2. Realigning Priorities (Haggai 1-2)

Audio (38:11)

James J. Tissot, detail of ‘Haggai’ (1898-1902), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York.
James J. Tissot, detail of 'Haggai' (1898-1902), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York.

By the time Haggai the prophet appears on the scene about 520 BC, discouragement has set in.

Sixteen or seventeen years before this, a band of hopeful exiles had come to Jerusalem ready to rebuild the temple, armed with the king's edict, laden with temple treasure, and empowered by contributions from the Jewish community in Babylon.

They have made a hopeful start. An altar has been built on its ancient site (Ezra 3:2). Some of the rubble of the collapsed buildings has been cleared, and some work has begun to rebuild the temple. But then it becomes bogged down due to opposition from the Samaritans and others who don't want to see the Jews established and become strong in a land that they wanted for themselves. Ezra 4 concludes:

"The work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia." (Ezra 4:24)

The Jews have failed. But God intervenes again, this time in the person of a prophet.

Haggai the Prophet (Haggai 1:1a)

The short book of Haggai begins with the words:

"In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai...." (Haggai 1:1a)

We know nothing about Haggai except his name, which means "festal," from ḥag, "feast, festival." Perhaps he was born during a major Jewish festival, such as Passover, Feast of Weeks, or Feast of Tabernacles.[23] Whatever his background, when Haggai speaks, the people obey his words as from God himself (Haggai 1:12).

Zerubbabel and Joshua (Haggai 1:1b)

Zerubbabel and Jeshua celebrate beginning the rebuilding of the temple. (Artist unknown)
Zerubbabel and Jeshua celebrate beginning the rebuilding of the temple. (Artist unknown)

"The word of the LORD" is directed toward the Jewish colony's leaders:

"... to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest." (Haggai 1:1b)

We met them previously in Ezra 2:2 among the first group of exiles that return to Jerusalem from Babylon, and in Ezra 3-5 as leaders of the people. Both are descended from famous ancestors. Zerubbabel is the civil leader and Jeshua is the religious leader, the high priest. Now let's look at them further.

Zerubbabel is of royal blood: a descendant of David, son of Shealtiel,[24] and grandson of Jehoiachin, one of Judah's last kings.[25] He is governor of Yehud (post-exilic Judah). In addition to references in Ezra and Nehemiah, he is also mentioned in both Haggai 1:1-2:9 and Zechariah 4:6-10. Zerubbabel name means "seed of Babylon" or "descendant of Babylon."

Jeshua (or Joshua), son of Jozadak, is high priest in the early days of the return. He is mentioned in Ezra, Nehemiah, as well as by the prophets in Haggai and Zechariah. His sons are also prominent, though two of his sons are censured later for marrying foreign women (Ezra 10:18). Jeshua's name means "Yah(weh) saves." He is named after Joshua, Moses' successor. In the New Testament, Jesus bears this name also (Matthew 1:21). Jesus is the Greek form of Hebrew Joshua.

The Word of the Lord -- Prophecy

"The word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai...." (Haggai 1:1a)

This phrase, "the word of the Lord came..." is a standard formula that identifies a prophetic revelation by the Holy Spirit.[26]

Let's pause for a moment to consider whether prophecy is the same as inspired preaching. Though some contend that they are one and the same, I disagree. When you look at the New Testament, you see that prophets are differentiated from evangelists and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). The examples of prophets we have are John the Baptist, Agabus (Acts 11:27; 21:10-11), members of the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:27; 13:1), and the daughters of Philip the Evangelist (Acts 21:9). In addition, people who have just received the Holy Spirit might prophesy (Acts 2; 19:6), as well as members of the congregation (1 Corinthians 14).[27]

However, the prophetic word of the Lord was rare in post-exilic Judah. We don't know of any prophet who had ministered there since Jeremiah and Ezekiel many decades previously. Nor did Jeshua the high priest seem to be able to receive revelation from God during this time (Ezra 2:63). So when Haggai spoke as a prophet by the "word of the Lord," people listened. Hearing prophecy was a new phenomenon for all but the oldest among them.

Dating the Prophecies

This prophecy (and all Haggai's prophecies) are precisely dated, so we know that Haggai brought his first prophecy on August 29, 520 BC. The first of the month would have occurred on a new moon, a feast day when many of the Jews would have gathered in Jerusalem for the festival. Many of them would have heard the word of the Lord that day.

Haggai brought his prophecies over a period of 15 weeks. Two or three months after Haggai's ministry started, Zechariah began to prophesy. For the next few years, several prophecies came to this people, both concerning their immediate situation and events far in the future. The final prophet is Malachi, though his prophecies are not precisely dated.

Year[28]   Reign of Darius Text Synopsis
520 BC Aug 29 Day 1, month 6 Hag 1:1-11 Haggai's Prophecies 1 and 2
520 Sep 21 Day 24, month 6 Hag 1:12-15 Restoration of the temple resumes 23 days later
520 Oct 17 Day 21, month 7 Hag 2:1-9 Haggai's Prophecy 3
520 Nov month 8 Zech 1:1-6 Zechariah begins to prophecy
520 Dec 18 Day 24, month 9 Hag 2:10 Haggai's Prophecy 4
520 Dec 18 Day 24, month 9 Hag 2:20 Haggai's Prophecy 5 (later the same day)
519 Feb 15 Day 24, month 11 Zech 1:7 Zechariah's Prophecy 2
518 Dec 7 4th year,
month 9, day 4
Zech 7:1 Zechariah's Later visions.
515 Mar 12 6th yr, mo. of Adar, day 3 Ezra 6:15 Temple completed
460-430 undated   Malachi Malachi's prophecies

Prophecy 1. A Call to Build the House of the Lord (Haggai 1)

Now that we've looked at the date and the named targets of the prophecy -- Zerubbabel and Joshua -- let's consider the prophecy itself.

"This is what the LORD Almighty says...." (Haggai 1:2a)

The word is not Haggai's, but that of "the LORD Almighty" (NIV), "the LORD of hosts" (NRSV, ESV, KJV). It is an exalted title. LORD when it appears in caps in English Bibles refers to the divine name "Yahweh." (Jehovah in the KJV). "Hosts" translates ṣebā'ôt, "armies." The Hebrew word is found in the hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," in the line, "Lord Sabaoth his name...." It is one of God's most exalted titles -- the One who commands armies of angels, who has authority over all creation, and we see it often in the prophets of this period -- Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

God first cites people's justification for neglecting to finish the temple.

"These people say, 'The time has not yet come for the LORD's house to be built.'" (Haggai 1:2b)

Excuses, excuses. So easily we justify what we're doing, even if it's far from God's will for us. God questions their excuse.

"Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?" (Haggai 1:4)

The temple had been burned in 587 BC, with some walls remaining, but lots of rubble on the ground. In 537 BC the altar had been set up again for the regular sacrifices, and rebuilding had begun.

"They gave money ... and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia." (Ezra 3:7)

They had begun getting the timber needed for the project, but then stopped due to opposition. Now it was a roofless, ruined hulk, with priests working at the altar in front of the partially repaired structure.

"Paneled" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "ceiled" (KJV) comes from the verb sāpan, "to cover, roof, panel," and so could refer to the fact that (1) the partially completed temple has no roof, or (2) that the leaders of the people lived in nice houses with paneling on the walls (walls covered).[29] Whichever it is, the Lord's house is a ruin,[30] and the leaders' homes are nice and snug.

The Result of God Withholding Blessing (Haggai 1:5-11)

The problem is clear. God's house still lies in ruins, but there is a cost to disobeying God. God is withholding his blessing.

"5 Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Give careful thought to your ways.[31] 6 You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.'" (Haggai 1:5-6)

Think about your situation, says God. You're just barely getting by. You are by no means flourishing. Now it's time to obey.

"7 This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Give careful thought to your ways. 8 Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure[32] in it and be honored,'[33] says the LORD." (Haggai 1:7-8)

The people are centered in themselves. They give no thought to what pleases God, or what God desires.

Has it ever occurred to you that God can be pleased? That he can enjoy something like a temple built to honor him? Do you know that God smiles when you, his child, begin to obey and serve him deliberately and joyfully? Paul challenges us, "try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:10, ESV).

Q1. (Haggai 1:8) God wishes to "take pleasure" in the temple, but the people have stopped working on the project. When is God displeased with you? When does he "take pleasure" in you? What is keeping you from serving him deliberately and joyfully?

The next verses are scary when you think of what they are saying. Because of the people's disobedience, God begins to withhold material blessings from them.

"'9 You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?' declares the LORD Almighty. 'Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with[34] his own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld[35] their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought[36] on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands.'" (Haggai 1:9-11)

I have a three-year-old granddaughter. When she disobeys by playing with her food and throwing it on the floor, her parents take it away. This has a way of getting her attention. Crude, perhaps, but effective. God sometimes does the same thing to get our attention.

When we get to Lesson 10, we see a similar situation in Malachi's day. People have neglected to tithe to support the now-built temple. As a result, God is withholding his blessings from them. If they resume tithing, God promises to abundantly bless them (Malachi 3:10-11). The implication is that until they obey, God's protection has been lifted. The floodgates of heaven have been closed. Obedience opens them.

Some people have taken turned these truths into a Prosperity Doctrine. Poverty is bad; God desires you to be rich. This teaching has some truth in it. God blesses those who obey and partially withholds from his children who disobey. But it becomes unbiblical when it declares material wealth to be God's standard to be desired and expected. Jesus certainly doesn't teach materialism to his disciples,[37] nor did Paul[38] or James.[39]

Q2. (Haggai 1:6, 9-11) God sometimes disciplines us through hardships and circumstances (Hebrews 12:7-11). Sometimes through us not having all that we need. What is such discipline intended to do in our lives? Are you experiencing hardship? What is God trying to say to you in the midst of it?

Prophecy 2. Belief and Obedience (Haggai 1:12-15)

The people believe Haggai's prophecy. They connect their struggle with disobeying God regarding completing the temple.

"Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant[40] of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD." (Haggai 1:12)

The people are afraid of continued disobedience. They are ready to obey. Now another prophecy comes, perhaps the same day. If the first word brings fear, the second prophecy brings assurance.

"13 Then Haggai, the LORD's messenger, gave this message of the LORD to the people: 'I am with you,' declares the LORD. 14 So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius." (Haggai 1:13-15)

Yahweh's declaration, "I am with you," brings encouragement to Moses and the people of Israel (Exodus 33:14), and to Joshua when he prepares to cross the Jordan (Joshua 1:5). The Lord promises to be with the people when Jehoshaphat faces the combined armies of Edom and Moab (2 Chronicles 20:17). These words are our confidence also:

"God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'" (Hebrews 13:5)

Jesus told his disciples:

"Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)

The same promise comes in the second prophecy in Haggai 2:4, given a few weeks later.

Through this prophecy, the Lord "stirred up the spirit" of both the leaders and the people (Haggai 1:14). "Stirred up" is ʿûr, "rouse oneself, awake, incite." The word is also used of Cyrus being stirred to allow the Jewish exiles to return (2 Chronicles 36:22; Ezra 1:1).[41] Prophecy can have a profound effect upon a whole people.

And so, twenty-three days after Haggai first begins to prophesy, they begin to work.

" 14b They came and began to work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius." (Haggai 1:14b-15).

Haggai's first prophecy is on August 29, 520 BC. The project resumes on September 21st the same year, probably after the people have finished the harvest and returned to Jerusalem to build. We read in Ezra how there had been a big celebration on the day when work began in 537 BC.

"11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: 'He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.' And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD,
because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid."[42] (Ezra 3:11-13)

Now, they begin the work again with joyful hearts.

Prophecy 3. The Promised Glory of the New House (Haggai 2:1-9)

"On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai...." (Haggai 2:1)

It is now October 17th. The work has started again and has been going on for a full month. The encouragement of the prophets is helpful in getting them restarted. But now there is a need to overcome discouragement that can easily derail the progress already made.

The Danger of Discouragement

We saw this discouragement when we studied Ezra 3. Solomon's temple has been a world-class building, gilded inside with extravagant decoration and impressive tapestries, built when Israel is united, wealthy, and at the apex of its power. But now Judah doesn't even have a king. Judah (Yehud) is merely a sub-province of the Persian Empire, just hanging on to survival, surrounded by enemies who don't want them there. Funds are limited. By comparison with their memory of Solomon's Temple, the beginnings of the Second Temple seem a huge let-down.

Sometimes the way to deal with a problem is to acknowledge what people are feeling and deal with it directly. By this time,[43] the prophet Zechariah has begun prophesying, as we'll see in Lesson 3. He deals with the same problem -- a sense of hopelessness and dejection.

"Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel." (Zechariah 4:10)

In a similar way, Haggai acknowledges the leaders' discouragement and speaks God's words of encouragement.

"2 Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, 3 'Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?'" (Haggai 2:2-3)

Be Strong and Work (Haggai 2:4-5)

The Lord acknowledges their discouragement. Now he calls them to action.

"But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,' declares the LORD. 'Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,' declares the LORD, 'and work. For I am with you,' declares the LORD Almighty." (Haggai 2:4)

Be strong[44] and work.[45] Be strong means to take courage. We see a similar command to Joshua as he prepares to cross the Jordan and take Jericho:

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9)

So often we're faced with challenges and shrink from them. We're afraid, lack self-confidence, and run away, often to denial or avoidance. God's word is "be strong, be courageous" and then "work." Set out to do the task that God has put before us, trusting him to give us strength to do it. Whatever God gives us to do, is possible when he is with us.

God being with them is not a new idea, but part of God's ancient covenant promise.

"This is what I covenanted[46] with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.'" (Haggai 2:5)

God has made covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then in the Wilderness he renews that covenant with the people of Israel with the "book of the covenant" and the "blood of the covenant" (Exodus 24:7-8). The Presence of the Lord with them is key. The tabernacle in the very center of the camp of Israel, and the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night symbolize Yahweh's presence with them. After the people sin, Moses pleads with the Lord:

"If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.... What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?" (Exodus 33:15-16)

Through Haggai the prophet, God recalls the covenant and the Spirit of his Presence, and affirms to the exiles that Yahweh is still with them to protect and help them.

"My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear." (Haggai 2:5b)

Q3. (Haggai 2:1-5) Discouragement is a common experience. What command does God give Joshua the high priest? What assurance does he give? To deal with your own times of discouragement, what would God's command and assurance be for you? How would you implement them?

Shaking and Glory (Haggai 2:6-9)

Now the Lord speaks further to their concern that the new temple is little compared to Solomon's grand temple that had been destroyed.

 "6 This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD Almighty. 8 'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the LORD Almighty. 9 'The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the LORD Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the LORD Almighty." (Haggai 2:6-9)

God promises that this Second Temple will see more glory than Solomon's Temple. Let's look at this amazing statement.

"Yet once more, in a little while..." (Haggai 2:6a). The fulfillment of this promise of glory is not for now, but "in a little while."[47] The time is not specified. But I believe Haggai is looking forward to Christ's presence in this temple some 550 years later.

"I will ... shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations" (Haggai 2:6b-7a). Between the time of the prophecy and its fulfillment in Christ, God will shake[48] the nations. This period sees the fall of the Persian Empire, the rise and fall of the Greek Empires and the rise of the Roman Empire. In this period the temple is desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes and restored by the Maccabees, celebrated by Hanukkah. Then this Second Temple is added onto and beautified by Herod the Great to become the glorious building that Jesus and the Apostles saw.

"The treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory" (Haggai 2:7b, ESV). The NIV follows the KJV tradition using the word "desired" to translate the Hebrew ḥemdâ, "desire." Translated this way it would refer to Jesus as the "Desire of All Nations."[49] But the context is clearly treasure, silver and gold (verse 8). The noun often refers to treasure, yielding the translation "the desirable, precious things of all nations" (such as in Hosea 13:15; 2 Chronicles 32:27; 36:10; Daniel 11:8).[50] Thus, Haggai's prophecy probably underscores Isaiah's prophecies that the wealth of the nations will come to Jerusalem (Isaiah 60:5-7, 10-11; 66:12).

"The silver is mine and the gold is mine" (Haggai 2:8). The people were concerned that the Second Temple of their day was unadorned with silver and gold compared to Solomon's temple. God assures them that this isn't due to God's poverty. It all belongs to him.

"The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house" (Haggai 2:9a). Several hundred years later, Herod the Great adds on to and beautifies the Second Temple to the point that it is indeed glorious and far exceeds Solomon's temple. Of course, Christ's presence in the temple is the ultimate fulfillment of the greater glory of this temple.

"And in this place I will grant peace" (2:9b). "Peace" is shalom. Of course, the name Jerusalem, carries the word "peace" in it. Ultimately, the peace of the Messiah will be proclaimed from this temple.

Our work may seem small and unimpressive, but God can make it great. It may be that God is calling you to lay foundations in a child or in a work that only much later will bear great fruit. We obey what God calls us to do, and then leave the results in his hands. We may not even see those results in our lifetimes. We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Prophecy 4. You Are Defiled. Repent. (Haggai 2:10-19)

A Defiled People (Haggai 2:10-14)

"10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Haggai: 11 'This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Ask the priests what the law says: 12 If a person carries consecrated meat in the fold of his garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, oil or other food, does it become consecrated?"'

The priests answered, 'No.'

13 Then Haggai said, 'If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?'

'Yes,' the priests replied, 'it becomes defiled.'

14 Then Haggai said, '"So it is with this people and this nation in my sight," declares the LORD. "Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled."'" (Haggai 2:9-14)

It is hard for twenty-first century Christians to understand this. I'll explain it, but you'll need to follow closely. Haggai is appealing to the Levitical rules of ceremonial uncleanness, of how holiness and uncleanness are conveyed. Haggai asks the priests for a ruling on this question.

Conveying Holiness and Defilement (Haggai 2:12-13)

In the time of the tabernacle and temple, the priests had a right to take portions of the sacrifices on the altar as food for their families (Leviticus 6:17-18, 24-29). Haggai raises a hypothetical situation where a priest might carry meat from the altar, that is, "holy, consecrated"[51] meat. Haggai asks a technical question: If the holy meat comes in contact with the priest's clothing, does the meat convey ceremonial holiness to the garment? The priests answer, "No."

Now Haggai asks a second technical question. "If a person defiled[52] by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?" (2:13). The answer is, "Yes."

You Are Defiled (Haggai 2:14)

Haggai gets the people's attention by his technical questions of holiness and defilement. Now he makes his point -- our whole nation is defiled! Working on the temple (or doing church work) doesn't make a person holy. Rather, defiled people defile whatever they touch.

To interpret this passage correctly, it is important to observe the context. Haggai gives this prophecy on December 18, 520 BC The prophet Zechariah, who began prophesying in November 520 BC, has just called the people to repent.[53]

"'Return to me,' declares the LORD Almighty, 'and I will return to you....' Then they repented and said, 'The LORD Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.'" (Zechariah 1:3b, 6)

Thus Haggai's message about a defiled people reminds them of the importance of repenting and consecrating themselves.

Q4. (Haggai 2:10-14) What kinds of things defile a disciple today? What is the danger of acting as if doing church work somehow makes us holy by association? How does a believer deal with spiritual defilement and sin?

With Repentance Comes God's Blessing (Haggai 2:15-19)

Haggai is saying: You have sinned, and your sin has resulted in meager crops and blighted blessing. But now that you have repented and begun again the work on the temple, God will bless you abundantly.[54]

"15 'Now give careful thought to this from this day on -- consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the LORD's temple. 16 When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. 17 I struck[55] all the work of your hands with blight,[56] mildew[57] and hail, yet you did not turn to me,' declares the LORD. 18 'From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the LORD's temple was laid. Give careful thought: 19 Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit. 'From this day on I will bless you.'" (Haggai 2:15-19)

Most translations of verse 18 suggest the foundation of the temple has just been laid in 520 BC. However, Ezra 3:10 indicates that the people celebrated laying the foundations back in 537 BC. Is this a discrepancy? No. As indicated in footnotes above, the Hebrew word translated "lay the foundation" is the verb yasad, "to found." However, sometimes yasad is used more generally, as in 2 Chronicles 24:27; 31:7. The verses in Ezra and Haggai where yasad is used are best translated by the simple verb "build." Thus the people celebrate beginning the building in 537 BC and the resumption of building in 520 BC.[58]

Prophecy 5. Zerubbabel: the Lord's Signet Ring (Haggai 2:20-23)

A second prophecy comes to Haggai on that same day, December 17, 520 BC, an encouragement to Zerubbabel.

"20 The word of the LORD came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21 'Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I will shake the heavens and the earth. 22 I will overturn[59] royal thrones and shatter[60] the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.

23 On that day,' declares the LORD Almighty, 'I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,' declares the LORD, 'and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,' declares the LORD Almighty." (Haggai 2:20-23)

One of the reasons that the rebuilding of the temple has faltered is because the leaders are discouraged, disheartened by opposition and constant pressure from provincial officials who are trying to frustrate and derail the project.

Now, God speaks directly to Zerubbabel, governor of the Persian province of Judah (Yehud). As Haggai had prophesied in Haggai 2:6-7, so God's shaking of governments will overthrow the status quo. Those officials who have prevented rebuilding the temple will no longer be able to do so.

Moreover, God tells Zerubbabel that he is specially appointed by God himself to carry out the work. "I will make you like my signet ring" (Haggai 2:23). A signet ring (compare English "signature") is a seal made of engraved stone that is impressed in clay or wax to authenticate a document or an order.[61] The person who carries the signet carries the authority of the person who has given the order. Zerubbabel is like Yahweh's own signet ring, one who will execute Yahweh's orders with Yahweh's own authority.

What an encouragement this prophecy would have been to Zerubbabel. Not only does this public prophecy bolster his authority among the people to complete the temple project, it is also a humbling and deeply personal assurance from God himself that the Lord is with him to enable him.

God desires to encourage you as a worker and a leader in His kingdom. He knows you personally and loves you. You are important to God, as you help execute his kingdom here on earth.

We, too, have been authorized to serve Jesus, to speak and act on his behalf (Matthew 10:40; Luke 10:16; John 13:20-21; 2 Corinthians 5:20). And he has promised never to leave us or forsake us -- to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20). When that kind of realization breaks over us, we become bold in the Lord to do his will, despite the obstacles we face. My dear friends, you are God's man, God's woman, to the people around you! Jesus said that as people listen to you, in a very real sense, it is like listening to Jesus

Just as Zerubbabel is encouraged by the assurance that he is God's signet ring, executing God's orders with God's own authority, as we listen to his Spirit, we today can act and speak with God's own authority, with Jesus' own words of love and power. May it be so in our lives!

Q5. (Haggai 2:20-23) In what way is Haggai's image of Zerubbabel being God's signet intended to encourage Zerubbabel? What is the power of a leader's signet? How does listening to God's Spirit make you effective as his agent? In what ways are you authorized to speak and act for Jesus?

Lessons for Disciples

Haggai's prophecy offers a number of principles for disciples.

  1. We may justify to ourselves and one another our neglect to do what God has called us to do. But our rationalization does not impress God (Haggai 1:2-4).
  2. Our disobedience can result in God's discipline, or in God withholding his blessing (Haggai 1:5-6, 9-11).
  3. God takes pleasure in us -- and in his House -- when we obey him. We should seek his pleasure, not our own (Haggai 1:8).
  4. God "stirs up the spirit" of people (that is, brings additional motivation) to obey God, sometimes through prophecy, and sometimes through other means (Haggai 1:14; 2 Chronicles 36:22; Ezra 1:1).
  5. Discouragement is commonplace. God commands us to "be strong and work," to take courage and not to fear. And to realize that God is with us. Courage and obedience are the earmarks of a disciple (Haggai 2:1-5).
  6. We can be defiled by participating in the unclean practices of the world. Contact with holy things (such as church work) does not make us holy. We are cleansed only through repentance, confession, and faith that God forgives us (Haggai 2:10-14)
  7. We do what God calls us to do, but the results are in his hands. Our work may seem small and unimpressive, but God can make it great (Haggai 2:1-9; Ezra 3:11-13; Zechariah 4:10).
  8. Repentance and obedience change things. As we follow Jesus we can expect to see his blessings, both spiritually and materially (Haggai 2:15-19).
  9. Just as Zerubbabel is encouraged by the assurance that he is God's signet ring, executing God's orders with God's own authority, so we today can act and speak with God's own authority, with Jesus' own words of love and power, as we listen to him (Haggai 2:20-23).

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Your participation in God's work is important -- and expected. However, we can be thankful that ultimately it depends upon his grace, his words of encouragement, his stirring, his shaking, and his raising up of people. And the wonderful thing is that we get to participate in both his kingdom as well as in his blessings. Hallelujah!


Father, thank you for the privilege we have of laboring together with you. We pray that you would lift us up when we are discouraged. Stir our spirits, bring us to a place of repentance and reconsecration, that we might please You. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"'You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?' declares the LORD Almighty. 'Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.'" (Haggai 1:9, NIV)

"'But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,' declares the LORD. 'Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,' declares the LORD, 'and work. For I am with you,' declares the LORD Almighty." (Haggai 2:4, NIV)

"'I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD Almighty." (Haggai 2:7, NIV)

"'On that day,' declares the LORD Almighty, 'I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,' declares the LORD, 'and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,' declares the LORD Almighty." (Haggai 2:23, NIV)


[23] Horace J. Wolf, "Haggai," ISBE 2:595.

[24] Zerubbabel's father is given as Shealtiel in Ezra, Nehemiah, Matthew, and Luke, but in 1 Chronicles 3:19 he appears as the son of Pedaiah, Jehoiachin's third son. Perhaps he is the literal son of Pedaiah and linked with Shealtiel by some legal device as levirate marriage (H.G.M. Williamson, "Zerubbabel," ISBE 4:1194).

[25] Zerubbabel had two sons, Meshullam and Hananiah (1 Chronicles 3:19). Although both these names occur in Ezra and Nehemiah, they are so common that we're not sure what role Zerubbabel's sons played, if any.

[26] We see this phrase with regard to appearances or revelations to Abraham (Genesis 15:1, 4), the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 15:10); the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 7:4), Solomon (1 Kings 6:11), the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 38:4), the Prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:2, 4, 11), and most other prophets.

[27] To pursue this further, read my article, "Understanding the Gift of Prophecy: I. Is Prophecy Preaching?" www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/preach.htm

[28] John Kessler, "Haggai, Book of," DOTP, p. 303; Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, p. 29. Based on the evidence of over 100 Babylonian texts and new moon data from astronomical calculations it is possible to synchronize the old lunar calendar with the Julian calendar accurate to within one day.

[29] Sāpan, Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 259; TWOT #1537. See the word also in 1 Kings 6:9; 7:3.

[30] "Remains a ruin" (NIV) "lies in ruins" (ESV, NRSV), "lie waste" (KJV) is the adjective ḥārēb, "waste, desolate" from the verb ḥārēb, "dry up, lie in ruins (Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 115). The word is also found in verse 9.

[31] "Give careful thought to your ways" (NIV), "consider" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) here and verse, constitutes four words in the Hebrew text, literally, "set your heart/mind on your ways," or "on your paths." A similar expression in 2:15, 18 might be translated, "take careful note of."

[32] "Take pleasure" is rāṣâ, "be pleased with, be favorable to" (TWOT #2207).

[33] "Be honored" (NIV, NRSV), "be glorified" (ESV, KJV) is kābēd, "be heavy, grievous, hard, rich, honorable, glorious" (TWOT #943).

[34] "Busy with" (NIV), "hurry off to" (NRSV), "busies himself with" (ESV), "run" (KJV) is rûs, "run, make haste by running." (TWOT #2137). Here it has the sense of "be busy" (Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 336).

[35] "Withheld" is kālāʾ, "keep back, keep in detention," then "withhold" something from someone (Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 157). "The basic meaning of this root is to restrict the flow or movement of a thing or person" (John N. Oswalt, TWOT #980).

[36] "Drought" is ḥōreb, "Dryness, drought, heat, desolation," from the verb ḥārab, "to be dry." Mt. Horeb, an alternative name for Mt. Sinai, is derived from this word, signifying a desolate region (Edwin Yamauchi, TWOT #731b).

[37] Jesus: Matthew 6:19-34; 8:20; 19:23-24; Mark 4:19; Luke 6:24; 8:14; 12:21.

[38] Paul: 1 Timothy 6:9, 17-18.

[39] James: James 1:10-11; 2:6; 5:1-2.

[40] "Remnant" is sheʾērit, "Remainder, remnant, posterity, residue, survivors." This noun, in every usage, carries forward the basic root idea of shāʾar and speaks of that which has survived after a previous elimination process or catastrophe (Gary G. Cohen, TWOT #2307b).

[41] "Stirred up" is the Hiphil (causative) stem of ʿûr, "rouse oneself, awake, incite." The word is also used of Cyrus being stirred to allow the Jewish exiles to return (2 Chronicles 36:22; Ezra 1:1; TWOT #1587).

[42] As mentioned in footnote 18 above, and as we will see in Haggai 2:18, the phrase "the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid," and similar verses in Ezra using the verb yasad could have been adequately translated by the simple verb 'build,'" rather than being restricted to laying the foundation only (Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, pp. 52-53).

[43] Zechariah's first prophecy is dated more generally to approximately the month of November 520 BC. Haggai's word comes on October 21, 520 BC

[44] "Be strong" (NIV, ESV, KJV), "take courage" (NRSV) is the Qal stem of ḥāzaq, "be(come) strong" (TWOT #636).

[45] "Work" is ʿāśâ, "do, fashion, accomplish" (TWOT #1708).

[46] "Covenanted" (NIV, ESV, KJV), "the promise that I made to you" (NRSV) is two words: dābār, "word, matter" and the Qal stem of karat, "to cut off" The most important use of the root is "to cut" a covenant berît. The word here is pregnant with theological meaning. A covenant must be cut because the slaughter of animals was a part of the covenant ritual (Elmer B. Smick, TWOT, #1048). In verse 5, however, the word dābār ("word") is used instead of berît ("covenant"), which is implied.

[47] "In a little while" (NIV), "once again, in a little while" (NRSV), "yet once more, in a little while" (ESV, cf. KJV), involves several words: the adverb ʿôd, "continuance, besides, still, again" + a number ʾeḥād, "one, first, once" + an adjective meʿaṭ, "little, few, small."

[48] "Shake" is ʿash, "quake, shake" in verses 6, 7, and 21 (TWOT #2195).

[49] This usage follows a passage where Saul is referred to as the one "to whom is all the desire of Israel turned" (1 Samuel 9:20).

[50] Hemdâ, BDB, p. 326. "The desired of the nations" (NIV), "the treasure of all nations" (NRSV), "the treasures of all nations" (ESV), "the desire of all nations" (KJV) involves two words: (1) gôy, "gentile, heathen, nation, people" (TWOT #326e), and (2) ḥemdâ, "desire," also an adjective, "pleasant, precious," from ḥāmad, "to desire, delight in" (TWOT #673b). Baldwin observes that while the Latin Vulgate that underlies the KJV has a singular subject, "the Hebrew verb is plural and requires a plural subject," that is "treasures" (Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, p. 48).

[51] "Consecrated" (NIV, NRSV), "holy" (ESV, KJV) in verse 12a is qōdesh, which "connotes the concept of 'holiness,' i.e., the essential nature of that which belongs to the sphere of the sacred and which is thus distinct from the common or profane (Thomas E. McComiskey, TWOT #1990a).

[52] "Defiled" (NIV), "unclean" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) in verse 13a and 13b is the adjective ṭāmēʾ. "Animals and foods were considered clean or unclean by their nature. Persons and objects could become ritually unclean. Personal uncleanness could be incurred through birth, menstruation, bodily emissions, 'leprosy,' sexual relations and misdeeds and contact with death. Priests and Levites were especially concerned with the issues of cleanness and uncleanness. The greatest uncleanness was idolatry which defiled the temple and the land" (Edwin Yamauchi, TWOT #809a).

[53] D. J. Wiseman, "Haggai," The New Bible Commentary Revised (Eerdmans, 1970), p. 784.

[54] Other commentators credit the refoundation ceremony of 520 BC itself as clearing away ceremonial defilement and assuring the people of God's blessing (John Kessler, "Haggai, Book of," DOTP p. 305).

[55] "Struck" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "smote" (KJV) is the Hiphil stem of nākâ, "smite, strike, hit, beat," then, the result, "to slay, kill." Here it is used metaphorically in the sense of to bring judgment upon man for his sins (Marvin R. Wilson, TWOT #1364).

[56] "Blight" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "blasting" (KJV) is shiddāpôn, "scorching" (Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 361), "blight," a natural catastrophe. "Blight" is the effect produced by the dry, hot wind that blows into Palestine from the Arabian desert, sometimes blowing for two or three days at a time. Its destructiveness is such that it is capable of withering grass, flowers, and standing grain in a day (Victor P. Hamilton, #TWOT 908a).

[57] "Mildew" is yērāqôn, disease of grain, "rust" or "mildew" (Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 145).

[58] Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, pp. 52-53; Fensham, Ezra and Nehemiah, pp. 61-62, fn. 49. Other commentators note that more than one foundation ritual was commonly employed for temples. J.S. Wright, Building of the Second Temple, 1958, p. 17; D. J. Wiseman, "Haggai," The New Bible Commentary Revised (Eerdmans, 1970), p. 784.

[59] "Overturn" and "overthrow" (NIV), "overthrow" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is hāpak, "turn," then, as used here, "overturn" (upside down) a throne,, "overthrow, destroy" a city (Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 82). It is used twice in verse 22, first of thrones, then of chariots.

[60] "Shatter" (NIV), "destroy" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) shāmad in the Hiphil stem, "destroy, exterminate." The destruction depicted by shāmad usually involves a rather sudden catastrophe such as warfare or a mass killing (Hermann J. Austel, TWOT #935).

[61] "Signet ring" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "signet" (KJV) is ḥôtām, from ḥātam, "affix a seal, seal up." A seal was made of engraved stone impressed in clay or wax to authenticate a document. If it were a cylinder seal like those used in Mesopotamia it would be suspended around the neck on a string (Genesis 38:18). A stamp seal, such as was more common in Palestine, would be carried or worn on a finger. "The signet on the right hand" is a figure for that which is particularly precious to one (Jeremiah 22:24; Haggai 2:23; Jack P. Lewis, ḥôtām, TWOT #780a).

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