Leviticus 26 – Blessing and Curses
A. Blessings on obedient Israel.
1. (1-2) Do not worship idols.
‘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.
a. You shall not make idols for yourselves: Leviticus 26 is a remarkable chapter promising blessings to an obedient Israel and curses to a disobedient Israel. Before the blessings and curses are proclaimed, God reminded Israel of the foundational law: that Yahweh, the LORD, covenant God of Israel – that He alone must be worshipped.
b. Neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar: The carved image usually represented a god. The sacred pillar was associated with the immoral worship of the fertility gods.
i. Idols…a carved image…a sacred pillar…an engraved stone: “This fourfold description of the making of idols is the most comprehensive concentration of references to image making in the Bible, thus ruling out any type of idol worship.” (Rooker)
ii. Peter-Contesse explained each of the terms:
· Idols: “The root of the word thus translated really means ‘worthless; insufficient; inadequate.’”
· A carved image: “This refers to something fashioned into the shape of an object, animal, or a person. It may be made of stone, clay, wood, or metal. According to the context here, the purpose of making such a likeness was to provide an object that could be worshiped.”
· A sacred pillar: “This probably refers to a long stone that was made to stand up by itself and served as an object of worship.”
· An engraved stone: “Compare Numbers 33:52. It is uncertain exactly what this refers to. The root meaning of the word has to do with the verb ‘to look.’”
c. You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: Practically speaking, an important part of the way Israel honored God was by observing the Sabbath and regarding God’s sanctuary with reverence.
2. (3-8) Blessings on obedient Israel: plentiful harvests, peace, victory in battle.
‘If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform 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. 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. 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.
a. If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you rain in its season: God was determined to reveal Himself to the world through Israel, either by making them so blessed, the world would know only God could have blessed them so; or by making them so cursed, that only God could have cursed them and yet cause them to still survive. The choice was up to Israel.
i. “Leviticus 26 deals with the subject of blessings and cursings, a common feature of ancient Near Eastern treaty covenants.” (Rooker)
b. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: This clearly speaks of a Divine blessing. These remarkable promises have a supernatural element.
i. The principle behind that particular blessing is remarkable; the ratio of five to one hundred is one routing twenty, but the ratio of one hundred to ten thousand is one routing one hundred.
ii. Gideon’s 300 defeated 135,000 Midianites; Jonathan and his armor bearer alone defeated a Philistine army. In 2 Kings 7, God sent the sound of a mighty army to the camp of the Syrians laying siege to the city of Samaria (2 Kings 7:6-7). From that story, you could say that God used four men (lepers!) to defeat a Syrian army of many thousands.
3. (9-13) Blessings on obedient Israel: abundance, the presence of God, freedom.
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.
a. And confirm My covenant with you: As a literary form, this chapter is similar to ancient treaties between a king and his people; this is God the king, making a covenant with His people, Israel.
i. “In the ancient Near East it was customary for legal treaties to conclude with passages containing blessings upon those who observed the enactments, and curses upon those who did not.” (Harrison)
b. 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: The best promises are saved for last: First, that Israel would enjoy a special relationship with God. If not for this, all the material blessings described previously would be empty.
i. When Israel walked after the LORD, these blessings were real; one example of this is when the queen of Sheba came to Solomon and saw a nation so blessed, she knew it had to be of God (1 Kings 10:1-13).
ii. I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people: The Apostle Paul quoted this line in 2 Corinthians 6:16 to explain what it means for the church to be God’s temple, His dwelling place.
c. I have broken the bands of your yoke and made you walk upright: This final blessing speaks of freedom and dignity. This passage almost feels like the New Testament, God proclaims the liberty of His people and then invites them to walk in it.
i. “Thus the text offers the image of a slave bowed by an enormous burden. He suddenly has the weight removed, which expresses the establishment of Israel’s special relationship with God.” (Rooker)
B. Curses on disobedient Israel.
1. (14-17) Disobedient Israel will be cursed with fear and weakness.
‘But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I also will do this to you: I will even 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. 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.
a. If you do not obey Me: Here begins the section where God promises to curse a disobedient Israel. To fail to obey God and to observe His commandments is to despise His word and to abhor His word (statutes, judgments). For Israel, it was to break the covenant they made with Yahweh (Exodus 24:1-8).
i. The section on curses is twice as long as the section on blessings. This speaks to human nature, which is more motivated by the fear of threats than by the promises of blessing.
b. I will even appoint terror over you: God promised to bring a sense of terror over a disobedient Israel. They would be afflicted with wasting disease and fever. Because God would set His face against them, they would be defeated in battle. They would be so confused and afraid that they would flee when no one pursues.
2. (18-20) Disobedient Israel will be cursed with poor harvests.
‘And after all this, if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. I will break the pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. 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.
a. After all this, if you do not obey Me: This section is arranged to give the sense that God would multiply curse upon curse if Israel continued in stubborn disobedience. He would punish you seven times more for your sins.
b. I will break the pride of your power: The core problem with chronic, continued disobedience is pride in one’s own power. This pride must be broken.
c. Your strength shall be spent in vain: A disobedient and cursed Israel would not know the benefit and fruit of their own work. Their strength would bring no reward. They would do all the necessary work for farming, but there would be little produce from the land or fruit from their trees.
3. (21-22) Disobedient Israel will be cursed by wild beasts.
‘Then, if you walk contrary to Me, and are not willing to obey Me, I will bring on you seven times more plagues, according to your sins. 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.
a. I will bring on you seven times more plagues: As Israel continued in their disobedience, God would multiply their plagues and sorrows – according to their multiplied sins.
i. “The word translated plagues actually refers to ‘punishment.’” (Peter-Contesse)
b. I will also send wild beasts among you: God promised to send wild beasts among His rebellious people. They would cause much destruction, to their families, their livestock, and their trade (your highways shall be desolate). One record of this happening is found in 2 Kings 17:25.
4. (23-26) Disobedient Israel will be cursed with pestilence and famine.
‘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.
a. If by these things you are not reformed by Me: If Israel did respond with humility and repentance in response to the curses and calamities already mentioned, God would regard it as being reformed by God Himself. If they did not allow these terrible things to reform them, more calamity would come.
b. I will bring a sword against you…I will send pestilence…. ten women shall bake your bread in one oven: The God-sent disasters would continue. They would be conquered, afflicted by pestilence, and famine. The famine would be so severe that ten women could share one oven because there was so little to use to make bread. There would not be enough food to be satisfied.
i. Bread by weight: “There will be so little that they will have to measure out the small quantities to each recipient. Compare Ezekiel 4:16–17.” (Peter-Contesse)
5. (27-35) Disobedient Israel will be cursed by death, desolation, and exile.
‘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. 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. I will lay your cities waste and bring your sanctuaries to desolation, and I will not smell the fragrance of your sweet aromas. 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. As long as it lies desolate it shall rest; for the time it did not rest on your sabbaths when you dwelt in it.
a. If you do not obey Me, but walk contrary to Me: God continued His description of Israel’s multiplied wickedness, and His response to punish them.
b. I will chastise you seven times for your sins: Significantly, God did not say that He would forsake Israel, only that they will be cursed. Sadly, these curses became the tragic story of Israel’s history – defeat, deprivation, exile, desolation, and disease all too often have marked the history of the Jewish people.
i. Rooker noted a symmetry between the blessings and curses in this chapter.
|Fertile land (4-5, 10)||Unproductive land (16, 19-20, 26)|
|Live in safety (5)||Live in foreign nation (33)|
|Savage beasts removed (6)||Beasts will devour (22)|
|Sword removed (6)||Sword avenges (25)|
|Victory over enemies (7)||Defeated by enemies (17, 25)|
|God’s favor (9)||God’s disfavor (17)|
c. You shall eat the flesh of your sons: God promised that famine would be so severe among them that they would resort to eating their sons and their daughters. This horrific cannibalism was fulfilled in 2 Kings 6:26-29.
i. The Jewish historian Josephus also described cannibalism in Jerusalem when they were under siege by the Romans in a. D. 70. He described how a woman killed and ate her own baby son (Wars, 6.3.4).
d. I will scatter you among the nations: If they continued in their disobedience, Israel would be conquered and removed from the land, dispersed among the Gentiles. Because they did not obey God’s command regarding the sabbath year (Leviticus 25:1-7), God would empty the land so it could enjoy its sabbaths.
i. “The term ‘scatter’ (zrh) is borrowed from the agricultural realm, where it describes the winnowing process (Ruth 3:2; Isaiah 30:24; 41:16). The word is often employed in the Old Testament in reference to the exile of people.” (Rooker)
6. (36-39) Even in exile, disobedient Israel will be cursed with fear, faintness, and wasting away.
‘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.
a. I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies: As Israel continued to disobey, God promised to continue to be against them in the lands where they were scattered. They would be filled with fear so great that the sound of a shaken leaf would be to them as the sound of a sword. They would even fall when no one pursues.
i. “Brave men are not frightened by the sound of battle, but God will cause his people to be so fearful that a mere leaf blowing in the wind will make them run away.” (Peter-Contesse)
b. You shall perish among the nations: This is not intended to say that the Jewish people would disappear, but that they would become very few, weak, and almost extinct. They would waste away under the curse of God.
C. The promise of restoration on repentant Israel.
1. (40-42) Restoration for a humble and repentant Israel.
‘But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, 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.
a. If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers: This displays the greatness of God’s mercy. Despite how cursed Israel might be, God would always remember, receive, and bless a repentant Israel. This would involve recognition of their sin, of God’s righteous discipline (I also have walked contrary to them), and understanding they were as bad as the Gentiles (their uncircumcised hearts). They would have to be humbled to accept their guilt.
i. That I also have walked contrary to them: “They must recognize that their punishment is deserved before restoration and forgiveness can be experienced.” (Rooker)
b. Then I will remember My covenant with Jacob: God promised to remember the covenant He made with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. Remembering the covenant, God would be quick to restore and bless repentant Israel. God would also remember the land – implying that He would restore it to Israel.
i. “It is most instructive in the giving of the law, to observe how the declension and wandering of the people was evidently known to the King, and that notwithstanding this fact, these promises of final restoration were made. Thus, while human responsibility is most solemnly enforced, it is done in such a way as to create the conviction that the love of God will prove itself finally victorious over all human failure.” (Morgan)
2. (43-45) The unbreakable nature of God’s covenant with Israel.
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. 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.’”
a. The land also shall be left empty by them: Even when Israel would be in exile, God would not cast them off. God would remain ready to restore Israel when they turned back to Him.
b. 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: The mercy and kindness of God are remarkable. He promised that even when Israel was at their worst, God would not break His covenant with them. God redeemed Israel out of the land of Egypt, and He did it in the sight of the nations. Yahweh would not give up on His covenant people.
i. “This restoration upon repentance did in fact occur when the Israelites repented and turned to God while in exile in Babylon (Daniel 9:1–19). In fact Leviticus 26:32–45 should be understood as a preview of the history of Israel that includes the experiences of apostasy, exile, and restoration.” (Rooker)
ii. “From this place the Jews take great comfort, and assure themselves of deliverance out of their present servitude and misery. And from this, and such other places, St. Paul concludes that the Israelitish nation, though then rejected and ruined, should be gathered again and restored.” (Poole)
3. (46) Conclusion to the blessing and curses upon Israel.
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.
a. These are the statutes and judgments and laws: In a sense, this concludes the book of Leviticus. Chapter 27 seems to be something of an added appendix to the book.
b. Which the LORD made between Himself and the children of Israel: This covenant was specifically made between God and Israel (Exodus 24:1-8). Especially when it comes to the matter of these promises of blessings and curses, it is good to ask if the same principles of blessings and curses apply to God’s people under the New Covenant.
i. To some, Galatians 6:7 demonstrates that we are under the same principle of blessings and curses: Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. But in context, Paul did not promote a principle of spiritual karma that promised we will always prosper when we do good, or we will always suffer when we act badly. If there were such an absolute principle, it would condemn us all. Instead, the Apostle Paul simply spoke about the management of our resources (see Galatians 6:6-10). Essentially, Paul said that we may fool ourselves by expecting much when we sow little, but we cannot fool God – and the result of our poor sowing will be evident.
ii. Galatians 3:13-14 makes it clear: Jesus received this curse upon Himself as He hung on the cross, fulfilling the Deuteronomy 21:23 promise of a curse to all who are not only executed but have their bodies publicly exposed to shame. Jesus bore the curse so that we (even Gentiles) might bear the blessings of Abraham (the blessings of righteousness and life by faith) – but these blessings only come to those in Christ Jesus.
iii. Therefore under the New Covenant we are blessed not because of our obedience, but because we are in Christ Jesus; and there is no more curse for us from God because all the curse was borne by Jesus.
iv. This does not deny the chastening hand of God; but the correction of a loving parent is good and desirable, though not pleasant at the time (Hebrews 12:7-11). Nor does it deny the cause-and-effect nature of sin in our world; sin often carries its own curse, which in some ways is distinct from God’s direct curse upon us.