The Jewish people had returned to Israel from the exile, but they were not prospering. The time had come to return to the work and to finish the Temple of YHWH. God exhorted the people through Haggai.
Haggai is the thirty-seventh book in most English Bibles; in the Hebrew Bible it is part of the Nevi’im, the Prophets; in the Greek Septuagint Haggai is the tenth of the Duodecim (Latinized; Dodeka in Greek), “the Twelve.” Haggai (“festal”) prophesies between late August and mid-December 520 BCE with precisely dated oracles during the second year of Darius king of Persia (Haggai 1:1, 15, 2:1, 10, 20). Ezra attests to Haggai and his prophetic role in Ezra 5:1, 6:14. Haggai prophesies to the returning exiles in order to encourage them to rebuild the Temple, trust in YHWH, and to restore Zerubbabel to the legitimate Davidic lineage.
The word of YHWH first came to Haggai on August 29, 520 BCE, directed to Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest (Haggai 1:1). The people believed the time was not right to rebuild the Temple, but they had enough time to rebuild their own houses (Haggai 1:2-4)! The people were to consider their condition: they were not prospering, and it had to do with their neglect of the house of God; they should go, get wood, and build the house and God would cause them to prosper (Haggai 1:5-11). Zerubbabel, Joshua, and all the people obey YHWH as He decreed through Haggai and feared YHWH; Haggai encouraged them, declaring that YHWH was with them, and YHWH stirred up their spirits and they worked on the house of YHWH on September 21, 520 BCE (Haggai 1:12-15).
The word of YHWH came again to Haggai on October 17, 520 BCE, toward the end of the Feast of Tabernacles (cf. 1 Kings 8:2; Haggai 2:1). YHWH spoke through Haggai to strengthen Zerubbabel and Joshua to continue building the Temple even though it was not as glorious as the Solomonic Temple had been (Haggai 2:1-5). Haggai promised that YHWH would shake the earth and His house would again be filled with glory and treasure in even greater abundance than in the first Temple (Haggai 2:6-9).
The word of YHWH came again to Haggai on December 18, 520 BCE, three months after the work on the Temple had restarted (Haggai 2:10). Haggai was to ask the priests regarding communication of holiness and uncleanness, demonstrating the communicability of uncleanness but not holiness (Haggai 2:12-13). YHWH associated this with the people: when they did not work on the Temple, they did not prosper, and they were struck as cursed and unclean; ever since the work on the Temple had restarted, hope for harvest had returned, and YHWH promised to bless them (Haggai 2:14-19).
The final revealed word of YHWH to Haggai came on the same day as before, December 18, and directed specifically to Zerubbabel (Haggai 2:20). YHWH promised to shake the heavens and earth, to overthrow kingdoms and armies (Haggai 2:21-22). On that day YHWH promised to make Zerubbabel as a signet ring, for God had chosen him (Haggai 2:23).
The Temple would not be finished for another four and a half years, in 515 BCE, according to Ezra 5:15, but the returned exiles worked diligently upon it throughout that time based on the exhortation and encouragement of Haggai. In Haggai we see an extraordinary thing: a prophet summoned Israel to repentance, and the Israelites actually repented, obeyed, and feared (Haggai 1:12-15). God then blessed them (Haggai 2:19).
Yet YHWH’s ultimate blessing for Israel was not yet; in the latter days He would shake the heavens and the earth overthrow kingdoms, and establish the Kingdom of God through His Son Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 2:13-47). Jesus of Nazareth was a descendant of David through Zerubbabel (Matthew 1:6-16). Jeremiah had condemned Jehoiachin (Coniah), declaring that if he were a signet ring on YHWH’s hand he would be removed and that he would die childless and without an heir ruling in Judah (Jeremiah 22:24-30). While Jehoiachin receives a bit of favor in YHWH’s sight during his life and has children (cf. 2 Kings 25:27-30, Matthew 1:12), it is Zerubbabel, Jehoiachin’s grandson, who is restored, reckoned as YHWH’s signet-ring, and whose descendant Jesus would again reign on the throne of David (Haggai 2:23, Luke 1:31-33).
God shook the world at Sinai, but shook heaven and earth through the life, death, resurrection, and lordship of Jesus of Nazareth; Christians now do well to heed God’s voice in Christ since we have received a Kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:25-29). May we serve God through His grace, for He remains a consuming fire!
Ethan R. Longhenry