The overall tone of Haggai 1:2-11 is communicated via the first two words of God’s message: these people. They imply strain, tension, a fractured relationship. If the LORD so desired, He could have called them my people, as He often does through the Scriptures. Yet He distanced Himself instead, calling them these people.
It reminds me of the account of the golden calf. After coming to Sinai, the newly freed Israelites remained encamped around the mountain while Moses journeyed up to its peak into the cloud of God’s glory to speak with the LORD. On one occasion when Moses was gone longer than expected, the people begged Aaron to make an idol for their worship. After forming their golden jewelry into the shape of a calf, the people began to worship before it.
Here’s how God responded:
And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”Exodus 32:7-10
Notice that in both statements the LORD similarly distanced Himself from the Israelites. First, He called them Moses’ people (v. 7), then He called this people (v. 9). The relationship between God and Israel was clearly in peril. The people had violated the First and Second Commandments that the LORD had given to them, and God was prepared to form a new nation from Moses. Moses, however, interceded on his people’s behalf, and they remained God’s chosen people.
Judah’s sin in Haggai’s day was not so blatant. They did not do something so overtly wicked as worshiping a golden calf. It was a sin of negligence, a sin of misplaced priorities. Their failure to continue rebuilding the temple likely had plenty of reasonable excuses. Indeed, they may have continued to promise themselves that they would begin work again in no time, yet fifteen years came and went without action. Theirs was a sin of inaction, of omission.
Yet it was still sin. It still formed a breach in their relationship with the LORD. Their sin seemed smaller than the Israelites of Moses’ day, but there are no small sins. All sin is an offense to the Holy One. All sin severs us from God’s presence, and only the blood of Christ is able to restore us to the Father again.