Did Haggai lead a Messianic rebellion? (Haggai 2)

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Illustration: Haggai pleads for the rebuilding of the temple

The book of Haggai is one of the shortest documents in the Bible, consisting of four messages totalling only about 600 words. It is also one of the most precisely dated books in all Scripture. Its four oracles are reported to have been received by the prophet within the space of 15 weeks during the fall of the second year of the Persian king Darius I, who reigned from 521-486 B.C.

During this period Judah existed as part of a large administrative district or satrapy of the Persian empire called abar naharah (“Beyond the River”; cf. Ezra 4:10, Nehemiah 2:7). Each satrapy contributed annual tribute and was ruled by a Persian governor. Nevertheless, Persian imperial policy beginning with Cyrus the Great and continuing under Darius encouraged a significant degree of local autonomy. An extension of this policy led to Persian support for the construction of local temples and sanctuaries (2 Chronicles 36:23, Isaiah 44:26-28). Haggai’s central concern within this historical context was to encourage the full reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem. His messages were directed at the principal leaders of the Jerusalem comunity – Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest.

Certain aspects of Haggai’s imagery have led some to conclude that this prophet hoped not only for the rebuilding of the temple but also for the restoration of the Davidic monarchy. In his final oracle Haggai applied lofty titles to Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, and grandson of the last Davidic king, Jehoiachin:

  • Zerubbabel is called “my servant” (Haggai 2:23), a title frequently applied to David (1 Kings 11:34, Psalm 78:70, Ezekiel 34:23) and to Isaiah’s Messianic “servant” (Isaiah 42:1, 49:6, 52:13, 53:11).
  • God declared that He would shake the heavens and the earth, overthrowing thrones of kingdoms and the power of nations (Haggai 2:21-22). The Messianic kingdom was about to begin, with Zerubbabel at the top.
  • Zerubbabel is said to have been chosen and honoured like a royal signet ring (Haggai 2:23).

Two questions have been raised: Did Haggai believe Zerubbabel to be the Messiah? Did the prophet call out for a rebellion against Persian rule?

In reality, Haggai neither exhorted Zerubbabel to claim a Messianic office nor urged the Jews to revolt against Persia. Nothing in the book suggests an expectation on Haggai’s part that the promises of Zion’s final exaltation would be imminently fulfilled or that Zerubbabel would be the agent of their fulfilment. To the contrary, Zerubbabel was simply exhorted to perform his task in rebuilding the Jerusalem temple in anticipation of a great future yet to come. Zerubbabel was called upon to live up to the heritage handed down from his ancestor David, but beyond the rebuilding of the temple no specific actions were called for.

It is true that the book of Haggai reflects the hope, common to all the prophets, for a glorious future for Zion:

  • God will shake the universe (2:6, 21).
  • He will remove the domination of the nations (2:22) and bring their tribute to Israel (2:7-8, cf. Exodus 12:35-36).
  • He will accomplish a second exodus (Haggai 2:5, 22) and install His chosen king (2:23).
  • He will once again dwell in the midst of His temple (1:13, 2:4, 9).

 

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