The Blogpost of the Paper of the Book of the Prophet Haggai

JMJ

By way of introduction the paper below was presented to the class with a few added jokes – including the bad pun in the above header image. At about the half-way point in writing the paper, I had a realization about the content and had to do a rewrite. I presented this to the class honestly, noting my misreading in the context of the presentation. These observations are added after the content of the paper below.

Background

Haggai’s prophecy begins with a date – a very traceable date. To this writer, a calendar nerd, that’s a very pleasant thing: In the second year of King Darius (reigned from Sept 522 BC), on the first day of the sixth month. The footnotes in the Jersualem Bible (hereinafter JB) indicate that we are discussing August of 520 BC. In that year 1st Elul in the Hebrew calendar, so, by conversion 27 August on the Gregorian Calendar projected backward). (Haggai 1:1). The last prophecy is on 24 Kislev (17 December) of the same year  (Haggai 2:20) so the exact timeline is very clear.

Haggai is the 1st prophet to arise after the exile (notes, Great Adventure Bible p. 1242; JB p. 1257) and he also gets to actually see the result of his preaching (like Jonah in Nineveh). Haggai is traditionally regarded as a member of the Sanhedrin in Babylon. “In reference to the Men of the Great Assembly who directed the Jewish community in the Land of Israel in the early years of the Second Temple, the Talmud notes that “among them were several prophets” (Megillah 17b), an implicit reference to Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi.” ( retrieved on 5 Nov 2021) In addition to his status as a prophet he has three rabbinic decisions or “matters of the law (or halakhah)” linked with him (see here retrieved on 5 Nov 2021). 

Historical Situation

After 70 years of captivity in Babylon, the people have returned to Jerusalem, Babylon had fallen to the Persians. Cyrus, the King, being “roused” by Yahweh lets the people go home. (Ezra Chapter 1:1 JB).  The prophet was born in exile in Babylon came to Jerusalem  Things seem to have started out ok – they have built their “paneled houses” (Haggai 1:4) and planted gardens, but something is wrong.  The people suffer harassment from the Samaritans who feigned support, but – joining in league with the Returnees – they became saboteurs on various projects and agents provocateur creating social havoc, turning the people against the plans of the leaders (Ezra 4:1-5). Finally they “reported” the project to various political rulers in order to get the whole thing stopped (Ezra 4:6-23). “Thus the work on the Temple of God in Jerusalem was brought to a standstill; it remained interrupted until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.” (Ezra 4:24)

The people are uneasy “Reflect carefully how things have gone for you. You have sown much and harvested little; you eat but never have enough, drink but never have your fill, put on clothes but do not feel warm. The wage earner gets his wages only to put them in a purse riddled with holes. The abundance you expected proved to be little. When you brought the harvest in, my breath spoiled it… The sky has withheld the rain and the earth withheld its yield. I have called down drought on land and hills, on wheat, on new wine, on oil and on all the produce of the ground, on man and beast and all their labors.” (1:5b-6, 9, 10-11 JB) See also 2:16-17

Problems Addressed

The people are building their own houses but not the Temple. They are concerned with their own safety instead of trusting in God. “While my House lies in ruins you are busy with your own, each one of you.” (1:8b) The people are not doing this out of a sense of personal gain, but rather for fear: they want to get their lives in order lest something else should happen. There is also a sense of discouragement because of the actions of the Samaritans: social chaos and ineffective leadership lead to low morale which, in turn, gives rise to acedia. 

Audience

The people of Jerusalem, returning exiles, as well as “Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, high commissioner of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest” (Haggai 1:1) and “Then the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo began to prophesy to the Jews of Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel who was with them.” (Ezra 5:1).

His message is two-fold. The primary one, noted in all resources I checked, is “build my temple!” but I think there’s something else going on here. As noted the issue is the low morale created by the neighbors, the leadership, and a lack of an overarching sense that God sent them home (as he promised). The oracles of Haggai are filled with proof that God is here: I am with you (1:13, 2:4) my spirit remains among you, do not be afraid (2:5) I will give peace (2:9) I intend to bless you (2:19).

The prophet has to say “go do XYZ… because God is with you and he will help you do it!” HE spends a lot more time saying “God is with you” than “go do XYZ”, even though XYZ (rebuilding the temple) is the important action that is needed. It’s not possible to do so without faith though, so – “Have faith, God is with you…” The prophet says this not only to the people but also their leaders: “But take courage now, Zerubbabel-it is Yahweh who speaks. Courage, High Priest Joshua son of Jehozadak! Courage, all you people of the country!-it is Yahweh who speaks. To work! I am with you-it is Yahweh Sabaoth who speaks-and my spirit remains among you. Do not be afraid! (Haggai 1:4-5).

Efficacy

Both greatly effective and not. And yet… “Now Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all the remnant of the people, paid attention to the voice of Yahweh their God and to the words of the prophet Haggai, Yahweh having sent him to them. And the people were filled with fear before Yahweh… And Yahweh roused the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, high commissioner of Judah, the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and set to work on the Temple of Yahweh Sabaoth their God.” (Haggai 1:12,14). Haggai is one of the few Prophets who lived to see his dream fulfilled. (You Can Understand the Bible, P. Kreeft p 158). 

God begins to bless the people from the beginning of the rebuildling: Reflect carefully from today onward (from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day the foundation of the sanctuary of Yahweh was laid, think carefully) if grain is still short in the barn, and if vine and fig tree, pomegranate and olive, still bear no fruit. From today onward I intend to bless you.” (2:18-19)

At the same time, though, the predictions of the prophet regarding the King, himself, seem to be a bit off. ‘I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kings of the nations. I will overthrow the chariots and their charioteers; horses and their riders will be brought down; they shall fall, each to the sword of his fellow. When the day comes-it is Yahweh Sabaoth who speaks- I will take you, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, my servant-it is Yahweh Sabaoth who speaks­ and make you like a signet ring. For I have chosen you-it is Yahweh Sabaoth who speaks.” (2:22-23) There is no restoration of the Kingdom here and no sign of all nations being overthrown. This prophecy, along with the promises 2:9 seem not yet to happen. The new glory of this Temple is going to surpass the old. In fact, the few elders who were alive in the before-times, remember the glory of the former Temple (built by Solomon) and weep. (Ezra 3:12) And yet…

Reading these prophecies as Messianic, and leading us to the New Kingdom of God, the whole thing makes sense in Jesus:  the new glory of the temple (“the temple of his body” John 2:21) far surpasses the glory of the old temple. And even the physical structure being built here is suddenly filled with God’s very presence as Christ enters it and teaches there. 

What does it mean that Zerubbabel will be a “signet ring”? This is a title for the Kings of Judah, indicating the closeness of the King to God and his plans. However in Jeremiah 22:24 we read of the last king, “even if Coniah son of Jehoiakim, King of Judah, were the signet ring on my right hand, I would still wrench him off. I will deliver you to the hands of those determined to kill you…” The connection was broken. 

This man, the grandson of King Jeconiah of Judah, forms a connection between the pre-exilic kings and the line of “common folks” that runs through the people until we reach Joseph and Mary in the New Testament. If “signet ring” means “sign of the kingship” then this link between the common tradespeople of Galillee and the last Kings of Judah is that signet. The final prophecies of Haggai, though not fulfilled in the prophet’s lifetime, are fulfilled in Jesus. 

Additional resource used: The Collegeville Bible Commentary: Old Testament, Dianne Bergant, Robert J. Karris, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1992. The general introduction to post-exile prophets (pp 571-577), and the article on Haggai (pp 592-599), both by Mary Margaret Pazdan, O.P.


Observations

Reading the prophet’s text alone (and following many commentaries online and off) it seems the issue is that the returnees from Babylon got to Jerusalem and built their own houses – but ignored God’s house. God got angry and cursed them with bad crops (etc) and sent them a prophet to tell them to build the Temple first. Then everything got going in the right order. However in reading the context provided in Ezra, Chapters 1-6, I realized that the issue was not that the Jerusalemites were being selfish, but rather they were acting without faith: the neighbors were being schmucks and so the Hebrews were retreating into their homes. God sent them a prophet to say, “Get out there and claim this land – it’s yours, I gave it to you.” Once they started acting in faith, at that moment their fortunes changed. The main thrust of the prophet’s teaching is not “you lazy, selfish, impious people…” but rather “God is with you! Be not afraid!”

It seems that this teaching is applicable to all of us.

Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He feeds the homeless and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.