Just Justice? (Leviticus 26)
Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: Leviticus 26:1–46
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
July 15th, 2018
I. Contract Law, Way Back When
Archaeologist who study the Ancient Near East have described for us the kinds of royal treaties and contracts that were typically used in the region for several thousand years, several thousand years ago.
One of these treaties/contracts simply described, in ancient legal jargon, what a king would do for one of his subjects. It may have been a gift of land, or a pardon, or some kind of special position. It was simply a royal promise. But another type of treaty/contract was distinct in that it laid down stipulations for the one who was receiving the royal benefit. And at the end of these stipulations, there was usually a list of provisions and punishments for the one receiving the benefit, depending on whether he honored or dishonored the agreement.
Treaty. Contract. Now, a similar and sometimes synonymous word we find in the Bible is the word covenant. Based on what we just learned, when we look together at Leviticus 26 this morning, we will recognize that we are at the end of a contract; a covenant between the King of heaven and his subjects, the nation of Israel.
Turn over and look with me at Leviticus 26.
II. The Passage: "And I Will Walk Among You" (26:1-46)
Unlike past weeks, this morning I am going to read every word of this chapter. But I'll do that one section at a time. As you can see from your outline, I believe there are four sections in this chapter. And in the first section, verses 1 and 2, we discover...
1. The Core of Obedience (vs. 1, 2)
Listen to what Yahweh communicates through Moses...
“You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the LORD your God.  You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.”
So let's remember where we are in terms of the layout of Leviticus. We are both at the end of the entire book, and the end of a section dealing with what it means to have a consecrated calendar. Now that section that called the Israelites to have a consecrated calendar, that section began in chapter 23 and ended in chapter 25. And like bookends, what the beginning and end of that section have in common is an emphasis on honoring the Sabbath.
Or more specifically, honoring the Sabbaths (plural). Remember, not only was there a weekly Sabbath (chp. 23:3), but as we saw in chapter 25, there was also a seven-year Sabbath, and a seven times seven-year Sabbath on each forty-ninth, then the Jubilee in the fiftieth year.
But notice how verses 1 and 2 connect us back to the Ten Commandments by joining together the second and fourth commandments: there is a prohibition against idols and carved images, and a call to keep the Sabbath. And in verse 2, both of these are connected to “reverence” for God's sanctuary.
Why is it important that these verses are right here at the beginning of chapter 26? Because at the end of this section and the end of this book (this book about holiness, this book about being set apart), verses 1 & 2 pointed the Israelites to both the who and where of covenant obedience. The who was Yahweh, the one true God, the God of their forefathers. The where was right there in their midst. The call to obedience was not about abstract principles. It was a call to love, not principles out there, but a person right here; a God who was now dwelling among his people in the Tent of Meeting.
But look what comes next in this chapter. In verses 3-13 we read about...
2. The Consequences of Obedience (vs. 3-13)
Listen to what God tells them about these consequences. Verse 3...
“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them,  then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.  Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely.  I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land.  You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.  Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.  I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you.  You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new.  I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you.  And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.  I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.”
There are few passages in Scripture that can rival this description of beautiful and bountiful blessing. Prosperity. Security. But God saves the best for last. Not only will they have provisions and peace, in abundance. Best of all, they will have the Giver, not just the gifts. Just like in Eden, God will walk among them. He will be their God. They will be his people. This was the very purpose, the destiny for which he had saved them from slavery.
If they followed the light God had provided for them in this book, Levitical light, the light of holiness, they would be able to enjoy the warmth and illumination of God's fiery presence.
But those promises of blessing do not stand alone. In verses 14-39 we also read about...
3. The Consequences of Disobedience (vs. 14-39)
Keeping those blessings in mind, listen very carefully to what will happen if they neglect, if they ignore, if they reject the light of Leviticus (and listen for what is repeated). Verse 14...
“But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments,  if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant,  then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.  I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you.  And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins,  and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze.  And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.  “Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins.  And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.  “And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me,  then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins.  And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy.  When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.  “But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me,  then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins.  You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters.  And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you.  And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas.  And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it.  And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.  “Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies' land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths.  As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it.  And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues.  They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues. And you shall have no power to stand before your enemies.  And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.  And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies' lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them.”
If the promised blessings of 3-13 were soul-stirring, these divine curses are certainly soul-sobering. Now, did you hear any repeated phrases or ideas in that passage? Yes! The repetition of the phrase “if you will not listen” (vs. 14, 18, 21, 27 (and similar in 23)...that repetition) reveals five different stages of God's judgments against his people.
And when we think about how each stage is described, it 's clear that things go from bad to really bad to really, really bad (btw, “sevenfold” simply means fully or completely). In stark contrast to the blessings enumerated earlier, there is no prosperity or security here. There is only suffering and servitude and desperation; and eventually...exile. Yes, it would be as tragic as it sounds: promised exile from the Promised Land. If they failed to keep God's Sabbaths, God would give the land rest in his own way.
Now, it's important to note that the rest of the Bible confirms the specifics of this covenant agreement. From the regular occupations in the Book of Judges to complete exile in Jeremiah, God was true to his word when it came to the people's idolatry and immorality.
But wonderfully, that section is not the last word. If we continue into vs. 40-46 we hear about...
4. The Consequences of Repentance (vs. 40-46) (vs. 40...)
“But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me,  so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity,  then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.  But the land shall be abandoned by them and enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes.  Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God.  But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.”  These are the statutes and rules and laws that the LORD made between himself and the people of Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai.
That final verse takes us right back to the beginning of Leviticus and the end of Exodus. These are the terms of the agreement, the covenant the people of Israel entered into with God at Mount Sinai. If they honored the sacrificial system, if they listened to the priests, if they followed God's path of holiness, the land would know both abundant provision and absolute peace. But if they rejected both God and his commands, they would suffer outwardly and inwardly; they would forfeit his protection and provision.
But these closing verses reminded them, that no matter how far they strayed, the door of God's presence, provision, and peace would never fully close. If they turned, if they humbled themselves, if they made amends, if they sought God, they would be restored. Even if they broke this covenant (v. 15), God would not break his earlier covenant, the one he made with their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is emphasized in both verses 42 and 45.
Remember those two kinds of treaties/contracts we talked about at the beginning? Well, God's promise to Abraham was like that first type. It was simply a promise of blessing. There were no stipulations for Abraham. No conditions. No curses. Individual Israelites might perish because of their sin, but Israel as a people never would. Through obedience to the second covenant, each individual Israelite could participate in the blessings of the first.
III. Clues of a New Covenant
But in light of all this covenant talk, here's what I want you to see: there are clues in this chapter that point to the need for another covenant. Did you see those? First, there was the reality of God's unconditional promise to Abraham: 'I will bless you...and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2, 3) God would fulfill that promise, one way or another. Second, there was the reality of (v. 41) Israel's uncircumcised heart. They might have been set apart physically, but their hearts were not set-apart for God.
Third, these covenant curses are not just about justice. Though this chapter reflects ancient contract law, it is not just about justice. It is not simply a cold, clinical contract. It is a reflection of what Moses expressed to the next generation of Israelites in Deuteronomy 8:5...Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.
Not only is the word discipline used in 18, 23, and 28, but the five stages point to this same purpose. Some see a list of curses that is twice as long as the earlier list of blessings and believe it means God is more into anger than affection. Yes, the people described here, an obstinate, proud, wicked people, deserve judgment. There is certainly justice here. But why five stages? Because of God's mercy. He is giving them chance after chance to let the heaviness humble them. And He did this for them, and for us today, so that we could see the utterly devastating consequences of sin. Through earthly judgments like these, God warns all people about eternal judgments that are far, far worse. That is where the path of sin leads.
And yet, in light of these clues, an OT reader would have to wonder, “Even if he repeatedly, but mercifully, disciplines them, how will God fully fulfill his promise to Abraham through this wayward people?” It is that very question that prepares us for God's answer. Turn over to Hebrews 8 and listen to how the writer speaks to that question, using the prophet Jeremiah...
(verse 6) But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.  For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.  For he finds fault with them when he says [quoting Jeremiah 31]: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,  not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. [i.e. they suffered under the curses]  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:6–12)
With Leviticus 26 in mind, listen to how the Apostle Paul describes this new covenant in Jesus Christ. He writes in Galatians 3:13–14...
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”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Did you hear that? Did you hear what Paul said about blessings and curses? On the cross, Jesus secured the blessing of Abraham for you, by taking the covenant curse upon himself. He became a curse to that we might be blessed.
And a few books later Paul points out how Christ's resurrection ties in as well...
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,  having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12)
Now, real quickly, think about what this means in terms of two different perspectives, both positionally and practically.
Positionally, this means that through faith alone, faith in Christ, the sheer abundance, the fullness of blessing, the reassuring picture of prosperity and peace pictured in Leviticus 26:3-13 can be yours. It can be mine. As Paul reminds us in Galatians 3, we don't receive a promised land, we receive “a promised Spirit”. If we are to enjoy life in the new heavens and new earth, we need new life, we need a new heart through God's Spirit.
But what about practically? Well, as you meditate on the fact that Jesus, on the cross, took on himself the fullness of terror and deprivation and agony pictured for us the five stage of Leviticus 26:14-39...as you think about his suffering in those terms, how should it affect your attitude and actions on a daily basis?
Should it not motivate us in a somewhat (not a totally, but a somewhat) similar way to the way these words should have motivated the Israelites? Shouldn't we desire the path of life and blessing, instead of the way of death and destruction? Returning to Galatians, doesn't Paul remind us of a similar principle?
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:7–9)
What Paul writes there does not contradict salvation by grace alone, through faith alone. No. In fact, it directs genuine, saving faith. To put it another way, our reaping does not secure the new heart God promised through Jeremiah. But our reaping gives evidence of it. You see, that new heart (from the Spirit) reacts to the blessings and curses of Leviticus 26. Because it inspires love for God in us, that core of obedience, it encourages us to heed God's word and to hate the neglect of it.
Think for a minute about your own struggle with sin. Do you really want that which brings about such ugliness and ruin and suffering? Do you really want to live for the very things under which Jesus died in crushing agony? I pray we would be sobered by what we've seen this morning. But even more so, may the Spirit also work to thrill our hearts in light of the blessings Christ alone made possible through both his covenant obedience and covenant-satisfying death...God himself dwelling among us, that God himself might dwell in our hearts...that we might be His people and He our God. Let's thank Him together. [Let's pray]
More in Living Leviticus
July 22, 2018Spiritual Vows and a Voluntary Spirit (Leviticus 27:1-34)
July 8, 2018Belonging and Belongings (Leviticus 25)
May 20, 2018His Light, My Darkness (Leviticus 24)