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Today's Study

Haggai 2:6-7: The Desired of All Nations?

The translation "desire of all nations" in Haggai 2:7 has taken such deep root, through its use in sermons, Christmas hymns and a long history of Jewish and Christian commentary, that it is difficult to handle this text objectively.

The King James rendering, "The Desire of all nations shall come," has been challenged by almost every modern translation in English. The 1901 ASV changed "desire" to "precious things," while the NASB now reads, "They will come with the wealth of all nations." The NEB has "The treasure of all nations shall come hither," and the NAB uses the word "treasures." Clearly, the trend is away from giving the word desire a messianic connotation, favoring instead the impersonal idea of "valuables" or "desired things."

All the controversy stems from the use of the singular feminine noun desire with a plural verb, [they] come.As soon as this is pointed out, modern commentators drop any further search or references to a person and assume that the noun must be plural in meaning.

Actually, both the singular and plural forms of this Hebrew noun, hemdah, are used in the Old Testament to refer to persons. Saul was described as being "the desire of Israel" in 1 Samuel 9:20. Likewise Daniel 11:37 speaks of "the one desired by women." The plural form of the same word appears three times to refer to Daniel himself in Daniel 9:23 and 10:11, 19. In these cases, the word is usually translated as "highly esteemed" and a "man of high esteem"(' s-hmudot).

This same word is also used to describe valuable possessions, especially silver and gold. In this construction the emphasis usually falls on the preciousness of the items.

Did Haggai intend to talk about the valuables that the Gentiles would bring, or did he intend to refer to the Messiah himself, as most of the ancient commentaries and the Vulgate had it?

Those opting for a reference to precious gifts believe this rendering makes contextual sense. The precious gifts would compensate for the temple's lack of adornment. Accordingly, the Gentiles would come laden down with gifts for the temple out of homage to the Lord of the earth, a foretaste of the good things to come in the New Covenant. This interpretation is said to square with the plural verb and the feminine singular subject.

However, the earliest Jewish interpretation and the majority of early Christian interpreters referred this passage to the Messiah. Since the word desire is used to refer to a person in several key passages, and since there is a longing of all the nations for a deliverer, acknowledged or not, it seems fair to understand this passage as a reference to the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Hebrew often places the concrete word for an abstract noun. Nor should we be thrown off balance by the presence of a plural verb, for often when one verb is controlled by two nouns, the verb agrees with the second noun even if the verb actually belongs with the former.

Although some are reluctant to adopt a messianic interpretation, the word desire can be treated as an accusative--a construction which is frequently adopted with verbs of motion: "And they will come to the desire of all nations [namely, Christ]." This rendering avoids the problem of the plural verb come, as was first suggested by Cocceius.

In accordance with a messianic interpretation, just as the first temple was filled with the glory of God, so this temple will yet be filled with the divine glory in Christ (Jn 1:14), a glory which shall be revealed at his Second Coming (Mal 3:1).

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