By Ben W. Curtis
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Tracy City
The primary goal of the Old Testament (and really, all the Bible) is not to give us moral examples or heroes, but to confront us with the holiness, grace, and the majesty of God. Leviticus 26 records a covenant agreement that the Lord made with the Israelites when He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. He identifies Himself as “the Lord your God” five times (Leviticus 26:1, 2, 13, 44, 45). Our passage challenges us to consider the blessings of a holy God, the punishments of a holy God, and the grace of a holy God.
Verses 3-13 outline the blessings that the Israelites would enjoy if they walk with Him. In verse 9, He says: “[I will] make you fruitful and multiply you” (v. 9; cf. Gen. 1:22, 28; 9:7). In Leviticus 26:11-12, God promises the ultimate blessing: His own holy presence dwelling among His people. In Leviticus, God continually takes the initiative to move towards sinners and to bless them. He provides a sacrificial system (chapters 1-7) and a priesthood (chapter 8) so that His glory can appear to all the people (chapter 9). While these promises are written to Israel and are conditioned upon their obedience (Leviticus 26:3), they reveal God’s unchanging heart toward all His people.
As wonderful as these blessings sound to those living under the Mosaic covenant, considering their previous track record, they also must have anticipated the curses for disobedience (Leviticus 26:14-39). It’s hard to even read, but if Israel fails to keep God’s commandments, He promises to “visit [them] with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache” (v. 16). To be under God’s curse is to experience the absence of His blessing. Imagine what life would be like if God were to completely remove His blessings from us. God threatens terrible things to those who refuse to listen to His voice in His Word, both in this life and the next.
As Israel eventually breaks the covenant and experiences the punishments that God has described, they need God’s grace (Leviticus 26:40-45). God finds them guilty of “iniquity” and “treachery,” which are symptoms of an “uncircumcised heart” (vv. 40-41). After entering the promised land, they will continue to rebel and will eventually experience the ultimate judgment: exile from the land (v. 43). As Israel’s story plays out, we see a mirror of our own hearts and lives. Verse 43 could just as easily be said of us: “They spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes.” I’m thankful that God chooses to treat us better than we have treated Him (v. 42)! In Israel’s case, He “remembered” the covenant promises He had previously made (vv. 44-45; cf. Genesis 15).
The Apostle Paul confirms in the New Testament what Israel proved in the Old Testament. The blessing of God cannot be obtained by our obedience to the law, but by God counting us righteous through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 4:1-8). He suffered God’s covenant curses in the place of His disobedient people so that we will never have to experience them (Galatians 3:10-13).
There are lessons from this book that I hope will remain with us: the holiness of God, the seriousness of sin, the necessity of sacrifice, and the urgency of holiness. Let’s humble ourselves and pray for our churches that we would once again consecrate ourselves to God in view of His holiness (Leviticus 11:45; 19:2; 20:7-8, 26).