With chapters 26 and 27, we come to the conclusion of the book of Leviticus. Throughout Leviticus, Moses has stated some warnings and blessings with regards to keeping the laws in order to show the seriousness of keeping the commandments God has given to the Israelites. These warnings and blessings have been scattered throughout the book. In these final chapters, Moses lists an entire group of warnings and blessings in order to impress upon the Israelites the seriousness of keeping the levitical laws.
What is interesting about the curses and blessings is that the section on the curses is about double the length of the section on the blessings. Most of us would just rather dispense with the curses and focus solely on the blessings. This attitude has permeated most of our churches. We are critical of those pastors who preach "hellfire and brimstone" and favor those who preach a more positive gospel. The truth is that "hellfire and brimstone" is as much a part of the Bible as the positive elements; if you delete the negative elements, you need to delete the positive ones also. The reason the Bible uses negative elements to motivate us is that sometimes the positive elements don't motivate us like they should, whereas the negative ones do. God is determined to bring us to Himself and will stop short of little to accomplish that, even bringing severe discipline upon His people.
Next, we need to note that the curses and disciplines are not idle warnings. As you look at the history of Israel, you are going to see God actually bringing these blessings and carrying out these threats upon the Israelites. When the Israelites obeyed God, they enjoyed the blessings listed in this chapter; when they disobeyed God, they experienced the discipline of God mentioned in this chapter.
Before listing the blessings and curses associated with keeping the laws in Leviticus, Moses cites the 2 most important of the levitical laws—(1) the prohibition against idolatry and (2) the command to observe the Sabbath. Moses states the first element against idolatry in negative terms. The Israelites are not to make idols, set up pillars, or bow down to them. These negative injunctions seem easy enough; however, what Moses is really trying to do is cast in negative terms a positive principle—"Worship God alone!" He will recast this clause in another way in this chapter when he quotes God as saying, "I am the Lord!"
Just what do we worship? Today, idols of stone and wood are not in vogue; however, idolatry still exists. Just find out what is the most important thing in a person's life and you'll discover what they truly worship. For some, idolatry can take the form of a career. They will sacrifice anything and everybody in order to advance their careers. Marriages are destroyed, professional friendships are trampled on, children are neglected, and even one's health can be sacrificed if it stands in the way of advancing in one's career.
For others, idolatry takes on the form of one's children. My generation almost worships at the feet of their children. We enroll them in every type of athletic, educational, music program in order to make sure that we are developing them properly. When we spend 6 nights each week out at the ball park watching our children play sports, we're not only sacrificing our time with God, we're sacrificing our time with our children. Watching a child play sports does not equal playing a game of cards with them. We need to get our priorities straight and trust that God knows what is best for our children.
The second law which Moses highlights concerns keeping the Sabbath. It may seem strange to us that this commandment has such a prominent position; however, we need to understand that the Jewish observance of the Sabbath was one of the most distinguishing marks of Judaism. Observing the Sabbath distinguished the Jews from the pagan nations.
Why such an emphasis on the Sabbath? The whole purpose of the Sabbath was to give mankind rest. Now this rest could not be manufactured simply by ceasing to do any work. A person who lounges around all day on Sunday will find no more spiritual rest than the person who actually works on Sunday. The kind of rest we're speaking about is spiritual rest which can be produced only by focusing on our relationship with God in Bible study and worship.
How important is this spiritual rest? Just look at our society today. At no other time in our nation's history have we disregarded the Sabbath like we do today, and the result is that at no other time in our nation's history have people been so full of rage as they are today. Why do Columbine and Wedgwood surprise us? Guns aren't the problem because guns have always been with us. If guns were the problem, then we should have had mass shootings during the past 380 years of our country's existence. The problem is that our nation is so full of rage and hate. You read about road rage, that a motorcyclist is cut off by an 18-wheeler, so he guns down the drive plus another driver of another 18-wheeler simply because the second 18-wheeler reminds him of the first. We refuse to honor the Sabbath and put our relationship with God on the front burner with the result hat our souls and spirits are literally burned out. Just like you must give you body rest, so you must give your souls/spirits rest. (Now I am not talking about just going to Bible study and worship; I mean we're to encounter God through Bible study and worship, and respond positively to what God is saying to us individually. When we respond positively to God during these times, we find true spiritual rest.)
Any time the Sabbath is brought up, I hear the same old complaint over and over: "I'm not going to force my children to go to Bible study and worship because my parents forced me to and now I hate church." Well, let's be perfectly honest and admit that we've more than made up for our parents' over-zealousness when it comes to Sunday. We used to be dragged to church 3 times a week for a total of 156 times a year. Well, we've already eliminated Wednesday nights and Sunday nights; we don't really honor worshipping on Sunday mornings. We come about 50-60% of the time so that now we’re down to 26-31 times a year. We've lopped off 125-130 times a year the amount of time we used to go to church. I think we've more than made up for our parents' over-zealousness. Now it's time for people to grow up, quit throwing temper tantrums about honoring God by going to church, and get serious about God's claims on our lives, including our lives on Sundays.
THE BLESSINGS (26:3-13)
Moses first lists the blessings God will pour out upon the person who keeps His covenant, His laws. The blessings fall under 3 categories. The first category is that of material blessings. God promises that He will send rain upon the Promised Land if His people honor His laws. We've got to be careful with this because some ill-intentioned people can misuse this promise to say that God will always bless those who are faithful to Him. Well, the books of Job and Ecclesiastes, plus the cross of Jesus prove that God's people will not always have it wonderful whenever they are faithful to Him. Sometimes God's people actually suffer terribly simply because they are faithful to Him (see Matt. 3:10). As a general rule, though, God's people experience material blessings because of their faithfulness to God. The rains come at the appropriate time, and the sun does its part in bringing about an abundant harvest.
Why is this so? Why does man's faithfulness to God as a rule bring about blessings upon nature? The reason is that there is an indissoluble link between man and nature (remember that man was fashioned from the dust OF THE EARTH—when Adam fell, he took down the universe with Him). Nature to a real degree shares in man's destiny. If man follows God, God not only blesses the man but also the part of earth he fills. When man does not, God not only brings hardship upon the man but also upon nature. We see this throughout the OT and even in the NT. In the OT whenever the Israelites followed God, the land bore abundant harvest; whenever they turned away from God, the land suffered famine and barrenness. God makes the land suitable for the spiritual condition of the people living on it. In the NT, we see God transforming the earth into a glorious paradise so that it will be an appropriate dwelling place for His children who are now truly glorious people. None of this is to say that sometimes people faithful to God do not experience hardship. Some godly Christian farmers actually lose their farms; however, after it is all said and done, these same farmers will eventually testify that God took care of them.
The second category of blessings focuses on security. Now this security is not based upon the cessation of war but rather upon the fact that Israel would be victorious during times of war. Moreover, this victory would not be one barely won but rather it would be a stunning victory. Moses writes that five Israelites will be able to destroy a hundred enemies, whereas 100 Israelites would be able to destroy 10,000 of their enemies. Once more this is not an idle blessing. Along with this servant, Jonathan the son of Saul the king was able to overrun a Philistine garrison. David by killing Goliath was able to rout the Philistine army, while Gideon with only 300 men was able to annihilate the Midianite army which numbered 135,000.
The third category of blessings climaxes the list of blessings. God promises that He will be with His people and that He will walk in their midst. This blessing actually is the goal of all creation. John writes that after Christ has reigned for 1,000 years upon the earth that the Father Himself will come to live among us and that we shall actually see His face (Rev. 21:3f.). Although we do not see His face right now, we as His people can enjoy His presence to a real degree in the here and now.
By this blessing, God does not mean that He will be with the Israelites only during times of crises. The meaning behind the image of walking is that of the everyday life of a person. People normally don't run. If they do, it is only for a short period of time during the day. Normally, people just walk, and the older I get, the more walking I do. Well, God is saying that He will be with His people during the normal everyday course of affairs in addition to times of crises.
The blessing is truly the essence of our faith; it should be what we strive for. Many times people come to Christ with an agenda different from just wanting God in their lives. Ananias and Sapphira wanted fame; therefore, they lied to the church and claimed that they gave more than they actually gave. The result was that God struck them down. Later, a magician by the name of Simon wanted the Holy Spirit so that he could wield the Spirit's awesome power. Peter warned Simon that he had better repent immediately because he was on the verge of reaping some severe consequences. Power and fame are not evil; however, God refuses to allow Himself to be used by anyone to further their own agendas. He is serious about Him being the goal for the Christian.
THE CURSES (26:14-end)
First Stage of the Curses (27:14-17)
The next section deals with the curses God will bring upon His people if they fail to live according to His laws. The curses basically involve the same elements the blessings involved—the land and also war. God declares that if His people do not obey Him, then He will send upon them a terror which He describes as consumption (T.B.) and fever. He will take peace away from their land and let them by conquered by war. In fact, they will suffer defeat in war so many times that they will fear even though they are not being attacked.
Second - Fourth Stages of the Curses (26:18-end)
God then informs the Israelites that if the first stage of curses does not cause them to repent, then He will bring more curses upon them which will be 7 times worse than the first stage. If the second stage is unproductive, then He will send the third stage which will be 7 times worse than the second, and if necessary, a fourth stage which will be 7 times worse than the 3rd stage. After it is all said and done, the fourth stage of the curses will be 343 times worse than the first stage. By the time it is all over, the Israelites will be reduced to cannibalism, not ordinary cannibalism but actually the eating of one's own child. Whereas this may seem far-fetched, the truth is that in Israel’s history, she strayed so far from God, that He cursed the people with cannibalism. During the reign of Hezekiah when the Assyrians were attacking Jerusalem, such hunger set in that people ate their own children.
The question remains, though, why God would cause such a thing to happen. Instead of being upset with God, we need to look at the corollary truth. The focus should not be on the severity of the curse but the depth of the sin which brought about this severe of a curse. The severity of the curse is in direct proportion to the depth of the sin. God never over-disciplines, nor does He under-discipline. The people were engaged in such sin that the curse of cannibalism was appropriate for this sin. This lets me know one thing—that to a large degree we determine the severity of the discipline we receive from God's hand. According to Paul, if Christians discipline themselves, then God will not have to discipline them (1 Cor. 11:31). On the other hand, if they fail to discipline themselves, then God will discipline them and, scaringly, discipline us appropriately.
A side note is also true. God's people determine how long the discipline from God will last. If they repent, then God will let up with the discipline because it has achieved its purpose—genuine repentance. If they do not repent, God will continue with the discipline. How do I know if I've truly repented? By seeing if I am still being disciplined by God. If the discipline is gone, then I've truly repented; if not, then I have not.
None of this is to say that bad things happen only to those Christians who are being disciplined. Job was a righteous man of God, and yet he suffered terribly. Although his friends did not believe it, Job knew that the suffering he experienced was not caused by sin. In your heart and in my heart we know if the discipline results from sin or simply from God testing us.