Tag Archives: Deuteronomic Theology

Transitioning into First Kings

Isaak Asknaziy, Vanita vanitatum et omnia vanitas (19th Century)

Like the book of Judges, which is the most recent book I completed my work through, the narrative of First Kings is a part of what scholars call the Deuteronomic History since it views the story of Israel through the perspective of the covenantal vision of the book of Deuteronomy. First and Second Kings were initially a common book, the book of Kings, which was later divided into two books in our current divisions. The book of Kings as a whole narrates the story beginning with the reign of King Solomon, to the division of the kingdom into Judah and Israel, or the northern Kingdom of Israel, and then the recurring pattern of unfaithful rulers, with a few good rulers who attempt to reform the people, which eventually lead to the northern kingdom’s destruction by the Assyrian empire in 721 BCE and the Babylonian empire’s conquering of Judah in roughly 587 BCE. First Kings, which covers roughly half of the original combined book, begins with Solomon, narrates the secession of the northern tribes when Rehoboam fails to listen to the cries of the people and continues through the kings of Judah and Israel until the Omri dynasty in the north and the emergence of the prophet Elijah to challenge the unfaithfulness of King Ahab.

In the Jewish division of the Hebrew Scriptures the Deuteronomic History (Joshua, Judges, 1&2 Samuel, and 1&2 Kings) are all grouped with the prophets. They are history viewed through a theological lens and with the intention of looking backwards to understand the situation of the people in exile. There is a tradition of associating these books with Jeremiah, and they do share a common worldview. It is a helpful process of looking backward upon the history of a people critically to attempt to bring meaning to the present crisis.

I do these reflections in a semi-random order and so I have skipped the narratives of Samuel, Saul, and David in first and second Samuel. I may at some point go back and walk through these narratives, but the time period of the kings after Solomon is also a time period I am less familiar with. The perspective of First Kings is somewhat difficult to discern. On the one hand it is a part of a collection of books that specifically deals with the dynasty of kings and understands those kings as an integral part of the story of Israel. The presence of a Davidic king in Judah maintains a symbolically important place throughout the books. At the same time the book includes several critiques of the kings, even kings that would be viewed as successful in many other respects. Solomon begins well, but eventually abandons the wisdom of God for accumulation and adopts the practices of his many wives in worshipping other gods. The assessment of individual kings is often summarized by phrases like, “He committed all the sins that his father did before him; his heart was not true to the LORD his God like the heart of his father David.” (1 Kings 15:3 referring to Abijam, son of Rehoboam, son of Solomon).

I grew up with the stories in First Kings, but I have not ever spent any sustained reflection upon this book. I would assume this is true of most Christian pastors, and more broadly most Christians. I am not sure what this journey will uncover, but I enter it with humility and interest. I do trust that there is wisdom to be found in this reflection upon this time of kings and prophets, of struggle and division, of unfaithful leaders and a God who desires a faithful people.

Deuteronomy 1: Retelling The Story For A New Time

Moses Speaks To His People at Moab, Charles Mosley, 1747

Moses Speaks To His People at Moab, Charles Mosley, 1747

Deuteronomy 1: 1-8 Retelling the Story

These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan– in the wilderness, on the plain opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Di-zahab. 2 (By the way of Mount Seir it takes eleven days to reach Kadesh-barnea from Horeb.) 3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the Israelites just as the LORD had commanded him to speak to them. 4 This was after he had defeated King Sihon of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and King Og of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth and in Edrei. 5 Beyond the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this law as follows:  

6 The LORD our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. 7 Resume your journey, and go into the hill country of the Amorites as well as into the neighboring regions– the Arabah, the hill country, the Shephelah, the Negeb, and the seacoast– the land of the Canaanites and the Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. 8 See, I have set the land before you; go in and take possession of the land that I swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their descendants after them.”

I was sitting with some of my colleagues earlier this week when someone asked, “Why do you write on things that can be gloomy or less interesting, you spent over a year going through Jeremiah and now you are going to do Deuteronomy. You are about to get married, why not write on something like Song of Solomon.”  And my answer was simply I think there is wisdom in going back to these books that as Christians we don’t spend a lot of time in, that rarely appear, for example, in the Revised Common Lectionary, and that those who do spend time with them do it from a moralistic perspective and may be selectively choosing parts that fit their idea of what is important. I also think there is a need for understanding the God of covenant which is the background for the stories of the gospels and the New Testament as a whole. As a person who understands God primarily as a gracious and loving God I also need to be able to wrestle with the multiple pictures of God that are painted by the numerous authors of scripture. I think it is also important to walk with the God who is present in these stories because it is too easy for us as modern people to reduce God to ideas, God is love or God is the unmoved mover, or God is omnipotent, omnipresent, all knowing, etc. I think without continually going back to the narratives that we have we run the risk of falling quickly into H. Richard Niebuhr’s statements about American Christianity, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross.” (Niebuhr, 1988, p. 193) I could easily write on the gospels or Paul’s letters but I also spend time here because it is a part of scripture I don’t know well and I trust that although it may not be the easiest place to engage the story of God, it remains important.

Also for our Jewish ancestors Deuteronomy is at the very heart of their understanding of God, one of the five books of the Torah, and in many ways a distillation of the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. It is a book which contains the central Jewish command, the Shema, which we will see in chapter 6. Going into the book of Deuteronomy requires me to step into another perspective and another time, and perhaps I like the Psalmist can learn to meditate on this ‘second law’ and find delight. As Psalm 1 states “but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.” (Psalm 1.2) The word Deuteronomy comes from a mistranslation and the name literally means second law, and it is a second telling of the story and a highlighting of certain key portions of the law. The narrator of Deuteronomy places these words in the mouth of Moses as the people is almost ready to finally enter the promised land after their generation long sojourn in the wilderness. It is the end of Moses journey and the passing of the torch from Moses who led them out of Egypt to Joshua and the new generation who will move into the promise land.

Deuteronomy is not a neutral retelling of history, nor is any of scripture, but it is told in a way to make certain things clear. It is a book that talks about the faithful covenant God who has journeyed with the people from Egypt and will continue to journey with the people. It expounds and interprets history through the lens of God’s covenant faithfulness. Deuteronomy begins by telling the story of God and interpreting the people’s identity in light of that story. Deuteronomy narrates Israel’s identity at this crucial moment as they stand at the transition between sojourners and residents of the promised land, a generation ago they understood themselves as slaves in Egypt and that identity does not easily pass away, but now they are the chosen people called to live in a covenant with the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. It is an identity that they have failed to live into in the past and it is an identity that they will not easily shoulder in the future but for Deuteronomy their lives and future are at stake as they place the people there in the valley hearing Moses tell about their past so that they may live into their present identity.


Deuteronomy 1: 9-18

 9 At that time I said to you, “I am unable by myself to bear you. 10 The LORD your God has multiplied you, so that today you are as numerous as the stars of heaven. 11 May the LORD, the God of your ancestors, increase you a thousand times more and bless you, as he has promised you! 12 But how can I bear the heavy burden of your disputes all by myself? 13 Choose for each of your tribes individuals who are wise, discerning, and reputable to be your leaders.” 14 You answered me, “The plan you have proposed is a good one.” 15 So I took the leaders of your tribes, wise and reputable individuals, and installed them as leaders over you, commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of fifties, commanders of tens, and officials, throughout your tribes. 16 I charged your judges at that time: “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. 17 You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. Any case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.” 18 So I charged you at that time with all the things that you should do.


Moses is characterized as the type of leader who takes everything on his shoulders and the people follow, but this type of leadership not only burns out the leader dealing with every issue that comes up but it also prevents the people from taking ownership for their own calling. Now in the ancient world where most people were not literate and relied on kings, priests, and judges to be not only the interpreters but the readers of the law it was crucial to have people entrusted to this. This may refer back to both Exodus 18 and Numbers 11 which refer to two separate events, but the character of Moses in the retelling is interesting. In Exodus 18 it is Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, who sees Moses spending all his time adjudicating minor manners and says to him, “What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you and you cannot do it alone.”(Exodus 11.18) and so it is at his father-in-laws urging that Moses appoints judges. In Numbers 11 the people are complaining and Moses reaches his breaking point saying, “Why have you treated your servant so badly?…I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me.” (Numbers 11.11, 14) Now it is Moses who appeals to God from exhaustion, frustration and in desperation looking for assistance and God provides a portion of the spirit that is on Moses and give it to these seventy elders. In Deuteronomy Moses is the wise and trusted leader and Moses comes up with the idea and the people respond, “the plan you have proposed is a good one.”  The story perhaps begins with the appointing of judges because of the critical nature having good judges will play in the story as it goes forward. Living justly requires a set of good and competent judges and a strong and impartial legal system which cares for the poor and the rich, the citizen and the immigrant is critical to living out their identity as the people of God.

Moses by Victorvictori, permission granted by author through WikiCommons

Moses by Victorvictori, permission granted by author through WikiCommons


Deuteronomy 1: 19-33

 19 Then, just as the LORD our God had ordered us, we set out from Horeb and went through all that great and terrible wilderness that you saw, on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, until we reached Kadesh-barnea. 20 I said to you, “You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the LORD our God is giving us. 21 See, the LORD your God has given the land to you; go up, take possession, as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, has promised you; do not fear or be dismayed.”

 22 All of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead of us to explore the land for us and bring back a report to us regarding the route by which we should go up and the cities we will come to.” 23 The plan seemed good to me, and I selected twelve of you, one from each tribe. 24 They set out and went up into the hill country, and when they reached the Valley of Eshcol they spied it out 25 and gathered some of the land’s produce, which they brought down to us. They brought back a report to us, and said, “It is a good land that the LORD our God is giving us.”

 26 But you were unwilling to go up. You rebelled against the command of the LORD your God; 27 you grumbled in your tents and said, “It is because the LORD hates us that he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to hand us over to the Amorites to destroy us. 28 Where are we headed? Our kindred have made our hearts melt by reporting, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified up to heaven! We actually saw there the offspring of the Anakim!'” 29 I said to you, “Have no dread or fear of them. 30 The LORD your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your very eyes, 31 and in the wilderness, where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you traveled until you reached this place. 32 But in spite of this, you have no trust in the LORD your God, 33 who goes before you on the way to seek out a place for you to camp, in fire by night, and in the cloud by day, to show you the route you should take.”


There is no identity without knowing one’s story. The book of Deuteronomy narrates again the story of the people at the edge of the promised land a generation ago in order to construct a different identity in this new generation. They are the children of those who did not trust the LORD at this crucial moment in the story and they have the opportunity to act differently than their ancestors. They are the children of the people who God, “who carried you, just as one carries a child” but still had not learned to trust in the God who journeyed with them. Perhaps learning to trust in the LORD who we don’t always see is one of the hardest things to learn, and even though I think Luther is correct to interpret the first commandment, “We are to fear, love and trust God above all things” (Luther, 1994) It is more difficult to live that ideal out in the realities of life and conflict. Moses can see and interpret reality to the people, that the LORD has given them possession of the land and that it is a good and prosperous land but people will always see the giants and the walled cities.

One thing I noticed about this is that there is a changed dynamic. In the previous section Moses made the suggestion about the judges and the people felt it was a good idea, but here the people make the suggestion of exploring the land and Moses felt the plan sounded good. Perhaps, without reading too much into this, this is one of the dangers that leaders face. Knowing when to listen to the people they lead and knowing when to stick with their own plan. The time of scouting out the land allows many of the doubts to return. The murmurs of the journey through the wilderness return. The people continue to misunderstand who the LORD is and the way they are to relate to this God who has led them or their journey. The people see the LORD’s absence while Moses sees the LORD’s presence and continually calls the people to trust in the LORD who has been present throughout the journey.


Deuteronomy 1: 34-45

 34 When the LORD heard your words, he was wrathful and swore: 35 “Not one of these– not one of this evil generation– shall see the good land that I swore to give to your ancestors, 36 except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his descendants I will give the land on which he set foot, because of his complete fidelity to the LORD.” 37 Even with me the LORD was angry on your account, saying, “You also shall not enter there. 38 Joshua son of Nun, your assistant, shall enter there; encourage him, for he is the one who will secure Israel’s possession of it. 39 And as for your little ones, who you thought would become booty, your children, who today do not yet know right from wrong, they shall enter there; to them I will give it, and they shall take possession of it. 40 But as for you, journey back into the wilderness, in the direction of the Red Sea.”

 41 You answered me, “We have sinned against the LORD! We are ready to go up and fight, just as the LORD our God commanded us.” So all of you strapped on your battle gear, and thought it easy to go up into the hill country. 42 The LORD said to me, “Say to them, ‘Do not go up and do not fight, for I am not in the midst of you; otherwise you will be defeated by your enemies.'” 43 Although I told you, you would not listen. You rebelled against the command of the LORD and presumptuously went up into the hill country. 44 The Amorites who lived in that hill country then came out against you and chased you as bees do. They beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah. 45 When you returned and wept before the LORD, the LORD would neither heed your voice nor pay you any attention.

 46 After you had stayed at Kadesh as many days as you did,


Can we learn from our past or are we somehow destined to repeat it? One of the things that the prophets of Israel will do over and over again is to take these central stories, like the story of the exodus and recast them to be heard again in their day. The will use the stories of the past to tell the people of their time the cost of their disobedience to their covenant with God. The God of the Bible does get angry, does show emotions, is become wounded by the disobedience of the chosen people. This time when Israel refuses to hear the word of the LORD leads to the LORD being unwilling to hear them. This is one of those times where the people missed their window of opportunity, and the LORD through Moses (even in the midst of God’s anger) tells Moses to warn the people not to go up, but the people strap on their equipment and proceed to walk into their own defeat.

This disobedience has consequences not only for the people but for Moses. The narrative places the blame for Moses’ inability to reach the promised land at the feet of the people. Their disobedience not only brings anger on themselves but on Moses, and even though Moses has stood in the gap between the people and God, now Moses finds himself caught between the people and the LORD.

One of things this makes me ponder is the God who refuses to hear. We often act as if God hears every prayer regardless of how we interact with the world God has made, and there may be some truth in this, but there is also truth in the view of the Deuteronomist where our actions and our lives matter to God. The LORD presented by Deuteronomy does care about the lives of the people who are supposed to represent God in the world. Yet there is a hope, it is not an immediate or cheap hope. God will not stay angry forever, there will be a time when God listens to the people again. It may be a generation later when the sons and daughters who grow up in the wilderness now are adults ready to enter the promise land but ultimately, for Deuteronomy, God will uphold God’s part of the covenant but not on a human timeline.

Perhaps in a later time, when all the books scholars like to label the Deuteronomic History (Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1&2 Samuel and 1&2 Kings) are brought together the people are looking back on their history trying to make sense of their world. They are trying to bring order to the chaos of living in the midst of the exile in Babylon. As they look back over their story they find meaning in who they are called to be and how they are called to live. Even without the land or the temple or a king they are still the people of the covenant and perhaps in this time of disobedience where a generation is lost in the wilderness they can find hope in their own lost generation in exile.

Jeremiah 11: From Blessing to Curse

Shemah inscription on the Knesset Menorah, Jerusalem

Shemah inscription on the Knesset Menorah, Jerusalem

Jeremiah 11: 1-8: Recalling the People’s Vocation
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 3 You shall say to them, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Cursed be anyone who does not heed the words of this covenant, 4 which I commanded your ancestors when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron-smelter, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, 5 that I may perform the oath that I swore to your ancestors, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day. Then I answered, “So be it, LORD.”
6 And the LORD said to me: Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them. 7 For I solemnly warned your ancestors when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. 8 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of an evil will. So I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.

Jeremiah attempts to call the people back to their vocation as the people of God. The language recalls the formative story of the Hebrew people, the story of the Exodus and calls them back to the covenant that God made with the people when they were brought out of Egypt. The people are called once again to hear the words of the covenant, obey the Lord’s voice in a powerful echo of Deuteronomy where the central command is to ‘hear’ or ‘give heed.’ For Jeremiah this sense of a calling the people are to live into as the people of God is their reason for existing. Yet, Jeremiah is also aware of the story of his people and the way they didn’t listen and heed. Jeremiah is working out of a Deuteronomic theology (do these things and you will be blessed, fail to do these things and you will be cursed) and from that perspective he will judge the way God is working in the life of the people. Jeremiah will find this perspective challenged as he continues his ministry, but the basic understanding of why the people find themselves under God’s judgment remains a powerful thought throughout Jeremiah. It is the way Jeremiah makes senses of the senseless desolation he will encounter later in his life with the desolation of his people and their forced exile.


Jeremiah 11: 9-17: The Good Tree Gone Bad
9 And the LORD said to me: Conspiracy exists among the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.10 They have turned back to the iniquities of their ancestors of old, who refused to heed my words; they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken the covenant that I made with their ancestors. 11 Therefore, thus says the LORD, assuredly I am going to bring disaster upon them that they cannot escape; though they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. 12 Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they make offerings, but they will never save them in the time of their trouble. 13 For your gods have become as many as your towns, O Judah; and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars you have set up to shame, altars to make offerings to Baal.
14 As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble. 15 What right has my beloved in my house, when she has done vile deeds? Can vows and sacrificial flesh avert your doom? Can you then exult? 16 The LORD once called you, “A green olive tree, fair with goodly fruit”; but with the roar of a great tempest he will set fire to it, and its branches will be consumed. 17 The LORD of hosts, who planted you, has pronounced evil against you, because of the evil that the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done, provoking me to anger by making offerings to Baal.

This is the language of the betrayed. The Lord speaks out of the Lord’s deep wounds and the grief of the brokenness of the relationship. The people have lost their position, their betrayal has cut so deep that their appeals no longer have any value. They are reaping the harvest of their past deed, and the blanket term that covers their betrayal is idolatry. Their identity has changed from being the fruitful olive tree to becoming the blackened and dead tree after the fire consumes it. God no longer wants to hear from the people, nor the intercession of even his prophet on their behalf. God is done listening, God has turned God’s back, like a parent who disowns his or her children or a spouse who divorces their partner, God no longer is willing to continue with the relationship because of the continued betrayal of the people.

The Prophet (nogard86 at deviantart.com)

The Prophet (nogard86 at deviantart.com)

Jeremiah 11: 18-23: The Cost of Being a Prophet
18 It was the LORD who made it known to me, and I knew;
then you showed me their evil deeds.
19 But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.
And I did not know it was against me that they devised schemes, saying,
“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will no longer be remembered!”
20 But you, O LORD of hosts, who judge righteously,
who try the heart and the mind,
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.
21 Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the people of Anathoth, who seek your life, and say, “You shall not prophesy in the name of the LORD, or you will die by our hand”– 22 therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: I am going to punish them; the young men shall die by the sword; their sons and their daughters shall die by famine; 23 and not even a remnant shall be left of them. For I will bring disaster upon the people of Anathoth, the year of their punishment.

The consequences for the prophet are steep, and just as the Lord experiences betrayal so now the prophet also experiences a deep betrayal. The prophet has loved his people, indeed that is one of the requirements of being a prophet, and yet now the Lord reveals the plot against the prophet himself. The prophet is horrified and also lapses into the language of betrayal-calling for retribution on his betrayers. In the Lord’s verdict (21-23) we also learn that this betrayal, from the people of Anathoth, are from Jeremiah’s own kin, his own hometown. The people of Anathoth are going to bear an even greater punishment than the people in general, for the Lord says there will not be a remnant from them, unlike the rest of the people.

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com

Trusting a Dream: Haggai 2

Bust of the Prophet Haggai by GIovanni Pisano, last quarter of the 13th Century

Bust of the Prophet Haggai by Giovanni Pisano, last quarter of the 13th Century

Haggai 2

In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2 Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 3 Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4 Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts, 5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. 6 For thus says the LORD of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7 and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the LORD of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts. 9 The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.

 10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 11 Thus says the LORD of hosts: Ask the priests for a ruling: 12 If one carries consecrated meat in the fold of one’s garment, and with the fold touches bread, or stew, or wine, or oil, or any kind of food, does it become holy? The priests answered, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If one who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered, “Yes, it becomes unclean.”

 14 Haggai then said, So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, says the LORD; and so with every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean. 15 But now, consider what will come to pass from this day on. Before a stone was placed upon a stone in the LORD’s temple, 16 how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. 17 I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and mildew and hail; yet you did not return to me, says the LORD. 18 Consider from this day on, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid, consider: 19 Is there any seed left in the barn? Do the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree still yield nothing? From this day on I will bless you.

 20 The word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21 Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, 22 and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders; and the horses and their riders shall fall, every one by the sword of a comrade. 23 On that day, says the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, son of Shealtiel, says the LORD, and make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the LORD of hosts.


It is easy to start a project, but when something is going to take a while it may be harder to bring it to completion. For example, many people make New Years Resolutions, few manage to keep them throughout the year. Weight loss either through exercise or diet works really well on the front end, but most people quit and never make the changes that are necessary to prevent the weight from returning. A long building project may start out great, but if it takes more than a couple weekends it may begin occupying space in the garage. I have started a project of going through the book of Jeremiah, all 52 chapters and I’m reluctant to publish anything until I get far enough in to be confident I might actually finish it (or my place of authority work which is currently in a season of writers block because I really am not at the point where I feel confident in my own position to write about what should logically come next, the Rise of Islam). Well in Haggai, the people and the leaders in Judah are re-embarking on a long term construction project with the temple. It is not going to go together overnight or even in a year, but they have begun. God here is encouraging them that he will be with them through this project, that they will be blessed in this project and that ultimately the silver and gold of the nations will come to fill the house with splendor.

This is a people who has dealt with drought and they are having to learn to think in a new way. In a drought you go into survival mode, you hoard what you have, but God is trying to take them into a way of living with enough, or maybe even abundance. A way of living where they can focus on something that can be used by everyone. It is a much more civic and theologically minded approach to living. There is some benefit to the temple for everyone, and the people will be blessed in and through its construction.

A couple thoughts: Haggai definitely works from what is sometimes called a Deuteronomic theology “If you do good you will be blessed, if you do evil you will be cursed” this is not the New Testament’s predominant theology, but I do think we do need to consider it. In what ways do our actions and the ways in which we live effect our wealth, status, happiness, etc… There is obviously not a one to one correlation, and often those who live the most righteous appearing lives seem to suffer the most, but God appears to believe that our actions are important for God’s plans and that God will add his work to the work the people are doing.

One of the dynamics that may be functioning is the dynamic of memory. Some of the older people may remember the temple torn down by the Babylonians, and the temple being built is ‘as nothing’ and this happens in churches as well. “I remember the way it was when I grew up” and while the memories may be good they can also be dangerous. Any time our memory of the past is greater than our hope for the future we are approaching the point of despair. I know people who grasp for a past that is no longer present and fear the present and future, but there are no time machines and we are a people who are future oriented not past oriented.

As W. Eugene March correctly states, “Although the main concern of Haggai the prophet was the rebuilding and rededication of a relatively insignificant temple in a small district in the backwaters of the Persian Empire (at least as far as the world would have judged it), the real issue is worldwide domination of the Lord of hosts.” (Achtemeier, Elizabeth et. al 1999, 7:731) The larger church I am a part of for the last couple of years has used the slogan, “God’s work, our hands” and this is one of those times where the work of our hands may seem insignificant but we trust that the  impact may be larger than what we know.  Just as it may not seem like Zerubbabel is not very significant, but in God’s eyes he is chosen, a signet ring. Maybe it is only a dream, and that is always the risk of trusting and faith, but it is a dream worth having.

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com