The Third Oracle of Haggai   Leave a comment

Above:  Haggai, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART V

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Haggai 2:10-19

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Jerusalem, December 18, 520 B.C.E.–a seemingly unremarkable date.

In the third oracle (2:10-19), Haggai offered an explanation for why the situation in Jerusalem had not improved, despite the resumption of construction of the Second Temple.  Holiness was not transferrable, but ritual impurity was (Numbers 5:2; 6:6; 9:10; 19:11, 13).  Tainted and unacceptable offerings to God made the work of the people unclean, impure (verse 14).  The problem was with the altar upon which people laid the offerings.  Priests were using the altar, despite not having properly purified it ritually (Ezra 3:107; 1 Esdras 5:47-73).

Nevertheless, December 18, 520, B.C.E., marked a turning point in the people’s relationship with God:

Consider, from this day onwards,…:  will the seed still be diminished in the barn?  Will the vine and the fig, the pomegranate and the olive still bear no fruit?  Not so; from this day I shall bless you.

–Haggai 2:18-19, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Yet read Zechariah 1:18-21/2:1-4, set two months later.

I am an Episcopalian and a ritualist.  Therefore, I grasp the importance of dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s.

However, I am also a Gentile to whom ritual purity and impurity are foreign concepts.  These are concepts about which I have read, especially in regard to whether Jesus accepted them and how to interpret them in healing stories involving Jesus.  These are also concepts I have rethought, especially in regard to Jesus, after reading Matthew Thiessen, Jesus and the Forces of Death (2020).  Studying Haggai 2:10-19, I must dig into the text and read regarding the Biblical background of the ritual purification of altars.  Jewish sources teach me much.

This is a rule binding on your descendants for all time, to make a distinction between sacred and profane, between clean and profane, and to teach the Israelites all the decrees which the LORD has spoken to them through Moses.

–Leviticus 10:9b-11, The Revised English Bible (1989)

When we move from one context to another, a timeless principle remains:

What is at stake is attitude.

–W. Eugene March, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VII (1996), 728

Approaching God reverently and respectfully is essential.  Rules dictate how to do so.  So be it.  This is a serious matter in the Hebrew Bible.  This explains why Leviticus 12-15 describe how to dispose of ritual impurity of various types.  This is why Leviticus 16 pertains to the annual purging of the sacred precincts of impurity.  This is why Leviticus 1-7 go into great detail about types of offerings to God.  This is why Exodus 35-38 detail the construction of the Tabernacle.  This is why Exodus 39 focuses on the making of the priests’ vestments.  I respect all this, even though I enjoy eating pork.

I also notice that God changed the relationships, for the people’s benefits.  People were still supposed to use a purified altar, of course.

Grace is free, not cheap.

For the sake of completeness and intellectual honesty, however, I note that the first vision of Zechariah (Zechariah 1:8-17) contradicts the pressing of the giant reset button in Haggai 2:10-19.  I will get to Zechariah 1:8-17 in due time.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 12, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JASON OF TARSUS AND SOSIPATER OF ICONIUM, COWORKERS OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE AND EVANGELISTS OF CORFU

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