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Haggai: Prophet of the Greater Temple

Haggai prophesied in the years after the end of Judah's captivity to Babylon. The first major project was to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. This project actually prophesied of a greater temple that was yet to be built made of living stones.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 12

The Day of Blessing

After giving us two legal principles to consider in regard to the transmission of holiness, the prophet Haggai then gives the application of these truths to the people of his time. Haggai 2:15-17 says,

15 “But now, do consider from this day [today] onward [mahal, “upward, or backward”]: before one stone was placed on another in the temple of the Lord, 16 from that time when one came to a grain heap of twenty measures, there would be only ten; and when one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there would be only twenty. 17 I smote you and every work of your hands with blasting wind, mildew and hail; yet you did not come back to Me,” declares the Lord.

This entire passage is dated the 24th day of the 9th month in the second year of Darius, or 520 B.C. (Hag. 2:10). The prophet asked the people to look back 13 years in time. Consider the difficulties that they had endured after their temple building project had ceased. Recall that they had laid the foundation for the second temple just a few months after immigrating back to the old land. They had barely started work on the temple when the local opposition succeeded in stopping the work for 13 years.

During those years, when the second temple remained unfinished, the Lord had made much of their work unfruitful “with blasting wind, mildew, and hail.” The blasting wind brought drought, too much rain brought mildew, and the hail destroyed what was left. So when a man came to a heap of grain from his field, he found that he harvested only half of what he expected.

The same was true for the fruit of his vineyard. Whereas he expected to obtain fifty measures of wine, he only got twenty. Their expectations were constantly disappointed. God was not prospering them in the land, even though they had returned to the old land to rebuild the fallen nation. Haggai treats this as evidence of the people’s disobedience, attributing this situation to the unfinished temple.

Their situation, then, was similar to that which their forefathers in Judah and Israel had experienced before the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Amos was a prophet to Israel during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel. He wrote of conditions in his day in Amos 4:9,

9 “I smote you with scorching wind and mildew; And the caterpillar was devouring your many gardens and vineyards fig trees and olive trees; yet you have not returned to Me, declares the Lord.

The people in the time of Amos refused to hear the word of God and to repent, so God finally sent foreign armies to conquer them, destroy their nations, and deport them to foreign lands. It appeared that the same situation was being repeated among the Judahites who had returned recently from Babylon.

This remnant of Judah had returned from Babylon, but they were still blind to the situation. Once again, as with their forefathers, they “did not come back to Me,” because they were slow to perceive the connection between their unfruitful fields and the unfinished temple. For this reason, Haggai was raised up to tell them the problem and also to provide the answer.

The Time of Blessing

Haggai 2:18 continues, saying,

18 Do consider from this day forward [mahal, “upward, or backward”], from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day when the temple of the Lord was founded, consider:

The prophet admonishes the people to think back in time to the day when the foundation of the temple had been laid. When he says, “from this day backward,” he was using the present day as his starting point, for it had been exactly 13 years since the foundation had been laid in December of 533 B.C.

The prophet was referring specifically to the 13 years from 533-520 B.C. The temple could not be glorified on the eighth day of Tabernacles in 520, because it would be another five years before the project was completed.

But two months later, in December of 520 B.C., the prophet received a word on the 24th day of the 9th month, the 13th anniversary of the day when the foundation of the temple was laid.

The prophet asked them to consider the past 13 years and to see the difference in the future in regard to their prosperity. Whereas they had experienced a lot of crop failures because of adverse natural weather conditions, Haggai now extends a promise of blessing, now that the temple work had begun again. So we read in Haggai 2:19,

19 Is the seed still in the barn? Even including the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree, it has not borne fruit. Yet from this day on, I will bless you.

Perhaps their crops again had been meager that year. Failure seemed to abound. Disappointment was on every face. But the prophet said, nevertheless, “from this day on, I will bless you.”

The Prophecy to Zerubbabel

Haggai received two prophecies on the 24th day of the 9th month. I believe the first (Hag. 2:10) came in 520 B.C., and the second time five years later on the same day in 515 B.C.

Haggai 2:20-22 says,

20 Then the word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, saying, 21 Speak to Zerubbabel governor of Judah, saying, ‘I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. 22 I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of kingdoms of the nations; and I will overthrow the chariots and their riders, and the horses and their riders will go down, everyone by the sword of another’.”

Here it is helpful to see the basic structure of the book of Haggai, because it shows how the two passages about shaking the heavens and the earth run parallel to each other.

A. 1:1-4. God’s Disapproval at their Neglect
B. 1:5-11. Punishment and Scarcity
C. 1:12-15. Obedience and Encouragement
D. 2:6-9. “I will shake

A. 2:10-14. God’s Disapproval at their Neglect
B. 2:15-17. Punishment and Scarcity
C. 2:18, 19. Obedience and Encouragement
D. 2:20-23. “I will shake

In each case where Haggai prophesies about the shaking of the heavens and the earth, the prophecy is preceded by obedience and encouragement. This shows that the shaking will not harm the obedient, but is designed to shake the disobedient only.

Zerubbabel was the governor of Judah and Jerusalem at the time, so this political/military prophecy was directed toward him in a positive way. He was obedient. On the negative side, the prophecy was about the future overthrow of “the kingdoms of the nations,” which brings us into the time of its modern fulfillment.

The Capture of Jerusalem in 1917

The Turks of the Ottoman Empire controlled Jerusalem for many centuries, and they believed that this would last forever. They had a saying: “When the waters of the Nile flow into Palestine, then will a prophet of the Lord come and drive the Turks out of this land.” This saying was meant to show the impossibility of such an event happening, but as it turned out, the impossible became possible.

In 1917, as British General Allenby marched across North Africa, taking Egypt, his next goal was to capture Jerusalem. The problem was a lack of water for his troops. He solved this by laying a pipeline under the Suez Canal, across the desert, to Palestine. Thousands of gallons of fresh water flowed from the Nile to his troops each day. When the Turkish troops in Jerusalem saw what he was doing, they realized that their days were numbered. They evacuated the city, and Allenby took Jerusalem without firing a shot.

Allenby was called in the Arab world, Allah-en-Nebi, “prophet of God.” On the 24th day of the 9th month in the year 1917, General Allenby captured the city of Jerusalem. On December 9, 1917, shortly after 8:30 a.m., the mayor of Jerusalem surrendered the keys of the city to Allenby.

This date was significant also because it was precisely 2,520 years (or “seven times”) from 604 B.C., when King Nebuchadnezzar had captured Jerusalem, beginning the so-called “times of the gentiles.” Furthermore, 1917 was also the year 1335 on the Muslim lunar calendar. Dan. 12:12 prophesies about this number, saying,

12 How blessed is he who keeps waiting and attains to the 1335 days.

Daniel gives no further explanation, but it is in the context of the previous numbers: 1,260 and 1,290 “days.”

The year 1917 was 2 x 1,260 years (2,520) from the year that King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem in 604 B.C. It is remarkable that the date coincided with the year 1335 on the Muslim calendar.

The year 1917, then, was very significant in prophecy. Many Bible teachers from that era correctly discerned that this would be an important date, and they looked to the city of Jerusalem for signs signaling the end of the “times of the gentiles.”

It is also remarkable that the city was taken on Haggai’s date, wherein God says, “from this day on, I will bless you.” It should be noted, however, that this date did not mark the time when Jerusalem fell into Jewish hands. Instead, it fell into the hands of Britain. Even so, taking Jerusalem did not prove to be much of a blessing, either to the British or to the Jews.

Britain held the city for 30 years, but Jewish terrorists, such as Menachem Begin, Yitzak Shamir, and Vladimir “Ze-ev” Jabotinsky, finally forced Britain to relinquish control. The United Nations debated the Palestinian Resolution from Nov. 21-29, 1947 and then voted to divide the land, creating a Jewish homeland.

When the British flag was finally lowered on May 14, 1948, Jewish leaders declared a Jewish state (rather than a homeland as the mandate had stated). This precipitated a war, but the Jewish state prevailed. Hence, from the Jewish point of view, they had received divine blessing which could be traced back to Allenby’s capture of Jerusalem.

Yet because the Jews had used violence, force, and even terrorism to accomplish their goal, the entire project was flawed by carnality from the start. What no one understood at the time was that 1917 was not really the full end of the 2,520 years of the “times of the gentiles.”

They had not considered the “lost” century from 164-64 B.C. when the Grecian beast had been deprived of its time to rule Jerusalem. That century (1917-2017 had to be added to the end) in order to fulfill God’s legal contract with the beast nations, as the law had specified in Lev. 26:18.

Although the year 1917 had completed “seven times” of strict chronology since the first beast nation (Babylon) had taken control of Jerusalem, these beast nations had lost a century when Jerusalem was independent under the Hasmonean priests. Hence, there is, most likely, a greater fulfillment of the same prophecy that is yet to be fulfilled in 2017—perhaps on Haggai’s very date—the 24th day of the 9th month, which falls on Dec. 12, 2017.

This will be 100 years since Allenby took Jerusalem without firing a shot. It will also be 70 years since the United Nations passed the Palestinian Resolution in 1947, as well as 50 years since the six-day war in 1967, when the Jews themselves captured Jerusalem. This might be viewed as a 70-year captivity, followed by a Jubilee.

While 2017 will certainly see another Jerusalem event, it is not likely that the outcome will be positive from a Jewish perspective.

A Century of Shaking

When General Allenby took Jerusalem in 1917, Haggai’s prophecy of blessing was partially fulfilled, for the event took place at the end of World War 1, when the Allies defeated the Axis forces, including the Ottoman Empire. World War 1 certainly shook the world and shattered many nations in Europe and the Mideast.

However, they were all rebuilt later. Then World War 2 shook the earth a second time, but once again, the nations were rebuilt. It seems obvious that those wars were only preludes to the final shaking of both the heavens and the earth. This final shaking may be recognized more easily by the end of 2017, but the shaking really began in 2001. The year 2001 was 2,520 years after Haggai’s first “shaking” prophecy in 520 B.C.

God’s “seven times” contract with the beast nations is ending from 2014-2017. But how will it end? Certainly, the beast nations, being carnal, and caring nothing for the law of God, will not give up power voluntarily. It is for this reason that God intends to shake heaven and earth. His purpose is to transfer authority to the saints of the Most High (Dan. 7:21, 22, 27).

We have already noted from Haggai’s earlier prophecy (2:6) that God was to shake the heavens and the earth so that “the desire of all nations shall come,” and so that God may “fill this house with glory.”

Herein lies the key to understanding why the glory of God did not fill the second temple on the eighth day of Tabernacles in Haggai’s time. The glory could not fill that temple, because the presence of God had already departed from that place as with Shiloh (Jer. 7:12-14). Further, the glory was to come when God shakes the heavens and the earth—an event coinciding with the overthrow of the beast nations and whoever happened to be in control of Jerusalem when the contract expired.

Ironically, the Jews took control of the city by war in 1967, making them the prime target of divine judgment when the contract fully expires in 2017. They ought to have taken heed to Jesus’ warning in Matt. 21:44, when He warned them cryptically not to be the “feet” of the beast-image when the stone strikes it and grinds the image to powder.

44 And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.

Jesus was referring to the prophecy in Dan. 2:34, 35,

34 You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors….

The Jews did not believe Jesus then or now, and few Christians even today understand the significance of Jesus’ warning. So the Israelis fought to gain control of Jerusalem, not realizing that they were displacing the beast system and proclaiming themselves to be the prophetic “feet” of the Babylonian image.

In other words, they placed themselves in the way of the great stone that was to crush the feet of the image and all who were associated with it. The stone (Christ) was a stumbling block to the Jews (1 Cor. 1:23), causing them to be “broken to pieces.” But when that stone falls upon them, it will “scatter him like dust,” turning them into “chaff from the summer threshing floors.”

The Significance of Number 18

We have seen how the people ceased to build the second temple for 13 years. When they finally began again to build at the instigation of Haggai, it took another five years to complete. Hence, it took a full 18 years to complete the second temple (533-515 B.C.).

The number 18 in Scripture signifies oppression or bondage. We often see the hearts of men tested in the 18th year. Both Joseph and David were tested when they were 18 years old. David was tested again in the 18th year of his reign, when his son Absalom revolted and overthrew him for a time.

But when we view the number as a cycle of time, it gives us the limits of bondage. In other words, bondage may occur for 18 years, and then one reaches the end of bondage. This is how we ought to view Haggai’s prophecy of blessing on the 18th anniversary of the foundation of the temple.

The Signet Ring

Haggai 2:23 concludes his prophecy, saying,

23 On that day,” declares the LORD of hosts, “I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant,” declares the LORD, “and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you,” declares the LORD of hosts.

A signet ring was used to seal letters. It carried the family or tribal insignia and served also as a signature. God’s signet, then, appears in the final verse of Haggai’s prophecy, as if to serve as God’s signature validating the book.

The prophet tells us that on the day that God shakes the heavens and the earth, He will make Zerubbabel a signet ring. Obviously, if this is a future prophecy, and since Zerubbabel is long dead, this must apply to another person or another group of people.

The primary application is to the Messiah, who was descended not only from David, but also from Zerubbabel. See the genealogies in Matthew and Luke. The promise was not to Zerubbabel himself, but to the office that he filled, as he carried the Dominion Mandate given to Judah.

The second application is to the overcoming body of Christ, for they too will be given dominion and will “reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10) and “reign with Him a thousand years” (Rev. 20:5). Daniel 7:27 says that dominion “shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High.”

Zerubbabel was named “born (or sown) in Babylon,” probably because he was the first son to be born to Shealtiel while in captivity to Babylon. But we know from the book of Revelation that another Babylon would arise, known to John as “Mystery Babylon.” This kingdom was to end when God shook the heavens and the earth. Hence, there is also a generation arising today that can be called the Zerubbabel generation. I equate these with the overcomers.

Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel. Shealtiel’s name means “asked from God,” and it is the same as Saul, “asked for.” Hence, Zerubbabel is not only a child of Babylon, but is also a son of Saul, prophetically speaking. A son is a successor, not necessary a descendant, so we could say that the modern Zerubbabel company is playing the role of David, who succeeded Saul. In other words, the overcomers will be the signet ring in the day that God shakes heaven and earth.

This ends our study of Haggai, the prophet of the greater temple. Though he prophesied more than 2,600 years ago, his prophesies spoke of our time, when the new and final Temple of Eph. 2:20-22 would be completed and glorified by the presence of God by the outpouring of the Spirit.