Haggai’s name means “festal,” and this gives us a key note for the book. Like other prophets, he rebukes the sins of the people. But unlike most other prophets, the people listen to him, and he promises great glory to come. What we know about Haggai is found in this book, and in Ezra 5:1-2 . Along with Zechariah, Haggai is a post-exilic prophet, and his entire recorded ministry lasted only a few weeks in the year 520 B.C.
Exiles had returned to Jerusalem after the decree of Cyrus in 539 B.C. They built the altar and the foundations of the Temple, but then got distracted, and began work on their own homes and estates. It is now some 19 years later, and the word of the Lord comes to Haggai.
“For thus saith the Lord of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, And I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: And I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts” (Hag. 2:6–7).
Summary of the Text
The book of Haggai consists of four prophetic oracles, and one very brief narratival response. The first oracle rebukes the people for neglecting the rebuilding of the Temple while paying attention to the building of their own paneled homes (1:1-11). We then have a brief narrative of the positive response by the people (1:12-15). The second oracle answers a concern by some of the older Israelites who remembered how glorious Solomon’s Temple had been (2:1-9). In the third oracle, Haggai answers a question arising from the laws governing ritual defilement (2:10-19). And then in the fourth oracle, Haggai gives a great promise to Zerubbabel, grandson of King Jehoiachin, and vassal governor under the Persians. Contrast what is spoken of their respective signet rings (Hag. 2:23; Jer. 22:24).
As you read through this short book, take note of some of Haggai’s literary devices. He frequently uses the rhetorical question. He is also accustomed to the device of repeating key phrases. He employs parallelisms, and his book is filled with allusions.
For example: “Is this the right time for you to dwell in your paneled houses?” (1:4, 9; 2:3, 12-13, 19). For the second, “consider your ways!” (1:5, 7). For the third, “you have sown much, but harvest little” (1:6; cf. 1:4, 9-10). And for the allusions, Hag. 1:6 contains echoes of Deut. 28:38-40). And compare Hag. 2:17 with Deut. 28:22.
Centrality of Worship
In the third oracle (2:10-19), we learn that touching an unclean thing contaminates the holy. And in the same way, the prophet showed that Temple ruins contaminated all of life. When worship is ruined, so will everything else be. We will come back to this.
Desire of Nations
Solomon built the first Temple. After it was destroyed, the people of Israel were taken into exile. When they returned after seventy years, they rebuilt the Temple, establishing what is called “Second Temple Judaism.” Some centuries after this, Herod completely refurbished this Temple, but in such a way as to keep it the Second Temple. Work started on this project in 19 B.C, and 10,000 skilled laborers worked on it. One thousand Levites were trained as masons and builders so that the work could be done without interrupting the sacrifices.
When Jesus first came to the Temple during His ministry, it was still under construction and had been for 46 years. It was not completed until 63 A.D.—just 7 years before the Romans destroyed it. Now when Jesus came to the Temple, He cleansed it, and He plainly identified Himself as the new Temple, the final Temple, the ultimate Temple. And this is how the author of Hebrews describes it when he quotes the second chapter of Haggai. The entire passage is worth quoting:
“But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:22–29).
What does this signify? We are told plainly what it signifies. We are being given an ultimate and final kingdom, one that cannot be shaken, and it cannot be shaken by definition. And why? Because the foundation is the cornerstone of the Lord Jesus, and the walls are built out of the promises of God. Over the gates we have the embedded jewels of our gracious salvation, which cannot be pried out their places by any sin of man. The sins of men can be shaken, but the salvation of men cannot be.
What should our response to the words of Haggai then be? We must “have grace.” We come before God in worship with reverence and godly fear. Why do we fear Him? We fear Him because we have nothing to fear. We tremble in awe because trembling with craven fear has been banished. The salvation of the world is an eschatological earthquake, a profound earthquake, in which every tawdry thing is absolutely destroyed, reduced to powder, and every noble thing remains standing, revealed for what it is in everlasting glory.