Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
In the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month, came the word of the LORD by the prophet Haggai, saying,
In this chapter we have three sermons preached by the prophet Haggai for the encouragement of those that are forward to build the temple. In the first he assures the builders that the glory of the house they were now building should, in spiritual respects, though not in outward, exceed that of Solomon’s temple, in which he has an eye to the coming of Christ (v. 1-9). In the second he assures them that though their sin, in delaying to build the temple, had retarded the prosperous progress of all their other affairs, yet now that they had set about it in good earnest he would bless them, and give them success (v. 10–19). In the third he assures Zerubbabel that, as a reward of his pious zeal and activity herein, he should be a favourite of Heaven, and one of the ancestors of Messiah the Prince, whose kingdom should be set up on the ruins of all opposing powers (v. 20–23).
Here is, I. The date of this message, v. 1. It was sent on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, when the builders had been about a month at work (since the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month), and had got it in some forwardness. Note, Those that are hearty in the service of God shall receive fresh encouragements from him to proceed in it, as their case calls for them. Set the wheels a going, and God will oil them.
II. The direction of this message, v. 2. The encouragements here are sent to the same persons to whom the reproofs in the foregoing chapter are directed; for those that are wounded by the convictions of the word shall be healed and bound up by its consolations. Speak to Zerubbabel, and Joshua, and the residue of the people, the very same that obeyed the voice of the Lord (ch. 1:12) and whose spirits God stirred up to do so (ch. 1:14); to them are sent these words of comfort.
III. The message itself, in which observe,
1. The discouragements which those laboured under who were employed in this work. That which was such a damp upon them, and an alloy to their joy, when the foundation of the temple was laid, was still a clog upon them—that they could not build such a temple now as Solomon built, not so large, so stately, so sumptuous, a one as that was. This fetched tears from the eyes of many, when the dimensions of it were first laid (Ezra 3:12), and still it made the work go on heavily—that the glory of this house, in comparison with that of the former, was as nothing, v. 3. It was now about seventy years since Solomon’s temple was destroyed (for that was in the nineteenth year of the captivity, and this about the nineteenth after the captivity), so that there might be some yet alive who could remember to have seen it, and still they would be upbraiding themselves and their brethren with the great disparity between this house and that. One could remember the gold with which it was overlaid, another the precious stones with which it was garnished; one could describe the magnificence of the porch, another of the pillars—and where are these now? This weakened the hands of the builders; for, though our gracious God is pleased with us if we do in sincerity as well as we can in his service, yet our proud hearts will scarcely let us be pleased with ourselves unless we do as well as others whose abilities far exceed ours. And it is sometimes the fault of old people to discourage the services of the present age by crying up too much the performances and attainments of the former age, with which others should be provoked to emulation, but not exposed to contempt. Say not thou that the former days were better than these (Eccl. 7:10), but thank God that there is any good in these, bad as they are.
2. The encouragement that is given them to go on in the work, notwithstanding (v. 4): Yet now, though this house is likely to be much inferior to the former, be strong, O Zerubbabel! and be strong, O Joshua! Let not these leading men give way to this suggestion, nor be disheartened by it, but do as well as they can, when they cannot do so well as they would; and let all the people of the land be strong too, and work; and, if the leaders have but a good heart on it, it is hoped that the followers will have the better heart. Note, Those that work for God ought to exert themselves with vigour, and then to encourage themselves with hope that it will end well.
3. The grounds of these encouragements. God himself says to them, Fear you not (v. 5), and he gives good reasons for it.
(1.) They have God with them, his Spirit and his special presence: Be strong, for I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts, v. 4. This he had said before (ch. 1:13), I am with you. But we need to have these assurances repeated, that we may have strong consolation. The presence of God with us, as the Lord of hosts, is enough to silence all our fears and to help us over all the discouragements we may meet with in the way of our duty. The Jews had hosts against them, but they had the Lord of hosts with them, to take their part and plead their cause. He is with them; for, [1.] He adheres to his promise. His covenant is inviolable, and he will be always theirs, and will appear and act for them, according to the word that he covenanted with them when they came out of Egypt. Though he chastens them for their transgressions with the rod, yet he will not make his faithfulness to fail. [2.] He dwells among them by his Spirit, the Spirit of prophecy. When he first formed them into a people he gave his good Spirit to instruct them (Neh. 9:20); and still the Spirit, though often grieved and provoked to withdraw, remained among them. It was the Spirit of God that stirred up their spirits to come out of Babylon (Ezra 1:5), and now to build the temple, Hag. i. 14. Note, We have reason to be encouraged as long as we have the Spirit of God remaining among us to work upon us, for so long we have God with us to work for us.
(2.) They shall have the Messiah among them shortly—him that should come. To him bore all the prophets witness and this prophet particularly here, v. 6, 7. Here is an intimation of the time of his coming, that it should not be long ere he came: "Yet once, it is a little while, and he shall come. The Old-Testament church has but one stage more (if we may say so) to travel; five stages were now past, from Adam to Noah, thence to Abraham, thence to Moses, thence to Solomon’s temple, thence to the captivity, and now yet one stage more, its sixth day’s journey, and then comes the sabbatism of the Messiah’s kingdom. Let the Son of man, when he comes, find faith on the earth, and let the children of promise continue still looking for him, for now it is but a little while and he will come; hold out, faith and patience, yet awhile, for he that shall come will come, and will not tarry." And, as he then said of his first appearance, so now of his second, Surely I come quickly. Now concerning his coming it is here foretold, [1.] That it shall be introduced by a general shaking (v. 6): I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land. This is applied to the setting up of Christ’s kingdom in the world, to make way for which he will judge among the heathen, Ps. 110:6. God will once again do for his church as he did when he brought them out of Egypt; he shook the heavens and earth at Mount Sinai, with thunder, and lightnings, and earthquakes; he shook the sea and the dry land when lanes were made through the sea and streams fetched out of the rock. This shall be done again, when, at the sufferings of Christ, the sun shall be darkened, the earth shake, the rocks rend—when, at the birth of Christ, Herod and all Jerusalem are troubled (Mt. 2:3), and he is set for the fall and rising again of many. When his kingdom was set up it was with a shock to the nations; the oracles were silenced, idols were destroyed, and the powers of the kingdoms were moved and removed, Heb. 12:27. It denotes the removing of the things that are shaken. Note, The shaking of the nations is often in order to the settling of the church and the establishing of the things that cannot be shaken. [2.] That it shall issue in a general satisfaction. He shall come as the desire of all nations—desirable to all nations, for in him shall all the families of the earth be blessed with the best of blessings—long expected and desired by the good people in all nations, that had any intelligence from the Old-Testament predictions concerning him. Balaam in the land of Moab had spoken of a star that should arise out of Jacob, and Job in the land of Uz of his living Redeemer; the concourse of devout men from all parts at Jerusalem (Acts 2:5) was in expectation of the setting up of the Messiah’s kingdom about that time. All the nations that are brought in to Christ, and discipled in his name, have called him, and will call him, all their salvation and all their desire. This glorious title of Christ seems to refer to Jacob’s prophecy (Gen. 49:10), that to him shall the gathering of the people be.
(3.) The house they are now building shall be filled with glory to such a degree that its glory shall exceed that of Solomon’s temple. The enemies of the Jews followed them with reproach, and cast contempt upon the house they were building; but they might very well endure that when God undertook to fill it with glory. It is God’s prerogative to fill with glory; the glory that comes from him is satisfying, and not vain glory. Moses’s tabernacle and Solomon’s temple were filled with glory when God in a cloud took possession of them; but this house shall be filled with glory of another nature. [1.] Let them not be concerned because this house will not have so much silver and gold about it as Solomon’s temple had, v. 8. God needs not the silver and gold to adorn his temple, for (says he), The silver is mine, and the gold is mine. All the silver and gold in the world are his; all that is hid in the bowels of the earth (for the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof), all that is laid up in the exchequers, banks, and treasuries of the children of men, and all that circulates for the maintaining of trade and commerce; it is all the Lord’s. Every penny bears his image as well as Caesar’s; and therefore when gold and silver are dedicated to his honour, and employed in his service, no addition is made to him, for it was his before. When David and his princes offered vast sums for the service of the house of God, they acknowledged, It is all thy own, and of thy own, Lord, have we given thee, 1 Chr. 29:14, 16. Therefore God needs not sacrifice, for every beast of the forest is his, Ps. 50:10. Note, If we have silver and gold, we must serve and honour God with them, for they are all his own, we have but the use of them, the property remains in him; but, if we have not silver and gold to honour him with, we must honour him with such as we have, and he will accept us, for he needs them not; all the silver and gold in the world are his already. The earth is full of his riches, so is the great and wide sea also. [2.] Let them be comforted with this, that, though this temple have less gold in it, it shall have more glory than Solomon’s (v. 9): The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former. This was never true in respect of outward glory. This latter house was indeed in its latter times very much beautified and enriched by Herod, and we find the disciples admiring the stones and buildings of the temple, how fine they were (Mk. 13:1); but it was nothing in comparison with Solomon’s temple; and, besides, the Jews own that several of the divine glories of the first temple were wanting in this—the ark, the urim and thummim, the fire from heaven, and the Schechinah; so that we cannot conceive how the glory of this latter house should in any thing exceed that of the former, but in that which would indeed excel all the glories of the first house—the presence of the Messiah in it, the Son of God, his being presented there the glory of his people Israel, his attending there at twelve years old, and afterwards his preaching and working miracles there, and his driving the buyers and sellers out of it. It was necessary, then, that the Messiah should come while the second temple stood; but, that being long since destroyed, we must conclude that our Lord Jesus is the Christ, is he that should come, and we are to look for no other. It was also the glory of this latter house, First, That, before the coming of Christ, it was always kept free from idols and idolatries, and was never polluted with those abominable things, as the first temple often was (2 Ki. 23:11, 12), and in this its glory excelled all the glory of that. Note, The purity of the church, and the strict adherence to divine institutions, are much more its glory than external pomp and splendour. Secondly, That, after Christ, the gospel was preached in it by the apostles, even all the words of this life, Acts 5:20. In the temple Jesus Christ was daily preached, Acts 5:42. Now the ministration of righteousness and life by the gospel was unspeakably more glorious than the law, which was a ministration of death and condemnation, 2 Co. 3:9, 10. Note, That is the most valuable glory which arises from our relation to Christ and our interest in him. As, where Christ is, behold a greater than Solomon is there, so the heart in which he dwells, and makes a living temple, behold it is more glorious than Solomon’s temple, and will be so to eternity.
(4.) They should see a comfortable end of their present troubles, and enjoy the pleasure of a happy settlement: In this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts. Note, God’s presence with his people in his ordinances secures to them all good. If God be with us, peace is with us. But the Jews under the latter temple had so much trouble that we must conclude this promise to have its accomplishment in that spiritual peace which Jesus Christ has by his blood purchased for, and by his last will and testament bequeathed to, all believers (Jn. 14:27), that peace which Christ himself preached as the prophet of peace, and gives as the prince of peace. God will give peace in this place; he will give his Son to be the peace, Eph. 2:14.
In the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying,
This sermon was preached two months after that in the former part of the chapter. The priests and Levites preached constantly, but the prophets preached occasionally; both were good and needful. We have need to be taught our duty in season and out of season. The people were now going on vigorously with the building of the temple, and in hopes shortly to have it ready for their use and to be employed in the services of it; and now God sends them a message by his prophet, which would be of use to them.
I. By way of conviction and caution. They were now engaged in a very good work, but they were concerned to see to it, not only that it was good for the matter of it, but that it was done in a right manner, for otherwise it would not be accepted of God. God sees there are many among them that spoil this good work, by going about it with unsanctified hearts and hands, and are likely to gain no advantage to themselves by it; these are here convicted, and all are warned thereby to purify the hands they employ in this work, for to the pure only all things are pure, and from the pure only that comes which is pure. This matter is here illustrated by the established rules of the ceremonial law, in putting a difference between the clean and the unclean, about which many of the appointments of the law were conversant. Hereby it appears that a spiritual use is to be made of the ceremonial law, and that it was intended, not only as a divine ritual to the Jews, but for instruction in righteousness to all, even to us upon whom the ends of the world have come, to discover to us both sin and Christ, both our disease and our remedy. Now observe here,
1. What the rule of the law was. The prophet is ordered to enquire of the priests concerning it (v. 11); for their lips should keep this knowledge, and the people should enquire the law at their mouth, Mal. 2:7. Haggai himself, though a prophet, must ask the priests concerning the law. His business, as an extraordinary messenger, was to expound the providences of God, and to give directions concerning particular duties, as he had done, ch. 1:8, 9. But he would not take the priests’ work out of the hands of those who were the ordinary ministers, and whose business it was to expound the ordinances of God, to teach the people the meaning of them, and to give the general rules for the observance of them. In a case of that nature, Haggai must himself consult them. Note, God has given to his ministers diversities of gifts, and calls them out to do diversities of services, so that they have need one of another, should make use one of another, and be helpful one to another. The prophet, though divinely inspired, cannot say to the priest, I have no need of thee, nor can the priest say so to the prophet. Perhaps Haggai was therefore ordered to consult the priests, that out of their own mouths he might judge both them and the people committed to their charge, and convict them of worse than ceremonial pollution. See Lev. 10:10, 11. Now the rules of the law, in the cases propounded, are, (1.) That he that has holy flesh in his clothes cannot by the touch of his clothes communicate holiness (v. 12): If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, though the garment is thereby so far made a devoted thing as that it is not to be put to common use till it has first been washed in the holy place (Lev. 6:27), yet it shall by no means transmit a holiness to either meat or drink, so as to make it ever the better to those that use it. (2.) That he that is ceremonially unclean by the touch of a dead body does by his touch communicate that uncleanness. The law is express (Num. 19:22), Whatsoever the unclean person touches shall be unclean; yet this Haggai will have from the priests’ own mouth, for concerning those things that we find very plain in our Bibles yet it is good to have the advice of our ministers. The sum of these two rules is that pollution is more easily communicated than sanctification; that is (says Grotius), There are many ways of vice, but only one of virtue, and that a difficult one. Bonum oritur ex integris; malum ex quolibet defectu—Good implies perfection; evil commences with the slightest defect. Let not men think that living among good people will recommend them to God if they are not good themselves, but let them fear that touching the unclean thing will defile them, and therefore let them keep at a distance from it.
2. How it is here applied (v. 14): So is this people, and so is this nation, before me. He does not call them his people and his nation (they are unworthy to be owned by him), but this people, and this nation. They have been thus before God; they thought their offering sacrifices on the altar would sanctify them, and excuse their neglect to build the temple, and remove the curse which by that neglect they had brought upon their common enjoyments: "No," says God, "your holy flesh and your altar will be so far from sanctifying your meat and drink, your wine and oil, to you, that your contempt of God’s temple will bring a pollution, not only on your common enjoyments, but even on your sacrifices too; so that while you continued in that neglect all was unclean to you, nay, and so is this people still; and so they will be; on these terms they will still stand with me, and on no other—that if they be profane, and sensual, and morally impure, if they have wicked hearts, and live wicked lives, though they work ever so hard at the temple while it is building, and though they offer ever so many and costly sacrifices there when it is built, yet that shall not serve to sanctify their meat and drink to them, and to give them a comfortable use of them; nay, the impurity of their hearts and lives shall make even that work of their hands, and all their offerings, unclean, and an abomination to God." And the case is the same with us. Those whose devotions are plausible, but whose conversation is wicked, will find their devotions unable to sanctify their enjoyments, but their wickedness prevailing to pollute them. Note, When we are employed in any good work we should be jealous over ourselves, lest we render it unclean by our corruptions and mismanagements.
II. By way of comfort and encouragement. If their hearts be right with God, and their eye single in his service, they shall have the benefit of their devotion. God will take away the judgment of famine wherewith they have been corrected for their remissness, and will restore them great plenty. This they are called to consider, and to observe whether God would not be to the utmost as good as his word, and by his providence remarkably countenance and recompense their reformation in this matter. To make this the more signal, let them set down the day when they began to work at the building of the temple, to raise the structure upon the foundations that had been laid some time before. On the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month they began to prepare materials (ch. 1:15), and now on the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month they began to lay a stone upon a stone in the temple of the Lord; let them take notice of this day, and observe, 1. How they had gone behind-hand in their estates before this day. Let them remember the time when there was a sensible waste and decay in all they had, v. 16. A man went to his garner, expecting to find a heap of twenty measures of corn, so much he used to have from such a piece of ground, or so much used to be left at that time of the year, or so much he took it for granted there was when he fetched the last from it, but he found it unaccountably diminished, and, when he came to measure it, there were but ten measures; it had run in and dried away in the keeping, or vermin had eaten it, or it was stolen. In like manner he went to the wine-press, expecting to draw fifty vessels of wine, for so much he used to have from such a quantity of grapes, but they did not yield as usual, for he could get but twenty. This agrees with what we had, ch. 1:9, You looked for much, and it came to little. Note, It is our folly that we are apt to raise our expectation from the creature, and to think tomorrow must needs be as this day and much more abundant, but we are commonly disappointed, and the more we expect the more grievous the disappointment is. In the stores and treasures of the new covenant we need not fear being disappointed when we come by faith to draw from them. But this was not all. God did visibly contend with them in the weather (v. 17): I smote you with blastings, winds and frosts, which made every green thing to wither, and with mildew, which choked the corn when it was knitting, and with hail, which battered it down and broke it when it had grown to some maturity; thus they were disappointed in all the labour of their hands, while they neglected to lay their hand to the work of God and to labour in that. Note, While we take no care of God’s interest we cannot expect he should take care of ours. And, when he thus walks contrary to us, he expects that we should return to him and to our duty. But this people either saw not the hand of God in it (imputing it to chance) or saw not their own sin as the provoking cause of it, and therefore turned not to him. They were a long time incorrigible and unhumbled under these rebukes, so that God’s hand was stretched out still, for the people turned not to him that smote them, Isa. 9:12, 13. They might easily observe that as long as they continued in neglect of the temple work all their affairs went backward. But, 2. Let them now observe, and they should find that from this day forward God would bless them (v. 18, 19): "Consider now whether when you begin to change you way towards God you do not find God changing his way towards you; from this day, when you fall to work about the temple, consider it, I say, and you shall find a remarkable turn given for the better to all your affairs. Is the seed yet in the barn? Yes it is, and not yet thrown into the ground. The fruit-trees do not as yet bud, the vine, and the fig-tree, and the olive-tree, have not as yet brought forth, so that nothing appears to promise a good harvest or vintage next year. Nature does not promise it; but now that you begin to apply in good earnest to your duty, the God of nature promises it; he has said, From this day I will bless you. It is the best day’s work you ever did in your lives, for hence you may date the return of your prosperity." He does not say what they shall be, but, in general, I will bless you; and those that know what are the fruits flowing from God’s blessing know they can desire no more to make them happy. "I will bless you, and then you shall soon recover all your losses, shall thrive as fast as before you went backward; for the blessing of the Lord, that maketh rich, and those whom he blesses are blessed indeed." Note, When we begin to make conscience of our duty to God we may expect his blessing; and this tree of life is so known by its fruits that one may discern almost to a day a remarkable turn of Providence in favour of those that return in a way of duty; so that they and others may say that from this day they are blessed. See Mal. 3:10. And whoso is wise will observe these things, and understand by them the lovingkindness of the Lord.
And again the word of the LORD came unto Haggai in the four and twentieth day of the month, saying,
After Haggai’s sermon ad populum—to the people, here follows one, the same day, ad magistratum—to the magistrates, a word directed particularly to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, who was a leading active man in this good work which the people now set about, and therefore he shall have some particular marks put upon him (v. 21): Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, speak to him by himself. He has thoughts in his head far above those of the common people, as wise princes are wont to have, who move in a higher and larger sphere than others. The people of the land are in care about their corn-fields and vineyards; God has assured them that they shall prosper, and we hope that will make them easy; but Zerubbabel is concerned about the community and its interests, about the neighbouring nations, and the revolutions of their governments, and what will become of the few and feeble Jews in those changes and convulsions, and how such a poor prince as he is should be able to keep his ground and serve his country. "Go to him," says God, "and tell him it shall be well with him and his remnant, and let that make him easy."
I. Let him expect to hear of great commotions in the nations of the earth, and let them not be a surprise to him; behold, he is told of them before (v. 21, 22): I will shake the heavens and the earth. This he had said before (v. 6, 7), and now says it again to Zerubbabel; let him expect shaking times, universal concussions. The world is like the sea, like the wheel, always in motion, but sometimes in a special manner turbulent. But, Blessed be God, if the earth be shaken, it is to shake the wicked out of it, Job 38:13. In the apocalyptic visions earthquakes bode no ill to the church. Here the heavens and the earth are shaken, that proud oppressors may be broken and brought down: I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms. The Chaldean monarchy, which had been the throne of kingdoms a great while, was already overthrown; and the powers that are, and are yet to come, shall in like manner be overthrown; their day will come to fall. 1. Though they be ever so powerful, yet the strength of their kingdoms shall be destroyed. They trust in chariots and horses (Ps. 20:7), but their chariots shall be overthrown, and those that ride in them, so that they shall not be able to attack the people of God, whom they persecute, not to escape the judgments of God, which persecute them. 2. Though there appear none likely to be the instruments of their destruction, yet God will bring it about, for they shall be brought down every one by the sword of his brother. This reads the doom of all the enemies of God’s church, that will not repent to give him glory; it seems likewise designed as a promise of Christ’s victory over the powers of darkness, his overthrow of Satan’s throne, that throne of kingdoms, the throne of the god of this world, the taking from him all the armour wherein he trusted and dividing the spoil. And all opposing rule, principality, and power, shall be put down, that the kingdom may be delivered up to God, even the Father.
II. Let him depend upon it that he shall be safe under the divine protection in the midst of all these commotions, v. 23. Zerubbabel was active to build God a house, and therefore God makes the same promise to him as he did to David on the like occasion—that he would build him a house, and establish it, even in that day when heaven and earth are shaken. This promise refers to this good man himself and to his family. He honoured God, and God would honour him. His successors likewise in the government of Judah might take encouragement from it; though their authority was very precarious as to men, yet God would confirm it, and this would contribute to the stability of the people over whom God had set them. But this promise has special reference to Christ, who lineally descended from Zerubbabel, and is the sole builder of the gospel-temple. 1. Zerubbabel is here owned as God’s servant, and it is an honourable mention that is hereby made of him, as Moses and David my servants. When God destroys his enemies he will prefer his servants. Our Lord Jesus is his Father’s servant in the work of redemption, but faithful as a Son, Isa. 42:1. 2. He is owned as God’s elect: I have chosen thee to this office; and whom God makes choice of he will make use of. Our Lord Jesus is chosen of God, 1 Pt. 2:4. And he is the head of the chosen remnant; in him they are chosen. 3. It is promised that, being chosen, God will make him as a signet. Jeconiah had been as the signet on God’s right hand, but was plucked thence (Jer. 22:24); and now Zerubbabel is substituted in the room of him. He shall be near and dear to God, precious in his sight, and honourable, and his family shall continue till the Messiah spring out of it, who is the signet on God’s right hand. This intimates, (1.) The delight the Father has in him. In him he once and again declared himself to be well pleased. He is set as a seal upon his heart, a seal upon his arm, is brought near unto him (Dan. 7:13), is hidden in the shadow of his hand, Isa. 49:2. (2.) The dominion the Father has entrusted him with. Princes sign their edicts, grants, and commissions, with their signet-rings, Esth. 3:10. Our Lord Jesus is the signet on God’s right hand, for all power is given to him and derived from him. By him the great charter of the gospel is signed and ratified, and it is in him that all the promises of God are yea and amen.