Pieter A. Verhoef, The Books of Haggai and Malachi

Verhoef, Pieter A. The Books of Haggai and Malachi. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 364 pp. Pb; $40.   Link to Eerdmans

Pieter Verhoef’s commentary on Haggai and Malachi was originally published in 1987 as part of the NICOT series. Verhoef was replaced in the series by Mignon R. Jacobs in 2017 (reviewed here). Still a valuable and oft-cited commentary, Eerdmans has moved this to their Classic Bible Commentaries series.

Haggai MalachiThe Haggai commentary runs about 150 pages, Malachi about 200 pages. Since Verhoef is South African scholar he interacts with more South African, Dutch, and German secondary literature than most commentaries published in North America. Most of the bibliography pre-dates 1984, but this is less of a problem since there have been only a few major commentaries in the last 35 years on these two obscure prophetic books. Until Mignon R. Jacobs replacement volume in the NICOT, the best commentaries for these books were Carol L. Meyers and Eric M. Meyers on Haggai and Andrew E. Hill on Malachi (both in the Anchor series), Richard A. Taylor on Haggai and Malachi (NAC) and Hans Walter Wolff  in the Continental series (published in 1986 in German; 1987 in English).

For both books, Verhoef provides an introduction with the usual introductory material. Not much can be said about the prophets as individuals, and Malachi may not even be the name of the prophet (the name means “my messenger” and can be understood as a title rather than a personal name). For both books Verhoef deals with matters of authorship and unity, concluding the books do reflect the preaching of a real prophet and arguing for the unity of the over against source-critical theories.

Verhoef places each book into the context of Ezra-Nehemiah. For Haggai, he is active prior to the restoration of the Temple and his prophecies are dated to 520 B.C. For Verhoef, Malachi is likely the last prophetic voice in the Hebrew Bible. The prophet was active between the two visits of Nehemiah, shortly after 433 B.C. In his sketches of the background of these two prophets, Verhoef provides the necessary context to understand the prophetic encouragement to restore the Temple and for the people to devote themselves to wholehearted obedience.

The body of the commentary begins each section with a translation of the pericope with detailed notes on the text (citing variations found in the LXX, Peshitta, Targumim and Vulgate). A short section follows setting the pericope into the context of the book, then Verhoef proceeds through the text phrase-by-phrase. All Hebrew appears in transliteration and he often deals with matters of syntax and grammar. Footnotes cite secondary literature, although he often agrees with various commentaries on a particular issue.

One of the main problems in Haggai is the status of Zerubbabel as the Lord’s signet ring (Hag 2:20-23). These final words of the book are often described as an apocalyptic hope for the restoration of the kingdom of David. If this is true, then Haggai appears to be a failed prophet since there is no restoration of a Davidic Kingdom and Zerubbabel more or less disappears from the history after 520. Verhoef deals with this problem by reading Haggai 2:20-23 as a kind of typology foreshadowing the first and second coming of Christ (p. 149).

Verhoef reads these two prophets from a Christian perspective, often drawing some conclusion at the end of a section which illuminates the New Testament. Some scholars would say Haggai has no Christian theology, a view Verhoef strenuously denies. For example, in dealing with marriage and divorce in Malachi 2:10-16, he comments briefly on Jesus’s view of divorce in Matthew 19 as well as Paul’s teaching on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 and the “profound mystery of marriage” in Ephesians 5:22-33.  Although these short conclusions are not really “guides for preaching Haggai,” they do serve as canonical bridges, opening up the possibility of a Christian reading of these two prophetic books.

There are not many exegetical commentaries on Haggai or Malachi. Unfortunately commentaries in the Minor Prophets are often brief and published in one or two volumes. Although now an older work, Verhoef’s commentary on these two overlooked prophets remains a valuable resource for students of the Minor Prophets and the early post-exilic period.


NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


Mignon Jacobs, Haggai and Malachi (NICOT)

Jacobs, Mignon. Haggai and Malachi. NICOT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2017. xlv+377 pp. Hb; $48.   Link to Eerdmans

This new contribution to the NICOT series is a companion to Mark Boda’s Zechariah commentary (Eerdmans, 2016), completing the post-exilic prophets and updating the older Haggai and Malachi commentary by Pieter A. Verhoef (1987). In April 2018, Verhoef’s commentary will appear as one of the first three volumes of Eerdmans’ new Classic Biblical Commentary series. Jacobs often refers to this still useful commentary in her own work. Jacobs is Professor of Old Testament Studies at Ashland Theological Seminary, where she also serves as Dean and Chief Academic Officer. She wrote Gender, Power, and Persuasion (Baker Academic, 2007) and Conceptual Coherence of the Book of Micah (Sheffield Academic, 2001). In addition to numerous journal articles on the prophets, Jacobs has chaired the Society of Biblical Literature Israelite prophetic literature section. This commentary replaces Pieter A. Verhoef’s volume in the NICOT series (now available as an Eerdmans Classic Commentary).

Haggai, Malachi

Jacobs says she has two main methodological concerns in her commentary. First, she primarily wants to read Haggai and Malachi as prophetic literature. Although this seems obvious, she must place each prophet in their appropriate historical context. These two prophets address specific situations in the post-exilic community. Several pages of each introduction are devoted to the historical, socio-political, and conceptual frameworks of the books. For Haggai, the theological problem of rebuilding the temple explains the economic hardships of the post-exilic community. Malachi addresses the problem of apathetic priests after the Temple was rebuilt and possible problems arising from shifts in the administration of the Persian Empire.

Second, Jacobs indicates she is interested in the “diverse intertextual voices within the Hebrew Bible.”  In order to achieve this goal, she includes a section entitled “intertextual indicators” in each of the two introductions to the books. For Haggai, Ezra and Chronicles provide a historical framework, and there are some allusions to the Law. For Malachi, Jacobs points out Malachi’s dependence on the Pentateuch for his comments on priests, Levites, the tithe, marriage, and divorce. I expected to see some intertextual comments on the marriage metaphor in her comments on Malachi 2, but there is little there to suggest Malachi has Hosea or Isaiah in mind when he discusses the apathy of the returned exiles. For Malachi, Jacobs provides a table of eleven intertextual links to the New Testament.

With respect to the theological contribution of these two books, Jacob’s comments are limited to a few pages in each introduction entitled “Message.” These minimal comments reflect Jacobs’s reluctance to apply the text of the two prophets to contemporary issues. It is tempting, for example, to use Malachi to speak to the issue of divorce or giving to the church (the tithe, etc.) But Jacobs now considers this kind of theologizing the task of a commentary since it requires moving from the context of the prophet to some other context. As she says, “recontextualizing the ideas and themes most often requires reconceptualizing,” and for Jacobs, reconceptualizing is not the task of a commentary (xiii). She is true to this intention, there is little in the Haggai commentary that could be seen as theological interpretation, application, or “bridging the gap” with the modern church, and there are certainly no “Haggai Speaks to Us Today” sections in this commentary. Although Haggai has the least to say about social ethics among the prophets, there are sections of the commentary that invite reflection and application (the apathy of the priests in Malachi 1:11-13, for example). Jacobs leads the reader with detailed exegesis to the place where they can make their own pointed application to contemporary circumstances. But she is not going to reconceptualize the prophets herself.

The commentary for each book begins with an annotated translation of the text. The translation notes deal with lexical and syntactical issues as well as textual variants. This detailed material is necessary for a critical, exegetical commentary, although it may be skipped if the reader is not interested in the textual history of the book.

Following the translation and textual commentary, Jacobs moves through each pericope verse-by-verse, commenting on words and phrases. All Hebrew appears in transliteration, and most interaction with secondary literature appears in the footnotes. This makes the main commentary very readable. Given the goals of the commentary, it is not surprising to find frequent comments placing the prophet into the larger canonical context. For example, commenting on Haggai 1:5-6, Jacobs draws attention to Deuteronomy 11:10-15 to explain why the returning exiles are having poor harvests. Commenting on Haggai 2:6-9 she draws on earthquake language throughout the prophets. This might be considered intertextuality, but there is little in Haggai which implies he was intentionally alluding to an earlier text like Jeremiah and Jacobs does not argue he was intentionally alluding to anything. At best, the earthquake language is part of prophetic speech about the day of the Lord. This is not what is usually meant by intertextuality.

Conclusion. Jacobs has contributed a serious exegetical commentary on two of the neglected books of the Hebrew Bible. It is a worthy successor to Verhoef’s commentary in the NICOT series and will be a standard commentary on Haggai and Malachi for many years to come. Some readers might find fault with the lack of theological reflection, especially since that commentary style has become increasingly popular in recent years. Jacobs is true to her method and written a fine exegetical commentary, which will provide the details for the kind of theological reflection on the socio-political situation of the post-exilic community, which allows pastors and teachers to address modern issues in specific cultural contexts.


Other Commentaries in the NICOT Series:

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.