Self-examination and Repentance (Haggai 1:5-6)
Reformed Free Publishing Association
From The Coming of Zion's Redeemer: Commentary on Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, by Ronald Hanko, pages 26-29.
Haggai 1:5. Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.
1:6. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; bye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.
Having pointed out and rebuked the sins of Judah, God now calls them to self-examination and repentance. He wishes them to see that their ways are sinful and displeasing to him by acknowledging their sin and turning from it. Though God does not explicitly call for repentance, that is what he has in mind. There is no value in considering our ways if this does not lead us to turn to ways that are pleasing to God. It is much the same with God as with an earthly father who says to his child, “Look what you’ve done.” He means, “Do you not see that you have done wrong? You must acknowledge it and turn from your wrongdoing.”
We should note too that dealing with our sins always involves a consideration of our ways and a turning from the old ways of sin. The person who considers his ways but goes on in them has not truly repented of his sins. This becomes abundantly clear in verses 7–8, where God does call Judah to new ways of obedience.
This call for repentance and conversion is addressed not only to Judah but also to us. If we have neglected the house of God, the church, or have shown a lack of care for the church as the place of God’s covenant, we too must consider our ways and turn from whatever evil we have done. We must consider our ways and see that Judah’s sins are ours and that God is speaking to us as well as to them. If we do not, we are as blind and ignorant as they were before this word of God came to them.
God enforces that call to self-examination and repentance by telling Judah that he had been punishing them for their sins, though they were unaware of it. Among the troubles they had suffered were famine, crop failure, bad weather, drought, and disease (see also 1:10–11; 2:17). These troubles had come from God as chastisement for their sin. Not all their problems, therefore, could be blamed on their enemies or on the decree of Artaxerxes. God makes sure that they see these things as his judgment and not as an excuse for forsaking the work of rebuilding.
God says that their crops had been small, so no one had enough to eat and drink or even sufficient clothing. These are the judgments that had been threatened in Deuteronomy as punishment for disobedience: poor crops in Deuteronomy 28:38, lack of food in Deuteronomy 8:10, and insufficient clothing in Deuteronomy 10:18; and God was fulfilling his own word in sending them. Under these judgments it had been as though everything they earned was put in a bag full of holes. And so it is always. Those who will not obey God cannot be and are not blessed and do not prosper.
All this raises the question concerning the relationship between obedience and material prosperity. Especially in the New Testament, is it true that those who live in obedience to God can expect material prosperity or receive it when it comes as a sign of God’s favor and blessing? That is a question that needs answering.
Material prosperity, according to scripture, can be an evidence of God’s blessing. That would be impossible to deny. In the Old Testament this was far truer than in the New Testament. God made it clear to Israel that prosperity in the land of Canaan was evidence of his good pleasure and that drought and enemies were signs of his displeasure. Even in the Old Testament, however, this was not true absolutely. The book of Job is a lengthy lesson otherwise and shows that prosperity does not equal blessing on a personal level. In the Old Testament therefore, prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing nationally, but not individually. Times of national prosperity did not mean that everyone in the nation was blessed by God, and times of trouble did not mean that every individual was under God’s curse.
What is more, there were times when God sent enemies and other troubles for reasons of his own and not because the nation as a whole was living wickedly. Had Hezekiah and Judah been unfaithful when God sent Rabshakeh and the Assyrians against them? There is no evidence that they had. The people of God, therefore, needed the prophets and the word of God to interpret their circumstances and to tell them that God was pleased or displeased with them.
What was true individually in the Old Testament continues to be true in the New. Individual prosperity or the lack of it cannot be interpreted as a sign of God’s favorable or unfavorable attitude. God can, as Psalm 73 so clearly teaches, send prosperity as a curse or send evil things for our good, so that all things work together for good to those who love God (Rom. 8:28). There is no common grace or favor or mercy of God in things, and those who think so have no explanation for God’s giving prosperity and earthly gifts to the ungodly whom he will send to hell, or for his sending cancer and other ills to those he loves.
However, we often feel that God is displeased with us when we are not living in obedience to God and when he, in those circumstances, sends trouble and grief into our lives. It is also possible that, walking in sinful ways, we have all we want and prosper in our wickedness. That is not proof of God’s blessing but of God’s setting us in slippery places (Ps. 73:18) or filling our mouths while he sends leanness in our souls (Ps. 106:15).
The only nation of God that now exists is a spiritual nation, the church. No earthly nation, not the USA, not Scotland, not the Netherlands, can claim to stand in the favored position that Israel had in the Old Testament, and even Israel in its favored position was a type and foreshadowing of the church. That the church is that favored nation is taught in 1 Peter 2:9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
The prosperity that God gives his church when she is faithful and obedient is not crops and good weather and freedom from hunger and disease, but spiritual prosperity. The church that is being blessed by God is not necessarily the wealthiest church, but the church in which the members are enjoying all the riches of God’s grace and salvation. When the church is not prospering spiritually, when the people of God go spiritually hungry and thirsty, and when they are like the church of Laodicea, spiritually poor and blind and naked, they may certainly conclude that there is something desperately wrong and they must consider their ways.
Let us then, as members of the church, be always busy considering our ways. Let us observe the spiritual condition of the church and not be blind to the fact that God may very well be sending his judgments on the church for her unfaithfulness. Certainly we must not think that because the members of the church are prosperous in material things and because the church has many members and enough in the offerings to pay for all sorts of programs, these things are evidence of God’s blessing. The church is blessed when the members of the church are clothed in the spotless robes of Christ’s righteousness and when they have the bread of life as the food of their souls and the water of life as their refreshment.