Leviticus 26 and the Nature of a Covenant-Keeping God

I recently reached the book of Leviticus in my daily Bible reading, and while rejoicing that I was almost through that particular book (bring on Numbers!), chapter 26 jumped out at me. The theme of Leviticus is familiar to most Christians. God has delivered His people out of Egypt, called them to Himself, and identified Himself with them by entering into a covenantal relationship with them. He will be their God and they will be His people. They agree to this, and Leviticus gives the “fleshing out” of the law that the nation of Israel were to live in accordance to before their God. There are rules about mixed fabrics and sacrifices, and boiling goats in their mother’s milk. There are holiness codes, and purity rituals, and relationship guidelines. And at the center of it all is chapter 16. In this chapter, the Day of Atonement takes center stage. See, the people will never be able to live up to their end of the deal. They will fall short and break faith with the God who redeemed them. And so blood must be shed. A purified priest will offer a purified animal on a purified altar. A scapegoat will be sent into the wilderness. And this will “atone” for the sins of the people.

            Chapter 26 is a key part of the covenant relationship. In it, God gives the blessings and curses inherent to the covenant. Blessings result when the people obey and follow God. Rains will fall, crops will increase, and the people will have peace. But if the nation disobeys and turns away from God, the results will be devastating: panic, wasting disease, enemies who consume their produce, and who kill the people. The list of judgments that would befall the people is terrifying in intensity. The crazy thing is that we know how the story ends. Israel will never, no never, not in a million years remain faithful to their promises. They will run after other Gods, prostitute themselves with other nations, and turn their back on the God who saved them. And they will suffer. They will die. They will be overcome by their enemies. Every single judgment promised by God will fall on them. And yet there is hope.

            Verses 40-45 contain some of the most hopeful promises in Scripture. “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me…then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.” There is beauty there, and hope. These rebellious, broken, miserable people can be made whole and restored.

            I am glad that I don’t live under the Mosaic covenant, but rather under the “covenant in (Christ’s) blood.” But human nature hasn’t changed. We will walk away. We violate the holiness, mercy, and grace of our God, and of the relationship that we have entered into with Him. The beauty of it all is that He is still the God of the Mosaic covenant. He is still the God who waits and works, offering repentance and wholeness to all who will turn back to Him. That is the beauty of a covenant-keeping God.