Leviticus 26 You shall make for yourselves no idols and erect no carved images or pillars, and you shall not place figured stones in your land, to worship at them; for I am the Lord your God. 2 You shall keep my sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.3 If you follow my statutes and keep my commandments and observe them faithfully, 4 I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. 5 Your threshing shall overtake the vintage, and the vintage shall overtake the sowing; you shall eat your bread to the full, and live securely in your land. 6 And I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and no one shall make you afraid; I will remove dangerous animals from the land, and no sword shall go through your land. 7 You shall give chase to your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. 8 Five of you shall give chase to a hundred, and a hundred of you shall give chase to ten thousand; your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. 9 I will look with favor upon you and make you fruitful and multiply you; and I will maintain my covenant with you. 10 You shall eat old grain long stored, and you shall have to clear out the old to make way for the new. 11 I will place my dwelling in your midst, and I shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people. 13 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be their slaves no more; I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.
I can’t remember the last time I delved into the book of Leviticus! Do you love this book of the Bible? have a favorite verse from this book? When I asked this of my congregation they laughed! The timing seems right to crack open the Bible to this book of the Torah because I was gifted this past Monday with my first grandchild, a remarkably brilliant little boy who is given the name Levi! Levi was one of Jacob’s twelve sons. His descendants were called Levites and they were given the responsibility of tending to the needs of life in the temple. So Leviticus is a book that maps out the rules for how to live a holy life as faithful Jews who sought to obey their loving God. So we may find it a tedious book but it was cited countless times by innumerable generations who anchored their communal life on the rules established within these writings. My little grandson carries a great responsibility with his name!
Leviticus 25-27 is the very end of the book. The Jews were being taught how to live when God brought them out of the wilderness. As a settled people with land of their own, how would they conduct their social and sacred lives? In these chapters it answers their questions. It talked first about sacrifices, then defined the priesthood of the Levites. The responsibilities and blessings of the people were described next. Then there was an effort at explaining the Holy, the elusive presence of a God who claimed them. Finally it concludes with what it looks like to be a holy people. If this is the God you worship and in whose image you were fashioned, then this is what people should see in you. Scholars refer to this section of the Bible as the Holiness Code.
God recommits to a covenant with the Israelites. In chapter 26, verse three it says, “If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will…” It’s a two-part promise of allegiance to each other. It requires our obedience and, if we obey, specific blessings are promised.
The passage begins with a ban on idols. Surrounding cultures to the ancient Hebrews had carved or metallic objects that they worshiped. Archaeologists learned a lot about those religions because of the idols they unearthed. In this commandment the word for idols translates as “nothings” or “zeroes.” They were worthless to the Hebrews who left no such objects! This is a problem for the scientist who wants to better understand an ancient people. But it’s a huge testimony to the obedience of the Jews who followed the holy directive that they were to have no tangible items that they worshiped as if they were a god.
I have a carved sort of totem pole that is made of hippopotamus bone. It came from the time I lived in the Congo while working with the Peace Corps. I was told that it was an artifact that would have been highly valued in a tribe because it was a carving of the Chief’s wife who had had twin babies. You see them on either side of her. She is on the bottom of the carving with the babies and the chief is situated on top of her. He is on top, symbolic of his dominance over her. But she is much bigger than he because her power of procreation was so highly valued, especially with the gift of twins for her husband.
This is the closest I come to understanding a carved idol. A primitive people marks a significant occasion involving important leaders with an item that is precious. “Don’t do that,” proclaims God through the writer of Leviticus. “Worship me only and keep the place of worship, the sanctuary, holy.”
In verses 3-13 there is a list of six blessings. It begins with rain. For crops to grow, we need rain. In Israel, rain is precious. An arid climate in much of the Holy Lands, they pray for a good rainy season that will grow a healthy crop. An idyllic description is given for the perfect growing season: You will thresh the grain at the harvest right up until your grape vines are yielding their fruit. The time of picking clusters of lush grapes will go right up until it’s time to sow seeds again in the fields. So each part of the growth cycle leads seamlessly into the other so that there is no concern that the crop will fail. All the fears of a farmer are allayed by a harvest so abundant that it continually provides a crop and an income throughout the year. What a great promise of security!
From there the writer makes five other promises: Peace in the land; the elimination of threat from savage beasts that roam into human communities; success when fighting against enemies; an increase in their human population and of crops and cattle. Finally the richest blessing promised is God’s very presence in the midst of them. After decades of feeling like God had abandoned them, now they would once again experience God’s nearness if they obeyed the covenant. To a forsaken people these promises would have been unimaginably sweet!
The harvest can prompt anxiety. Will there be enough? Will it come back next year? Can I afford to give some of it away or should I store it up for my own use? Few of us can relate to anxiety over our crop harvest–we have hobby gardens! But we understand what it is to put a budget together of household expenses and then worry if we will be able to pay our bills. We add a child or get a pay cut or have a sizable increase in insurance payments and we fear that we will go under. But in these promised blessings, God takes away the fear. The more often we trust in God’s provision and witness how our needs are met, the easier it becomes to walk into the next challenge trusting that God will provide. The writer gives an extreme example of the miraculous power of trusting in God. Five soldiers will take on 100 enemy troops and the five will win. If the people trust God they will prevail against their problems even when the odds are stacked against them. In tense times we find it hard to trust in God alone. That’s when we discover what idols we have fashioned for ourselves. Perhaps we decide to bank on our own skill set to get us through a rough spot at work. Or we count on our spouse to give us the support in times of trouble that really necessitates complete reliance on God. We assume that money can get our kids into elite universities or produce the results we desire. We abuse our network of relationships to effect the change we want rather than placing our dilemma in God’s hands. In this Holiness Code, people are directed to trust God and God alone. If they do this, God promises them a harvest that exceeds their greatest dreams.
In recent months I spoke with a couple of women whose husbands were domineering, even abusive in one instance. In trying to navigate their broken relationships they told me they ultimately felt led to confess how they had failed to keep the faith. Looking into these two homes you would think of the women as the victims. What would they have to confess…to God or their spouse? They were the ones to be pitied! But their earnest prayers humbled them and it was in their confession of playing a role in the brokenness that led to the healing. Each was astonished at the results it produced and praised Jesus for being so powerfully present to them in their time of great need. It did not lead to reconciliation but allowed for a more gracious separation. When these women were obedient in very trying circumstances they walked away blessed.
If you read further in the 26th chapter the tone changes. Verse 21 shows us the flip side of this covenant with God: “If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve.” The list of potential curses takes up the greater part of this chapter so the natural conclusion is….don’t go there! Trust God. Obey God’s commands because when you do, you are promised unimaginable blessing. If you do your own thing and ignore God, God will ignore you. Don’t go there!
In my files I stumbled upon a couple of lists from earlier years. One was a listing of goals articulated by each board over 20 years ago. We dared to dream of a future that expanded our ministry. We sacrificed for it and trusted God to lead us. And God did not fail us! The accomplishment of one goal flowed right into the next one. They didn’t all get completed at the same time. With the guiding of the Spirit we tackled one project at a time and the harvest continued from one growth cycle into the next. There are goals that still stand before our congregation but we can trust that we will be equipped to see them through if we are obedient to God’s will for us.
In our personal lives we are called to relinquish control and allow God to direct our paths. This is a lifelong process of learning and trusting. We come into worship on a regular basis to be reminded that we are not the ones running the universe! Phew! We hear scripture that guides us in laying a Christ-like foundation. We listen to each other. We encourage each other. We pray and sing together—is there anywhere else during the week that we do that? Our Sunday School teachers instruct the younger generation so that they will have the same anchor of faith to keep them solid in a very challenging world. Even now we work hard to make sure that the harvest continues.
So when the ads on TV make you worry that you may not have enough of whatever they’re selling—or the news prompts anxiety over the direction we are heading, this Holiness Code from the Book of Leviticus assures us that God provides. God takes away fear and replaces it with blessing that exceeds our wildest expectations. Obedience is expected on our end of the covenant. God takes our seeds, provides the growth and pours out a harvest that leads us to sing our praise. Can you imagine navigating your life without faith? Me neither!