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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Leviticus 26

Verses 1-2

1. Introduction to the final conditions of the covenant 26:1-2

Two fundamental commandments, one negative and one positive, introduce this section of blessings (Leviticus 26:1-2).

"In terms reminiscent of the inauguration of the covenant at Sinai (Exodus 21:1-4), Yahweh speaks of His uniqueness and exclusivity (Leviticus 26:1), a fact that demanded unquestioning loyalty (Leviticus 26:2)." [Note: Merrill, p. 59.]

"The repetition of the term covenant in this chapter shows that the author intends it as a summary of the conditions for the covenant reestablished after the incident of the golden calf. Thus, as has been the form throughout God’s address to Israel on Mount Sinai, the statement of the conditions of the covenant is prefaced by a reminder of two central laws: the prohibition of idolatry (Leviticus 26:1) and the call to observe the Sabbath (Leviticus 26:2). It was through idolatry that Israel first broke the covenant at Sinai. By contrast the Sabbath was to be a sign of Israel’s covenant relationship with God." [Note: Sailhamer, p. 364.]

"All declension and decay may be said to be begun wherever we see these two ordinances despised-the sabbath and the sanctuary. They are the outward fence around the inward love commanded by Leviticus 26:1." [Note: Bonar, p. 473.]

Verses 1-46


"In the ancient Near East it was customary for legal treaties to conclude with passages containing blessings upon those who observed the enactments, and curses upon those who did not. The international treaties of the second millennium BC regularly included such sections as part of the text, with the list of curses greatly outnumbering the promises of blessing. In the Old Testament this general pattern occurs in Exodus 23:25-33, Deuteronomy 28:1-68, and Joshua 24:20. The maledictions of Mesopotamian legal texts or the curses in the treaties of the Arameans, Hittites and Assyrians were threats uttered in the names of the gods which had acted as witnesses to the covenants. That these threats could be implemented was part of the superstitious belief of people in the ancient Near East, and could have had some coincidental basis in fact. For the Israelites, however, there was no doubt that the God who wrought the mighty act of deliverance at the Red Sea will indeed carry out all that He has promised, whether for good or ill. Obedience to His commands is the certain way to obtain a consistent outpouring of blessing, whereas continued disobedience is a guarantee of future punishment." [Note: Harrison, pp. 230-31.]

The blessings and curses in Exodus 23 dealt with the conquest of Canaan, but the blessings and curses in this chapter deal with Israel settled in the land.

Verses 3-13

2. The blessing for fidelity to the law 26:3-13

The benefits of faithful obedience to the law of God would be fruitful harvests (Leviticus 26:4-5; Leviticus 26:10), and security and peace (Leviticus 26:6), including victory in battle (Leviticus 26:7-8) and numerical growth as a nation (Leviticus 26:9; cf. Genesis 17:7). The obedient would also experience increasing enjoyment of God’s presence and fellowship (Leviticus 26:11-12).

The Hebrew word translated "dwelling" (Leviticus 26:11, miskan) is the source of the name "Shekinah." Later Jews described God’s presence in the most holy place as the Shekinah (cf. Exodus 40:34-38). [Note: Harris, p. 644.]

These blessings were both material (Leviticus 26:3-10) and spiritual (Leviticus 26:11-13). Israel enjoyed them in her years in the land to the extent that she remained faithful to the terms of the Mosaic Covenant. They are reminiscent of God’s original blessings in the Garden of Eden (cf. Genesis 1:26; Genesis 1:28-29; Genesis 2:8; Genesis 3:8).

"But how many of the people in the nation had to live obediently, or how much obedience was expected before the blessings were poured out? The only information that we have to go on is the Old Testament itself. For example, in the case of the city of Sodom (Genesis 18:24-33), God was willing to spare the cities of the area for ten righteous men. We do not know the population involved, but this number suggests that as long as a remnant had an influence for righteousness, judgment would not fall." [Note: Ross, p. 468.]

"God promises to reward his people with both spiritual and physical blessing if they are faithful to the requirements of the covenant." [Note: Ibid., p. 473.]

Verses 14-17

The "terror" spoken of (Leviticus 26:16) is probably a description of the Israelites’ general feeling in response to the particular calamities that follow. These punishments were disease, lack of agricultural fruitfulness, and defeat by their enemies.

Verses 14-33

3. The warning for contempt of the law 26:14-33

These punishments would come on the Israelites not for individual errors and sins but for a settled contempt for the whole covenant. They manifested such contempt in presumptuous and obstinate rebellion against the law (Leviticus 26:14-15).

"In the curses the converse of the blessings is spelled out. It was usual in legal texts for the curses to be much fuller and longer than the blessings section (cf. Deuteronomy 28 . . .). But this disproportion has a positive didactic purpose as well. It is very easy to take the blessings of rain, peace, and even God’s presence for granted. It is salutary to be reminded in detail of what life is like when his providential gifts are removed." [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., p. 330.]

Moses revealed five levels or waves of punishment. If Israel did not turn back to God after the first penalties, God would bring the second on them, and so on.

Verses 18-20

The second stage of barren land might follow (one curse; cf. 1 Kings 17:1).

Verses 21-22

The third stage would be divine extermination of their cattle and children (two curses).

Verses 23-26

The fourth stage would be war, plagues, and famine (three curses).

Verses 27-33

The fifth stage would be the destruction of the Israelites’ families, idolatrous practices and places, land, and nation through dispersion (four curses).

In her history in the land Israel experienced all of these curses because she eventually despised the Mosaic Law. The record of this failure is not consistent. There were periods of revival and consequent blessing. Nevertheless the general course of the nation proceeded downward.

Verses 34-39

The length of the Babylonian captivity was 70 years because the Israelites failed to observe 70 sabbatical years in the land (2 Chronicles 36:21; cf. Jeremiah 29:10), between about 1406 and 586 B.C. Wolf took Leviticus 26:34 as a prophecy that the Israelites would not obey the instructions given in chapter 25 about observing the sabbatical years. [Note: Wolf, p. 183.]

Verses 34-46

4. The objective of God’s judgments in relation to the land and the nation of Israel 26:34-46

In this section God explained that His discipline for disobedience would be to produce repentance and return to Himself by the Israelites (cf. Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6).

Verses 40-46

Confession springing from humility would restrain God’s hand of discipline on Israel (Leviticus 26:40-41). Apostasy and consequent judgment would not invalidate God’s promises to Abraham (Leviticus 26:42-45). Discipline would be a stage in God’s dealings with Abraham’s seed, but He would not reject His people or cut them off as a nation. These verses are a strong witness to the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic Covenant.

"When Israel was in Egypt and was humbled under the hand of Pharaoh, God remembered his covenant with Abraham and delivered them (Exodus 2:24). Similarly, in the future when Israel would humble themselves, God would remember his covenant and deliver his people." [Note: Sailhamer, p. 365.]

"The New Testament shows that the blessings and curses are still applicable to Israel. Because the people rebelled against the LORD and his Messiah, judgment would fall once again on the holy city of Jerusalem; many of the threatened curses recorded in the law would again fall on the nation (Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21). The wars, famines, and scattering of the people announced by Jesus all harmonize with the curses of Leviticus 26. Scholars who take a ’replacement’ view of the covenant promises made to Israel are satisfied that such curses applied to the nation after the death of Jesus, but they do not also see any fulfillment of the blessings for believing Jews at any time in the future, apart from sharing in the spiritual blessings of the church. There is more to it than that. Biblical scholars must also consider that if only the judgments of God-and not the blessings-are poured out on Israel, then the purpose of the judgments would be lost, and God would be unjust. Romans 11:29 makes it clear that the covenant was not invalidated by Israel’s unbelief. They suffered the severest of punishments, but those who turn to the LORD will find salvation (Leviticus 11:26). God can bring nations to repentance and may very well do so with surviving Israel before the end of the age as part of the new creation. The message of the apostles to Israelites (at first) was to repent so that the seasons of refreshing might come (Acts 3:19)." [Note: Ross, pp. 482-83.]

Leviticus 26:46 concludes all the legislation of the Mosaic Covenant that began in Exodus 25, though more specifically it summarizes the material in Leviticus. What follows in chapter 27 is supplementary.

"In order to prevent sin and bring about salvation, God warns people that he will bring judgment upon them for unbelief and disobedience, both in this life and in the life to come." [Note: Ibid., p. 482.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Leviticus 26". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.