Studies in Leviticus: Choose God (Chapter 26)

LeviticusWithin the pages of Scripture ultimate blessing is summarized as fellowship with God. In fact the Holiness Code of Leviticus aims to direct the people towards communion with the Holy One. As chapter 26 concludes the Levitical laws, then, it directs the people to choose obedience to this law. The key point for us is that obedience is about choosing God.

The whole of Leviticus aims to resolve this question, how can sinful man dwell with a holy God. The answer is that God has made a way. L. Michael Morales has done an impressive job in demonstrating that this issue is at the heart of the Pentateuch, and at the structural center of the Pentateuch is the book of Leviticus – and specifically Leviticus 16: the Day of Atonement.  He writes:

Perhaps the most obvious structural feature of the Pentateuch is that it is a ‘Pentateuch,’ a five-volume or five-scrolled book. Many scholars have noted that this five-book structure, with Leviticus at the centre, is not likely to have been coincidental. The notions that it simply took five scrolls to fit the entire Torah, an idea justly dubbed ‘flimsy’ by Auld, does not adequately account for the cut-off points of each book nor for the symmetry of the collection taken together: Exodus and Numbers are nearly the same length…while Leviticus, the central book, is by far the shortest. Moreover, chronological markers set off all five books of the Pentateuch as separate units. (Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?, 23-24)

Several charts help to demonstrate the symmetry of the Pentateuch and highlight the centrality of Leviticus in it. A.C. Leder demonstrates an ABCBA structure to the book.

chart 1

Moshe Kline observes a thematic structure centered around the Tabernacle.

chart 2

Gordon Wenham sees the book developed around a journey structure, with Sinai at the center.

chart 3

The whole structure, however, is intended to highlight the goal of renewed communion with God. As Moses concludes the Levitical law he is driving the people to see their absolute need of communion with God. He is calling them in this section to choose God.

God is not interested in holiness merely for behavioral sake. To obey His commands was to choose Him over false gods, over self, over an autonomous and independent life. Obedience was about following Yahweh. So, the descriptions of blessings and cursing in Leviticus 26 aim to reiterate this point.

The verses can be broken down into three sections: Blessings of Obedience (1-13), Curses of Disobedience (14-39), and Restoration of Confession (40-45). While there is clearly a relationship between obedience and temporal prosperity the main emphasis is upon relationship with God. This emphasis allows us to see the real connection for us as believers to the text of Leviticus 26.

The blessings themselves fall under several categories. There is blessing of plenty (v. 4-5), blessing of peace (v. 6), blessing of victory (v. 7-8), and blessing of prosperity (v.9-10). The text climaxes, however, in verses 11-13 with the blessing of divine presence. He will walk among them (v. 12), like He had walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He will be their God, and they will be His people.

The curses too fall under several headings. If they do not listen they will find that they are cursed with defeat (v. 14-17), devastation (v. 18-26) – which included drought, wild beasts, military siege, plagues, and famine, and finally the curse of destruction (v. 27-28). The ultimate point communicated throughout this section, however, is that God will set His face against them (v. 17), He himself will strike them (v. 21, 24), and He will “walk contrary” to them (v. 24) and in fury (v. 28). Finally they will be driven from His presence, scattered among the nations (v. 34-39), just as Adam and Eve were driven from the presence of God in the Garden.

It’s important to see that the blessing and cursing are part of Israel’s specific covenant relationship to God. The key idea is not the temporal blessings but the people’s relationship to Yahweh. As Mary Evans writes:

To be part of God’s covenant people, to belong to God, is to be blessed. To be out of relationship with God is to be cursed. The curses are equally presented in materialistic terms (as were the blessings), but it does not appear that they were ever intended to be applied in a mechanistic way, with a one-to-one relationship to individual lawbreaking. They are there to show the Israelites that God must be taken seriously, that turning away from God’s will for them will have devastating consequences, that being “outside Yahweh” is a terrible state, to be avoided at all costs. (“A Plague on Both Your Houses: Cursing and Blessing Reviewed” in Vox Evangelica 24 (1994), 77-89)

In this regard we can begin to make a connection for believers regarding this text.

The believer today is in covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and in Him we receive all kinds of blessing. We have been granted access to “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” in Christ (Eph. 1:3). The same central message given to Israel is ours in Christ. So, Derek Tidball writes:

The central message is that there is blessing in walking in harmony with God, and danger in alienating ourselves from God – a message that remains true as ever. (The Message of Leviticus, 315)

Even within the New Covenant obedience is expected. The New Testament is replete with commands to pursue holiness and to put to death ungodliness. There are even reassurances in the New Testament of reward for obedience (Eph. 6:3; Heb. 11:6; James 1:25). Obedience is part of our relationship even under the New Covenant, because obedience is our way of choosing God (John 14:15). The point is not a perfect one-to-one relationship, like so many prosperity teachers suggest. Our obedience does not bind God to reward us in the specific ways we demand and determine. Prosperity, as we understand it, may not be what God desires for us. But there is an eternal prosperity that awaits us all. We look to that even while we seek to walk in harmony with God now.

As we think about, then, the relationship of the believer to Leviticus 26 we need to consider the eternal blessings of obedience, and also the beauty that we are, in Christ, safeguarded from the curses. For the believer there is no cursing. In Christ there is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1). We are protected from cursing because Christ was cursed for us. As Paul says:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— (Gal. 3:13)

Christ was cursed for us, and so we are free to read these texts differently in the New Covenant. Spiritual blessing and spiritual protection. The gospel changes even our understanding and application of Leviticus 26. Ultimately, however, the principle remains the same. Obedience matters because it is about choosing to walk with God. We obey not to earn God’s favor, but because we have it in Christ. We obey because, having been chosen by God, we now choose God too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s