"From This Day I Will Bless You" (Haggai 2:10-23) June 28-30
Haggai's last two recorded messages came on the 24th day of the ninth month in Darius' second year (verses 10, 20)—corresponding to December 18, 520 B.C.
Haggai's first message on this day opens with a discussion of holiness and defilement. The previous month, Zechariah had issued a call to repentance, as we saw in our last reading (Zechariah 1:1-6). Though the people were once again engaged in the work of God, they still had personal sins, including wrong attitudes, to contend with. It was essential that they remain conformed to God's will.
In Haggai 2:11-13, God directs His prophet to ask the priests about issues of holiness. It was their responsibility to teach God's laws to the people, and it seems likely that this exchange took place before a gathering of the people. "There were two distinct questions: (1) If a man were carrying sacrificial (holy) flesh [that is, a dedicated meat offering] and happened to touch another object, would the object touched thereby become holy or set apart to the Lord? (2) If a man who was unclean by reason of contact with a corpse should touch any such object, would the object become unclean because of the man's uncleanness? The answer to the first question is negative; to the second it is affirmative. The passages bearing on the subject should be read carefully. (Note Lev 22:4-6; Num 19:11; and Lev 6:18.) Moral cleanness [which ritual purity symbolized] cannot be transmitted, said the Mosaic law, but moral uncleanness can. Legal impurity is more easily transmitted than legal purity. A healthy man cannot communicate his health to his sick child, but the sick child can communicate its disease to the father" (Charles Feinberg, The Minor Prophets, p. 245-246).
God explains that this is just how it had been with the Jewish nation (verse 14). When the returned exiles arrived in Judea, they had set up the altar of God and reinstituted sacrifices (Ezra 3:1-6). Yet when the people gave up on their duty to reconstruct the temple, the ongoing sacrifices did not purify them even in a ritual sense. Instead, God considered these offerings unclean because the whole focus of the nation was wrong. Even the priests to whom Haggai spoke had been guilty—and it must have stung when they understood the point he was making.
Consider the imagery here further. Haggai's example was of a person, an individual, carrying sacrificial meat in his garment and of another person, again an individual, who was unclean because of a dead body. If there were one or a few people with right standing before God through physical and spiritual sacrifices, these could not spread righteousness throughout the nation just by their presence. On the other hand, a person who had become defiled through contact with a dead body would spread defilement (physical uncleanness being symbolic of spiritual uncleanness). A little sin in a group will spread (see 1 Corinthians 5). Perhaps what started as the wrong attitudes of a few people spread throughout the nation, eventually leading to the disengagement of the people from the rebuilding project.
Since Zechariah had just issued a call to repentance, we may surmise that some still had wrong attitudes even after the recommitment of the nation. Again, all it took was a few bad apples and the whole Jewish nation was at risk of being corrupted once again. The current rebuilding effort had to be accompanied by the right attitudes and ongoing obedience or the result would be the same. Just having a temple would not shield them from this reality. "The existence of the temple itself guaranteed nothing. The hearts of the people had to be in harmony with the sacrifices being made" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Haggai 2:13-14).
In verse 15, the New King James Version has "consider from this day forward...." And yet what follows concerns past circumstances. The Hebrew word translated "forward" literally means "upward," and its meaning here is disputed. Some translations have it as "backward"—as in the English idioms where "up the chain" denotes an earlier episode and "down the line" denotes a later one. If the meaning is "forward," the sense here is "From now on you need to think about these past circumstances." If the meaning is "backward," the concept is "Think back from this day on these past circumstances." (The same applies to verse 18).
But the time frame of the past circumstances is not immediately clear. When was "stone ... laid upon stone in the temple"? Some maintain that this refers to the laying of the foundation of the temple 16 years earlier (see Ezra 3:8-12). Others believe the reference is to the resumption of work on the temple just three months prior (see Haggai 1:14-15). Still others think the reference is to the day of Haggai's present message, the 24th day of the ninth month—seeing verse 18 as saying that it was on this particular day "that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid."
To understand, we should consider the circumstances the people were to reflect on. God had cursed their efforts and their produce to humble them and provoke them to repentance (verses 16-17). Interestingly, verse 17 is a quote from one of the earlier Minor Prophets, Amos, who had applied these words to the nation of Israel (see Amos 4:9). Nevertheless, the wording parallels the Lord's statements about the returned exiles in Haggai 1 (verses 6, 9-11). And it fits well with the point about their past defilement that He had just made in verses 10-14. Since their alienation from God and consequent punishment are said to have come before the laying of stone upon stone (verse 15), the stone-laying here would not seem to be the earlier laying of the foundation in Ezra 3—as the people were not then being punished for disobedience. (Unless the Exile as a whole is in view, but the blighted crops and hail seem to denote not the experience in Babylon but rather the punishment the people experienced in Judea after forsaking the temple reconstruction.)
How are we to reconcile the apparent contradiction of the temple foundation having been laid 16 years earlier (Ezra 3:8-12) and now again at the time of Haggai's preaching (Haggai 2:18)? There are a few possibilities. It may be that the foundation laid 16 years earlier was unfinished—and that work on it was resumed and completed during Haggai's ministry. It could also be that the foundation was earlier completed and even built upon but that, due to problems resultant from neglect, the structure had to be taken back down to the foundations and repairs made. It is also possible "that the first marked the subterranean foundation-laying and the second the first building at ground level as in ancient Mesopotamian practice" (New Bible Commentary: Revised, note on verse 18).
The laying of stone upon stone in verse 15, then, seems to refer to the resumption of the work on the temple three months prior. And the day of Haggai's current message being the date the foundation was laid (verse 18) would appear to mean that the foundation was finished on that day. We could perhaps loosely paraphrase verses 15-19 like this: "Think about how things were. Before you resumed work on the temple three months ago, I made things really hard for you when you would not repent. But now from this 24th day of the ninth month (on which the foundation has been completed), you may not see the results yet but I'm turning things around for you to bless you."
It is possible that there is a dual application to Haggai's message. A number of people have recognized the 24th day of the Hebrew ninth month, Kislev, as marking an important occasion in the modern history of the Jewish people. In 1917 the date corresponded to December 9, the day the Turks surrendered Palestine to the British during World War I. The British represent the leading nation of Israelite descent (see our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy). And Britain is subject to the British monarchy—the Jewish dynasty of David (see our online publication The Throne of Britain: Its Biblical Origin and Future). As noted earlier, Haggai 2:17 was quoted from Amos 4:9, which referred initially to destruction to come on the northern kingdom of Israel. The words seem parallel to the national curses for disobedience in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. These passages seem to set forth a 2,520-year withholding of blessings—for the northern kingdom extending from their captivity and fall in the late 700s B.C. to the late 1700s and early 1800s A.D. (see "Birthright Blessings Delayed for 2,520 Years" at www.ucg/brp/materials/index.htm). Yet what of Judah? Interestingly, 2,520 years prior to 1917 was 604 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar initially invaded ancient Judah in 605 B.C. but then quickly returned to Babylon to assume the throne of the Babylonian Empire upon the death of his father. As explained in the Bible Reading Program comments on Jeremiah 36, he returned in Kislev of the next year to secure his claim on Judah and its neighbors. It was at this time that a fast was called and Jeremiah's book was read to the people—and King Jehoiakim, having one last opportunity to repent, instead burned Jeremiah's book.
It certainly seems more than a mere coincidence that exactly 2,520 years elapsed from this confirmed subjugation of the Davidic dynasty in the Holy Land to Babylon until the restoration of the Davidic dynasty's sovereignty over the Holy Land—and that this restoration occurred on the 24th day of Kislev. This would later lead to the return of Jews to the Holy Land and the formation of the Jewish state of Israel. Thus, it may well be that God's statement that He will bless the Jews from the 24th day of Kislev concerns, on some level at least, the events of 1917. And there may yet be other applications, as the prophecy that follows in Haggai 2, still connected with the 24th of Kislev, concerns the end time.
Zerubbabel Chosen as a Signet (Haggai 2:10-23)
The l st four verses of Haggai 2 constitute a second message given through the prophet on the same 24th day of Kislev. This final message of the book is addressed to Judah's governor, Zerubbabel.
The shaking of heaven and earth (verse 21) is repeated from verse 6—when God said greater glory than Solomon's temple would fill the new temple. Unless Haggai in some unrecorded sermon disabused them of the notion, the reference to the throwing down of the "throne of kingdoms" and the destruction of the strength of the gentile kingdoms (verse 22) would likely have been seen by the Jews of Judea as a reference to the fall of Persia—a concept to which the turmoil at the beginning of Darius' reign, which was still going on at this time, may well have lent credence.
God's reference to Zerubbabel as "My servant" and to His choosing him as a signet (verse 23) would have had quite an impact as well. Zerubbabel's grandfather was Jeconiah or Jehoiachin, whose descendants God had banned from the throne of David (Jeremiah 22:30). In giving that ban God had declared, "As I live...though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet on My right hand, yet I would pluck you off" (verse 24). Those considering Haggai's prophecy might easily have wrongly concluded the following: the Persian Empire is now crumbling; God has overturned His ban on Jeconiah's descendants; Zerubbabel will soon reign as king; Zerubbabel is the Messiah.
Time would soon reveal these conclusions as erroneous. Darius soon solidified his rule and strengthened and expanded the Persian Empire. God did not negate His own word in removing the dynastic ban He had placed on Jeconiah's descendants. Zerubbabel never became king. And thus he was certainly not the prophesied Messiah. In fact, he mysteriously disappears from the storyline of Ezra shortly afterward, which we will later consider.
The book of Hebrews interprets the great shaking of Haggai 2:6 in an end-time sense. This is the reasonable interpretation of what is apparently the same shaking in verse 21. The overthrow of the "throne of kingdoms" (verse 22) will be accomplished in the same time frame. "Notice that it is 'throne' in the singular and not the plural. There is one supreme ruler over the earth, permitted by God and carried out by Satan, and it will be replaced by that of our Lord Jesus Christ. (See Rev 11:15)" (Charles Feinberg, The Minor Prophets, p. 247). Enemy forces fighting among themselves (Haggai 2:22) is another characteristic of the time of Christ's return (see Zechariah 14:13).
Then in verse 23 we have the exaltation of Zerubbabel, which occurs "in that day." Clearly this did not refer to the time of Haggai's preaching. "In that day" would here signify the day of the great future shaking just indicated—the time of Jesus Christ's second coming. Moreover, the phrase "in that day" is a typical formulation in prophecy for the end-time Day of the Lord.
Given all this, how are we to understand this future exaltation of Zerubbabel? There are a few different prevalent ideas. On one hand, Zerubbabel is seen as the predecessor of the Messiah. That is, in addressing Zerubbabel but specifying the time as that of the great shaking, the one really being addressed is the person who will hold Zerubbabel's office at that later time—the Messiah. In another view, Zerubbabel is simply seen as a representative type or symbol of the coming Messiah—wherein the faithful Davidic leader of the Jews stands for the ultimate faithful Davidic leader of the Jews. Alternatively, the exaltation and choosing of Zerubbabel is viewed as a reference to the Messiah coming from his line of descent—and Jesus is legally reckoned as a descendant of Zerubbabel through His adoption by Joseph (see Matthew 1; we will consider the physical genealogy of Luke 3 when we come to the New Testament).
There is, however, another very real and even likely possibility. Near the beginning of Haggai's short book, Zerubbabel had led the way in the nation's repenting and returning to the work of God (see Haggai 1:12, 14). And here at the end, he is promised a sure reward. Zerubbabel would indeed reign as a king before God. But not through his physical descent from Jeconiah, as that was forbidden. Rather, at the end of this evil age, when the spiritual powers and governments that dominate this planet are shaken and overthrown, Zerubbabel will receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Spiritually born in a new body in direct descent from Almighty God, his descent will no longer be reckoned according to the flesh. Like all the saints, He will be able to sit with Jesus Christ on the throne of David and reign.
Zerubbabel, whose name means "the Seed of Babel"—signifying his birth there—can thus be viewed as typical of all God's servants. We have all been born in the Babylon of this world. But like Zerubbabel, we can be the "chosen" of God. We can function as God's signet. God may well have intended Zerubbabel to begin functioning in that capacity while still in the flesh—from that same 24th day of Kislev. In its entry on "signet" in the context of Haggai 2:23, A Dictionary of Bible Types states: "This unusual compliment is probably the greatest given to a man by the living God. He informed Zerubbabel that He would touch his life in such a blessed way that he would leave on every other life he touched the imprint of God and the impress of heaven. His conversation with others and his manner of life with them would make an indelible impression upon their hearts and they would know that he was a man of God" (1999, p. 371). This should characterize all of our lives even now. And if we remain faithful, when glorified in the Kingdom of God, together with Zerubbabel and the rest of the saints, we will be able to serve as the perfect representatives of God the Father and Jesus Christ for all eternity.