Main Idea: God commands His people to worship only Him, He blesses obedience and judges disobedience, and He mercifully waits for the repentance of sinful people.
I. God Calls Us to Right Worship.
A. We will not worship the gods others worship.
B. We will worship the one true God.
II. God Blesses Our Faithfulness.
III. God Judges Our Unfaithfulness.
IV. God Invites Us to Return to Him.
A. God invites us because of His grace.
B. God’s grace is expressed perfectly in Jesus.
Søren Kierkegaard was a philosopher who lived in nineteenth century Denmark. He is known as the first existentialist and was a prolific writer. He wrote over seven thousand pages in his journals, not to mention all his books. By the mid-twentieth century his thought had exerted a significant influence on Western culture. The reason I mention Kierkegaard is because of the first book he ever published. It was entitled Either–Or. We cannot agree with all of Kierkegaard’s philosophy, but his book Either–Or makes it clear that he did understand that life is about choices, decisions. Every situation and every idea we encounter requires a decision. Kierkegaard was never interested merely in decisions about thinking; he was interested in actions—the way we live, the way we act. He entitled the book Either–Or because we constantly face choices between either acting for our own pleasure or acting to do what is right. Every day, almost countless times—either–or, either–or. Kierkegaard also said that ultimately neither direction of living will bring our lives meaning without God.
In Leviticus 26 God presented His people with a choice—either to be faithful to God and His covenant or to be unfaithful to God and His covenant. God also said that the choice we make will have consequences—either we will be blessed by being faithful to God or we will suffer by being unfaithful to God. Like Kierkegaard’s either–or choice, our choice has to do with the way we think, but also with the way we act.
God Calls Us to Right Worship
The first two of the Ten Commandments have to do with right worship. God said to worship only Him, and He prohibited making any idols. In the first verse of Leviticus 26, God said the same thing—worship only Him and do not worship false gods. Our decision to obey or disobey those commands is an either–or decision. It is a decision about making up our minds and making up our lives regarding what or whom we worship.
We Will Not Worship the Gods Others Worship
In verse 1 God said,
Do not make idols for yourselves, set up a carved image or sacred pillar for yourselves, or place a sculpted stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am Yahweh your God.
The word translated “sculpted stone” refers to a decorated stone that people stooped down to kiss or touch to show devotion to a god. It’s not difficult to visualize such an act; people all over the world still do it. Virtually everywhere in Asia people approach statues of Buddha or some other idol and touch the statue, kiss it, or burn a candle in front of it in the hopes of gaining the favor of the deity.
Years ago my wife and I were in Japan on a mission trip. The missionary who was helping us told about a lady who had indicated an interest in becoming a Christian. After speaking to church leaders about her desire to follow Jesus, she began attending a class to learn what it means to be a Christian. During that time, our missionary friend saw her at a neighborhood shrine lighting a candle and ringing a bell to the local deity. He asked her why she was doing that since she had said that she wanted to be a Christian. She told him that she did want to be a follower of Jesus, and she wanted to worship the other gods too. She wanted to make sure she did not offend any of the gods.
She did not understand that coming to Jesus means leaving all other gods. God said, “Do not make idols for yourselves . . . for I am Yahweh your God.” Many people in the West do not understand the exclusivity of choosing to worship the one true God. The dominant gods of Western culture are different. We don’t bow down to a stone sculpture of the god; we make a down payment on a god, or we lust after a god. When we desire those things more than we desire the one true God, those things are the objects of our worship. The chief deity in the pantheon of our culture goes by names like relativism or humanism. The god of relativism is the notion that we should be willing to affirm every idea, every way of living, and every kind of worship as equally valid. To disagree with anything or anyone and claim authority from God and His Word is the unforgiveable sin. When we claim access to transcendent, ultimate truth we are accused with insulting words like “intolerant” or “hateful”—words that have been re-defined to ensure they support the dominant religion, which is “Do whatever you want to do, believe whatever you want to believe, and that’s right for you.”
We feel pressure to comply with the religion of our culture, just as the Israelites felt pressure to worship the gods of Canaan. However, worshiping the one true God is an either–or decision. We choose either Jesus or another god; it can never be both. God’s command is absolute. “Do not make idols for yourselves, . . . for I am Yahweh your God.” We will not worship the gods others worship.
We Will Worship the One True God
God said in verse 2, “You must keep My Sabbaths and revere My sanctuary; I am Yahweh.” Why did God tell His people to keep the Sabbath? He wants us to devote a day to rest and worshiping Him. Why did God tell His people to reverence His sanctuary? Going into His sanctuary represents going into His presence, and going into His presence is different from going into the presence of anything or anyone else. We go into His presence with holy awe—reverence. In times of public worship we are coming into the presence of God, so we do that with reverence. In times of private worship we are coming into the presence of God, so we approach God with reverence. And we do come into His presence, because He commands us to offer praise and worship to Him. We will worship the one true God.
God Blesses Our Faithfulness
In verses 3-13 God gave a list of all the blessings He would pour out on His people. In verse 3 He introduced the list of blessings with the word “if.” God promised to bless His people, “If you follow My statutes and faithfully observe My commands.” God was promising to bless the faithfulness of His people. The blessings God promised were prosperity, protection, and His presence. God promised rain that would result in abundant harvest, He promised plenty to eat, and He promised no threats from wild beasts or invading enemies.
In Leviticus 27 God gave further laws to which His people were to be faithful. The central theme of chapter 27 is making vows to the Lord. People often vowed to give things to God. The book of 1 Samuel says that Hannah, Samuel’s mother, vowed to give Samuel to God. After Samuel was born, Hannah gave him to serve at the sanctuary at Shiloh. Usually plenty of priests and Levites were available to serve at the tabernacle, so instead of giving a person or animal to serve at the tabernacle, most people gave a monetary offering to represent the person. Leviticus 27 specifies how much God’s people were to give. God said to give varying amounts for men, women, and animals, not based on the intrinsic worth of men or women, but based on the amount of work they would be expected to do at the tabernacle. So chapter 27 has more laws God expected His people to obey, and in chapter 26 God said that when they obeyed, He would bless them with prosperity, protection, and His presence.
Unfortunately, some “health and wealth” preachers apply passages like Leviticus 26 by saying that when we are faithful, God will always make us financially prosperous. Instead, we should apply such promises in a way that is consistent with God’s entire revelation in the Bible. First, God made these promises to Israel as a whole, not to individuals. If His people were faithful to Him in the land, He would bless the land of Israel. In the last section we saw that in Leviticus 25 God spoke about individuals in Israel becoming poor and having to sell their possessions to be able to purchase food. God was not promising personal wealth; He was promising national blessing for God’s old covenant people of Israel based on national faithfulness.
Second, on the other hand, we should remember that throughout God’s Word He says that He will take care of His people. Philippians 4:19 says, “My God will supply all your needs.” Jesus said, “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10). Jesus also said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matt 6:33). God does bless our faithfulness, just not in the way the prosperity preachers claim. In some places in the world faithfulness to Jesus results in persecution, not prosperity. When some Muslim people leave Islam to follow Jesus, their families disown them and sometimes physically assault or kill them. Does God take care of them? He takes care of them for eternity! He blesses our faithfulness forever in heaven.
Third, God promised His people His presence. In Leviticus 26:11 He said, “I will place My residence among you.” God has also come to us in Jesus. John 1:14 says that Jesus “became flesh and took up residence among us.” In verse 12 of Leviticus 26 God said, “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people.” When the German theologian Karl Barth preached on this passage, he said, “Just as the milkman, postman or meter inspector goes up and down our streets among our houses so too God . . . strolls around in our midst . . . saying: ‘I want to be your Good’” (cited in Elliott, Engaging Leviticus, 299). God walks right where we are, and He calls us into a relationship. The promise of His presence with His people is repeated in the New Testament. In Hebrews 13:5 God says to His people, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Jesus said, “I am with you always” (Matt 28:20). Having God with us is the jackpot! Why do prosperity preachers think they have to promise that if we come to Jesus we will get more stuff? We get God ! Getting Him is winning the lottery, and we get Him forever. God blesses our faithfulness in many ways, best of all with Himself.
God Judges Our Unfaithfulness
In Leviticus 26:14-39 God described for His people what would happen to them if they were unfaithful to Him, and it is a “comprehensive catalog of calamities” (Gane, Leviticus, Numbers, 452). The calamities start with disease and enemy invasion (v. 16). In verse 18 God says in effect that if that dose of medicine did not cure them of their unfaithfulness and they continued to break His covenant, then their harvest would fail. If they still continued to be unfaithful, wild beasts would attack them and their children (v. 22). The cycle of God’s dealings with His people includes the people’s sin, then God’s judgment, then another opportunity to turn to God. In these verses God repeated that cycle of judgment five times. He was stating that He would give His people opportunity after opportunity to turn from their sin, but if they continued to be unfaithful, more judgment would come. God’s judgment would grow more and more severe, and the fifth cycle was the worst. Their cities would be besieged by foreign armies until they ran out of food and resorted to cannibalism, their cities would be destroyed, and they would be carried into exile. In verse 33 God said, “I will scatter you among the nations.”
People who know the history of Israel recorded in the Old Testament can get an eerie feeling when reading these verses. They know all the discipline God promised came to pass (cf. Neh 9, which summarizes Israel’s history of unfaithfulness, also in five cycles). God called His people to faithfulness, but His people turned away from Him instead. As a result, they experienced hardship as God’s judgment. God gave them an opportunity to turn to Him, but they were unfaithful again. He gave them another opportunity to repent, but they rebelled repeatedly. Finally He sent them into exile.
God’s judgment of sin is not a popular subject today, but if we reject the idea of God’s judgment we have to reject the whole Bible because God’s judgment is on virtually every page. Jesus talked about “eternal punishment” (Matt 25:46), and the book of Revelation describes that punishment in vivid detail. When God promised His people that He would judge their sin, and when He kept His promise and judged them, He was acting in accord with His character. He is a just God, and only someone who is unjust would allow people to commit crimes and acquit them indefinitely. God’s wrath against sin arises from His goodness and holiness.
When followers of Jesus encounter people who have turned their backs on God, we should talk to them about His judgment of sin. We should want all people to know the truth of God’s judgment so they can put their faith in Jesus and escape His judgment. Some people think preachers should not try to scare people with hell. Hell should scare people. Eternal punishment in hell is real; why would anyone in his right mind not be afraid of it? However, we should also tell people they are not in hell yet, so they still have time to put their faith in Jesus.
Followers of Jesus also should remember God’s judgment daily. We should not make the mistake of thinking we will escape God’s judgment of our sin. When we know Jesus as Lord, we will be in heaven. God gives us eternal life by His grace through our faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9). Nevertheless, God says we will stand before Him and He will judge us according to our works. For example, Paul wrote to followers of Jesus in Corinth, “We must all appear before the tribunal of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or worthless” (2 Cor 5:10; see also Rom 14:10-12; 1 Cor 3:12-15).
In Leviticus 26 God called His people to faithfulness. He said that if they were faithful He would bless them, but if they were unfaithful He would judge them. Over and over again they were unfaithful, so God judged them with increasing severity until finally He threw them out of the promised land and scattered them among the nations. At that point, it appears that the people of Israel have reached their end. However, just when it seems that Israel is shut out, God opens a door. Just when we expect the curtain to fall, God says His mercy is not finished. In verse 40 He says, “But if they will confess their sin”; verses 41-42, “if their uncircumcised hearts will be humbled, and if they will pay the penalty for their sin, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob”; and verse 44, “I will not reject or abhor them so as to destroy them and break My covenant with them, since I am Yahweh their God.”
Amazingly, after all the ways Israel had broken God’s covenant and rebelled against Him, God still offered His people another opportunity to come to Him. He said He would receive them, not reject them, even after they had abandoned His plan repeatedly and even after they were scattered among the nations. Why?
God Invites Us because of His Grace
God continued to invite His people to Himself because of His grace, and God’s grace reached further than Israel. God’s plan has always been to bless the nations through the descendants of Abraham. God’s plan was for Israel to relate to God in such a way that all the nations could see what it means to walk with God. Then the nations would be attracted to worship God too. When God first called Abraham, God promised him, “All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3). Blessing “all the peoples on earth” has always been God’s plan. Later in Israel’s history, God said to Israel, “I will also make you a light for the nations, to be My salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isa 49:6). God’s plan was to use Israel to reach the world—to show the world who He is and what a relationship with Him is like. God continues to invite people around the world to a relationship with Himself because of His grace.
God’s Grace Is Expressed Perfectly in Jesus
When Israel was unfaithful to God’s covenant and disobeyed God’s law, they experienced the curses described in Leviticus 26. They experienced God’s judgment for their sin. We too have disobeyed God’s law. We have sinned. We too are under the curse of the law and deserve God’s judgment. Galatians 3:10 says, “Everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law is cursed.” We are cursed because of our disobedience.
A common question asked today ask is, How could a loving God possibly send people to hell? People ask that because they do not know God’s perfect holiness and His righteous justice according to His holy law. They do not know that God has laid down the eternal and immutable fact that sin leads to death. God has built that fact into the structure of the universe. God is perfectly holy and cannot abide where there is sin, and sin leads to death. So the question of the Bible is not How could a loving God possibly send people to hell? but How could the holy God who always judges sin possibly allow guilty sinners in heaven?
Everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law is cursed. (Gal 3:10)
Praise God, Galatians 3 doesn’t end at that point! Paul went on to write,
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed. The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles. (vv. 13-14)
God always intended to bless the Gentiles through the descendants of Abraham, and Jesus is the descendant of Abraham through whom God blesses the Gentiles and blesses them for eternity. We are guilty sinners and deserve the wrath of God, but Jesus took our sin and its curse on Himself when He died in our place on the cross. When we put our faith in Jesus, He takes away our sin and its penalty. When we put our faith in Him, He redeems us from “the curse of the law,” from the judgment our sin deserves.
Reflect and Discuss
- What choice did God present to His people in Leviticus 26? What were the consequences of their choice?
- Is idolatry a modern problem? What gods do people worship today?
- Why did God tell His people to keep the Sabbath and revere His sanctuary?
- How would you respond to a person using Leviticus 26 to support the “health and wealth gospel”?
- How does God’s Word say that He will care for us? What is the best that God promises us?
- How was God’s mercy and grace revealed in Leviticus 26:14-39?
- How does God’s judgment accord with His character?
- Why should followers of Jesus remember God’s judgment daily?
- How could the holy God who always judges sin possibly allow guilty sinners in heaven?
- How does God bless the nations through the descendants of Abraham?