Christians frequently fail to recognize how all of life relates to God. While we rightly reject the “prosperity gospel” that treats God like a vending machine, we must also reject various forms of Deism that assume that God is not active in the world, personally blessing and cursing. While God’s wisdom is far beyond our understanding, and the secret things belong to Him, those things that He has revealed, belong to us and to our children forever, namely the covenant, God’s personal promise of blessing for faithfulness and cursing for unfaithfulness (Dt. 29:29).
“Ye shall make no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it; for I am the Lord your God…” (Lev. 26).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Having organized the Israelite economy and culture around cycles of Sabbaths, God explicitly links that way of life with the prohibition against all idolatry (Lev. 26:1-2). Idols always destroy and crush life; the Living God gives life and health and rest: you become what you worship (Ps. 115:3-9). The blessings of keeping covenant are not just “spiritual,” but they flow out into the land in real time from God personally: food, peace, safety, prosperity, fellowship (Lev. 26:3-13).
By the same token, breaking covenant with God brings His personal opposition, beginning with sickness, sorrow, and tyranny (Lev. 26:14-17). If that doesn’t get their attention, God promises to break their pride with successive rounds of judgment and chastisement that come in “sevens” like inverted “sabbaths”: first, droughts and famines (Lev. 26:18-20), then wild animals to ravage the land (Lev. 26:21-25), then enemies, violence, and starvation (Lev. 26:26-27), then the desperate cannibalism of a military siege followed by utter destruction (Lev. 26:28-32). Ultimately, the people will end up in exile heartbroken, but this will finally give the land her sabbaths (Lev. 26:33-39).
But if God’s people confess their sins and humbly accept God’s punishments, He promises to remember His covenant and not cast them away, even in the midst of judgment (Lev. 26:40-46).
BLESSINGS & CURSES IN THE NEW COVENANT
The first and most common objection to a text like this is that it only applied to Israel, their special covenant with God, and the Promised Land. The problem is that the New Testament repeatedly contradicts that. For example, Paul tells Gentile kids in Ephesus (Asia Minor) that the Fifth Commandment is the first commandment with a promise for them, “that it may go well with you, and you may live long on the earth” (Eph. 6:2-3). Related, the apostle tells the Christians in Galatia that men reap what they sow because God is not mocked (Gal. 6:7-9).
Even Jesus said that those who have given up families and houses and lands for His sake will receive a hundredfold back in this life (with persecutions) and eternal life (Mk. 10:29-30). Likewise, Jesus proclaimed blessings and curses in His own ministry related to loyalty to Him (Mt. 5:1-11, ch. 23, Lk. 6:20-26, ch. 11), and He warned of blessings and curses in Revelation, with specific warnings to churches (Rev. 1:3, ch. 2-3, 22:14ff). The New Testament also says that judgment begins with the household of God (1 Pet. 4:17). This covenant loyalty is faith, a living faith that works by love, and that faith is a gift of God, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S
Christians must never forget that God made this world, and therefore it matters to Him, and therefore it must matter to us. The earth is full of God’s glory, full of good things for us to find and cultivate and discover and use. In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve and commanded them to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and rule it with wisdom (Gen. 1:27-28). That task has been significantly hindered by the curse of sin, but God’s covenant was His personal promise to take away that curse and bless with fruitfulness in the earth, and this promise has always been received by faith (e.g. Lev. 26:9, cf. Gen. 15:6). Christ is the mediator of the New and Better Covenant because He has become the curse for us, so that we may get back to work under God’s potent blessing (Gal. 3:13ff). If God is for us, who can stand against us (Lev. 26:8, Rom. 8:31)? But if God is against us, who can possibly succeed (Lev. 26:17)?
But what we sometimes miss is that this includes creation itself. Creation itself is in bondage or liberty depending on the state of man, and therefore, creation itself either eagerly submits to our rule or stands against us and fights us (Rom. 8:19-22). Sometimes Christians falsely believe that “Christian work” is only doing evangelism or worship, but Christian work is all good work done under the blessing of Christ, including care for animals, forests, industry, science, water, and soils. While “climate science” is full superstition, distortions, and lies, we don’t need them to know that our culture’s covenant treachery has certainly called for famines and plagues and destruction.
We should not miss the highly personal nature of the covenant God made with Israel. Not only is God the one blessing or cursing, but the goal is for Israel to “walk” with God and for God to walk with them (Lev. 26:11-12). But if Israel walks “contrary” to God, God is promising to walk “contrary” to them. In fact, the text uses that word translated “contrary” seven times, implying a sort of anti-Sabbatarian collision (Lev. 26:21, 23, 24, 27, 28, 40, 41). There will be no rest.
Our sin is not merely “bad,” it also puts us on a collision course with the God of this world. It is a personal attack on God, and an assault on His goodness and grace. You cannot cling to your sin and have things go well for you in the land. It is certainly true that sometimes God takes righteous people through horrific trials, but it also true that He judges and chastens sinners, beginning with His own covenant people. Sometimes God is walking contrary to His people because they are walking contrary to Him. And the only way out is through the Cross of Jesus.