Haggai 1:15b – 2:9
Haggai is a post-exilic prophet, serving during the period following the Babylonian Exile. That exile began in 587 B.C. when the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar, sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, killed many of the people, and led most of the rest into exile in Babylonia. The exiles lost their Promised Land, their Holy City, their Holy Temple, and their personal freedom.
It appeared that Yahweh had abandoned the Jewish people. However, the prophets made it clear that the exile was Yahweh’s judgment on the people of Judah for their sins. They held out hope for the future.
In 539 B.C., Babylon fell to Cyrus of Persia, whose policies proved to be quite different from those of the Babylonians. Cyrus encouraged subject peoples to retain their cultures and traditions, including their religions. In 538 B.C., Cyrus issued an edict allowing the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild their temple. He even returned the temple vessels to the exiles for use in the new temple and provided financial backing for their return (Ezra 6:1-12). In 537 B.C., they laid the foundation of the temple (Ezra 3:8-11), but the old people who remembered Solomon’s Temple wept upon seeing the inferior quality of the new foundations (Ezra 3:12-13). The work essentially stopped at that point. Little has been done to bring the temple to completion.
The book of Haggai comes from the year 520 B.C. (calculated from the dates given in 1:15b-2:1a). The Jewish people are discouraged. Little has been done since the foundations were laid nearly two decades earlier. They have few resources at their disposal. Clearly, they have no hope of constructing anything as grand as Solomon’s Temple.
Discouragement can paralyze people, so Yahweh called Haggai to encourage them. Yahweh’s message, given through Haggai, is that there is more than meets the eye in Jerusalem. Yahweh is in control, and will provide the necessary resources to rebuild. With Yahweh, all things are possible.
A few weeks earlier, Haggai had begun by telling the people that they were experiencing poverty as punishment for working too much on their own houses and too little on the temple. The time has come to build the temple, and Yahweh has sent Haggai to push them in that direction (1:1-11).
The people responded to that message by beginning the work, which has been slow and hard. Now Haggai has another word of encouragement (2:1-9), which will prove effective. The new temple will be completed within four years (Ezra 6:15).
HAGGAI 1:15b – 2:1a. IN THE SECOND YEAR OF DARIUS THE KING
1:15b in the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king. 2:1a In the seventh month, in the twenty-first day of the month,
Given the precision with which Haggai specifies the day, scholars have been able to use historical and astronomical records to determine exact or nearly exact dates for several events. This date equates to September 21, 520 B.C. (see Taylor, 29; Verhoef).
HAGGAI 2:1b-3. THE WORD OF YAHWEH CAME BY HAGGAI THE PROPHET
2:1b the Word of Yahweh came by Haggai the prophet, saying, 2“Speak now to Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant (Hebrew: se∙erit) of the people, saying,
3‘Who is left among you
who saw this house in its former glory?
How do you see it now?
Isn’t it in your eyes as nothing?'”
“the word of Yahweh came by Haggai the prophet, saying“ (v. 2:1b). As in 1:1, this verse emphasizes the divine origins of this word. It comes by (or through) the agency of the prophet Haggai, but it is Yahweh’s word.
“Speak now to Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant (se∙erit) of the people, saying“ (v. 2). Yahweh instructs Haggai to speak both to the leadership (Zerubbabel, the governor and Joshua, the high priest) and the people.
“and to the remnant (se∙erit) of the people“ (v. 2b). This word se∙erit usually has special meaning for Jewish people. Throughout their history, Yahweh punished them for their sins, but always preserved a remnant to begin their history once again. In Haggai’s situation, he is speaking to the remnant of the people who returned to Jerusalem after their exile in Babylonia.
However, the meaning of se∙erit in this verse seems only to be that Haggai is to address the rest of the populace as well as the leadership.
“Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Isn’t it in your eyes as nothing?“ (v. 3). As noted above, Ezra tells us that there was much weeping when the foundations of the new temple were laid in 537 B.C.—seventeen years earlier. Some people were joyful at the prospect of rebuilding the temple, but “the old men who had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice” because they could see that they were faced with the prospect of building an inferior temple (Ezra 3:12-13).
It is unlikely that there would be many of these “old men” present with Haggai in 520 B.C., because the temple was destroyed in 587 B.C.—sixty-seven years earlier. Anyone old enough to have seen Solomon’s Temple in all its glory would be well into their seventies or eighties.
However, the people, regardless of age, have heard of the temple’s grandeur. Sometimes the imagination paints pictures even more glorious than the reality, so these people have a mental picture of the temple that is wonderful indeed. They are faced with the prospect of expending great energy to construct a temple that can never match their view of a proper temple.
Cyrus has decreed that this new temple should be 60 cubits (90 feet or 27 meters) high and wide (Ezra 6:3), so it compares favorably in size with Solomon’s Temple, which was 60 cubits long, 20 cubits (30 feet) wide, and 25 cubits (38 feet) high (1 Kings 6:2).
The problem is workmanship and materials. Solomon spared no expense in constructing his temple. He conscripted thirty thousand workers to build the temple, and hired thirty three hundred supervisors to oversee their work (1 Kings 5:13-16). Masons prepared stones at the quarry so there would be no ringing of hammers at the temple site. The interior walls were lined with cedar overland with gold. The floors were cypress. Many of the furnishings were overlaid with gold, and the interior was adorned with precious jewels (1 Kings 6; 1 Chronicles 3). There is no way that these returned exiles can match that kind of labor force or those kinds of materials.
It is worth noting that Solomon’s Temple was stripped of many of its treasures prior to its destruction (1 Kings 14:25-26; 2 Kings 12:18; 16:17-18; 18:13-16; 24:13), so its glory was diminished toward the end. Nevertheless, even stripped of gold furnishings, the building was still grand.
“How do you see it now? Isn’t it in your eyes as nothing?“ (v. 3b). Haggai acknowledges that their current efforts look pitiful. He doesn’t try to sugarcoat what the people can see plainly with their own eyes. This new temple does not seem to have any hope of matching the glory of Solomon’s Temple.
HAGGAI 2:4-5. BE STRONG! DON’T BE AFRAID!
4“Yet now be strong (Hebrew: hazaq), Zerubbabel,” says Yahweh.
“Be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest.
Be strong, all you people of the land,” says Yahweh,
“and work, for I am with you,” says Yahweh of Armies.
5This is the word that I covenanted with you
when you came out of Egypt,
and my Spirit lived among you.
‘Don’t be afraid.'”
“Yet now be strong (hazaq—be strong or take courage), Zerubbabel,’ says Yahweh. ‘Be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ says Yahweh, ‘and work, for I am with you,’ says Yahweh of Armies“ (v. 4). In verse 2, Yahweh told Haggai to address Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the people, and that is what he does here. Yahweh’s message, delivered by Haggai, is to be strong—to take courage—to have faith!
This is much like the counsel of David to his son, Solomon, as Solomon prepared to build the first temple. David said, “Be strong and courageous, and do it. Don’t be afraid, nor be dismayed; for Yahweh God, even my God, is with you. He will not fail you, nor forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of Yahweh is finished” (1 Chronicles 28:20).
“be strong“ (v. 4). Courage is the opposite of discourage, just as faith is the opposite of fear. A great deal depends on the way people choose to see things. When the Israelites found themselves facing Goliath, most thought, “He’s too big to kill!”—but David thought, “He’s too big to miss!”—and David’s positive attitude (the product of his faith in Yahweh) made all the difference.
It is that kind of faith to which Yahweh (through Haggai) is calling these people. He is calling them to repent—to face in the opposite direction. The people are discouraged—he is calling them to take courage. They have become hopeless—he is calling them to be hopeful. They are fearful—he is calling them to be faithful. They see only darkness—he is calling them to face the light.
“This is the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt“ (v. 5a). What promise did Yahweh make to Moses? It was this: “Certainly I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). Other than that promise, Moses had no hope. No oratory would persuade pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Moses had no army to force the issue. He had no money to buy the people’s freedom. He had only one thing—Yahweh’s promise to be with him—and that promise was all he needed.
In this situation now, where the people are faced with the monumental task of building a new temple, the promise of Yahweh’s presence is all that they need. With Yahweh’s help, they can do what is needed.
“and my Spirit lived among you. ‘Don’t be afraid“ (v. 5b). In verse 4, Yahweh said, “for I am with you.” Now he adds, “my Spirit lived among you,” and tells them not to fear. If they will only believe the promise that Yahweh is with them, their faith will enable them to set aside their fears.
HAGGAI 2:6-8. I WILL SHAKE ALL NATIONS
6For thus says the Lord of hosts:
“Once again, in a little while,
I will shake the heavens and the earth
and the sea and the dry land;
7and I will shake all nations (Hebrew: goyim).
The precious things (Hebrew: hemdat) of all nations will come,
and I will fill this house with glory (Hebrew: kabod),
says Yahweh of Armies.
8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine,”
says Yahweh of Armies.
“For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land” (v. 6). An earthquake was one of the signs of Yahweh’s majesty at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18), and earthquakes were often seen as evidence of God’s power (Isaiah 29:6; Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:5; Matthew 27:51, 54; 28:2; Acts 16:26; Revelation 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:17-21).
Now Yahweh promises that “in a little while” he will do it again. The shaking that Yahweh promises could be a literal earthquake or the earthquake image could be a metaphor for some sort of political upheaval.
“and I will shake all nations” (goyim) (v. 7a). The word goyim implies foreign nations—gentiles. Yahweh is promising to shake things up so that goyim will bring treasures to furnish the temple. This will be fulfilled through the agencies of Cyrus and Darius, two kings of Persia, who will provide the resources required for rebuilding the temple (Ezra 1:4; 5:13-17; 6:1-12).
“The precious things (hemdat) of all nations will come“ (v. 7b). The Vulgate and King James Version translated this phrase “desire of all nations,” leading people to interpret this verse to point to the coming of the messiah. We see that interpretation reflected in the verse of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” that begins with these words: “Come, Desire of nations, come, Fix in us Thy humble home.”
The hymn, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” includes the phrase, “Come, Desire of nations, come,” the wording of the KJV for this verse. However, hemdat is plural, not singular, so this verse is better translated “precious things of nations” (WEB) or “treasure of all nations” (NRSV). Many modern hymnals now omit the phrase, “Come, Desire of nations, come.”
The natural meaning of this verse in this context is that Yahweh will shake the nations to bring to Jerusalem the treasures required for building the temple. The beginnings of the fulfillment of this promise are recorded in Ezra 6:1-12.
“and I will fill this house with glory (kabod—glory), says Yahweh of Armies“ (v. 7c). This word, kabod is usually translated “glory,” and is often used to speak of “the glory of the Lord”—an aura associated with God’s appearance that reveals God’s majesty to humans. “the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34) and the temple (1 Kings 8:11). God also promises that the day will come when his glory will fill all the earth (Numbers 14:21).
In this verse, kabod could be intended to refer to the physical beauty of the building. That would be appropriate for the context, because a concern for the physical beauty of the building and its furnishings is the subject at hand in our scripture lesson.
However, when Yahweh promises to “fill this house with kabod,” he likely means the glory of his presence as well as the ornamentation of the building.
“The silver is mine, and the gold is mine,’ says Yahweh of Armies“ (v. 8). This is like the verse from the Psalms where God says that “the livestock on a thousand hills” belong to him (Psalm 50:10). It is Yahweh’s way of reminding these people that he is not dependent on their meager resources. Yahweh created all things, and all things belong to him. He can provide gold, silver, and anything that is needed for the work that he has called these people to do. They need only to trust him to provide for their needs.
HAGGAI 2:9. I WILL GIVE SHALOM
9“The latter glory (Hebrew: kabod—glory) of this house
will be greater than the former,” says Yahweh of Armies;
“and in this place will I give peace” (Hebrew: shalom),
says Yahweh of Armies.
“The latter glory (kabod—glory) of this house will be greater than the former,’ says Yahweh of Armies“ (v. 9a). This appears to mean that the second temple—the Zerubbabel Temple—will be grander than Solomon’s Temple. However, that will not turn out to be true—at least until much later, if at all. Once Herod finishes his expansion of the temple, it will be quite grand—but that will be centuries in the future. This temple will be far less imposing than Solomon’s Temple.
However, as noted above, the word kabod could refer to the physical beauty of the building or it could mean the glory of the Lord’s presence. Of the two possible meanings, the latter—the glory of the Lord’s presence—is obviously the more important.
From our perspective as Christians, we can see that Jesus’ presence in the temple fulfilled this promise in ways that gold and silver could never do. But the ultimate fulfillment of this verse is eschatological (having to do with last things—the end of time). In a grand vision, this is what John saw:
“I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple. The city has no need for the sun, neither of the moon, to shine, for the very glory of God illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk in its light. The kings of the earth bring the glory and honor of the nations into it. Its gates will in no way be shut by day (for there will be no night there), and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it so that they may enter. There will in no way enter into it anything profane, or one who causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:22-27)
“‘and in this place will I give peace’ (shalom), says Yahweh of Armies“ (v. 9b). This word, shalom, is usually translated “peace.” True shalom involves the tranquility that comes from knowing who you are and where you come from. It involves the prosperity that arises, not from an accumulation of material possessions, but from a thankful spirit. It involves the security that comes from faith that God loves you and will provide for your needs. It is that shalom that Yahweh promises these people here.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Achtemeier, Elizabeth, Interpretation Commentary: Nahum-Malachi (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1986)
Baldwin, Joyce G., Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Vol. 24 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1972)
Brown, William P., Westminster Bible Companion: Obadiah through Malachi (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996)
Goldingay, John and Scalise, Pamela, New International Biblical Commentary: Minor Prophets II (Peabody, Massachusetts, 2009)
March, W. Eugene, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature, Daniel, the Twelve Prophets, Vol. VII (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2001)
Motyer, J. Alec, in McComiskey, Thomas Edward (ed.), The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992, 1993, 1998)
Newsome, James D. in Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Kaiser, Walter C., The Preacher’s Commentary: Micah-Malachi (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992)
O’Brien, Julia M., Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004)
Reid, Stephen Breck, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Smith, Ralph L., The Word Biblical Commentary: Micah, Malachi, Vol. 32 (Dallas: Word Books, 1984)
Taylor, Richard A. and Clendenen, E. Ray, The New American Commentary: Haggai, Malachi, Vol. 21a (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2004)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Verhoef, Pieter A., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Books of Haggai and Malachi (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987)
Copyright 2010, Richard Niell Donovan