Blessings & Curses

I.      Introduction

Our scripture is Leviticus 26, and my initial reading understood God saying to the Israelites, “here is a list of blessings if you do right, here is a list of curses if you do wrong.”  There are a lot of blessings and curses.  In fact, that’s really everything in Leviticus 26, blessings and curses.

And I want to make clear right up front that I’m not going to teach on the importance of legalism.  You must do the following things or the Lord God is going to provide a smackdown on you and your family.  Nope, I’m going to leave that to the Pharisees.  There might be some Pharisees here in class, please don’t raise your hand.

But as I read these blessings and curses, I wondered if there was a bigger picture.  Perhaps I could start in Genesis and end in Revelation again?  I think the answer is yes.  The lesson always seems to start in Genesis and end in Revelation for some reason.  So as I read these blessings and curses, I think that sometimes just a missing bit of information can change our whole perspective on a situation, give us a new understanding.

For instance, here’s a story that could use a new perspective.  I know of a man that is confined to a room.  He is surrounded by men in masks.  One of the men in a mask has a knife.  The man in a mask with the knife begins cutting into the man confined in the room, while all the other men in masks do nothing to stop the man with knives.

The new perspective?  The man with the knife is a surgeon.Slide2

II.      Progressive Revelation

I grew up Catholic with all the baggage that comes with it, works are necessary for salvation, you have to be in the Catholic Church to go to heaven, yada yada.  In college, I went to my first Protestant church which began my journey as a Christ-follower.  Before I fully committed my life to Christ, one of the first things I learned was that the Old Testament wasn’t applicable, or so the explanation sounded to me.  I was told only the New Testament was applicable to Christians and the Old Testament was for historical purposes and to demonstrate God’s character.  I think today I would word that differently, but the gist is sort of correct.  When you read in Leviticus 11 that one is not supposed to eat shellfish, all of a sudden a bowl of shrimp and grits takes on very confusing theological significance.Slide3

I hadn’t realized at the time that I was just dipping a toe into understanding progressive revelation about Old Testament Law.  While God is unchanging, because of man’s sinful nature man keeps changing, so God’s relationship with us changes.  His relationship with us in the Garden of Eden – see, I told you I’d start in Genesis – God’s relationship with us was changed forever when Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.  God made covenants with man through Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and of course, Christ, and each covenant built upon the previous one.  Each covenant revealed additional information about God’s love for us.  It was progressive revelation for us over time.

So here in Leviticus, there’s more to this chapter than just a list of blessings and curses.  It’s the center of understanding the history of Israel and the messages of the prophets, it illustrates how the Lord uses both blessings and curses today to accomplish His will, and ends in a message of hope for all believers.

III.      Blessings, Leviticus 26:1-13

Let’s look at the beginning of Leviticus 26, verses 1 & 2,

‘You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured 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.

This is the preface to the chapter and declares the Lord to be not only worthy to be worshipped, but the only one worthy to be worshipped.  And while this is an Old Testament statement from the Lord, the Lord is unchanging, and I believe these words are relevant for today for Christians.

Whatever we do in this world, we should remember who created the world.  The Lord God is who he is, and worthy to be praised.  Things that are important to the Lord should be important to us.  We are too often distracted by something else we feel we have to do instead of going to church or reading our bible.  I mean, after all, we’re busy people, right?  But those things become idols, things we end up worshipping more than the Lord.

The next 11 verses of Leviticus are the promised blessings to Israel, but they are conditional promises.  They begin with the word “if” –

If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments

If.  When we get into trouble over our heads, it’s not uncommon to plead to the Lord, “Lord, please rescue me.”  And then we have the nerve to judge God on whether He responds.  But how did we get into trouble over our head in the first place?  Were we walking in His statutes and keeping His commandments?  If the Israelites walked in the ways of the Lord, the Lord promised the following blessings –

  • Rain for the crops
  • Trees with fruit
  • Abundant grapes
  • Eat until they’re full
  • Security
  • Peace in the Land
  • No fear
  • Enemies will perish
  • Many prosperous children

And finally, in Leviticus 26:11-13,

Moreover, I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you.  I will also 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 so that you would not be their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.

God alone is worthy to be praised.  God reminds the Israelites that God alone is responsible for their freedom and that God wants to rain blessings on them and walk among His people.  All they have to do is fulfill the first “if” – honor the Lord alone and walk in His ways.

IV.      Curses, Leviticus 26:14-39

But there is another “if” in today’s scripture, but this half are the repercussions if Israel doesn’t honor the Lord.  It begins in Leviticus 26:14-15,

But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments,  if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant,  I, in turn, will do this to you:

Man, I don’t like to think God uses both a carrot and a stick to complete His will for us.  Some of the curses described here are directly from God, and others are more like warnings that bad behavior has bad consequences.  These curses include –

  • Crops consumed by raiding enemies
  • Rains will cease
  • Crops will fail
  • Infertility
  • Men killed by hostile animals
  • Pestilence and disease
  • People turning on one another
  • Cannibalism

Each one of these curses is an opposite to the blessing.  Here’s the list side-by-side:

Blessings and Curses in Leviticus 26
BLESSINGS (v1-13) CURSES (v14-39)
God Confirms Covenant (9) God’s Vengeance For Covenant (25)
God’s Presence God’s Absence
God turns toward His people (9) God sets His face against them (17)
God will dwell among them (11) God sends them into captivity (38-39)
God walks among them (12) God becomes their adversary (33)
Peace Peril
Security (5) Soul pines away/sudden terror (16)
Peace of mind (6) Terror, fear, panic (36-37)
Beasts won’t harm them (6) Beasts destroy and decimate (22)
Prevail over their enemies (7-8) Attacked by enemies – raids (16)
Struck down by enemies (17)
Ruled by enemies (17)
Flee, but none pursue (17)
Delivered into enemy hands (25)
Scattered among nations (33)
Destroy themselves – cannibalism (29)
Prosperity Poverty
God gives rains in season (4) God withholds the rains (19)
Crops will grow abundantly (4-5) Crops don’t grow (20)
Old grain cleared out for new (10) Enemies raid and steal crops (16)
Famine—lack of bread (26)
Land is desolate (32)
Israelites fruitful and increase (9) Consumption, fever, waste away (16)
Wild animals decimate (22)
Pestilence in cities kills (25)
Israelites kill and eat their own (29)

Obedience brings blessings of peace and security.  Disobedience brings insecurity, peril, and fear.  Israel will be defeated by her enemies, scattered, and ruled by others.  Instead of God dwelling among His people, Israel will experience separation.  In verse 17, God sets His face against His people.  Then, because Israel remains hostile toward Him, God becomes their enemy and God will drive them from their sanctuary into the hands of their enemies.  In their absence from the promised land, the land will enjoy the rest God promised.

I think people that do not study their bibles sometimes see God as being unpredictable or arbitrary.  They do not understand why good things happen to bad people, or why bad things happen to good people.  I don’t always understand, but sometimes I do.  God’s standards for Israel, the consequences for obedience or disobedience are clear, and they are given far in advance of any punishment or blessing.  The motivations are both positive and negative.  The purpose of Leviticus 26 is to motivate Israel to keep God’s covenant.

And it’s important to realize that, even though there are good things and bad things promised, the purpose is good and always positive.  God wants to dwell among His holy people.  Throughout Leviticus 26, as gruesome as the warnings are, the benevolence of God is apparent.  God’s first response to Israel’s sins is to discipline His people and bring them to repentance.  And every time Israel refuses discipline, God increases the penalty.  If you think you can win a fight against God, then you don’t know God.

Some might look at God’s responses as harsh, but remember, God’s first promises were blessings.  All Israel had to do was walk in the ways of the Lord.  And the harsh response from God is due entirely to Israel’s rejection of God’s laws and all that God stands for.  Let’s look at verses 14-15 again –

But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments,  if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant,  I, in turn, will do this to you:

His ways.  God wants what is best for His people.  Blessings if you walk in His ways, Curses if you reject Him.

V.      Past History of Israel

So what happened?  Despite these warning, Israel rejected the Lord’s ways.  The book of Joshua for the most part demonstrates that God delivered on the promised blessings.  Israel followed the Lord’s commandment and God was faithful in delivering abundant blessings.  But then the book of Judge showed the people os Israel rejecting the Lord’s ordinances, and God discipline was then forcefully delivered.

Leviticus 26, is the center of the history of Israel’s cycle of obedience, blessing, victory, apathy, disobedience, defeat, repentance, obedience.  Leviticus 26 is absolutely accurate.

God repeated his promises of blessings and curses through the prophets over the years to remind Israel that they were His chosen people.  Every prophet of Israel in the centuries to follow told Israel of the blessings to come if they followed in the Lord’s ways, and the destruction that follows disobedience.  And again and again, the cycle repeated.

VI.      Future History of Israel

So if God makes a covenant with Israel, but Israel repeats their cycle of obedience and disobedience despite the Lord’s promises of blessings and curses, who can fulfill the covenant?  Only the Lord can deliver Israel, and the Lord says at the end of Leviticus 26:44-45,

Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God.  But I will remember for them the covenant with 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.

The Lord is saying in these last 2 verses that, despite obedience or disobedience, the Lord God will never turn His back upon His people.  He says specifically that He will never break His covenant.

So how does the Lord deliver His people when His people turn their backs in disobedience and bring down the curses promised in Leviticus 26?  If God is to deliver on His promise but the people will not hold up their end of the covenant, then God will fulfill their end of the covenant.  God will send a deliverer or a Messiah.  This Messiah will be God Himself as prophesied in Isaiah 49:1-3 –

Listen to Me, O islands,
And pay attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called Me from the womb;
From the body of My mother He named Me.
 
He has made My mouth like a sharp sword,
In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me;
And He has also made Me a select arrow,
He has hidden Me in His quiver.
 
He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel,
In Whom I will show My glory.”

In this verse, the Messiah has been selected to show the glory and power of God from and through Israel, but since God himself is the deliverer, Isaiah prophecies that the Messiah will also call gentiles to serve the Lord in Isaiah 49:6 –

He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also make You a light of the nations
So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

After all those cycles of obedience and disobedience, God Himself steps into time to take the curses upon Himself and deliver His people, but it now includes gentiles like you and me, anybody that believes in the Lord.

VII.      The Messiah Fulfills the Law

So when I read Leviticus 26, I needed a new perspective.  How could these verses of blessings and curses be applicable today?  The new perspective is that God has provided the blessings and born the curses Himself to deliver His people.  Jesus is our Deliverer from the cycle of obedience and disobedience.

Now, the Old Testament Law hasn’t been abolished by Jesus.  Jesus specifically says that he came to fulfill the Law.  First in Luke 4:16-20, Jesus goes to the synagogue, reads from the book of Isaiah, then sits down.  Sitting down indicated that had had finished speaking and his message was complete, but then Jesus says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  And then Jesus says later in Matthew 5:17,

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

Jesus led a perfect life without sin in complete obedience to the Father, even up to and including laying down His life for His followers.  Not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles.  In so doing, He completed the Old Testament and broke the cycle of obedience and disobedience.

We still have the Law with all the blessings and curses, but the Law has no power over us.  Paul tells us in the book of Romans that the Old Testament Law cannot save us.  We have demonstrated to God for centuries that we are disobedient; we cannot follow the law perfectly.  Instead, the Law demonstrated to us that we needs God to save us from the Law, so God sent His Son.

Are we free then from the law?  Well, yes and no.  We are free from following the 613 mitzvots that only demonstrated that we are sinners and needed a savior.  But many of the Old Testament laws are repeated as New Testament Christian principles.  Jesus gave us the example of one of the Ten Commandments that prohibited adultery.  The Pharisees focused on the behavior.  Jesus says we are responsible for even what we think, and if we think about adultery, then we are guilty.  But rather than focusing on 613 mitzvots, Jesus gave us a much easier understanding of how God wants us to live our lives.  Matthew 22:35-40 –

One of [the Parisees], a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.  Leviticus 26 opened with God telling the Israelites to remember that God is God, don’t worship anything else, and live your lives in a way that pleases God.  Those instructions haven’t changed in 6000 years.

We don’t suffer the blessings and curses that God promised the Israelites, but our Christian walk is still important, and the things we do or don’t do still have consequences.  Paul tells us in Galatians 6:7-8,

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

When we follow God’s plan, we receive blessings according to His will.  And when we do not, we still have to deal with the repercussions of our actions.  But we are no longer under the Law with all the blessings and curses that come with us.  Jesus fulfilled the Law for us in a way we did not earn.  Jesus provided grace so that we inherit eternal life, not through our own efforts, but through His.  In the Age of the Church, we are under Grace, praise Jesus.  Jesus bore our curses so that only God’s blessings remain for us.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

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