Leviticus 26:14-39 ~ 20170430 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
04/30 Leviticus 26:14-39; Curses for Disobedience; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170430_leviticus-26_14-39.mp3
Leviticus is a covenant document between God and his people. Leviticus 26 gives the terms of the covenant agreement. Verses 1-2 are a reminder of the central demand of the covenant, that by entering into this covenant, Israel is promising to have no other gods but the one LORD. They are to trust him by honoring his time and his place. God's instructions are to be kept and his presence is to be feared. Verses 3-13 list the blessings that accompany obedience; blessings of produce and peace and progeny and most importantly the gift of God's presence with his people.
But the blessings of the covenant are conditional:
Verses 14-39 are the consequences of a refusal to follow the terms of the agreement.
Notice in both cases, it is God himself who is active in fulfilling the terms of the covenant. If you do what I command, I will give you... If you will not listen to me and do... then I will do this to you. God takes his covenant seriously, and will personally bring about either blessings or the curses.
Notice the blatant disobedience that is warned against in these verses; “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” A refusal to listen to God's instructions, a refusal to do what he commands, is followed by an emotional reaction against God's truth; 'if your spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules'. This revulsion at God's commands results in a refusal to obey, and a violation of the covenant contract.
This chapter is essential for understanding the rest of the Bible. This passage provides essential context for the rest of the Bible. It gives the covenant context for the history of God's judgment on Israel. What happened under Joshua, and then in Judges when 'everyone did what was right in his own eyes' and 'the LORD gave them into the hand of' their enemies, and 'they cried out to the LORD and he sent' a deliverer; what happened under the kings who disobeyed and under those who tried to turn the people back to the LORD, what was spoken by the prophets who were sent to confront idolatry and turn the hearts of the people back to the LORD, what happened in the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests and captivities, what was said in the prayers of the captives like Daniel and Nehemiah, even what we today enjoy as New Covenant believers, all find their root in the terms of this covenant agreement between God and his people.
This section of consequences for covenant treason is structured in 5 cycles of escalating discipline. Each section begins with 'if you will not listen; then I will...'
14-17 general curses – illness, famine, defeat
18-20 Drought and bad harvest
21-22 Wild animals
23-26 War, leading to plague and famine
27-39 War, leading to cannibalism, devastation and deportation
God promises to visit the covenant breaker with panic, disease and fever, with stolen productivity, with defeat and oppression, with paranoid fear. God says 'I will visit you ...I will set my face against you.' God is not absent in the sense that he has merely withdrawn his hand of protection and is allowing bad things to happen; no, he promises to be actively engaged in bringing about these consequences. Hell is not the absence of God; God is everywhere present. Hell will be the presence of God in righteous anger and punishment against those who have rejected him.
God here promises to escalate the punishment for continued disobedience. Notice, 'If in spite of this you will not listen to me.' There is a hope held out here. At any stage in this discipline, if his people will turn to him and listen to him, the discipline does not have to go any further.
This is discipline; discipline is meant to teach, to train, to correct. Discipline is meant to confront, to protect, to restore, to bless. God is saying 'I want to bless you, but I cannot bless your disobedience, so I promise to do whatever is necessary to bring you around and create in you a heart attitude that I can bless.' Remember, God loved Israel. God chose Israel. Not because of anything in her, but rather because he loved her (Deut.7:6-8; 9:6). Proverbs reminds us:
Discipline is rooted in love. Moses tells the generation about to enter the land that God:
Psalm 94 tells us:
Blessed, happy, is the one you discipline; because discipline is for our greatest good. Hebrews 12 lays this all out.
Discipline is not pleasant, but it is for our good. The things in this chapter are horrific, but that is intended to teach us that there is something worse. A slap on the child's wrist is painful, but it is nothing compared to the pain of the emergency room visit that it is intended to prevent. The things in this chapter; disease and death and cannibalism and captivity are nothing compared to what they are meant to keep you from; an eternity separated from a good God who loves you.
Notice, the discipline of this chapter is promised to God's covenant people, not to the nations. God has a special relationship with his own people, and these are the consequences for treating carelessly that relationship. Those who have experienced grace; those who have seen the truth and rejected it are judged much more severely than those who have not; Peter warns:
Because those who have been offered grace will be held more accountable, God relentlessly pursues us with his discipline in order to bring us back.
In this second section, to those who have refused to respond to the first stage of discipline, God promises to 'discipline you again sevenfold for your sins'. This is an escalation of discipline toward those who refuse to listen. God says 'I will break the pride of your power'. He will prevent the land from producing. So often our hardness toward God is a result of pride. The prayerless person is a proud person. I will not cry out to God for help, because I can handle this without him! God did not create us to be independent, but dependent. We are not to stand on our own; we are to rely on him, to depend on him, to lean into him, to trust him. We are not self-sufficient; he alone is self-sufficient. We are to lean on his all-sufficiency. Repeatedly we hear the warning, when things go well for you, do not thing it is because of your own greatness, but because God has blessed you. Do not become proud, but recognize that every good thing is a gift from God.
O Lord, whatever it takes, break our foolish pride!
The third stage is an escalating progression in disipline. If you will listen, I will use the least severe means of discipline available. If you choose to harden your heart, I will be required to use more severe forms of discipline. 'Then,' after the first two stages, 'if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me.' I will let loose the wild beasts against you' bereave you of your children. This is opposite of the blessing in verse 6 'I will remove harmful beasts from your land'.
'Wild beasts which shall bereave you of your children' seems severe, but remember, this is the third stage of rebellion, having refused to listen to the first two rounds of discipline.
Here the goal of all this is clearly stated; 'if by this discipline you are not turned to me.' Hear God's heart in all of this. His heart is toward you, not against you. He knows that there is no good apart from himself. So he intends to turn your heart back to him, whatever it takes.
This is a response to active disobedience. 'If you walk contrary to me, the I also will walk contrary to you. I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins.' 'I will ...execute vengeance for the covenant'. This is a breach of a covenant that they agreed to. Going after false gods is both foolish and treasonous. God must defend the honor of his glorious name. He will execute vengeance for the covenant. Sword, pestilence, famine. Ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven. It seems polygamy is a curse, not a blessing. You shall eat and not be satisfied. True satisfaction comes only through walking with God, enjoying the good of his presence. Seeking satisfaction anywhere else will leave us eating without ever experiencing satisfaction.
'If in spite of this,' having hardened your hearts through the first four stages of discipline '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.' This is escalating discipline due to the callousness of the people's hearts. It takes severe consequences to rip the callouses off and expose their hard hearts to the gravity of their situation. Cannibalism. When Syrian king Ben-Hadad beseiged Samaria and caused a great famine,
This is a heart-wrenching story, and the king tore his clothes. Tearing clothes is a sign of repentance and mourning. But even this horrific event did not turn the kings heart back to the LORD. Instead he sent messengers to kill the LORD's prophet Elisha, who had been calling Israel to repentance.
God says '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.' The way to desecrate a place of worship was to scatter it with bones. This is an ironic promise that God will desecrate the false worship of his people with the corpses of those who trusted in these false gods. And he says 'my soul will abhor you'. We often hear it said that 'God hates the sin but loves the sinner.' But here God himself says to the one who persistently violates the terms of the covenant and refuses to repent after extended discipline 'my soul will abhor you'.
All this sounds horrific, but remember, the punishment fits the crime. The level of horror we have at these punishments, should alert us to the gravity of disregarding the word of the LORD, and turning away from God, spurning his patience and discipline that is meant to bring us to repentance.
Sabbath Rest and Hope
God promised that the land would enjoy its Sabbaths while his people are in captivity. God's people ought to have enjoyed the Sabbath rest God provided for them. Instead the land would enjoy that rest without them. We read in 2 Chronicles
But even in this there is hope. There is an end in sight. The prophet Isaiah writes:
Law and Gospel
God's heart is to turn the hearts of his people back to himself. In the Old Testament this was rare. Except for a small remnant, the people persisted in their disobedience, hardened their hearts, and refused to respond to his loving discipline. Although there were amazing blessings promised, the law brought a curse. We read in Galatians 3:
The law is based on performance, perfect performance, and because no one can ever keep the law perfectly, we are all under the curse. Everything written in this chapter addressed to covenant breakers belongs to us, because we are covenant breakers. None of the promises belong to us, because we have failed to walk in obedience. But once we feel the weight of this, there is amazingly good news here for us!
On the cross, Jesus experienced the curses of Leviticus 26 for us. God executed vengeance for the broken covenant on Jesus; The Father turned in abhorrence from the one who had been made sin for us. Why? So that all the promised blessings might come to us who believe in Jesus!
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org