Today’s passage comes at the end of that part of Leviticus which contains what are known as the Laws of Holiness, all those rules and regulations about how the Israelites were to live holy lives before the Lord. Instead of doing what their pagan neighbours did, they were to live a different kind of life. And this section of Leviticus ends with this chapter, where the Lord set out the rewards they could expect for obedience; and the punishment they could expect for disobedience. So, this chapter contains blessings and curses. And it can be neatly divided into two parts: verses 1 to 13 describe the blessings for obedience; verses 14 to 45 describe the curses for disobedience.
But before we look at those two sections, it’s important that we remember that this chapter forms part of the covenant which God made with his people at Mount Sinai. Furthermore, that covenant at Mount Sinai was just another version or administration of the one covenant of grace in which the Lord promises to deliver his people from their sin and misery by his Son, Jesus Christ and to give them everlasting life. The covenant at Sinai — and all the other covenant promises which we find in the Old Testament — are related in one way or another to that one covenant of grace.
So, there was the promise announced to Adam and Eve of a Redeemer who was coming into the world. There was the promise to Noah that God will preserve the world so that the Redeemer could come. There was the promise to Abraham that all the nations will be blessed through Abraham’s offspring. Then there was the promise to David of a coming King who will rule for ever.
All of those covenants are related in one way or another to the covenant of grace and to God’s promise to redeem his people by his Son and to give them eternal life. And in the covenant at Mount Sinai, God revealed to the people he had redeemed that there were laws for them to keep. Having saved them from slavery, he wanted to show them how to live as his people.
Bearing that in mind, although we read here about rewards for obedience and punishments for disobedience, we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that the Israelites could somehow earn or merit these rewards by their obedience. The blessings which we read here are not blessing they deserve; no, the blessings which we read here are blessings they are promised because God is gracious and kind and he does not treat us as our sins deserve. In all of his dealings with the Israelites, God was gracious to them.
Even though they were sinners, the Lord graciously chose them to be his special people. And even though they were sinners, he graciously delivered them from their captivity in Egypt. And even though they were sinners, he graciously promised to give them the land of Canaan. And even though they were sinners who frequently disobeyed him, he graciously promised to reward them and to bless them when they did obey him. He didn’t have to reward them; he was under no obligation to reward them; by no means did they earn or merit or deserve these rewards. No, God was being gracious to them.
And as we’ll see, even when he warned them about the punishments they could expect for their disobedience, the punishments are not really punishments, but they’re his way of disciplining his people so that they will repent and change their evil ways.
So, as we turn to this chapter, we need to remember that the rewards are not earned or merited, but given freely by a gracious God; and the punishments are really chastisements, because God their Father needed to discipline his children and to train them in the way they should go. And like everything else we’ve read in the book of Leviticus, this chapter points us to the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the great hope that we find in him.
Verses 1 to 13
Having said that, let’s turn to verses 1 to 13 where the Lord described the blessings or the rewards they could expect for obedience. And this section begins with a very brief summary of the law. In verse 1 the Lord reminds them of the second commandment which forbids them from making idols and images. In other words, the Lord is reminding them to worship him — the one true and living God — in the right way. Instead of following the practice of the pagans, they’re to worship the Lord in the way that he has commanded.
And in verse 2, the Lord reminded them that they’re to observe his Sabbaths. Since it refers to Sabbaths in the plural, it’s referring not only to the weekly Sabbath, but to all the special festivals during the year which we read about in chapter 23. They’re to observe those holy days; and they’re to have reverence for the Lord’s sanctuary. So, they’re to be careful how they approach the Lord in worship, remembering that he’s a holy God and they must not defile his dwelling place in any way.
Having reminded them of the law, the Lord goes on to announce to them the blessings or rewards they can expect to receive from him if they obey him. And in verses 4 and 5 he promises them rain in due season and abundant harvests so that the ground will yield its crops and the trees will produce its fruit. The land will be so plentiful, they’ll be working non-stop to gather the corn and the grapes. And they’ll eat all the food they want, because the Lord promised them such an abundance of good things.
Then in verses 6 to 10 the Lord promised them peace. The word used is that Hebrew word ‘shalom’ which refers to peace and prosperity and contentment. Nothing will make them afraid, because the Lord will remove wild animals from the land and the sword will not pass through the country. In other words, they won’t experience war. Whatever enemies they have will be no match for them, and they’ll chase them away easily. Furthermore, they will become fruitful and will multiply so that they will continue to increase as a nation. And yet, none of them will go hungry, because each harvest will be so bountiful that they’re still eating last year’s crop when it’s time to gather in this year’s crop. And so, if the people are obedient to the Lord, they can expect to live peacefully and securely and contentedly in the Promised Land.
And in verses 11 to 13 the Lord promises them something even more wonderful: he promised to put his dwelling-place or his tabernacle among them. So, he will live with them and he will walk among them and he will be their God and they will be his people and they will enjoy this special fellowship with one another.
Verses 14 to 46
And so, the Lord promised his people rewards for obeying him in the Promised Land. We turn now to the curses in verses 14 to 46. There are general warnings in verses 14 to 16 of sudden terror and wasting diseases. Whatever grows in their fields will be stolen away by enemies who will defeat them in battle. So, instead of peace and prosperity, they will live in fear and in poverty.
If they will not repent, he warned them in verses 18 to 20 that there will be droughts and poor harvests. And if they still will not repent, then he warned them in verses 21 and 22 that wild beasts will come against them. And if they still will not repent, then he warned them in verses 23 to 26 that they will experience war and plague and famine. And if they still will not repent, then he warned them in verses 27 to 39 that they will be so hungry that they’ll be forced to eat their children to survive and their enemies will come and take them away into exile. They will be taken from the Promised Land, away from the presence of the Lord. Notice how the Lord refers to punishing them ‘seven times over’ for their sins. Seven in the Bible signifies completion or fullness and so the Lord is making the point that he will punish them fully for their sins.
But remember: the Lord is gracious and kind and he does not treat us as our sins deserve. And so, in verses 40 to 45 he promised that if the people confess their sins and humble themselves before him, then he will remember his earlier covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob to give their descendants the land of Canaan. And so, in spite of their many sins, he will not reject them completely or destroy them. Though they sin against him in multiple ways, he will pardon them and forgive them; and though he doesn’t say it here, he says in Deuteronomy 30 that he will bring them back to the land.
And, of course, we know from the history of Israel, that his people were disobedient; and they were taken away into exile; but in due course the Lord brought them back to the land; and they were able to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah.
There were rewards for obedience and there were punishments for disobedience. The covenant which God made with his people at Sinai and which this chapter is part of revealed to them and to us that there are laws to keep; and the Lord calls the people he has redeemed to obey him. Having redeemed the Israelites from Egypt, he called on them to obey him and to be careful to keep his commands. And having redeemed us from our sin and misery, he calls on us to obey him and to be careful to keep his commands. Believers in every age are justified through faith in Christ the Saviour; but having been justified, God commands us to obey him and to walk in his ways. And so, all through the New Testament, we find commands to keep and instructions to follow.
Furthermore, the Lord promises to reward us for our faithful service both in this life and in the next, even though we do not deserve his reward and cannot earn or merit it. And he warns us as well that when we disobey him and continue in our sins without repentance, he will chastise and discipline us. But as was the case with Israelites, so it’s the same today: when he disciplines us, it’s for our good so that we will repent and turn from our wicked ways.
This passage reminds us that the Lord calls his redeemed people in every age to obey him. However, we should note as well that the blessedness which the Lord describes here is an echo of the way things were in the beginning in the Garden of Eden before the fall, when Adam and Eve lived safely and securely in a garden-paradise, where they had all the food they needed, and where they enjoyed the presence of the Lord, who used to come and walk with them. But, because of Adam’s disobedience, they were sent away from that garden-paradise.
But then, the blessedness which the Lord describes here points forwards and upwards to the peace and joy which all of God’s people will enjoy in the presence of the Lord in the life to come, because when the Lord comes again to make everything new, there will be no more sorrow or sadness or death or mourning, but perfect peace and rest and joy in the presence of the Lord, who will dwell with his people as their God; and they will be his people and will be with him for ever, enjoying all the eternal blessings which he has prepared for us.
The blessings which we read about here, point back to the blessings of Garden of Eden, which Adam forfeited because of his disobedience. And they point forward to the blessings of the new creation which Christ has purchased for us by his obedience. We cannot earn or merit or deserve the blessings of the life to come, but Christ our Saviour has earned them on our behalf; and he promises to share them with all who are united with him through faith. Through faith in him, we are blessed in Christ Jesus in this life with one spiritual blessing after another. And through faith in him, we receive the promise of eternal blessings to come in the new heavens and the new earth.
And so — like everything else in the book of Leviticus — this chapter points us to the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, because through faith in him we receive blessings we do not deserve and the hope of everlasting life in the presence of God. And while we go on living on the earth, we’re to seek to obey the Lord and to do his will. But unlike the Israelites — who had God’s law written on stone tablets — we have his law written on our hearts and our minds; and we have the Holy Spirit to help us, so that more and more we’re able to obey the Lord and to do his will.