Haggai 1:12-15 — “I am with You!”

Haggai’s first oracle, on August 29, 520 B.C.E., was directed to the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua as the royal (house of David) and priestly (house of Aaron) representatives of the people. Zerubbabel and Joshua, along with the “whole remnant of the people,” responded to Haggai by beginning work on the temple on September 21, 520 B.C.E. The first oracle began with the date of Haggai’s message and chapter one ends with the date the people resumed work—the two dates function as an inclusio so that reader maintains the intimate connection between the message and the response.

Haggai succinctly summarizes the initial response. The “whole remnant of the people…obeyed the voice of the Lord…and the people feared the Lord.” The remnant obeyed and feared; they “hear” and they “fear.”

Whereas in Haggai’s oracle Yahweh refers to the inhabitants of Judah as “these people,” now Haggai’s narrative describes them as a “remnant” and they embrace Yahweh as “their God.” This is more significant than simply “those who are remaining,” but rather echoes language from earlier prophets who spoke of a “remnant” that would come out of Babylonian exile (Jeremiah 23:3). This is theologically pregnant language for God’s faithfulness to promises of redemption. God always preserves a remnant among the people. Moreover, God promises his presence among the remnant, which is assured in this text.

This remnant is obedient and they feared Yahweh. This language combination is significant in the Hebrew Bible. They “heard” (obeyed; cf. Deuteronomy 12:28) God’s voice through Haggai and “feared” (Deuteronomy 10:12) Yahweh. The term “hear” is used 82x and “fear” 35x in Deuteronomy. The combination has a profound significance in terms of the orientation of the people (used together, for example, in Deuteronomy 13:4, 11; 17:13). While some think that “fear” here may signify that the people were motivated by Haggai’s threats, most think it reflects the larger tradition in the Hebrew Bible of reverence or awe for God. They “feared” Yahweh in the sense that they were now submissive and ordered their lives to God’s wisdom and Torah. As Deuteronomy 4:10 states, “I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live.” The remnant is an obedient, God-fearing community in response to Haggai’s message.

God responds to their submissive posture. The central response is another message from Haggai, but it is very brief. It is only two words in Hebrew: “I am with you” (also in Haggai 2:4). Divine presence assures the community that God will commune with his people; it is the redemptive presence of God among them. It reminds the community that just as God was with David and Solomon in the building of the first temple, so God will be with them in its rebuilding. It also reminds the community of their long history with Yahweh:  God was “with” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and God was “with” Moses and Israel in the Exodus and wilderness. God remains with Israel; Yahweh has not abandoned his people.

This presence, however, is more than communion; it is also empowerment. God “stirred” the spirit of the whole nation—the leaders and the people. This is a divine act which enables Judah to resume the rebuilding of the temple. This is fairly common language in the Hebrew Bible to describe how God ignites and carries through his purposes within the world. For example, God stirred upon Assyrian Emperors (1 Chronicles 5:26), the Philistines (2 Chronicles 21:16), and the Persian king Cyrus (2 Chronicles 36:22; Isaiah 13:17). God moved in the hearts of his people to give them the strength and vision to begin the task.

Submissive people experience God’s presence among them. They commune with God and God empowers them to fulfill their vocation—the mission God has given them. Judah does not rebuild the temple by their own strength or at their own initiative. God begins the good work in their hearts.

In the same way, God begins in our hearts the good work to which God had called us, and God empowers us to complete the mission to which he has called us (cf. Philippians 1:6).

May the people of God today “hear” and “fear.”  Blessed be the name of Yahweh.

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