HAGGAI 1:15b-2:9

The twenty-first day of the seventh month
The Remnant
Who saw this house in its former glory?
I am with you
In a little while
The beautification of the reconstructed temple
The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former

Even if this is not followed, the phrase ‘in the second year of Darius’ occurs again in Hag 2:10 as it has previously done in 1:1 and there is seemingly no reason why we should take the entire recorded prophecies of Haggai as occurring in any year other than this year of Darius’ reign.

The phrase moved to head up this section, therefore, is not particularly important and the Book can be viewed as a chronological record of the prophetic words of Haggai to the children of Israel as they began to recommence the work on the Temple.

The twenty-first day of the seventh month

Between the previous prophetic word on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month (Hag 1:15) and this one (2:1), approximately one calendar month has passed in which the children of Israel have set about working on the Temple through the inspiration of the prophet’s Words from God.

We saw that the first date associated with the original prophecy (1:1) had specific relevance in the life of the nation as many of them would have been in Jerusalem on that day to take part in the new moon festivities which took place on the first day of each and every month. The second date (1:15) also taught us about the decisions of the nation and how they had chosen to finish off the ingathering of their harvests before returning to Jerusalem to recommit themselves to the work of the Lord for a period of at least a month through which time they would also have been able to celebrate the festival of Trumpets (first day of the seventh month - Lev 23:24), the Day of Atonement (tenth day of the seventh month - Lev 23:27) and the festival of Tabernacles (fifteenth to the twenty-first/twenty-second day of the seventh month - Lev 23:34,36).

The date here given by Haggai, then, is again significant. The twenty-first day of the seventh month (2:1) was the last and greatest day of the feast of Tabernacles when all Israel were commanded to attend in Jerusalem to rejoice before the Lord.

Though many Israelites would have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the new moon (1:1), everyone was commanded to come for this festival. Haggai’s delivery of the message was, therefore, not intended to be hidden away and concealed from the nation, imparted to just a few of the elite members of the society. But it was to be proclaimed to ‘all the remnant of the people’ (2:2) and could only be done so at the time when they were all present at one time in one place.

But, there is more to this, perhaps.

In my notes on the feast of Tabernacles (here), I showed how the post-exilic (that is, the time after the return of the exiles from Babylon which had begun to occur some eighteen years previous to Haggai’s prophecy) celebration of the festival was characterised by Messianic expectation which culminated in the rites and ceremonies which climaxed on the seventh and greatest day of the greatest feast in the nation’s calendar - the exact same day on which Haggai delivers his message to the people of Israel.

It is virtually impossible to say just how significant the day was at this time because it is only the later records around the time of Christ which we can refer to (and which the Pharisees recorded for us - their sect not coming into existence for a considerable number of years after Haggai’s prophecy) - perhaps, even, this prophetic word was instrumental in causing the Jews to begin to think about the coming of their Messiah to establish the old Davidic kingdom and from which the importance of the day came about.

Certainly, the prophetic word speaks in apocalyptic language of the entire world order being shaken in order that the wealth of the nations might be brought into the Temple at Jerusalem. Couple this with Zechariah chapter 14 which speaks of the Lord setting up a visible kingdom in Jerusalem after defeating the armies of the earth which have come against the city and the celebration of all the nations of the feast of Tabernacles annually, and there is ample evidence why the festival may have been understood in this light (in my notes, I have also shown how the two reasons for celebrating the festival in the Mosaic law - the final ingathering of the harvest and the remembrance of living in temporary accommodation in the wilderness after being delivered from Egypt also have prophetic implications that tie in with what we, as christians, see as the second coming of Jesus).

I do tend toward the belief, though, that the seventh day did not hold the same significance at this point in Israel’s history as it came to be regarded by the time of Christ when He used some of the ceremonies then laid upon believers to proclaim Truth about Himself (see, for instance John 7:37-39 and 8:12 dealt with in my notes previously cited under the sections 3bi ‘Simchat Beth ha-She’ubah’and 3bii ‘The Illumination of the Temple’).

But the significance of the delivery of this message at a time when all Israel would be present needs to be noted. As it was with the first prophetic word (1:1), the message was to be proclaimed to all Israel, not just a handful of people and, as shown in my comments on that first passage, to all the people not just the leadership.

Significantly, this demonstrates that God speaks to His people as a whole when He has an issue that concerns them all - He seldom delivers a major word that will change the direction of a group of the Lord’s people without making sure that everyone can hear the message.

The Remnant

Haggai quotes the Lord as telling him (2:2) to

‘Speak now...to all the remnant of the people...’

I have dealt with the subject of ‘the remnant’ where it first occurred in the passage 1:12-15a (here) and the reader should consult my notes there for a consideration of the title and its significance.

Simply, God here, for the first time since their return to the land, calls His people the remaining part who have been chosen to return to the land to fulfil all His purpose throughout the earth. Even though the word can simply mean the ‘remainder’ after others have been eliminated and removed (for either positive or negative reasons), it here has a special prophetic significance and counters God’s previous comment that His people were only ‘This people’ (1:2) through their lack of commitment to return to the Temple and rebuild it instead of seeking their own will and welfare.

Who saw this house in its former glory?

Before we consider the implications of this verse (Hag 2:3), we need to put the questions posed by God in this verse into context.

Nebuchadnezzar had come against Jerusalem with his troops in 605BC and, upon conquest, carried away some of the vessels of the Temple into captivity into Babylon (II Kings 23:36-24:4, II Chr 36:5-7, Daniel 1:1-4). Then, in 597, Nebuchadnezzar again came against the nation (II Kings 24:10-17, II Chr 36:8-10), raiding the treasures of both the Temple and the king’s house (II Kings 24:13, II Chr 36:10) and carrying both the king and members of his household away into captivity (II Kings 24:12).

Finally, in 586, Zedekiah the king in Jerusalem rebelled against both the rule of Babylonia (II Chr 36:13, II Kings 24:20) and the Word of the Lord through Jeremiah the prophet (II Chr 36:12) so that the Babylonian empire once more came against the city and defeated it. When the military forces finally breached the defences, they burnt the Temple to the ground and broke down the defence walls to prevent it from being a future place of refuge or rebellion against the Babylonian Empire (II Chr 36:17-21).

Around fifty years later in 537BC, the first wave of exiles returned to the land of Israel (Ezra 2) and they commenced work on the Temple early the following year.

However, as we know, the work soon finished through fear of the people who were resident around them and this state of affairs continued until 520BC when Haggai’s first two prophecies (normally considered to be just one) prompted the nation to recommence their work of reconstruction on the Temple (Ezra 5:2-3). The prophetic word now under consideration (Hag 1:15b-2:9) occurred on the 17th October 520BC, some 66 years after the final and complete destruction of the Temple under Nebuchadnezzar.

When the Lord, therefore, asks the nation (2:3)

‘Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory?’

he is addressing Israelites that had to have been at least 70 years of age (assuming that the age of 4 years is the youngest age who could have possibly remembered the first Temple) and more like in their mid- to late seventies or eighties. Almost certainly these people would have been exiles who had previously returned to the land with the exiles 17 years before.

The Bible records that, when the returned exiles had rejoiced at the founding of the Temple of the Lord some 16 years previous to Haggai’s word (Ezra 3:12), that

‘...many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid...’

so it is not unreasonable to expect at least a few to have survived to the time of this rebuilding. The problem was that those who could remember the first Temple, saw the reconstruction of the old as infinitely inferior to what they remembered.

Maybe their memories were clouded with time (Smith comments that

‘Childhood memories of older adults are often fuzzy and sometimes exaggerated. These people might have remembered the former temple as greater and more splendid than it really was. This could have added to their dejection when they saw the smallness of the new temple’);

or maybe they accurately remembered the impressive nature of those buildings that had been initially constructed in the reign of Solomon - the Bible only records God’s words as calling upon what their considerations were rather than what actually was - but the indications would be that, because of a scant resource of workmen and, initially, of resources, the Temple project of those exiles had to be scaled down from what once stood there and was simply ‘something’ that could be regarded as being both acceptable to God and achievable for themselves.

Another point to consider is that God refers to the first Temple’s remembrance as ‘in its former glory’ which, again, appears to be a phrase that the older generation were using for, by 586BC when the Temple was finally burnt down, it had suffered repeated plunderings of the Babylonian armies and the treasuries would already have been largely empty, the precious metals and materials that lined the stone walls perhaps already exported to the palace of the empire’s king.

JFB comments (though I don’t know their source) that

‘The Jews note five points of inferiority:
‘The absence from the second temple of
‘1. The sacred fire [that is, the fire which had continued to burn since the first day of the dedication of the previous Temple and which would have been extinguished upon the captivity but which had as its origin God Himself (II Chron 7:1)]
‘2. the Shekinah [God’s visible presence which had come down to take residence at the dedication of Solomon’s temple (II Chron 5:13-14)]
‘3. the ark [of the covenant] and the cherubim [which overshadowed to the ark] [both of which mysteriously disappeared in the Old Testament without a definitive word being recorded as to what happened to them - even the identity of the thieves are unknown and the ark could have disappeared as early as just after the death of King Josiah at the hands of Pharaoh Neco of Egypt (II Chron 36:3, II Kings 23:35), the last mention of the ark being in II Chron 35:3 at the start of Josiah’s reign. This was probably the most off-putting to the rebuilding work seeing as they had no symbol of God’s presence that they could put into the Holiest of Holies that they were currently constructing. The first two points God could rectify at the inauguration of the Temple once completed as He did under Solomon, but this couldn’t be rectified however much they would have liked to have hoped]
‘4. the Urim and Thummim [this is a strange statement seeing as Ezra 2:63 infers that the Urim and Thummim were shortly to be reinstituted when they could establish a High Priest who had sound credentials for the office - this falling to Joshua in the days of Haggai who is titled as High Priest in numerous places including in both Hag 1:1 and Zech 3:1 and the succession of office is proven by the reference to Eliashib as High Priest in Neh 3:1]
‘5. the spirit of prophecy [probably the strangest of all the five points listed as being absent from the second Temple is this, especially as both Haggai and Zechariah inaugurated the recommencement of the building work through their prophetic utterances from God and that Malachi, a number of years afterwards, is recorded as speaking to the people of Israel and especially to the ministering priests who stood in the Temple at Jerusalem (Mal 2:1-9)]’

Whatever the exact details, it’s clear that, in natural terms, the second Temple could be considered to be inferior to the one currently being built.

Ecclesiastes 7:10, applicable to the Israelites’ situation, reads

‘Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this’

What the old people were actually doing by their sorrow was tempting the workmen involved in the rebuilding work to down tools through the discouragement of knowing that whatever they completed could never compare with the remembrance of what stood there in former years.

Therefore, God is quick to encourage the workmen that what they are currently undertaking will have far more value than what stood there in the past (Hag 2:9 - we will comment on this later) and that, even though what they are constructing may be considered to be puny, in the words of the world, ‘size doesn’t matter’ - indeed, it never has done in the things of God. God’s promises (which begin from 2:4) are so put together as to dispel their concerns and to confirm their commitment to the building work which is a necessary part of God being able to get His will done in Jerusalem and out into the four corners of the earth (see, for instance, Zech 6:15 and 2:11).

I am with you

The phrase ‘I am with you’ occurs not only here in the context of a long passage (2:4) but was the sum total of Haggai’s third prophecy previously given when the exiles committed themselves to rebuild the Temple (1:13).

Here, though, it occurs in the midst of a series of encouragements that God speaks to the Israelites (2:4-5) before He goes on to specifically address the concerns of the older generation who had seen the first Temple before the exile (2:6-9). The passage parallels the Lord’s word to Joshua in Joshua 1:1-9 when he stood on the edge of the Promised land about to lead the children of Israel to take possession of the land of Canaan in accordance with the Word of God to the nation.

God’s command in Hag 1:4 three times repeats to his listeners the command to ‘Be strong’ (the RSV translates it ‘take courage’) and it echoes exactly the words spoken to Joshua, who also was told a similar amount of times (Joshua 1:6,7,9) though, here in Haggai, the reason for the three pronouncements is to address both Zerubbabel and Joshua (the High Priest) specifically before moving on to address the rest of the nation present in Jerusalem at the feast of Tabernacles.

God’s presence in their midst, highlighted twice by the Lord’s words ‘I am with you’ and ‘My Spirit abides among you’ (1:4-5) echo similar promises in Joshua 1:5,9 which again, quite consistently, occur twice in both places.

The command to ‘work’ (Hag 1:4) is simply a reminder and encouragement to the people to fulfil and obey the Word that has already been delivered to them through Haggai and which they have already set their wills to accomplish. The problem with the observance of the older people amongst the nation, that what they were now attempting to build was so inferior as to the beg the question why they should actually bother, was that it sowed seeds of discouragement that could have quickly swept through the work force and have caused them to give up their work. A similar command exists in Joshua, though here the command is to go in to the land and to take possession of it (Joshua 1:2,6).

The Lord’s choice of phrase through Haggai (1:5) that He is with them

‘according to the word that I cut with you when you came out of Egypt’

is sometimes taken as a gloss by a later copyist which somehow got incorporated into the main manuscript tradition. Indeed, the phrase is missing from the LXX, even though early christian commentators (Origen and Cyrillus Alexandrinus) include it in their text of the passage. Smith comments that

‘...it is best to take [the phrase] as a scribal gloss because of the awkward construct “word which I cut” and because it interrupts the thought between the parallel expressions “I am with you” (2:4) and “My Spirit is in your midst” (2:5)’

However, as in numerous other places, he seems to contradict himself when he comments under the heading ‘Explanation’ (my italics) that

‘The vocabulary is strange...but the thought is correct

Baldwin, on the other hand, suggests that

‘A scribe’s marginal reference to Exodus 29:45-46 may have become incorporated into the text’

but there doesn’t appear to be any reference to ‘cutting’ there which would warrant such a phrase.

The reader will probably not be surprised when I write that it seems best to accept the RSV’s inclusion of the phrase, seeing as it does add to the thrust of the Word of God to His people. If you have already read my notes on ‘Covenant’ (located here), you will remember that making a covenant could be referred to as ‘cutting’ one, seeing as sacrificial offerings needed to be made that would seal the agreement and often condemn the betrayer of the agreement to suffer a similar fate as the one now imposed upon the animal victims.

What God is doing here, then, by speaking the way He does, is to remind the nation that His presence with them is based upon the covenant that they entered into with Him as a nation back at Sinai, and which Joshua was also reminded of in the parallel passage in Joshua 1:7-8.

Finally, God’s command to ‘fear not’ (Hag 1:5) is a phrase which occurs at nearly every point in Israel’s history seeing as they needed reassurance not to trust their own interpretation of events but to rely upon God’s presence with them. Fear was something that they may well have reverted back in to if they had begun to dwell upon the testimony of those who had seen the Temple in its former glory - for the letter to king Darius is already likely to have been sent and they were awaiting a reply (Ezra 5:3-17).

As in the first chapter of Joshua, God specifically tells Joshua not to be fearful (Joshua 1:9).

These two verses in Haggai, therefore, immediately counteracted the memories of the older generation who would have been able to spread their thoughts far and wide throughout the festival that was now drawing to a close. God could not permit the nation to return to their homes with seeds of doubt still present that what they had set themselves to complete was worthless and so needed to counteract them swiftly and speedily. Not only does He encourage them to continue the work as here (2:4-5) but He will shortly go on to proclaim that now is not the time to look back but forward, to what God will do with this Temple now under reconstruction for, God says, even though it might be as nothing in their eyes, it will be much more glorious than the first Temple ever was (2:6-9).

But, also, for those who are awake and who know the Scriptures, there remains an alluded to promise that the reconstruction of the Temple is closely tied in with the promises and encouragements given to Joshua who was given the commission to take the land for the children of Israel. If we are right in seeing Joshua 1:1-9 as a direct parallel passage, God was hinting that, in rebuilding the Temple, they were also starting to retake the land.

In a little while

The whole thrust of the final few verses of this prophecy (2:6-9) is to show the Israelites that their remembrance of the former Temple will soon be forgotten when the new Temple receives the glory that is about to be brought to it. However, there are a number of points that need clarification which a lot of the commentators seem to either ignore or conveniently not notice!

Firstly, the phrase ‘Once again’ implies that what the Lord outlines further on that (2:6-7)

‘...I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all nations...’

has already taken place. The question is, though, when did it happen in the past that the Lord is now drawing their attention to? Smith comments that

‘The political upheavals of 522/21BC might have been a model for Haggai’s thought of what God would do in an even greater and more magnificent way’

Certainly, by the time of the giving of the prophecy, news of what had been taking place would have reached the ears of the inhabitants of Judea but, if I understand the civil commotions correctly, these don’t appear to be occurrences that could be described in the language which follows. There, the idea seems to be one of a change in the world order, not in some civil unrest which was eventually crushed and defeated.

When the Lord says ‘Once again’, therefore, the implication appears to be, at the very least, a new nation or empire arising that will so transform the world order that it will not remain the way it currently is. It could even indicate a move of God so powerful that the end of the present world age is being ushered in as it appears to be with similar language in Jer 4:23-26.

But, seeing as the event was probably still in the minds of most of the people of the land, I would venture to suggest that the overthrow of Babylon is being alluded to here, when the Medes and Persians captured the empire to bring it under their control, releasing the Jewish captives to return to the land to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.

The rearrangement of the world order had brought about an unexpected allowance for their return - another rearrangement, the ‘shaking’, would again bring about something which was unexpected, a return of wealth to the Temple and the surrounding area that far surpassed anything that could be remembered by the current generation (2:9).

The next phrase ‘in a little while’ also needs some clarification seeing as it would infer to ourselves that a short period of time is being indicated. This can certainly be the case and Jesus uses it in the NT to indicate a period of some four days in length in John 14:19, 16:16 and 16:19. But, in the OT, the phrase came to be used of even large passages of time. In Ps 37:10, David writes

‘Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look well at his place, he will not be there’

which would indicate a time that would probably not exceed 40 years, the generally accepted time period for a generation of men and women. Jer 51:33 indicates a similar period of some 35-50 years (the difference in the time between the giving of the prophecy and the fall of Babylon) and Hosea 1:4 couldn’t be stretched beyond a period of 70 years (the difference between the date of the prophecy and the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel).

Is 10:24-25, however, yields a time period of 100-150 years for that same phrase ‘in a little while’ when the Assyrian empire was finally overthrown. It can be seen, therefore, that the phrase could be taken to indicate quite a substantial time period that our English understanding does not include. If we are to try and envisage a fulfilment of the prophecy given through Haggai (which, if you have read any of my previous teaching notes, you will realise it is not something that I necessarily try to do because of my understanding of the Biblical role of prophecy - see my notes here), we won’t be going too far wrong even if we look a great many years into the future.

One point needs noting here before we go on to look at the promise of God concerning this new Temple, and that is the writer to the Hebrews’ use of Hag 2:6.

In Heb 12:26-28, he writes

‘[God’s] voice then shook the earth [at the giving of the Law at Sinai]; but now He has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven” This phrase, “Yet once more” indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe’

The writer doesn’t use the verse in context here but contrasts the shaking of the mountain with the future shaking of all things that will destroy kingdoms and civilisations at the time, presumably, immediately before the return of the Lord. This shaking will destroy what is transient but God’s Kingdom shall remain, immovable, and it is to this that God’s children belong.

Indeed, the Book of Revelation does indicate that there will be a future and final shaking of all things (for instance, Rev 6:12-17) but Haggai’s prophecy specifically speaks about a time when the shaking of the nations (the rearrangement of the world order) will cause wealth and prosperity to come in to both the Temple and the surrounding area.

The beautification of the reconstructed temple

When God says (Hag 2:8) that

‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine...’

He is speaking as if all the created order is His to do with as He pleases (which it is, of course - see, for instance, Ps 24:1, 50:12). But this does pose interesting foundations and restrictions upon our own lives as christians.

Did we really think that our house was our own?

That we were investing our finances to provide for ourselves?

Actually, all the items at our disposal are already God’s by right of having created them and brought them in to existence - they may be on loan to us for a while but they really belong to God. It is nice to think of ‘other people’s’ resources as belonging to us and that we can, in the name of Jesus, plunder (legally!) the resources of our enemies - that God will hand over the storehouses of the world to promote the spread of the Gospel (as God plundered the treasuries of the Median kingdom to supply adequate resources for the rebuilding of the Temple - Ezra 6:8-10) - but that our valued resources might be asked for by God for His work?

Surely not!

But the fact remains that they are...

The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former

If only I could have a ten pound note for every fellowship I’ve been in that has received that verse above! - along, that is, with Zech 4:10 which reads

‘...whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice...’

For, it would appear that, throughout the UK, the Spirit of the Lord is in the habit of giving both Scriptures prophetically to just about every small congregation which was once many in number and is now struggling along with just a few attendees.

Having said all this, there was a time when I actually gave the latter of these two verses to a small fellowship in the NE of England which had, as I recall, seven people. I guess I should have known better and, after I’d passed it on, I regretted it terribly but, believe it or not, the last I heard the fellowship had expanded considerably and was beginning to effect positively the area in which it met.

So perhaps I got it right after all!

But think of the context of these verses - the nation had been disobedient to the Lord’s will for around 16 years, had realised it’s wrong ways and turned around to do the will of God by committing themselves to rebuild the Temple and God then steps in and promises the people that the work which they are undertaking will prosper beyond what they could reasonably expect - not a mention of the people multiplying in the context of either verse and certainly not a call for the people to sit down immobile and wait for God to bring people in to their midst.

Why is it, then, that the verse often gets passed on to fellowships when there has been no repentance, no realisation that what they’ve been doing for years has been against God’s will and no commitment to throw personal resources at completing the revealed will of God?

Okay, call me cynical if you want...

Let me just say a few words about the context of this verse before I move on to the next passage.

That the saying came about is sure. Herod’s Temple which was never completely finished when it was destroyed in 70AD by the invading Roman armies far surpassed the glory and size of the first Temple as those present remembered it. This is an important point to remember - we are not thinking about the glory of Solomon’s temple when it was first constructed, but the glory as the old people remembered it (Hag 2:3) after successive generations had seen it plundered and robbed by conquering armies, leaving it, probably, not much more than a structure of stones with little or no treasures.

Therefore, the fulfilment of the Temple being more glorious fit in very nicely with the elders’ remembrance of the way it once was. I would think that, perhaps, Solomon’s temple was never fully surpassed in natural glory as it was originally constructed, simply because (II Chron 9:20)

‘...silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon’

and the details of its construction put articles and inlays of gold just about everywhere.

But perhaps the promise pointed towards a fulfilment in that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, was to come and, by His presence within the Temple, would elevate its importance and ‘glory’ beyond anything that could have possibly have taken place in the past - or that was likely to transpire in the future.

Interestingly enough, the presence of God is never recorded as being present in visible form in the pages of the Bible in this Temple, which certainly paved the way for the Israelites to look forward to the time when His presence would return - albeit in a form they were least expecting.

Hag 2:7, however, which was in times’ past taken to refer directly to the Christ

‘...the desire [singular] of all the nations shall come...’

is probably best to be taken as the RSV as saying

‘...the treasures [plural] of all nations shall come in...’

due to considerations of the Hebrew construction as described by both Baldwin and Smith.

But to have the presence of God in human form come to move about within the Temple which was constructed to house the divine presence within the Holiest of Holies can be rightly considered, in my opinion, to constitute a fulfilment of this final verse of the passage in question, namely that

‘The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former...’