Haggai: Introduction-Literary Genre and Style Lesson # 4

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Haggai: Introduction-Literary Genre and Style

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Zuck writes “Literary genre refers to the category or the kind of writing characterized by a particular form(s) and/or content. Distinguishing the various genres (kinds of literature) in Scripture helps us interpret the Bible more accurately. ‘We do this with all kinds of literature. We distinguish between lyric poetry and legal briefs, between newspaper accounts of current events and epic poems. We distinguish between the style of historical narratives and sermons.’[1]”[2]
In the Bible, we have what we call the “legal” genre which appears in the Pentateuch and refers to the body of material that includes commandments for the Israelites (cf. Exodus 20–40, Leviticus; Numbers 5–6, 15, 18–19, 28–30, 34–35), and nearly all of Deuteronomy.
Another genre that appears in the Bible quite frequently, is narrative which is a story told for the purpose of conveying a message through people and their problems and situations.
Biblical narratives are selective and illustrative.
The biblical narratives are not intended to be full biographies giving every detail of individuals’ lives.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the biblical writers carefully selected the material they included to accomplish certain purposes.
Biblical narratives usually follow a pattern in which a problem occurs near the beginning of the narrative, with increasing complications that reach a climax.
Then it moves toward a solution to the problem and concludes with the problem solved.
As the problem develops, suspense usually intensifies and issues and relationships become more complicated until they reach a dramatic climax.
There are different types of narratives: (1) Tragedy: A story of the decline of a person from verity to catastrophe such as Samson, Saul, and Solomon. (2) Epic: A series of episodes unified around an individual or a group of people. An example of this is Israel’s wilderness wanderings. (3) Romance: A narrative in which the romantic relationship between a man and a woman is narrated. The Books of Ruth and the Song of Songs are illustrations of this kind of narrative. (4) Heroic: A story built around the life and exploits of a hero or a protagonist, an individual who sometimes is a representative of others or an example for others. Examples are Abraham, Gideon, David, Daniel, and Paul. (5) Satire: An exposure of human vice or folly through ridicule or rebuke. The Book of Jonah is a satire because Jonah, as a representative of Israel, is ridiculed for his refusal to accept God’s universal love. (6) Polemic: An aggressive attack against or refuting of the views of others. Examples of this are Elijah’s “contest” with the 450 Baal prophets (1 Kings 18:16–46), and the 10 plagues against the gods and goddesses of Egypt.
Another genre that appears in the Scriptures is poetry.
Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs are the five major poetical books but we must keep in mind that poetry is included in many of the prophetic books such as in Zephaniah.
Wisdom literature is another genre in the Bible.
Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes contain this genre and this type of literature is poetry.
However, not all poetic material is Wisdom literature.
The Gospels are another genre.
Some approach the gospel as simply as historical narratives, as if the books were written simply to record biographical information on the life of Christ.
However, they are not biographies in the normal sense in that they exclude much material from the life of Christ which one would normally expect to find in a historical biography.
The Gospels include quite a bit of biographical material on Christ, but they are more than biographies since they contain both doctrine and narrative, which set forth information on the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ teachings in parables and in direct discourse are interspersed with the records of His miracles and encounters with individuals.
Another genre that appears in the Bible is logical discourse which is also called epistolary literature and refers to the epistles of the New Testament, Romans through Jude are examples of this genre in the New Testament.
They contain two kinds of material: (1) expository discourse: expounding certain truths or doctrines, often with logical support for those truths (2) hortatory discourse: exhortations to follow certain courses of action or to develop certain characteristics in light of the truths presented in the expository discourse material.
Lastly, prophetic literature constitutes another genre that appears in the Bible.
This genre includes predictions of the future at the time of the writing of the material with injunctions often included that those who hear the prophecy adjust their lives in light of the predictions.
There is also a special form of prophetic literature, namely, apocalyptic, which focuses specifically on the end times, while presenting the material in symbolic form.
Zuck writes “An awareness of the literary genre or kind of literature of a given Bible book helps more in synthesis than detailed analysis. It helps give a sense of the overall thrust of the Bible book, so that verses and paragraphs can be seen in light of the whole. This helps prevent the problem of taking verses out of context. It also gives insight into the nature and purpose of an entire book, as seen, for example, in the Book of Jonah. Structural patterns help us see why certain passages are included where they are. Also attention to literary genre keeps us from making more of the passage than we should or from making less of the passage than we should.[3]
The book of Haggai appears to be a mixture of prose and poetry since the introductory passages are prose while on the other hand, the messages by the prophet are poetry since they display features which are typical of Hebrew poetry and thus, it can be described as “poetic prose” as Ackroyd suggests.[4]
Haggai employs antithesis (cf. 1:6) and rhyme (cf. 1:6, 10; 2:6).
Repetition more than any other feature characterizes the style of Haggai since he uses the introductory formula “This is what the Lord says” or variations upon this formula this twenty-six times (1:1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13; 2:1, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 17, 20, 23).
The phrase śîmû lĕbabkem (שִׂ֥ימוּ לְבַבְכֶ֖ם), “consider your ways” (ESV) appears three times (cf. 1:5, 7; 2:18) and the verb śîmû-nāʾ (שִֽׂימוּ־נָ֣א), “consider” appears in Haggai 2:15 as it does in 2:18.
Also, there is obvious repetition in Haggai 1:14 since the word rûaḥ (רוּחַ), “spirit” occurs three times in this verse.
There is a repetition in Haggai 2:4 since the second person masculine singular qal imperative form of the verb ḥăzaq (חֲזַ֣ק), “be strong” appears three times and also the expression ʾănî ʾittĕkem (אֲנִ֥י אִתְּכֶ֖ם), “I am with you” appears in Haggai 1:13 and 2:4.
The phrase dĕbar-yĕhwâ (דְבַר־יְהוָ֜ה), “the word of the Lord” occurs five times (1:1, 3; 2:1, 10, 20) and then, there is the phrase ʾāmar yĕhwâ ṣĕbāʾôt (אָמַ֛ר יְהוָ֥ה צְבָא֖וֹת), “thus, says the Lord of hosts” appears seven times (1:2, 5, 7; 2:6, 7, 9, 11).
There is also the phrase nĕʾum yĕhwâ ṣĕbāʾôt (נְאֻם֙ יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֔וֹת), “declares the Lord of hosts” which occurs 6 times (1:9; 2:4, 8, 9, 23 twice).
Lastly, the phrase ʾāmar yĕhwâ (אָמַ֥ר יְהוָֽה), “says the Lord” appears 8 times (1:2, 5, 7, 8; 2:6, 7, 9, 11).
Another feature which demonstrates the literary ability of Haggai is his use of rhetorical questions.
The first rhetorical question which appears in the book of Haggai is found in Haggai 1:4 and is used to rebuke the remnant of Judah for failing to complete the rebuilding of the temple while they sat in their own homes.
The second rhetorical question is posed by the Lord through Haggai and is addressed again to Zerubbabel and Joshua and the remnant of Judah and occurs in Haggai 1:9.
This rhetorical question is also another rebuke of the remnant of Judah for failing to rebuild the temple.
The third rhetorical question appears in Haggai 2:3 and is again posed by the Lord through Haggai and is addressed to Zerubbabel, Joshua and the remnant of Judah.
The purpose of this question is designed to encourage Zerubbabel, Joshua and the remnant of Judah to complete the task of rebuilding the temple.
The fourth and fifth rhetorical questions appear in Haggai 2:12-13 and are directed toward the priests.
The purpose of these questions is designed to emphasize with the priests that the remnant of Judah is unclean and thus the word which they were performing.
The sixth rhetorical question is found in Haggai 2:15-17.
This question is emphasizing with the remnant of Judah that they were not blessed materialistically by the Lord because of their failure to complete the rebuilding of the temple.
The seventh and final rhetorical question is found in Haggai 2:18-19 and emphasizes with the remnant that disobedience to the Lord resulted in the nation being impoverished whereas they would be blessed materialistically as a result of their obedience to His command to rebuild the temple.
[1] R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 49.
[2] Campbell, D. K. (1991). Foreword. In C. Bubeck Sr. (Ed.), Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (p. 126). Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.
[3] Campbell, D. K. (1991). Foreword. In C. Bubeck Sr. (Ed.), Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (pp. 127–135). Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.
[4] Journal of Jewish Studies, 2 [1952]; pages 164-65
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