By Sam E. Stone
Judah had been conquered, Jerusalem burned, the temple demolished, and the people taken captive to Babylon. After 70 years of captivity there, they were allowed to return to their homeland. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel (the governor) and Joshua (the priest), work was begun to rebuild the temple. Despite a good start, nothing more was done for 15 years. With the coming of King Darius and the encouragement of Haggai and Zechariah, the work was resumed. The setting for today’s text is 520 BC, about three months after this work on the temple restarted.
Only a new love for God would impel the people to new zeal in building his house. The Lord sent another message to the nation by the prophet Haggai. He was directed to ask the priests a question about the principles of the Law. Obviously they should know! James E. Smith added, “Haggai’s purpose was to elicit an answer which would explain why the circumstances of the people had not markedly changed even though they were now building the temple (2:11).”
The Law specified that the touch of a polluted thing will defile the clean (Leviticus 5:2). A touch of the clean cannot, however, purify the defiled. Following the inquiries of Haggai, the priests answered correctly. “In v. 14, Haggai applies this ruling to the present condition of the people before Yahweh,” explained M. A. Hahlen.
God referred to Israel as “this nation,” not “my people,” as he had often done in the past. A parallel comment is found in Exodus 33:13—“Remember that this nation is your people.” God’s judgment was this: “Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.”
Applying the Answers
It may be that the people had drifted back into a lackadaisical attitude, such as Haggai described earlier (1:2-11). Or they may have been basing their obedience to God on their prosperity. “It demands serious reflection that the people might discern the connection between what they have experienced, in particular their economic difficulties (2:16, 17) caused by their present impurity (vv. 11-14), and the blessings anticipated by the promise of verse 19” (Hahlen).
God had limited the success of their crops, just as he had exercised control over the crops in Egypt back in Pharaoh’s time (Genesis 41:22-32). Such divine judgments may affect all of the produce of a nation. God is able to frustrate the actions of rebellious people as he seeks to move them to repentance. His chosen people were now frustrated due to their agricultural failures. All of these were caused by their failure to complete the construction of the Lord’s house, as he had directed them.
Reminding them of these God-caused forms of judgment (blight, mildew and hail), Haggai added, “‘Yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord.” Sometimes God’s people are slow learners! Amos reported a similar situation in his day (Amos 4:1-11).
The prophet drew a line in the sand—From this day on. He spoke on December 18, 520 BC. The people were to give careful thought to their current status. Is there yet any seed left in the barn? J. McIlmoyle added, “It was not merely by intelligent anticipation based on favorable signs of a good year that Haggai was able to forecast an abundant harvest. Before the seed is sown, he foretold what would happen.” Their conditions would change. God himself said so!
Vine, fig, pomegranate, and olive are agricultural staples for Palestine (see Numbers 13:23; Deuteronomy 8:7, 8). Because the people obeyed God and laid the foundation of the temple, he would remove the curse on the land that was due to their disobedience and would then bless the future crops (Deuteronomy 30:1-3).
Yahweh’s promised blessings began immediately. From this day on I will bless you. Patience and faithfulness were called for. The people’s previous defilement due to indifference had affected all their previous work. Now, however, all that was going to change.
God still calls for purity and obedience in the lives of his children today. One test of pure religion is “to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). The apostle Paul laid down careful guidelines for holy living as well (for example: 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1). The Lord wants his people to be pure today, just as he wanted for those in Haggai’s time.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.