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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

- Haggai

by Editor - Joseph Exell


FROM the time when Zephaniah prophesied of judgment to come to the day when Haggai lifted up his voice, some hundred years or more had elapsed. In this interval God had not left himself without witness; the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel had carried on the torch of prophecy, and had not suffered the light of inspiration to be extinguished. Meanwhile startling events had happened. That which earlier seers had foretold had come to pass; warnings unheeded had ripened bitter fruit. Israel had long ago been carried into captivity; Judah had suffered a similar fate. For seventy years she had sat weeping by the waters of Babylon, learning a hard lesson and profiting thereby. But the period of punishment came to an end at the appointed moment. God stirred up the spirit of Cyrus King of Elam, to allow and to urge the return of the Hebrews to their own land and the rebuilding of their temple. Not that Cyrus was a monotheist, who believed in one supreme God. This idea, which has long obtained, is proved to be erroneous by the inscriptions which have been discovered, and which may be read in Professor Sayce's 'Fresh Light from the Monuments,' pp. 142, etc. From these it is clear that he was a worshipper of Bel-Merodach, the patron god of Babylon, and that, as it was his first care on the capture of that city to reinstate its deities in their shrines, so his edict respecting the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem was a result of his usual policy to adopt the gods of conquered countries, and to win their favour by supporting their worship. That God used him as his instrument for the restoration of the Hebrews proves nothing concerning his personal religion. Unworthy agents often perform most important service. Obeying the king's edict, many of the Jews, assisted by donations and bearing with them the rifled treasures of the temple, B.C. 536, prepared to return go their native land under the leadership of Zerubbabel, a prince of the house of David, and Joshua the high priest They were, indeed, but a small body, amounting, according to the enumeration of Ezra (Ezra 2:64, Ezra 2:65), to 42,360, exclusive of menservants and maidservants reckoned at 7337. But they set to work with vigour on their arrival at Jerusalem, and in the second year of Cyrus, B.C. 534, erected the great altar in its old place, and established regular worship according to the Mosaic ritual. They then proceeded to lay the foundations of a new temple in the second year after their arrival. The prosecution of this undertaking met with unexpected obstacles. The mixed population which had been settled by the Assyrian conquerors in Central Palestine claimed, on the score of brotherhood, to take part in this sacred work. Such a claim could not be entertained. These Samaritans, as they are named, were not of the holy seed, did not worship Jehovah with pure worship, mixed idolatrous rites with their devotions to the true God. It would have been an abandonment of their unique position, treason to their Lord, for the Israelites to have admitted such syncretists to a participation in the erection of the temple. Zerubbabel, therefore, rightly declined their offered assistance. This rejection was bitterly resented. By representations made at court, they endeavoured to hinder the work, and were so successful in their opposition that the building was stopped during the remainder of the life of Cyrus, and during the reign of his successors, Cambyses and Pseudo-Smerdis (Artaxerxes I.). Other causes combined to bring about the suspension of operations. The zeal with which the labour was begun grew cold. The exiles had returned with high hope of happiness and prosperity; they had expected to enter into possession of a home prepared and ready for their reception; in their fervid imagination peace and plenty awaited them, and the blessings promised to obedience in their old Law were to be theirs with little labour or delay. A very different state of things awaited them. Cities ruined and desolate, a land sterilized by want of cultivation, neighbours unfriendly or openly hostile, scantiness of bread, danger, toil, — these were the objects which they had to contemplate. And though the spirit that animated their first enterprise, and the enthusiasm that accompanied a great national movement, excited them to commence the work with earnestness and ardour, their hearts were not sufficiently engaged in its prosecution to enable them to rise superior to inward distraction and outward opposition; and so they grew less interested in the completion of the undertaking, and they acquiesced with stolid complacency in its enforced cessation. They learned to look on the ruins of their holy house with a certain desponding equanimity, and turned to the furtherance of their own personal concerns, contentedly leaving the restoration of the temple to other times and stronger hands than theirs. But a happier condition of affairs arrived under the rule of Darius, the son of Hystaspes, who succeeded to the throne of Persia B.C. 521. The interdict which had stopped the building of the temple was removed, the original decree of Cyrus was discovered and reenacted, and every assistance was given to the Jews to carry out their original design. Nothing but the will was now wanting. It was the design of Haggai's prophecy to inspire this will, to shame the people into a display of energy and self-denial, and to encourage them to continue their efforts till the whole work was satisfactorily completed.

Steiner and others have questioned the fact that the rebuilding of the temple was begun under Cyrus. They say that no genuine passage in the Book of Ezra gives any countenance to the statement, and that it was only in consequence of the interference of Haggai and Zechariah that the work was first commenced in the second year of Darius, being then carried on without interruption till it was completed four years afterwards. Haggai himself does not expressly mention any earlier attempt at laying the foundation, and indeed places this event in the four and twentieth day of the ninth month of the second year of Darius (Haggai 2:18). But this passage is capable of another interpretation; and the direct statement of Ezra 3:8, that "in the second year of their coming... they began to set forward the work of the house of the Lord," and "the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid" (ver. 11), can only be surmounted by arbitrarily denying the genuineness of this chapter and the authenticity of its details. The grounds of this rejection are weak and inconclusive. When we consider the enormous importance attached to the rebuilding of the temple — which, indeed, was the test of fidelity to the Lord, and the desire to abide by the covenant — it is inconceivable that the good men who guided the nation should allow some sixteen years to elapse before making any attempt to set in hand the good work; so that the very nature of the case confirms the statement of Ezra, while nothing in the books of Haggai and Zechariah really militates against it. On the contrary, there are passages in Haggai which distinctly involve its truth. Thus in Haggai 2:14 it is implied that formal sacrifices were offered before Haggai's public interference, and in Haggai 2:3 that the temple was already so far built that its future appearance and condition could be conceived.

The book comprises four discourses, which make natural divisions, and are accurately dated. The first, uttered on the first day of the sixth month of Darius's second regnal year, contains an exhortation to Zerubbabel and Joshua to take in hand at once the rebuilding of the temple. The people are sternly reproached for their indifference, which they think to excuse by affirming that the time for this work has not yet come, while they expend their energies in increasing their own material comfort. The prophet shows them that the barrenness of their land and the distress which they suffer are a chastisement for this neglect. He concludes with an account of the effect of this expostulation, how that the chiefs and all the people listened to his words, and "came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts" (ch. 1.). The following month witnessed the second address, wherein the prophet comforts those who, contrasting the new with the former temple, depreciated the present undertaking, and assures them that, although its appearance is humbler, the glory of the latter house shall far exceed that of the former, because of the splendid donations of princes, and because of Messiah's presence there (Haggai 2:1-9). The third exhortation was uttered in the four and twentieth day of the ninth month. By certain legal questions concerning the communication of holiness and pollution, Haggai demonstrates that the people's tendency to rest in external righteousness is sinful, and that their lukewarmness in the holy work before them vitiated their worship and occasioned want and misery, which would only be relieved by their strenuous efforts to finish the temple (Haggai 2:10-19). The prophecy ends with a promise to the scion of the house of David, that amid the destruction of the powers of the world, his throne should be exalted and glorified, "for I have chosen thee, sayeth the Lord of hosts" (Haggai 2:20-23).

The reason why the rebuilding of the temple is made of such singular importance is found in the light in which the house of God is regarded, and the opportunity thus afforded for displaying zeal and fidelity towards God. The temple is the visible token of the Lord's presence with his people, the material sign of the covenant; its restoration showed that the Israelites desired to maintain this relation with Jehovah, and to do their part in the matter. Here alone could the federal relation be renewed and sustained; here alone could the daily worship be duly offered. While the temple lay in ruins, the covenant was, as it were, suspended; for its reestablishment the Lord's house must be rebuilt and adapted to Divine service. And yet this covenant was not simply a revival of the old one in its Sinaitic form; it was a new one, without the visible cloud of glory, without the ark and mercy seat and the tables of the Law, but one attested by the very presence of Messiah himself, and the laws of which were written in the heart and mind of the faithful. Of this the material building was a symbol, and therefore its reconstruction was an imperative duty.


Of the Prophet Haggai we know nothing save what may be gathered from his book and a few words in Ezra. The name Haggai, in Greek Aggai=oj is explained by St. Jerome to mean "Festive;" for, he says, he sowed in tears that he might reap in joy, when he witnessed the reerection of the ruined temple. Reinke deems that he was so named because he was born on some great feast day. He is mentioned with Zechariah in Ezra (Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14) as prophesying unto the Jews that were in Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, urging them to continue the work of rebuilding the house of the Lord. It has been conjectured, from Haggai 2:3, that he had seen the temple of Solomon, that he was one, as Dr. Pusey says, "who had lived among the outward splendour of the former temple, who had himself been carried into captivity, and was now part of that restoration which God had promised." But this idea is not supported by the language of the passage on which it is founded: "Who is left among you that saw the house in her first glory?" If the conjecture were true, he would have been at least eighty years old at the time of his prophecy, the date of which he himself states as the second year of Darius the king, i.e. B.C. 520. He continued his addresses at intervals during four months of that year; and whether he lived to see the full result of his labours by the completion of the building in the sixth year of Darius, is uncertain. Jewish tradition makes him to have been a member of the great synagogue, and other accounts, equally unsubstantiated, assign to him an honoured burial in the sepulchre reserved for priests.

Some manuscripts of the Septuagint attribute to Haggai and Zechariah the authorship of Psalms 137:0, and 145-148. To them, too, in the Syriac are assigned Psalm 125, 126, 145-147., and in the Latin Vulgate Psalms 111:0. and 145. "It may be," says Mr. Wright ('Dict. of Bible,' sub voce "Haggai"), "that tradition assigned to these prophets the arrangement of the above-mentioned psalms for use in the temple service, just as Psalms 64:0. is in the Vulgate attributed to Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and the name of the former is inscribed at the head of Psalms 136:0. in the LXX." From certain coincidences in style, and for other reasons connected with the minuteness of details given, it has been conjectured that Haggai is the author of that part of the Book of Ezra which extends from Ezra 3:2 to the end of ch. 6., with the exception of the fragment in Ezra 4:6-23. The grounds for this opinion are given in Smith's 'Dict. of the Bible,' 1:607; but they do not seem very conclusive. Pseudo-Epiphanius says ('De Vit. Proph.') that Haggai and Zechariah were the first to sing "Hallelujah" and "Amen" in the second temple, which probably means that they took the lead in chanting the Hallelujah psalms. References to Haggai occur in Hebrews 12:26; Ecclus. 49:10, 11; 1 Esdras 6:1; 7:3; 2 Esdras 1:40.


The language of Haggai is generally considered fame and featureless, indulging in unnecessary repetitions, and rarely rising above the level of ordinary prose. But in estimating the character of his addresses, we must remember that in their present form they are probably only the outline of the original utterances, and that what may seem poor and curt in the summary may have been telling and eloquent in its fuller form when spoken. Even as we have them, the addresses in their simplicity are full oF force; outward ornament and rhetorical artifice were not needed in order to set forth the work which the people were expected to perform. Haggai had one distinct message to deliver, and he announced it in plain, unvarnished language, which came home to the hearts of his hearers, not only with conviction, but with persuasive force, so that they did not merely say, "How true!" and do nothing in consequence, but they put their conviction into action, and began at once to build. He is indeed concise, antithetical, and impressive; hut the great point is that he gained the end which he had in view. The highest efforts of oratorical power could attempt and effect no more.


The chief commentaries on Haggai are these: Abarbanel, Hebrews cum Vers. Lat. a Scherz.; Melanchthon, Opp. 2.; Eckius; Pilkington, 'Exposition'; Mercier Paris, 1581); Grynaeus, translated into English by C. Featherstone; Tarnovius; Raynolds; Pfeffinger; Kohler, 'Die Weissag. Haggai'; Moore, 'The Prophets of the Restoration'; Reinke; McCurdy (Edinburgh); Pressel; Archdeacon Perowne, in 'The Cambridge Bible for Schools'.


The book is divided into four addresses, delivered at specified dates.

Part I. (Haggai 1:0.) The first address: Exhortation to build the temple, and its result.

§ 1. (Haggai 1:1-6.) The people are reproved for their indifference with regard to the erection of the temple, and admonished that their present distress is a chastisement for this neglect.

§ 2. (Haggai 1:7-11.) The prophet urges them to work zealously at the building as the only remedy for the unfruitfulness of the season.

§ 3. (Haggai 1:12-15.) The appeal is obeyed, and for a time the people apply themselves diligently to the work.

Part II. (Haggai 2:1-9.) The second address: The glory of the new temple.

§ 1. (Haggai 2:1-5.) The prophet comforts those who grieve at the comparative poverty of the new building, with the assurance of the Divine protection and favour.

§ 2. (Haggai 2:6-9.) He foretells a future time when the glory of the new temple should exceed that of the old, adumbrating the Messianic era.

Part III. (Haggai 2:10-19.) The third address: The cause of their calamities, and promise of blessing.

§ 1. (Haggai 2:10-17.) By an analogy drawn from the Law Haggai shows that residence in the Holy Land and offering of sacrifice do not suffice to make the people acceptable, as long as they themselves are unclean through neglect of the house of the Lord. Hence comes the punishment of sterility.

§ 2. (Haggai 2:18, Haggai 2:19.) On their obedience the blessings of nature is all again be theirs.

Part IV. (Haggai 2:20-23.) The fourth address: Promise of the restoration and establishment of the house of David, when the storm bursts on the kingdoms of the world.

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