Leviticus 26:3–13, 40–42, 45comment (0)
April 25, 2013
By Scott McGinnis
Related Scripture: Leviticus 26:3–13, 40–42, 45
Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor of Religion, Samford University
Blessings of Holiness
Leviticus 26:3–13, 40–42, 45
The structure of Leviticus 26 mirrors that of treaties that survive from around the Ancient Near East. In stark terms, the writer spells out the consequences for obeying or disobeying the covenant that has been established between Yahweh and Israel: blessings or curses, flourishing or destruction.
The chapter includes six blessings (vv. 3–13) paralleled by six curses (vv. 14–39). Taken as a whole, the blessings and curses speak in a vivid way to what constituted flourishing in ancient Israel.
The first blessing and its parallel curse address agricultural success or misfortune. If the people obey, Yahweh will give them such rain that the agricultural seasons will run together: threshing of grain will overtake harvesting of grapes, which will run into the season of the next year’s planting, and so on (v. 5). For a people whose lives hung in the balance from season to season depending on that year’s crop yield, such an image of bounty must have appeared Edenic, and calls to mind descriptions of the promised land as a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8).
On the other hand, modern readers more accustomed to getting their food from the grocery store than the field may need to strain their historical imaginations to understand the terror implied in the curse that those who disobey will “sow their seed in vain” (v. 16).
Other blessings listed include peace, safety from wild animals, military prowess, descendants and further images of agricultural bounty (vv. 6–10). Correspondingly, those whom Yahweh sets His face against will suffer military ruin, animals that devour their children and a barren land (vv. 17–22).
How should we understand the conditionality of God’s blessings? Leviticus certainly lays out the connection between acts and consequences, but does the conditional nature of the covenant work both ways? That is, if one obeys and is blessed, can we assume that those who appear blessed have obeyed God, or that those who suffer have disobeyed?
Job questions this equation when his friends assume that he has done wrong because he has lost his children and his possessions. Both the reader and Job know this not to be the case, but his friends persist. Similarly, Jesus’ disciples assume that misfortune meant disobedience when they inquire concerning the cause of a man’s blindness: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” Jesus’ answer rejects this simplistic moralizing: “Neither ... he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” (John 9:2–3).
As crucial a role as material blessings played, they do not represent the heart of God’s blessings on Israel. Rather, obedience to Yahweh’s commands was intended as preparation so that Yahweh Himself might make His dwelling in their midst.
New Testament writers find rich resonances in the idea of God’s “dwelling place” when considering God’s coming in Christ. In Matthew, the baby born is called “Immanuel, which means God with us” (Matt. 1:23). John certainly has the image in mind when he writes that the divine Word came to earth and “dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Echoes are heard all the way to the end of Scripture when John sees a new heaven and earth and hears a voice announcing: “See, the dwelling place of God is among mortals” (Rev. 21:3). The blessing of holiness is life with God.
Restoration (40–42, 45)
Leviticus outlines not only God’s requirements but also provisions for reconciliation when Israel went astray and broke fellowship with God and one another. If they repent, Yahweh promises to “remember My covenant with Jacob” (v. 42). In yet another challenge to our modern individualistic approach to faith, God’s promise of renewal is rooted in the covenant with our mothers and fathers in the faith. We live in the shade of trees we did not plant and likewise cast shadows for those who come after us.