TEMPORAL BLESSINGS OR CURSINGS BASED ON COVENANT LOYALTY TO GOD’S COMMANDS CAN NEVER NEGATE GOD’S FAITHFULNESS TO HIS ULTIMATE RESTORATION AGENDA FOR THE NATION OF ISRAEL
Roy Gane: Leviticus 26 provides a dramatic climax to the book of Leviticus, after which the concluding rules of chapter 27 are anticlimactic.
Mark Rooker: Although Leviticus 26 begins without any introduction or introductory formula, the contents of the chapter suggest such a dramatic shift in subject matter that it is permissible to view the chapter as a self-contained section of Leviticus 17–26. The chapter is united by the phrase “I am the LORD [your God],” which occurs in 26:1, 2, 13, 44, 45. The chapter naturally divides on the basis of the subject matter of its contents, for 26:3–13 addresses the rewards for obedience, 26:14–39 pertains to the judgments for disobedience, and the final section, 26:40–46, describes God’s faithful and merciful response to his people in exile. The first two verses of the chapter address the issue of appropriate worship, both negatively and positively. . .
The occurrence of a section on blessings and cursings after the laws have been given plays a critical role in the structure of the entire book, since they occur at the end of the book as a promise and a warning. Deuteronomy 28, a parallel listing of cursings and blessings, plays the identical role in the Book of Deuteronomy, as may Exod 23:20–33 in Exodus 20–23. The blessings for obedience and cursings for disobedience reflect the principle of the lex talionis, that a person should be justly recompensed for his actions.
McGee: This is an ‘iffy’ chapter. ‘If’ occurs nine times and it has to do with the conditions on which they occupy the land. God says ‘I will’ twenty-four times. God will act and react according to their response to the ‘if.’
Perry Yoder: The pros and cons of keeping this contract with God are listed in Leviticus 26. This reminds us that a relationship with God is a two-way street. God’s responses are affected by how one responds to God’s regulations for maintaining accord with God. At the end of the chapter we will find that failure and punishment are not the final word, but God’s grace continues despite disobedience. . .
The language of Leviticus 26 indicates the connection of Leviticus with covenant making and keeping. The primary word for “covenant” (berit) has occurred only twice previously in Leviticus (2:13; 24:8), but it appears eight times in chapter 26 (three times in v. 42). The covenant connection is confirmed by verses 42 and 45, in which God promises to remember the covenant made with Israel even though Israel has not kept it.
Allen Ross: The main idea of the first half of Lev. 26 is the blessing of God. A blessing is some gift, some enrichment of life, or some enablement for prosperity that comes from God. By usage it most often represents a physical benefit, such as wealth, prosperity, children, success, or peace; but the blessing may also be spiritual, such as grace and peace from God (Num. 6:22–27) or communion with God (Ps. 144:15). Both physical and spiritual blessings are found in Lev. 26.
I. (:1-2) FUNDAMENTALS OF COVENANT WORSHIP
A. (:1) Refrain from Idolatry
“You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God.”
Mark Rooker: This fourfold description of the making of idols is the most comprehensive concentration of references to image making in the Bible, thus ruling out any type of idol worship.
Richard Hess: “Idol” is found previously only in 19:4, which also forbids its erection. “Image” occurs in the Decalogue (Ex 20:4) as the word used to prohibit the worship of other deities in the form of anything in nature. “Sacred stone” appears as an idolatrous object previously only in Exodus 23:24, but it will be used repeatedly in Deuteronomy to forbid idolatry (7:5; 12:3; 16:22). The “carved stone” is a unique term used only here. Though these objects are found in the land in which Israel will settle, they were also present in the wilderness, where Israel remained for an entire generation.
Robert Vasholz: Moses knew that the keeping of the conditions of the covenant was an essential prerequisite for the preservation of any covenant relationship. He presented both covenant blessings and curses of that relationship as a powerful motivation for obedience.
Merrill: In terms reminiscent of the inauguration of the covenant at Sinai (Ex. 21:1-4), Yahweh speaks of His uniqueness and exclusivity (Lev. 26:1), a fact that demanded unquestioning loyalty (26:2).
B. (:2) Reverence God’s Sabbaths and Sanctuary
“You shall keep My sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary; I am the LORD.”
Kenneth Mathews: “Reverence” means “to stand in awe” of God. The word occurs only three times in the book of Leviticus, and each time it is tied to the observance of Sabbath. The point is to honor God by showing obedience, as in the exhortation, “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father” (19:3).
C. Relationship Must be Honored
[“I am the Lord your God”]
Roy Gane: The brief unit of 26:1–2 forms a structural tie with the same commands in 19:4, 30, where the theme is holy living because the Lord is holy. Staying away from idolatry, keeping Sabbath, and reverencing the Lord’s sanctuary are basic ways that the Israelites can show loyalty to him.
Richard Hess: These two verses thus summarize inappropriate and correct access to God. They provide the basic standard by which God’s people will be assessed for blessing or cursing.
II. (:3-13) BLESSINGS OF COVENANT OBEDIENCE
(:3) Introduction: Blessings Issuing from Obedience
“If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments
so as to carry them out,”
Roy Gane: The blessings in 26:3–13 touch the major aspects of life that are dear to an ancient Israelite: agricultural prosperity, plenty of food, peace and safety from human and animal enemies, military victory against overwhelming odds, and freedom with dignity under the beneficence of a resident covenant deity. The Israelites can trust the Lord’s goodwill toward them because he has already definitively proven it by delivering them from the heavy burden of Egyptian oppression (v. 13).
Kenneth Mathews: The blessings listed are four. First, the Lord promises the seasonal rains that will produce dependable harvests. Second, the Lord will grant the people peace in the land. This peace is achieved by driving out harmful beasts that otherwise would prowl the land, mauling people and robbing animal herds. Also, this peace is secured by the Lord’s granting Israel victory over her national enemies. The third blessing is the promise of population increase, which was evidence of God’s covenant commitment to Israel (cf. Genesis 1:28; 9:1; 17:20; Deuteronomy 28:11). The last blessing is the promise of God’s enduring presence among his people. “I will walk among you,” he says (v. 12), indicating the continuance of the covenant. In summary the blessings regard security and prosperity.
A. (:4-5) Prosperity and Security
“then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. 5 Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land.”
Richard Hess: The promise of rain is essential to Palestine for the fruitfulness of the land. Unlike Egypt or Mesopotamia, where rivers served as the primary source of water, in Palestine this was not possible. Instead the people depended on the rains to provide sufficient water to grow crops. Baal was considered the god that provided Canaan with rain.
B. (:6-8) Peace in the Land and Protection –
Deliverance from both Human Enemies and Harmful Animals
“I shall also grant peace in the land, so that you may lie down with no one making you tremble. I shall also eliminate harmful beasts from the land, and no sword will pass through your land. 7 But you will chase your enemies, and they will fall before you by the sword; 8 five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.”
C. (:9-10) Population Increase
“So I will turn toward you and make you fruitful and multiply you,
and I will confirm My covenant with you.
10 And you will eat the old supply and clear out the old because of the new.”
D. (:11-13) Presence of the God of Redemption Who Gives Liberty
“Moreover, I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you. 12 I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people. 13 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so that you should not be their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.”
Mark Rooker: Verses 11–13 reiterate the essential nature of Israel’s relationship with God. This special relationship with God is the goal of the covenant, for the Lord takes up residence among the Israelites in the same way he does in the tabernacle. The apostle Paul cites the language of 26:12 to describe what it means for believers in the church to be marked as the temple of the living God (2 Cor 6:16). This intimate relationship with God is the primary blessing of life (Pss 4:8; 16:2, 5; 63:3). Here this reality is expressed in the imagery of enslavement: “I broke the bars of your yoke” (26:13). Bars were a symbol of oppression, as is illustrated by the fact that bars were often tied to the neck of work animals (Jer 5:5; 26:2; 28:10–13). Thus the text offers the image of a slave bowed by an enormous burden. He suddenly has the weight removed, which expresses the establishment of Israel’s special relationship with God. The promise is similar to Adam’s experience in the garden and is used of God’s relationship with Enoch (Gen 5:22–24) and Abraham (Gen 17; see Jer 30:22; Ezek 11:20; Hos 2:23; Rom 9:26).
R. K. Harrison: The mention of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt is a guarantee that the Great King who has initiated the covenant with the people is able to perform all that he has promised. He will be no absentee deity, but will be with the Israelites, directing their lives and providing for all their needs.
III. (:14-39) CURSES OF COVENANT BREAKING
(:14-16a) Introduction: Curses Issuing from Covenant Breaking
“But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments,
15 if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances
so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant,
I, in turn, will do this to you:”
R. K. Harrison: The sections of ancient Near Eastern treaties containing the curses were much longer than those describing the blessings that would accrue to the vassal consequent upon obedience to the Great King, and this pattern is seen here also.
Allen Ross: The curses in Lev. 26 have five stages, increasing with a persistent refusal to be warned and repent: sickness and defeat in battle (26:16–17), drought and famine (26:18–20), overrun by wild beasts (26:21–22), war and siege (26:23–26), and total destruction and exile with cannibalism (26:27–32).
David Thompson: DISOBEDIENCE TO GOD WILL RESULT IN A SYSTEMATIC, PROGRESSIVE WITHDRAWAL OF GOD’S BLESSINGS AND A POURING OUT OF HIS CHASTISING PUNISHMENT.
A. (:16b-17) First Wave of Curses – Disease and Defeat
1. (:16b) Sickness
“I will appoint over you a sudden terror, consumption and fever
that shall waste away the eyes and cause the soul to pine away;”
Mark Rooker: The verb translated “I will bring” (pqd) in the expression “I will bring upon you” is a technical term referring to divine intervention in response to obedience or disobedience to the covenant (26:16). The latter is clearly intended in this usage. . . The punishments will increase in intensity if Israel fails to respond.
Richard Hess: The expressions of God’s judgment are unusual. The “sudden terror” (behālâ, GK 988) of the promised destruction occurs elsewhere three times (Ps 78:33; Isa 65:23; Jer 15:8), where it always refers to unforeseen destruction and premature death. The term for “wasting diseases” (šaḥepet, GK 8831) occurs elsewhere only in the curse of Deuteronomy 28:22, where the context of the term may also refer to physical maladies. The same is true of the word “fever” (qaddaḥat, GK 7707); its root refers to fire.
2. (:16c) Sowing in Futility
“also, you shall sow your seed uselessly,
for your enemies shall eat it up.”
3. (:17) Subjugation to Enemies
“And I will set My face against you so that you shall be struck down before your enemies; and those who hate you shall rule over you,
and you shall flee when no one is pursuing you.”
David Guzik: They would be so confused and afraid that they would flee when no one pursues.
B. (:18-20) Second Wave of Curses – Drought and Famine
1. (:18) Intensification of Punishment
“If also after these things, you do not obey Me,
then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.”
Richard Hess: “Sevenfold” describes the punishment as far greater than what preceded and as a kind of full or complete punishment.
Gordon Wenham: These judgments are described as discipline. Throughout the Bible divine discipline is referred to: God punishes his people not merely because they deserve it, but because he loves them and wants to correct their foolish ways (Deut. 8:5; Jer. 30:11; 31:18; Ps. 38:2 [Eng. 1]; 94:12; Prov. 3:11–12; Heb. 12:5–11). Amos laments that, despite judgments of famine and drought, disease and defeat, “yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6, 8, 9, 10, 11).
2. (:19) Independent Pride of Power Broken
“And I will also break down your pride of power;
I will also make your sky like iron and your earth like bronze.”
Mark Rooker: If the Israelites fail to respond to the first series of punishments, God will plague the nation’s agricultural output. The sky will become like iron and the ground like bronze (26:18–20). These metals, which represent the hardest metals, speak of the austere conditions of the sky and the ground. Conditions would be so severe that they would result in a lack of produce and a severe drought.
David Guzik: The core problem with chronic, continued disobedience is pride in one’s own power. This pride must be broken.
3. (:20) Investment of Agricultural Cultivation Futile and Fruitless
“And your strength shall be spent uselessly,
for your land shall not yield its produce
and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.”
C. (:21-22) Third Wave of Curses – Ravaging by Wild Beasts
1. (:21) Intensification of Punishment
“If then, you act with hostility against Me and are unwilling to obey Me, I will increase the plague on you seven times according to your sins.”
2. (:22) Invasion of Ravaging Wild Beasts
“And I will let loose among you the beasts of the field, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your cattle and reduce your number so that your roads lie deserted.”
D. (:23-26) Fourth Wave of Curses – War, Pestilence and Scarcity
1. (:23-24) Intensification of Punishment
“And if by these things you are not turned to Me,
but act with hostility against Me,
then I will act with hostility against you; and I, even I,
will strike you seven times for your sins.”
2. (:25a) Wars
“I will also bring upon you a sword which will execute vengeance
for the covenant;”
3. (:25b) Pestilence
“and when you gather together into your cities, I will send pestilence among you, so that you shall be delivered into enemy hands.”
4. (:26) Scarcity and Famine
“When I break your staff of bread, ten women will bake your bread in one oven, and they will bring back your bread in rationed amounts,
so that you will eat and not be satisfied.”
Bush: . . . there shall be such a scarcity of bread that one ordinary oven shall answer for the baking of ten, that is a great many families, whereas in common circumstances one oven would serve for one family.
E. (:27-39) Final Wave of Curses – Total Destruction and Exile
1. (:27-28) Intensification of Punishment
“Yet if in spite of this, you do not obey Me, but act with hostility against Me, 28 then I will act with wrathful hostility against you; and I, even I, will punish you seven times for your sins.”
Roy Gane: The next unit that begins with “if” is much longer (26:27–39) and constitutes one of the most frightful warnings in the entire Bible. The dam restraining retributive justice bursts open with a vengeance, disclosing the ultimate horrors of starvation during siege (“You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters,” v. 29), appalling devastation of the land (vv. 30–32), and scattering of the people into exile (vv. 33–35).
2. (:29) Humiliation of Cannibalism
“Further, you shall eat the flesh of your sons
and the flesh of your daughters you shall eat.”
3. (:30) Destruction of Idolatrous Places of Worship
“I then will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense altars, and heap your remains on the remains of your idols;
for My soul shall abhor you.”
4. (:31-32) Desolation of Cities and Land
“I will lay waste your cities as well,
and will make your sanctuaries desolate;
and I will not smell your soothing aromas.
32 And I will make the land desolate
so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled over it.”
5. (:33-35) Scattering into Exile
“You, however, I will scatter among the nations and will draw out a sword after you, as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste. 34 Then the land will enjoy its sabbaths all the days of the desolation, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. 35 All the days of its desolation it will observe the rest which it did not observe on your sabbaths, while you were living on it.”
Mark Rooker: Exile, the ultimate judgment, will allow the land to enjoy the sabbath years, which it would not have experienced when Israel was in a state of rebellion against God (26:34–35).
6. (:36-39) Terror and Disintegration of Any Survivors in the Land
“As for those of you who may be left, I will also bring weakness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. And the sound of a driven leaf will chase them and even when no one is pursuing, they will flee as though from the sword, and they will fall. 37 ‘They will therefore stumble over each other as if running from the sword, although no one is pursuing; and you will have no strength to stand up before your enemies. 38 ‘But you will perish among the nations, and your enemies’ land will consume you. 39 ‘So those of you who may be left will rot away because of their iniquity in the lands of your enemies; and also because of the iniquities of their forefathers they will rot away with them.”
Perry Yoder: How will the survivors fare in foreign lands? Not so well. Even in exile the curses will follow them. They will be filled with despair, and at the sound of a windblown leaf they will take flight as if threatened by a sword. In their flight they will fall over one another without the strength to face their enemies (v. 37). Israel will disappear among the nations who have devoured them (v. 38). There they will rot away on account of their own and their ancestors’ covenant breaking (v. 39). Israel will be at an end.
III. (:40-45) GOD’S FAITHFULNESS TO HIS ULTIMATE RESTORATION AGENDA FOR THE NATION OF ISRAEL
A. (:40-41) Confession is the Pathway to Restoration
1. (:40) Historical Unfaithfulness Must be Confessed
“If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers,
in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me,
and also in their acting with hostility against Me—“
Roy Gane: That’s all—only confess. No elaborate ceremonies. Only humbling themselves before the Lord, admitting they have made bad choices and putting themselves at his mercy, where they really have been all along but wouldn’t admit it.
2. (:41a) Hostility of God was Justified
“I also was acting with hostility against them,
to bring them into the land of their enemies—“
3. (:41b) Humbling of Uncircumcised Heart Required
“or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled
so that they then make amends for their iniquity,”
Kenneth Mathews: Restoration was promised, but only after repentance and confession of their sins. Yet, how could they change their “uncircumcised” hearts (v. 41) toward God since they were so spiritually incorrigible? The description “uncircumcised” meant that the people were not in right relationship with God, for the covenant required the people to commit themselves to God by spiritually circumcising their hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16). Only God could regenerate their hearts. Verse 41 reflects this spiritual regeneration of the human heart: “if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled.” The text does not read, “if the people humble their hearts”; rather, the passive construction occurs in the passage, “is humbled.” God humbles them; he is the one who spiritually circumcises his people (Deuteronomy 30:16). Christian regeneration of the heart can only be achieved through Christ who circumcises our hearts: “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” (Colossians 2:11; cf. Philippians 3:3). It is incumbent upon all people today to repent of their sins and place their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior who has taken away our sins by his death on the cross (e.g., Acts 17:30b; Colossians 2:14). In the future New Jerusalem there will be no “accursed” thing, only the blessing of the Lamb: “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him” (Revelation 22:3).
B. (:42-43) Covenant Breaking Required Discipline
1. (:42) Israel’s Unfaithfulness Did Not Cause God to Forget His Covenant Commitments
“then I will remember My covenant with Jacob,
and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac,
and My covenant with Abraham as well,
and I will remember the land.”
Gordon Wenham: Yet the judgments are still described as “discipline” (v. 28, cf. v. 18 above). They are not God’s last word to his erring people. Judgment does not prove that God has rejected his people. Rather he punishes them because they are his own (Amos 3:2). So if they confess their sin and humble their hearts, God will remember his covenant with the patriarchs (vv. 42–45). What this remembering will mean in practice is not spelled out here, but Deut. 30, a similar passage in a similar context, explains that it will mean restoration to the land of promise and prosperity there. This would seem to be implicit in this Leviticus passage too.
2. (:43a) Sabbath Breaking Led to the Abandonment and Desolation of the Land
“For the land shall be abandoned by them,
and shall make up for its sabbaths
while it is made desolate without them.”
3. (:43b) Process of Discipline Required
“They, meanwhile, shall be making amends for their iniquity,
because they rejected My ordinances
and their soul abhorred My statutes.”
C. (:44-45) Commitment to Remember the Covenant
1. (:44) The Covenant-Keeping Lord Will Not Reject Forever
“Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies,
I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God.”
Peter Pett: But of one thing they could be certain. He would not forget them forever. While they had broken the covenant, He would not. He therefore would not totally reject them, or hate them, or destroy them utterly. He would not break His covenant with them. And this was because of Who He Is. He is Yahweh, the One Who will be what He wants to be, Who does what He wants to do, Who brings into being what He wants to bring into being.
2. (:45) The Covenant-Keeping Lord Will Ultimately Restore His People
“But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors,
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.”
Roy Gane: In 26:45 is the forty-ninth and last instance of “I am the LORD” in the book of Leviticus. Is it coincidence that this key expression is used the same super-sabbatical (7 × 7) number of times as the seven weeks of days between the elevated sheaf and the Feast of Weeks (23:15) and the seven weeks of years between Jubilees (25:8), as well as the number of separate applications of purification offering blood by which the sanctuary is restored on the Day of Purgation (16:14–19), when the Jubilee year begins (25:9)? Associated as this multiple of the sacred number seven is with the Lord’s identity and sacred occasions, the number forty-nine carries a connotation of high holiness. Thus, we find that Leviticus, like other great artistic works such as Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, makes connections by patterns under as well as on the surface.
(:46) EPILOGUE – CONCLUSION TO THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS
“These are the statutes and ordinances and laws
which the LORD established between Himself and the sons of Israel
through Moses at Mount Sinai.”
Richard Hess: The references to God’s speaking on Mount Sinai through Moses to the Israelites parallel the same statements in 25:1–2 and thus form a special envelope construction linking together chs. 25 and 26. This explains the references to the sabbatical years (vv.44–45) and assigns a special priority to this aspect of care for the land. But it is as a conclusion to the entire book of Leviticus that these verses serve their purpose. They demonstrate that all the words of the book must be understood as bearing the authority of God’s word given through Moses.