Post-Exilic Community in Haggai & Zechariah 1-8

While there seems to be little disagreement over the dating of the prophesies of Haggai and Zechariah[1], the same cannot be said about conditions of the society to which they were delivered. To a large extent, the differences stem not so much from the content of these Biblical books as from varying ideas about the nature of the Babylonian exile of the Judeans. Knowledge of the number and societal standing of the exiles would, of course, have great bearing on the current understanding of both the returning exilic population and those remaining in Judah during the course of the seventy year dispersion. The details relating to the Judean society that can be gleaned from the pages of these prophetic books must be examined in light of the range of ideas that prevail about the previous period.

The first chapter of Haggai raises the question of who is being addressed and, in various passages, who is the subject of the address. For instance, in v.2 was Haggai addressing Zerubbabel and Joshua, the leaders of the Judeans, as proposed by March, or was he talking to the people in general?[2] This author, lacking the Biblical scholarship necessary to enter the debate, can only logically ask other questions, “Who was in the position to begin rebuilding the Temple?” and “Who needed convincing of the necessity to rebuild the Temple?” Each relies heavily on the circumstances of both the exiled Jews and the reconstituted community living in Judah.

As stated in Hag 1:5-7 and 9-11, times were tough in Judah. Poor crops, drought and poverty had undoubtedly afflicted the residents of this area. These conditions were attributed, in Haggai, to the actions of God because of the lack of progress on the restoration of the Temple. While not explicitly blaming the paucity of resources on God’s actions, Zechariah 8:11-12 reveals, “But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, says the LORD of hosts. For there shall be a sowing of peace; the vine shall yield its fruit, the ground shall give its produce, and the skies shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.” (NRSV) The question arises as to how long survival had been difficult in Judah. Since the political, religious and economic elite, as well as the skilled artisans, were most likely to have made up the exiles[3] and those remaining in Judah would have been subject to a military presence, enforced tributes, and probably the oversight of the Samarians[4], it would be expected that circumstances had long been severe. For the Jews, in particular, difficulty may have been exacerbated by the immigration from neighbouring regions of non-Jewish peoples.[5] When also presented with returning expatriates between 538 and 520, further testing supplies and creating conflicts over land ownership, it is not likely that the general population would favourably consider attempts to spend valuable time and resources on rebuilding the Temple.

“Collect silver and gold from the exiles– from Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah– who have arrived from Babylon … ” (Zech 6:10, NRSV), seems to indicate that at least some of the returning exiles may not have experienced some of the same hardships as the rest of the community. Since the deportees had lived together in various communities while in exile, and at least some may have participated in the larger economies of both the Babylonians and Persians[6], their economic circumstances may have been significantly different. Initially through Cyrus, and then Darius, the Persians provided considerable funds for the rebuilding of the Temple, in addition to returning “a number of silver and gold vessels taken from Jerusalem”[7]. At the very least, the civil and religious leaders installed by Darius would have been in better economic circumstances than the general populace and would have had far more access to the resources necessary for the task of rebuilding the Temple. Judging by Zech 6:10, some of the returning exiles may also have been more affluent than the people in general.

Haggai’s arguments that God had imposed harsh conditions due to the Temple being unfinished would seem to have been most effective if delivered to the segment of society that was the most impoverished, namely the general population. Complicating the issue, however, are the references to houses in Hag 1:4 and 1:9. “Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your panelled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (Hag 1:4, NRSV), could be construed to indicate that the speeches were delivered to the wealthy and powerful as interpreted by Achtemeier. If, however, Haggai is addressing the populace, using the translation “roofed” houses, as opposed to “panelled”, would make considerably more sense.[8] Especially in context with v.9, it is more likely that the people’s houses were more complete – unlike God’s house, which is still in ruins.

It is time to consider aspects of community, other than economics, that are communicated in Zechariah’s prophesies. “Therefore say to them, Thus says the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts” (Zech 1:3, NRSV), seems to sum up the moral nature of 1 Zechariah quite well.[9] While this book is certainly not devoid of economic references, the overall picture seems to be a call to return to righteousness – in this case, righteousness is intertwined with finishing the Temple. And, just in case there’s any doubt, this message comes from the “LORD of hosts”.

Prophesies regarding ancestors appear in chapters 1 and 7-8, creating bookends in the section sometimes called 1 Zechariah[10] or proto-Zechariah.[11] In 1:3-6 the reason for the exile is revisited, namely the refusal of the pre-exilic Jews to turn from their evil ways. God’s actions in causing the exile are justified, with the ancestors saying, “The LORD of hosts has dealt with us according to our ways and deeds, just as he planned to do.” (Zech 1:6, NRSV) “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. But they refused to listen …” (Zech 7:9-11, NRSV), posed more direct references to the behaviours of which their ancestors were guilty. “Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate, says the LORD” (Zech 8: 16-17, NRSV), following another reference to the punishment of the ancestors, prescribe the behaviours that God is requiring of the Jews in order to be righteous. These are reinforced by curses represented in the 6th vision of the “flying scroll”, described in Zech 5:1-4[12].

The necessity for revisiting the causes of the exile, especially with such detail and repetition, along with direct reference to actions that are righteous, indicate the existence of conduct within the community that is decidedly unrighteous. Presumably these behaviours are reminiscent of the conduct of the people’s forebears. The aberrant conduct would most likely result from the pressures of reintegrating the exiles back into society, land ownership and religious worship.

Judah had not, in reality, been the desolate wasteland depicted in Zech 7:14, despite being severely economically and socially traumatized. The majority of the population had remained during the exile. Some of these would have exercised ‘squatter’s rights’ on vacated properties which, upon repatriation, would also be reclaimed by exiles. Rather than drawing lines in the sand, reasonability and compassion was essential to reconstruct the community. Worship did not cease in Judah during the period of the exile, but it would have continued under less educated leadership and developed local idiosyncrasies.[13] The reconciling of worship practices that were quite possibly dissimilar presented another challenge to dealing with others in equitable fashion. In this way, Zechariah’s call to rebuild the Temple seems to stem largely from the need to rebind the community together through direct calls to righteous behaviour, as opposed to Haggai’s economic reasoning. 


Achtemeier, Elizabeth Rice. 1986. “Nahum-Malachi.” Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching. (Atlanta: John Knox Press.) Accessed through online subscription to Cokebury’s iPreach Biblical resources available at http://www.cokesburylibraries.com/NXT/.*

Gottwald, Norman K. 1985. The Hebrew Bible – A Socio-Literary Introduction. (Philadelphia: Fortress press.)

March, W. Eugene. 1997. “The Book of Haggai”.  Volume VII, The New Interpreter’s Bible – A Commentary in 12 Volumes. (Nashville: Abingdon Press.) Accessed through online subscription to Cokebury’s iPreach Biblical resources available at http://www.cokesburylibraries.com/NXT/.*

 Ollenburger, Ben C. 1997. “The Book of Zechariah” Volume VII, The New Interpreter’s Bible – A Commentary in 12 Volumes. (Nashville: Abingdon Press.)Accessed through online subscription to Cokebury’s iPreach Biblical resources available at http://www.cokesburylibraries.com/NXT/.*

 Redditt, Paul L. 1995. Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. New Century Bible Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

Sawyer, John F. A. 1993. Prophecy and the Biblical Prophets. Oxford Bible Series. (Oxford University Press.)

Tollington, Janet E. 1993. Tradition and Innovation in Haggai and Zechariah 1-8. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement Series 150. (Sheffield: JSOT Press.)

[1] Most sources researched placed Haggai’s authorship in 520 BCE, and Zechariah’s ranging between 520 and 518. March – “Historical Context” ¶1, Ollenburger – “First Zechariah” ¶8, Achtemeier – “Introduction” ¶5.

[2] Tollington, 20  & Redditt, 18.

[3] Gottwald, 423

[4] Redditt, 8

[5] Gottwald, 424

[6] Ibid, 426

[7] Redditt, 4

[8] Tollington, 183 & Redditt, 19

[9] Sawyer, 134-5

[10] Achtemeier – “Introduction (to 1 Zechariah)” & Ollenburger – “Introduction”

[11] Redditt, 37

[12] Redditt, 45

[13] Gottwald, 425

1 Response to “Post-Exilic Community in Haggai & Zechariah 1-8”

  1. 1 om
    February 21, 2011 at 1:42 AM

    i have read this article, which gives a clear picture to understand the post exile situation

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