Chapter 26 deals with rewards for obedience and discipline for disobedience. Today we'll be looking at verses 1 through 13 that deal with the rewards the Lord promises to the Israelites for their obedience to His laws and commandments. The Bible has many promises in it. Some are unconditional, dependent only upon God's work. Others are conditional and depend upon human beings doing the right things. Today's passage involves promises that will come true if the people do the right things.
"Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down to it. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 26:1) This verse corresponds to the first two of the ten commandments: They are to revere God as Lord and as the only God; they are not to participate in idolatry.
"Observe My sabbaths and have reverence for My sanctuary. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 26:2) The fourth commandment is to observe the sabbath. If the people stop feeling that observing the sabbath is important and if they stop feeling like assembling in the Lord's house is important, they'll begin to feel like their relationship with Him isn't important and that being obedient to Him isn't important. If there has ever been a time in your life when you've drifted away from your former closeness to the Lord, then you probably could look back and see that it didn't happen all at once. It usually begins with what appears like a very small decision which leads to a series of steps in the wrong direction until eventually there is a large gap between where we're standing and where we've left the Lord. There's a well-known quote that I was unable to find online but it goes something like this: "If you don't feel as close to God as you once did, who moved?"
As we will see in the following verses, if the people will do as the Lord says, He will bless them with bountiful food, with peace and safety, with many descendants, with continued freedom as a nation, and with His presence among them.
"If you follow My decrees and are careful to obey My commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land." (Leviticus 26:3-5) The rains will come at the proper time to make the seeds grow. One harvest will last til the next. This is a picture of a land where everyone will have far more than they need---if they are faithful to the Lord.
"I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove wild beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country. You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you." (Leviticus 26:6-8) Israel will be a superpower if she remains faithful to her mighty Defender. Her citizens will go to sleep at night without fear of anyone breaking into their homes or breaking through the city walls. Her citizens will be safe from both man and beast, for even the wild animals won't dare to pounce upon anyone walking through the wilderness or woods. If anyone dares to threaten the nation, the power of Israel's God will send her enemies running for the hills.
The Lord promises to be with His people. "I will look on you with favor and will increase your numbers, and I will keep My covenant with you. You will still be eating last year's harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I will put My dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high." (Leviticus 26:9-13)
Some of the promises of the Bible are specifically intended for the nation of Israel. Other promises are applicable to anyone who loves the Lord and honors Him. I think the verses we've studied today are a combination of both of these types of promises.
I believe the promise of the extended abundant harvests is intended primarily for the nation of Israel when she goes to inhabit the promised land. The land of Canaan was already producing better than average crops before the Israelites took possession of it, for in Numbers 13 we find a group of twelve Israelites returning from a reconnaissance mission they carried out prior to going into the land. They brought back examples of the astonishingly large fruits they found there, testifying that the land did indeed flow with milk and honey just as the Lord told Moses. So we see that the land the Lord chose for Israel was already particularly suited for yielding crops on a level the Israelites had never before seen. But should the Israelites fail to remain thankful to the Lord for His mercy and provision, and should they stop honoring Him as the Lord of their lives, and should they decide to follow after pagan deities, and should they stop feeling any need to obey the Lord who rescued them from Egypt, the Lord reserves the right to withhold rains and send hard times into the land as discipline for faithlessness and disobedience. Though He is speaking to Israel about the promised land when He talks about the abundant harvests, there is a lesson here for all of us. The Lord reserves the right to send some type of famine into any nation that rejects Him. It might be a famine of food or it might be a famine of good leadership or it might be a famine of good economy or it might be a famine of many other types. But the Lord has the right to withhold blessings from any person or any nation that is living in disobedience to His holy word.
The Lord doesn't promise wealth to everyone who follows Him, contrary to what some of the "prosperity preachers" of today would have us believe. But He does promise to provide all the necessities for anyone who loves and obeys Him, just as we see Him in our text today promising to provide the needs of Israel. Two other examples of this promise come immediately to mind, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. King David testified to the faithful provision of the Lord for those who love Him, saying, "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread." (Psalm 37:25) The Apostle Paul, a man who endured more opposition and hardship than anyone in the New Testament other than the Lord Jesus Christ and who personally witnessed the faithful provision of the Lord in his life time and time again, reminds us that the Lord is responsible for those who are His and that the Lord will see to it that we have everything we need: "And my God will meet all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19)
The Lord promises Israel will have peace from her enemies if she continues to be faithful to Him. This is both a promise specifically for Israel and also, in a sense, a promise for all who trust in the Lord. The Lord doesn't promise that everyone will like us, and He doesn't promise that no one will ever hurt or betray or defraud us, but He promises peace of mind and heart to all who trust in Him. The prophet Isaiah was a man most of his fellow countrymen didn't want to listen to, for he was issuing a warning from God that they needed to turn back to the living God or else their nation was going to fall. They preferred listening to false teachers who said, "You are fine just as you are! Peace and prosperity will be yours. There are nothing but good times ahead. We know it looks bad right now but everything is going to turn around any day now, just wait and see. We don't have to change a thing; it will all work out." Isaiah had to endure his words being rejected time and time again but he kept going because he had the peace of mind and heart that belongs to those who are focused on the Lord, so he made this beautiful statement of faith to his God: "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in You." (Isaiah 26:3)
The Lord promises to be with Israel if she will remain faithful to Him. We are going to see episodes in the Old Testament when the Lord does not go out with Israel's armies due to the people's disobedience. We are going to see times when the Lord does go out with Israel's armies because the people are depending on and trusting in Him for everything. We can apply this to our own lives as well because the Lord is not obligated to make our bad decisions work out. He'd be doing us no favors if He did; He'd be rewarding bad behavior and reinforcing it. While the Lord never abandons us, He sometimes has to let us experience the consequences of our disobedience. The lessons we tend to remember the most are the lessons we learned the hard way. We naturally don't want painful experiences to be repeated and sometimes the best thing God, as a loving Father, can do for us is to let us experience the painful consequences of disobedience so we don't make that same mistake again. The Lord, like any good Father, prefers to be able to bless us, and He does bless us for doing what's right.
He may not give us wealth but He will see to it that we have food in our bellies and clothes on our backs. He may not cause everyone around us to like us but He will shower us with His love and comfort and encouragement, plus He will put people in our lives to love us and encourage us in the faith. He may not give us perfect health or all the material things we could ever want or popularity or fame, but He promises us the same thing He promised ancient Israel: "I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people." (Leviticus 26:12) He promises us: "Surely I am with you always, even to the end of the world." (Matthew 28:20b)