Leviticus 25 closes with the Lord reminding the people of an idea central to everything He’s discussed in this book. God declares in verse 55, “The children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
Seven times in Leviticus God takes a moment to remind the “children of Israel” that He was the One who liberated them from Egypt and freed them from their bondage. For 400 years they’d been held captive and forced into the servitude of Pharaoh. Not only was their prospects of liberation slim, but the Egyptians had grown brutal in their mistreatment.
Most incredibly, when all hope was lost and their future bleakest, God steps through the divide, raises up Moses, and miraculously delivers the Hebrew people. What’s important about this divine intervention and why God feels the need to remind them of this reality on seven occasions throughout Leviticus was that they’d been freed for a purpose.
You see God liberated the Israelites from serving Pharaoh in Egypt so that they might serve Him in Canaan. In fact, as God is wrapping up the subject matter of chapter 25 dealing with slavery, on two separate occasions He refers to them as being “My servants!”
If we look at this story as an illustration of larger realities we’ll see that God has also freed us from this world (Egypt) and the bondage of sin (something we couldn’t attain on our own) for the exact same reason. In 1 Thessalonians 1:9 Paul will actually describe the Christian’s conversion as a “turning from idols to serve the living and true God.”
I noted last Sunday the great myth of our day is that somehow we live in the land of the free. My friend, this is at best a mirage for you’re only really free to choose who or what you’ll end up serving! In one of his lesser known albums titled, “Slow Train Coming” Bob Dylan sang, “You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage. You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage. You may be a business man or some high-degree thief. They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief… But you’re going to have to serve somebody, yes indeed. You’re going to have to serve somebody.”
One of the most common perversions of the blessed doctrine of grace is that Christ’s work on the cross liberating us from sin subsequently removes any and all personal expectations… As if Christ sets us free so that we can now do whatever we want! In our Galatians series I referred to this as the “Grace, So I can do anything” Gospel distortion.
While it’s true grace is extended free of all obligations, the twisted assumption is that grace is also void of any attachments or subsequent expectations. Yes, grace declares the glorious truth Christ liberated you from sin, but it also explains how this liberation in turn attaches you to Jesus. Grace provides you a relationship with God you could never have had on your own with the logical understanding this new attachment to Christ Jesus as His servant will naturally manifest in real, tangible, change in your life.
On this very subject in Romans 6:15-23 Paul writes, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness…
For just as you presented yourselves as slaves of uncleanness, so now you present yourselves as slaves of righteousness for holiness... Having been set free from sin and become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The idea that grace frees us from sin so that we might serve Jesus — in the same way God liberated the Hebrews from Egypt so that they might become His servants in Canaan — sets the stage for the subject matter God will now address in Leviticus 26.
Leviticus 26:1-2, “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.”
In the original language what God is saying takes on an entirely different level of meaning than our English translation affords. Not only does God describe “idols” as being manmade substitutes we “rear” or “set up” in order “to bow down to” and worship in place of the living God (things like “carved images, sacred pillars, or engraved stones”), but God defines an idol as literally a nothing. Verse 1, “You shall not make good for nothings for yourselves.”
In ancient times “idols” were the physical representation of the various gods who controlled the world. I mean think about how much of the natural order of life was left a mystery. Why did the sun rise? How did it provide heat? Why did it rain? How were babies conceived? Why did the seasons change? How did plants and crops grow out of the earth? I mean apart from God explain how a cow is able to consume grass and produce steak! Amazing!
Because it was assumed some god controlled each of these mysterious aspects of life, pagan cultures created physical idols to represent each deity giving rise to polytheism and mythology. In addition to this, they also constructed “high places” or temples where they could worship in order to maintain the good favor of these gods or in more extreme instances offer sacrifices in the attempts of appeasing some kind of divine judgment.
Aside from calling such practices as being empty and worthless — and in light of the fact the Israelites were His servants and He their God, it makes sense why this chapter would begin with relational language. “I freed you from Egypt. I’ve demonstrated supernatural power over the natural world. I’ve made you my people. I’ve promised to protect and provide. There is no need to make silly little idols to appease gods that don’t even exist!”
God also encourages them to “keep His Sabbaths” (plural). In the Hebrew this word “keep” can be translated as to watch over, protect, or celebrate. In the end the Sabbath Day, Sabbath Year, and Year of Jubilee was all about the people experiencing the blessings of their relationship with God. In contrast to idolatry which sought to appease the gods, these Sabbaths were all about responding to the favor God had already demonstrated! In the ancient world such an idea really was revolutionary and groundbreaking.
Finally, this relational language also included the exhortation they “reverence His sanctuary.” In addition to remaining faithful (rejecting idols) and enjoying His blessings, as the place of sacrifice and worship it was important to God their meeting place be held in high esteem.
Leviticus 26:3-5, “If you walk in My statutes (to live by) and keep My commandments (guard them), and perform them (be effected by 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.”
One of the interesting components to Leviticus 26 and 27 is the conditional language God will use throughout these final two chapters. Over and over again you will see God explaining and promising the Children of Israel… “If you” do this, “then I will” do that!
As God is concluding a book filled with 25 chapters of “statutes and commandments” aimed at structuring the way His people were to interact with Him and treat one another in contrast to the world, He’ll make it abundantly clear… Verse 3, “If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments” you will experience blessings as My servants, and verse 14, “If you do not obey Me and despise My statutes” there will be serious consequences.
Grace is by definition the unmerited favor of God being demonstrated to man independent of his performance. Such a reality naturally motivates within a person the desire to obey God’s Word. In this framework of servanthood, one’s obedience or disobedience indicates whether or not that person is actually abiding in the grace of God. Because disobedience is the logical evidence a person has departed from the relationship, God will allow consequences and judgment into that person’s life to bring them back to grace!
In the presence of a person’s failure, the accusation they took grace to far simply reveals a failure to understand grace. Grace never leads a person into sin! Never! It wasn’t taking grace to far that led them into sin. It was the fact they’d failed to take grace far enough!
As we work our way through what will become a really raw and piercing chapter please keep this is mind… As a servant, the blessing of obedience are the things that will naturally manifest in your life as you’re walking with God. The results of disobedience are the natural consequences that occur in your life if you stop walking with God.
Back in verse 4 the first thing we see yielded when we walk with God is fruitfulness. God says, “I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.” Please know godliness only manifests in your life as you’re walking with God. It manifest no other way. What’s interesting about this verse is that in addition to providing “fruit” and “produce” in response to our obedience to walk with Him, God also takes it upon Himself to provide the “rain” necessary “in — its — season.”
Leviticus 26:6, “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.” The second thing yielded as we walk with God is a peace of supernatural origin. Verse six begins describing a “peace” God promises to “give!” In Philippians 4:7 Paul will write how this Spirit-driven peace is so incredible it “surpasses all understanding.” It’s an out-of-this-world kind of peace — one that results in rest and chases away fear.
Leviticus 26:7-8, “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.”
The third thing yielded when we walk with God is victory. In the Old Testament we have story after story illustrating this very promise. In 1 Samuel 14 we have the history of Jonathan and his armorbearer being victorious over the Philistines. In Judges 7 we have recorded the tale of Gideon and how God used 300 men to overtake the Midianite army.
In discussing our engagement in a spiritual war we read in 1 Corinthians 15:57, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus.” After describing how “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” in Ephesians 6:1 Paul encourages the believer to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.”
Leviticus 26:9-13, “For I will look on you favorably 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.”
The fourth thing yielded when we walk with God is holiness. Notice God promises to “make you (His servants) fruitful, multiply you and confirm His covenant.” When you think about holiness consider it as a forward motion with a clear destination. God says, “I have broken the bands of your yoke (liberated them from sin) and made you walk upright.”
As Jesus Himself exhorted us in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Holiness is the natural result of a person in the pursuit of God. What’s amazing is that God not only promises to accomplish this work for us, but He’s clear we will never have to walk alone.
Before our text takes a hard right run, let’s quickly recap… The blessing of obedience as a servant are the things that will naturally manifest in your life as you’re walking with God. Practically, they are (1) fruitfulness, (2) divine peace, (3) victory, and (4) holiness.
The daunting thing about this “if you” do this, “then I will” do that dynamic is a failure to walk with God will also result in very natural and serious consequences. In the rest of the chapter God will issue a set of serious warnings to the Israelites. It stands to reason that because this chapter ends up being largely predictive and prophetic, from the perspective of Ezra and the post-Babylonian exiles these verses had an interesting application.
Leviticus 26:14-16, “But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes (reject them), or if your soul abhors My judgments (show aversion towards them), so that you do not perform (be effected by) all My commandments, but break My covenant, I also will do this to you: I will 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.”
First, God says a failure to walk with Him would result in “terror!” In contrast to a supernatural peace that casts out fear in addition to providing rest, it’s simply a truth that when we depart from our walk with God trouble always results. In the Hebrew this word can be translated into English as panic or a sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety. Have you ever gone wayward, sensed you may have been caught, and had to wait for the confrontation?
Second, God says a failure to walk with Him would result in sickness… “Wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of the heart.” I know many people that suffer from “wasting disease.” More often than not something or someone becomes an idol in their life. Their walk ceases and their time is simply wasting away. Sadly, what results is an infection that blurs one’s vision and weights deeply on one’s heart.
Third, God says a failure to walk with Him will result in vanity. God says, “You sow your seed in vain, for your enemies eat it.” I’ve found the one thing worse than being unproductive is working hard to produce something you conclude is pointless. In Ecclesiastes Solomon will declare that apart from God, “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity!”
Leviticus 26:17, “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.” Fourth, God says a failure to walk with Him will result in defeat. Again, in contrast to the victory Jesus wants us to enjoy, disobedience always ends in defeat.
To recap… Walking with God results in (1) fruitfulness, (2) divine peace, (3) victory, and (4) holiness. That said, a failure to walk with Him will result in (1) anxiety and fear, (2) the waisting of one’s life, (3) activity with no motion — vanity, and (3) defeat!
Leviticus 26:18-20, “And after all this, if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. (The idea is the natural consequences of disobedience are proceeded by God’s active judgment.) I will break the pride of your power (a humbling will occur); I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze (no rain and hardened soil). 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.”
If you examine the history of Israel, you’ll notice that God would often use famine as a tool of rebuke whenever the Children of Israel had fallen into idolatry. If fruitfulness was an indicator of blessing, then barrenness was to be a warning they’d gone astray.
Leviticus 26:21-22, “Then, if you walk contrary to Me, and are not willing to obey Me (your rebellion grows more hardened), I will bring on you seven times more plagues, according to your sins. (The consequences would get more and more severe.) 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.”
Leviticus 26:23-26, “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.” (Basically, they’d have 1/10th of the bread and not be satisfied — rationing.)
When examining the history of Jews time in the Promised Land, on account of their disobedience, the people experienced a terrible cycle recorded for us in the book of Judges. For 400 plus years God would use the surrounding nations (Philistines, Midianites, Moabites, and Amorites to name a few) to conquer and judge them.
Ultimately, the 10 Northern Tribes of Israel would be destroyed by the Assyrian Empire and then 200 years later a similar fate would befall the Southern Kingdom by Babylon. During the siege it was normal for there to be debilitating “pestilence” and the rationing of food.
Leviticus 26:27-30, “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. (During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem the prophet Jeremiah documents in Lamentations 2:20 the conditions in the city had deteriorated so much the people resorted to cannibalism.) 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.”
God’s final judgment… Leviticus 26:31-34, “I will lay your cities waste and bring your sanctuaries to desolation, and I will not smell the fragrance of your sweet aromas (He’s predicting the destruction of the place of meeting). 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.”
It’s worth pointing out one of the unique strategies of the Babylonians was to disperse conquered people groups into other parts of their empire. They believed removing someone from their land and placing them into an entirely different culture would ultimately erode their own sense of national pride and identity. Everyone would become a Babylonian. According to this passage God says His judgment would result in a “scattering of them among the nations” with their “enemies dwelling” in the land in their place.
Also notice God seems to infer as to a specific reason for this particular judgment. He’d remove them from the land so that “the land could enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies land.” How crazy it is to consider that, even with such a specific warning, for 490 yeas the people still refused to take a Sabbath Year!
Leviticus 26:35-39, “As long as it lies desolate it shall rest — for the time it did not rest on your sabbaths when you dwelt in it (Ezra would note at the end of 2 Chronicles this would total 70 years). 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.” (Admittedly, this is an incredibly somber and sober passage of Scripture.)
Leviticus 26:40-43, “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers (God is speaking to the generation after this judgment), 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 word “remember” means to call to mind). 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.”
How fascinating that in spite of all of this God still lays out a path forward. God would remember both His covenant with Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham as well as the land IF “they confessed their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers (own their faults and depravity)… Their unfaithfulness (better translation would be treacherous acts)… How they have walked contrary to God (in opposition to Him)… If their uncircumcised hearts are humbled… And they accept their guilt because they despised His judgments and abhorred His statutes.”
Leviticus 26:44-46, “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.’ These are the statutes and judgments and laws which the Lord made between Himself and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses.”
Frankly, what we find here is one of the most incredible few verses in the entire book of Leviticus! Speaking from Sinai after freeing the Jews from their Egyptian captivity and taking 25 chapters to form and structure them into a holy nation, God goes one step beyond issuing a warning as to the consequences for their disobedience…
It would seem in these final few verses God actually goes ahead and reveals to the Israelites — even before they reached the Promised Land — a day would come when their disobedience would become so intolerable He would use an invading enemy to destroy their place of meeting, rip them from the land, and carry them away into exile! It’s as though God is telling them upfront, “Here’s all these instruction. If you obey them and walk with Me I have so many blessings for you, but you won’t and I’m going to end up destroying you!”
And yet, also notice — after providing this group of exiles a blueprint for their way back centered on the acceptance of guilt, confession of sin, and humility — in verse 44 God says, “Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies” I promises to work in their midst “remembering the covenant of their ancestors whom I brought out of the land of Egypt.” Aside from this section almost feeling as though God is speaking from the future back in time to Moses, there is no question He is promising to extend grace to the exile!
The application of this chapter for you and I who are servants of Jesus is simple… Obey His Word! Fruitfulness, peace, victory, and holiness is such a preferable life than one filled with anxieties, pointlessness, vanity, and defeat. God is so serious when it comes to walking with Him He will use either the natural consequences of sin or His active judgment to bring us back to the place of His grace! Never forget… A loving God cares more about your eternal state than your present comforts. Sadly, many of us have this backwards.
And yet… How amazing a truth that even when we rebel, walk contrary to God, and find ourselves experiencing His judgment there is still grace in exile! Indeed, many years after Leviticus was written, as God predicted, a group of Hebrew men would find themselves living “in the land of their enemies” willing to confess the sins of their fathers, accept the justice of God’s judgment, humble themselves, and while serving in the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar remember they were still servants of the Most High God!
For these men God’s grace would meet them where they were and His covenant reassured. Not only would God speak extensively to Daniel letting Him know He still had a divine plan for His people Israel, but He’d end up using these men in Babylon to shine His light into the lives of the most powerful men alive. The wonderful truth is God’s grace is still active and available in both our obedience or our disobedience.
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