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the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 26

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-46


ONE would have expected that this chapter would have been the last in the book of Leviticus, for it forms a natural and fitting close to the whole law as hitherto recorded. But whatever may have been the reason of its present literary form, the fact remains that while this chapter is, in outward form, the conclusion of the Levitical law, another chapter follows it in the manner of an appendix.

Chapter 26 opens with these words (Leviticus 26:1-2): "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 the Lord your God. Ye shall keep My sabbaths, and reverence My sanctuary: I am the Lord."

These verses, as they stand in the English versions as a preface to this chapter, at first sight seem but distantly related to what follows; and the Chaldee paraphrast and others have therefore appended them to the preceding chapter. But with that they have even less evident connection. The thought of the editor of this part of the canon, however, seems to have been that the three commands which are here repeated might be regarded as presenting a compendious summary, in its fundamental principles, of the whole law, the promises and threatenings attached to which immediately follow. And the more we think upon these commands and what they involve, the more evident will appear the fitness of their selection from the whole law to introduce this chapter.

The commands which are here repeated are three: namely,

(1) a detailed prohibition of idolatry in the forms then chiefly prevalent;

(2) an injunction to observe God’s sabbaths; and

(3) to reverence His sanctuary.

Inasmuch as the various forms of idol worship, which are here forbidden, all involved the recognition of gods other than Jehovah, it is plain that Leviticus 26:1 is in effect inclusive of the first and second commandments of the decalogue. The injunction to keep God’s sabbaths, although in principle including all the sabbatic times previously appointed, evidently refers especially to the weekly sabbath of the fourth commandment; while the command to reverence the sanctuary of Jehovah covers in principle the ground of the third. And thus, in fact, these three injunctions essentially include the four commands of the decalogue which have to do with man’s duty to God, and are thus fundamental to all other duties, both to God and man. Very appropriately, then, are these verses given here as a brief summary of the law to which the following promises and threatenings are annexed. And their suitableness to that which follows is the more clear when we remember that the weekly sabbath, in particular, is elsewhere {; Exodus 31:12-17} declared to be a sign of God’s covenant with Israel, to which these promises and threats belong; and that the presence of Jehovah’s sanctuary also, which they are here charged to reverence, was a continual visible witness among them of the special presence of God in Israel in pursuance of that covenant.

After this pertinent summation of the most fundamental commands of the law, the remainder of the chapter contains, first (Leviticus 26:3-13), promises of blessing from God, in case they shall obey this law; secondly (Leviticus 26:14-39), threats of chastising judgment, in case they disobey: and, thirdly (Leviticus 26:40-45), a prediction of their final repentance, and promise of their gracious restoration thereupon to the favour of God, and the everlasting endurance of God’s covenant to preserve them in existence as a nation. The chapter then closes (Leviticus 26:46) with the declaration: "These are the statutes and judgments and laws, which the Lord made between Him and the children of Israel in mount Sinai by the hand of Moses."

Verses 3-13


"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 her 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 I 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 1 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 the Lord your God, which 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 promises of the covenant are thus to the effect that if Israel shall keep the law, God will give them rain and fruitful seasons, harvests so abundant that the "threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time"; internal security; deliverance from the wild beasts, which are still such a scourge in many parts of the East; and such power and spirit, that no enemy shall be able to stand before them, but five of them shall chase a hundred, and a hundred chase ten thousand. Then (Leviticus 26:9) is renewed the promise, given long before to Abraham, of a great increase in their numbers; and thereupon, very naturally, is repeated the promise of abundant harvests, so that notwithstanding they shall be so multiplied, one year’s harvest should not be consumed before it would have to be removed from the granaries to make room for the new (Leviticus 26:10). And then this section ends with the assurance which secures all other blessings, temporal and spiritual, that God will abide among them in His tabernacle, and will be their God, and they shall be His people. And the fulfilment of all this is guaranteed by the person, the purpose, and the past dealing of the Promiser; Himself, Jehovah; His purpose, to deliver them from bondage; and His past mercy, in breaking the bands of their yoke.

Verses 14-46


"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 My judgments, 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 her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruit. 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. 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 ye will not for all this hearken unto Me; but walk contrary unto Me; then I will walk contrary unto you in fury; 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 carcases upon the carcases 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 savour of your sweet odours. And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which 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. Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her 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. 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 have 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 of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them; and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity: because, even because they rejected My judgments, and their soul abhorred My statutes. And yet for all that, when they be 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 the Lord 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 the Lord. These are the statutes and judgments and laws, which the Lord made between Him and the children of Israel in mount Sinai by the hand of Moses."

So, if Israel should not obey the commandments of the Lord, but break that covenant which they had made with Him, when they had said unto the Lord: {Exodus 24:7} "All that the Lord hath spoken will we do, and be obedient"; then they are threatened, first in a general way (Leviticus 26:14-17) with terrible judgments, which shall reverse, and more than reverse, all the blessings. God will appoint over them "terror"; disease shall ravage them, consumption and fever; their enemies shall lay waste the land, defeat them in battle, and rule over them; and instead of five of them chasing a hundred, they should flee when none was pursuing (Leviticus 26:17-18). Then follow four series of threats, each conditioned by the supposition that through what they should have already experienced of Jehovah’s judgment they should not repent; each also introduced by the formula, "I will chastise (or "smite") you seven times for your sins." In these four times repeated series of denunciations, thus introduced, we are not to insist that numerical precision was intended; neither can we, with some, give to the "seven times" a numerical or temporal reference. The thought which runs through all these denunciations, and determines the form which they take, is this: that the judgments threatened as to follow each new display of hardness and impenitence on the part of Israel shall be marked by continually increasing severity; and the phrase "seven times," by the reference to the sacred number "seven," intimates that the vengeance should be "the vengeance of the covenant" (Leviticus 26:25), and also the awful thoroughness and completeness with which the threatened judgments, in case of their continued obduracy, would be inflicted.

This interpretation is sustained by the details of each section. The first series (Leviticus 26:18-20), in which the threatenings of Leviticus 26:14-17 are developed, adds to what had been previously threatened, the withholding of harvest for lack of rain. He who had promised to send the rains "in their season," if they were obedient, now declares that if they will not hearken unto Him for the other chastisements before denounced, He will "make their heaven as iron, and their earth as brass." The second series threatens in addition their devastation by wild beasts, which shall rob them of their children and their cattle; and also, in consequence of these great judgments, with a great diminution of their numbers. The third series (Leviticus 26:23-26) repeats under forms still more intense, the threats of sword, pestilence, and famine. The staff of bread shall be broken, and when, stricken with pestilence, they are gathered together in their cities, one oven shall suffice ten women for their baking, and bread shall be distributed by rations and in insufficient quantity (Leviticus 26:25-26).

It is intimated that with these extraordinary judgments it shall become increasingly evident that it is Jehovah who is thus dealing with them for the breach of His covenant. This is suggested (Leviticus 26:24) by the emphatic use of the personal pronoun in the Hebrew, only to be rendered in English by a stress of voice; and by the declaration (Leviticus 26:25) that the sword which should be brought upon them should "execute the vengeance of the covenant."

The same remark applies with still more emphasis to the next and last of these subsections (Leviticus 26:27-39), the terrific denunciations of which are introduced by these words, which almost seem to flash with the fire of God’s avenging wrath: "If ye will walk contrary unto Me; then I will walk contrary unto you in fury (lit., " I will walk with you in fury of opposition"); and I also will chastise you seven times for your sins." All that has been threatened before is here repeated with every circumstance which could add terror to the picture. Was famine threatened? it shall be so awful in its severity that they shall eat the flesh of their own sons and daughters. The high places which had been the scenes of their licentious worship should be destroyed, and the "sun images" which they had worshipped, going after Baal, should be cut down; and, in visible sign of the Divine wrath and of God’s holy contempt for the impotent idols for which they had forsaken the Lord, upon the fallen idols should lie the dead corpses of their worshippers. The sanctuaries (with special, -though, perhaps, not exclusive, -reference, as the following words show, to the holy places of Jehovah’s tabernacle or temple) should become a desolation; the sweet savour of their sacrifices should be rejected. The holy people should be scattered into other lands; the land should become so desolate that those of their enemies who should dwell in it should themselves be astonished at its transformation. And so. while they should be scattered in their enemies’ land, the land would "enjoy her sabbaths"; i.e., it should thus, untilled and desolate, enjoy the rest which Jehovah had commanded them to give the land each seventh year, which they had not observed. Meanwhile, the condition of the banished nation in the lands of their captivity should be most pitiful: minished in number, those that were left alive should pine away in their iniquities, and in the iniquity of their fathers; timid and broken spirited, they should flee before the sound of a broken leaf, and the land of their enemies should "eat them up."

And herewith ends the second section of this remarkable prophecy. Promising Israel the highest prosperity in the land of Canaan, if they will keep the words of this covenant, it threatens them with successive judgments of sword, famine, and pestilence, of continually increasing severity, to culminate, if they yet persist in disobedience, in their expulsion from the land for a prolonged period; and predicts their continued existence, despite the most distressing conditions, in the lands of their enemies, while their own land meanwhile lies desolate and untilled without them.

The fundamental importance and instructiveness of this prophecy is evident from the fact that all later predictions concerning the fortunes of Israel are but its more detailed exposition and application to successive historical conditions. Still more evident is its profound significance when we recall to mind the fact, disputed by none, that not only is it an epitome of all later prophecy of Holy Scripture concerning Israel, but, no less truly, an epitome of Israel’s history. So strictly true is this that we may accurately describe the history of that nation, from the days of Moses until now, as but the translation of this chapter from the language of prediction into that of history.

The facts which illustrate this statement are so familiar that one scarcely needs to refer to them. The numerous visitations in the days of the Judges, when again and again the people were given into the hands of their enemies for their sins, and so often as then they repented, were again and again delivered; the heavier judgments of later days, first in the days of the earlier kings, and afterwards culminating in the captivity of the ten tribes, following the siege and capture of Samaria, 721 B.C., and, still later, the terrible siege and capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, 586 B.C., to the horrors of which the Lamentations of Jeremiah bear most sorrowful witness; -what were all these events, with others of lesser importance, but a historical unfolding of this twenty-sixth chapter of Leviticus?

And how, since Old Testament days, this prophecy has been continually illustrated in Israel’s history, is, or should be, familiar to all. As apostasy has succeeded to apostasy, judgment has followed upon judgment. To a Nebuchadnezzar succeeded an Antiochus Epiphanes; and, after the Greco-Syrian judgment, then, following the supreme national crime of the rejection and crucifixion of their promised Messiah, came the Roman captivity, the most terrible of all; a judgment continued even until now in the eighteen hundred years of Israel’s exile from the land of the covenant, and their scattering among the nations, -eighteen hundred years of tragic suffering, such as no other nation has ever known, or, knowing, has yet survived; sufferings which are still exhibited before the eyes of all the world today in the bitter experiences of the four millions of Jews in the Empire of the Czar, and the persecutions of Anti-Shemitism in other lands.

Existing, rather than living, under such conditions for centuries, as a natural result, the Jewish people became few in number, as here predicted; having been reduced from not less than seven or eight millions in the days of the kingdom, to a minimum, about two hundred years ago, of not more than three millions. And, strangest of all, throughout this time the once fertile land has lain desolate, for the Gentiles have never settled in it in any great number; and in place of a population of five hundred to the square mile in the days of Solomon, we find now only a few hundred thousand miserable people, and the most of the land, for lack of cultivation, in such a condition that nothing can easily exceed its desolation. And when we have said all this, and much more that might be said without exaggeration, we have but simply testified that Leviticus 26:31-34 of this chapter have in the fullest possible sense become historical fact. For it was written (Leviticus 26:32-34):

"I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which 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. Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths."

These facts make this chapter to he an apologetic of prime importance. It is this, because we have here evidence of foreknowledge, and therefore of the supernatural inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God in the prophecy here recorded. The facts cannot be adequately explained, either on the supposition of fortunate guessing or of accidental coincidence. It was not indeed impossible to forecast on natural grounds that Israel would become corrupt, or that, if so, they should experience disaster in consequence of their moral depravation. For God has not one law for Israel and another for other nations. Nor does the argument rest on the details of these threatened judgments, as consisting in the sword, famine, and pestilence; for other nations have experienced these calamities, though, indeed, few in equal measure with Israel; and of these one has a natural dependence on another.

But setting aside these elements of the prophecy, as of less apologetic significance, two particulars yet remain in which this predicted experience has been unique, and antecedently to the event in so high degree improbable, that we can reasonably think here neither of shrewd human forecast nor of chance agreement of prediction and fulfilment. The one is the predicted survival of exiled Israel as a nation in the land of their enemies, their indestructibility throughout centuries of unequalled suffering; the other, the extraordinary fact that their land, so rich and fertile, which was at that time and for centuries afterwards one of the principal highways of the world’s commerce and travel, the coveted possession of many nations from a remote antiquity, should during the whole period of Israel’s banishment remain comparatively unoccupied and untilled.

As regards the former particular, we may search history in vain for a similar phenomenon. Here is a people who, at their best, as compared with many other nations, such as the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Romans, were few in number and in material resources; who now have been scattered from their land for centuries, crushed and oppressed always, in a degree and for a length of time never experienced by any other people; yet never merging in the nations with whom they were mingled, or losing in the least their peculiar racial characteristics and distinct national identity. This, although now for a long time matter of history, was yet, a priori, so improbable that all history records no other instance of the kind; and yet all this had to be if those words of Leviticus 26:44 were to prove true: "When they be in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly." With abundant reason has Professor Christlieb referred to this fact as an unanswerable apologetic, thus:

"We point to the people of Israel as a perennial historical miracle. The continued existence of this nation up to the present day, the preservation of its national peculiarities throughout thousands of years, in spite of all dispersion and oppression, remains so unparalleled a phenomenon, that without the special providential preparation of God, and His constant interference and protection, it would be impossible for us to explain it. For where else is there a people over which such judgments have passed, and yet not ended in destruction?"

No less remarkable and significant is the long-continued depopulation of the land of Israel. For it was and is by nature a richly fertile land; and at the time of this prediction-whether it be assigned to an earlier or later period - it was upon one of the chief commercial and military routes of the world, and its possession has thus been an object of ambition to all the dominant nations of history. Surely, one would have expected that if Israel should be cast out of such a land, it would at once and always be occupied by others who should cultivate its proverbially productive soil. But it was not to be so, for it had been otherwise written. And yet it seems as if it had scarcely been possible that through all these later centuries of the history of Christendom, the land could have thus lain desolate, except for the so momentous discovery in 1497 of the Cape route to India, by which event - which no one could in so remote days have well anticipated-the tide of commerce with the East was turned away from Egypt, Syria, and Palestine. to the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans; so that the land of Israel was left, like a city made to stand solitary in a desert by the shifting of the channel of a river; and its predicted desolation thus went on to receive its most complete, consummate, and now long-realised fulfilment.

So, then, stands the case. It is truly difficult to understand how one can fairly escape the inference from these facts, namely, that they imply in this chapter such a prescience of the future as is not possible to man, and therefore demonstrate that the Spirit of God must, in the deepest and truest sense, have been the author of these predictions of the future of the chosen people and their land.

And it is of the very first importance, with reference to the controversies of our day regarding this question, that we note the fact that the argument is of such a nature that it is not in the least dependent upon the date that any may have assigned to the origin of this chapter. Even though we should, with Graf and Wellhausen, attribute its composition to exilian or postexilian times, it would still remain true that the chapter contained unmistakable predictions regarding the nation and the land; predictions which, if fulfilled, no doubt, in a degree, in the days of the Babylonian exile and the return, were yet to receive a fulfilment far more minute, exhaustive, and impressive, in centuries which then were still in a far distant future. But if this be granted, it is plain that these facts impose a limitation upon the conclusions of criticism. That only is true science which takes into view all the facts with respect to any phenomenon for which one seeks to account; and in this case the facts which are to be explained by any theory, are not merely peculiarities of style and vocabulary, etc., but also this phenomenon of a demonstrably predictive element in the chapter; a phenomenon which requires for its explanation the assumption of a supernatural inspiration as one of the factors in its authorship. But if this is so, how can we reconcile with such a Divine inspiration any theory which makes the last statement of the chapter, that "these are the statutes which the Lord made in mount Sinai by the hand of Moses," to be untrue, and the preceding "laws" to be thus, in plain language, a forgery of exilian or post-exilian times?

Verses 30-33


"And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s: it is holy unto the Lord. And if a man will redeem aught of his tithe, he shall add unto it the fifth part thereof. And all the tithe of the herd or the flock, whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord. He shall not search whether it be good or bad, neither shall he change it: and if he change it at all, then both it and that for which it is changed shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed."

Last of all these exclusions from the vow is mentioned the tithe. "Whether of the seed of the land, or of the herd, or of the flock," it is declared to be "holy unto the Lord; it is the Lord’s." That because of this it cannot be given to the Lord by a special vow, although not formally stated, is self-evident. No man can give away what belongs to another, or give God what He has already. In Numbers 18:21 it is said that this tenth should be given "unto the children of Levi for the service of the tent of meeting."

Most extraordinary is the contention of Wellhausen and others, that since in Deuteronomy no tithe is mentioned other than of the product of the land, therefore, because of the mention here also of a tithe of the herd and the flock, we must infer that we have here a late interpolation into the "priest code," marking a time when now the exactions of the priestly caste had been extended to the utmost limit. This is not the place to go into the question of the relation of the law of Deuteronomy to that which we have here; but we should rather, with Dillmann, from the same premisses argue the exact opposite, namely, that we have here the very earliest form of the tithe law. For that an ordinance so extending the rights of the priestly class should have been "smuggled" into the Sinaitic laws after the days of Nehemiah, as Wellhausen, Reuss, and Kuenen suppose, is simply "unthinkable"; while, on the other hand, when we find already in Genesis 28:22 Jacob promising unto the Lord the tenth of all that He should give him, at a time when he was living the life of a nomad herdsman, it is inconceivable that he should have meant "all, excepting the increase of the flocks and herds," which were his chief possession.

The truth is that the dedication of a tithe, in various forms, as an acknowledgment of dependence upon and reverence to God, is one of the most widely-spread and best-attested practices of the most remote antiquity. We read of it among the Romans, the Greeks, the ancient Pelasgians, the Carthaginians, and the Phoenicians; and in the Pentateuch, in full accord with all this, we find not only Jacob, as in the passage cited, but, at a yet earlier time, Abraham, more than four hundred years before Moses, giving tithes to Melchizedek. The law, in the exact form in which we have it here, is therefore in perfect harmony with all that we know of the customs both of the Hebrews and surrounding peoples, from a time even much earlier than that of the Exodus.

Very naturally the reference to the tithe, as thus from of old belonging to the Lord, and therefore incapable of being vowed, gives occasion to other regulations respecting it. Like unclean animals, houses, and lands which had been vowed, so also the tithe, or any part of it, might be redeemed by the individual for his own use, upon payment of the usual mulct of one-fifth additional to its assessed value. So also it is further ordered, with special regard to the tithe of the herd and the flock, "that whatsoever passeth under the rod," i.e., whatever is counted, as the manner was, by being made to pass into or out of the fold under the herdsman’s staff, "the tenth" - that is, every tenth animal as in its turn it comes-"shall be holy to the Lord." The owner was not to search whether the animal thus selected was good or bad, nor change it, so as to give the Lord a poorer animal, and keep a better one for himself; and if he broke this law, then, as in the case of the unclean beast vowed, as the penalty he was to forfeit to the sanctuary both the original and its attempted substitute, and also lose the right of redemption.

A very practical question emerges just here, as to the continued obligation of this law of the tithe. Although we hear nothing of the tithe in the first Christian centuries, it began to be advocated in the fourth century by Jerome, Augustine, and others, and, as is well known, the system of ecclesiastical tithing soon became established as the law of the Church. Although the system by no means disappeared with the Reformation, but passed from the Roman into the Reformed Churches, yet the modern spirit has become more and more adverse to the mediaeval system, till, with the progressive hostility in society to all connection of the Church and the State, and in the Church the development of a sometimes exaggerated voluntaryism, tithing as a system seems likely to disappear altogether, as it has already from the most of Christendom.

But in consequence of this, and the total severance of the Church from the State, in the United States and the Dominion of Canada, the necessity of securing adequate provision for the maintenance and extension of the Church, is more and more directing the attention of those concerned in the practical economics of the Church, to this venerable institution of the tithe as the solution of many difficulties. Among such there are many who, while quite opposed to any enforcement of a law of tithing for the benefit of the Church by the civil power, nevertheless earnestly maintain that the law of the tithe, as we have it here, is of permanent obligation and binding on the conscience of every Christian. What is the truth in the matter? in particular, what is the teaching of the New Testament?

In attempting to settle for ourselves this question, it is to be observed, in order to clear thinking on this subject, that in the law of the tithe as here declared there are two elements-the one moral, the other legal, -which should be carefully distinguished. First and fundamental is the principle that it is our duty to set apart to God a certain fixed proportion of our income. The other and-technically speaking-positive element in the law is that which declares that the proportion to be given to the Lord is precisely one tenth. Now, of these two, the first principle is distinctly recognised and reaffirmed in the New Testament as of continued validity in this dispensation; while, on the other hand, as to the precise proportion of our income to be thus set apart for the Lord, the New Testament writers are everywhere silent.

As regards the first principle, the Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, orders that "on the first day of the week"-the day of the primitive Christian worship-"everyone shall lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him." He adds that he had given the same command also to the Churches of Galatia. {1 Corinthians 16:1-2} This most clearly gives apostolic sanction to the fundamental principle of the tithe, namely, that a definite portion of our income should be set apart for God. While, on the other hand, neither in this connection, where a mention of the law of the tithe might naturally have been expected, if it had been still binding as to the letter, nor in any other place does either the Apostle Paul or any other New Testament writer intimate that the Levitical law, requiring the precise proportion of a tenth, was still in force; -a fact which is the more noteworthy that so much is said of the duty of Christian benevolence.

To this general statement with regard to the testimony of the New Testament on this subject, the words of our Lord to the Pharisees, {Matthew 23:23} regarding their tithing of "mint and anise and cummin"-"these ye ought to have done"-cannot be taken as an exception, or as proving that the law is binding for this dispensation; for the simple reason that the present dispensation had not at that time yet begun, and those to whom He spoke were still under the Levitical law, the authority of which He there reaffirms. From these facts we conclude that the law of these verses, in so far as it requires the setting apart to God of a certain definite proportion of our income, is doubtless of continued and lasting obligation; but that, in so far as it requires from all alike the exact proportion of one tenth, it is binding on the conscience no longer.

Nor is it difficult to see why the New Testament should not lay down this or any other precise proportion of giving to income, as a universal law. It is only according to the characteristic usage of the New Testament law to leave to the individual conscience very much regarding the details of worship and conduct, which under the Levitical law was regulated by specific rules; which the Apostle Paul explains {Galatians 4:1-5} by reference to the fact that the earlier method was intended for and adapted to a lower and more immature stage of religious development; even as a child, during his minority, is kept under guardians and stewards, from whose authority, when he comes of age, he is free.

But, still further, it seems to be often forgotten by those who argue for the present and permanent obligation of this law, that it was here for the first time formally appointed by God as a binding law, in connection with a certain divinely instituted system of theocratic government, which, if carried out, would, as we have seen, effectively prevent excessive accumulations of wealth in the hands of individuals, and thus secure for the Israelites, in a degree the world has never seen, an equal distribution of property. In such a system it is evident that it would be possible to exact a certain fixed and definite proportion of income for sacred purposes, with the certainty that the requirement would work with perfect justice and fairness to all. But with us, social and economic conditions are so very different, wealth is so very unequally distributed, that no such law as that of the tithe could be made to work otherwise than unequally and unfairly. To the very poor it must often be a heavy burden; to the very rich, a proportion so small as to be a practical exemption. While, for the former, the law, if insisted on, would sometimes require a poor man to take bread out of the mouth of wife and children, it would still leave the millionaire with thousands to spend on needless luxuries. The latter might often more easily give nine tenths of his income than the former could give one twentieth.

It is thus no surprising thing that the inspired men who laid the foundations of the New Testament Church did not reaffirm the law of the tithe as to the letter. And yet, on the other hand, let us not forget that the law of the tithe, as regards the moral element of the law, is still in force. It forbids the Christian to leave, as so often, the amount he will give for the Lord’s work, to impulse and caprice. Statedly and conscientiously he is to "lay by him in store as the Lord hath prospered him." If any ask how much should the proportion be, one might say that by fair inference the tenth might safely be taken as an average minimum of giving, counting rich and poor together. But the New Testament {2 Corinthians 8:7; 2 Corinthians 8:9} answers after a different and most characteristic manner: "See that ye abound in this grace For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might become rich." Let there be but regular and systematic giving to the Lord’s work, under the law of a fixed proportion of gifts to income, and under the holy inspiration of this sacred remembrance of the grace of our Lord, and then the Lord’s treasury will never be empty, nor the Lord be robbed of His tithe.

And so hereupon the book of Leviticus closes with the formal declaration- referring, no doubt, strictly speaking, to the regulations of this last chapter-that "these are the commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses for the children of Israel in mount Sinai." The words as explicitly assert Mosaic origin and authority for these last laws of the book, as the opening words asserted the same for the law of the offerings with which it begins. The significance of these repeated declarations respecting the origin and authority of the laws contained in this book has been repeatedly pointed out, and nothing further need be added here.

To sum up all:-what the Lord, in this book of Leviticus, has said, was not for Israel alone. The supreme lesson of this law is for men now, for the Church of the New Testament as well. For the individual and for the nation, HOLINESS, consisting in full consecration of body and soul to the Lord, and separation from all that defileth, is the Divine ideal, to the attainment of which Jew and Gentile alike are called. And the only way of its attainment is through the atoning Sacrifice, and the mediation of the High Priest appointed of God; and the only evidence of its attainment is a joyful obedience, hearty and unreserved, to all the commandments of God. For us all it stands written: "YE SHALL BE HOLY; FOR I, JEHOVAH, YOUR GOD, AM HOLY."

Verses 40-45


"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 have 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 of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them; and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity: because, even because they rejected My judgments, and their soul abhorred My statutes. And yet for all that, when they be 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 the Lord 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 the Lord."

This closing section of this extraordinary chapter yet remains to be considered. It is the most remarkable of all, whether from a historical or a religious point of view. It declares that even under so extreme visitations of Divine wrath, and howsoever long Israel’s stubborn rebellion and impenitence should continue, yet the nation should never become extinct and pass away. Very impressive are the words (Leviticus 26:43-45) which emphasise this prediction: "The land also shall be left of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them; and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity: because, even because they rejected My judgments, and their soul abhorred My statutes. And yet for all that, when they be 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 the Lord 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 the Lord."

As to what is included in this promise of everlasting covenant mercy, we are told explicitly (Leviticus 26:40) that as the final result of these repeated and long-continued judgments, the children of Israel "shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, in their trespass which they trespassed" against the Lord. Also they will acknowledge (Leviticus 26:41) that all these calamities have been sent upon them by the Lord; that it is because they have walked contrary unto Him that He has also walked contrary unto them, and brought them into the land of their enemies. And then follows the great promise (Leviticus 26:41-42): "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."

These words are very full and explicit. That they have had already a partial and inadequate fulfilment in the restoration from Babylon, and the spiritual quickening by which it was accompanied, is not to be denied. But one only needs to refer to the covenants to which reference is made, and especially the covenant with Abraham, as recorded in the book of Genesis, to see that by no possibility can that Babylonian reatoration be said to have exhausted this prophecy. Since those earlier days Israel has again forsaken the Lord, and committed the greatest of all their national sins in the rejection and crucifixion of the promised Messiah; and therefore, again, according to the threat of the earlier part of this chapter, they have been cast out of their land and scattered among the nations, and the land, again, for centuries has been left a desolation. But for all this, God’s covenant with Israel has not lapsed, nor, as we are here formally assured, can it ever lapse. To imagine, with some, that because of the new dispensation of grace to the Gentiles which has come in, therefore the promises of this covenant have become void, is a mistake which is fatal to all right understanding of the prophetic word. As for the spiritual blessing of true repentance and a national turning unto God, Zechariah, after the Babylonian captivity, represents the prediction as yet to have a larger and far more blessed fulfilment, in a day which, beyond all controversy, has never yet risen on the world. For it is written: {Zechariah 12:8-14, Zechariah 13:1} "In that day I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they shall look unto Me whom they have pierced: and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn; all the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart. In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness." And that this great promise, which implies by its very terms the previous "piercing" of the Messiah, is still valid for the nation in the new dispensation, is expressly testified by the Apostle Paul, who formally teaches, with regard to Israel, that "God did not cast off His people which He foreknew"; that "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance"; and that therefore the days are surely coming when "all Israel shall be saved". {; Romans 11:2; Romans 11:29; Romans 11:26}

And while nothing is said in this chapter of Leviticus as to the relation of this future repentance of Israel to the establishment of the kingdom of God, we only speak according to the express teaching both of the later prophets and of the apostles, when we add that we are not to think of this covenant of God concerning Israel as of little consequence to our faith and hope as Christians. For we are plainly taught, with regard to the present exclusion and impenitence of Israel, {Romans 11:15} that "the receiving of them" again shall be as "life from the dead"; which, again, is only what long before had been declared in the Old Testament; {; Psalms 102:13-16} that when God shall arise and have mercy upon Zion, and the set time to have pity upon her shall come, the nations shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth His glory.

And while we may grant that the matter is in itself of less moment, it is yet of importance to observe that the very covenant which promises spiritual mercy to the people, as explicitly assures us (ver. 42) that, when Israel confesses its sin, God "will remember the land" as well as the people. All that has been said for the present and unchangeable validity of the former part of this promise, is of necessity true for this latter part also. To affirm the former, and on that ground maintain the faith and expectation of the future repentance of Israel, and yet deny the latter part of this promise, which is no less verbally explicit, regarding the land of Israel, is an inconsistency of interpretation which is as astonishing as it is common. For the restoration of the scattered nation to their land is repeatedly promised, as here, in connection with, and yet in clear distinction from, their conversion, by both the pre- and post-exilian prophets. And if, for reasons not hard to discover, the promise concerning the land is not in so many words repeated in the New Testament. its future fulfilment is yet, to say the least, distinctly assumed in the prediction of Christ, {Luke 21:24} that Israel, because of their rejection of Him, should be "led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem be trodden down of the Gentiles,"-not forever, but only-"until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." Surely these words of our Lord imply that, whenever these "times of the Gentiles" shall have run their course, their present domination over the Holy City and the Holy Land shall end.

Nor is such a restoration of Israel to their land, with all that it implies, inconsistent, as some have urged, with the spirit and principles of the Gospel. Many a Gentile nation is greatly favoured of the Lord, and, as one mark of that favour, is permitted to abide in peace and prosperity in their own land. Why should it be any more alien to the spirit of the Gospel that penitent Israel should be blessed in like manner, and, upon their turning unto the Lord, also, like many other nations, be permitted to dwell in peace and safety in that land which lies almost empty and desolate for them until this day? And if it be urged that, admitting this interpretation, we shall also be obliged to admit that Israel is in the future to be exalted to a position of preeminence among the nations, which, again, is inconsistent, it is said, with the principles of the Gospel dispensation, we must again deny this last assertion, and for a similar reason. If not inconsistent with the Gospel that the British nation, for example, should today hold a position of exceptional eminence and world wide influence among the nations, how can it be inconsistent with the Gospel that Israel, when repentant before God, should be in like manner exalted of Him to national eminence and glory?

While in itself this question may be of little consequence, yet in another aspect it is of no small moment that we steadfastly affirm the permanent validity of this part of the promise of the covenant with Israel as given in this chapter. For it is not too much to say that the logic and the exegesis which make the promise to have become void with regard to Israel’s land, if accepted, would equally justify one in affirming the abrogation of the promise of Israel’s final repentance, if the exigencies of any eschatological theory should seem to require it. Either both parts of this promise in Leviticus 26:42 are still valid, or neither is now valid; and if either is still in force, the other is in force also. These two, the promise concerning the people, and the promise concerning the land, stand or fall together.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Leviticus 26". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/leviticus-26.html.
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