“Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.” Haggai 1:10-11
Have you ever “done an Izzy?” Have you ever taken an Old Testament passage and tried to squeeze it into your modern day political or social agenda?
Please hear me when I say it, “Don’t do an Izzy!” The Bible won’t allow you to do that. You might allow you to do that, but the Bible won’t.
God’s words in Haggai chapter one above, makes it clear that there is a correlation between the sin of the nation and natural consequences such as drought. The behaviour and attitude of the Jewish people towards God’s temple, their failure to honour him, have resulted in devastating drought and loss of income.
Haggai 1 makes a direct link between the actions of the people and the actions of God. “You do this,” says God, “And I will do that.” It’s quid pro quo . Cos that’s how God works in the Old Testament, right? Yet when we translate that correlation directly to us today? Well, that’s what I call “doing an Izzy”.
This way of reading the Old Testament it makes perfect sense for rugby star Israel Folau to give a sermon at church linking the devastating Australian bushfires with legislation on same sex marriage and abortion.
Now I firmly believe that both of those activities go against God’s express plan for human flourishing. They are sinful. I make no bones about it.
And following Izzy’s logic God has therefore done a “Haggai” number on Australia. Like Israel in the Old Testament Australia too has failed to keep God’s commands and is being cursed for it. It’s an open and shut case isn’t it?
Except, of course, it’s not. It’s a complete misreading of the Bible. I say “of course”, but I’m not sure many Christians use or understand the Old Testament any better than Israel Folau.
In fact I’m sure there were hundreds of pastors “doing an Izzy” yesterday. Hundreds of sermons preached in Australia yesterday that used the Old Testament as poorly, if not as brutally and publicly as Izzy did.
And given the law of averages there was probably at least one well received sermon from this very chapter in Haggai, as a pastor called on his congregation to dig deep for a building program. Should your church have a building program? Absolutely. Should it use the prophesy of Haggai to promote it? Absolutely not.
Apart from the fact that it’s an insult to Australians suffering from bushfires, not to mention the gay couple living down your street, “doing an Izzy” insults God’s intentions for the Bible.
If you’re a long term Christian and you’re not familiar with the book of Haggai, then the first thing I have to say to you is “What the heck?” We only truly make sense of the gospel when we understand its foundation, the story of God’s dealing with Israel. So get into it!
Folau’s great mistake is to read the Old Testament law and prophets without reference to the cross of Jesus.
We are told in Galatians 3:13:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”
By “curse” Paul does not mean any generic curse going around. No. Paul is talking about the curse of God’s law pronounced in the covenant to Israel on the verge of entering the Promised Land. You can read this in Deuteronomy. And if you haven’t read Deuteronomy, then again I say “What the heck?”
Obedience to God by the nation of Israel in their new land would result in blessing: kids, land, crops, rain at the right time. That sort of thing. Disobedience to God by Israel in the land would result in cursing: no kids, expelled from the land, drought and no crops. That sort of thing.
Israel was to be a light to the nations, showcasing the goodness of God, so that the Gentiles would be drawn to God. Their refusal to do so, to worship other gods, to act unjustly and and immorally, would usher in covenant curses and eventual expulsion from the land.
Yet blessing and curse in Deuteronomy are merely harbingers of greater outcomes. Blessing is linked to life. Cursing is linked to death. Deuteronomy calls on God’s people to choose life. And the way to choose life is to obey God. Sadly Israel disobeys God, effectively choosing death.
Paul the Christian, is Jewish to the core, and he gets what this means. He gets that the curse of being left hanging on a tree – a curse lifted directly from Deuteronomy’s curses, – reveals that Christ has taken the full weight of the curse for Jew and Gentile alike on the cross.
In his obedient life and sacrificial death Christ completes Israel’s task as a nation, taking her curse, and in the process establishing a new people of God who inherit God’s promised blessing. The link between national obedience and blessing is broken, The link between national disobedience and curse is broken. Israel’s duty as a pointer to Jesus has been discharged.
Jesus then liberates a new humanity, the church, to live a life of responsive obedience. The church does so according to the powerful Holy Spirit and not according to the law. The new Israel is the church, not the nation state.
Hence back to Izzy. And back to Haggai. Izzy’s problem is two-fold. First he conflates the experience of God’s nation of Israel in particular, with the nation of Australia in general. It’s a “this is that” transference that fails to see the church as the new nation of God. Second, and in light of that, he fails to read the Old Testament framework through the light of the cross.
So, for instance, the prophet Haggai calls for the temple to be rebuilt in order that God might get glory from His people. It is not there so that thousands of years later some mega-church pastor can launch a building program by misapplying it. And it’s not there so that Izzy can call out Australia for its collective sins.
The temple is to be rebuilt because, as the place of God’s glorious dwelling on earth, and the place of sacrifice for sin, it is a pointer to Jesus. Jesus is the true glory of God on earth come in flesh, and Jesus is the true place for sacrifice of sin. We don’t come to the temple to meet God, we come to Jesus to meet God.
The temple is ultimately rebuilt as an object lesson for Israel, so that one day Jesus can stand outside it and say “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it.”
And I reckon Izzy does not get that framework. In its historical context the refusal by Israel to rebuild the temple is a refusal to glorify their God. But in its salvation-historical context it is a proto-rejection of God’s gospel that will culminate in Jesus. Israel can’t see this of course, but looking back on it they will.
Yet Izzy is not on his own in his misinterpretation. If you don’t read the Old Testament through the light of the cross you’re going to end up with a theology, ethic and sociology of the modern nation state that is way off the mark. And plenty of people on both sides of politics are doing that.
Whether it’s how the nation does sex, or how the nation rejects refugees, either side of politics wants to pull the Old Testament lever, but then pick and chose what comes tumbling down. But the Old Testament does not work that way.
For example, the inclusion of the foreigner among Israel as a nation was a pointer to the inclusion of the Gentiles in the plans and purposes of God. That was the ultimate mystery (Ephesians 3:6) which God revealed in Jesus. When God called on Israel to welcome the foreigner it was because they too were foreigners and He took them in.
Or again, sexual purity is God’s intention for the whole of humanity. However the church exemplifies this as the new people of God living in the power of the Spirit. Do we want the nation to live in sexual purity? Absolutely. Can we draw a link between national immorality and Deuteronomic curses? Absolutely not.
This misreading of the Old Testament leads to either anger or pride. Anger because our nation is not living like God commanded, and we must bend it to our will. Pride because our nation is not living like God commanded, but, hey some of us are!
Some of us are holier than others in the land when it comes to sex. Some of us are more just than others when it comes to refugees. Pride and anger abounds when Christians get this wrong. Don’t believe me? Then read your Facebook feed.
Now should there be justice and holiness in Australia? Sure. But can we expect these things outside of the church, and call for them using the Law and the prophets? I don’t think so.
Conversely should we expect justice and holiness to take place within the church? We sure can. Indeed we must. But we don’t call for them using the Law and prophets either! We call on them because Jesus is the goal of the Law and the prophets. We choose life when we choose Jesus, and obedience follows!
The church then becomes the primary place that welcomes the stranger and foreigner. The church becomes the primary place that shuns immorality, honours marriage as God intended it. The church becomes the primary place that recoils in horror the idea that killing a human made in the image of God is something to be celebrated or “shouted out”.
Now none of this means we should not have a public theology. We should. And I know that people – from Left and Right – will immediately put the boot into me for not pushing their public political agenda hard enough.
But be careful how you do this. You can’t have it both ways. The church must be like Israel in that we must display a level of holiness and justice towards that bears witness to the goodness and glory fo God. We must speak and live in such a way that we showcase the perfectly obedient One.
If you don’t get that, and you’re on the political right, then nothing less than full alignment with Old Testament sexual prohibitions in Australia will satisfy you. If you don’t get that and you’re on the political left, then nothing less than full alignment with Old Testament justice demands in Australia will satisfy you. Each side wants to use the Old Testament for its own purposes, while refusing permission for the other side to do so. That my friends, is “doing an Izzy”.
Izzy’s message to the nation should be “Repent!” But repent, not because drought or flood or whatever will be the outcome. Repent because the covenant curses are pointers to a greater judgement. They are pointers to a final judgement, ultimate death, total separation from God awaits everyone – individual and nation – that refuses to worship and glorify God.
As has been pointed out to me, there are prophetic calls of full judgement on other nations too, but they are within the context of an internal message to God’s nation, and they are not linked to covenant blessing and curse.
This full and final judgement awaits everyone, whatever political or sexual stripe. Whether they agree with abortion or whether they don’t. Whether they welcome foreigners or they don’t. That’s what awaits those do not glorify the God and Father of the one true Temple – the Lord Jesus.
And if reports about Izzy’s understanding of Jesus are true, then I just hope that Izzy doesn’t “do an Izzy” on himself, by failing to recognise that Temple for who he rightly is.