Haggai and Zechariah, which is the book after Haggai in The Twelve, both begin by dating their books by the reign of King Darius. Haggai begins, “In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of YHWH came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest” (Haggai 1:1). A similar notice opens Haggai 2: “In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of YHWH came by the hand of Haggai the prophet” and his audience is again Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the remnant.
A similar opening is found at Haggai 2:10 where it says, “On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of YHWH came by Haggai the prophet.”
And then at Haggai 2:20 where it says, “The word of YHWH came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month.”
Thus there are at least four oracles that together make the book of Haggai.
The only other dating formula is at the end of the first chapter: “And they came and worked on the house of YHWH of Hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king” (Haggai 1:14b-15).
The dates framing chapter one are:
2nd year of Darius, 6th month, 1st day
24th day, 6th month, 2nd year.
Note that the order of the day month and year reverses.
Putting all of the dates together in order they are:
2nd year of Darius, 6th month, 1st day [29 Aug 520]
(24th day, 6th month, 2nd year of Darius) [21 Sept]
7th month, 21st day [17 Oct]
24th day, 9th month, 2nd year of Darius [18 Dec]
(2nd time) 24th day.
Thus the whole book is dated to the second year of Darius within four months – the 6th to the 9th months. This was the year 520 B.C. This King Darius ruled after King Cyrus and others. He is not the Darius mentioned in the days of Daniel in the den of lions.
The construction of the Second Temple began in 520 B.C. And was completed in 516 B.C. (see Ezra 6:15). The decree of Cyrus that the Jewish people could return home had been in 539 B.C. It had been 19 years since the decree that they could return to their homes when they finally turned their attention to rebuilding the Temple. To be sure, when almost 50,000 of these exiles returned home there were a number of pressing concerns. These included the ownership of property that those left behind had taken over and lived in and worked as well as the disrepair of many of their homes.
The Dillard-Longman introduction on Haggai tells us that we can be certain of the dates because of the archeological records of astronomical observations. This is why we can convert dates like the 2nd year of Darius into modern terminology.
They also tell us that Haggai comes from the Hebrew word meaning a feast or festival. The first date would have been a new moon (lunar calendar, 1st day of the month). Thus it would likely have been spoken at a new moon festival.
The date of the second oracle should remind us of the Feast of Tabernacles, which would have been for seven days ending on the 21st day of the month. This second oracle is dated in the 7th month, on the 21st day of the month. They had only been working on the Second Temple for less than a month (cf. Haggai 1:15).
The dates of the third and fourth oracles were the three month anniversary of the start of building the Second Temple. They began building the Temple on the 24th day of the 6th month and these oracles are dated on the 24th day of the 9th month.
The book begins and ends with oracles addressed to Zerubbabel (Haggai 1:1, 2:20) and he is mentioned in other verses between including Haggai 1:12, 14; 2:2, 4, and 23. Zerubbabel is the governor and a descendant of King David. Thus the picture here is one of the Davidic heir wanting to build the house of YHWH of Hosts and then YHWH saying that He will rebuild the house of David. As Motyer explains it, “The parallel with David is striking, for David wanted to build the Lord’s house, and in response the Lord vowed to build the king’s house.” The book then points us to the Messiah Jesus, the son of David.
Actually the first oracle has two introductory formulas (both are the same date). The second is Haggai 1:3 – “Then the word of YHWH came by the hand of Haggai the prophet.” The fact that one can argue that the first oracle is actually two on the same date and the last two oracles have the same date suggests a chiasm.
Motyer suggests the following chiasm:
The chiasm proposed is very convincing in light of the repeated phrases falling in the parallel places. Motyer therefore understands the text to have six oracles. The second one we have seen begins with Haggai 1:3 on the same date as the first and a third one begins with Haggai 1:12. Instead of starting with its date formula, the third one ends with it (Haggai 1:15). Perhaps even that the third oracle ends with its date formula and the fourth oracle begins with its date formula suggests further support for these two oracles as the climax of the chiastic structure of the book.
The Persian philosophy of government was to let the people return to their homelands from captivity and in large part to govern themselves. Cyrus was greeted as a liberator and therefore people were loyal to him as their emperor. So Cyrus was the one who made the decree that the people of Israel could go home and rebuild their temple. A few emperors later, but not very long after the death of Cyrus, Darius ruled. Within the first year of his reign he became firmly established as the emperor. Thus the fact that Haggai and Zechariah are written in the second year of Darius tells us that the empire was rather stable at the time.
So the prophecy of Haggai about rebuilding the Temple was given at a really good time for doing so. But note Haggai 1:2 – “These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of YHWH.” Their mere argument that it was “not time yet” shows that they know they have a duty to rebuild the Temple. Cyrus may have decreed the rebuild, but God was behind it and they knew it. Haggai tells them that the reason “you have sown much and harvested little, you eat but you never have enough, you drink but you never have your fill, you clothe yourselves but no one is warm” and etc. is they have not rebuilt the Temple.
The third oracle then says, “Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak the high priest with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of YHWH their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as YHWH their God had sent him. And the people feared YHWH” (Haggai 1:12). Thankfully the people responded to the first two oracles with obedience. So in this setting of obedience comes the third word from YHWH: “Then Haggai, the messenger of YHWH, spoke to the people YHWH’s message, “I am with you, declares YHWH” (Haggai 1:13).
The remainder of the third oracle states that YHWH stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel, Joshua, and all the remnant of the people and they got to work on the Temple.
The Temple was YHWH with them, so it is appropriate that this oracle make that point that YHWH is with them.
This oracle together with the next serve then as the climax to the short prophetic book.
The other half of the climax is the oracle that came at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles less than a month later. And Haggai is told to speak to Zerubbabel, Joshua, and all the remnant of the people. Already we can see that each time Zerubbabel is called “Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel” (here it adds “governor of Judah”) reminding the reader that he is a Davidic ruler. And Joshua is called “Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest” each time. This emphasizes that he is a Zadokite priest. In Ezekiel the sons of Zadok are given special place as high priest because of his faithfulness.
Thus we have the triad of the prophet Haggai, the Zadokite high priest Joshua, and the Davidic “king” Zerubbabel. And often we also see the phrase “and to all the remnant of the people.” Earlier prophets had promised a remnant would survive the exile and here Haggai addresses this remnant.
He says, “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory?” Nevertheless, Haggai encourages them, “Work, for I am with you, declares YHWH of Hosts” (Haggai 2:3, 4).
Thus the word of YHWH in both oracles at the chiastic climax of Haggai tell them “I am with you, declares YHWH.” The second time it is elaborated – “of Hosts, according tot he covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not” (Haggai 2:4-5).
The command to not fear is prelude for the rest of the oracle; “For thus says YHWH of Hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land” (Haggai 2:6, cf. Heb 12:26).
It continues, “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 YHWH of Hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares YHWH of Hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says YHWH of Hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares YHWH of Hosts” (Haggai 2:7-9).
The Second Temple historically would be a great disappointment because it was but a shadow of the first Temple in glory, but YHWH is talking about the New Testament fulfillment.
The next oracle answers the second one. In the second one you will remember that the point was that they were experiencing curse rather than blessing because they had not rebuilt the Temple. This second-to-last oracle concludes, “Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you” (Haggai 2:19). Remember the last two oracles are given on the three month anniversary of the start of work on the Temple. In Scripture it is common to find third day references pointing to Jesus’ resurrection, this does the same but with months.
The last oracle YHWH tells Haggai to tell Zerubbabel, “I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the thrones of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. On that day, declares YHWH of Hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares YHWH, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares YHWH of Hosts” (Haggai 2:21-23).
So again we have this shaking language that the author of Hebrews explains as saying that the new covenant to come will bring the unshakable kingdom. Zerubbabel is called “my servant.” It is a title that puts him in the company of His ancestor King David. And the signet ring description reminds the reader of Jeremiah 22:24-25 where Jehoiachin is a signet ring in the hand of YHWH that will be taken off and thrown away but now the image is reversed and his descendant Zerubbabel is a valued signet ring on the hand of YHWH of Hosts.
The overthrow of the foreign rule of Persia and reestablishment of the throne of David did not take place during the days of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Zerubbabel himself would not be this Davidic King but points forward to Jesus. He is mentioned in both New Testament genealogies for Jesus through His adopted father Joseph.