Elie Assis, «Haggai: Structure and Meaning», Vol. 87 (2006) 531-541
This article uncovers a sophisticated structure of the Book of Haggai and its
significance. The structure of the book is part of the rhetoric of the prophet to
contend with the people’s thoughts that reality did not meet their hopes. They
expected in vain the renewal of the ‘old days’ to be immediate. Therefore, they
believed that God was not with them and felt they were still rejected by Him.
Haggai argues to the contrary: God was with them despite the seemingly
desperate situation, and the anticipated reality was bound to materialize, but only
gradually. The Book’s structure also shows that it is not a random collection of
oracles but one unified literary work.
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540 Elie Assis
complete remedying of the peopleâ€™s situation into a reality existing beyond
that which can be anticipated normally. The people must not wait impatiently
for a change because this will not happen naturally and simply.
According to the book of Haggai the people thought that reality must be
transparent and clear and not subject to different interpretations. They
expected renewal of â€˜our days as of oldâ€™ (Lam 5,21) to be immediate. What
Haggai says is that the anticipated reality will arrive, but it will arrive
gradually. It will not be a one-time event, but a long process. Haggai asks the
people to wait patiently.
In the two parts of the book the direction of the progression is from
admonition to consolation, from existential oracles to oracles that relate to the
peopleâ€™s cognition. In both parts there is a progression from current demands
made upon the people to divine promises of cataclysmic change in the future
that will lead to realisation of the peopleâ€™s expectations of redemption. This
structure presents a way of contending with the difference between
expectations and reality. While the people feel unstable in the current
situation, Haggai suggests that they act as strenuously as possible in the
present. As regards the unrealised expectations, Haggai asks the people to
wait patiently for crucial processes that in due time will lead to the awaited
changes, both in the status of the Temple and of the King. As against the
expectations for immediate changes, Haggai suggests anticipation of gradual
changes and ultimately the great destinies will be realised.
Haggaiâ€™s greatness lies in his firm position regarding the peopleâ€™s
positive future, despite the difficult reality of the present. Scholars have
generally tended to treat Haggai negatively. They saw him as a dry, boring
prophet, and an epigone (31); others indicated that Haggai is indeed a minor
prophet, and that he has no spiritual message (32). Yet his ability to stand up at
a difficult time for the people and to encourage them to build the Temple, and
to anticipate realisation of their expectations in the future, despite the
economic difficulties and the theological doubts, points to Haggaiâ€™s
leadership and the strength of his faith (33). While the role of the pre-exilic
prophets was to warn of the destruction, Haggaiâ€™s and Zechariahâ€™s role was to
build and rehabilitate the physically and spiritually destroyed people (*).
Department of Bible Studies Elie ASSIS
Bar Ilan University
Ramat-Gan 52900; Israel
(31) See e.g. G. FOHRER, Introduction to the Old Testament (London 1968) 460; J.A.
BEWER, The Literature of the Old Testament (New York 21933) 235-236. Against this
Judgment see: J. LINDBLOM, Prophecy in Ancient Israel (Oxford 1962) 421; M.J. BODA,
â€œHaggai: Master Rhetoricianâ€, Tyndale Bulletin 51 (2000) 295-304.
(32) T.H. ROBINSON, Prophecy and the Prophets in Ancient Israel (London 1979) 177;
W.L. SPERRY, â€˜The Book of Haggaiâ€™ (IB, New York 1956) VI, 1039.
(33) See: P.R. ACKROYD, â€œStudies in the Book of Haggaiâ€, JSS (1952) 9-13; K. KOCH,
The Prophets (London 1983) II, 160.
(*) I would like to acknowledge the kind support of â€œBeit Shalomâ€ - Japan.