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Haggai 1:5b-2:9

Background to the Book of Haggai

Literary Background to the Book:

Haggai contains only two chapters but close linkages have been noted with Zech 1-8. The introductory formulae used in Hag 1:1, 15; 2:1, 10,20 are carried through to Zech 1:1,7; 7:1. The dating of the oracles is very precise to times within the reign of the Persian King Darius. These oracles divide the book into five episodes in which the prophet Haggai is the central character: 1:1-12, 1:13-15a, 1:15b-2:9, 2:10-19, 2:20-23 (Floyd: 255). The first two episodes (1:1-12, 1:13-15a) have a close affinity and the last two take place on the same day (2:10-19, 2:20-23). The bridge is the reading set for the Lectionary 1:15b-2:9. The book is in narrative form using a number of prophetic oracles which immediately dictate that it has to be taken as authoritative. If one does a close reading it is sometimes difficult to know when the narrator breaks off and we have first person speech of the prophet. Indeed, there is divergence and convergence in the their points of view which gets quite blurred. Haggai means "to make a pilgrimage" and unlike many other prophets (Amos, Hosea, Ezekiel) he is attested to in the Book of Ezra, but has no genealogy attached.


The historical dating within the book sets the oracles in a four month period in 520 BCE (29th Aug - 18th Dec) only 18 years after the first possible return of the exiles to Jerusalem. The message is focused on the need to rebuild the temple which hasn't yet begun. Cyrus had died in 529 and his son Cambuses come to power until his death in 522 BCE. His death put the empire in danger for 12 months with riots across it before Darius 1 Hystaspes (522/1 - 485) came to the throne and reasserted his dominance. It was the rise of the Persians and their defeat of the Babylonians which set in motion the return of the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem. What was left of Judah at this time was a very small area and was governed by the Persians until their defeat by the Greeks in the 4c BCE. The events described in Ezra 2:68-3:13 give further background to this period in the book of Haggai. We have no record of any previous attempt to rebuild the temple so presume this is the first such effort.

Context of Haggai 1:15b-2:9

The first two episodes are berating the community for their lack of enthusiasm to start rebuilding the temple while getting their own homes built. Haggai suggests that some of the ills that beset them are because they have failed to give priority to the "House of the Lord". The final two episodes takes place exactly three months after the work of rebuilding began. Haggai is instructed to ask the priests some questions in relation to purity which is then likened to the people of Judah. It is clear that the priests need to restore the cult in order that the people can be purified to the Lord. The final oracle expands the horizons and declares that the new governor of Judah, Zerubbabel, will attain greatness on earth because he has participated in the rebuilding of the temple.

Insights/Message of Haggai 1:15b-2:9

Literary structure:

Twenty one days have passed since the people were encouraged to take up the project and 2:2-9 encourages them to continue the work. Again there is a precise dating of the oracle and the message formula is used. In v.2 both the Governor of Judah and the High Priest are addressed and each is identified with their father's name as well as their own. In the next verse only the High Priest is given his full title and the people are named differently as "the people of the land". This change from referring to them as the "remnant of the people" indicates their growing status as a nation again and is associated with the new rebuilt temple. The particular date places this oracle in the final part of the feast of booths when numbers of people would be gathered to celebrate this festival and the Governor and High Priest would have been present. We have only Haggai's response to what appears as a complaint about the poor copy of the temple. Three times the command to "take courage" is directed to the Governor, High Priest and the people followed by the causative, "for" which gives the assurance that God is with them. This is confirmed in v.5 which states that God's Spirit is among them. V.6 expands further the assurances of vv.4-5 by promising God's display of power shaking the universe. It is understood as proof that God is with them and in control of all events. The claim by Yahweh that the silver and gold belongs to the divine, reinforces the idea that God alone will provide for the splendour of the temple. The sort of language used in v.6 puts us in mind of other times when such language predicted a theophany or appearance of God.

Message / Theology:

Haggai is deeply concerned because the people are failing to begin the task of rebuilding the temple. He suggests to them that some of the woes they are experiencing may be occurring because of not putting priority on the things of the Lord. I think this is a world view from that time. It is true that spiritually when we fail to put our relationship with God first then other matters in our lives can become difficult, but I don't think God withholds rain etc. The people are concerned that the temple is lacking the grandeur of the one built by Solomon and Haggai promises with a word from the Lord that treasures from the nations will come because all resources belong to God. An important part of the message is the three-fold command to have courage and the assurance said in two different ways that God is with them. This assurance is something we all need to hear at times when life is hard or painful and we forget that God is with us. There may be some harking back to the good old days here which can happen in the instituitional church and we need to move on sometimes because the old grandeur in some instances has to be replaced with a new form of peace. The word in v.9 is "shalom" (peace) which means wholeness in all things, spiritual, physical and mental and not only prosperity as translated in the RSV and NRSV. Haggai was probably having to cope with a disappointed people who had listened to the glorious picture of their return painted in Isa 40-55 which had not materialised.

Resources/Worship for Haggai 1:15b-2:9

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Achtemeier, Elizabeth. Nahum-Malachi. Interpretation. Atlanta: John Knox, 1986.
Coggins, R.J. Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987.
Floyd, Michael H. Minor Prophets: Part 2. FOLT. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2000.
March, Eugene. NIB, VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996, pp.705-732.
Petersen, David L. Haggai and Zechariah, OTL. London: SCM Press, 1984
Tollington, Janet. Tradition and Innovation in Haggai and Zechariah. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources:


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