HAGGAI 1:15b–2:9 in the New Interpreter's Bible

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Posted: Fri, Feb 3 2012 8:06 AM

Another Sample from the pre pub New Interpreter's Bible.

http://www.logos.com/product/8803/new-interpreters-bible

 

HAGGAI 1:15b–2:9

TAKE COURAGE AND WORK  

COMMENTARY

This third episode is dated to October 17, 520 BCE, one month later than the preceding one. This day, the twenty-first of the seventh month, happens to be the seventh day of the great eight-day autumn festival, the Feast of Booths, which begins on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Lev 23:33-36, 39-43; Num 29:12-38). This very significant feast day celebrates the harvest and God’s sustaining care.

During the Feast of Booths, or the Feast of Sukkot, Israelites celebrated Solomon’s bringing the ark of the covenant into the Temple and the Temple’s dedication (1 Kgs 8:1-13, 62-66). But as the name implies, the Feast of Booths also commemorates Israel’s release from bondage in Egypt and the people’s dwelling in booths as they traveled to Sinai (Lev 23:42-43). The reference in 2:5a to the exodus thus seems consistent in this

 

 

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passage and provides grounds for retaining these words, even though the Septuagint does not include them.26

The word of the Lord again comes “through” or “by” the prophet Haggai (cf. 1:1). Haggai speaks again to the same audience as in the previous scene: Zerubabbel, Joshua, and the “remnant of the people” (Hag 2:2). In 2:4, however, a different term for the people is introduced: “people of the land” ($rah ![ (am hA)Arez). The precise meaning of the Hebrew term is disputed. It seems to have first referred to the wealthy landed class of pre-exilic days (2 Kgs 21:14; 23:30). By the time of Ezra, however, some years after Haggai, it was used to refer to those people who were actively hostile to the rebuilding of the Temple, and not to those who had been in exile (Ezra 4:1-5). Probably Haggai used the term to refer to people who had stayed behind and had taken over the land vacated by people taken into exile.27 In this passage, Haggai addresses “all” of “the people of the land,” which may imply that the audience was composed of both persons who had never left Palestine and those who had returned from exile (2:4).

Although work had begun on the rebuilding project, some of the people were critical and dissatisfied. Reflected in the prophet’s questions in v. 3 are the people’s complaints. Apparently some of the older members of the community did not have much good to say about the new structure they saw emerging (2:3). Although sixty years had passed, they could still remember what the Temple looked like before it was destroyed in 587 BCE. Haggai addressed their cynicism and disappointment directly: “Is it not in your sight as nothing?” (v. 3). He admitted that the Temple did not look like much yet. By so doing he silenced the complainers and challenged them, along with all the others, to have confidence in what God was about to do.

The prophet next turns to positive exhortation (v. 4). The “now” (ht[ (attâ) of v. 3, used in connection with the disappointment of perceived reality (namely, the unimpressive nature of the new temple) is put aside with the second “now” that begins v. 4. “Now” a new resolve is to be made. Three times Haggai enjoins the leaders and the people to “take courage” or to “be strong” (qzj hazaq). The leaders and the people, all the people of the land, needed to disregard the negative comments and continue with the task. “Take courage, and work!” (see v. 4). Why? Because “I am with you, says the LORD of hosts” (v. 4). As in the preceding passage (1:13), the prophet’s primary response to uncertainty or withdrawal of commitment on the part of his audience was the affirmation of God’s presence. Indeed, God’s “Spirit,” the very presence of God, already “abides” or “remains” among the community. Just as they were assured that God would take pleasure in their work no matter what they did (1:8), so also now they are assured that God’s Spirit is already among them. God was in their midst, and thus they had nothing to fear (v. 5b; cf. 1:13).

Verses 6-9 constitute a second reason for the people to take courage and work. Not only is God’s Spirit in their midst, but also the Lord of hosts is about to act once again. The language of v. 6a connotes that the anticipated event is imminent. This is not the eschatological “day of the LORD,” even though it has sometimes been so interpreted. Rather, this is an imminent intervention by God for a very specific purpose: that the treasure of the nations will come, providing splendor to the restored Temple (v. 7).

The imagery used to describe God’s action is reminiscent of the theophanic tradition, the tradition of God’s appearing accompanied by the cataclysmic shaking of the heavens and the earth (Exod 19:18; Judg 5:4-5; Ps 18:7-15). But in this passage nature and nations do not just react by trembling at God’s approach, as in the theophanic tradition. Rather, the Lord of hosts is pictured as shaking the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land, all creation, and the nations as well (vv. 6-7). The term “shake” (v[r rA(as) is used at times to refer to an earthquake (Amos 1:1). But the root r(s, when used in the more specialized verb form Hiphil as in v. 7, may refer to the shaking of historical institutions (cf. Isa 14:16; Ezek 31:16). There is no reason why the participle vy[rm (mar(îs) need be translated in the future tense. God “shakes” the nations in order that the Temple may once again become splendid (v. 7).

Verse 7 presents interesting terminology. The

 

 

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word translated as “splendor” (NRSV) or “glory” (NIV) is dwbk (kAbôd). While kAbôd sometimes refers to God’s presence (Exod 40:34; Ezek 10:18-19), in this passage it means “honor” or “wealth.” God is going to fill the Temple with wealth or with the splendor that comes from beautiful and expensive appointments. Indeed, the “splendor” and “glory” of the new Temple will exceed that of the first one (v. 9). People who remember the former glory will be amazed (v. 3).

The “glory” or “splendor” will be achieved because God’s shaking of the nations will bring the “treasure of all nations” or “the desired of all nations” to fill the Temple. The difference between the NRSV and the NIV translations reflects various understandings of tdmj (hemdat). If the term is translated as it stands in the MT text, then it is a singular feminine construct form of “desire” (cf. 2 Sam 9:20). The Vulgate translation understands the term as a reference to the Messiah, who, as “the desire of all the nations,” would one day return to the Temple. Christians have incorporated this understanding in the hymn “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.”

There is a major problem with this interpretation, however, since the singular noun is the subject of a plural verb, “they will come” (wabw ûbA)û). With a slight change in the way the Hebrew is pronounced, this problem can be eliminated. Instead of hemdat, the editors of BHS suggest hamudot, a reading supported by the Septuagint. Such a plural form is found in Gen 27:15 and Ezra 8:27, where it refers to precious, desirable things. Hence, the term can be translated as “treasure of all nations” (NRSV) and understood, in part, as a reference to the treasures that once were taken away from the Temple (2 Kgs 25:13-17). These would now be returned with even more than what had originally been taken (Ezra 1:5-11; cf. Isa 60:8-18). As a result, the glory and splendor of the Temple are assured.

Two comments remain concerning this unit. First, Hag 2:8 boldly affirms that the treasure, the “silver and the gold,” belong to God. Lest there be any misunderstanding or misappropriation of the wealth that would bring splendor to the Temple, the text affirms God’s ownership of the Temple and its glory. God alone was the provider of the Temple’s splendor. Second, Hag 2:9 affirms that God’s intention is to establish “peace” or “prosperity.” The point is that when God gives this !wlv (sAlôm), the hard times described in the opening scene (1:6, 9-11) will be brought to an end. Hostilities will cease. The community will be restored. Wholeness will return. Shalom, which includes both peace and prosperity, will result.

REFLECTIONS

1. It was no accident that the prophet addressed the people on this day. Tradition and expectation are brought together at such commemorative moments. Old symbols can be reframed for new messages. The very occasion of the festival was a message of continuity beyond destruction, hope, and thanksgiving, even in the midst of despair. Haggai’s word on this occasion was a challenge to the present for the sake of the future in the midst of a celebration of the constancy and generosity of the Lord.

For Jews today, the celebration of Sukkot testifies to the ongoing care of God for the world and all its peoples in an age of great skepticism and disbelief. For contemporary Christians, Easter functions in somewhat the same way by enabling us to face the destructive reality of death with a word of promise and renewal that points beyond the grave. In our hearing such a declaration of God’s constancy and generosity, once again can hope, thanksgiving, and renewal be manifested among God’s people for the sake of all God’s creatures.

2. Language about God’s shaking of creation, including the nations, is obvious in this passage. There are two ways that such imagery can be appropriated. The negative way is to consider this language as strictly end-of-time, as impressive but not relevant in the present, scientifically oriented world. Some people take such language as proof of an underdeveloped

 

 

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or misconceived understanding of God. Such an approach underscores the difference between ancient and modern worldviews.

A more positive reading, however, draws upon the fact that in ancient Israel the same language could be used to describe the activities of a terrible king, utterly human, the king of Babylon, who at the height of his powers had made nations shake and the earth tremble (Isa 14:16-17). This understanding of the language suggests that God’s activity does not have to be read literally or eschatologically.

The hyperbole can be heard for what it is. God’s intervention may be understood as being brought about by human beings. The text emphasizes that God will bring about the return of the previous liturgical and ornamental items that were stripped from the earlier Temple, and these will then be used to create an even more splendid Temple. Metaphor it clearly is, but hardly nonsense. Human hands are still most frequently the means of divine agency.

3. God cared about Judah and the people Haggai addressed. Therefore, restoration was assured—about this, the people could be certain. But God’s intention went beyond the repair of a destroyed temple. God desired to bestow blessings and would not settle for less. The early post-exilic community was poor and struggling. They had worked hard during the nearly twenty years since the exiles had been allowed to return to rebuild Jerusalem. While many had at least adequate housing, the drought of 520 BCE had made life all the more difficult. Haggai’s principal foes were older folk, perhaps well-meaning at one level, who kept comparing the memory of a glorious past with their experience of a mediocre to poor present. The “good old days” seemed so much better (and perhaps actually were), but that was now immaterial.

The task of each generation is to take courage in God’s goodness and to work on behalf of God’s purposes. Loyalty and dedication are measured by the degree of willingness to stick to the task. Discouragement and depression are contagious and need to be resisted. Haggai was certain that whatever the restored Temple was to be, it would be better than the heap of stones then standing in Jerusalem’s center. God wanted dedication to the task, not nostalgia for the past.

Thus God’s gracious word to Haggai not only assured the people that the Temple would be made splendid, but also that the ill health of the community, its economic weakness, its vulnerability, would be replaced by God’s “peace.” Shalom, peace, is a rich term that includes restoration of health, cessation of hostilities, and enrichment of individual and community life, prosperity in the richest sense of the term. God’s ongoing commitment is to establish shalom in this world—God’s richest blessing.

God’s peace, however, is never disembodied. It always occurs in real space among real people. There is not only a spiritual side but also, of equal importance, a material side. To suggest that only the soul is important to God is to ignore prophetic texts (e.g., Isa 25:6-8; 61:1-4; 65:17-25) and Gospel accounts (e.g., Matt 25:31-46) alike. The announcement of God’s shalom always carries this twofold (spiritual and material) meaning.

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Scott E. Mahle | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Feb 3 2012 8:13 AM

If it takes much longer to produce this work you will have supplied me with everything I need to make a PB out it! Keep posting, my friend. Big Smile

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