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16. Haggai

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Notes on the Book of Haggai

I. The Prophet Haggai.

Nothing is known about Haggai the prophet beyond what is recorded in his own prophecy and in Ezra 5:1-2. The name has something to do with “festival,” but the significance is obscure. Haggai was raised up by Yahweh two months prior to Zechariah for a short ministry in connection with the rebuilding of the temple. This task he shared with Zechariah. He, also like Zechariah, was instrumental in encouraging Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua (this spelling is adopted rather than Jeshua1 since the Hebrew is the same for this priest as Moses’ successor) the high priest.

II. The Historical Context.

Cyrus became the ruler of the Medes and the Persians and conquered an empire that stretched to India in the East and to the western edge of Anatolia. This vast empire, with its disparate peoples could only have come about through a policy of the Persians that differed immensely from their predecessors. Cyrus allowed a measure of local autonomy and allowed the return of various gods, the rebuilding of temples, and the recognition of local cultures. Isaiah (40-45) tells us that God raised him up as His anointed (Isaiah 45:1-2). The Jews benefited from the policy in that they were allowed to return to their land, rebuild their temple, and restore their worship system. The decree of Cyrus, found on the Cyrus Cylinder is as follows: “All the kings of the entire world from the Upper to the Lower Sea, those who are seated in throne rooms, (those who) live in other [types of buildings as well as] all the kings of the West land living in tents, brought their heavy tributes and kissed my feet in Babylon. (As to the region) from . . . as far as Ashur and Susa, Agade, Eshnunna, the towns Zamban, Me-Turnu, Der as well as the region of the Gutians, I returned to (these) sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which (used) to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I (also) gathered all their (former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled upon the command of Marduk, the great lord, all the gods of Sumer and Akkad whom Nabonidus has brought into Babylon to the anger of the lord of the gods, unharmed, in their (former) chapels, the places which make them happy.”2 Cyrus issued his famous edict in 538 B.C. allowing the Jews and other expatriates to return to their homelands and rebuild their temples.

The first return under Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel to build the temple (538 B.C., Ezra 1‑6) saw only the foundation laid. Opposition from surrounding neighbors resulted in a letter to the King and an interruption of the work. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel, Haggai and Zechariah, the work was resumed 16 years later and completed in 516 B.C. The chronology of this period is as follows:

A. Events under Cyrus, first king of Persia (539‑529 B.C).

1. Edict issued returning people and temple contents (538 B.C.).

2. Temple foundation laid (536 B.C.).

B. Events under Cambyses, Cyrus’ son (529‑522 B.C).

No biblical events. Cambyses conquered Egypt (referred to in the Elephantine papyri).

C. Events under Darius, the great, Persian general (522‑486 B.C.).

1. Darius defeats an alleged usurper to throne (Gaumata) and struggles to put down rebellions (done by 520 B.C.).3

2. Zechariah begins his ministry in the second year of Darius.

3. The temple was completed in 516 B.C.

4. Darius was defeated at Marathon by Greeks in 490 B.C.

D. Events under Xerxes (Ahasuerus) (486‑465 B.C.).

1. Xerxes was defeated at Salamis in 480 B.C.

2. The events of Esther may have taken place after his return.

E. Events under Artaxerxes I (465‑424 B.C.).

1. Ezra’s return to promote religious reform (458 B.C.). Fensham says Egypt revolted in 460 and was suppressed in 456 B.C. Artaxerxes needed loyal people in Judah and may have sent Ezra for this purpose (Ezra 7:8).

2. Nehemiah’s first return (445 B.C.) (Neh. 5:14).

Fensham says the Persian general who defeated Egypt became angry at Artaxerxes and revolted against him. Later he declared loyalty and was restored, but again Artaxerxes would want loyal leaders in the west and so may have sent Nehemiah.4

3. Ezra apparently came back a second time early in Nehemiah’s period (Neh. 8‑10; 12:36).

4. Nehemiah returns a second time (432 B.C.) (Neh. 13:6).

III. The Structure and Synthesis of the Book.

There are four oracles in the book of Haggai. The first comes on 6/1/2. The admonition is to rise and build the temple. The response is positive and on 6/24/2 the leaders, Zerubbabel and Joshua, along with the people obeyed the Lord and began the work on the temple. The second comes on 7/21/2 to encourage them in what seems to be a secondary work. The third comes on 9/24/2 through a legal parable to encourage them to continue in the work with the promise of future blessing. The fourth comes on the same day (9/24/2) to tell Zerubbabel of his choice position as part of the Davidic covenant. The purpose of this book is thus very simple: God wants his temple built, and he encourages Zerubbabel, Joshua and the people to build it. The completion of the temple is not mentioned in Haggai. We learn from Ezra that it was finished on the third day of the month Adar in Darius’ sixth year. This would be 516 B.C.

IV. The Outline of the Book.

A. Oracle #1—Build the Temple (1:1-15).

The foundations of the temple, laid in 536 B.C., had lain untouched for sixteen years. The people, roundly discouraged by the “people of the Land,” had decided it was not worth the effort to rebuild the temple. God then raised up Haggai and Zechariah to challenge the people to resume the building process (Ezra 4:24—5:2). Since the people have decided that the time must not be right to build the temple, God asks them through Haggai whether it is right for them to be living in their own nice homes while the temple lies desolate. One is reminded of David’s statement to Nathan (2 Sam 7:2) that it was improper for him to live in a nice home while the ark sat in curtains. The people have suffered poor harvests and an overall poor economic state because of their refusal to build the temple. This situation can only be rectified by restarting the process of building the temple interrupted so long ago.

Zerubbabel, Joshua and the people responded positively to Haggai’s exhortation, and they began the work on 6/24/2. Yahweh encouraged them by telling them he was with them (1:13 cf. 2:4).

B. Oracle #2—The leaders are to take courage (2:1-9).

Zerubbabel was admonished by Zechariah not to despise the “day of small things,” i.e., the relatively insignificance of the second temple (Zech 4:10). Haggai brought a similar message to the people who were building. The beginning of the nation (Exodus) and its eschatological fulfillment are tied together in 2:5-9. The Day of the Lord is in view when he speaks of shaking the heavens, earth, sea and dry land. In that eschatological future all the nations will come to this temple, and the shekinah glory will fill the temple. Then the greater glory will be in place, and there will be peace. This should be related to Isaiah 2, Micah 4, and Ezekiel 40-48.

C. Oracle #3—God promises blessing for obedience (2:10-19).

The rules of uncleanness indicated that something unclean would pollute a clean item, but the reverse was not true. So, says Yahweh, is the people of Israel. Everything they touch becomes unclean. Consequently, their sinfulness has resulted in crop failures. However, from this day of obedience forward, they will enjoy the blessing of Yahweh because they are rebuilding the temple.

D. Oracle #4—God gives a special word to Zerubbabel (2:20-23).

Zerubbabel was a descendant of David (Jehoiachin—Shealtiel—Zerubbabel).5 The general message is clear: David, the founder of the dynasty, was given a covenant that his seed would build the temple David wanted to build. Now the returned community includes a Davidic descendant who is the governor (not the king).6 It is his responsibility, therefore, to build the second temple. Zerubbabel has been chosen for this task, but as a representative of the Davidic dynasty, he will be the signet ring (special authority) on God’s hand when the Day of the Lord takes place. Thus in Haggai as in Zechariah, Zerubbabel becomes a type of the ultimate seed of David who will effect God’s purposes on the earth.7 He has been elected as God’s servant just as David was. And just as David’s descendants were encompassed in God’s covenant with him, so Zerubbabel’s descendants must be included with him. Thus the house of David continues and will continue to the Eschaton when God overthrows the nations.


1Jeshua in Ezra/Nehemiah.

2 ANET, p 316.

3This date is uncertain. It ranges from 520-518.

4F. C. Fensham, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, NICOT, 149-50.

5First Chronicles 3:19 indicates that the order was Jehoiachin—Pedaiah—Zerubbabel. Since Pedaiah and Shealtiel were brothers, there may have been a levirate marriage involved.

6Verhoef (The Books of Haggai and Malachi in NICOT, 37-39) essentially agrees with this position.

7This passage needs to be related to Jeremiah 22:30 where God says that no one of Jehoiachin/Jeconiah/Coniah’s descendants will prosper sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah. Zerubbabel did not rule as king, but as a governor under Persian rule. Perhaps this is the reason Luke’s genealogy is traced back to Nathan, son of David, while Matthew’s goes through Jeconiah to Solomon.

Related Topics: History, Introductions, Arguments, Outlines, Prophets