Stacy Davis. Haggai and Malachi: Wisdom Commentary, Volume 39, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press (Michael Glazier Book), 2015. Pp 126, $29.94 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-8163-3; ISBN 978-0-8146-8188-6 (ebook). Reviewed by James ZEITZ, Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, Texas 48207.
Stacy Davis’s commentary on Haggai and Malachi (Wisdom Commentary, Vol.39) offers readers a feminist approach to two deeply masculinist texts, both of which are prophetic responses to post-exilic Judaism: Haggai—who along with Zechariah exhorted returning exiles to rebuild the temple, and some fifty years after the Second Temple had been dedicated, Malachi—who responds to doubts about God’s promises provoked by abuses in temple worship.
The subtitles to Davis’ opening sections to the two prophets hone in on important themes: For Haggai 1:1-15, the subtitle is “The Art of Persuasion”; for Malachi 1:1-5, “God is Love?” But her feminist agenda appears in the subtitles for the second sections: for Haggai 2:1-9, the subtitle is “God as ‘The Man’”; for Malachi 1:6-2:9, the subtitle is: “Divine Masculinity Under Attack.” See also on Malachi 2:10-16: “Is God a Girl”? While the feminist agenda will be especially important for her commentary on Malachi (see below), her supplementary essays for Haggai’s Art of Persuasion (to rebuild the temple) include a two part essay (by Catherine Punsalan-Manlimos) on modern rebuilding of the Church: the first part on her own pessimism about the Catholic Church, the second part: her changed attitude about the church upon reading Pope Francis’ preferred metaphor of the church as “a field hospital after battle” and the need for the church to “heal wounds and warm the hearts of the faithful.” In a comment on the prophet, Haggai’s Art of Persuasion, Davis points out God’s role in relation to the community: they don’t immediately react to the threat of retribution (drought because “my house likes in ruins”), but later−after “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel…and Joshua…and all the remnant”—they do begin rebuilding the temple: not fear but persuasion is awakening the people to action.
A final comment that illustrates the “other voices” program of the Wisdom commentaries regards the role of Zerubbabel in the final oracle of hope: “On that day… I will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the Lord of hosts” (2:23). Does Haggai envision a restoration of the Davidic king? Other texts in Haggai point to the rejection of Messianism—because of the importance of the restoration of the Temple. In this case, the only one who benefits from the “divinely instituted changes is God. Davis then cites Steed Davidson (a native of Trinidad) who applies Haggai to his country’s postcolonial development: While God destroys the nations, this gives the poor and oppressed a change for a lasting peace.
Regarding Malachi—and God is Love? (The subtitle for 1:1-5) Davis summarizes the six oracles or “disputations” in Malachi 1:2-4:3, in which the anonymous “prophet” sent by God (3:1) addresses situations in the post-exilic community. The main problem is doubts about the restoration and God’s justice—and love. The individual topics—priestly abuses of sacrifice (1:6-2:9); marriages (2:10-16); tithes for Levites (3:6-12)—are symptoms of doubts about the Covenant and God’s continued presence in his temple. The prophet’s responses reaffirm God’s love (reaching back to his love of Jacob and hatred of Edom)—including a striking comment on marriage in which Judah is the male and, implicitly, God is the woman. Against doubts about the God of Justice, God’s power will be restored when he sends his “messenger” (Malachi) to prepare his way in the (cataclysmic) “day of the Lord” (3:2; see 4:1): two classic texts used by the gospels to characterize John the Baptist. In Malachi 4:1 (“See the day is coming…”) Davis notes (citing Karl Weyde), not only does this reassure Judeans who had doubted God’s promises (too many delays! Too much abuse in worship in the temple!), but it is also a transition from late prophecy to apocalyptic.
The author, an African American woman raised in Pentecostal churches, in her comments on Malachi 3:6-12: an exhortation to Judeans who neglect tithes and are accused of “robbing” God, criticizes some modern African American churches who insist on tithing “until it hurts”. Behind this is the “prosperity gospel:” God will bless you if you give (therefore you cannot afford not to tithe!). The author points out however that, according to Deuteronomy, poor widows should be receiving tithes, not giving them. Another helpful suggestion regarding this text is by Davis also Carlos Raul Siliézar: the “storehouse” in Malachi (“bring your tithes to the storehouse”) is not an individual church, but a place to provide for the needy (in Guatemala). Tithing can create economic independence from wealthier white churches (according to Lekgetho Moretsi). What I find less coherent, however, is a long essay on tithing: “When Giving Hurts” by Rachel Bundang, whose criticism of giving away possessions is based on her own experience of job insecurity and the negative reality of homelessness. Giving up one’s possessions does bring blessings from God. She seems to confuse giving up material possessions as a return to poverty and giving up as ‘detachment’ (a goal in Ignatian Spirituality).