Haggai’s third oracle, like the previous two, is precisely dated. The first oracle was delivered on a new moon festival and the second was delivered during the Feast of Tabernacles. This third oracle, however, has no clear canonical link to a Jewish festival. Nevertheless, the day is significant.
The oracle is delivered on December 20, 520 B.C.E. exactly three months after construction on the temple began. Further, the oracle itself roots the significance of its message in the importance of that day—it is the day when the foundation of the temple was laid (2:18; also noted as a significant day in Ezra 3:10-13 and Zechariah 4:6-10). Further, there is evidence that in the Ancient Near EAst the initial rebuilding phase (removing the old stones) was a time of lament while the laying of the new foundation stone was a time of celebration and anticipation. Ceremonies often focused on the royal and priestly functions as the royal personage laid the foundation stone and the priests purified the site. This is exactly what we see in Haggai as his two oracles on this day concern both the priestly (2:11-19) and royal offices (2:20-23; cf. Boda, NIV Application Commentary: Haggai and Zechariah, 141). This is a grand moment in the history of Judah and Judah celebrates it as a new beginning. On this occasion, Judah turns from lament to celebration. The new edifice has begun.
The oracle, then, is future-oriented as its last line announces: “I will bless you” (2:19). But it also moves its hearers from the past to the present to the future; it moves them from lament to hope. That movement, however, is focused by their attention to the significance of this day, that is, the day when the foundation of the temple was laid. This day means that something has changed and consequently the people recognize their future hope.
Three times Haggai advises that the people “give careful thought…from this day on.” This day is a turning point; it is a moment of conversion. It is when Judah moves from a “templeless” people to a “templed” people. The theological significance of that move demands “careful thought” or attention. Without temple, Judah is deprived of land, divine presence and a future. With a temple, Judah is blessed with land, presence and hope. Laying the foundation of the temple was the hinge which swings Judah from despair to hope because the temple embodies and symbolizes divine presence, forgiveness and power. This is reason for celebration.
Haggai uses the Fall harvest to illustrate the significant change Judah is about to experience. Their Fall crops (grapes, figs, pomegranates and olives) had failed. There was little or no fruit. This is devastating for Judah’s economy and lifestyle. Haggai specifics the reason for this want—God struck “all the work of [their] hands.” The divine motive was to produce repentance among the people. Just as there was no fruit of repentance, so there was no fruit on the trees and in the fields.
This is the point of the first half of Haggai’s oracle. The people were defiled and so everything they offered to Yahweh was defiled. The faithlessness of the people—indicated by their own priorities as noted in Haggai’s first oracle—defiled whatever worship they offered Yahweh. God was not listening because the people were not seeking. They worshipped but their offerings were defiled by their own lives.
Haggai’s first example, however, recognizes that holiness (consecration) cannot be passed from one party to another though defilement can. Meat is consecrated by its sacrificial offering to God and not because it touches something else as it is taken home. Haggai’s scenario recalls the practice of the fellowship (peace) offering where worshippers would offer sacrifices at the altar and then take the meat home to eat with family and/or friends. The holiness derives from its relation to God, but defilement comes from its relation to human faithlessness and sin. This defilement is the reason the harvest has not yet yielded its fruit.
Haggai’s oracle, then, is an exhortation. On the day that the foundation of the temple is laid and the people gather to celebrate, Haggai calls them to “consider” just as he had done in the first oracle (1:5, 7). This moment is not only a call to repentance—which God had sought to effect through his discipline, but it is also a call to renewed hope. The oracle encourages the people to continue the task of rebuilding the temple because such rebuilding is pregnant with the promise of God who says, “I will bless you.”
Judah has a new temple which bears a new promise. Will they, in response, become a new people consecrated to Yahweh?