“I Will Shake the Earth”: Reading Haggai in Canonical Context

jay-dantinne-199087-unsplash.jpgHow should we understand the earth-shaking, temple-making promises of Haggai 2?

Twice in this short book, “Haggai the prophet” announces that heaven and earth will be shaken by the Lord (2:6–7 and 2:21) and that on the other side of this cosmos-shaking event (or events), the Lord will establish a greater temple (2:9) and restore hope for David’s throne (2:22–23). Because of the apocalyptic nature of these words, some have seen in them a prediction for a future millennial temple. For instance, Mark Rooker says when addressing the temple in Ezekiel 40–48, “Similar references to a temple in the messianic kingdom include Isaiah 2:2–4 and Haggai 2:9” (A Case for Premillenialism, 130–31). Likewise, David Turner writes,

The prophet Haggai alludes to the fact that this temple was unimpressive when compared with the first. However, the word of the Lord confirms to Zerubbabel the promise that God is with the nation. With words that anticipate Revelation 21:24–26 and 22:2, Haggai 2:6–9 promises that God’s judgment of heaven and earth (cf. Heb. 12:26) will result in the nations’ bringing their glory to the temple. Thus its latter end will be characterized by a greater peace and glory than that of the first temple. (David L. Turner, “The New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:1–22:5,” in Dispensationalism, Israel, and the Church, 269).

Interestingly, none of the big books of dispensational eschatology that I have on my shelf (e.g., Millennialism: The Two Major Views by Charles L. Feinberg; Things to Come by J. Dwight Pentecost; Christ’s Prophetic Plans by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue; The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism by Robert Saucy) address Haggai exegetically. Pentecost lists Haggai 2:1–9 as one of the passages he will later expound on the concept of God’s kingdom in the Old Testament (442), but he never returns to this passage. In fact, the most comprehensive exegetical statement I’ve found on Haggai is contained in the MacArthur Study Biblewhere the comments interpret Haggai as testimony to a millennial kingdom with a rebuilt temple. Here are two examples.

2:6, 7 I will shake. The shaking of the cosmic bodies and the nations goes beyond the historical removal of kingdoms and the establishment of others, such as the defeat of Persia by Greece (Dan. 7). Rather, the text looks to the cataclysm in the universe described in Rev. 6–19, the subjugation of the nations by the Messiah, and the setting up of His kingdom which will never be destroyed (cf. Dan. 2:44; 7:27; Zech. 14:16–21; Matt. 25:32; Luke 21:26; Heb. 12:26; Rev. 19:19–21). (1334)

2:9 this latter temple. The Jews viewed the temple in Jerusalem as one temple existing in different forms at different times. The rebuilt temple was considered a continuation of Solomon’s temple (cf. v. 3). However, the eschatological glory of the millennial temple, i.e., the latter temple, will far surpass even the grandeur of Solomon’s temple (the former temple). I will give peace. This peace is not limited to that peace which He gives to believers (e.g., Rom 5:1), but looks ahead to that ultimate peace when He returns to rule as the Prince of Peace upon the throne of David in Jerusalem (Is. 9:6–7; Zech 6:13; Acts 2:30). (1335)

From these comments, we get a clear perspective of a dispensational reading of this passage. But is that the best reading? Should we conclude that Haggai, dated to 520 BC in the second year of the reign of Darius (1:1), is talking to the people of Israel about a future kingdom and temple that comes on the other side of the messiah, whose kingdom they have not yet seen or understood? I don’t think so, and in what follows I will aim to provide an interpretation of Haggai 2 that pays closer attention to the historical context of his message and the canonical message of the kingdom of God come in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In other words, instead of constructing a brick and mortar temple in the future with the words of Haggai, we should see how his words speak to the remnant addressed in his book (1:12, 14; 2:2) and then how they speak to the people on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:11).

Haggai in Historical Context

Only 38 verses, Haggai gives us four messages from the Lord (1:1–15; 2:1–9; 2:10–19; 2:20–23). Each have a particular historical date, the last two coming on the same day in the last month of 520 BC. Accordingly, Haggai is one of the most historically-rooted prophets in the Old Testament. While six of the Minor Prophets have explicit mention of their chronological provenance, none is as historical as Haggai. Likewise, none is so tied to historical figures as Haggai.

In the first two messages, Haggai addresses Zerubbabel and Joshua. In fact, Haggai eschews all forms of brevity by naming these men, along with the remnant of Israel, every time he speaks to them. Likewise, in the third and fourth message, he again addresses the priests of Israel (2:10–19) and the Zerubbabel directly (2:20–23). From these time-stamped messages, it seems unlikely that Haggai is speaking directly about future events. While we will have to examine his words, the whole book is grounded in God’s restorative purposes in sixth century Jerusalem.

In fact, this historical reading of Haggai is made explicit in a passage like Haggai 2:19. In this closing word of the third message, Haggai reports God’s change in heart: “from this day on I will bless you.” This “day” is the day when Jerusalem, responding to God’s word in the power of the Spirit, began to rebuild the temple (see 2:15). In other words, in contrast to Zechariah, the prophet who ministered alongside Haggai (see Ezra 5:1), Haggai received messages that pertained to the historical restoration of the temple. Zechariah’s night visions were more forward-looking, but Haggai only touches lightly on the latter glory of God’s purposes (Haggai 2:9).

As we will see, there are eschatological themes in Haggai, but we must stay on the ground in sixth century Jerusalem, before launching over arrival of Christ and landing at the millennial temple. Divorced from Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament, I am dubious the original audience (the remnant in Jerusalem) could have had any sense of a eschatological temple. Rather, as the rest of God’s Word reveals, the future hope of a glorious temple is fostered by the already and not yet fulfillment of the OT promises brought on by Christ himself.

To that fulfillment we now turn.

Three Future Fulfillments

Yahweh’s second message in Haggai is given to encourage the remnant of Israel who have begun rebuilding the temple. Many of them know this temple is smaller and lesser glorious than the previous one (see Ezra 3:12), and so the Lord comforts them with two promises. First, he tells them that he is with them (vv. 1–5); and second, he encourages them that this temple is not the end of the story (vv. 6–9). Rather, this temple is but a preview of a later, greater temple.

As with all the temples in the Old Testament, they are temporary houses whereby God dwells with his people. In the beginning, mankind enjoyed immediate access to God. But when sin entered the world, any such approach to God required priestly mediation, a system of sacrifice, and house whereby unclean people might approach the Lord through these mediating structures. Nonetheless, the goal of the altars (before the Law), the tabernacle, and the temples in Jerusalem were never ends in themselves.

As Haggai 2:1-5 teaches, God is the goal. The temple is but a necessary means to that end. Thus, he comforts them that despite the smaller size of his house, he is with them. This is the good news of the second message, as is the fact that this house will be superseded by a house with greater glory. Thus, we come to Haggai 2:6–9, which reads,

For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’ ”

This is the chief passage in Haggai where dispensational theologians would argue the Lord is speaking of the millennial kingdom. However, from a close reading of this passage with the light of the full canon of Scripture, this passage is better understood as pointing to Jesus Christ and the “temple” he is constructing today (see Ephesians 2–4). In fact, there are at least three ways Christ and his church, composed of Jew and Gentile (see Ephesians 2:14–15), fulfills these words in Haggai with explicit reference in the New Testament.

1. Shaking in this context is apocalyptic, but not necessarily a direct reference to the yet-future, end times.

From a full reading of the Bible, we learn that this word ra-ash (quake, shake, tremble) is used in many contexts. Consider just a few of them.

Ra’ash usually describes the earth quaking (Ps 18:7), shaking (Is 13:13), or trembling (Ps 68:8), perhaps at locust swarms (Jl 2:10) or kingdoms falling (Jr 10:10). Mountains (Ps 46:3), coasts, and islands (Ezk 26:15) quake; the skies (Jl 3:16), countryside (Ezk 27:28), and earth’s foundations (Is 24:18) shake. Thresholds (Am 9:1) and walls (Ezk 26:10) shake. Every creature will tremble before God (Ezk 38:20). Grain waves (Ps 72:16). The causative shows God shaking kingdoms (Is 14:16), even heaven and earth (Hg 2:6). He makes nations quake (Ezk 31:16) and horses leap (Jb 39:20). The noun ra’ash (17x) signifies earthquake (Ezk 38:19), military commotion (Jr 10:22), or the battle (Is 9:5). It is rumbling of chariots (Jr 47:3), including God’s chariot with angel wings and wheels (Ezk 3:12–13). Ra’ash indicates rattling of bones (Ezk 37:7) and whirring javelins (Jb 41:29). It is people’s trembling as they eat (Ezk 12:18). (HCSB Study Bible, 1566)

From its usage ra’ash does not necessitate the future destruction of all things, as will occur on the last day. Rather, as the Lord has shaken kings and kingdoms throughout history, Haggai 2:6–7 indicates he will again shake the world and all that is in it. The scope of this “shaking” requires further commentary. And the context of Haggai and the New Testament helps us ascertain the scope of the shaking.

First, Haggai 2:20–23 also speaks of shaking and there it is defined as the nations surrounding Jerusalem in the days of Zerubbabel. The imminence of the shaking is stressed in that context, as is the reestablishment of David’s throne. Significantly, in Haggai 2, the promise is not that the kingdom has come in Zerubbabel; rather God is promising to make him a sign of the kingdom to come. Nevertheless, it is a shaking of the kingdoms on earth for David’s heir to once again rise to prominence. This reading is confirmed by Haggai 2:7, which also telescopes in on the shaking of nations.

Second, the future shaking is compared to the shaking in the past. Yahweh, “Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth . . .” Based on the context of Haggai 2:5, with God recalling his deliverance of Israel from Egypt, it is likely that he is speaking of the shaking that happened at Sinai. Just as he shook the earth when he came to make a covenant with Israel, so he will again shake the earth. Only now, it will not just be one mountain and one people. Rather, in the new covenant, he will shake the whole earth, such that all peoples will feel his power.

Third, this covenantal reading of Haggai 2:6 is confirmed by Hebrews 12, which also identifies the first shaking as the shaking of Mount Sinai. In that later passage, the author of Hebrews contrasts Sinai with Zion, and states that a greater kingdom has come in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He even says that we who are on earth join with the worship in heaven, whenever we gather in the name of Christ.

This passage is the only place in the New Testament where Haggai is quoted, and significantly the application of Haggai 2:6 is spelled out in Hebrews 12:25–29.

25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

Like the book of Haggai, which contains 27 references to God’s voice, Hebrews calls the people who have gathered to worship God to heed his voice (v. 25). Then, in the next verse (v. 26) he cites Haggai 2:6, interpreting the passage to mean that the things which are shakeable (i.e., all creation) are being removed, just as the unshakeable things (i.e., what Christ has brought about by his resurrection and new creation) are now being established. Importantly, he says in v. 28, “Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” In other words, the unshakeable kingdom is not something future; it is something present, something Christ’s people are already receiving. Said more precisely, the future, unshakeable kingdom has entered into the shakeable present through the person of Christ, now perfected and made indestructible through his resurrection (cf. 5:9; 7:16).

From the testimony of Hebrews, therefore, we cannot read Haggai 2:6­–9 as a reference to some future kingdom and temple. For the remnant who heard these words, it was future. But for the church, made of Jews and Gentiles, the prophetic future had come into the present through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Thus, Hebrews teaches us to read the shaking of the earth as being fulfilled in Christ. Today, as the world continues to shake, the unshakeable things are being established. The church is both part of that unshakeable reality and God’s appointed messenger to bring the good news of that unshakeable kingdom to the world.

2. As God has shaken the world, the treasures of all the nations are now coming in.

When we read Haggai 2 in light of Hebrews 12, we also see how a second statement is fulfilled in Christ. In Haggai 2:7, the Lord of hosts declares, “And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory.”

In the English language, this verse has often been understood as a direct messianic prophecy, chiefly because the word for “treasures” (hemdat = desirable things) is a singular word often rendered “desire” (KJV). Yet, such an interpretation does not reflect the best reading of the original Hebrew. The verb for “will come in” is clearly plural, and thus the BHS suggests an emendation of the word “treasure” to “treasures.” Yet, such emendation of the original text is unneeded if we consider treasure as collective whole (Motyer, “Haggai,” in The Minor Prophets, 991).

Either way, in context it is best to understand this word as referring to the treasure(s) of the nations coming into the temple. As Alec Motyer puts it, “Haggai is making use of the exodus motif of taking spoil from the Egyptians (Exod 11:2–3; 12:35–36), where the precious metals and other materials the Egyptians gave provided adornment for the tabernacle (Exod 25:1–8; 35:21–29)” (991). This reading is supported by Haggai’s reference to Egypt in 2:5 and the mention of silver and gold coming into temple in 2:8.

Still the question remains: When will this happen? When will the treasures of the nations come into the temple? And when will the temple’s latter glory outstrip its previous splendor? Again, Motyer is helpful.

In measure this prediction was fulfilled in Haggai’s temple (Ezra 6:8–12), and, of course, in the splendor of its successor, Herod’s temple (Luke 21:5; John 2:20), but neither fulfilled the prediction of a movement among kōl hagoyim (all the nations). . . . Exodus 40:34–35 and 1 Kings 8:6–11 show that the glory of Haggai has in mind is not the gold adornment but the Lord’s presence (here and in 2:8). In this regard also the coming house will be in no way behind the former (rather, see 2:9). (991)

As mentioned above, Haggai is an eminently historical book. And thus it is right to see how the treasure of the nations would come to Jerusalem in the years after Haggai. Some of these riches would be sent by Darius (Ezra 6:8–12), Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:12–26), and Seleucus IV (2 Macabees 3:3) (Robert Alden, “Haggai,” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 7:586). But the full inclusion of all nations would wait until the New Testament, where the nations begin to stream towards the Lord’s temple.

As Matthew 2:1–11 reports, the wise men from the east came to Jerusalem bringing gifts for the new born king. Matthew cites Micah 5:2, a passage that in context speaks of the nations coming to Zion (see Micah 4:1–5). Likewise, the report of gold, frankincense, and myrrh coming to Jesus makes a connection with Isaiah 60:6. Isaiah 60 is often seen as parallel to Haggai 2, as it describes how God will beautify his house in the day of his return (Isaiah 60:7).

Though conceivably these passages speak of the yet-future, end times, it is best to understand the incoming treasure as being fulfilled in the days of Christ. In fact, the New Testament speaks of Christ as the cornerstone of a new temple that is composed of all nations and growing into all the world (Ephesians 2:19–22). John 1:14 says that the Word of God came to “dwell” with his people: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This is an unmistakeable “temple passage.” Likewise, Jesus is called the dwelling place of God—“in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9; cf. 1:19)—and for all who have ears to hear, there is clearly a covenantal shift going on in the New Testament.

No longer are the treasures of the temple gold and silver only. Rather, they are the people from all nations who are being redeemed and made living stones in the house of God (see 1 Peter 2). Even more, if Haggai 2 is presented in exodus terms, as Motyer suggests, then we have reason to believe that when Jesus spoke to Moses and Elijah about his exodus (Luke 9:31), that this would include the treasures of the nations coming into the temple he is constructing. In fact, there is reason to believe Jesus words about his church in Matthew 16:18 are a reference to the temple he is building (“on this rock, I will build my gathering”). Futhermore, Ephesians 4 understands Christ’s victory over the death as saving a people that he is now giving to the church.

All in all, while presented in a different key, the New Testament is taking up the temple images and prophesies of the Old Testament and uniting them to Christ. As the apostles, following Jesus, teach us, the temple with latter glory is the people of God who are filled with the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:14–18), who is now displaying his glory in us, as he conforms us together into the image of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18; cf. Romans 8:29). Therefore, it is not necessary or right to skip over the Christ and his multinational temple to some future millennial kingdom when reading Haggai. Rather, Haggai is best understood in the historical context of his day and the eschatological fulfillment that comes in Christ.

3. The giving of peace is also fulfilled in Christ.

Finally, the last evidence of fulfillment in Haggai 2 is the way peace is brought in the person and work of Christ. Haggai 2:9 says that when the latter glory of the temple comes in, there will be peace in this place. If the place is Jerusalem, which is the best option given the context of the temple in that city, there is an intentional play on words: there will be peace (shalom) in this place (Jerusalem).

Again, the testimony of the New Testament does not wait for some future era of peace to fulfill this promise. Rather, as Jesus insisted his disciples remain in this city (Jerusalem), until the power is given from on high (see Luke 24:49), there is great reason to see the outpouring of the Spirit as the fulfillment of this peace.

Moreover, there are multiple passages which speak of Christ giving his disciples peace. Consider three places in John’s Gospel, all of which relate to events soon to happen in his death and resurrection.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:19–21; cf. v. 26)

It appears that the peace promised in Haggai 2:9 (and Zechariah 6:9­–15), is being fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Likewise, in Ephesians Paul speaks of Jesus being our peace, making peace, and proclaiming peace. This triple announcement of peace is set in the context of the new covenant people of God, a people composed of Jews and Gentiles, people once at war with one another, who are now given peace in Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. (Ephesians 2:14–17)

Could a more powerful demonstration of Haggai 2:9’s fulfillment in Christ be given? To be sure, we do not see the world at peace. Rather, we see a world raging against the Prince of Peace. But for those who know Christ and have been raised to life in him (Ephesians 2:5) he gives us his peace, which we are called to maintain now (4:3) and proclaim in the gospel (6:15), until the day when the Lord returns and makes all things new.

Moreover, every letter Paul writes is marked by “grace and peace.” In Paul these are not mere platitudes or literary conventions of the day. He is reminding God’s eschatological people (see 1 Corinthians 10:11), that they are the ones who have enjoyed God’s peace, through union in Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Of which he says in another place, connecting the Spirit and God’s kingdom: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

Reading Haggai in View of the Whole Bible

From a canonical reading of Haggai 2:6–9, it seems best to see Christ and his eschatological people as the best interpretation of the later temple. Of course, this passage is not the only one that speaks of a temple in the Old Testament and there could be reason to believe that Christ and some later building fulfill this passage (as some Christians do). But what is entirely untenable is a belief that Haggai 2 speaks of some yet-future millennial temple that skips over the person and work of Christ.

To those in the days of Haggai, everything related to Christ, the church, and the end of the age was future. But to us on whom the end of the ages have come, the eschatological work of Christ is already and not yet. And from a close reading of Haggai in the light of the whole Bible, it becomes evident how Christ wonderfully fulfills the promise of a later, greater temple.

It is this temple that we see Christ building by his Spirit and his Word today, and on that we are called to be apart of in our worship, witness, and work. To that end, may we labor as we hold fast to the cornerstone of this eschatological temple, proclaiming his death and resurrection until he comes. (For more on that temple and all the temples in the Bible, see yesterday’s blog post.)

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Jay Dantinne on Unsplash


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