This passage records Haggai’s third and briefest of prophetic words to the people and it is probably correct to take them as being uttered on the same day as the first two, the first day of the sixth month, after Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the nation of Israel had resolved to carry out what they had neglected to do for the previous sixteen years.
It could, however, equally have been uttered at any time between the first and twenty-fourth days of the month but it loses somewhat of its impact if it occurred at any time between the second and twenty-third, for the people would hardly have been present in the city in any great numbers as they were on the first (the celebration of the new moon) and twenty-fourth (the recommencement of the building work).
Haggai uses the term ‘remnant’ for the returned exiles in this passage twice in 1:12 and 1:14 but, more significantly, it is the Lord Himself who uses the word in 2:2 where He commands the prophet to
‘Speak now...to all the remnant of the people...’
This word (Strongs Heb number 7611) is a significant one, though it’s mostly used on occasions throughout the Bible that don’t seem to directly relate to the Israelites’ situation that Haggai is addressing.
TWOTOT rightly comments that the word
‘...in every usage carries forward the basic root idea [of the word from which it is derived] and speaks of that which has survived after a previous elimination process or catastrophe’
As such, it can mean simply ‘the people who are left’ when referring to the nation as it does in II Kings 19:4 (Pp Is 37:4) and be implying neither positive or negative associations. Alternatively, Jer 24:8 uses the title in a negative sense of Israel when God speaks through the prophet and says
‘...Like the bad figs which are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat...the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land...’
But its usage in Haggai in all three places is the more significant because God has initially labelled His people as ‘this people’ (Hag 1:2), a term which dissolves the relationship between the nation and its God and shows them His displeasure in what they have been recently doing.
Here, then, there is a restoration of a covenant relationship and, as the Israelites would surely have understood it, a fulfilment of prophecy. For Isaiah had prophesied in Hezekiah’s day (II Kings 19:30-31 Pp Is 37:31-32) that
‘the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward; for out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors’
Though Hezekiah had needed to know that the Assyrian army that was coming against him would be repulsed by the Lord, God prophesied further to specifically predict that, though there would need to be a time when the nation would go from the land into exile, they would be a certain ‘remnant’ that He would eventually bring back into the land to establish and so fulfil His purposes with the nation.
Again, God said through Jeremiah (Jer 23:3) that He would
‘...gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply’
and, in Micah 2:12 (see also Micah 4:7 and 5:7-8)
‘I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob, I will gather the remnant of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture, a noisy multitude of men’
When the Jews searched the Scriptures, they would have read these passages and wondered whether they might be that chosen remnant that God would establish in the land and so use them to fulfil all His purpose throughout the earth. Though it is Haggai who uses the title initially in 1:12 and 1:14 (if indeed he is the one adding the description of what happened as a response to the prophetic word to the nation), it is the Lord Himself who speaks it in 2:2.
The remnant phraseology is one that the Lord picks up again on when He inspires Zechariah to speak of His plans for the remnant of His people, clearly referring to the nation that was currently resident in the land.
He says (Zech 8:11-12 see also 8:6) that He
‘...will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days...For there shall be a sowing of peace; the vine shall yield its fruit, and the ground shall give its increase, and the heavens shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things’
Therefore, the people can, with some justification, think of themselves as the ‘remnant’ that had been prophesied about in former years as being the people whom God would establish in the land following the exile and so bring about His eternal will and purpose not only for themselves but for all the nations of the world.
Haggai is used by the Lord to say (1:13), very simply
‘I am with you’
a word that just about anyone could have delivered and which nearly everyone would have been expecting to hear. I say this not in criticism, but couldn’t the Lord have said something just a little bit more detailed through His servant? I mean, it was the word they would have been expecting to hear, perhaps even some of them were starting to say that, because of their response, surely the Lord was with them. How did the nation tell that this word was not something that Haggai had said because it was what people were expecting? And, for that matter, how does any group of people know that a word uttered by one of the Lord’s servants is genuine and not either a confession of what the person thinks they need to hear or something that has been dreamed up from their own imagination?
Firstly, though, the word was the perfect one for their situation. God had referred to the nation through Haggai as ‘this people’ in Hag 1:2 and, though I have pointed out above that the referral to them as ‘the remnant’ carried with it certain prophetic promises that were being fulfilled, it is only the prophet who is using the words until 2:2 when the phrase is on the lips of God Himself.
Here, though, the words of the Lord disowning His people are put to one side and He reassures them that He is now with
them in their commitment to rebuild the Temple.
However, we need to return to the original question we posed at the beginning of this section. How was it that the children of Israel knew that this word, which they wanted to hear, was one that was from God Himself and not either dreamed up in the prophet’s mind or the product of the prophet’s assessment of the situation?
After all, not too many years ago, the Lord had spoken through Jeremiah (23:6) concerning the prophets who were in the majority and who were contradicting the words of Jeremiah, saying
‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes; they speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord’
And Ezekiel, a lone voice during the exile in Babylon, was used to speak against the prophets of Israel (Ezek 13:2) to say (Ezek 13:6) that
‘They have spoken falsehood and divined a lie; they say, “Says the Lord” when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfil their word’
the phrase they used here in justification of their message being the very same words that Haggai uses to justify and give authority to his! Even years before this, in the northern Kingdom of Israel under the wicked king Ahab, the prophets ‘of YHWH’ were single in their prophetic words that the king would triumph should he go to battle against his enemies. The Scriptures (I Kings 22:11-12) single out one
‘...Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah [who] made for himself horns of iron, and said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed’”. And all the prophets prophesied so, and said, “Go up to Ramothgilead and triumph; the Lord will give it into the hand of the king”’
It is in king Jehoshaphat’s reaction in this situation, though, that we are given the indication of how we can determine whether the prophetic word we hear is correct or not. When he heard the prophets speak victory to them with one voice, instead of accepting their testimony, he said (I Kings 22:7)
‘...Is there not here another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire?’
Instead of ‘going with the flow’, there appears to have been some uneasiness of which he was aware that needed confirmation. He surely couldn’t have needed ‘more confirmation’ because there wasn’t a single dissenting voice - but there must have been some unsettling of his own feelings that all was not well with what was being prophesied to them.
Jehoshaphat was a righteous king who tried to follow God throughout his lifetime even though he made some dreadful mistakes such as forming a marriage alliance with the northern kingdom of Israel which, after his death, almost destroyed the Davidic line. But, nevertheless, his heart was set to seek after God.
What the king seems to have experienced, therefore, was a warning within from God Himself, that all was not well. The words jarred on his peace in the matter and made him be unwilling to accept the universal testimony that told them to go up to the battle field and be victorious.
Therefore, because prophetic words are received ‘by the S(s)pirit’, they must also be discerned ‘by the S(s)pirit’, something that it is absolutely impossible for man to be able to teach man how to do!! This can only come by experience to learn what certain disturbances mean and by getting as close to God as possible so that His voice on the matter can be heard in each and every situation.
It has often been the case in my own experience that a prophetic word is confirmed by what others who hear it have already been thinking or it is a repeat of what has already been said from a source that had no idea what the original prophetic word was.
So, when Haggai spoke the short word of encouragement to the returned exiles that the Lord was with them, although it was what the people would have wanted to hear, it was also a word that met with a ‘witness’ (for want of a better word) within those people who had positively responded to the former word to rebuild the Temple.
In closing, let me say just one word of warning. A leadership is not the people who should judge prophetic words, but the prophets who are within the congregation (I Cor 14:29). But, if there are none present, it is best that those who are closest to the Lord should judge it. Sometimes, words given in fellowships are taken as absolute truth without any checks being made as to the source of the utterance after they have been given (there is no Scriptural justification for making a prophetic word be checked out before it is delivered even though this has been brought in to many congregations as they’ve grown to a point where they have become so large that too many prophecies are wanting to be given. Perhaps these fellowships should have split up into smaller groups a long time ago) but the Bible plainly shows that each word must be judged and decided upon as to whether it is from the Lord or not.
If it is from Him, then it must be obeyed.
If not, it can be ignored and probably needs to be refuted.
Between the initial two prophetic words which came firstly to Zerubbabel and Joshua (Hag 1:1-2), then to the entire nation (Hag 1:3-11), and an active response of the people in setting about doing the Lord’s will (Hag 1:14-15), a period of 23 days has elapsed.
So problematical has this time period become to some commentators (when 1:12-15 reads as if the nation set about performing the rebuilding of the Temple immediately), that there have been proposals that the phrase ‘the twenty-fourth day’ must have been inadvertently inserted into the text at some stage by a later copyist of the manuscripts who glanced over at what he was about to write in Hag 2:10 and accidentally added the entire line which has now confused the issue.
Though this may sound a possibility (though, to me, it seems rather far-fetched and there is no textual support in the manuscripts to confirm it), there is a much better possibility that should be considered here.
Though many would have come to Jerusalem to take part in the new moon festivities which occurred on the first day of the sixth month (Hag 1:1) and so heard the message from the Lord delivered to the entire nation, the country was still furiously at work trying to bring in the year’s harvest - small though it was (Hag 1:6,9-11) - and though much of it was already reaped and stored for the winter months, there were still harvests that needed to be brought in before the Feast of Tabernacles which began on the 15th day of the seventh month, in which the nation was commanded to rejoice before the Lord in Jerusalem because of the final harvesting of all the produce of the land (Lev 23:39-40).
It was imperative, therefore, that the nation reaped the full harvest available - and God knew that too.
Though the people resolved to set about doing the Lord’s will as revealed to them through Haggai the prophet, they would have reasoned that, to give themselves more time to make a good start, they should, firstly, finish the harvesting of all their fields before returning to the city to begin wholeheartedly in the work.
Instead of their hearts yearning with anxiety to collect the harvest, each man settled his own mind by completing the reaping of his land before setting their faces to the work.
And yet, there was more to it than this.
The Jewish festivals of the seventh month were nearly upon them - the festival of Trumpets which took place on the first day of the seventh month (Lev 23:23-25), the Day of Atonement which fell on the tenth (Lev 23:26-32) and the most important day in the nation’s calendar, the feast of Tabernacles, which ran for eight days from the fifteenth to the twenty-second (Lev 23:33-43) - and it made sense that they could extend the holiday season by hastily finishing off the collection of the harvest and returning into Jerusalem to work right the way through from the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month (Hag 1:15) through to at least the twenty-second of the seventh month, a period of around one calendar month (actually about 27 days).
So, it would appear that, although the two leaders and the nation rose up and resolved to rebuild the Temple as soon as they received the word of the Lord through Haggai, they looked at their options and decided that they could do more work together by firstly finishing off the reaping of the harvests, then ascending to Jerusalem for an extended holiday period which would include the intensive recommencement of the building work on the Temple.
There is another example of this phenomenon in the life of this generation of believers where we see that a short delay because of circumstances was acceptable to the Lord.
Even though the nation had returned to the Lord, they had not separated themselves in marriage from the people of the land and had mixed their lineage with foreign wives (Ezra 9-10). The nation came together at a time of great rain, on the twentieth day of the ninth month (Ezra 10:9), before the Temple of the Lord, shivering in the heavy rain and in the knowledge of what they had committed against their God.
Although they recognised that the matter needed to be sorted out (10:12), they also recognised the enormity of the task and that, while it was raining, no one could direct their thoughts to very much other than trying to keep dry (10:13)! So, though they resolved to sort the problem out, they committed it to a future date when individuals would come to Jerusalem with their local judges to have their case sorted out by the higher court in Jerusalem (10:14).
The Lord, then, allows His word to be applied into the situation of the people to whom it comes. A word that says ‘This must be done’ cannot be delayed to try and push it as far away from us as possible but it can be pencilled in for a future day not too far distant when a people can give their unswerving commitment to it.
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