The twenty-fourth day of the ninth month
Cleanness and uncleanness
Consider what will come to pass
Yet you did not return to Me
The foundation of the Lord's Temple
The crops of the harvest
Almost two months have elapsed since Haggai’s last prophetic word (Hag 1:15b-2:9) and Zechariah has already delivered his first message to the people (Zech 1:1-6).
Smith sees the setting for the word to be discouragement in the life and minds of the people who were continuing with the rebuilding work. He writes
‘After the people had worked for three months, from October to December, they must have become discouraged again. In an attempt to encourage the people and to explain the absence of any promised blessings from God, Haggai appeals to a lesson from the priests’
but the passage doesn’t exactly say that there’s anything amiss in the nation that is causing them to lose heart in the work and to think about putting their tools down, withdrawing their labour. Indeed, as we will see, the time of the word is, in the context, just about perfect.
The twenty-fourth day of the ninth month
For the first time, the date on which the prophetic word is given by Haggai is not immediately significant.
Unlike the other dates, the word does not get delivered at the feast of the new moon (Hag 1:1) or at the time when the nation have come to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the compulsory feasts (Hag 2:1). Neither is there any significance with the tying in of the date with one of the fasts that Zechariah will go on to mention at a later date (Zech 8:19).
This word, therefore, seems to have been given on no one specifically relevant day in the Jewish calendar and we should not expect there to have been any more people present in Jerusalem than would have been present on any other day.
Although it’s possible that the day was a sabbath, I can find no definitive statement that it was, so an ordinary day of the week is the more likely when men and women will be going about their normal business and not be looking to God in any special way (the calendar calculator which is part of my On Line Bible program gives the day of the week as Monday but, having only employed it for the first time since I bought it over a year ago, I must express hesitancy as to the accuracy of the way I used it!!!).
However, the date is significant for another reason.
Since the last prophetic utterance, the first rains have begun and have increased in their intensity to reach just about their heaviest around this time of the autumn/winter season (just four days previous to this in another year yet to come, Ezra records that heavy rain was falling upon Jerusalem - Ezra 10:9 - the people actually saying that it was ‘the time’ of heavy rain, not just a freak heavy shower - 10:13).
From the end of the Festival of Tabernacles (the day on which the last message from Haggai was given) to this present date, the farmers will have been planting and ploughing their fields to begin for next years’ harvest (next year, that is, according to our calendar, this year and next year according to the religious calendar which begins in March/April and the same year according to the agricultural calendar which began on the first day of the Jews’ seventh month and which seems to have been in use at this time - having so many different calendars certainly causes some confusion!).
Baldwin notes that
‘By the middle of December, this work would have been completed, with all the accompanying hopes of a good year, free from drought and pests’
which immediately gives us the setting for the message. The curse of Hag 1:6,9-11 still remained upon the land and, though it was logical to assume that if they returned to the work God would remove the curse, there had been no specific word from Him to say that this would be the case.
However, three months after beginning the work on the Temple and immediately after the final sowing of the harvest has taken place, the Lord inspires His prophet to stand up and proclaim that their God has turned the curse into a blessing and that, from this time forward, the ground would yield a harvest which was sufficient for all their needs.
Admittedly, Haggai goes about it in a rather round about fashion, but there is a need for this. God is at pains to warn the people in case they should think that by rebuilding the Temple they will recover the blessing of God and be acceptable to Him because of the building, when it is necessary that they contemplate their own cleanness before Him through the things they do.
But the significance of the date remains even though it is not initially apparent.
Haggai is commanded here to use a question and answer setting to bring the attention of the nation to a consideration of how God regards the offering of sacrifice in the Temple compound. Perhaps the word would have been initially directed at the priests in order that they might be aware that men and women offering sacrifice must be informed that a sacrifice was not sufficient in itself to remove the uncleanness of the individual if the heart was still set in disobedience and rebellion to the revealed will of the Lord (I Sam 15:22-23).
Though this may have been the case, the following verses (Hag 2:15-19) are best considered to have been spoken to the nation as a whole and almost certainly within the Temple courts where the priests stood to minister. Haggai, then, is called upon by God to pose a question to the priests to determine a ruling on a matter of Law laid down by Moses.
As we will see, the question is fairly straightforward in the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) but by asking the official interpreters of the Law the question (Lev 10:11, Deut 33:10), Baldwin notes that
‘Haggai’s question is not asking for information, but is a methodological device familiar to every teacher. This exchange of question and answer arouses and sustains interest’
which is the reason, it appears, why Haggai is urged to take this course of action. Intrigued by the question from one who, they would assume, should know the answer, they are immediately curious as to what Word might about to be spoken through Him by the Lord to the nation.
Cleanness and uncleanness
The question is in two parts before Haggai makes a statement (2:14) and goes on to speak of what the Lord will do for them (2:15-19). The first concerns holy flesh carried in a skirt (that is, a man’s garment, not a woman’s). The passage (2:12) reads
‘If one carries holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and touches with his skirt bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any kind of food, does it become holy?’
The background Scripture to the question is probably Lev 6:27 where we read that the flesh of the sin offering became the holy portion of the priests once the blood had been offered to make atonement for the offerer. When this flesh touched any garment, the garment would become holy because
‘Whatever touches its flesh shall be holy...’
However, Haggai is taking the instructions in the Law one step further and asks them whether, now the garment has become holy because of the holy flesh that is touching it, does that mean that whatever the garment touches also becomes holy? In other words, should the people see in the action of flesh becoming holy, the opportunity for holiness to be imparted throughout the entire camp because of these secondary associations with what has become holy and set apart for the Lord’s use?
The priests quite rightly answer the question in the negative - it is only the holy flesh that can impart cleanness to what it comes into contact with. The imparted holiness cannot then be imparted to another object by contact with it.
Haggai’s next question concerns not the impartation of cleanness but uncleanness. He asks (2:13)
‘...If one who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these [the food items specified in the previous verse], does it become unclean?...’
Lev 22:4-6 applies here (which is too long to quote) but it states clearly that an unclean person (unclean through the contact with a dead body) contaminates the area around himself through contact with objects (see also Num 19:22), so much so that objects that have been rendered unclean can then impart uncleanness to other objects that they have contact with (Lev 22:4).
The implications of the two questions are consequently seen - though it would be nice to think that the holiness of the flesh of the sin offering might effect cleanness throughout the camp of Israel, it only imparts its ceremonial state to objects that have direct contact with itself. On the other hand, unclean objects can effect objects even indirectly by causing items to become unclean which can then continue to impart uncleanness to other items they come into contact with.
The spread of uncleanness throughout the land is a much more likely scenario than the impartation of holiness. Though dirt destroys cleanness, cleanness can only water down filth and cannot rectify the problem.
As JFB notes
‘Legal sanctity is not so readily communicated as legal impurity’
‘One drop of filth will defile a vase of water: many drops of water will not purify a vase of filth’
Even though the nation might have expected the rebuilding of the Temple to refound the sacrificial system and so impart holiness and acceptance to the Israelite nation, the likelihood of both the scenarios meant that uncleanness would more likely be the result because the holiness of the Temple was contained within the Temple and could not be conveyed out into the nation through contact with what was holy.
But, Haggai goes on to draw a conclusion which is somewhat different to our conclusion drawn here.
God states through him (Hag 2:14) that
‘...so is it [that is, as the two answers to the questions posed] with this people, and with this nation before me, says the Lord; and so with every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean’
The prophet doesn’t go on to spell out exactly what he means and goes off at somewhat of a tangent beginning with the next verse (see below), but the interpretation seems to be fairly clear.
The nation stood before the Lord as unclean in His eyes (‘this people’ and ‘this nation’) and their deeds were also considered as being unclean and unacceptable before the Lord (‘every work of their hands’). The Lord doesn’t say exactly what the problem is - there appears to be no one trait that He is bringing to remembrance that He wants the people to rectify and repent from. But their state remains as being unclean before the Lord.
According to the second of the two answers, when they offer sacrifice to the Lord in the Temple, their uncleanness is imparted to their offerings and they cannot, therefore, be acceptable to the Lord. Even though they bring animals and grain before the presence of the Lord, the uncleanness of their lives forbids the offerings from ever being able to be accepted!
That’s quite some word to the nation that was relying upon sacrifices to secure acceptance before the Lord.
Smith reckons that Haggai
‘...seems to be saying that just restoring the temple building is not enough...“This people” of Haggai was rebuilding the temple, but probably had not reformed their lives’
However, although the rebuilding of the Temple must be a part of Haggai’s message, the Scripture plainly talks about the Israelites’ offerings being unacceptable, not the Temple reconstruction.
Baldwin, on the other hand, is spot on - even though she doesn’t appear to follow through the logic of her argument and the real straits that the children of Israel were in. She writes
‘...Israel had originally been set apart for the Lord and was therefore holy...but the nation had been defiled, and everything it touched, including its offerings, became unclean. The ruined Temple, a witness to sins of negligence, stood like a corpse in the midst. How could the defilement be purged away if every offering was itself defiled? The Levitical law provided rituals for certain emergencies, but these dealt only with outward uncleanness, for which the passing of time, together with ceremonial washing, was sufficient to provide cleansing. For Israel there was no known remedy. The only hope lay in free acceptance by God, and the promised blessing (verse 19) implies that such acceptance was granted’
But, if the basis of the nation’s acceptance before the Lord is no longer on the basis of works of the Law, then it is on the basis of grace. If acceptance is on this basis, then, the Mosaic Law does not have the same jurisdiction over the returned exiles as it did, say, in the years leading up to the exile into captivity.
What I am trying to say is this - although a legalistic sacrificial system was reinstituted once the Temple had been rebuilt and consecrated (even before this date), and even though people like the Pharisees by the time of Christ had worked at achieving the requirements of the Law, God had already made it plain that the nation could not find acceptance before Him by works of the Law and that, as the following verses show (Hag 2:15-19), acceptance of the nation before Him could only be on the basis of His grace regardless of their spiritual condition - not because of it.
We do well to realise here, therefore, that God is preparing the way for the Messiah to come and to put to one side the Old Covenant in order that the perfection of what He was to bring in the New might be more firmly established. If the nation had taken God’s words to heart and relied upon God’s grace rather than upon their works, they would have been a nation ready to receive the message of the Gospel when it was declared to them.
As it was, because they reverted back into Law, they missed the intentions of God through the work of the cross and resurrection.
Consider what will come to pass
So, the nation was condemned before God (Hag 2:14) - it had no way of cleansing itself to achieve acceptance before Him. Though God had exiled the nation away from Himself for their disobedience many years’ previous, the current nation stood in a similar situation insofar as they were doomed to make the same mistakes and go their own way due to there not being a way under the Law to be reconciled back into a right covenantal relationship with God.
But, just when you think that the Lord will launch into a condemnation of His people because of their uncleanness before Him and the way in which their unclean lives are unpleasing to Him through their deeds which are not being faithfully done in accordance with His will, we get a statement that God is about to bless them regardless.
They may well have felt discarded when the prophet began (Hag 2:15)
‘...consider what will come to pass from this day onward...’
but what followed was blessing not curse.
This is certainly not what one would have expected and is enough a cut across the train of thought to make us stop and wonder whether two prophetic words have been run together that should never have had the glue applied.
But such are the ways of God.
Although God warns them that they should not rely upon perfectly fulfilling the requirements of the ceremonial Law but be more keen to do what is right and pleasing in His sight, He makes sure that they realise that the curse of Hag 1:6,9-11 has been consumed by Him through the obedience of their return to work on the Temple.
It is not that their obedience to a written code has earned them acceptance, but that a freewill response to the spoken word of God has caused God to remove the curse laid upon the nation and to reconcile them to Himself. Again, this is done not on the basis of works but solely upon God’s grace.
What follows seems quite straightforward (again!) but there a few points that warrant discussion...
Yet you did not return to Me
Before we look at Hag 2:17, we need to note the preceding verse and its simplicity when it says that God had been the One who had stood against His people, not only during the growing time of the year (as noted in Hag 1:10-11, 2:17) but at the time when the harvest has already come in and the labourer returns to collect what has already been reaped.
Whatever the nation had thought that it had achieved and whatever it thought it possessed, it always had less than it expected. It may be correct to see an earthly agency which was removing stored up resources (a thief or such like) but I think the verse actually means that, whenever the Jew thought he could rejoice in the size of the harvest and of the wealth of his possessions, a recount showed him that, in fact, his estimation had been somewhat over optimistic.
The main verse to comment on here, though, is Hag 2:17 which reads
‘I smote you and all the products of your toil with blight and mildew and hail; yet you did not return to me...’
This verse is so close to Amos 4:9 which reads
‘I smote you with blight and mildew; I laid waste your gardens and your vineyards; your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me...’
that commentators have proposed that the two verses are, in fact, one and the same. Baldwin, who is not quick to try and prove copyists borrowing from other sources in the Bible to supplement the text now being considered, comments that
‘Haggai is referring to Amos here...’
just as, in Jonah chapter 2, the parallels with other OT passages are legion. It shouldn’t be considered that later copyists (or ‘revisionists’ - Jews who tried to rewrite the scrolls that have now been used to base the modern translations on) decided they could add little bits and pieces wherever and whenever they liked, but it is equally possible that the original writers were so steeped in Scripture and the study of the writings that, when they spoke, the texts that had been previously studied came flooding from them into their own lives.
In like manner, those of today’s christians who use the archaic language of the KJV seem to always use its constructions and phraseology when they prophecy, even though the language long since died out (except in some notable areas of Yorkshire where I live!).
But the real problem with accepting that Amos and Haggai are so closely related is that the latter has had its text emended by recourse to the former because they are considered to be one and the same passage.
Therefore, Baldwin states that
‘...the defective Hebrew at the end of the verse...is justifiably emended from Amos 4:9’
without seeing that the actual text here says something a little bit more severe to His people than Amos does.
Smith, on this occasion, notes the problem with the text at this point that it is ‘difficult to translate’ but opts for the translation
‘...and you were nothing to Me’
to be true to the received text. His question as to whether the Lord was actually saying that ‘during those days Israel was “as nothing” to God’ is largely rhetorical and is left unanswered, but we have already seen God’s choice of the phrase ‘This people’ (Hag 1:2 - see on that verse in my earlier notes) to refer to the Israelites, a phrase which denies the nation any particular right of acceptance before the Lord through their disobedience to the rebuilding of the Temple.
Frightening though it may be, the Lord is indicating here that, when His people refused to do His will and He came against them by inflicting them with a curse that was not from satan’s hand but His own, He was treating them as if they were as nothing to Him - not His people, because His people do His will.
Before we move on, let us remember that the Lord has not changed through the passing of the Old and into the New Testament even though the covenant that His people serve the Lord under has. The Church, when it sees something go wrong consistently, often accuses satan of standing opposed to them and, even when they try and overcome him, he still seems to get in their way. The testimony of this passage indicates that it would probably be better for the church to examine its own ways and deeds and to make sure that it is doing everything that is in accordance with the revealed will of God before it either curses its own bad luck [sic!] or turns to blame the work to the moving of satan.
The foundation of the Lord’s Temple
The sentence (Hag 2:18)
‘Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid, consider’
is problematical since the foundation of the Lord is already supposed to have been laid some sixteen years previous to the time at which Haggai gives this message (Ezra 3:10). Was this a second foundation that needed to be built or, perhaps, did they reuse the stones already laid during that period so that they had need to start all over again?
JFB comes out with a novel suggestion that
‘The first foundation beneath the earth had been long ago laid in the second year of Cyrus...the foundation now laid was the secondary one which, above the earth, was laid on the previous work’
but the solution to what appears to be contradictory is far more straightforward and concerns the actual word employed in the Hebrew that modern translators render as ‘foundation’ (Strongs Hebrew number 3245) - the phrase ‘was laid’ does not actually appear in the Hebrew text and is only added to give the word ‘foundation’ sense.
The Hebrew word can certainly mean ‘foundation’ or ‘lay a foundation’ and it is used with this sense in numerous applications and settings but, as Baldwin points out, though this sense is sound in many passages, there are occasions when ‘to found’ is not the best rendering and would not give the best sense.
She cites II Chron 24:27 where the RSV translates the passage
‘Accounts of [Joash’] sons, and of the many oracles against him, and of the rebuilding of the house of God are written in the Commentary on the Book of the Kings...’
Certainly, the meaning ‘found’ does not accurately represent the word here, seeing as the description of the word cannot possibly mean that the Temple was ‘founded’ but that it was ‘rebuilt’ or ‘restored’ especially as II Chron 24:4 notes before this event took place that
‘...Joash decided to restore [not “rebuild”] the house of the Lord’
II Chron 31:7 is also good justification for Baldwin to note, I feel conclusively, that the passage translated in Haggai’s message could equally well be translated
‘Since the day that the Lord’s Temple started to be rebuilt...’
Interestingly - and as Baldwin further notes - Ezra 3:10-11 which talks about the foundation of the Temple being laid during the first year of the exiles’ return might also not be too accurately rendered by our modern translations. However, here there is just cause for celebration and it seems best to take the event as being indicative that a certain mark had been reached that represented a time when the nation set themselves to rejoice in how the Lord had returned them to the land.
But the celebrations could equally well apply to the day on which they first began to rebuild the Temple after their return.
Whichever we choose, the word used does not have to be rendered by the verb ‘to found’.
Baldwin concludes, having noted that in both Ezra and Haggai the word may have nothing to do with relaying the foundation of the Temple but of recommencing the work of reconstructing the main structure of the Lord’s house, with
‘This interpretation explains the fact that the rebuilding was accomplished in four and a half years, whereas it had taken Solomon, with all his resources of manpower and materials, seven and a half years (I Kings 6:37-38) to complete the original Temple. Far from being razed to the ground, much of the stonework remained intact after the fire (II Kings 25:9). The main need was for wood (Hag 1:8) to replace what had been burnt. There was no question of relaying foundations’
The crops of the harvest
The Lord says (Hag 2:19)
‘Is the seed yet in the barn? Do the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree still yield nothing? From this day on I will bless you’
and His statement needs just a little bit of explanation seeing as it will initially read to us as if the harvesters must be in the fields rejoicing at the great yield that the land has now produced for them. But this just isn’t the case.
The date of the prophetic word is ‘the twenty fourth day of the ninth month’ corresponding to 18th December in that year when, probably, most, if not all, the ploughing had been completed along with the sowing of the seed for next year’s harvest.
The vines would already have been harvested by the commencement of the Feast of Tabernacles, two months previously, and the figs and pomegranates, likewise, would long since have been reaped, their harvest slightly extending beyond the end of the grape harvest.
Figs could also have been reaped during May/June as there was both a Spring and an Autumn harvest but, even so, the season for figs would be well and truly over.
The only other tree or bush crop mentioned here are the olives which, according to a chart I discovered in Zondervans, would have taken place from around the beginning of the Jews’ seventh month to the end of the eighth. Even this crop, the latest of the four to be mentioned, has been over and completed for somewhere approaching a month.
Rather than referring to the harvest that has just taken place - or to one that was continuing while the prophet was speaking to the nation - God’s words should be taken to refer to the harvest that was about to start growing and developing come the commencement of the following Spring.
Therefore, He begins with the statement
‘Is the seed yet in the barn?...’
calling to their remembrance that, although they may have no definitive and material proof of what He is about to say, nevertheless it will come to pass.
His statement is not ‘I’ll see what I can do about next year’s crop, people of Israel’ or ‘The Lord might bless you at some future time with better harvests now you’ve returned to do the His will’ but a very certain statement in the form of a question that the nation should consider well just how great the harvests are even though you or I may have used the tense will be and been careful not to say ‘next year’ to safeguard ourselves just in case we’d heard the Lord wrongly!
This, without doubt, demanded faith - not even the flowers had developed and come out on the branches of the trees and bushes in question at that time of the year, and neither had the wheat and barley crops developed sufficiently to give any indication of the volume of seed that the farmers might expect to reap. So the nation could, in one sense, rightfully be sceptical.
But God’s promise here is certain and he calls the nation to look at the harvests and realise that the coming year will yield a larger harvest than they had recently experienced.
I wonder if Haggai worried about whether the word would come to pass? If it’d’ve been me, I think I may have nonchalantly checked on the growth and development of the crops throughout the next 9 months and either worked out a ‘disclaimer’ or arranged new accommodation in another land somewhere!
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