Historical Background:

Haggai is one of the few texts in the Old Testament that can be dated with a sense of accuracy. The date commonly accepted is around 520 to 515 BCE. Haggai gives specific dates for his visions down to the days, months, and year. These dates place the visions occurring in the very early reign of the Medo-Persian King Darius, the governorship of Zerubbabel over Judah in Jerusalem, and even during the life of the high priest Joshua. King Darius ascended to his throne in 522 BCE placing the visions of Haggai in 520 BCE. These prophetic visions would have likely been recorded (and circulated?) by 515 BCE since they are proclaimed in Jerusalem, support the leaders, and would give hope those who have returned to the land that God is with them and has a plan for their future.

 

Literary Synopsis:

There are five short visions in the short text of Haggai. The first vision[1] is a declaration by God to those who have returned to Jerusalem after their exile in Babylon that he is unhappy that they have not completed the temple. After a decade in Jerusalem, the Jews have continued to prioritize building their own houses and working to make their farms produce enough for them to survive in the land. God reveals that he is intentionally holding back rain from the land and withholding his blessing from the land so that their labors produce less than hoped for.[2] God explains how to rectify this wrongdoing. They must build his house, his temple, and then he will bless the land on account of them giving in him the honor and glory due to him.

The second vision comes to reassure the people after they are struck with fear on account of the first vision.[3] This is understandable. The same God who sent the people of Jerusalem into slavery for seventy years has just declared he is angry again and has already begun to turn his creation against them. This likely strikes at the worst fears of those returning to the land, which is that God might send them back into exile if they do not meet his exacting standards laid out in the law. But this fear is not a negative reality, it drives the people to obedience. God’s vision assures the people that he is with them, desiring they rebuild, and that he accepts their leaders.[4]

The third vision comes during the construction of the temple. God recognizes, with the people, that this new temple they are pouring all their efforts into is nothing compared to the beauty and glory of the former temple build by David and Solomon.[5] Yet, God reassures the people that his desire is that they live according the covenant he made with Israel at Mt. Sinai.[6] His Spirit, his creative presence on the earth, is still with them and will continue to form them. Haggai uses apocalyptic language to declare that God promises a day is coming when he will shake the nations and their wealth will flow into this homely temple. After all, as Creator god all the treasure of the earth is his to give to Israel.[7] This new temple, for all the perception of it being less than what the former temple was, will become greater than the first through faithfulness and blessing.[8]

The fourth vision from God to Haggai declares that he will now begin to bless the people in the land because they have faithfully obeyed.[9] God explains that uncleanliness passes from unclean things, such as dead bodies, to living people so that even their offerings become unclean. In the same way, the people’s dishonor toward God by failing to prioritize the temple’s reconstruction meant their offerings were unclean, and therefore unacceptable to him leading to his punishing them with fruitless labor and inhospitable conditions in the land.[10] Now that the temple is complete their offerings are acceptable, they have faithfully obeyed, and now he can begin to fully bless the people who have returned to the land.[11]

The last vision to Haggai is an apocalyptic prophecy directly to the governor of Judah, Zerubbabel.[12] God has chosen Zerubbabel to be his “signet ring”, meaning the one who wields power behalf of the emperor, in the day when God shakes the earth.[13] It becomes clearer that shaking the heavens and the earth means to bring judgment on the nations, which is the time when God promised in vision three to bring great treasure to the new temple. While Zerubbabel is the grandson of King Jehoiachin, making him the rightful heir to the Davidic throne, this is not the emphasis of God’s choice. God chooses this particular Davidic son because, as the book of Haggai has revealed, Zerubbabel leads the people of God in faithful obedience to God’s command.

 

Observations:

  1. It is interesting how Haggai makes clear that being a Davidic son is not enough to gain the blessing of being the son of God, to sit upon the throne of Zion, and to rule as viceroy of the Creator god in his creation. The Davidic son must be faithfully obedient to gain the blessing of ascending to the throne and becoming the son of God as well. No doubt this vision seems to be fulfilling the promise to David (again) that God would choose one of his sons to build God a temple and that son would become God’s son to rule.[14]
  2. There is a major change in the posture of the people when God speaks to them through a prophet. In the past, the people of Jerusalem believed it was their place to weigh whether they believed these messages were any good. After the exile, the fear that strikes the people is enough to make them obey but it is deep enough that God actually speaks again to calm the fears of the people.[15] No doubt such a damning statement from God as the first vision could likely turn the people against Zerubbabel and Joshua. Unless God assuaged the fears of the people, they could have begun to believe that these leaders might be leading them into sin, and possibly another time of judgment from their God.
  3. While the idea of disobedience as an uncleanliness that affects the temple’s cleanliness might have existed before the destruction of Jerusalem, this idea is now strongly emphasized by Haggai in the fourth vision. It is now believed, and proclaimed, that the people will not be blessed by God if they do not live according to the law and bring glory and honor to their God before all other priorities.
  4. The metaphor of “shaking the heavens and the earth” seems to be a new phrase that incorporates the presence of God’s creative Spirit and the judgment of the nations, similar to way Joel uses Spirit as the language of new creation for Israel and judgment for the nations. This “shaking” phrase seems to synthesize new creation (of Israel), Spirit, and judgment languages together and relate them to God being glorified in his (new) temple.

 

***************************

This post is a part of a Read-Through project in which I am reading through biblical and extra-biblical literature. I’m reading the texts in an order based on a couple of timelines I compiled. If you would like to join me on this journey the timelines are available, as well as my prior posts. Each one gives some historical background, a literary synopsis, and a few observations I found interesting enough to share about the examined text.

 


[1] 1:1-11

[2] 1:9-11

[3] 1:12

[4] 1:13b

[5] 2:3

[6] 2:4-5

[7] 2:6-8

[8] 2:9

[9] 2:10-19

[10] 2:12-17.

[11] 2:19.

[12] 2:20-23.

[13] 2:23.

[14] 2 Samuel 7:12-16 and 2 Chronicles 17:11-14.

[15] 1:12-13

Posted by Justin Gill

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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s