Saturday, February 2, 2013

Rewards and Punishments (Leviticus 26)

The following quote is taken from

"God Will Kill the Children of Sinners - "If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey, I will inflict you with seven more disasters for your sins.  I will release wild animals that will kill your children and destroy your cattle, so your numbers will dwindle and your roads will be deserted."  (Leviticus 26:21-22 NLT)

These verses are part of a longer passage concerning God's covenant with the nation of Israel.  You can read the entire chapter here:

            Leviticus is a book of laws set down for the Israelites to follow, made after the covenant established between God and the Israelites after he had set them free from slavery in Egypt.  To understand what's going on in this passage, it would help to explain what a covenant is, and what it entails.
   defines "covenant" as "an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified" [1].  In the case of the covenant between God and the Israelites, he freed them from slavery and promised them rewards, protection, and a land of their own, in exchange for their faithfulness to him and their obedience to his commands.  In light of the Israelites' former life in Egypt, where they were oppressed with hard labor (Exodus 1:11-14), and where the Pharaoh ordered their infant sons to be killed (Exodus 1:22), an agreement with God in exchange for freedom was an infinitely better arrangement.
            In the beginning of Leviticus 26, God detailed the rewards that he would give the Israelites for obedience: rain, plentiful crops, peace, protection, fertility and his presence among them (Leviticus 26:3-13).  If they did not keep their end of the bargain, he would not grant them the rewards; indeed, they would be punished for breaking the covenant that enabled them to live a life of freedom from oppression.
            Unfortunately, this meant that hostility towards God and disobedience to his commandments would result in his removal of protection; they would be overtaken by other nations, and wild animals.  One question often raised is this: if each person is punished for their own sins, and children are not punished for their parents' sins (Ezekiel 18:20), then why would their children be killed by wild animals?  What we need to consider here is that if a family or nation practiced sins such as idolatry that were forbidden by the covenant and taught their children to do the same, their children would most likely follow the practices of their parents and be ensnared by the same sin, generation after generation. 
            Conditions would not stay this way, however, if the people repented and turned back to God.  When people turn away from their sins and turn to God, he responds graciously to them.  “'But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham...I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them.  I am the LORD their God" (Leviticus 26:40-42, 44, NIV).
            Today, we have a new covenant, one that God promised not only for Israel and Judah, but for people of all nations (Jeremiah 31:31-34).  This is the new covenant of faith in Jesus Christ for the atonement of sins, making us right with God.  "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.'  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you'" (Luke 22:19-20, NIV; see also Hebrews chapter 8).

[1] "Covenant",