Haggai 2:7 — The Desire of the Nations
One of the more controversial passages in the book of Haggai is 2:6,7. The King James Version reads:
“For thus saith the Lord of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.”
The prophet subsequently states that the latter “glory” of the house will be greater than the former, and in that place “peace” would be given.
The ASV translates “desire” as “precious things”; others suggest “treasures,” etc. (RSV).
Here is the crux of the controversy. Did Haggai refer to Christ as the “desire” of the nations? Early commentators argued for this view. Later scholars generally contend that something else fulfills the prophet’s language.
Some suggest that it refers to the enhancement of the temple during the time of Haggai, or perhaps to its enlargement in the days of Herod. Others think it denotes rich gifts brought by the Gentiles into the spiritual house of the Lord, the church.
What are the facts?
Some allege that the reference “cannot refer to Christ” (Laetsch; cf. also Hailey) due to the fact that the noun “desire” is a singular form, while the predicate “come” is plural. This seems to settle the matter for many. But does it?
Actually the word “desire” [Heb. hemdat] is used of persons in the Old Testament — both in its singular and plural forms. Saul was described as “the desire of Israel” (1 Samuel 9:20), and Daniel was called the “greatly beloved” [plural] in 9:23; 10:11,19. Dr. Robert Alden notes that “such irregularities are common in OT Hebrew” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p. 586).
The prophet may have been thinking of the “nations,” and selected a verb to agree with that emphasis. Walter Kaiser notes that often in the Hebrew, when a verb is controlled by two nouns (e.g., “desire” and “nations” in this case), “the verb agrees with the second noun even if the verb actually belongs with the former substantive” (Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, p. 237).
Also, the sentence structure allows for “desire” to be the object to which the nations would come (see NKJV). Such a translation answers the grammatical problem and retains the messianic import of the passage. The case cannot be settled on the basis of grammar. One scholar, who inclines against the messianic concept, concedes that either view is “within the realm of semantic possibilities” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia – Revised, Vol. IV, p. 898).
There are other factors which may suggest that the “desire of the nations” was fulfilled by Christ.
First, there was a longing among the Gentiles for a Teacher (cf. Matthew 2:1,2; Luke 10:24), Plato has Socrates saying: “We must of necessity wait, till someone from Him who cares for us, shall come and instruct us how we ought to behave toward the gods and man.” Again: “This law-giver must be more than man, that he may teach us the things man cannot know by his own nature” (see J. W. Monser, An Encyclopedia on the Evidences, p. 528).
Second, the use of the word “glory” also hints of a Messianic fulfillment (see verses 7, 9). It is certain that the later temple did not possess a greater material glory than the former. There thus seems to be a spiritual application, especially in light of the “peace” that is promised.
Make appropriate notes that will enable you to be aware of the various possibilities regarding this verse.
Scripture references: Isaiah 2:6, 7; 1 Samuel 9:20; Matthew 2:1, 2; Luke 10:24