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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

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Haggai, Theology of

The prophets Haggai and Zechariah joined forces in 520 b.c. to encourage the rebuilding of the temple following the Babylonian exile. After the Persian king Cyrus had allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem in 538 b.c., work on the foundation of the temple was completed by 536 b.c. But opposition arose and no further progress was made until Haggai and Zechariah burst upon the scene. Through their effective preaching, Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest were able to complete the "‘second temple" by 515 b.c., and once again the Jewish nation had a worship center that bound them together as a people.

The Book of Haggai consists of four short messages delivered from August through December of 520 b.c., the second year of Darius Hystaspes. Each of the messages is clearly dated and the style is similar enough to insure the unity of the book. Brief but hard-hitting, Haggai's messages reached the hearts of the Jewish remnant, and the people obediently responded to his call to finish the temple.

Punishment and Blessing. Although the returnees had been back home in Israel for only eighteen years, the disobedience of the people had brought on them a series of problems characteristic of a nation about to go into exile. God had sent drought and meager harvests, making economic conditions deplorable. Moses had warned that a failure to keep the covenant would bring about calamities like this and eventually captivity (Deut 28:38-40). The blight and mildew mentioned in Haggai 2:17 are specifically cited as covenant curses in Deuteronomy 28:22. Rather than working to finish the temple, the Israelites were beautifying their own homes and letting the Lord's work lag far behind (Hag 1:4).

Stung by the truth of Haggai's words, the people repented of their lethargy and resumed work on the temple in September 520 b.c. Just as the Lord had stirred the hearts of the people to return home in 538 b.c. (Ezr 1:5), so the hearts of Zerubbabel and Joshua were stirred to lead the people in obedience once more (Hag 1:14). And even though there were very few grapes, figs, or olives growing in the land, God promised that "from this day on I will bless you" (2:19). Obedience always brings blessing, and the people's willingness to put God first in their lives would bring material as well as spiritual blessing. Harvests would once again be plentiful as the drought and famine would come to an end.

God's Presence with His People. As the people responded favorably to Haggai's challenge, the Lord graciously promised that he would be with them (1:13). God had been with Joshua when he led Israel into the promised land (Jos 1:1), and now another Joshua is told to "be strong … and work. For I am with you" (Hag 2:4). When Solomon was given the heavy responsibility of building the first temple he, too, was told to take courage and do the work (1 Chron 28:10,20).

The reference to the Holy Spirit and the Sinai covenant in 2:5 serve as a reminder that Moses and the seventy elders were empowered by the Spirit as they led Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness (Nu 11:16-17,25). Rebuilding the temple would not be easy, but divine enablement would be assured.

God's presence with his people may also be implied in the reference to the "glory of this present house" in 2:9. In the Old Testament the glory of the Lord referred to the pillar of cloud that filled the tabernacle and then the temple. Such occasions were among the most significant in Israel's experience (see Exod 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:10-11), so Haggai is anticipating a future for the remnant even more glorious than the nation's illustrious past.

The Coming Messiah. One way that the glory of the second temple surpassed the glory of Solomon's temple was the presence of the Son of God in Zerubbabel's temple. When Jesus was brought to the temple as a child the aged Simeon identified him as a light to the Gentiles and glory for Israel (Luke 2:32). A messianic connection with "glory" would be strengthened if "the desired (or "desire") of all nations" in Luke 2:7 also refers to Christ. From the context it is clear that "desired" can refer to valuable articles such as silver and gold (Luke 2:8), but from other passages it seems equally clear that "desired" can also refer to individuals. Three times Daniel is called "highly esteemed" or "highly desired" (Dan 9:23; 10:11, 19). Possibly the term was chosen to refer both to valuable possessions and to a highly valued individual in order to approximate the breadth of the term "glory."

Another messianic foreshadowing is found in the last verse of the book, where Zerubbabel is called "my servant" and "my signet ring, for I have chosen you" (2:23). "Servant" is applied to Christ mainly in Isaiah's songs (42:1; 49:3; 50:10; 52:13), where the servant is also called "my chosen one" (42:1). The obscure reference to the signet ring is illuminated by Jeremiah 22:24, where Zerubbabel's ancestor, Jehoiachin, is pulled off like a signet ring and handed over to Nebuchadnezzar. By making Zerubbabel "like my signet ring" the Lord may be reversing the curse against Jehoiachin, reinstating his family so that a descendant of his could again sit on the throne of Israel. Zerubbabel was not destined to be a king, but Christ was his descendant and eligible for the throne. Both Jeconiah—another name for Jehoiachin—and Zerubbabel are included in Christ's genealogy in Matthew 1:12.

The Shaking of the Nations. Twice in chapter two Haggai states that the Lord will shake the heavens and the earth (vv. 6, 21). Verse 7 then predicts that God "will shake all nations" and verse 22 speaks of overthrowing thrones and kingdoms. Just as the Lord brought judgment on Pharaoh and his chariots at the Red Sea, so he will once again display his awesome power over the nations in the endtimes. Hebrews 12:26 quotes Haggai 2:6 as it looks ahead to the second coming of Christ and the defeat of the kingdoms of this world. Since Haggai says that God will shake the nations "in a little while" perhaps the near fulfillment includes the fall of the Persian Empire and the rise of Greece and Rome.

Herbert M. Wolf

See also Zechariah, Theology of

Bibliography. R. Alden, Haggai; J. G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; R. J. Coggins, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; C. L. Meyers and E. M. Haggai, Zechariah 1-8; R. L. Smith, Micah-Malachi; H. M. Wolf, Haggai and Malachi.

 


Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Haggai, Theology of'". "Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology".
<http://classic.studylight.org/dic/bed/view.cgi?number=T319>. 1897.

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