the promise see on Zechariah 4:6; for my spirit, on Joel 2:28, and A.B. Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 115-129, from which may be quoted a few sentences: “The Spirit of Jehovah is Jehovah himself — the source of life of all kinds, of the quickening of the mind in thought, in morals, in religion, particularly the last.… The Spirit of God ab intra is God active, showing life and power, of all kinds similar to those exhibited by the spirit of man in man; the Spirit of God ab extra is God in efficient operation, whether in the cosmos or as giving life, reinforcing life, exerting efficiency in any sphere, whether physical, intellectual, or spiritual; the tendency toward limiting the Spirit of God to the ethical and spiritual spheres is due to the tendency to regard God mainly on those sides of his being.” The translation of R.V. “abode” is wrong, for the words contain a promise for the future.

Fear ye not — Though the present seems dark and unpromising.


Verses 6-9

Haggai 2:6-9 expand the promise of Haggai 2:4-5. Jehovah will manifest his presence and power by a great shaking of nature and of the nations of the earth (6, 7a); as a result the nations will recognize his supremacy and bring costly presents to his temple (7b, 8). Then the magnificence of the new temple will surpass that of the old, and Jehovah will add to its splendor by making it his dwelling place, from which he will dispense permanent peace and prosperity to the community (9). Similar thoughts are expressed in the first three visions of Zechariah (Zechariah 1:7 to Zechariah 2:13).

6-8. Yet once, it is a little while — The Hebrew is peculiar, and various interpretations have been suggested. If the text is correct, which is doubted by some, the meaning seems to be that once more Jehovah will shake heaven and earth (for former shakings, compare Exodus 19:16-18; Judges 5:4-5; Micah 1:3-4; Nahum 1:2-6); and that this new (and final) shaking will take place in a short time.

Shake — The convulsions spoken of here are those connected by other prophets with the day of Jehovah, which is undoubtedly the crisis in the mind of Haggai. All nature is to be convulsed by the terrible manifestation of Jehovah (see on Joel 2:10-11; Joel 2:30-31).

All nations — The prophet expects political upheavals in which the nations hostile to the remnant will be overthrown, and this overthrow will pave the way for the establishment of the kingdom of God in all its glory. Political disturbances had begun throughout the Persian empire before 520, and both Haggai and Zechariah expected that these troubles would spread until the empire would go to pieces. With the oppressor gone, they expected the glories of the Messianic age to be ushered in (see on Zechariah 1:11, and Introduction, p. 550). In this respect the utterances of these postexilic prophets resemble those of the prophets before the exile, who expected the Messianic era to begin immediately after the overthrow of Assyria (for example, Isaiah 10:32 to Isaiah 11:5; Micah 4:11 to Micah 5:4; Nahum 1:15 to Nahum 2:2).

The desire of all nations shall come — R.V., “the precious things of all nations shall come.” The latter is a correct reproduction of the sense. Desire is equivalent to object of desire or that which is desired, which is not the Messiah, nor the choice and noble spirits among the nations, but their valuable possessions (LXX. has plural), including among other things the silver and gold mentioned in Haggai 2:8. These precious things will be brought into the temple (compare Isaiah 60:5) by those among the nations who survive the shaking and who become convinced through the terrible manifestation of Jehovah that he alone is God (compare Zechariah 14:16).

With glory — Not the glory of the divine presence or glory due to heavenly gifts, but glory or splendor due to the bringing of rich presents by the heathen, to supplement the limited resources of the builders.

Silver… gold is mine — Therefore it is only proper that they should bring treasures to him.

9. At present the outlook may be discouraging, the new temple may seem “as nothing” when compared with the former (Haggai 2:3), but in the end it will be glorious, even more so than the temple of Solomon.

This latter house — The temple now in process of building.

The former — The temple of Solomon. Thus translated 9a means that the glory of the present temple will in the end surpass that of Solomon’s temple. The thought remains the same if the translation of R.V. (compare LXX.) is accepted, “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former.”

Latter glory — The glory promised in Haggai 2:7.

This house — See on Haggai 2:3.

The former — The glory present in the temple of Solomon.

In this place — In Jerusalem as well as in the temple.

Will I give peace — To this LXX. adds, “and peace of soul to renew the entire foundation, to rebuild this temple.” If this addition is a part of the original prophecy, which is not probable, the peace must be that which will be enjoyed in Jerusalem while the nations are being shaken; otherwise, the peace promised is that to be enjoyed subsequent to the shaking of the nations and the glorification of the temple, the peace of the Messianic age, which Jehovah will dispense from his new dwelling place (compare Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 9:1-7).


Verse 11

11. Ask now the priests concerning the law — The consulting of the priests was only preparatory to the prophet’s real message; their reply was to serve him as a starting point. Literally, ask a law — ask for instruction. For law see on Hosea 4:6. Here it is used in the general sense of instruction or legal advice. To give this was the duty of the priests (Deuteronomy 17:8-11; Deuteronomy 33:10; Malachi 2:7).


Verses 12-16

12, 13. Two questions are propounded to the priests: (1) Whether or not a garment made holy through contact with holy flesh (compare Leviticus 6:27) transmits this holiness to other articles which might come in contact with it.

Holy flesh — Flesh of an animal slain for sacrificial purposes (Jeremiah 11:15).

Skirt — Literally, wing. A corner of the large outer garment (see on Amos 2:8) could be turned in so as to form a convenient place in which to carry articles of various kinds. The articles named are common articles of food. The specific case laid before the priests is not provided for in the ceremonial law. To this question the priests give a negative answer. (2) When one who is made unclean by contact with something that is unclean touches the same articles of food, do they become unclean? In this case the answer is in the affirmative, in accordance with Numbers 19:22.

Unclean by a dead body — By coming in contact with a dead body (compare Numbers 9:10; Leviticus 21:11). This was the most dreaded kind of uncleanness.

In Haggai 2:14 the prophet applies the priestly decisions to the case of the people.

So — Refers to the substance of the priestly decisions, more especially to the second.

This people — The people gathered about him (see on Haggai 1:2).

Before me — In my estimate.

Every work of their hands — Their life and conduct permeated with selfishness (Haggai 1:4).

That which they offer — All their offerings and sacrifices.

There — Upon the altar mentioned in Ezra 3:3; near it the prophet probably stood when he delivered the address. All the offerings offered there are an abomination to Jehovah. Why? The answer must be supplied from the context. The people offering sacrifice are like the man carrying the holy flesh; but in neglecting Jehovah and looking only after their own interests they are like the man made unclean through contact with an unclean body. Since the powers of infection of an unclean thing are greater than those of a clean thing, their unclean conduct exerts greater influence than their clean sacrifices and makes unclean their otherwise clean offerings. Haggai does not carry the application further; by implication, however, his words contain an exhortation to change their conduct; in this case, to carry on more earnestly the building operations. After Haggai 2:14, LXX. has a lengthy addition which is, however, in all probability, not an original part of the prophecy.

In Haggai 2:15-19 the prophet refers once more to the calamities present and past and urges the people to bear in mind that they are the direct result of their indifference, and that any change in their condition depends entirely upon their zeal in building the temple.

And now — Perhaps better, but now. These words are really the introduction to Haggai 2:18. A change in their conduct has already begun, hence he may place by the side of the warning in Haggai 2:14 a message of commendation and promise. Before he utters the latter he refers once more to the past calamity, so as to bring out more strongly the contrast between the calamity of the past and the prosperity of the future.

Consider — As in Haggai 1:5-7.

From this day and upward — R.V., “backward.” The R.V. translation has no support (compare 1 Samuel 16:13); the word points to the future. The mistranslation is due to a misinterpretation of the entire verse. The meaning becomes clear if a stop is made after upward; “Consider from this day and upward!” — that is, consider or bear in mind continually, from this moment on, what I am about to say: on the one hand, that your past neglectfulness brought disaster (15-17); on the other, that zeal and faithfulness will bring prosperity (18, 19).

After this summons to consider, a new beginning should be made: “Before a stone was laid upon a stone in the temple of Jehovah; since those days were, (it happened that) when one came.… “

Before a stone was laid — Before building operations were commenced.

Since those days were — R.V., “Through all that time.” An obscure expression. The reading of R.V. gives good enough sense, though the words seem superfluous after 15a, but the Hebrew hardly warrants the translation. LXX. reads, “who were ye,” which may represent an original “how were ye.” These might be the closing words of a question which has its beginning in Haggai 2:15, “Before a stone was laid upon a stone in the temple of Jehovah, how did ye fare?” The temporal clause is placed first, because the emphasis rests upon it.

How they did fare is stated in the rest of Haggai 2:16 and in Haggai 2:17. The thought is similar to that expressed in Haggai 1:6; Haggai 1:9-11; disappointment and disaster on every hand.

Heap of twenty — That is, a heap of sheaves estimated to give twenty measures; but when it was threshed it yielded ten, only one half of what was expected.

Pressfat — R.V., “winevat.” The receptacle in which wine juice is kept after the grapes are pressed out. The grapes, instead of yielding fifty measures of wine, yielded only twenty.

Out of the press — Omitted in R.V. The noun occurs elsewhere in the sense of winepress (so A.V.; compare Isaiah 63:3). Some think that it is used in the more general sense of measure (so R.V.), or that it is the name of a measure, equivalent to bath (Isaiah 5:10), which is of the same size as the ephah (see on Amos 8:5). This is not likely. If the text is correct the translation of A.V. is to be preferred; otherwise the word must be omitted as an explanatory gloss to the preceding “winevat.”


Verses 17-19

Haggai 2:17 explains why the threshing floor and the winepress proved sore disappointments. Jehovah smote the fields with “blasting and mildew” (see on Amos 4:9).

Hail — Concerning the frequency with which hail falls in Palestine G.A. Smith says (Historical Geography, p. 64), “During most winters both hail and snow fall on the hills; hail is common.” It is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament; always as an instrument of divine judgment.

The labors of your hands — Everything they had cultivated with great effort and toil. The purpose of the judgment was to bring the people to their senses, but it failed (see on Haggai 1:5, and references there).

Yet ye turned not to me — This is undoubtedly the thought, but it is difficult to get it from the present Hebrew text, which Keil calls “a perfectly unusual construction.” Originally the words here may have been identical with the refrain in Amos 4:6-11. It is worthy of note that the causes of calamity mentioned here are not the same as those named earlier in the book, though the calamity itself is the same. Here they are blasting, mildew, hail; in Haggai 1:10-11, drought. This with some linguistic peculiarities has led Andre to conclude that this discourse does not come from Haggai; but the linguistic peculiarities are by no means conclusive, and surely there may have been several different causes that brought about barrenness or the failure of the crops. Others consider only Haggai 2:17 a later addition, originally a marginal note, based upon Amos 4:9. In support of this claim it is pointed out that LXX. contains an addition to Haggai 2:14, which, in part at least, is based upon Amos 5:10.

With the calamities of the past fresh in their minds, they are to observe the change in fortune which is about to occur. If they bring this change into connection with their former indifference and their present zeal, they can no longer doubt that there exists a relation of cause and effect between indifference and calamity and between zeal and prosperity; and this recognition should greatly increase their interest in the cause of Jehovah.

18a is to be interpreted as in Haggai 2:15 (see there); upward again points to the future. This day is defined in the succeeding clause, “from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month,” and this in turn is called “the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid.” Both explanatory clauses are considered later additions by some, because (1) they are superfluous; (2) Haggai 1:15, states that the work was begun three months earlier; (3) Ezra 3:10, says that the foundation was laid about fifteen years before. To these arguments reply may be made: (1) Even granting the historicity of Ezra 3:10 (see pp. 548ff.), the two passages are not necessarily contradictory, for it is not impossible that after an interval of fifteen years the foundations were found to be in a sufficiently unsatisfactory condition to demand a relaying. (2) Three months may have been spent in doing the preliminary work; rubbish had to be cleared away, building material had to be hauled, etc. (3) That the words might have been omitted is true, but, since the change in fortune was closely connected with the rebuilding of the temple, is it not perfectly natural that the pivotal point of time should receive special emphasis? From this very moment the prophet desires them to have their eyes open to see what the future will have in store. At the time of the laying of the foundation a religious gathering may have been held, and that would be a suitable occasion on which to utter these words of encouragement. It cannot be objected that the manifestations of enthusiasm three months earlier should have been the turning point in their fortune. How could they tell what would become of the next spring’s crops? The critical time of the year comes after the date mentioned here (compare Amos 4:7). Besides, Haggai 2:19 makes it clear that a partial change could be seen, the drought had ceased. The careful definition of the date is in perfect accord with the repetition of the exhortation “consider it.”

Haggai 2:19 states what they are to consider, but it is not parallel with Haggai 2:16-17, as if it called attention once more to the calamity of the past; it points rather to the restoration of the divine favor present and future.

Seed — The seed corn. Haggai inquires whether it is still in the barn; he evidently expects a negative answer. But if the seed is sown, this in itself is an evidence that the divine favor is returning. In former years it had to be left in the barns because the absence of rain made plowing and sowing impossible. Now the prophet points to the fact that rain has come and that the seed has been sown. The succeeding clauses also should be translated as a question, “Hath not as yet the vine, the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive borne fruit?” This question presupposes an affirmative answer, as the presence of not clearly shows. These trees have given evidence of a change, for they have borne fruit. The ingathering of these fruits begins at the time of the year when the first steps were taken (Haggai 1:15), and continues several months. If for a year or two the crops were poor, the people could be persuaded very readily that the better results were due to their renewed activity. But the blessings already experienced are only the beginning; in the closing words the prophet promises a continuation of the divine favor.


Verses 20-23

THE EXALTATION OF ZERUBBABEL, 20-23.

The fourth utterance of Haggai is Messianic in character; it promises the exaltation of Zerubbabel, the prince of David’s house. In the second discourse the prophet announced the shaking of the nations, which would pave the way for the establishment of the kingdom of God (see on Haggai 2:7). Since Haggai, like the earlier prophets (Isaiah 9:1 ff; Isaiah 11:1 ff.; Micah 5:1 ff.), expected the Messianic king to be of the dynasty of David, and since he believed that the shaking would occur in the near future, it was quite natural that his Messianic hopes should center in the descendant of the house of David who was standing out most prominently in his day (compare also Zechariah 6:9 ff.).

20. The message was delivered on the same day as the preceding and forms the climax of the promises made there. The people will, indeed, be blessed abundantly in their temporal affairs, but there is more to come; the long-anticipated Messianic king is soon to set up his kingdom of peace and righteousness. 21. Zerubbabel (see on Haggai 1:1) is the central figure of the promise, therefore this oracle is addressed to him exclusively. For 21b see on Haggai 2:6.

Haggai 2:22 is an expansion of Haggai 2:7; it also speaks of the upheaval expected by Haggai to take place in the near future (see on Haggai 2:7).

Throne — Used collectively — thrones, governments. Nations and governments will be overthrown.

Strength — Which enables them to exist and gives them authority over others.

Chariots,… horses — These and the soldiers using them, that is, the well-equipped armies, are the source of their power and strength. With them gone, their power vanishes and the nations themselves will perish.

By the sword of his brother — The prophet is thinking of the civil war, which threatened the Persian empire in the beginning of the reign of Darius. Haggai evidently expected these struggles to bring about the downfall of the great empire, which consisted of many nations.

23. The dissolution of the hostile world power will clear the way for the setting up of the kingdom of God under the rule of the Messianic king.

In that day — When the power of the nations will collapse.

Zerubbabel — See on Haggai 1:1.

My servant — An epithet applied to Zerubbabel because he was ordained to carry out the divine purpose (see on Zechariah 3:8).

Will make thee as a signet — The signet ring is one of the most precious possessions of the Oriental; he guards it carefully and carries it about with him constantly (Jeremiah 22:24; Song of Solomon 8:6). Hence the promise means that Zerubbabel shall be exceedingly precious to Jehovah, who will keep him constantly under his protecting care.

I have chosen thee — Jehovah has selected Zerubbabel to be Branch (see on Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12-13), who will be the ruler of the kingdom of God (compare Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 43:10, etc.). The thrice-repeated “saith Jehovah” adds solemnity and weight to the promise. On the fulfillment of this and similar prophecies see closing remarks on Micah, chapter 5.

From this passage and similar utterances in the Book of Zechariah, Sellin has attempted to prove that, at the instigation of the two prophets, Zerubbabel was crowned king, but that he was soon dethroned and put to death by the Persians. At one time he went so far as to identify Zerubbabel with the “suffering Servant” of Isaiah 53; but subsequently he modified his view and has now given up entirely the identification of Zerubbabel with the “Servant.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Haggai 2:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/haggai-2.html. 1874-1909.

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