Homiletical Insight from the Book of Haggai: Deconstruction of the Temple and Reconstruction of God’s homelessness

이진황 증명사진

Introduction

In suffering—not only natural disasters, but also catastrophes caused by humankind intentionally or unintentionally, people bring up theodicy questions. When we answer the theodicy question stating that it is God’s will, it is ungodly to affirm the will of God through their own perception. Nonetheless, pastors, preachers and theologians are still forced to answer the theodicy question in the tragedy because of their position as mediators of divine revelation and secular phenomena.

As a prophet, Haggai is concerned with God’s will in the devastated circumstances of the destruction of the temple, resulting in a severe decrease in population due to death and deportation.1 His role might be the same to the preachers whose role is to explain the tragedy they confront, to their congregations in the church. Throughout the book of Haggai, his position is paradoxical, because he is now standing between deconstruction and reconstruction. That is, God pursues the destruction of the temple, which demarcates where God resides by humankind, instead, of reconstructing God’s original perspective as a homeless walker.

The Book of Haggai

The entire book of Haggai dates from the year 520 BCE, in the second year of the Persian King Darius I, which is set eighteen years later that the Persian conquest of Babylon 538 BCE, when it clearly indicates that the temple was still not to be reconstructed at that time.2 Furthermore, four narrative reports about the divine communication and their circumstances are indicated in a precise historical timeframe about three and a half months in the second year of Darius.3 Scholars, in fact, doubt the certain timeframe because of the inaccuracy and inconsistency between the timeframe and its historical events,4 so that they consider that the role of the precise timeframe is “to create an important temporal framework within the narrative and to strengthen the rhetorical claim reliability of the account”5 in order to focus on the restoration of the Temple, Judah, and Jerusalem in the Persian period.6

Moreover, Haggai conveyed God’s revelation to two persons in the leadership of Judah—representing political leadership and religious leadership, it reflects that the message to Joshua and Zerubbabel7 is based on the covenant that focuses around the rebuilding of the temple and the possibilities that reside therein.8 In fact, it is no doubt that the main theme of Haggai and Zechariah 1-8 is the reconstruction of the temple. Both focus on the rebuilding of the temple and clearly insist that “God’s dwelling is with humankind and the hopes invested in the original creative activity of Yahweh will have been realized.”9 Thus, through Yahweh’s creative activity and incarnation, the temple functions as “a microcosm of the universe, its rituals and drama effect the power of the creator within the cosmos.”10 As Achtemeier explains, Godself is localized and, as the Lord of Hosts, rends the heavens and comes down and dwells in the midst of God’s people.11

Deconstruction

Then, if the temple is a microcosm which symbolizes the creation order of Yahweh and actualized God’s presence, why did Yahweh allow the destruction of the temple, the physical building, when the Babylonian empire conquered the temple in 587 BCE? Is it punishment about the sin of the Israelites?

According to Radditt, as a result of the drought (1:10-11; 2:16-17) there was a delay in the rebuilding the temple. Even though the text does not clearly clarify the drought as a punishment, Haggai links the failure to rebuild the temple with the drought as a warning the returning community has not heeded.12 However, I think that the view of Redditt is merely right on the surface of the text. Instead, I focus on the understanding of Meadowcroft:

The play on words from the creation tradition between the soil, ´dmh and humankind, ´dm, occurs in the middle of this list in the phrase ‘upon what the earth brings forth and upon humankind’. This recalls the dynamic of the relationship between human beings and the soil from which they were created, so powerfully evoked in Gen. 2.7. There the dynamic is such that the human is both the culmination of creation and also implicated within it. The effect is similar in the words of Haggai. As a result the fate of these drought-stricken humans beings enslaved by their futile labour is a sign of something even more significantly amiss within the cosmic design; something that in the thought world of the day of a restored temple was capable of addressing.13

In other words, even though Haggai 1 represents that the drought is called by God because the people hurried off to their own houses (1:9), drought in Haggai is not evidence of God’s punishment. Rather, it implies the dynamic relationship between humankind and their origin in the creation story for perceiving their identity, that is, came from soil. In that sense, it is hard to understand the reason for the destruction of the temple as God’s punishment in Haggai. Then, how can we approach the cause of the destruction of the temple, and God’s will as resulted to it?

Reconstruction

Regarding the question, I approach the argument of Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, and then view Thomas M. Dicken’s view of “the homeless God” in order to restore God’s original-primary identity from the creation story. First of all, Leeuwen considers, the “house building is a fundamental metaphoric domain used by ancient Near Eastern societies to express their respective view of human wisdom as rooted in divine wisdom manifest in the ordering and provisioning of the cosmos.”14 In other words, the visible house building implies invisible wisdom, not only of humans, but also of divine beings, which gives “order, meaning, and life to the cosmos as a whole.”15 In doing so, divine wisdom is actualized at the temple, and “the divine wisdom with its cosmic scope is the basis for the wide variety and scope of human wisdom.”16 Thus, “kings (human or divine) or their counselors archetypically demonstrate their wisdom by building (big) houses and providing for them. In that sense, to fill a house means that ‘kings or gods show the earthly fruitfulness—mainly by controlling waterworks—so as to fill cosmic and ordinary “buildings with good unexpected places.”’17 Based on the notion, destruction of the temple can mean the failure of divine wisdom—Yahweh’s wisdom—or dereliction of duty as the Lord of hosts due to fail providing fruitfulness (Hag. 1:6, 11; 2:16-17).

Otherwise, the deconstruction of the temple reflects God’s powerlessness. According to Bonhoeffer, “God allows himself to be edged out of the world and onto the cross. God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us. . . . [I]t is not by his omnipotence that Christ helps us but by his weakness and suffering.”18 Through his experience, he could not confess that God represented omnipotence. Instead, God approached him as “the weakness of God (as distinguished from omnipotence), as well as the foolishness of God (as distinguished from omniscience).”19 I declare that the destruction of the temple functions to reveal those characters of God—powerlessness and foolishness. However, those two characters parallel the homelessness. Furthermore, the destruction of the temple means failure of God’s omnipresence as the concept of the place. Thus, it reflects that God can be characterized with homelessness through the deconstruction of the Temple.

Paradox

Ironically, God is still the creator who should be present “at every point in the universe in order to know of and creatively act on each thing in the universe.”20 Between God as creator and God as the homeless, these two concepts need to be re-defined by the language of homelessness.

Language about a homeless God does not imply that God is only to be found by or among homeless people. Instead, it implies that God’s presence has no boundary, cannot be controlled or managed, and is unpredictable.21 God’s absence is also part of the mystery of God.22 Furthermore, the role of deconstruction is to dismantle the hierarchical binary opposition and structure.

Deconstruction, in fact, leads to de-centered God’s presence, so that “we are no longer thinking abstractly about God, instead we want to know where God is.”23 This issue is not God’s omnipresence, but it is about God’s presence.24 God is who is on the move, seeking out places to be present, as well as God as a homeless walker can move from place to place without any boundary.25 That is, the expression, God’s homelessness, does not mean that God is only staying at the deep center of the temple, but means that God is actually staying with human beings without sociopolitical and cultural, or economic boundaries. God’s homelessness is not only a different way to explain about liberation, but also restoring to the original character in God’s creation.

Homiletical Insight

God’s homelessness is the core concept of deconstruction in order to reconstruct the primitive microcosm in creation, and to restore God’s original perspective as a homeless walker. In Gen. 1:2, God swept over the face of the water without boundary when the earth was a formless void and darkness. In Exodus 2, God also indicates who God is—I AM WHO I AM (2:14)—to Moses recalling the covenant with his ancestors and promising that God will be with Moses (2:12). The purpose of deconstruction of the temple is to reconstruct God’s character, that of homelessness, escaping from a certain building. In other words, Yahweh wants Israel to know that they themselves have misunderstood that God resides only in the temple, in the center of Israel, in the middle of the universe. However God totally deconstructs the center of Israel, the middle of the universe, but reconstructs the temple as a microcosm, which “offers the person who enters it to worship an opportunity to rise from a fallen world, to part take of the Garden of Eden.”26 It means that God Godself deconstructs the boundary, which made by humankind and liberates from the fixed characters implied by human kind. Instead, God reconstructs God’s original images—freedom, liberation, love, peace, and creation.

 

Jin Hwang Lee

MDiv Candidate, Drew University

 


  1. Ehud Ben Zvi, “Haggai” in The Jewish study Bible : Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation, editors, Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler; consulting editor, Michael Fishbane (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 1243. 
  2.  Ibid.; Elizabeth Achtemeier, Nahum—Malachi: Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1986), 93. 
  3. Tim J. Meadowcroft, Haggai (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2006), 42. 
  4. Meadowcroft, Haggai, 42-3. 
  5.  Zvi, “Haggai,” 1243. 
  6. Ibid. 
  7. “The references to the land of Judah in Haggai (1:1; 2:2; 2:21) appear exclusively in the title the book gives to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah. Hope for that governor to rule in his own power, however, would have involved the end of Persian power, a hope hinted at in Hag. 2:22.” Paul L. Redditt, “Themes in Haggai—Zechariah—Malachi” in Interpretation 61, No. 2, (April 2007), p.188. 
  8. Meadowcroft, Haggai, 46. 
  9. Tim Meadowcroft, “A Desolate land, people and temple: Haggai and the Environment” in Colloquium 40, No. 1, (May 2008), 72. 
  10. Ibid., 62. 
  11. Achtemeier, Nahum—Malachi, 97. 
  12. Redditt, “Themes in Haggai,” 194. 
  13. Meadowcroft, Haggai, 130. 
  14. Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, “Cosmos, temple, house: building and wisdom in Mesopotamia and Israel” in Wisdom literature in Mesopotamia and Israel, edit. Richard J. Clifford (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007), 89. 
  15. Ibid., 67. 
  16. Ibid., 90. 
  17. Ibid., 73. 
  18. Thomas M. Dicken, “The Homeless God,” in The Journal of Religion, Vol. 91, No. 2, (April, 2011): 127. See original reference, Dietrich Bonheffer, Letter and Papers from Prison (London: SCM, 1967), 196-97. 
  19. Dicken, “The Homeless God,” 128. 
  20. Ibid., 132. 
  21. Ibid., 136. 
  22. Ibid. 
  23. Ibid., 139-40. 
  24. Ibid., 140. 
  25. Ibid. 147. 
  26. Jon D. Levensen, “The temple and the world” in The Journal of Religion, Vol. 64, No.3, (July, 1984): 297-8. 


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