Blessings of Holiness
Week of April 28, 2013
Bible Verses:† Leviticus 26:3-13,40-42,45.
Lesson Focus:† This lesson will encourage you to live a life of holiness Ė the life you were intended to live Ė a life characterized by fruitfulness, Godís presence, and the promise of restoration.
Obeying God Brings Fruitfulness:† Leviticus 26:3-10
† "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. [ESV]
[3-10]† As Leviticus draws to a close it confronts the children of Israel Ė and us- with a stark choice. The choice Godís people have to make has to do with the essence of life, with light and dark, with good and evil, with future prosperity or future ruin. As the rest of the Bible says, obeying God will bring reward; disobeying God will bring nothing but trouble and disaster. Leviticus 26 differs from the chapters that have gone before. The characteristic legal and ritual formulations are left behind and their place is taken by the language of blessing and cursing. The language and the structure of the chapter, which parallel those of Deuteronomy 27-28, conform to the way in which treaties in the ancient Near East would have been concluded. Once the stipulations of the covenant had been set out by the sovereign party, the agreement would be concluded with a statement of the benefits of keeping the covenant and the perils of ignoring it. In adopting this approach, God is saying to the Israelites that the world is not capricious, nor are their futures unpredictable. The world runs, and their futures will unfold, on lines that can be anticipated, because He, the sovereign Lord of all and the saving God of Israel, is faithful to His word. A number of important foundations need to be borne in mind if we are to understand this chapter aright. The blessings and curses are to be read in reference to the covenant people collectively, rather than applied to individuals; they are not intended to imply an iron law of consequences, and the material expression given to blessings and curses is expressive of something deeper, namely the peopleís relationship with God. To be part of Godís covenant people, to belong to God, is to be blessed. To be out of relationship with God is to be cursed. The curses are there to show the Israelites that God must be taken seriously, that turning away from Godís will for them will have devastating consequences, that being Ďoutside Yahwehí is a terrible state, to be avoided at all costs. But just as the blessing in fact rests on Godís promise and is not portrayed as a reward for keeping the law, so the curse is not, strictly speaking, a punishment for not keeping the law, but a description of the consequences of being outside of Godís blessing. Verses 3-13 list the blessings that will follow obedience to the condition laid out in verse 3: If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them. The blessings can be put into five groups [4-5,6,7-8,9-10 and 11-12].
The blessing of plenty [4-5]. The most basic need is the need for food. In the hot climates of the Middle East the provision of food could not always be counted on because water Ė the basic element needed to produce food Ė could not be guaranteed. Two seasons of rain were required. Heavy rain was needed in the autumn to water the freshly planted soil, and lighter rain needed in the early spring to bring the crops to full harvest. God promises that if they obey His covenant He will give you your rains in their season . Verse 5 gives a picture of the abundance that would result. The harvests would be so bountiful that the reaping of one crop would be followed by the planting of another without interruption.
The blessing of peace . The next promise is that of peace in the land. Our use of the word Ďpeaceí usually conjures up a very shallow understanding in comparison with the deep harmony that the biblical word conveys. Here the focus is on security in the land. The peace that is promised will lead people to feel so protected by God that they can sleep without worrying about any threats arising within their boundaries. They will enjoy safety from any harm, whether harm from strife in the community or danger from the wild beasts that still roamed the land. Furthermore, God promises that the sword shall not go through your land, which implies that Israelís borders would be secure and that raiding parties would not be able to destroy their abundant harvests.
The blessing of victory [7-8]. From internal threats, God now turns to external threats and promises that, in return for their obedience, they will know victory against their enemies. This was a necessary promise for the fragile, fledgling state of Israel as they entered the promised land. Surrounded by hostile nations, and the object of hatred by displaced peoples, they would regularly come under attack and be drawn into war. But God promises that they will triumph over their enemies. The dramatic nature both of the odds against them and of the astonishing nature of their victories is captured in the image of a mere handful of soldiers chasing off a hundred, and a hundred dispatching ten thousand. Under Davidís and Solomonís reigns, in particular, Israel would enjoy the fulfillment of this promise beyond all that they could have imagined.
The blessing of prosperity [9-10]. A further sign of prosperity is now mentioned as the reward of obedience. God promises that He will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you. High fertility rates combined with low infant mortality would lead to large families and a strong nation as a sign of Godís favor, and of His ongoing commitment to His plan of creation. This echoes the promise God made to Abraham when He said He would greatly increase his numbers and make him the father of many nations, which was also a promise made in the context of cementing a covenant agreement [Gen. 17:1-8]. The growth in population, however, could cause Israel some apprehension. With so many mouths to feed, would the food supply be sufficient? To quiet this fear God repeats His promise of verse 5 and even amplifies what He pledged there. The harvests would be so abundant that the people will still be eating last yearís harvest when it is time to make room for the new harvest .
Walking in Godís Ways Brings His Presence:† Leviticus 26:11-13.
† 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.† [ESV]
[11-13]† The blessing of presence [11-13]. The ultimate blessing was found in the presence of God among them. Though the tabernacle would be His residence, He would not confine Himself to it, as if under some self-imposed divine house arrest, but would walk freely among them. He had secured their freedom so that He could enjoy their company and take pride in their relationship. Moreover, He would want to show them off as a great example to other nations of what a people who enjoyed His favor could be like. Given that this was His plan, they need not lack self-respect just because they had once been slaves in Egypt. They were to reject the victim mentality that imprisons so many people in their past. A failure to break free from the cringing mentality instilled in Egypt would reveal that they lacked gratitude for what God had done and had no faith in His ongoing love for them and His power to protect them. God had healed the stoop caused by their bearing heavy loads in Egypt. So now they were to walk among the nations of the world with heads held high (walk erect ). All the other blessings were as nothing compared to the blessing of walking in companionship with God. In Augustineís words: ďGod will be the source of every satisfaction, more than any heart can rightly crave, more than life and health, food and wealth, glory and honor, peace and every good work Ė so that God may be all in all. He will be the consummation of all our desiring Ė the object of our unending visions, of our unlessening love, of our unwearying praiseĒ (City of God, 22.30).
Confessing Sin Brings Restoration:† Leviticus 26:40-42,45.
† "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 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."† [ESV]
[40-45]† The curses of disobedience laid out in verses 14-39 are not Godís final word. No matter how disloyal Israel may prove, they are still Godís covenant people and He promises them that He would never renege on His covenant . Exile would give the land its Sabbath rest, while exacting payment from Israel for the debt of sin. But beyond the time of exile there lay the hope of restoration, because God is incurably gracious. Restoration does not come cheaply. The seriousness of the peopleís sin has to be confessed if restoration is to be experienced. They are called upon to acknowledge that their wrongdoing was treachery, because they had committed treason against their sovereign God, and it had arisen, not as a result of unintended negligence or accidental drift, but from deeply entrenched attitudes of hostility towards Him. The mention of an uncircumcised heart invites them to see that their action has, in effect, foolishly put them outside the covenant and made them no different from other nations, who were excluded from its privileges. Godís grace longed to restore them, but that did not mean He could wink at sin as if it were of no consequence. The only way back lay through the path of self-humbling, on which they would re-evaluate what they thought of themselves and of God. They had to return to being servants of God rather than expecting God to serve them. They would have to enthrone God again as their sovereign and depose themselves, so they no longer acted as their own sovereign authority. Furthermore, they would accept His discipline as justly deserved rather than seeking to be excused from it, realizing that their sin had to be paid for. But Godís covenant word would triumph. He would not go back on His promise and ultimately could not condemn the people, whom He had elected to be His own and delivered in awesome power from slavery, to be destroyed completely . Mercy would indeed triumph over judgment. Godís final word is always a word of promise, grace and hope. God is indeed a God of restoration, and therein lies the hope for many a person who has sinned grievously in his or her past life. New beginnings are always possible where there is genuine repentance.
Questions for Discussion:
1.†††††††† As the book of Leviticus comes to a close, it confronts all of Godís covenant people with a choice that is found throughout Scripture. What is this choice? †What important role does faith play in the choices we make? How have you seen this choice play out in your life as a believer? Note that this choice flows out of our covenant relationship with our God; it is not the basis for our entering into the covenant. Before God presented this choice to His people in these verses, He had already made His covenant with them and established them as His covenant people.
2.†††††††† Godís blessings for obedience in these verses fall into five groups. What are these five blessings? Why is the fifth blessing the ultimate blessing? How do these five groups of blessings apply to your spiritual life? Note that the Old Covenant promise of land represented the place where the nation of Israel would dwell in Godís presence and enjoy His protection and provision. In the New Covenant, every believer is the temple of God because we have His Spirit dwelling within us [1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16]. So how do the blessings of plenty, peace, victory, prosperity and presence apply to your daily Christian walk?
3.†††††††† God, in his great mercy, provides a means for His covenant people to be restored into His presence when they have made the choice to disobey Him. Why is confession the only way for believers to be restored back into Godís presence after they have chosen to sin against Him? What does confession say about us? About God?
Leviticus, Richard Hess, EBC, Zondervan.
Leviticus, Robert Vasholz, Mentor.
The Book of Leviticus, Gordon Wenham, Eerdmans.
The Message of Leviticus, Derek Tidball, Inter Varsity Press.