What did God want the people to understand when he told them that a thing, by touching something holy, is not sanctified, but a holy thing, touched by something defiled, is defiled? (Haggai 2:12)


How do the statements in Haggai 2:12 relate to the context of the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem? (If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold, or cooked food, wine, oil, or any other food, will it become holy?’” And the priests answered, “No.”).

If we follow the references of time, we understand that in this chapter are presented two messages given by God through the prophet Haggai at an interval of two months: the first message he received on the 21st of the seventh month of the second year of the reign of Darius the Mede (Haggai 2:1-10), and received the second message on the 24th day of the ninth month of the same year (Haggai 2:11-23). 

Our reader’s question concerns the second message (Haggai 2:11-23). After God speaks in the first message about the building and future of the Temple, in the second message he speaks of the condition of the people. To show why he does not receive sacrifices from the people, God uses two images from the Old Covenant: 

The first image: a sanctified thing cannot be sanctified by touching other things,

The second image: but if someone defiled by touching a dead body touches something, then it will be defiled.

Using these two images, God wants to tell them that, on the one hand, their touching of holy things does not sanctify them, and on the other hand, that their sacrifices, brought according to the Law, are defiled because they are defiled (unclean) by their wicked deeds: 

On the twenty-fourth of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Haggai the prophet, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Ask now the priests for a ruling: If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold, or cooked food, wine, oil, or any other food, will it become holy?’” And the priests answered, “No.” Then Haggai said, “If one who is unclean from a corpse touches any of these, will the latter become unclean?” And the priests answered, “It will become unclean.” Then Haggai said, “‘So is this people. And so is this nation before Me,’ declares the Lord, ‘and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean. (Haggai 2:10-14 NASB)

Then God tells them that this is the reason why they did not succeed in everything they were doing:

But now, do consider from this day onward: before one stone was placed on another in the temple of the Lord, from that time when one came to a grain heap of twenty measures, there would be only ten; and when one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there would be only twenty. I smote you and every work of your hands with blasting wind, mildew and hail; yet you did not come back to Me,’ declares the Lord. ‘Do consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month; from the day when the temple of the Lord was founded, consider: Is the seed still in the barn? Even including the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree, it has not borne fruit. (Haggai 2:15-19a)

However, the last words give them hope of recovery:

“Yet from this day on I will bless you.” Then the word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, saying, “Speak to Zerubbabel governor of Judah, saying, ‘I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations; and I will overthrow the chariots and their riders, and the horses and their riders will go down, everyone by the sword of another.’ ‘On that day,’ declares the Lord of hosts, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you,’” declares the Lord of hosts. (Haggai 2:19b-23 NASB)

I recommend that you study the Ezra and Haggai inductive Bible study manual.

Translated by Liza Bîrlădeanu