40 “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, 41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, 42 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. 43 But the land shall be abandoned by them and enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes. 44 Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. 45 But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, 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.”
46 These are the statutes and rules and laws that the Lord made between himself and the people of Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai. – Leviticus 26:40-46 ESV
The final judgment the people of Israel will face for breaking their covenant commitment with God will be their defeat by a foreign power and their expulsion from the land. It was during their captivity in Egypt that they had become a nation, and God had led them out of Egypt and was in the process of leading them to their promised land. Yet, at their temporary camp at the base of Mount Sinai, God was warning them about their need to remain faithful and keep the covenant He had made with them. If they failed to do so, they would end up the way they began – as captives in a foreign land. God would keep His promise to give them the land of Canaan as their inheritance, but they would be required to walk in His statutes and observe all His commandments (Leviticus 26:3). As long as they were faithful, Yahweh would continue to dwell among them and provide for and protect them.
Yet, God made it perfectly clear that their future would be filled with pain and suffering if they chose to disobey Him. He had set them apart as His own, but they were going to have to live up to that preferred status. Their behavior would need to come in line with the expectations of Yahweh. All the blessings and benefits that came with being God’s treasured possession came with conditions. There was a commitment and a cost to being God’s “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6 ESV).
One of the greatest points of difference between Israel and all the other nations on earth was to be their behavior. God’s commandments provided His people with a blueprint for living as His set-apart people. The Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant contained all the rules and requirements that would regulate their lives and separate them from the rest of fallen humanity. The Israelites were no different than any other people group on the planet. They were just as sin-prone and wired to pursue self-reliance. Yet, God had set them apart to live in communion with Him. But to do so, they would need to live in compliance with His holy and righteous laws. If they did, they would reflect His nature and honor His name among the pagan nations of the world.
But as this chapter has shown, if they failed to keep His commands, their actions would be seen as an act of rebellion and a personal affront to the character of God. Rather than honoring God through their obedience, they would bring shame to His name by treating His laws with contempt. And God swore to bring judgment upon His covenant people if they persisted in violating their covenant commitment.
“…if you break my covenant by rejecting my decrees, treating my regulations with contempt, and refusing to obey my commands, I will punish you…” – Leviticus 26:15-16 NLT
But as harsh as God’s punishments would be, His grace would never fail, and His covenant commitment would remain firm. Despite their future rebellion, God would not abandon or forsake them. There was one last condition that would dictate the fate of God’s people. Verse 40 opens with two simple words: “But if….” They begin a conditional statement that outlines what God will do in response to an action on the part of His exiled people.
This section fast-forwards to the future when God’s people are living in adverse conditions in a foreign land because of their refusal to keep His commands. It is a time of great suffering and sorrow.
“You will die among the foreign nations and be devoured in the land of your enemies. Those of you who survive will waste away in your enemies’ lands because of their sins and the sins of their ancestors.” – Leviticus 26:38-39 NLT
Yet despite those desperate conditions, God provides His people with a glimmer of hope. If they will only confess their sins and humble themselves before Him, He will remember the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is not as if God will somehow forget what He promised to the patriarchs and need to be reminded. It is that He will hear their confession, see their humility, and renew His commitment to do all that He had promised to do. Their time in exile will function as a temporary delay in God’s covenant commitment. His blessings will be put on hold but He will remain firmly committed to keeping His covenant promises.
What is interesting to note is God’s promise to remember the land. During their time in exile, the land will go fallow and unattended. With no one to occupy them, many of the cities and villages will become virtual ghost towns. Fields will go unplowed and cultivated. Vineyards will return to their wild and untended states. But this imagery is in keeping with God’s commands concerning the Sabbath Year. When the people finally occupied the land of Canaan, they were commanded to set apart every seventh year as a time to allow the land to rest.
“For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.” – Leviticus 25:3-5 ESV
This law was just as binding as any other, but it seems that the Israelites failed to honor this command during their time in the land of Canaan. And God later warned the Israelites that their disobedience to all His commands would result in their expulsion from the land.
“Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” – Jeremiah 25:8-11 ESV
This future judgment is in perfect alignment with the warning God issued in Leviticus 26:33. He had predicted their failure to obey and had warned of the ramifications. And in the book of 2 Chronicles, we have recorded the fulfillment of these prophecies.
He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years. – 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 ESV
For more than 490 years, the Israelites failed to keep God’s commands concerning the Sabbath Year. They refused to allow the land to rest, choosing instead to treat that year just like any other year, plowing, cultivating, and harvesting as they always did. Ignoring God’s command, they decided to do what they deemed best, greedily gathering as much produce as they could and, in doing so, revealing their unwillingness to view God as their ultimate source of provision.
So, God decrees that the land will rest for 70 years and “enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes” (Leviticus 26:43 ESV). The land will rest while they suffer unrest. God’s land will be restored while God’s people endure hardship.
But when they finally come to an end of themselves and bow in humility before God, confessing their sins and crying out for deliverance, God promises to restore them as well.
“But despite all this, I will not utterly reject or despise them while they are in exile in the land of their enemies. I will not cancel my covenant with them by wiping them out, for I am the Lord their God. For their sakes I will remember my ancient covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of all the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 26:44-45 NLT
Seven decades of suffering will be followed by forgiveness, restoration, and renewal. Despite their serial unfaithfulness, God will redeem His people from captivity yet again and return them to the land of Canaan. It was a God-ordained famine that led Jacob and his family to seek refuge in Egypt, and it was there that God transformed them into a mighty nation, causing Pharaoh to enslave them in an attempt to control them. But God heard their cries and delivered them from their suffering. He eventually led them to the land of Canaan, just as He had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But as Leviticus 26 predicts, God’s people would eventually suffer a spiritual famine, failing to nourish themselves on the blessings of God and choosing instead to feast on the tempting but malnourished delights of the world. And their decision to reject the food of God as revealed in the law of God would result in the judgment of God. But their actions would never negate the promises of God.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – Matthew 5:6 ESV
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.