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The Book of Haggai
The Book of Haggai is one of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. The headings of Haggai's discourses indicate that the date of his prophetic activity was from August to December 520 B.C. There is no evidence of further activity, though according to Ezra 5:1 and 6:14-18 he was still alive in 515.
The name Haggai means something like "festal" (Hebrew hag, "feast"), and it does not indicate that he was a priest. However, his intense concern with the temple may mean that he was a cult prophet, an officiant in certain liturgical functions who proclaimed God's will.
Haggai is the first known prophet among the Jews after their return from the Exile, which had begun in 587 when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and deported the remnant of its people. In 539 the Persian Cyrus captured Babylon and in 538 allowed the Jews to return home.
Those who returned had to begin life all over again. Hence Haggai's single-minded insistence on rebuilding the temple. A foundation was begun in 536, but no more was done then. The reference to a nation with unclean hands (2:14) has been interpreted by many to denote neglectful Jews, although some construe it to mean the Samaritans, whose help in rebuilding the temple was rejected (see Ezra 4:1-5). Haggai interprets neglect of this duty as the source of drought and economic stagnation (1:6; 2:15-18).
Haggai forecasts that with the new temple all things will flourish (2:19), and the return from the Exile will outshine the Exodus itself. The temple will be the center to which all nations will bring gifts (2:7). Haggai believes that ancient hopes for peace and unity (see Micah 4:1-3; Isaiah 2:2-4) are to be achieved under Zerubbabel, the chosen son of David, who will overthrow kingdoms amid cosmic wonders (2:20-23). This implies political aspirations. Haggai emphasizes God, not man's efforts (2:7, 21-22). He really wants a divine new age, but in his era this was scarcely separable from national ambitions.
Verses 2:10-14 are of interest as illustrations of the role of the priestly torah ("law" or, better, "teaching") in settling questions of ritual purity. Such torah had a large role in forming and preserving Israel's ethic in general. Ritual purity, which meant fitness to join in worship, covered moral as well as conventional and external right-ness.
The text of the book is authentic; that is, there are no significant additions or changes apart from editorial introductions and glosses, which do not distort the meaning. In places, however, the Hebrew has not been well preserved by the scribes. The material is in four discourses: 1:2-11, a collection of shorter sayings, with repeated introductions in 1:3, 7; 2:1-9; 2:10-19; and 2:20-23. These units generally are set apart by their introductory dates and singleness of theme. Hence many commentators would put 2:15-19 after l:15a as a fifth discourse since 1:15 gives two dates and 2:15 is an abrupt change of theme within a unit. Verses 1:12-14 are not a discourse but a report of the success of the prophet's preaching, which was attested to by completion of the temple in 515 B.C.