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The Third Oracle of Haggai   Leave a comment

Above:  Haggai, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain




Haggai 2:10-19


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.





A Covenant People, Part VIII   1 comment

Above:  Image of COVID-19, by the Centers for Disease Control

Image in the Public Domain


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Genesis 17:1-22 or Ruth 4:1-17

Psalm 143

Revelation 21:1-6a

John 15:1-17


The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) includes part of Genesis 17 only one–on the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B.  The RCL guts the chapter, though.  The RCL assigns only verses 1-7 and 15-16.  As Matthew Thiessen observes in Jesus and the Forces of Death:  The Gospels’ Portrayal of Ritual Impurity Within First-Century Judaism (2020), the RCL avoids the verses that talk about circumcision.  One who hears a RCL-based sermon on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 hears

a very carefully edited, essentially Christianized (or de-Judaized) version of Genesis 17.


The Humes lectionary, in contrast, fills the hole the RCL creates.

Without chasing a proverbial rabbit, I repeat here what I have written elsewhere, in another lectionary-based devotion, recently:  Within Judaism, over time, as reflected in the Bible and in non-canonical Jewish texts, a range of opinions regarding circumcision existed.  Judaism has never been a monolithic religion, despite what you, O reader, may have heard or read.

Circumcision was a common practice in many cultures in the area of antiquity.  In the case of the Jews, it was significant for more than one reason.  Hygiene was one reason for circumcision.  The practice was also a fertility rite, a ritual of initiation into the covenant people, and an act of ritual purification.  The practice, perhaps most importantly, functioned as a marker of identity in God and the divine covenant.

Circumcision is a sign–a covenant I believe remains in effect.  I, as a Gentile, function under a second covenant.

Wholeness and restoration–collectively and individually–are possible only in God, via a covenant.  As in Ruth 4, God frequently acts through people to create wholeness and restoration.  God also acts directly often.

…there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness.  The world of the past has gone.

–Revelation 21:4b, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

The “world of the past” in Revelation 21:4b remains the world of the present.  The COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim and damage lives and livelihoods.  Tears, death, mourning, and sadness remain, in a heightened reality, the cruel companions of victims of the pandemic.  One point of Revelation is the imperative of keeping faith and focusing on the light while the darkness threatens to overwhelm with despair and hopelessness.

One joins a covenant by grace.  One drops out of a covenant by works of darkness.  That is classical Jewish Covenantal Nomism.  In other words, remain faithful to God, who is faithful.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu told a story about a Jew in a Nazi death camp.  A guard was mocking a pious Jew, forced to perform the degrading, unpleasant, and disgusting task of cleaning the toilet.  The guard asked, 

Where is your God now?

The Jew answered,

He is beside me, here in the muck.

Where is God during the COVID-19 pandemic?  God is sitting beside the beds of patients.  God is walking beside essential workers.  God is grieving with those who mourn.  God is present with those working to develop or to distribute vaccines.  God is with us, here in the muck.

God is faithful.  May we be faithful, too.





Adapted from this post: