Haggai (Prophetic Profiles, Part 14)

Haggai14.1 The Date (of the prophet’s ministry and work)

Haggai begins the ministry of the post-exilic prophets.  His first prophecy is dated precisely in the superscription (1:1) to the second year of King Darius in the sixth month on the first day of the month (approximately September 520 B.C.).  Haggai records that he received three additional revelations from God in the year 520.  Each of these oracles is dated with similar precision.  Thus the messages of Haggai span a period of four months in the year 520 B.C.

Dillard and Longman guess that Haggai’s brief ministry may be explained by old age.

Beyond the four months of his public ministry known from the book, we know nothing of the fate of Haggai.  If he had himself originally been one of the citizens of Jerusalem taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, as some deduce for 2:3, he would have been an elderly man by the time of his ministry.  Once the work on the reconstruction of the temple had begun, his prophetic cal had been discharged, and he may have died shortly after that.[163]

14.2 Background History (historical setting of the prophet)

King Cyrus of Persia became Israel’s messiah (in a sense) when he issued an edict in 536 B.C. allowing the exiled Jews to return to their homeland for the purpose of rebuilding the Lord’s temple (Ezra 1:1-4).  The faithful remnant of God’s people seized the opportunity and enthusiastically made the pilgrimage to Palestine.  They began the temple rebuilding project with zeal, but soon met opposition and discouragement.  The temple project ceased shortly after its launch, and the people avoided the work for 16 or 17 years.

If Haggai had indeed been a citizen of the old Jerusalem before the exile, he was a man of two eras.  He and the rest of the elderly Jews would have remembered the former glory of the Solomonic temple and understood the disappointment of the people.  They had lived in established homes in Babylon and were now pioneers in a desolate land.  Moreover, the people had high hopes of restoration, blessing, and glory as they looked toward the eschatological age of which the prophets had spoken.  But their hopes were dashed as they experienced trials and hardships from both inside and outside their ranks.  The reality of their situation did not match their hopes.  Van Gemeren observes the mood of the restoration era Jews.

They were members of the new community in the Land of Promise, but the slowness of the restoration frustrated them.  They were disappointed with the new era that had promised God’s presence, kingship, blessing, and protection.  They had come to think that their hopes were mistaken and that they had to bide their time in the land waiting for God to inaugurate the era of prophetic fulfillment…They went through a vicious cycle believing that economic hardship signified God’s absence and that God’s absence meant that he did not want the temple rebuilt.  They concluded that the prophetic fulfillment pertained to another generation.  They were not atheistic or idolatrous, but they became complacent as they set aside hope of a speedy restoration.[164]

The historical background of the temple rebuilding years is recorded in the book of Ezra, which refers to the prophets Haggai and Zechariah and their role in stirring up the people to finish the temple rebuilding process.

14.3 Work and Person (character and ministry of the prophet)

Haggai is only known from the few times he is mentioned in Ezra and from his prophetic book.  Because the temple was in a state of incompletion, the Jews were sending a message to the nations that they cared little for God and the honor of his name (although this was not actually the case, since their inaction is best explained from a perspective of depression, apathy, and the prevailing corporate notion that God was not inaugurating the restoration era quickly and therefore did not desire the reconstruction of the temple immediately).  Even so, the seventy-year exilic period of punishment, as prophesied by Jeremiah, had come to an end, and it was time to rebuild the Lord’s house.  Haggai was probably already burdened with the lack of effort and zeal that his people displayed toward the God of their fathers.  It was to this end that God called Haggai as a prophet and gave him four messages to convict and motivate the Jews to action.  Wood surmises that Haggai was a devoted person, “one who longed to see the temple rebuilt and its sacrificial system restored.”[165]   Haggai also was most likely a man of humility in his role as a servant of the Lord.  He certainly was a capable public speaker who delivered the relevatory messages he received from God to the people with passionate gusto.  His words did not fall on deaf ears, for God’s Spirit moved in the hearts of his remnant to heed the prophet.  Even so, Haggai met God’s sovereign, monergistic act of moving the hearts of the people with his own creaturely responsibility to speak forcefully, persuasively, and with conviction.  In conclusion, it is important to note that Haggai gives no hint of failure regarding the temple construction or the reform efforts of the governor Zerubbabel.  The prophet’s work probably ceased before the governor’s reformation program ultimately failed.

14.4 The Book (abbreviated outline[166]  and brief summary)

I. Call to Rebuild the Temple (1:1-15)
      A. The People’s Problem: Lethargy (1:1-4)
      B. The People’s Poverty: Economic and Spiritual (1:5-11)
      C. The People’s Response: Repentance (1:12-15)
II. God’s Greater Temple and Blessings (2:1-9)
      A. Encouragement From God’s Presence (2:1-5)
      B. Encouragement From God’s Promise of Blessing (2:6-9)
III. God’s Blessing for a Defiled People (2:10-19)
      A. The Cause of Their Defilement (2:10-14)
      B. God’s Reaction of Curses and Blessings (2:15-19)
IV. Victory for God’s People (2:20-23)
      A. Overthrow of the Nations (2:20-22)
      B. Enthronement of David’s Son (2:23)

Haggai is neatly structured around the prophet’s four messages.  The first is addressed to Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest.  Haggai explains that the struggles and opposition that they are experiencing are a direct result of God working against them.  As long as the temple lay incomplete, the people would not receive the blessing of the Lord, but rather the curses of covenant disobedience.  Unlike their hard-hearted forefathers, the once-exiled people responded in repentance and action by restarting the temple project within 23 days.  Haggai’s second message addressed the people’s lament upon hearing the elderly compare the glory of the former temple to the humble design of the new.  Haggai assured them that “God was at work in the world…and he would shake the nations until their silver and gold poured into Jerusalem, so that the glory of the second temple would be greater than that of the first (2:6-9).”[167]   More importantly, the prophet gave comfort as he promised that the Lord’s Spirit was among them once again (2:5).  Haggai warned the people in his third message that working on the temple would not make the people holy by association with a holy task.

Haggai emphasized that holiness was not transferable from one object to another or from an object to a person, whereas defilement was contagious (2:11-13)…Building the temple would not automatically make them holy, but it did give them an opportunity to make a new start.[168]

Dillard and Longman correctly emphasize, “the only hope the nation had for divine approval and acceptance was the grace of God.  The temple would not be a magic talisman.”[169]   The final message served as a restoration of Zerubbabel, the heir of the Davidic throne.  Before the exile Jeremiah prophesied that God had rejected King Jehoiachin as the leader of the nation by comparing him to a discarded signet ring (Jer. 22:24-25).  Haggai employed the same imagery by likening Zerubbabel to God’s signet ring, and declaring “I have chosen you” (2:23).  This signified the reestablishment of the covenant promise of blessing through the Davidic line (cf. II Sam. 7:8-16).  This oracle must have excited the remnant into a frenzied expectation of the imminent day of the Lord occurring during the rule of their current governor.  But alas,

although Haggai, Zechariah, and their contemporaries may have hope for the overthrow of foreign domination and the restoration of Davidic rule in their own day, Zerubbabel would not be this Davidic king, but rather would point forward to an eschatological day when God would shake the heavens and the earth (2:6-7, 21).[170]

The oracles contained in Haggai contain important and reoccurring themes from Israel’s rich theological heritage.  In two short chapters, Haggai used the name “LORD of hosts” to refer to Israel’s covenant Lord and paint a picture of countless armies of angelic warriors under God’s command who protect the people and the temple from enemies.  “By his use of this terminology, so clearly linked with the past, Haggai indicated that the great God of Israel’s history, the God of the covenant, was the same God who spoke to the post-exilic community.”[171]   Haggai also employed the theme of divine blessing and its connotation of harmony and peace between God and his people.  The rebuilding of the temple was the impetus for returning Israel to a state of divine blessing and ushering in a new era of peace between God and men (2:19).  Furthermore, the prophet utilized the theme of the blessed and faithful remnant that had been refined in the holy fires of punishment.

Earlier prophets who taught that Israel would be punished by God also affirmed that a remnant would survive (Isa. 7:3; 46:3; Amos 5:14-15).  Haggai applied the term “remnant” to those living in Jerusalem, to assure them that they were heirs to the rich heritage of the covenant people (1:12, 14).[172]

Finally, the temple motif serves as the immediate historical context and primary theme of the book.  The destruction of the first temple was associated with Israel’s alienation from God.  Indeed, the visible Glory-Spirit, the “Shekhinah glory” had departed from the temple as witnessed by Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek. 10; 11:22-23).

In this context the enthusiasm of Haggai for the rebuilding may be understood.  The new temple represented the renewal of divine favour towards Israel: God’s protective presence would once again be manifest in a harmonious relationship among his people (1:13; 2:4); the promises to David, represented by God’s acceptance of Zerubbabel the Davidic prince, would be fulfilled (2:23; cf. Matt. 1:12); and God’s purposes for the nations would be revealed (2:6-9).[173]

Future biblical revelation would seal up the imagery of the temple and the glory it was designed to house.

In spite of Ezekiel’s depiction of the glory of God returning to the city (Ezek. 43:1-7), there is no hint or suggestion that the pillar of fire and cloud ever appeared above the second temple.  So too, although the Jews of Judah would enjoy a measure of autonomy under Persia rule, the power of foreign nations was not broken (2:22), and Judeans would continue to serve a variety of foreign masters…The visible presence of God would finally appear at the second temple, when Jesus “tabernacled in our midst and we beheld his glory” (John 1:14), for he was “the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3).[174]


163.  Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 423.
164.  Van Gemeren, Interpreting the Prophetic Word, pp. 187-88.
165.  Wood, Prophets of Israel, p. 368.
166.  “Haggai,” in Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, p. 1504.
167.  J. McKeown, “Haggai,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, p. 256.
168.  Ibid.
169.  Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 425.
170.  Ibid.
171.  McKeown, “Haggai,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, pp. 256-57.
172.  Ibid., p. 257.
173.  Ibid.
174.  Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 425.

This entry was posted in Isaiah-Malachi, Seminary. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s