The Difference Between Wealth and Desire

Why do some Bible versions translate Haggai 2:7, “And they will come with the wealth of all nations” (NASB),* instead of “And the desire of all nations shall come” (KJV)?

Uncategorized June 30, 2015

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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez

Why do some Bible versions translate Haggai 2:7, “And they will come with the wealth of all nations” (NASB),* instead of “And the desire of all nations shall come” (KJV)?

The answer to your question is somewhat technical because it involves issues of Hebrew syntax and grammar. For a long time this passage was considered a messianic prophecy, announcing the coming of the Messiah. But most Bible commentators have given up this reading of the text, as reflected in more recent translations. I will try to explain some of the difficulties of the text, and offer arguments to support one of the translations.

1. The Problem: In Hebrew the verb translated “they will come” is in the third person, masculine/feminine, plural. The noun translated “wealth/desire” (khemdat) is feminine singular. There is no agreement between the number of the verb (plural) and the noun (singular). This means that desire/wealth” could hardly be the subject of the verb. So the best translation may not be “and the desire . . . will come.”

There is a second problem: The noun khemdat could be translated as “desire” or as “valuable, precious.” How do we decide which one is correct for this passage? These problems open the door for different interpretations and translations.

2. Possible New Translations: To solve the problem of a singular noun versus a plural verb it has been suggested that the noun “desire/wealth” has a collective sense. In other words, it is singular in form but plural in meaning. This is a possible solution, but the translation “the desirable things/the wealth of the nations will come [to the temple]” is unclear. Others find the suggestion too weak and prefer to follow the Greek translation, in which the Hebrew noun was translated as plural. In this case the Hebrew khemdat is changed to khamudot (plural). Notice that only the vowels were changed. This is also a possible solution, but since it emends the Hebrew text, it is not “desirable.”

Such difficulties have led others to argue that the best translation should be “They [the nations] will come/bring the wealth of all the nations.” This is a little better. But the question is whether khemdat means “desire” or “wealth.” They argue that “wealth” is supported contextually because it is specifically mentioned in the next verse (verse 8). So the Lord is promising His people that the nations will, as an act of homage to Him, provide financial resources needed for the construction of the temple (see Isa. 60:5;
Zech. 14:14, 17).

3. The Desire of the Nations: I suggest that it is better to work with the Hebrew text as we have it, and render it as follows: “They [all the nations mentioned in Haggai 2:7] will come to the desire of all the nations, and I will fill this temple with glory [the glory of the Messiah].”

Let me explain. First, the noun khemdat designates what is of value, and therefore desirable. It not only applied to things but also to Israelite kings as the “desire” of the people, i.e., the king they want (1 Sam. 9:20; contrast 2 Chron. 21:20; cf. Dan. 9:23; 10:11, 19). Second, contextually Haggai 2:7 is preceded by a description of a manifestation of God (a theophany) that shakes the cosmos, including, in a particular way, the nations of the earth. God is coming with power, and the result is that the nations will find in the Messiah the true desire of their hearts. Third, the reference to gold and silver in Haggai 2:8 indicates that for the Lord these things are not that important. What is important is that His glory, manifested in the Messiah, will fill the new temple and result in peace (verse 9). Fourth, the combination of a theophany and a messianic prophecy is also found in Haggai 2:21-23. The powerful presence of God that shakes the cosmos is used to introduce another messianic prophecy. Zerubbabel, who was of royal descent, was a prototype of the new David, the coming Messiah, who will become the “signet of God,” i.e., He will have royal authority as the chosen servant of God (Haggai 2:23).

May Christ continue to be the Desire of our hearts!

*Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.