INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF HAGGAI
Haggai the prophet
I originally studied Zechariah, the parallel book to Haggai, because the chapters have always held a fascination for me and I had, a number of years ago, begun a preliminary study of its pages for future reference and development.
As I studied the Book, it was interesting to see just how much of what I was discovering was particularly relevant to the local church that I was currently attending (and continue to do so) and how God seemed to have a specific purpose in leading me to return to that earlier work to redevelop and expand it into a larger work and commentary.
My reason for turning now to Haggai is to complete the study of the prophetical writings and sayings of that time in Israel’s history when God began anew to move within the Jewish nation and to restore to them the promises that He intended to bring about through their obedience to His word.
Really, Haggai should have been studied first ahead of Zechariah, and then I should have moved on to what I did first. The reason is that Haggai was, indeed, first in his prophesying as is indicated by the dates given to us as the headers in both Haggai and Zechariah (Cp Hag 1:1, 2:1, 2:10, Zech 1:1, 1:7, 7:1), even though Ezra mentions both prophets together in the same sentence when the rebuilding of the Temple is being described (Ezra 5:1, 6:14).
Much of what I’ve written under my introduction to Zechariah is relevant here and it would be best, if you have not read that section, to do so now before proceeding with these notes. They give the historical background to the dilemma that faced God’s people and the importance of God speaking through both Haggai and Zechariah to prompt the Israelites back into action.
Before I go on to outline some specific points concerning Haggai that we need to consider, I have below reproduced part of the date chronology from the introduction to Zechariah to remind us of the setting and sequence of Haggai’s prophecies in relation to Zechariah - the full list can be found by going to the original article.
(an extract from my notes on the Introduction to Zechariah)
520BC - The first prophecy of Haggai was given (1:1) during the second year of Darius on the first day of the sixth month when crowds would be gathered together to celebrate the sighting of the new moon. The prophecy should not be thought of as being a word that was hidden from the masses but God appears to have inspired Haggai at the time when many of his fellow countrymen would have been able to witness what had been said. In our calendar, this took place on 29/8/520. It is at this time that the Scriptures record that both Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:2-3)
‘...prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them...and with [Zerubbabel and Jeshua] were the prophets of God, helping them’
and (6:14) that
‘...the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of Haggai...and Zechariah...’
520BC - The returned exiles started work again on the Temple on the 24th day of the sixth month (Haggai 1:14-15a) which was 21/9/520.
520BC - Haggai’s second prophecy took place on the 21st day of the 7th month in the second year of Darius (Haggai 1:15b-2:1), 17/10/520, which was the 7th day of the Feast of Tabernacles - again, a significant date when many of the inhabitants of the land would have been in Jerusalem for the festival.
520BC - Zechariah’s first prophecy (and a short one at that) occurred in the eighth month in the second year of Darius (Zech 1:1) which places it here even though the exact date is not given us.
520BC - Haggai’s final two prophecies took place on the 24th day of the ninth month in the second year of Darius (Haggai 2:10, 20), 18/12/520. Haggai, therefore, if these prophecies are the sum total of all that he spoke to the people, only prophesied for some four months!
519BC - Zechariah’s first series of prophecies occurred on the 24th day of the eleventh month in the second year of Darius (Zech 1:7), 15/2/519. Haggai has stopped prophesying by this time (or he’s just stopped recording his prophecies or having them recorded. It would be unfair to say that Haggai had either died or was no longer of any use to God - we have no way of knowing why God seems to have used him only for a short four month period and then, almost exclusively, used Zechariah).
Haggai the prophet
So little is known about who the prophet was that it seems almost meaningless to even attempt some identification of the man in his time as we did with Zechariah. There, we noted certain implications in the mention of the prophet’s relatives and the significance of his name which seemed to tie in with a consistent interpretation that gave Zechariah’s age somewhere in his teens when he was first called by God to prophesy to the nation of Israel.
With Haggai, however, there is nothing - not even conclusive internal evidence to hazard a guess as to what Haggai might have been like, how old he was, who he was descended from, how long his ministry lasted or why his recorded prophecies come to an abrupt and sudden end so soon after they’ve begun.
But, seeing as both Baldwin and Smith have taken various statements made by other commentators to at least try and paint a portrait of the prophet, I shall try here to catalogue why most of our beliefs about the man are fairly ungrounded.
Firstly, then, Baldwin comments that
‘The absence of a patronym may indicate that his father was already forgotten...’
but this would be unlikely. The Jews were careful to record and remember family lines to the point of tedium and, judging by the comments of Ezra 2:59 where certain returning exiles could not prove whether they were of Israelite lineage, it is unlikely that Haggai could have been descended from an unknown father and have been accepted into the nation to prophesy to them if he was in any way considered to be a non-Jew.
True, by the time Ezra put pen to paper (actually, it was probably quill to papyrus!), he may have neglected to look the lineage up or, when the introduction of Hag 1:1 was written, the composer might have felt it unimportant to mention the descendants, but it could not have been the case that Haggai was unable to have proven his lineage and yet still to have been accepted within the community as a prophet of the Lord and for the Lord’s people.
The name ‘Haggai’ means simply ‘my feast’ and, beyond this, we can say very little. Was the ‘my’ indicative of the Lord, of his father or of someone else of whom he was named in honour? Was he born on a feast day (as Baldwin states as being probable) or was Haggai simply a nickname (as Baldwin considers possible)?
Though Zechariah’s name may tell us something about the prophet when compared with other facts we know about him, ‘Haggai’ is not definitive enough to be certain about and does not support any other piece of information presented to us in the Scriptures.
The question as to how old Haggai was is again unanswerable. Baldwin notes numerous possibilities ranging from him being born within Israel after the return of the exiles (some seventeen years previous), to him having spent most of his life in exile, returning as an older man and being used in his latter years before his sudden demise after a very short period of ministry. All the reason on these ages seem pretty logical but are hardly conclusive. Even the assertion that Hag 2:3 is conclusive proof that Haggai had remained in the land of Israel throughout the time of the exile and not gone to Babylon is hardly convincing. Had the prophet said with the voice of the Lord
‘Who, like Haggai, is left among you...’
then we could make such a conclusion, but the question is not offered on the assumption that Haggai was one of a few who had seen the former Temple, the reason being only that those who saw the former Temple were now ashamed of the paucity of the new.
Personally (and you should feel free to depart from my teaching at this point!), I think that the modern church believes Haggai to be old when he began prophesying because the word ‘Hag’ in our language conjures up the image of some bent-double old woman and the name is flavoured by our own culture! There may also be some grounds offered that he must have died off or else he would have been used for a longer period of time to speak to Israel than is recorded in the Book that bears his name but even this is conjecture for the absence of recorded prophetic utterances is not proof that his ministry ended when the Book does.
He has also been conjectured to have been a priest (an early christian tradition) and not a priest (a Jewish tradition), both of which assertions seem to be founded on rather shaky expositions of the Scriptures as can be told by the opposite conclusions that can be drawn from the same pieces of information! If Haggai had been descended from priestly stock (as Zechariah appears to have been) it would be unusual to find in his book no mention of his lineage.
The phrase ‘the prophet’ (Hag 1:1) is thought by Baldwin to indicate
‘...that prophets were few and therefore [the label] was sufficiently specific and that he was well known in the small Judean community’
but that doesn’t answer the fact that Zechariah has been given a genealogical record for himself both in the introduction to his Book (Zech 1:1) and in Ezra (Ezra 5:1).
Smith comments that
‘He is called “the prophet” in his book and in Ezra, a fact that might indicate the scarcity of prophets in his day’
but the actual phrase (which does not carry with it the implication that he was the prophet as it can in English) means not much more than another individual could be labelled as ‘Joshua the baker’. The appendage simply defined the role and function of the person whose name was appearing in the text and needn’t indicate anymore.
Besides, the Bible does not say in either Ezra, Haggai or Zechariah that there were only two prophets whom the Lord used but it does single out these two for a mention - and, besides, it may be that the reason they were mentioned by Ezra specifically was because they had taken the trouble to commit to a scroll the words that had been spoken through them to the nation and Ezra’s mention is something like an annotation to the reader to prompt him to turn to their respective scrolls and read.
So, what do we actually have on Haggai that we can be certain of?
Virtually nothing - and perhaps that’s the way it is intended to be.
Though men and women have sought to be remembered by some great work or other that they have done, by some relationship they have had with other famous people or by great literary works, statues and compositions, Haggai stands unconcerned about such concepts.
He is concerned simply to be the man ‘by whom’ (Hag 1:1, 2:1, 2:10) the word of the Lord came, elevating his message over that of himself and drawing the people’s attention away from the messenger to the One who commands him. We cannot tie down his lineage either before his existence or after he’s gone his way, neither can we go look in Jerusalem at some architectural work that he put up with his own hands to remind the world how important he was.
Though Haggai was a real historical figure, his legacy is the testimony of God’s work through Him, pulling us away from raising a man onto a pedestal and pointing our gaze onto God alone. Though we have nothing tangible to define the man by, we have, perhaps, a greater witness in God’s words through him and can echo the testimony that it is enough that we are used by God to achieve His purposes and yet to remain anonymous individuals to all who might come after us.
All my references are the same as the ones used in my notes on the Book of Zechariah and they can be found at the end of the web page located here.
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