The apostle Paul said that it was by God’s grace that he was made strong (2 Corinthians 12). Grace is a powerful force in this world and nowhere is it more powerfully displayed than in the gospel of God (Romans 1:16).
The gospel has given hope to millions over the centuries. It has transformed lives, homes, communities and even nations. This has always been the biblical expectation and it has only been over the past century that such expectations by God’s people have given way to unbiblical pessimism. But a proper understanding of Leviticus 26 can go a long way toward restoring biblical confidence in the power of God’s grace.
Now, when we speak of grace we are, by implication, also speaking of failure—of falling short. Rushdoony, in speaking of the covenant established in this chapter wrote, “A covenant between equals is a covenant of law. God, however, is our Lord and Sovereign. When He enters into a covenant with man, it is an act of grace wherein He gives us His law.”1 It is by grace because man is sinful. The children of Israel were sinful. We are sinful.
This understanding of God’s covenant of grace is helpful because it puts this chapter into correct perspective. This chapter drips with grace! And therefore it is good news; it is gospel. It is hence hopeful.
If we will have great expectations—and we should and we must—then we at the same time need to be having grace expectations. In fact, apart from grace expectations, we will never have great expectations. Israel of old was promised this and the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) for the past two millennia has experienced it.
In this study we consider the remainder of this chapter (vv. 14-46), under the theme, “Grace Expectations.” We will do so by seeing our need for grace (vv. 14-39) our hope for grace (vv. 40-45) and the certainty of this grace.
The Need for Grace
The section opens by pointing us to our need for grace.
But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgements, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when no one pursues you.
And after all this, if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. I will break the pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit.
Then, if you walk contrary to Me, and are not willing to obey Me, I will bring on you seven times more plagues, according to your sins. I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, destroy your livestock, and make you few in number; and your highways shall be desolate.
And if by these things you are not reformed by Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I will punish you yet seven times for your sins. And I will bring a sword against you that will execute the vengeance of the covenant; when you are gathered together within your cities I will send pestilence among you; and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. When I have cut off your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall bring back your bread by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.
And after all this, if you do not obey Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars, and cast your carcasses on the lifeless forms of your idols; and My soul shall abhor you. I will lay your cities waste and bring your sanctuaries to desolation, and I will not smell the fragrance of your sweet aromas. I will bring the land to desolation, and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it. I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste. Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest and enjoy its sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall rest—for the time it did not rest on your sabbaths when you dwelt in it.
And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; the sound of a shaken leaf shall cause them to flee; they shall flee as though fleeing from a sword, and they shall fall when no one pursues. They shall stumble over one another, as it were before a sword, when no one pursues; and you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. You shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. And those of you who are left shall waste away in their iniquity in your enemies’ lands; also in their fathers’ iniquities, which are with them, they shall waste away.
These verses are some of the most sobering verses in Scripture. If someone wanted historical proof of the inspiration of Scripture, this chapter might serve their purpose well. Everything that is prophesied here came to pass in Israel’s history and in fact, as we will see later, the ultimate prophecy in these verses continues to be fulfilled in our very day.
These verses are particularly striking as they follow immediately on the heels of the glowing promises contained in vv. 3-13. In the light of that passage, these verses serve as “a solemn reinforcement of the preceding laws with an appeal to Israel to obey God’s laws and be blessed rather than to turn away to disaster.”2
Verses 3-13 reveal God’s promises to His people that, in return for their covenantal faithfulness, the Lord would fulfil His covenant, made to their forefathers. God had promised Abraham a people and a place; a lineage and a land. In our present text, the Lord as it were reminds the people of His covenantal faithfulness to that promise. And in these promised blessings recorded here, the Lord fleshes it out a bit. In essence, the Lord reveals that, in response for their faithful obedience, He would restore an Eden-like garden in the Promised Land (see vv. 9, 11-12).
Overview: Paradise Lost, Paradise Restored
The kingdom of God is a central theme of Scripture and therefore of space-time history. The kingdom was lost when our first parents fell. They were expelled from the Garden and it appeared that, along with paradise being lost, so was hope. But of course there was hope because, before they were dismissed from the Garden, the Lord gave them a promise. He would send the offspring of the woman to crush the head of the serpent (Satan) and the kingdom would come into this otherwise very broken world (see Genesis 3:15). Of course, this promise was centred in Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord.
But before He came into the world to save sinners, the world was being prepared. And Israel was God’s primary means of this preparation (Malachi 3; Isaiah 40).
Israel was to so live that they would display to the world what it looked like to love and serve the Lord: joyful and worshipful obedience (Leviticus 26:1-2). And as they obeyed, as promised here, they would be blessed with Eden-like blessings (vv. 3-13).
Sadly, however, they chose not to love God and therefore they chose not to joyfully and worshipfully obey Him. That is, vv. 14-39 came to characterise the nation. The result, as prophesied, was that rather than heaven on earth, Israel suffered much hell on earth. And yet all was not lost, for God also promised them His grace if they would repent (vv. 40-45). And this offer of grace was as absolute as were His laws (v. 46).
The Power of Threats
There are far more verses in this chapter about God’s potential judgement of the nation than there are of His potential blessings. The same can be said of a similar passage in Deuteronomy 28. In the words of Rooker, “The longer length of the oracles of judgment may indicate that the fear of punishment is a stronger motivation than the prospect of success”3 (see vv. 23, 28). The word in v. 28 means “to correct by blows” and the related word in v. 23 (“reformed”) means “to be corrected by the blows.” In other words, God brought these punishments (v. 24) to pass for the purpose of showing grace. “A sad commentary on human nature is that in prosperity men tend to forget God from whom all blessings flow, and God must often punish them to bring them back to him. The wise child of God will stay close to God in the first place and rejoice in the blessings without having to get the punishments.”4
God wanted them to realise that He “will never violate His commitment to His servant. Keeping covenant involves steadfastness to the curses as well as the blessings. His constancy is a gracious caveat for those tempted to break the covenant.”5 God wanted them to succeed and so He graciously gave them law and warnings. It will be helpful for us to look at the both the cause and the consequences of their failure.
The Cause of their Failure
Verses 14-15 point to the cause of Israel’s failure. Obviously their failure was one of disobedience to God’s commandments and statutes. Such an attitude, which results in defiance of God’s law, is summed up in the words, “abhors my judgements.” Those who loathe God’s rules loathe the one who makes the rules. The summary verdict is that they break covenant with Him. The terminology here “is a technical covenantal term meaning to annul an agreement.”6 But note that they broke His covenant (v. 15). When you disregard and defy the Sovereign, watch out! In the words of our Lord, what God has joined together, let no one put asunder.
If they refused to walk with God (and sadly they most definitely and defiantly did) then God would bring disaster upon them. But it must be emphasised here that this was not a threat against those who loved God and yet who found themselves stumbling along the way and failing to perfectly obey. Rather, God was warning those who did not have a heart to serve Him; those with an “uncircumcised heart” (v. 41). As Eveson notes, “The powerful words ‘to reject’ and ‘to abhor’ reflect attitudes that reveal the guilty have no loyalty to God, hold the commandments in contempt, and want nothing to do with the covenant.”7
In other words, those with a sensitive conscience are not in view but rather those with a seared conscience are the recipients of these curses.
Ultimately the cause of their defiance was their refusal to be a people of the Word. Tidball helpfully observes, “The first step towards disaster, it should be noted, was to refuse to listen to the voice of God. . . . To be the people of God meant that they were people of the word of God. These revelations of God’s will were more than sufficient as they sought to build healthy community life and to live personally with wisdom. Their refusal to listen was the fundamental error from which all other difficulties flowed.”8
We should pay heed to these words, for judgement always begins at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). If we will experience God’s blessings, we must be faithful to His Word.
In what follows (vv. 16ff) we see an ascending (descending?) list of disasters that would befall them. The purpose of such disasters was to bring them to repentance. If they did not repent, the disasters would intensify. This most certainly was to be the experience of Israel throughout history, culminating with the worst of all disasters: the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Let’s look at these promised and prophesied judgements (curses).
The Consequences (Curses) of their Failure
The curses of vv. 16-39 can be divided into several categories, each more intense than the one preceding it.
Disease and Defeat
First, they would face disease and defeat (vv. 16-17). This was basically the opposite of the first promised blessing earlier. That is, if Israel disobeyed, she would suffer food, social, political and military insecurity—because God would set His face against them. You don’t want God as your enemy.
Drought and Drudgery
Second, they would face drought and drudgery (vv. 18-20). Basically these judgements are the same as the ones just mentioned but intensified. Note the threat of a decreased food supply due to a change in climatic conditions.
Do you ever take rain and water for granted? Wenham insightfully comments, “It is very easy to take the blessings of rain, peace, and even God’s presence for granted. It is salutary to be reminded in detail of what life is like when his providential gifts are removed.”9
All of this is preceded by the announcement that the Lord would punish them sevenfold. Kaiser notes “‘Seven times over’ is . . . a definite number for an indefinite increase in the severity of judgment.”10
This is a significant statement, which we encounter several times in this chapter.
Death and Destruction
The third consequence highlighted is death and destruction (vv. 21-22). In contrast to the promise of harmony with nature, God here pronounces that the wild beast would now be a threat to the nation. Perhaps this would be due to decreased food for the animals (due to climate changes). The highways would be desolate because travel would be dangerous.
There is evidence of this in the Old Testament. Samson was attacked by and killed a lion. The man of God in 1 Kings 13 was killed by a wild lion. David fought off lions and bears during his ears as a shepherd, and Elisha once called forth two she bears to maul 42 mocking youths in a startling act of God’s judgement.
Hopelessness and Hunger
Fourth, they were warned of hopelessness and hunger (vv. 23-26). The same judgements are once again intensified. There is now the increased threat of national insecurity.
It is interesting that, just recently, a report was published noting the relationship between increased climate change and greater incidents of hostility. When temperatures rise, people tend to get hot under the collar—even to the point of hostile conflict.
The passage also prophecies that food supply would so dwindle that there would be barely enough to feed one’s family.
Note that “the Hebrew of v. 25 is quite emphatic. The sword will ‘avenge by vengeance’ of the covenant. The broken covenant cannot be passed over by God without awful judgment.”11
Delivered to Desolation
In the final passage of woes, they were warned of eventual deliverance to desolation (vv. 27-39). Here, the threats intensify again by the sevenfold metaphor, and the scenes are horrific.
Before looking at this, note the language describing God’s attitude towards Israel: Not only would God “walk contrary to” them (v. 28) as in v. 24, but the language is intensified with the use of the word “fury” or “wrathful opposition.” Currid notes, “This is a strong noun in Hebrew signifying God’s furious and raging anger.”12
Israel would experience cannibalism (v. 29) along with their destruction (v. 30). Later Old Testament history on more than one occasion records acts of cannibalism.
Note also that one of the judgements implied is that God would turn them over to their idolatry (see Romans 1).
In v. 31 the Lord promises that He would destroy their cities as well as their appointed places for genuine worship. As Wenham observes, “The tabernacle was designed to be the place where God dwelt among his people, but Israel’s sins could make it an empty shrine.”13 Of course, this was experienced by the nation first in the Babylonian exile and then in 70 AD when Rome destroyed the temple—once and for all.
The judgements continue to be delineated as the Lord prophesies that He would make their land desolate and scatter them among the nations. Their enemies would be mockingly astonished at their fall from blessings (vv. 32-33). It is then noted (vv. 34-35) that one benefit, and hence purpose, of these judgements, would be the literal sabbatical resting of the land. The land that the children of Israel refused its Sabbath would then be able to “enjoy” what God had prescribed for it. “‘Enjoy’ (mg. ‘pay for’) attempts to convey the idea of compensation owed to the land by Israelites who had failed to conserve its resources properly according to the law.”14
As we have noted before, this is precisely the reason given in Jeremiah 25 and in 2 Chronicles 35 for the seventy-year Babylonian exile.
Meanwhile, while the land rested, the people left in the land would “waste away” (vv. 36-39). They would become weakened in fear and would be troubled by their own iniquities as well as the wickedness of their enemies. The general picture here is that of a nation completely beleaguered, powerless and hence treated with contempt and insignificance. And, by the way, that is pretty much how Israel was treated after the end of the Solomonic empire. And even until our own day.
We can learn from this that, in the words of Rushdoony, that “God makes it clear that He is no absentee God; that He is a very present help, as well as judge, and we cannot escape either His blessings or His judgments.”15
So let’s choose to obey and experience His blessings.
Hope for Grace
The second major part of our section highlights that there was hope for grace.
But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, with their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, and that they also have walked contrary to Me, and that I also have walked contrary to them and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled, and they accept their guilt—then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham I will remember; I will remember the land. The land also shall be left empty by them, and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them; they will accept their guilt, because they despised My judgments and because their soul abhorred My statutes. Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant of 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.
Until now, the passage has been pretty ominous, and the parallel passage in Deuteronomy 28 even more so. There, the Lord not merely promises that judgement would be experienced as recompense for disobedience, but He also prophesies that Israel would fail and be judged. As noted already, this in fact occurred in the Babylonian exile (and the Assyrian captivity) and ultimately in the Jewish Wars ending in defeat in 70 AD.
The Cause for Hope
After some dreadful threats, the passage offers hope for when these judgements occurred. There was a very real offer of grace. God here reveals that His “curses and judgments are not his final word. God wants to restore his people.”16
When the people found themselves under God’s chastening hand, they could experience gracious deliverance if they would confess their unfaithfulness, as well as the unfaithfulness of those who contributed their share in getting them into this mess (v. 40).
This confession was not merely to be lip-service but sincere, as proven by humility brought on by repentance (v. 41a) and full acceptance of personal responsibility for their sin (vv. 42b-43).
The word translated “confess” means “to throw” or “to cast.” The Hebrew root means “hands” and seems to suggest the idea of throwing up one’s hands. In other words, it indicates surrender. It is like a captured criminal who throws away his excuses and surrenders the truth.
This is what the Lord will respond to: an honest, no blameshifting confession of one’s guilt. We call this repentance (see 1 John 1:9).
The Lord speaks of their “uncircumcised hearts.” This is language that speaks of the unregenerate (Exodus 12:48; Judges 14:3; Jeremiah 9:26; Ezekiel 44:7; Acts 7:51; see Deuteronomy 10:16).
God Graciously Remembers
As we saw previously, the vast majority of those who experienced deliverance from Egypt were unbelievers. To repent, therefore, they required new hearts. They needed to quit boasting in their external religion and humble themselves to be born again. The promise is that if, they did so, they would be restored because they would be reconciled to God. Their heart attitude would usher in a “remembrance” from God’s side of the covenant, which He made with Abraham, Jacob and Isaac—the same covenant, but re-ratified with each successive generation.
The concept here of remembrance implies action based on recollection. That is, God is here promising repentant Israel—the believing remnant—that He would act on their behalf because of His covenant. For His names’ sake (Ezekiel 20) God will fulfil His covenant with them.
That covenant was that the Lord would bless the seed of Abraham to be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-3). God here encouraged them that if they failed, but then repented, He would be gracious to them. He would “remember the land” (v. 42b).
It needs to be noted that there is no promise here of their being restored to the land, though God, through the prophets, later made this promise.
With particular reference to the kingdom of Judah, she would be carried away, the land would secure its Sabbatical rest and a remnant from Judah would eventually return to the holy land. The books of Nehemiah and Ezra record the returning remnant. In fact, three of the great prayer chapters in the Bible—Daniel 9, Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 9—all reference Judah’s exile for forsaking its covenant with God, but also the hope of restoration if the people will repent.
Better than Real Estate!
As you read the various prophetic books of the Old Testament it can be quite confusing at times. After all, the prophets proclaimed glorious promises of a restored Israel (see, for example, Haggai 2:3-9; Ezekiel 36:16-28; Jeremiah 31:31-34; etc.). But when you read of Israel’s return to the land, things did not seem to be as glorious as those promises. For example, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which record events surrounding those returning from exile, are fraught with records of trouble and discouragements. Though certainly the Lord did a mighty work in restoring the remnant to Jerusalem, and in equipping and empowering them to rebuild the walls, the city and the temple, nevertheless the end result does not seem to match the glory of the prophecies. What do we make of this?
I think that the promise of God “remembering” the land is helpful here. The land promise was part and parcel of the covenant made with Abraham and his descendants. But the primary issue was not geographical as much as it was spiritual. That is, the land was important because the nation of Israel needed to be preserved, and the land was simply a means to that end. But again, why did the nation need to be preserved? The answer is that it was through this nation that the promised Messiah would come.
You will remember that God’s covenant with Abraham was that through his descendants (the nation of Israel) all the world would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). It was through Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, that peoples from every ethnicity would become children of Abraham by faith (Galatians 3:26-29).
I am aware of the complexity involved in this matter, and there are many, many issues that arise at this point. But keeping Leviticus 26 in mind, let me simply summarise that God promised to keep His covenant with the nation of Israel in order to preserve the nation of Israel so that all the nations could experience a covenant relationship with God. As Christopher Wright notes, God’s “commitment to Israel was because of his commitment to all nations.”17
But what so amazingly undergirds this promise is God’s grace. For, you see, the only way that the nation would repent once they turned away from God is if He graciously turned their uncircumcised hearts to Himself. In other words, the terms by which God would keep covenant with His people—as revealed here—is that they must keep covenant with Him. But we know that they could not. And so, what would God do throughout history? He would give them grace to repent and to return and to keep covenant. The means of covenant-keeping was the grace of God. In other words, God gave what He commanded. Eveson helpfully notes, in his comments on this theme as seen in Deuteronomy 10:16, “Moses urges the people to have their hearts circumcised and declares that God himself will operate on their hearts to enable them to love the Lord with all their beings (Deut. 30:6). God’s promise to uphold the covenant with Abraham is unilateral.”17 In other words, God gracious gives what He commands.
“For their sake I will remember the covenant.” What a statement of grace! God could justly have completely discarded Israel, but because of His covenant of grace—the covenant to save a people of His choosing, worldwide—the Lord would grant them grace over and over to spare them. He would spare them to save you! Now that should give you hope! Such gospel truth should provide all that you need when you face difficulties. God will be gracious to those whom He has chosen to be gracious (see Romans 8:32). Expect that!
Believer, God remembers His covenant when you fail and fall. The words of the songwriter summarise it well:
Before the throne of God above, I have a strong and perfect plea;
A great High Priest whose name is love, who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on his hands! My name is written on his heart!
I know that while in heav’n he stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart;
No tongue can bid me thence depart.
When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see him there, who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Saviour died, my sinful soul is counted free!
For God the just is satisfied, to look on him and pardon me;
To look on him and pardon me.
Behold him there the risen Lamb, my perfect, spotless righteousness;
The great unchangeable I AM, the King of glory and of grace.
One with himself I cannot die, my soul is purchased with his blood;
My life is hid with Christ on high: with Christ my Saviour and my God;
With Christ my Saviour and my God.
The Culmination of Israel’s Failure and the Consequence of Hope
We need to backtrack for a moment to put this passage into perspective. It is true that a remnant repented and the Lord restored them to their land—a land in which they would remain until the days of the New Testament. But this, as we have seen, was not the main goal. And Israel would lose her land, and experience the judgements of Leviticus 26, once again.
As we have noted there are four occurrences of the threat of a “sevenfold judgement” (vv. 18, 21, 24, 28). This is important, for it emphasises the intensity of God’s threatened judgements. Rooker notes that the “sevenfold punishments typify the completeness of these judgements. The punishments will increase in intensity if Israel fails to respond.”19
But this is not the only reference in Scripture to such intensified judgements.
The number seven as used in Scripture is significant. It has generally been interpreted to speak of “completion,” and some would even say “perfection.” The idea of completion is certainly inherent in its first occurrence, which is found in Genesis 2:1-3. Because everything was completed according to God’s plan, He therefore “rested” on the seventh day. But note that the concept of rest is wed to the concept of completion. And this seems to hold throughout other usages as well. Note the following examples:
- Genesis 4:15—And the LORD said to him, “Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him.
- Psalm 79:12—And return to our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom their reproach with which they have reproached You, O Lord.
In each case, the idea is that of protection or judgement coming to rest upon someone.
We see the same concept in Proverbs 6:31, “Yet when he is found, he must restore sevenfold; he may have to give up all the substance of his house.” The context is that of a man guilty of adultery and his subsequent penalty. The penalty is to completely rest upon him.
A more positive example is found in Isaiah 30:26: “Moreover the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the LORD binds up the bruise of His people and heals the stroke of their wound.” Here, we are told that God’s blessings will completely rest upon His people. They will be blessed, as it were, sevenfold.
Other examples of the use of the number seven to signify fullness of either blessings or judgements completely coming to rest on someone or something include Joshua 6:4, 15; 2 Kings 5:10, 14; Psalm 12:6; and Psalm 119:164.
Now, what does this all have to do with Leviticus 26? The four mentions of “sevenfold” judgements indicate that God’s wrath would completely come to rest upon this nation if they rebelled and broke covenant. But such terminology is used again, many centuries later, with reference to Jerusalem as found in the book of the Revelation.
This book, as I have explained elsewhere, is about God’s judgement upon Jerusalem for her rejection and murder of His Son, their Messiah. The concept of sevenfold judgement is found throughout.
The seven seals, as recorded in chapter 6, give a general description of the judgements to befall the land and God’s people in it. The seven trumpet judgements as revealed in chapters 8 and 9 (concluding in 11:15-19) are the same judgements recorded in chapter 6, but intensified. Finally, chapter 16 records the seven bowl judgements (also referred to as plagues, see Leviticus 26:21). Like the trumpet judgements, the judgements themselves are not anything additional to what has already been revealed but rather are intensified again. This is precisely how Leviticus 26 is structured: same judgements, but intensified.
For what it is worth, the term “sevenfold” as used to describe these intensifying plagues of judgements is found four times both in Leviticus and in the Revelation (15:1; 16:8-9; 21:9).
The point to be highlighted is that there is definitely an exegetical connection between Leviticus 26 and the Revelation.
Israel did suffer such judgements under Babylon (and other nations), as recorded in the Old Testament, and yet she was given another chance. However, when the keeper of the covenant (Christ) came, they broke covenant once again. The result was the full unleashing of these covenantal curses.
As you study these judgements in the Revelation you find every single element prophesied in Leviticus 26, and as we have seen, we also note the intensifying of the prophesied judgements. The God of the covenant kept covenant, and that was both encouraging and terrifying. In a word, it is awe-inspiring.
Not a Parenthesis
It is essential to interpret the Revelation accurately because it has everything to do with whether Leviticus offers us great expectations. But even if you come down on the side of and amillennial or premillennial position, the issue of old covenant Israel being once and for all nullified by their own disobedience is nevertheless essential to see. The church of the new covenant is not a mere parenthesis in history but the very much now-revealed mystery that was in the shadows of the old covenant. It is the new wineskin of the old (and new!) wine of the gospel.
Israel’s failure, as Paul revealed in Romans 11, proved to be a blessing for the world. Now that is grace; that is gospel! And it is to that chapter that we must now briefly turn our attention.
A word—an important one—must be said here about Leviticus 26 and the nation of Israel today. There are many who see a future for Israel where she is restored to her Promised Land, from which the Lord Jesus Christ will one day literally rule the earth. Many passages are claimed as teaching this, and one of those is Romans 11. After all, if God says that He will not break covenant with His people should we not expect that He will fulfil these land promises one day? We will close this study by looking at this issue in the final verse.
The Certainty of Grace
As this chapter draws to a close we read the summary statement, “These are the statutes and judgements and laws which the LORD made between Himself and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses” (v. 46).
The terminology is designed to leave us with a sense of absoluteness. After all, words like “statutes,” “judgements” and “laws” don’t leave much room for debate. God’s commands are to be absolutely obeyed. It is as if He was saying to the children of Israel: “Just do it!” But we should see in this that God’s promises are also being couched in such absolute language. The grace that we have been considering in vv. 40-45 is as much a “law,” “statute” and “judgement” as the rest of the words! That is, you can count on it!
God has graciously bound Himself to His Word. He will not violate His own laws or promises. It is certain. In other words, this chapter ends with the certainty of judgement for defiance, and also with certainty of restoration for repentance—born of grace.
But it is precisely here where Christians can become muddled. It is true that God made a covenant with Israel, but He fulfilled it.
With reference to the land, God gave to Israel everything He had promised them (Joshua 21:43-45). God did make them a blessing to the nations, for Messiah was born of the seed of Abraham (Matthew 1:1). The Son of David is on the throne (see Matthew 1:1 with 21:9, 15; Acts 2:25-36; 13:34; Revelation 3:7; 5:5; 22:16). And the Israel of God is being called together from among all of the nations (see Galatians 6:16 with Matthew 28:19-20; Isaiah 11:12; Ezekiel 38:8; etc.). Yes, God’s covenant with Israel is being fulfilled.
But what about Romans 11?
My answer is that this is a glorious promise, not concerning geopolitical Israel, but rather concerning ethnic Israel. This indeed is a promise to yet be fulfilled, but it is certain. God will certainly be gracious to a large number of Jewish people; they will get something far more valuable than a piece of land; they will receive their portion: the Lord!
Romans 11 most definitely promises a future massive conversion of ethnic Jews and we should faithfully pray and labour for that day. When this promise is realised in space-time history, then an even greater number of Gentiles will be converted. But we should not confuse this with some idea of a reestablished temple and throne in Israel where Christ will reign. Though most surely it is very conceivable that Israel and Jerusalem will be blessed politically, socially, agriculturally and economically (along with other nations who are conquered by the gospel), we must see that this will only occur because Jesus is reigning now.
God’s grace is certain and His grace is impartial; Jewish people will be saved in the same way that Gentile people are saved: by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And this impartiality is in many ways why the destruction of Jerusalem under the Romans was so significant. Israel’s failure meant the salvation of the world (Romans 11:12-15). Their failure made God’s grace to the world certain.
With Jerusalem’s destruction, because of her covenantal unfaithfulness and with God’s covenantal faithfulness, we experience God’s saving grace. Because of God’s covenantal faithfulness, when Israel continued to abhor the covenant by disobeying God’s statutes, judgements and commandments, He destroyed her, thereby saving the world—including Israelites! God’s grace is amazing indeed!
As we close I need to ask, do you know of this saving grace? Have you come to see that you have defied God and His law and therefore deserve His wrath? If so, then the good news is that you can experience His grace. Like Isaiah of old, cry out to God, confessing your failure and your hopelessness apart from His grace. When you do so, the Lord will hear and heal. Better yet, He will save you. That is a great expectation. That is the expectation of grace.
- Rousas John Rushdoony, Leviticus: Commentaries on the Pentateuch (Vallecito: Ross House Books, 2005), 382. ↩
- R. Laird Harris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 2:641. ↩
- Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus: The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 317. ↩
- Harris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 2:648. ↩
- Robert I. Vasholz, Leviticus: A Mentor Commentary (Ross-shire: Mentor, 2007), 336. ↩
- John D. Currid, Study Commentary on Leviticus (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2004), 350. ↩
- Philip H. Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness: The Book of Leviticus Simply Explained (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2007), 478. ↩
- Derek Tidball, The Message of Leviticus: Free to Be Holy (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2005), 310. ↩
- Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 330. ↩
- Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 310. ↩
- Harris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 2:646. ↩
- Currid, Study Commentary on Leviticus, 353. ↩
- Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, 329. ↩
- R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 233. ↩
- Rushdoony, Leviticus, 384. ↩
- Rooker, Leviticus, 321. ↩
- Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness, ??. ↩
- Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness, ??. ↩
- Rooker, Leviticus, 317. ↩