Introduction to the book of Exodus and the book of Haggai
Until the 19th century the historicity and traditional authorship of the Pentateuch was widely accepted. Nowadays, however, Exodus is a controversial book (Seiglie, 2003). The Documentary Hypothesis constituted the first substantial shift, rejecting Mosaic authorship (Allis, 2001). The biblical minimalists went much further, denying archaeological evidence exists in support of biblical Israel (Thompson, 1999). Yet Exodus is “the most significant historical and theological event of the Old Testament” (Merrill, 1996, p. 57-58), thus of critical importance (Hayes, 2009).
There are three mainstream proposals about the historical Exodus (Wood B. G., 2008). The “no exodus” theory largely stems from bad scholarship (Wood B. G., 2008) and anti-biblical bias (Seiglie, 2003). The “late exodus” theory places the event under Ramesses II (13th century BC), mainly because of “Rameses” in Exodus 1:11 and signs of widespread destruction in Canaan during that period. However, the former is likely a later textual redaction, and the latter better fits the Judges period (Seiglie, 2003). Furthermore, it is impossible to reconcile the late date with biblical chronology (Wood B. G., 2008), whilst the Merneptah Stele (Rohl, 2015) and the Berlin Pedestal (van der Veen et al., 2010) both suggest Israel was a major power during the reign of Ramesses’ successor. This is corroborated by Yurco (1990). Lastly, Canaan was an Egyptian province at the time of Ramesses II (Finkelstein & Silberman, 2002), with no strongly fortified cities (Rohl, 2015). The “biblical” theory sets the Exodus in 1446 BC. Wood believes evidence for the destruction of Jericho can be found in the Late Bronze period. Stripling and Hassler (2018) believe they found Ai in this era. However, many disagree; Bieńkowski (1990) says Wood’s theories should be rejected outright. Rohl believes the most recent excavations (e.g. Marchetti et al., 2016) still prove Kenyon right (Kenyon & Holland, 1960). Some scholars argue this is due to problems with the Conventional Chronology, which they believe could be shifted against the biblical timeline so to place the Exodus in the Middle Bronze II (MBII) period whilst still matching the biblical date (Bimson & Livingston, 1987; Rohl, 2015). Most scholars believe there is no room for radical chronological revisionism (Hornung et al., 2012). Nonetheless, Hornung does acknowledge Rohl is correct about the poor foundations laid for the Third Intermediate Period and the Shenshoq-Shishak link.
The Greeks called Egypt the “gift of the Nile”, as this civilisation would have never arisen without the presence of this river (Francisco, 1978). Thus the Nile, together with the deserts that geographically isolated the country, made Egypt a flourishing nation. Francisco suggests this was perhaps the reason the Israelites never showed a desire to leave Egypt until persecution arose.
With regards to religion, Egypt had a polytheistic belief system where Pharaoh, son of Ra, was considered deity too.
Moses would have had all the necessary skills to be the author (Francisco, 1978). The audience is the people of Israel. The genre is appropriately captured by Dillard and Longman (1994) as theological instructional history. The purpose is for God to deliver Israel and establish a covenant relationship with them (Dyer & Merrill, 2003), so that He might dwell with them, and fulfil the promises made to the patriarchs (Elwell, 1998). Thus, the main theological themes are deliverance, covenant, and presence.
Deliverance. God hears the cry of Israel, reveals Himself as Yahweh for the first time, and pronounces judgement over Pharaoh and his gods (Francisco, 1978; Enns, 2000); the plagues are each directed against an Egyptian deity (Livingston, 1991), and are designed to culminate in the tenth, with the purpose of showing to the world that Yahweh alone is God (Ex 9:16). It is a phased approach that requires Pharaoh not to surrender till the end. With the tenth plague, Yahweh claims the lives of the firstborns, perhaps as a retribution for Pharaoh’s edict against the male Hebrew babies. Interestingly, Yahweh does not target the Egyptians alone, but all firstborns in Egypt, including Hebrews and cattle; He however introduces the concept of substitution with the Passover, and will later reiterate His right to the firstborn, allowing for their redemption (13:11-16).
Enns (2000) presents a Genesis-Exodus link, highlighting the usage of creation language in the redemptive acts; thus, he sees “redemption” as “new creation”.
Covenant. Once left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, Moses sings (15) of Yahweh’s triumph and supremacy over all other gods. In the wilderness, Yahweh provides for the people (Marah’s water, manna from heaven, water from a rock, etc.). They then reach Mount Sinai, where the Mosaic covenant is inaugurated (24). To Enns, the Law is another re-creation act, restoring (moral) order over chaos.
Redeemed by God’s grace, Israel receives the Law for the purpose of sanctification, to be a “holy nation”, different to others in that ancient world; “a kingdom of priests” (19:6) meant to mediate God to the nations. This points to Yahweh’s promise to Abraham: “all nations will be blessed through him” (Gn 18:18). Though Israel had agreed to obey the Law (Ex 19:8), their rebellious attitude climaxed in the episode of the Golden Calf, putting things in jeopardy (32:9-10). Nonetheless, following Moses’ mediation (32:11-14), Yahweh remains faithful to His promises for the sake of His own name.
Presence. The tabernacle is built. At last, the God who met Moses face to face now dwells in the midst of Israel. Enns highlights a redemptive dimension to the tabernacle: more than a building, it is a piece of heaven on earth, just as the Garden of Eden was.
The message of Exodus is threefold: Yahweh alone is God and sovereign; redemption is by His grace; He desires relationship with His people. Despite controversies, we hold this message is rooted in history, and authored by Moses (Dyer & Merrill, 2003). Rohl’s New Chronology remains to be verified (Olaussen, 2009); nonetheless, evidence of early Semitic settlement in Egypt followed by great multiplication continues to surface (e.g. Seiglie, 2003; van der Veen et al., 2010; Wood, B. G., 2008).
This book records four precisely-dated prophecies directed at the Jews returning from Babylon and peculiarly underpinned by a single unified timeless message that has been applied pastorally countless times, including by Jesus (Mt 6:33).
Haggai’s recorded ministry spans from 29th August 520 BC to 18th December of the same year (Dyer & Merrill, 2003). The biblical record for the relevant historical background is found in Ezra 1-6 (Betteridge, 1896).
The Jews returned to the land in 538 BC, after Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC; they did so in two waves, and by the time Haggai started his ministry, their leaders were Zerubbabel (governor) and Joshua (high priest).
The world situation between 528 and 522 BC was unfavourable: Cyrus was succeeded by his son, who then died without heir, so Darius Hystaspes, royal by a collateral line, ascended the throne; this sparked rebellions across his empire (Verhoef, 1987). Nevertheless, Haggai cannot be read against the backdrop of the international situation of the time; the prophet’s concern is the covenant between his people and God.
Cyrus had granted the rebuilding of the temple funded by his royal treasury (Ez 6:3-5). The returnees started rebuilding the temple upon arriving in the land (1-3), but soon stopped (4) due to enemy interference from their neighbours (Merrill, 1984). Discouraged, they turned the problem into an excuse: perhaps it was simply not yet time to rebuild the temple (Hg 1:2).
This led the people to changing priorities, focussing on their own homes and lives first; thus, God sent Haggai (and others) to put things back in order.
The returnees were scared and confused; the land was new to most of them. There was tension between them and the Jews who had remained in the land: the latter were not comfortable with the idea of sharing the land with the newcomers (Verhoef, 1987).
The people’s labour seemed in vain. They suffered hardship, privation, frustration, insecurity. They faced poor seasons and crop failures. Their religious system was not fully restored yet, due to the lack of a temple. Their neighbours, especially Samaria, were hostile.
The audience is the post-exilic Jewish community and their leaders. The purpose is to correct the priorities of the people. The author is the prophet Haggai, though most scholars distinguish between oral and written authorship, with some suggesting the present form of the book is a later redaction, but with virtually no scholar doubting Haggai uttered the actual prophecies (Verhoef, 1987).
The unity of the book has never been questioned until recently, but Verhoef dismisses the objections with ease. It has also been suggested that the verses were originally in different order (Baldwin, 1972), but the textual evidence provides no support for this (Verhoef, 1987).
Interestingly, the same evidence that historically led scholars to assume secondary authorship, late redactions, and disunity, leads Boda (2000) to conclude Haggai simply employed masterful rhetorical skills.
Concerning the genre, many have tried to belittle the book by cataloguing it as a poor prose (Reuss, as in Verhoef, 1987). At the other end of the spectrum we find those who think it is poetry, a view that cannot be maintained without emending the text (Rudolph, as in Verhoef, 1987). We seem to be faced with a rhythmic prose having some poetic features, such as parallelism and chiasms (Hg 1:4,9,10; 2:23). We also find other devices, such as infinitives absolutes (1:6,9), play on words (1:4,11). One thing every scholar agrees on is that Haggai’s style is bold and uncompromising.
The first message is delivered to both leaders. God commands to rebuild the temple so that He may be glorified, and adds that He had been withholding his blessings, making everyone’s hard labour unfruitful, because His house had been neglected (1:1-11). The leaders and the people respond favourably (1:12-15), obeying and fearing God (1:12); the Lord confirms He is with them (1:13), so their spirit is stirred, and works commence.
The second message (2:1-9) is again delivered to the leaders. Haggai employs questions to draw people’s attention (Boda, 2000); here he does it to highlight how the status of the present temple stands in contrast with the former glory of the first temple. But the Lord promises: the glory of His new house will be greater.
With the third message (2:10-19) God announces to the leaders He will stop withholding His blessings. Scholars see v14 as a promise to a defiled people (Verhoef, 1987), but it is worthwhile analysing the puzzling grammar of this passage. Haggai employs the phrase “from this day onward” several times, yet only the last time the phrase seems to refer forward in time. Goswell (2014) has argued that nothing really demands 2:14a to be translated in the present tense: in the past tense, the verse would refer back to the past fault that caused God to withhold the very blessings He is now ready to give. Boda argues, instead, that it is simply one of Haggai’s clever rhetorical devices, repeatedly announcing something future and constantly interrupting it with a look at the past.
The last message (2:20-23) is for Zerubbabel alone. The rich Davidic language suggests a messianic prophecy. Several scholars have argued that the text leaves no room for the people of the time to understand anyone else other than Zerubbabel to be this messianic king (Kashow, 2013), thus essentially rendering this message a failed prophecy. For Kashow, Zerubbabel cannot be seen as a messianic type, so his solution is to gain insight from Zechariah 1-8 to then conclude the prophecy was a conditional promise that was delayed (and ultimately cancelled) on account of disobedience to God. We believe the prophecy must and does stand on its own. God had chosen David but had eventually pronounced a curse of his bloodline (Ezk 21:25-27). We see an encouragement: God tells Zerubbabel that the promise to his forefather David still stands; and we see in verses 22-23 language that suggests an eschatological context, when Messiah King will rule from Jerusalem.
Haggai ministers mostly to descendants of a disobedient Israel; thus, they are proof of God’s faithfulness despite people’s unfaithfulness. Though the returnees are favourably disposed towards God (Baldwin, 1972), God must remind them to have Him as their top priority. The people listen and discover their needs will be met as a consequence. The temple will be eventually finished in 515 BC (Merrill, 1984).
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Betteridge, W. R. (1896). The Builders Of The Second Temple. Bibliotheca Sacra, 231-248.
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Boda, M. J. (2000). Haggai: Master Rhetorician. Tyndale Bulletin, 295-304.
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Elwell, W. A. (1998). Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Enns, P. E. (2000). Exodus. In NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
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Francisco, C. T. (1978). The Exodus in Its Historical Setting. Bible and Spade (First Run), 07(2), 33-49.
Goswell, G. (2014). “So Was This People”: Translating Haggai 2:14 In The Past Tense. Bulletin for Biblical Research, 363-377.
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Yurco, F. J. (1990, September/October). 3,200-Year-Old Picture of Israelites Found in Egypt. Biblical Archaeology Review, 16(5), pp. 20-38.
 Date derived from 1 Kings 6:1, Judges 11:26, 1 Chronicles 6:33-37, Ezekiel 40:1.
 Rohl claims there is a single, continuous pattern of evidence from Joseph to Conquest in MBII.
 Much later, they still complained about leaving Egypt (Numbers 14:3).
 Recent research would suggest the alphabet was invented for the Hebrew language (Petrovich, 2017).
 God declares it from the start (4:22-23).
 This would explain the apparent contradiction between 3:19 and 4:21.
 God was angry with the people, but not with Moses (32:10); acting as high priest, his mediation saves the people, showing that as long as the High Priest does not fail, the people are safe.
 Hypotheses about a longer ministry are merely speculation (Wood L. J., 1979).
 The Hebrew would allow the expression translated “onward” to become “backward” for all relevant occurrences.