1 - 2 A New Message
1 On the twenty-first of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet saying, 2 “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people saying,
The third date notation marks the beginning of the second message. This second message comes within a month after work has started. Hearts that are willing to work for the Lord receive new encouragements again and again. Once the wheels roll, God provides the oil.
The seventh month is the month of the Feast of Booth, the last harvest feast (Lev 23:39-44). It is celebrated from the fifteenth to the twenty-first of the month. On the twenty-first there will have been many people in Jerusalem. On that day the word of the LORD comes again to the leaders and the people. The word comes to them through the service of Haggai the prophet. He is the instrument the LORD uses to make His will known to them.
3 The Glory of the House
3 ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison?
This verse consists of three questions. The first question can only be answered by the old people who can remember the temple of Solomon they saw as a child. All others have only heard about that temple. The second question is in fact also meant for the old people, because only they can make the comparison between what they see “now” and how it used to be. They too will have to say that what they see now, is nothing compared to what they saw in the past. The building cannot match the glorious temple of yesteryear (Ezra 3:8-13).
Moved by the fear of God, the people listen to the words of His messenger. But now there is yet another difficulty that stands in the way of faith and that is the painful realization that all the luster and glory of the former temple is lacking. The remnant cannot change that. They cannot retrieve the first glory.
But how remarkable it is that God speaks of “this temple in its former glory”. The appearance of the house may have changed, but the house itself has not changed. For God there is only one house. So it is with the church, His house in our time. When we read in the book of Acts about the origin of the church, we see the glory of God’s house. There is not much of that glory to be seen today because of all the divisions and erroneous teachings. Yet for God it remains the same house.
The questions asked are also important to us. They make us realize that there is no room for any self-satisfied thought. It is good not to have high pretensions. We are allowed to build God’s house, while we realize that the manifestation of that house is nothing to boast about. At the same time, we may leave room for God’s grace and power. We feel how far the church has deviated from its original state, but we do not need to become discouraged.
4 Take Courage
4 But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts.
The comparison of verse 3 is not meant to discourage them, but to make them trust their God all the more. The task they face may seem impractical when they compare their work with the former glory of God’s house. They have nothing to embellish the temple with. That is why the call to take courage and to continue with the work is so important. In doing so, the LORD lets them know once more that they are not alone and that they do not have to do it in their own strength, because He is with them (Hag 1:13). If the LORD had only said “continue with the work”, without the necessary promise of His support, the motivation would not have been sufficiently stimulated.
The call to take courage or to be courageous has sounded before, such as to the Israelites and Joshua (Deu 31:6,7,23; Jos 1:6-18) and to Solomon (1Chr 22:13; 28:10,20). This call was also made on other occasions (2Chr 19:11; Dan 10:19). He is the same faithful God for the remnant in the days of Haggai as in the days of Joshua and Solomon.
The same goes for us. Paul says to Timothy, and to us: “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2Tim 2:1). To the Ephesians, and to us, he says: “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Eph 6:10). The encouragement to be strong always sounds in situations of resistance, where the important thing is to continue, no matter what the hindrances and no matter how great the opposition. The Lord’s strength is needed to counter inner discouragement and overcome outer resistance.
The mess in the midst of which we live is huge. There are many divisions and confusion is increasing. Nevertheless, it is possible to respond to God’s desires for a place to dwell for Him, where we may be with Him in the midst. That is so, if as a local church we acknowledge the authority of His Word and the guidance of His Spirit. We see this presented in the following verse.
5 Word and Spirit
5 ‘As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!’
The possible thought that the LORD is no longer with them, is here declared unfounded by Haggai. He refers to “the promise”, which is the word of the covenant which the LORD made with them when they left Egypt. Their deliverance from Egypt, and the covenant which the LORD made with them on that occasion, is the guarantee that he remains faithful to his people, for he remains faithful to His Word, to what He promised. What He then intended for Himself – that is, to give His people possession of the land – still remains His goal. His Spirit has given them the assurance of this by being in their midst. That is why the encouragement now sounds: “Do not fear!”
The Word of God and the Spirit of God are always in harmony with each other and both are necessary to know and do God’s will. The Word of God cannot be understood without the Spirit and the Spirit always acts in accordance with the Word and will never stimulate to do something that goes against it. Anyone who is dealing with the Word alone, without being guided by the Spirit, becomes a rationalist. He who wants to be led by the Spirit alone without consulting God’s Word becomes an uncorrectable fanatic.
6 Once More in a Little While
6 For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land.
After the promise of His support in the previous verses, God is going to give this weak remnant even more encouragements. Although He cannot reveal Himself personally in their midst because of their dilapidated state and the changed situation, a time will come when He will intervene on His own authority.
This verse and the following four verses are clearly Messianic. They are meant as an extra encouragement to do the work of rebuilding. He Whom it is about and Who is with them is the One Who will soon fill everything with His glory. The reign of Christ does not only concern the earth, but the universe, including the heavens and all that is in them (Eph 1:10).
The quotation of this verse in the New Testament – the only verse quoted there from Haggai – makes it clear that this verse is still in the future. It is quoted in a somewhat different way than Haggai says. The writer quotes from the Septuagint: “And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” This [expression], “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Heb 12:26-27).
The shaking of the earth ‘then’ happened at Sinai, when God gave the law to Moses (Exo 19:16). The second shaking will happen at the end of time, at the return of Christ, when He comes to judge the earth. Then comes an unshakeable kingdom, namely the millennial realm of peace under the blessed reign of Christ.
7 The Wealth of All Nations
7 I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts.
To shake the nations means that God will throw down the nations, which will be accompanied by great turmoil. As a result, they will submit to Him and come to Jerusalem, which will be the center of their worship. There the Lord Jesus will reign and there will be the temple of God.
After ‘all the nations’ have submitted themselves to God, they will come “with the wealth of all nations”, to bring it to the new built temple, wherein the LORD or Christ, dwells and where they will worship Him. “With the wealth of all nations” can also be translated with “the desire of all nations will come” which is Christ (cf. Isa 11:10). This longing for Christ and His house, the appreciation and understanding of Him, has been worked through Him in their hearts.
Christ will fill “this house”, the temple, in the realm of peace “with glory”, His glory. A shadow of this can be seen in the days of Solomon, who is a type of the Prince of peace (1Kgs 8:10-11; 2Chr 5:13-14).
8 Everything Belongs to the LORD
8 ‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts.
God does not take from them the wealth with which the nations come, their riches, for it is all His. No one will be able to do anything against this, for this “declares the LORD of hosts”. The remnant may be too poor to decorate the temple, nor may it be a large, willing people who bring gold and silver as they did at the building of the tabernacle and the temple, but that is not a limitation for God.
Here the prophet says as it were that they do not have to worry where the gold and silver for the temple should come from, because it is everything from God and He can and will provide for it (Psa 50:12b). Nothing can hinder the revelation of His glory.
The silver and gold represent the believers today who are the house of God. We see this in the materials used in the construction of the tabernacle and the temple. Silver represents the price of salvation and gold the glory of God. The believer is redeemed by the blood of Christ and clothed in Christ with the glory of God. Thus all believers together form “a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Eph 2:22).
9 The Latter Glory of the House of God
9 ‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and in this place I will give peace,’ declares the LORD of hosts.”
It concerns, as noted in verse 3, always the same house, but in different circumstances. God only knows one house. No other house will be built, but the original house will be rebuilt. “The latter glory” is described in Ezekiel 40-48.
The promise that the latter glory will be “greater” than what they see now is a great encouragement to those who have rebuilt the temple. The rebuilt temple contrasts sharply with the one the Babylonians destroyed. Here God promises that the future glory will be even greater “than the former”, which is the glory of the temple of Solomon.
The second promise is that “in this place”, which is in the city of Jerusalem, the LORD will give “peace”. This will happen when the Lord Jesus will reign as the Prince of peace (Isa 9:5-6). Here peace is not primarily the spiritual peace, in the heart, but the outer peace, which in its full effect also includes the spiritual peace (cf. Mic 5:4; Joel 3:17; Isa 60:18). Now the remnant is still surrounded by enemies and plagued by discouragement. The thought of future peace, both externally and internally, gives courage. This is underlined again by pointing out that “the LORD of hosts” declares this. What He declares, happens.
10 - 11 The Message for the Priests
10 On the twenty-fourth of the ninth [month], in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to Haggai the prophet, saying, 11 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Ask now the priests [for] a ruling:
Almost two months after the previous message and three months after the first one, now the third message comes from the LORD to Haggai. This time he has to go to the priests and ask them some questions to hear from them what the law says about this. The priests are the teachers of the people. They explain the law to the people (Deu 33:10a; Mal 2:6-7), while prophets apply it to the heart and conscience of the people.
12 - 13 When Holy and When Unclean
12 If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold, or cooked food, wine, oil, or any [other] food, will it become holy?’” And the priests answered, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If one who is unclean from a corpse touches any of these, will [the latter] become unclean?” And the priests answered, “It will become unclean.”
In order to make the people aware that the crop failures they have had so far are the result of God’s punishment because of their attitude towards Him and His house, the prophet asks the priests two questions. He applies the answer in verse 14 to the spiritual state of the people.
The first question (verse 12) is about whether holiness can be transmitted. Haggai uses the example of someone who carries “holy meat in the fold of his garment”. “holy meat” is the meat of animals slaughtered to be sacrificed to the LORD (Num 6:20). The priests may also have a part of it (Lev 6:26,29; 7:6; 7:15-16,31-34).
Imagine it happens that someone with the fold of his garment which contains that holy meat, touches food. Haggai mentions a few examples of the food it could be. He also indicates that they are only examples, because it applies to “any [other] food”. Then he asks whether that food becomes holy when it is touched by the fold of his garment in which the holy meat is.
Apparently, without having to think about it, the priests answered with an emphatic “no”. It is true that the fold of the garment itself becomes holy through the holy meat (Lev 6:27), but it cannot pass on this holiness.
Then Haggai asks a second question (verse 13). That question is the opposite of the previous question. This is not about someone carrying something of food, but about someone himself, a person. It is about someone who has become unclean by the touch of “a corpse”. If that unclean person “touches any of these” [i.e. the things mentioned in the previous verse], Haggai asks, “will [the latter] become unclean?”
The answer of the priests here is more emphatic than the answer to the previous question. There it is a short ‘no’. Here the answer is not a short ‘yes’, but a clearly defined “it will become unclean”. Also the second question is answered correctly by the priests. Someone who is unclean by the touch of a dead person makes everything he touches unclean (Num 19:22).
This is the lesson: Holiness cannot be transmitted, but uncleanness can. A healthy man cannot transmit his health, but a sick man with a contagious disease can transmit his disease (cf. 1Cor 15:33). What is unclean does infect the environment, but what is holy does not have that power.
This is also how it works in daily life, as the Preacher discovered that as “dead flies” spoil a supply of “oil” that has been carefully composed, so a little foolishness causes so much harm, that all “wisdom [and] honor” are powerless in the face of that (Ecc 10:1). The meaning is that it only takes a small thing to render unusable or even destroy a large quantity of valuable goods. Foolishness has much more influence than wisdom. That is exactly such a statement. One weak link makes the chain break.
We can apply this to many things in everyday life. When we listen to unclean music, it does not leave us untouched, it radiates something that makes us unclean ourselves. Unclean images – it only has to be a flash of something unclean or sadistic that we see on television or on the internet – sometimes linger for days, we become infected by them. We think we can go anywhere, read all kinds of literature, watch all kinds of movies without it affecting us. But we are very much mistaken, because it has an effect that makes us totally dirty.
Haggai presents the people their wrong way of thinking. They thought in Babel: ‘As long as we are in Jerusalem, that is after all the city of God. As long as we are in touch with what is holy, with the holy city, that gives us the best chance to enjoy the promised blessing. Haggai goes razor-sharp against that with this priestly teaching from the law.
He says: ‘Outward touch with the holy does not process anything, but outward touch with the unclean has disastrous consequences! We may not be aware of it, but touch with the unclean affects us to the bottom of our hearts. And let us not think that touch with the holy undoes the touch with the unclean.
We say: ‘You should always be open to everyone.’ The Bible does not speak like that. The Bible says that we must break the bond if someone in our circle of friends, for example, openly mocks the holy. An outward touch with what is unclean through what we hear and see makes us unclean. We should not think that the outer touch with the holy outweighs that. A ritual reading of the Bible after dinner, or once in a while visiting a meeting without our heart being there, is an outward touch of the holy, which has no effect at all. The holy does not have the power of an automatic radiation.
In summary we can say that all Haggai’s prophecies are directed against the nonchalance of the superficial touch in two ways:
1. The superficial touch of the holy, of which we think that it gives us something extra, gives us nothing extra.
2. The superficial touch with the unclean, of which we think we can handle, makes us unclean.
14 Everything Is Unclean
14 Then Haggai said, “ ‘So is this people. And so is this nation before Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.
In this verse Haggai gives the meaning of his questions in the previous two verses. Because of their lax attitude with regard to the work at the house of the LORD, their offering is not pleasant to the LORD. He does not accept their offerings, a fact clearly evidenced by the withholding of dew and rain and the blessing of the fruit of the land. The holy meat of the offering cannot transfer its holiness to the offeror if he is only pursuing his own interests. On the contrary, by his unholy attitude he transmits his uncleanness to everything he does, including his offerings. There has to be personal cleanness before someone can act or offer properly.
Also in this verse there is mention of “this people” (cf. Hag 1:2). In their place before the LORD, the people look on the one hand like a man who carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and on the other hand like a man who has become unclean by the touch of death. Israel has a sanctuary in the land. Because of this also the land becomes holy. But the people who live in the land do not automatically become holy because of this, nor does everything they build or cultivate there become holy. Israel has become unclean through the failure to rebuild God’s house. As a result, everything the people touch, anything they plant or build or sacrifice on the altar, also becomes unclean.
Haggai is closely involved with a people who have let themselves to be touched only externally, but who do not give the LORD, that is the Lord Jesus, the first place. It is a people who do not seek the kingdom of God first (Mt 6:33), rebuild the temple first and only then rebuild their own house.
15 - 17 A Look Back
15 But now, do consider from this day onward: before one stone was placed on another in the temple of the LORD, 16 from that time [when] one came to a [grain] heap of twenty [measures], there would be only ten; and [when] one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there would be [only] twenty. 17 I smote you [and] every work of your hands with blasting wind, mildew and hail; yet you [did] not [come back] to Me,’ declares the LORD.
The prophet calls on the people to look back to find out what they were doing when they stopped working on the temple and what consequences they experienced (verse 15). This should lead them to work “from this day onward” on the rebuilding of God’s house.
If they look back, they will have to conclude that the land has only produced part of the expected harvest (verse 16). They thought the harvest would give a certain yield, but that was disappointing. The cause of the disappointing yield of the threshing floor and wine vat is not due to changed weather conditions. The LORD Himself is the Cause of it (verse 17).
He said through Moses that he would give plagues like “blasting wind” and “mildew”, plagues affecting various types of grain, if the people were unfaithful (Deu 28:22). Haggai adds “hail”, which particularly affects the vintage and fig harvest (Psa 78:47). In spite of all this, the people have not turned to God.
18 - 19 The Blessing Is Promised
18 ‘Do consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth [month]; from the day when the temple of the LORD was founded, consider: 19 Is the seed still in the barn? Even including the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree, it has not borne [fruit]. Yet from this day on I will bless [you].’”
The prophet does not tire of calling for consideration of the events they have experienced (verse 18). When they look at the proceeds of the land, they must come to the conclusion that God has not blessed them and that this is because of their disobedience (verse 19). But now that they have become obedient, He will bless them again from this moment on.
“From this day”, that is, “from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth [month]”, fruitful times will come again. Fields and trees will start to bear fruit again. This is a promise for all those who judge what is evil and want to walk in the truth.
20 - 22 A Word for Zerubbabel
20 Then the word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth [day] of the month, saying, 21 “Speak to Zerubbabel governor of Judah, saying, ‘I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. 22 I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations; and I will overthrow the chariots and their riders, and the horses and their riders will go down, everyone by the sword of another.’
On the day of the prediction of blessing the word of the LORD comes for the second time to Haggai (verse 20). It is his fourth and final message. He must personally tell Zerubbabel what the LORD will do. Zerubbabel is the rightful heir to the throne in the line of David. There is nothing to be seen of it here yet. Here he is the governor of Judah in the service of the Medes and Persians to whom Judah is subject (verse 21).
But Haggai has an encouraging message for him. The land may be subject to foreign domination, but the LORD will change that situation. He does so with the power He has to shake heaven and earth. These words point back to the verses that also speak of the shaking of heaven and earth (verses 6-7).
The LORD will change the situation of His people by overthrowing the throne of the kingdoms. The throne is the symbol of kingship or dominion (Dan 7:27). He will break their reign, so that they no longer have any strength to rise themselves up against His people. The means by which they have shown their strength, such as “the chariots and their riders”, and “the horses and their riders”, will be overthrown and will go down.
The LORD will do this by letting them exterminate one another, “everyone by the sword of another” that is, of his brother in the evil that they have done to God’s people. One hostile realm will destroy the other (Zec 14:13; cf. Eze 38:21). This paves the way for the introduction of the King to God’s heart, the Messiah, of Whom Zerubbabel is a picture. We see this in the next and last verse of this book.
23 A Word to Zerubbabel
23 ‘On that day,’ declares the LORD of hosts, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will make you like a signet [ring], for I have chosen you,’” declares the LORD of hosts.
“On that day” is the day when all enmity is extinguished, as described in the preceding verse. Immediately after that follows: “Declares the LORD of hosts.“ This is repeated at the end of the verse. In the middle of the verse it also says: “Declares the LORD.“ Three times it says in this verse that the LORD speaks, twice of which is pointed out His dominion over all hosts, wherever they may be and whatever they may be.
What He says, happens, because He has all the power to carry it out. Any doubt about His words is therefore excluded. This is further emphasized by the double mention of the LORD what He will do – “I will” and “I will” – and also of His election – “I will make you …”; “I have chosen you”. All emphasis here is on the LORD, on Who He is and what He will do and has done.
This confirmation is needed by this descendant of David and the rightful claimant to the throne of David. It is also a great encouragement for the small and weak remnant over which Zerubbabel is governor.
The LORD speaks to “Zerubbabel, son of Sealthiel, My servant”. It is a word for him personally. The fact that the LORD speaks to him so emphatically as “My servant,” underlines the thought that via Zerubbabel it is ultimately about the Messiah (Isa 41:8; 42:1; 49:5-6; 50:10; 52:13; 53:11).
The LORD does not give Zerubbabel a signet ring, but makes him a signet ring. A signet ring is a sign of honor and authority (Song 8:6; Jer 22:24). The bearer thus marks letters or documents, which then represent him (Gen 38:18; 1Kgs 21:8; Dan 6:18; Est 8:8). As already mentioned, Zerubbabel is a type of Christ. God’s goal is to use Christ as His signet ring and to put the imprint, the mark, of Christ on all things created.
This is not yet the case. The nations do not take Him into account, they are not impressed by Him. But anyone who accepts the gospel among the nations will be impressed and become an imprint of Him.
The signet ring belongs inextricably to the wearer. God will give Zerubbabel a position in which he will be and remain inseparably connected to the LORD. He will not throw him away, but keep him as His valuable property. The promise does not apply to him personally, but to the official position he occupies. This is evident from the fact that what is prophesied will only come when all kingdoms will be overthrown (Dan 2:44a). It looks forward to Christ whose kingdom will not come to an end (Dan 2:44b; Lk 1:32-33).
Thus ends the book Haggai, which began so discouragingly and depressingly, in an uplifting and promising way. The first message of Haggai is an indictment. In his last message he speaks about a great and blessed future for the people of God. As we now know that future was much further away than both Haggai and Zerubbabel thought. But in the thoughts of God it is as close and sure as the sun rising in the morning.