Great Expectations (Leviticus 26:1-13)

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William Carey, long time nineteenth century missionary in India, is well known for many things—one of which is his conviction that the believer is to “expect great things from God” and to therefore “attempt great things for God.” Carey expected, and attempted. And because he did both, he experienced great things from God. To this day, India continues to experience great and gracious things from God.

In the excellent book by Vishal and Ruth Mangalwadi, The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for Cultural Transformation, the authors document the huge impact that the former shoemaker had on India, all because of his commitment to the gospel of God and its manifold implications.

Some of the areas in which Carey left a legacy were botany, industry, economics, medical humanitarianism, print technology, agriculture, translation, education, astronomy, libraries, forest conservation, women’s rights, public service and moral reform. The authors note that “Carey was an evangelist who used every available medium to illumine every dark facet of Indian life with the light of truth. As such, he is the central character in the story of India’s modernization.”

Carey had great expectations when he sailed from his homeland of Britain. He believed that the gospel was the power of God for salvation. He believed that all of God’s Word was for all of God’s people because it addressed all areas of life.

Carey believed that one day the knowledge of the glory of the Lord would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. It was these great expectations that served as his great motivation. And when he died, his expectations had not diminished because he still believed God.

In our day, it may at times seem difficult to maintain any expectation of righteous victory, let alone a great expectation of such. The moral decline, the increasing reports of corruption, the realisation of the poverty and squalor on our own continent and beyond, is enough to discourage and demotivate the most optimistic of postmillennialists. That is why a study of Leviticus 26 can be so helpful, for it indeed contains biblical reasons for us to have great expectations. It is helpful because it is hopeful.

We will study this chapter in at least two parts. In this study, we will look at the great expectations as revealed in the opening thirteen verses and, God willing, next Sunday we will look at the grace expectations found in vv. 14-46. May we come away from these expositions with great hope. May we come away motivated, as was Carey, to expect great things from God, moving us to attempt great things for God.

In this penultimate chapter of Leviticus, God, as it were, brings to a conclusion the covenantal terms that He was establishing with His people.

Suzerain Treaties

In ancient treaties the sovereign who initiated the covenant with a “lesser” party brought it to a climax by listing sanctions with reference to the terms of the agreement. If the people obeyed, they received certain benefits (blessings), and if they disobeyed they experienced covenantal curses (penalties) for violation. We could put it this way: If the people obeyed (“kept covenant”), they would experience a measure of promised prosperity, but if they disobeyed (“broke covenant”), they would experience heartache.

This is precisely what God is here prescribing. It is the announcement to Israel of the good news of prosperity if they obeyed God’s law-word (summarily included in the previous 25 chapters), and the pronouncement of bad news of calamity if they disobeyed. In a sense (as will be fleshed out later), Leviticus 26 contains a prosperity gospel. But more about that later.

This chapter can be divided into four major sections:

  • The Preamble (vv. 1-2);
  • The Promise of Blessings/Prosperity (vv. 3-13);
  • The Promise of Judgement/Punishment (vv. 14-39); and
  • The Promise of Forgiveness/Pardon (vv. 40-46).

In this study, we will look at both the preamble and the promise of prosperity as found in the first thirteen verses.

Thesis

As we begin, I want to set the direction by driving home my overriding thesis: The church of the new covenant is to have a great expectation with reference to the power of the gospel. Yes, in spite of what you will read in the news, there is every biblical reason to hold our heads high in humble confidence that Christ will continue to build His church and that His kingdom will continue to come.

But for us to have and to maintain such expectations we need to hold, both in principle as well as in practice, at least five doctrinal convictions, all of which are found in these opening thirteen verses. I will highlight these in our exposition together.

The Preamble

As was customary with ancient treaties, this one opens with a brief preamble:

You shall not make idols for yourselves; neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar shall you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it; for I am the Lord your God.  You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the Lord.

(Leviticus 26:1-2)

Theology Matters

We learn in these opening verses that correct theological conviction is essential if we will have and maintain great expectations.

It should be noted that there is no literary break between the end of chapter 25 and the commencement of chapter 26. The previous chapter ends with, “I am the LORD your God” after reminding the Israelites that they are His servants.

In this passage Yahweh proclaims His inherent right to be worshipped exclusively by His people. Verse 2 makes this abundantly clear with the words, “I am the LORD your God.” If the people would enjoy the prosperity that God offered them, this essential theological foundation must be laid. The obedience enjoined was predicated on their worshipping the one true God: Yahweh their Elohim.

As noted, Leviticus 26 contains elements that were common to treaties in the ancient world. One of those was the preamble in which the one making the treaty reminded those entering into covenant (the word is found ten times in Leviticus, with eight occurrences in this chapter) that he was in charge. In other words, the one establishing the covenant proclaimed his right to establish the terms of the covenant. This is clearly the case in these opening verses.

It should be noted that this is a covenant among unequals: God and man (sinful man at that). Therefore, God’s covenant was not merely one of law but was also grounded in grace. God’s law-word is gracious.

The Second Commandment

Immediately upon reminding the people in 25:55 that He was Yahweh their Elohim, the Lord warned them about worshipping other gods. It has been noted by others that this one verse gives the most comprehensive prohibition of idolatry in all of Scripture. Lest they should be confused, God forbade every form of idolatry—whether carved image, sacred pillar or engraved stone. Idolatry was to have no place in the life of the nation. God was restating the second commandment in no uncertain terms. There was no excuse for the practice or for the presence of idolatry among God’s people.

It is possible that the Lord inserted this exhaustive reminder here because of their historic context. The children of Israel were on the borders of Canaan and were slated to enter it soon. Canaan was the Promised Land, and yet it was at that time a corrupt land filled with idol worship. This perverted land was in need of a theological conquest by God’s people. The danger, of course, was that those tasked with the great commission for the honour of God’s name would themselves become converted to the corrupt ways of the nations. For this reason, the Lord warned them and then motivated them with the promise of blessings if they remained true to Him.

Contemporary Relevance

We too are of to a Great Commission. We are called to disciple the nations to obedience to God by obedience to His gospel (Romans 10:16; etc.). But if we lose our theological moorings then we will fail in our task. Theology matters.

Recently, the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA) removed the hymn “In Christ Alone” from its repertoire. They requested that its authors change the line “till on the cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied” to, “till on the cross, as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified.” The authors refused, and the PCUSA responded by removing the song from its official hymnal.1

While the cross of Christ certainly magnified God’s love, it also very definitely satisfied God’s wrath, and there is a world of difference between the two theological concepts. The PCUSA is uncomfortable with the concept of God’s wrath against sinners needing to be satisfied, but it is a clear biblical teaching that must not be minimised.

We must remain true the God who is and the gospel as it is.

There is no religious or theological vagueness here. Our worship must have theological content—correct theological content. It is not enough to “believe in God.” After all, the devil and his demons believe in God—and better than many Christians, for they tremble!

To summarise, God’s covenantal proclamation—His covenantal promises—begin on the solid and essential foundation of theological conviction. God’s people must not waver in their allegiance to their Lord and Saviour. He is their Master, and all other claims to devotion are fraudulent and must be forsaken. If they go wrong here then they will go wrong everywhere. The principle to be recognised is that belief affects behaviour, and this also is related to the matter of blessings. If you worship a false God then you are bound for disappointment.

Who and How?

Further, the way that we worship the true God is not unimportant.

God has described who is to be worshipped (Himself), but also how He is to be worshipped. The how will ultimately affect whom we worship. The church must be committed to worshipping God in the way in which He has revealed. Biblically-informed worship guards us from idolatry. And this in turn prepares us for blessings.

If we will expect great things from God then we must know the great God.

Be Thou My Vision

If we will have great expectations for the future then we need a biblical vision of God (see Proverbs 29:18). It was precisely because Israel lost this vision that she disobeyed God. In fact, she disobeyed God’s sabbatical laws because she did not trust Him. And the nation did not trust Him because she failed to know Him. But to know God is to believe that, with Him, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). The Lord is infinitely more powerful than the world, the flesh and the devil. This, no doubt, was why Jesus began the words of the Great Commission with, “All authority is given unto me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).

We need to recapture and believe this theological reality. And when we do, then, like Carey, we will truly expect and attempt great things.

Ecclesiology Matters

We learn in the second verse that ecclesiology matters; that is, the church—and the local church—matters. In fact, it matters a great deal.

In v. 2 God, prescribes once again the importance of His people observing His Sabbath laws. Alongside this, the Lord exhorts them to pay due respect to His sanctuary, to His holy place; that is, to His tabernacle (v. 11). These two matters are intimately connected. Harrison comments concerning the purpose of this command, “Observance of the Sabbath and punctilious attendance to worship at the sanctuary will be the best means of forestalling the corruptions of Canaanite religion.”2

Rest, Reflection, Religion and Relationships

There are those who argue that the emphasis of the Sabbath is on physical rest and the responsibility to reflect upon God and His work. Certainly rest and reflection are a large emphasis in the sabbatical laws. However, there is another element, which I would refer to as the religiously relational one. That is, the proper observance of the Sabbath has a lot to do with religious observance, and this observance is to be done in conjunction with others.

In the days of the tabernacle and the temple (and then the synagogue), those who honoured the Lord by observing His Sabbath law did so in public and corporate acts of worship. In our terminology, they “went to church.” It is for this reason that I see, in this verse, ecclesiological issues. And that is why I would argue from this passage that this issue of prosperity is connected to how the church responds to the fourth commandment.

I am well aware that I am swimming upstream, and that many of those with whom I am butting noses as we swim in opposite directions are good, godly and very knowledgeable Christians. Nevertheless, I am convinced from the text of Scripture that the fourth commandment is as obligatory and therefore as relevant for Christians today as it was for believers in Moses’ day. We are blessed with this law!

I understand, and am convinced from Scripture (e.g. Colossians 2), that many sabbatical laws were fulfilled in Christ and that Christians are therefore no longer obliged to obey these (e.g. special sabbatical days, sabbatical years, Jubilee, etc.). Yet none of that has any bearing on the contemporary relevancy of the fourth commandment. The fourth commandment was instituted by God initially to make us pause to consider creation (Exodus 20:8-11; 31:12-17) and redemption (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). And since God is still the Creator and the Redeemer, we also stand in need of the same weekly pause: We need to restfully reflect—together. Like the children of Israel, we need to worship corporately. We need to honour the Sabbath in the context of the sanctuary.

The New Testament makes it clear that we, the people of the new covenant, are the sanctuary of God. We are the dwelling place of God (1 Corinthians 3:7-16; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-9; etc.). And so, on the Lord’s Day (the Christian Sabbath), we are privileged to keep the commandment to “go to church.”

Contextual Connection

There is a very strong and relevant connection between the issues addressed in vv. 1 and 2, and other passages also make the same connection. For example note Exodus 23:12-13: “Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed. And in all that I have said to you, be circumspect and make no mention of the name of other gods, nor let it be heard from your mouth.” In this passage, the law concerning the proper observance of the Sabbath, and a warning against mentioning the name of false gods, are found together.

I would conclude that, to the degree that we properly observe the fourth commandment, we will guard ourselves against idolatry. Andrew Bonar says with wonderful pastoral insight, “All declension and decay may be said to be begun wherever we see these two ordinances despised—the Sabbath and the sanctuary. They are the outward fence around the inward love commanded by v. 1.”3

This most definitely applies to us in our own day.

The Lord’s Day provides us with the opportunity to stop and rest and reflect on what life is really all about. It enables us to guard against covetousness as we worship God, the giver of all the gifts that we weekly receive. Further, as we ourselves give on the Lord’s Day, we protect ourselves from covetousness, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

As we are instructed in God’s Word, our hearts are renewed and we are readjusted in our thinking as we face our idol-filled Canaan on Monday morning. We need this regular weekly date for reverent reflection, otherwise we will find ourselves falling for (and before) the idols of our age.

Without belabouring the point (the word “Sabbaths” is mentioned again three times, vv. 34, 35, 43) let me exhort us to love the law of the Lord—including the fourth law to keep the Sabbath holy. Blessings untold await us if we do so! As the Lord said through Isaiah,

If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honourable, and shall honour Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken.

(Isaiah 58:13-14)

Legalism?

But some may ask, is that not legalistic? Like the children of Israel, obedience to this commandment can be perverted and morphed into an act of legalism. That is, it is very possible for people, including Christians, to miss the point and to think that somehow by externally observing this commandment that they are earning brownie points with God. But that is not inherent in the commandment. Such a distortion is our fault, not the law’s.

We should observe that a distortion of this law robs it of the delight that it offers. Certainly, there is allowance by God for those providential circumstances that may interfere with our intention to go to church to worship on the Lord’s Day. You may be away on holiday with no church nearby at which to worship. Unavoidable flight schedules may keep you from corporate worship. Perhaps an error in your scheduling or the occasional work obligation may rob you of the opportunity to gather with the church to worship. We cannot immaturely condemn all exceptions, but neither should we immaturely dismiss obedience to this law for fear of legalism. This commandment, as with all of God’s commandments, is not burdensome (1 John 5:3).

The Promise of Prosperity

In vv. 3-13 we read of God’s specific promise of prosperity for obedience to His covenant obligations.

If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last till the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last till the time of sowing; you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.  I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none will make you afraid; I will rid the land of evil beasts, and the sword will not go through your land. You will chase your enemies, and they shall fall by the sword before you. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight; your enemies shall fall by the sword before you. For I will look on you favourably and make you fruitful, multiply you and confirm My covenant with you. You shall eat the old harvest, and clear out the old because of the new. I will set My tabernacle among you, and My soul shall not abhor you. I will walk among you and 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; I have broken the bands of your yoke and made you walk upright.

(Leviticus 26:3-13)

One of the heretical scourges that litters the theological landscape in our day, and particularly in many parts of Africa, is the so-called “prosperity gospel.” (In point of fact, such teaching is neither “prosperity” or is it “gospel.”) The teaching runs along these lines: God wants His children to live like they are the King’s kids, and so Christians should all be healthy and wealthy; we are to be prosperous in every way imaginable. If we are not, then it is alleged that we either lack faith or we are guilty of unconfessed sin. It would seem that, in many churches, Job’s friends are alive and well!

The Bible, however, does not teach that a Christian should expect to be wealthy and/or healthy. If prosperity comes, it is an added blessing for which the believer should be thankful. It is not a birthright to be presumed upon.

But having acknowledged this, neither should we dismiss as erroneous any and all teaching that speaks of God’s blessings that accompany obedience. If we did, we would find ourselves terribly critical of Leviticus 26.

In this second major section of Leviticus 26, God reveals His promise of prosperity in return for His people’s obedience. It begins with a conditional statement, followed by the assurances of what such obedience will yield. Again, there are some doctrinal considerations in this passage.

Anthropology Matters

The opening “if” clause (v. 3) is quite a challenge, a daunting one indeed. “If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them.” That is quite a condition! Ross notes that to “keep” or” observe” refers to “that meticulous observing of and complying with the commandments of the LORD.”4 Who would claim to be able to do this? History testifies that the children of Israel did not. In fact, they could not.

In a limited degree they experienced some measure of these blessings recorded in vv. 4-13, but largely they failed to obey. They were sinners who needed to obey their sovereign, but they needed the Saviour to do so.

Continuity/Discontinuity

Theologians speak of continuity and discontinuity between the old covenant and the new covenant—and rightly so. There is much that is continuous between the two covenants. For example, God’s people under both covenants are under obligation to obey God. In each covenant, God’s people have been chosen and redeemed by God, and have been given revelation from God. In both covenants, His people are called to be holy to reflect the holiness of their God. In either covenant, His people are priests to the world.

But there is much that is discontinuous. One of the most glaring areas of discontinuity is that the majority of those who were redeemed under the old covenant were redeemed politically and geographically from Egypt while not experiencing spiritual redemption (see Hebrews 3—4).

On the other hand, under the new covenant, God’s people are changed from within. We are given a new heart, whereas so many of God’s old covenant people had an uncircumcised heart (Leviticus 26:41). The law that they were given was largely external to them, whereas God’s new covenant people experience God’s law written on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:6-13; 10:11-18).

We can lament that Israel largely failed to “walk in” God’s statutes and failed to “keep” His commandments. They did not “perform” them. The result was not only that they missed out on most of this promised prosperity, but they also experienced the judgements promised in vv. 14-39.

The point that I want to establish is that, though these people addressed here in Leviticus 26 largely could not and would not meet the conditions of obedience, we, God’s new covenant people can obey God’s law. To again cite the apostle John, God’s commandments are not burdensome; they are not grievous; they are not painful! Rather they are a blessing. With the writer of Psalm 119 we say, “I love your law!” (v. 97; see also vv. 113, 163).

The difference between the old covenant people of God and the new covenant people of God is largely one of anthropology. That is, the old covenant people of God—the majority of them—were spiritually dead, whereas the new covenant people of God are spiritually alive. And, of course, the reason is the saving grace of God. It is important for us to see this if we will benefit from this passage.

New Covenant Perspective

While recognising Israel’s failure, we must not read Leviticus 26 with the glasses of pessimism and defeatism. Rather, we must read it with the glasses of the new covenant. As we will soon see, we should read these verses with the glasses of biblical hope. We should read this passage with deep encouragement that blessings can be our experience. We can please God, and we can expect that one day the blessings contained here will be experienced in this world—in space-time history, and then more fully for all eternity. We are to have both great and greater expectations.

Verse 3 should humble us as we realise that we are sinners who, apart from the grace of God, cannot obey Him. And yet we should also come to this verse and leave with hope. Because of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have been given new hearts and therefore we can keep the law of God (Romans 8:1-4). In fact, one proof that we have been converted is that we desire to keep the law of God—not merely because we want God’s promised blessings, which accompany such obedience, but rather because we love God and therefore desire to honour and to bring glorious pleasure to Him.

Eschatology Matters

In vv. 4-12, as we will see, we learn that eschatology matters.

This passage details the many promised blessings of prosperity that God offered in exchange for the obedience of His people. It is the classic “then” that follows a positive “if.” As the children of Israel entered Canaan, God assured them of His faithful reward for their faithful obedience. It was a promise of future blessings for both present and future obedience. In this sense it was an eschatological aspect of the covenant God was making with Israel. This is a biblical eschatology of hope. And we need it.

When asked about his eschatology, Douglas Wilson once said, “It’s not the most important thing in my life, but it does affect everything I do.” I trust that we will see the same. But before we make legitimate applications of this to God’s new covenant church, let’s first delineate the specifics of these promises.

Food Security

First, in vv. 4-5, God promised abundant rainfall and plentiful food as a result of obedience. In fact, the provision would be such that as soon as one harvest was finished (wheat) the next (grapes) would immediately commence. There would be no lack of food supply for His people. God’s people would not go hungry or beg bread (Psalm 37:25).

Social Security

Second, v. 6 reveals God’s promise that He would give them security in their land. Contrary to the situation in Gideon’s day, when the surrounding peoples raided Israel’s food supply (Judges 6—8), God here promised that He would keep them safe and secure from their enemies.

But the promise also included safety from predators in the land. Palestine at one time was the abode of lions, bears and other predators. But God promised His people that, if they obeyed Him, He would guard them from nature red in tooth and claw.

Political and Military Security

Third, vv. 7-8 assured an obedient people that they would be a powerhouse militarily. Though they might be a small nation, with the Lord on their side they would not only be able to stand their ground against those seeking their hurt them, but would in fact conquer their enemies. The history of old covenant Israel contains several examples of this.

Verses 9-10 highlight God’s ability to make the nation of Israel biologically and agriculturally fruitful. As they obeyed His law, the Lord would give them numerical growth (see Exodus 1:7) attended by an ample food supply to meet the needs of an expanding nation. In fact, these verses hearken back to the Garden of Eden, where God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful, to multiply and to fill the earth. And as with Adam and Eve, the Lord would provide a “Garden” to supply all the food that they would need.

At this point we should pause and consider the implications of these blessings.

If Israel obeyed the law of God, they could expect expansion—worldwide dominion. Upon entrance into Canaan, the average land possession would have been about eleven acres per household (6.5 million acres between about 620,000 adult males). If the Israelites obeyed God’s covenant, they would experienced population explosion (Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28), with the result that Israel would cease to be primarily a rural nation. As the population grew, they would have moved to more of a city life existence (note that, in Leviticus 25:29-30, non-rural houses could not be redeemed after the first year, which meant that city houses remained permanent property possession of the owner).

This population growth, and therefore the need for more land, would mean that Israel would expand its land occupations. The nation, under God’s blessing, would have quite literally inherited the earth. In other words, the land of milk and honey (a type of Garden of Eden) would have spread throughout the earth as originally intended. The great commission of Genesis 1:26-28 would have come to pass. Unfortunately, Israel broke covenant and her population and land occupation were curtailed.

The new covenant people of God are called to obedience to God’s Word, and to the degree that we obey, we will eventually “inherit the earth” in the sense of a world under the dominion of Christ; the true and full perfect Israel of God.

Spiritual Security

Verses 11-12 bring the promises of prosperity to a close with the greatest and most precious of all the promises: the promise of God’s presence amongst them.

Of course, God’s tabernacle was among the children of Israel even when they disobeyed Him. What the Lord was promising here was that He would remain among them in a positive and favourable way. This is confirmed by the attendant statement, “and My soul will not abhor [loathe] you.”

There is nothing more abhorrent in the sight of holy God than sin and thus sinners. God cast sinful angels out of His heaven and banished fallen man from His Garden. Therefore, for God to dwell in the midst of anyone is a tremendous and amazing blessing. But this is precisely what the Lord promised if His people would obey Him.

Note, further, that it was not merely the promise of God dwelling among them in His tabernacle, but He would actually “walk among them.” This speaks of fellowship and of close relationship. How amazing! It is as if the Garden of Eden was being restored. It is as if this whole passage was offering paradise restored. In fact, this, in essence, is the symbolism underlying all of this.

In what would become familiar covenantal language to the people of God, the Lord promised  that He would be their God and they His people (cf. Jeremiah 7:23; 24:7; 30:22; 31:1, 33; 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20; 36:28; 37:23, 27; Zechariah 2:11; 8:8; see Genesis 17:1-8). As they persevered, God would preserve them. He would provide for them and protect them. He would be their ever-present strong tower. In many ways, like in Eden before the fall, this entire passage was filled with great expectations.

Soteriology Matters

In v. 13, the Lord once again reminded His people of their redemption from Egypt, a frequent theme in the Old Testament: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves; I have broken the bands of your yoke and made you walk upright.”

Everything that had been promised was predicated on the historical reality of God’s redemptive work in delivering Israel from Egypt. It was this act that established the relationship with Israel and it was this act that indebted them to the Lord. If they ever doubted that He was the Lord their God, a brief recollection of His delivering work in Egypt would settle the matter.

The nation’s redemption was their motivation to obey the Lord. They were saved to serve.

The Lord, by His own gracious initiative, had delivered them from the cruel indignity of slavery. After 400 years of rigor (25:43, 46; cf.. Exodus 1:13) the Lord gave them their freedom in order that they might walk with their heads held high (“and made you walk upright”). God delivered them from cruel slavery in Egypt to become the loved bondservants of Yahweh. Why would they not want to obey Him? God’s ownership is the greatest motivation for stewardship, and Israel was twice-owned.

But as great as this expectation of Leviticus 26 was, there was an even greater expectation to be realised; that is, the arrival of the new covenant.

Greater Expectations

Israel would, in fact, not keep covenant—as we will see next week. Yet this was all in conjunction with God’s everlasting covenant (Hebrews 13:20). There was coming a day in which His new covenant would be inaugurated in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The true and full “Israel of God” would perfectly keep covenant. He is the One who perfectly fulfilled the law of God and therefore who was and is and will forever be blessed. And all those who are in Him share in these blessings. Indeed, the gospel is the power of God for salvation!

One day the fullness of the blessings will be ours for all eternity (see Revelation 21—22) and so, although our temporal expectations are to be great, our eternal expectations are even greater.

The theocentric principle here is that God controls nature and history. Related to this is the truth that Christians are to be concerned about what happens in history. Certainly, we are to be informed and motivated by Revelation 21—22, but even these chapters overlap time and eternity. We live in the “now and not yet.”

The Great Commission has as its goal the discipling of the nations. By the Word of the Lord, we seek to see sinners regenerated and then reformed according to God’s Word. As people are saved, they become His people and He becomes their God. That is, they are bound by a covenantal relationship. They become a part of the new covenant “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).

Based on principles of continuity and discontinuity, we can legitimately apply this passage in Leviticus to the church of our day. We, of course, need to be careful. For one thing, these promises were very much tied to the land promises, which were uniquely given to Israel. The Promised Land became theirs. They lost it by their disobedience and the new covenant Israel is now the covenant people of God. Since the new Israel of God is multinational (multi-ethnic), there is no Promised Land per se. And yet there are plenty of Scriptures that indicate that the entire world has become God’s Promised Land for His people (John 3:17; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Matthew 5:5; 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; etc.).

We can therefore safely conclude that, as numbers of people enter into covenant with God through Christ, they can be a source of blessing to the nation (e.g. the implications of Proverbs 14:34).

Keep in mind that Israel did experience some, albeit limited, times of these kind of prosperities (e.g. under David and Solomon). But not every Israelite was obedient to the Lord. The promises were not based on complete corporate obedience but rather on a significant representation of the obedient. This could have, and probably did, include the majority of the leadership being obedient.

God sometimes works that way. For example, He was willing to spare the entire city of Sodom if but ten righteous individuals could be found in the city. Conversely, when the spiritual leadership in Jesus’ day embraced Christ’s blood as their responsibility (Matthew 27:25), it invited judgement for the entire nation.

The point is that there is sufficient scriptural evidence to warrant the conclusion that the national blessings as promised in Leviticus 26 can be experienced in the world today, but such blessings require gospel growth and obedience. There are too many passages that indicate temporal blessings for us to ignore and to simply assign them to a “post history” reality (see, for example, Isaiah 11:1-10ff; 65:17-25; Micah 4:1-5; etc.).

As the church is faithful to its covenantal commission, people will be changed as their hearts are renewed. With new hearts, on which God’s law is written (Jeremiah 31:31-34), attitudes and behaviours will be transformed and there will be a cumulative effect, to some degree. But more than this cumulative effect, there will be the covenantal effect—from God’s side. He will bless a representative people and others will enjoy the overflow. Food security, social security and politico-military security will be the gracious result.

A word of caution should be issued at this point: Don’t apply individually what is aimed corporately. This passage does not teach us to presume that every trial in life will be avoided. Bad things do happen to God’s people. Yet the point remains, as we have seen, that God blesses His people as a whole.

Now, it is absolutely essential for us to embrace the truth that all of this is in conjunction with the gospel. These temporal blessings are the product of the everlasting gospel (Revelation 14:6). The gospel changes people and its effect will be felt in society, over time. But when I speak of the gospel in these terms, we must remember that the gospel is rooted in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is Jesus that makes the difference.

Yes, soteriology matters. It matters on Sunday and it matters on Monday. There is nothing that motivates like this gospel. It is that which brings us back to centre. The gospel establishes our equilibrium. It keeps us focused in the midst of a world saturated with idolatry. It keeps us going in the right direction, even when life does not make sense.

The knowledge that we are in a blessed covenantal relationship with God is the basis of our great expectations. After all, “since He spared not His own Son for us, how shall He not with Him also freely give to us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Great Expectations indeed!

This should help us to see that history marches on under the sovereign leadership of our Lord and Saviour. We should therefore neither underestimate His power to subdue the nations nor overestimate our importance. And this goes for our era as well. Someone has well said, “It could be healthy to stare at a row of skulls that march through the past to remember that you are a sequel, not a standalone.”

But some might ask, why does it matter if things get better in light of the promise that eternity will be, not only better, but perfect? After all, if there is no continuity between the here-and-now and the afterlife, who cares if the world gets better now? My answer is simply, God seems to care!

You see, since the Scriptures reveal that such great expectations are to be anticipated, it is obvious that God wants this to happen. Perhaps this is a means of Philippians 4:9-11 begin fulfilled. Nevertheless, we must embrace what God has revealed. Let us seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness knowing that He will bring it to pass (see Matthew 6:9-13).

Let me bring this to a close by highlighting that, according to Leviticus 26, obedience has cosmic implications. This entire chapter matters to us. It should, anyway.

This chapter should motivate great expectations, which will, like William Carey, motivate us to great attempts. We should expect God to save our children and we should therefore attempt to raise saved and godly children. And to the degree that we do so, the expectations of worldwide blessing will also increase. Let us raise children who will obey us and who will obey the Lord. As this increasingly occurs in history, the cosmic implications will be good for all as it brings glory to God. Now that is indeed a great expectation!

Show 4 footnotes

  1. David French, “Mainline Protestants Abandon Orthodoxy, Exhibit XXXVI,” http://goo.gl/DSKpgR, retrieved 4 August 2013.
  2. R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 231.
  3. Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 327.
  4. Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 469.