Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentLEVITICUS 26
"This chapter is indeed an inspired prophecy in the true sense of that word, an utterance of the Spirit of God regarding things then present and things yet future."F1 Here, in the amazing prophecies of this chapter is the final and irrevocable defeat of the modern nonsense that denies predictive prophecy as a major feature of the Holy Bible! These prophecies were written at a time before Israel ever entered Canaan, and not only do they predict the behavior of Israel and the consequences of it during their tenancy in Canaan, they also describe the history of Israel through the ages following their expulsion. To be sure, critics rely upon the old discredited device of late-dating the prophecies, but their cavil no longer interests very many people. Micklem observed that, "The attempt to (late-)date sections and verses of Leviticus is a fascinating literary exercise, but inevitably inconclusive."F2 Furthermore, even if the date of Leviticus could be moved out of its matrix in the law of Moses, the book remains a continuing prophecy, as up-to-date as this morning's newspaper.
"All of the miseries endured by Israel throughout this dispensation by their dispersion among the Gentiles are but a literal accomplishment of what is recorded here prophetically."F3 Even the arrangement of this chapter with its list of blessings and curses, being placed at the end of a long elaboration of laws and regulations, "was the way to close a major legal text"F4 in the times of Moses, a pattern that was followed in connection with other Biblical lists of blessings and curses, as in Deut. 28; Exo. 23:25ff; and Josh. 24:20. Thus, the text itself bears witness that these chapters lie within the literary forms of the mid-second millennium B.C.
The chapter is easily outlined. First, there is a short summary in the form of a brief catechism regarding major divisions of God's laws (Leviticus 26:1-2). Secondly, there is a list of blessings which God promised Israel upon condition of their obedience to the divine law (Leviticus 26:3-13). Thirdly, a list of curses and punishments is recorded, all of which will fall upon Israel in the event of their rebellion and disobedience. Fourthly, a promise of forgiveness and restoration (Leviticus 26:40-46) is included, contingent upon Israel's repentance.
Verses 1, 2
Ye shall make you no idols, neither shall ye rear you up a graven image, or a pillar, neither shall ye place any figured stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am Jehovah your God. Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am Jehovah.
Neither shall ye rear you up a graven image
This means, you shall erect no carved image, obelisk, or stone with religious symbols on it.F5 Upon entering Canaan, Israel would also encounter other types of pillars, such as the phallic symbols of the pagan cults. All such things were forbidden to Israel. This expression to bow down unto (or toward) a pillar forbade, not only worshipping a pillar (or image), but also worshipping in the presence of it.F6
Ye shall keep my sabbaths
The notion that this concerned merely the weekly sabbath is grossly incorrect. Jewish writers, especially, were aware of this. LeTorah has this:
"Of all the laws of the Torah, what makes the law of the Sabbatical Year so important that its violation is named as the cause of Israel's exile? This is true because the Sabbatical Year was to teach that the whole world belongs to God ... If man defies God by not observing the Sabbatical Year, he thereby regards himself as the sole proprietor of the land (or whatever he owns)."F7
The importance of this is seen in the fact that a mere keeping of the weekly sabbath, as advocated by some, is by no stretch of the imagination any adequate keeping of God's ancient law of the sabbath.
And reverence my sanctuary
A footnote in the Tyndale Bible has the following explanation:
"To feare the fanctuarie, is dylygently to performe the true worfypping and feruyce of God, to leue (leave) of (off) nothynge, to obferue and kepe the purenes of both of bodye and mynde, verely and not ypocritelike, to beleue that he knoweth and beholdeth, doeth and ruleth all thynges: to bewarre of offendyng hym and with all feare and dylygence to walk in the pathes of his lawes."F8
These three commands (Leviticus 26:1-2) constitute a short summary of the first great table of the Decalogue setting forth man's duties toward God.
BLESSINGS PROMISED IF ISRAEL OBEYS GOD
If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; then I will give your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time; and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will cause evil beasts to cease out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land. And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. And five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand; and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. And I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and will establish my covenant with you. And ye shall eat old store long kept, and ye shall bring forth the old because of the new. And I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people. I am Jehovah your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bars of your yoke, and made you go upright.
The blessings listed here are those which would greatly bless and provide for any agricultural people. Unger classified them thus:
(1) bountiful harvests,
(2) peace and security,
(3) fruitfulness and increase, and
(4) the presence of the Lord among the people.F9
At the head of the list, however, (Leviticus 26:3) stood the great condition, IF. If Israel would obey; if Israel would really keep God's commandments and walk in his ways -- then, only then, would God so richly bless them.
Threshing shall reach unto the vintage. etc
(Leviticus 26:5) One season of fruitfulness shall run into the next; in Amos' celebrated words, `the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him that sows the seed.' (Amos 9:13).F10
I will cause evil beasts to cease out of the land
(Leviticus 26:6). According to Orlinsky, vicious beasts is more accurate than evil beasts.F11
Bring forth the old because of the new
(Leviticus 26:10). This means bring forth the old to make room for the new.F12
I will walk among you and be your God
These words were quoted by the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 6:16) as a ground of the holiness required of God's people.F13
I have broken the bars of your yoke
(Leviticus 26:13). This is a metaphorical expression denoting Israel's emancipation from Egyptian slavery.F14 The figure is taken from the construction of an ox-yoke. The bars (bands in the KJV) of a yoke are the wooden pieces coming down from the yoke on each side of the animal's head and fastened with thongs.F15
CURSES AND PUNISHMENTS IF ISRAEL DOES NOT OBEY
But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments; and if ye shall reject my statutes, and if your soul abhor mine ordinances, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant; I also will do this unto you: I will appoint terror over you, even consumption and fever, that shall consume the eyes, and make the soul to pine away; and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be smitten before your enemies: they that hate you shall rule over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you. And if ye will not yet for these things hearken unto me, then I will chastise you seven times more for your sins. And I will break the pride of your power: and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass; and your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield its increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruit.
Inherent in this is the truth that rejection of God's commandments and a failure to do them is a "breaking of the covenant" (Leviticus 26:15). Therefore, Israel's receiving all of these penalties at the hands of God is eloquent testimony indeed that they did in fact break the covenant. Furthermore, right here is the kernel of those great messages which constituted the burden of what practically all of the prophets of God would afterward proclaim with reference to Israel. "Here is an epitome of all later prophecy regarding Israel."F16 Also, "Breach of the covenant was tantamount to open rebellion against God."F17
(Leviticus 26:16). This is not the name of a disease, but a description of what follows many diseases.F18 The Septuagint (LXX) gives jaundice instead of fever in this verse, but as Jamieson said, No certain explanation can be given.F19
Seven times more
This term occurs in Lev. 26:18,21,24 and Lev. 26:28; and Allis preferred the rendering sevenfold, rather than seven times more, Since it is apparently the intensity rather than the duration that is referred to.F20
In no sense do these threatened calamities which would befall Israel as a consequence of their disobedience refer to a failure of God to defend his people. Rather, "They were a judgment brought about by God, and this is precisely the interpretation of history which is basic to the great prophets of Israel."F21
Verses 21, 22
And if ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me, I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins. And I will send the beast of the field among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your ways shall become desolate.
Meyrick and others have noticed that there are five degrees of increasingly severe punishments to be inflicted upon rebellious violators of the covenant: one (Leviticus 26:14-17), two (Leviticus 26:18-20), three (Leviticus 26:21-22), four (Leviticus 26:23-26), and five (Leviticus 26:27-33).F22 These two verses are the third degree, speaking of ravages by wild beasts. "Settlers in Samaria in the 8th century B.C. had to face this problem" (2 Kings 17:25).F23
And if by these things ye will not be reformed unto me, but will walk contrary unto me; then will I also walk contrary unto you; and I will smite you, even I, seven times for your sins. And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute the vengeance of the covenant; and ye shall be gathered together within your cities: and I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. When I break your staff of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver your bread again by weight: and ye shall eat, and not be satisfied.
And if by these things ye will not be reformed unto me
The significance of this is that all of the terrible judgments here mentioned as being sent upon his rebellious children were benign in their purpose. They were intended to discipline and rebuke the people and bring them back to God. Can it not be any less true today that great disasters that fall upon people are for the purpose of returning them to God whom they have forsaken? This same benign purpose is visible in all of the judgments upon mankind typified in Revelation under the symbols of the seals, the trumpets, and the vials of the wrath of God (Rev. 6--16). Also implicit here is that fact that God monitors and disciplines the conduct of Adam's rebellious race. A similar thing is also visible in Ezek. 5:12.
These verses speak of punishment in the fourth degree, and famine and starvation are features of it.
When I break your staff of bread
Comment in the footnote on this in the Tyndale Bible states, This means `to break the strength thereof, and to diminish it, so they should not have enough to live by'.F24
Ten women shall bake bread in one oven
Micklem thought this indicated the breakup of family life,F25 but we believe it is more accurately understood as an indication that food would be so scarce that the rations for ten families could be prepared in a single oven. The mention of their bread being given to them by weight makes this almost certain. It will be remembered that the black horse of famine in the Apocalypse through the apostle John, carried a balance in his hand, and a voice was heard saying, A measure of wheat for a shilling, and three measures of barley for a shilling. (Revelation 6:6).
And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me; then I will walk contrary unto you in wrath; and I also will chastise you seven times for your sins. And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat. And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your sun-images, and cast your dead bodies upon the bodies of your idols; and my soul shall abhor you. And I will make your cities a waste, and will bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savor of your sweet odors. And I will bring the land into desolation; and your enemies that dwell therein shall be astonished at it. And you will I scatter among the nations, and I will draw out the sword after you: and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.
This is the fifth degree of intensity of the judgments promised for persistent rebellion and disobedience, and in it were included the ultimates of:
(1) military defeat,
(3) loss of their land,
(4) their scattering among the nations,
(5) the killing of many,
(6) the desolation of their cities,
(7) the utter abhorrence of God Himself, and
(8) even the destruction of their sanctuaries (the temple being destroyed twice).
I will destroy your high places
These were the cultic shrines, relics of the worship of Baal, which Israel attempted to synthesize with the worship of Jehovah. Not only were these to be destroyed, but even the holy shrines such as the tabernacle and the temples that succeeded them were also proscribed in these judgments. Did such judgments actually come upon Israel? Indeed, they did!
These verses are an accurate prophetic portrayal of the Jew since the day of the Babylonian captivity, as he has been scattered among the nations. Wave after wave of anti-Semitism has descended upon him to destroy him. Here is even a striking picture of the Nazi anti-Semitic movement. You can see that this Book of Leviticus is up-to-date.F26
The cannibalism of Lev. 26:29 was experienced in Israel no less than three times:
(1) in the siege of Samaria (2 Kings 6:29; Lam. 4:10),
(2) in the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and,
(3) in the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.F27
Then shall the land enjoy its sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye are in your enemies' land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy its sabbaths. As long as it lieth desolate it shall have rest, even the rest which it had not in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it. And as for them that are left of you, I will send a faintness into their heart in the lands of their enemies: and the sound of a driven leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as one fleeth from the sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth. And they shall stumble one upon another, as it were before the sword, when none pursueth: and ye shall have no power to stand before your enemies. And ye shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. And they that are left of you shall pine away in their iniquity in your enemies' lands; and also in the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away with them.
Certainly, there was never anything like this written of any other nation in the history of the world, the astounding fact being that God Himself is the Author of these terrible sentences of judgment. Any person with the slightest knowledge of Jewish history is aware of just how exactly and circumstantially all of these terrible things befell Israel REPEATEDLY throughout their long history, right down to and including the present times! It brings mist to the eyes and a catch in the throat even to consider the terrible consequences of rebellion against God as enacted in the history of Israel.
From the time of the entry of Israel into Canaan unto the Babylonian captivity was a period of 863 years, during which time 123 Sabbatical Years should have been observed.F28 The fact that God sent Israel into captivity for only seventy years (instead of 123 years) is supposed by some to indicate that Israel had indeed observed the Sabbatical Years some fifty-three times, but this can hardly be accurate. Rather it would seem that the round number of years (ten times seven) was considered as the fullness of judgment. Also, perhaps the mercy of God reduced the penalty to spare Israel a period of captivity that might well have destroyed the whole nation forever.
They shall flee. when none pursueth ..
(Leviticus 26:36-37). These verses are a powerful description of the way it always is in those who suffer the inherent weakness of wrongdoing, and the cowardice which is the result of an evil conscience.F29
If ye will not hearken
(Leviticus 26:14,18,21,27). Despite the fact of this word in English having the meaning of hear, or listen, the meaning of it in these passages is Obey,F30 a truth which this whole chapter makes it impossible to miss. All the greater reproach, therefore, belongs to the translators of our version (ASV) who perverted the meaning of Rom. 10:16 by rendering it, They did not all hearken to the glad tidings, which most certainly should have been left to read (as in the KJV), They have not all OBEYED THE GOSPEL! Only theological reasons could lie behind such a mistranslation. If one wishes to know what hearken in the Biblical sense actually means, let him read this chapter.
The land of your enemies shall eat you up
(Leviticus 26:38). This is not a reference to cannibalism, but to the fact that the Jews scattered among many nations would tend to be amalgamated with the native populations and lose their identity. An example of this was cited by Jamieson: On the removal of the ten tribes into captivity, they never returned; and all traces of them were lost.F31 This, in a general sense, is true, although there were examples of individuals from the lost tribes finding their way back to the homeland. Anna (Luke 2:36) was a descendant of Asher, one of the lost tribes.
And they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, in their trespass which they trespassed against me, and also that, because they walked contrary unto me, I also walked contrary unto them, and brought them into the land of their enemies: if then their uncircumcised heart be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity; then will I remember my covenant with Jacob; and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land. The land also shall be left by them, and shall enjoy its sabbaths, while it lieth desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity; because, even because they rejected mine ordinances, and their soul abhorred my statutes. And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them; for I am Jehovah their God; but I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am Jehovah.
Of all the inappropriate places for scholars to introduce speculations regarding a "millennium" in which the preference and precedence of the old Israel is a major factor, this must be the supreme example. Yes indeed, God here promised not to destroy the Jews "utterly," but the promise of His remembering the covenant of their ancestors was made to be contingent, absolutely, upon their confession and acknowledgement of God's severe punishment as justly required because of their transgressions, and upon their return in humility to the duties forsaken.
"Whether Jewish repentance has been or ever will be so full as to obtain this blessing cannot be decided now."F32 The Divine picture of the status of Jewry is found in both the O.T. and the N.T. In the O.T., it is that of Jonah, still pouting, still angry because God spared Gentiles, and still resisting the intention of God to spare Nineveh. In the N.T., the picture is the same -- that of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, still angry, still refusing to go in unto the feast, still adamant before the loving father's pleading. The whole problem is still an issue that only time and the unfolding of God's will can reveal.
In this connection, there is also the very great possibility, even the utmost likelihood, that, "All of the blessings promised through Moses and the prophets to repentant and restored Israel find their full accomplishment in the Spiritual Israel,"F33 which is the Church of Jesus Christ, the only Israel that God now has.
These are the statutes and ordinances and laws, which Jehovah made between him and the children of Israel in mount Sinai by Moses.
All scholars seem to agree that this concludes the narrative of all the Sinaitic laws which God gave through Moses. The next chapter appears to have the nature of an appendix. "This verse supplies a suitable conclusion for the main content of Leviticus. What we have in Lev. 27 is by way of a short appendix on sacred gifts."F34
Only God could have been the author of the amazing teaching of Leviticus, and this is the precise and reiterated declaration throughout the whole Pentateuch that God indeed did give all of these revelations and instructions to Moses, who in turn, acting upon the commandment of God, wrote them in a book (the Pentateuch, of course), and delivered it to the Jewish people, whom God designated as "custodians" of the O.T. Scriptures (Romans 3:2).
Footnotes for Leviticus 26
1: F. C. Cook, Canon of Exeter, Commentary on the Holy Bible, Leviticus (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911) from the Private Library of Burt Pauley, Barstow, California, p. 643.
2: Nathaniel Micklem, Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 2 (New York: Abingdon Press, 1953), p. 127.
3: John Brown, The Self-Interpreting Bible (London: T. Kelly, 1847), from the Private Library of Burt Pauley, Barstow, California, p. 251.
4: Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), p. 327.
5: Nathaniel Micklem, op. cit., p. 127.
6: F. Meyrick, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 412.
7: Hashava LeTorah, Wellsprings of Torah, Vol. 1 (New York: The Judaic Press, 1969), p. 272.
8: William Tyndale, The Five Books of Moses Called the Pentateuch, being a verbatim reprint of the edition of 1530, (Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967), p. 375.
9: Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Commentary on the Old Testament, Leviticus, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), p. 178.
10: Robert P. Gordon, New Layman's Bible Commentary, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 236.
11: Harry M. Orlinsky, Notes on the New Translation of the Torah (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969), p. 221.
12: Robert O. Coleman, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Old Testament, Leviticus (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), p. 107.
13: F. Meyrick, op. cit., p. 412.
14: Robert Jamieson, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957), p. 93.
15: Nathaniel Micklem, op. cit., p. 128.
16: S. H. Kellogg, The Book of Leviticus (Cincinnati: Jennings and Graham), p. 528.
17: Merrill F. Unger, op. cit., p. 178.
18: Johann Peter Lange, Leviticus, the Third Book of Moses (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, new edition, 1960), p. 194.
19: Robert Jamieson, op. cit., p. 93.
20: Oswald T. Allis, New Bible Commentary, Revised, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 166.
21: Ronald E. Clements, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Nashville: Breadman Press, 1972, p. 70.
22: F. Meyrick, op. cit., pp. 412, 413.
23: Robert O. Coleman, op. cit., p. 236.
24: William Tyndale, op. cit., p. 377.
25: Nathaniel Micklem, op. cit., p. 129.
26: J. Vernon McGee, Through the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Leviticus (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publisher, 1981), pp. 445, 446.
27: Robert Jamieson, op. cit., p. 93.
28: F. Meyrick, op. cit., p. 413.
29: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 100.
30: Oswald T. Allis, op. cit., p. 166.
31: Robert Jamieson, op. cit., p. 93.
32: F. Meyrick, op. cit., p. 414.
34: Ronald E. Clements, op. cit., p. 70.