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Father in heaven, help us. We are easily distracted. We get tired, mind wanders, but we don’t want to waste our time. So help us to listen and not only to be hearers but to be doers, and that You would speak not just to our minds but to our hearts. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Our text this morning is Leviticus chapter 26. You can be prepared to shed a tear as we are just one week away from ending this series on Leviticus. Chapter 27, as we’ll see next week Lord willing, is a kind of appendix to the book as it talks about the rules related to vows, and we’ll see next week why the book ends that way. But you could argue that chapter 26 is really the main conclusion. It’s a fitting conclusion.
From Exodus 20 through Leviticus 25 there’s been almost nothing but laws; the 10 commandments and case laws and laws about building the tabernacle, laws about sacrifices, laws about clean and unclean, about holy and profane. Almost nothing but laws, just a few narrative pieces, the golden calf, Nadab and Abihu, the blaspheming man, and isn’t it interesting that in the midst of all of these laws, really the only narrative stories we’ve had are stories of God’s people getting it colossally wrong and not obeying God’s laws.
At the end of all of these commandments, these statutes and rules, we have this chapter on blessings and curses, promises and warnings, as was common with these kinds of covenants or treaties in the Ancient Near East. After a section of stipulations, here’s what you are not to do and not to do, the great king would give to the people the blessings if they obey, things will go well for you, but if you disobey you can expect things to go from bad to worse, and that’s what we find in chapter 26.
““You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the Lord your God. You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the Lord.
If you walk in My statutes and observe My commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely. I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. 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. I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm My covenant with you. You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. I will make my dwelling among you, and My soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be My people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. ””
These are the blessings for obedience, if you obey, you can expect all of these good things to come upon you as a nation, Moses says. Now the much longer section. You notice there are five different sets of warnings, each building upon each other. Think of it as five chances, just like a parent might with a child, I know that’s not good parenting usually, I’ll give you five more chances, but that’s what God does here. He’s gracious, He’s merciful, He’s long-suffering, so He says five times over here’s what will happen. I will discipline you, bad things will come upon you.
““But if you will not listen to Me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn My statutes, and if your soul abhors My rules, so that you will not do all My commandments, but break My covenant, then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consumes the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. And if in spite of this you will not listen to Me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.
Then if you walk contrary to Me and will not listen to Me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.
And if by this discipline you are not turned to Me but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.
But if in spite of this you will not listen to Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and My soul will abhor you. And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it. And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.
Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it. And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues. And you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies’ lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them. ””
Lots of bad news. But there’s hope.
““But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against Me, and also in walking contrary to Me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. But the land shall be abandoned by them and enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned My rules and their soul abhorred My statutes. Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought 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 rules and laws that the Lord made between Himself and the people of Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai.”
My favorite book in The Chronicles of Narnia series is, wait for it, what is it? Guess, guess. It’s The Silver Chair. Okay, you can tell me later why you like one of the other ones. I like The Silver Chair. Just to remind you, in the book the kids, the young children, Jill Pole, Eustace Scrubb. Remember in one of the other books, Eustace Scrubb was his name and he almost deserved it. Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb are sent out on a quest to find the lost Prince Rilian. On their quest, Aslan, the great lion, gives to Jill, because Eustace is gone for a time, gives to Jill, do you remember this? Four rules, four signs, he calls them, that they must obey if things will go well for them.
This is what Aslan said: “‘I will tell you, child,’ said the lion, ‘these are the signs by which I will guide you in your quest. First, as soon as the boy Eustace sets foot in Narnia, he will meet an old and dear friend. He must greet the friend at once. If he does, you will have good help. Second, you must journey out of Narnia to the north until you come to the ruined city of the ancient giants. Third, you shall find a writing on a stone in that ruined city and you must do what the writing tells you. Fourth, you will know the lost prince if you find him by this, that he will be the first person you have met in your travels who will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan.'”
If you remember the story, and I remember reading it and hearing it and getting anxious, thinking, “Jill, don’t forget the signs.” And Aslan warns her. Surely, I don’t know where Lewis was at in terms of his covenant theology, probably not as good as he should have been, but he’s certainly thinking of these four signs as a kind of analog to the way that Scripture is to function in the life of God’s people. These four signs, these four commandments for Jill and for Eustace, function as a kind of covenant with them; blessings for obedience, curses for disobedience.
Here’s what we read on the next page: “‘Stand still, in a moment I will blow. But first,'” here’s Aslan, he’s talking to Jill, see if this doesn’t sound Old Testament, if it doesn’t sound covenantal. “‘Remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night.'”
Doesn’t that sound like Deuteronomy?
“‘And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I’ve spoken clearly. I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here the mountain air is clean, your mind is clear. As you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse you. The signs which you have learned will not look at all as you expect them to look when you meet them here. That is why it is so important to know them by heart, to pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters. Now, daughter of Eve, farewell.'”
He must have had a sermon series on Leviticus, or Deuteronomy, I’ll grant that. That’s why it’s so important to know them by heart, pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs. Believe the signs. That’s what Leviticus 26 is about. It’s like Aslan telling the people before they go off on their journey, their quest, to the Promised Land, whatever you do, here you must remember, because when you get down there in the thick Narnia air, it will seem confusing to you. The appearances will not be what they seem and you will be tempted many times over to think that you know better than God knows for your life.
That’s what Aslan was saying to Jill and to Eustace. But if you remember The Silver Chair, you know they don’t keep the signs. Jill quickly forgets the exact word, she cannot remember exactly what Aslan said. At different times she doesn’t understand them. Or as circumstances are challenging, she figures no, I’m not going to keep going north, or I’m not sure I can believe this prince as he makes a request in the name of Aslan, so Jill and Eustace turn from the words of Aslan.
Have you noticed before many stories, epics, books, tales, movies, work on this principle: If you listen to these instructions, if you follow the map exactly and you don’t deviate from the path, all will go well for you. But if you lose this ring, if you open Pandora’s Box, if you feed this cute, little mogwai after midnight, let the reader understand all will go ill for you.
People sometimes complain about rules in religion. Sometimes they set it up as, “I have a relationship, I don’t have a religion, because religion is about rules, about commands.” Well, every single one of you and every person that you’re going to meet this week, they live by some kind of standard that they believe will enable them to live the good life. They do. That standard may be in their mind “I work hard, I practice every day, I never settle for less than the best, grab the world and my dreams will come true.” That may be their standard.
It may be don’t do drugs and don’t smoke and don’t have sex before you’re married, things will turn out. Or it might be, more common, “Believe in yourself, find your truth, you be you.” You live by that mantra and all will go well with you. We all have a set of principles, whether we can articulate them or not, a set of principles that we think, “If I would adhere to these commands, I will live a happy and fulfilled life.”
The Bible has God’s rules to live by. They are based on the character of God and they tell us that living God’s way is the way of blessing, and to deviate from those commands is the way of cursing.
Look back at the beginning of Leviticus 26. You see, first of all, the law is summarized. There are three elements of covenant keeping: Worship, trust, and fear.
So worship the one true God.
Trust, that’s represented by keeping the Sabbath. The Sabbath was always about trust, “Do you trust Me enough to rest? Do you trust that I can take care of you? That I can give you bread enough on the sixth day for both days?”
Worship, trust, and fear.
“You shall keep My sabbaths,” verse 2, “reverence My sanctuary.” That means a reverence for the holy laws, for the sacrifices, for everything associated with the sanctuary.
Worship, trust, and fear. Those are the three elements of covenant keeping.
And the reverse, give you the three elements of covenant breaking: Idolatry, self-reliance, disobedience.
You worship the wrong God, you rely upon yourself, you disobey His commands.
That’s what’s summarized in these first two verses.
We need to keep several things in mind as we think about these blessings and these curses, because it’s very easy and we could with very little effort completely misunderstand and think, “Ah, okay, so this is I do these things and everything goes well, and if something is bad in my life, then I must have disobeyed.”
No, we need to keep several things in mind as we think about Old Testament blessings and curses.
First. Remember these are not for redemption but in response to redemption.
It’s absolutely pivotal or you misunderstand the Gospel. If you think this is God coming to His people to say, “I got things for you to do if you’re going to be safe.” No. Where are they? They’re not in Egypt. This is not what God said to the Israelites in Egypt, “I want to test you out, I want to see if you obey My commandments and then I’ll set you free from Egypt.” That would be works righteousness, that would be legalism, that would be salvation by law keeping. This is not salvation by law keeping. These are a saved people.
This is for a people already in covenant with God. This is not a chapter about how to get saved, but how to live a happy and blessed life as God’s saved people.
So that’s the first thing to remember.
Second. These blessings were given corporately, not individually.
That is to say, these were promises for the nation of Israel writ large. Within this nation no doubt people still suffered, accidents still happened, crops sometimes failed, people died too young, people were not able to have children when they wanted to have children. So this is not a promise that if you go the right thing, God will make sure nothing bad ever happens in your life. This is not an individual promise, you get all the goodies if you obey.
Rather, this is a corporate promise about how God would deal with His people. He isn’t expecting perfect obedience in every single individual, but rather a general obedience and God is eager to be favorable.
Think about with Sodom and Gomorrah, when Abraham’s bargaining for those cities. God will go so far as to say for 10 righteous persons I would save this city. So God is not expecting perfection in every one of His people. He’s looking for a general national corporate obedience that will result in general national corporate prosperity and blessing.
Then third, which I need to say right on the heels of that second one, this is a covenant with Israel.
Where is America in this chapter? Well, it’s a long ways away. This is not the Mosaic covenant with America, so we cannot just direct these blessings and curses and say this is a promise for the United States of America or for whatever country you may come from. This is a covenant with Israel in the Old Testament.
Now having said that, we see from the prophet Amos and elsewhere that God still does deal with nations as nations, and He will bless nations and He will judge nations, so it’s not that this has nothing to say about the United States of America, it’s simply that we cannot apply this one to one directly because we are not God’s covenant people in the way that Israel was a covenant nation with their God.
So these principles apply in a way to a nation, they apply by implication to individuals. It is true when you obey God your life in general will go better for you. But perhaps most immediately we could think of this as a promise for God’s covenant people, for the Church, for those who belong to Him by way of faith in Jesus Christ, the promised offspring of Abraham.
So with those three guardrails in mind, let’s look briefly at the blessings and the curses. We’ve already read through this long chapter, but just notice in verses 3 through 13, the blessings.
We have a summary. This is a summary of what the good life would look like. You have rain, you have harvest, you have security. One harvest is so good it leads to the next harvest, which is so good it leads all the way up to the time of sowing and planting. You have rest from opposition. You have safety from animals. You have victory over your enemies. You have lots of children. You have lots of food. You have lots of stuff that makes life enjoyable. These blessings are a picture of the good life. If you needed to summarize it in two words, you could say “peace and prosperity,”
We see this throughout the Old Testament: If you obey you will beat your swords into plowshares, your spears into pruning hooks, and you can look forward to the time when the wolf will lie down with the lamb and everyone will sit under his own vine and his own fig tree. These are familiar Old Testament images to say, “You’re all going to have a nice house and you’re going to have plenty of food on the table and you’re going to have kids and grandkids. It’s going to be the good life.”
There’s a reason that every one of us wants peace, safety, plenty, security… It’s because God made us that way.
So we want to be careful that we don’t say in a sort of over-spiritualization, “Well, shame on you. You want food? You want a house? You want nice things? You want security? You want blessing?”
No, of course, we do. That’s how God made us. The garden of Eden was a paradise. The new heavens and the new earth are a paradise. Eden, through the Promised Land, to the new heavens and the new earth, is this picture, this tangible reality, that God’s people once had and then lost and can look forward to again.
So God never says to you, “Shame on you, you want food. You want peace. You want prosperity. If you were spiritual, you’d want to suffer.”
No. What God says, though, is don’t be a fool, don’t store up treasures here on earth, rust can get at that, months can get at that. Store up treasures in heaven where it lasts.
Notice the chief blessing. Look there in verse 11. Of all of these covenant blessings, all the peace and prosperity, here is the very heart of it – “I will make My dwelling among you. My soul shall not abhor you. I will walk among you. I will be your God and you shall be my people.” That is the covenantal promise. It’s been the promise since the very beginning and it stretches this golden thread through all of Scripture, to the very end in Revelation 21, when that covenantal promise is once again reiterated – “I will be a God to you and you will be My people.”
He promises, in essence, four things – I’ll live with you, I’ll love you, I’ll walk with you, and I’ll belong to you as you belong to Me.
We must never forget the greatest blessing for the covenant community, the blessing from which all others flow, is the presence of God Himself. It is such a rich blessing because it is not automatic. It’s not automatic, as we’ll see in the curses. Not everyone knows God. Not everyone belongs to God. Not all people have God on their side. Now that is very controversial, people don’t like to hear it, but the blessings of the covenant make no sense if you think that, well, God’s with everyone, loves everyone, likes everyone, walks with everyone.
No. This is a particular blessing for a particular people.
Remember what Paul says, Ephesians, that you Gentiles were strangers, you were aliens from God. This was not your God. You were foreigners to Him.
To have a relationship with at this God is a gracious blessing. It is not an inalienable right.
The look at the punishments for disobedience. Notice these punishments are not for minor offenses. These are not unintentional sins. This is not, I lost my temper, or even I sinned in some serious way and then I quickly came to the Lord and repented. That’s not what this is for. These are the punishments and the discipline that comes upon God’s people when they reject God, when they abhor His laws.
As I said earlier, there are five stages to this discipline.
The first, in verses 14 through 17, God describes the disobedience in several different ways. He says if you don’t listen to Me, if you spurn My statutes, if you hate My rules, if you don’t do what I command, if you break My covenant.
That’s another way of saying to God’s people, “If you don’t pay attention, if you think you don’t need Me, if you think I have no right to tell you what to do, if you think you’ll live your own way, if you reject the King and His rules, here’s what I have coming for you. Panic. Disease. Fever. Defeat. Rule by those who hate you.” The Lord will set His face against them.
We see throughout these five stages, curses are, of course, the opposite of blessings. So instead of God dwelling among His people, He sets His face against His people. One way to think of God’s curses is simply to think of the opposite of Numbers chapter 6 – the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you His peace.
Don’t leave yet.
What’s the opposite? May His face turn from you. May He frown upon you. May the light of His countenance not look upon you, but may His anger smolder against you. That’s the curse.
In verses 18 through 20, we have stage 2. Every stage is discipline. You see in verse 18, “And if in spite of this…” Okay, I gave you a chance, but if in spite of that discipline, here’s more discipline. Several times in the remaining verses He says, “I will punish you sevenfold for your sins.” Probably not a literal seven, but seven as the number of completion, discipline to the maximum.
Now remember this is discipline, this a loving heavenly Father, here we are on Father’s Day, this is a loving heavenly Father doing what Hebrews 12 says – God disciplines those whom He loves. Hebrews says we all had fathers who disciplined us. If we had a good father, no perfect fathers except for our heavenly Father, but a good father, he disciplined us because he loved us.
A parent who never disciplines a child, never corrects them when they are wrong, never tells them that they can’t play in the middle of the street, never warns them against bad behavior… That is not loving. Somehow our world has come to the conclusion that if you love me you will unconditionally affirm everything I believe about myself and choose to do.
But no one really follows that. No one really thinks that unconditional affirmation is love.
Discipline is loving. If you don’t discipline your children when appropriate, in appropriate ways, then you don’t love them.
So at this second stage God says no rain, no harvest. Why? Look at verse 19: “I will break the pride of your power.”
All throughout the history of God’s people, we see kings who are marvelously helped until they are strong. It’s a pattern. A king comes and he’s humble and he listens to God’s counselors, he obeys God’s laws, he gets strong, he’s successful, and in his power he becomes proud.
Might this be what God is trying to do and means to do in some of your lives? To break the pride of your power? Because you have good things and you’ve been successful and influential and you have degrees or homes or cars or nice vacations to show for yourself, and He, because He loves you, means to discipline you, to break the pride of your power.
We come in verse 21 to stage 3: “If you walk contrary to Me, if you do not listen to Me, I will strike you sevenfold.”
See, God will keep coming after you. Do not, beloved, do not make the mistake that Pharaoh made. Remember Pharaoh? Moses would bring one of the plagues and Pharaoh would get this close. Have you known people like that in your life? Maybe that’s you right now. You get this close to actually repenting, to changing, and then just when you’ve had enough and you think, “Okay, God, your way, not my way,” and then you stand up again and say, “Nope. I think I can handle this.” That was Pharaoh over and over again, changed his mind. Nope. He thought he could outlast God.
Some of you think that you’re the sandpaper and God is a soft piece of pine. If you just outlast Him, just wear Him down, you can slowly change Him, mold Him, shape Him, into your own wishes and into your own image. Oh, it does not work that way. God is a chainsaw and you’re butter. You’re a pinata minus the candy. God’s a big bat and He will get His way.
You notice the threat here. Wild beasts. You ever wonder what to do with that story later in the Old Testament where the children make fun of the prophet Elisha, his bald head, and then the bears come out and maul them? It seems a little extreme. Well, they probably weren’t little kids, they were old enough, young men who knew better, and maybe there’s a back story we’re not aware of, but at least in part it’s to show us the literal fulfillment of these covenant curses. As they cursed just about the only man left in Israel who was telling them the truth, who loved them enough to say the truth about God’s laws, and they mocked him and derided him, and God sent immediately wild beasts to devour them.
I was out walking late a few nights ago with Trisha. It was dark, we were almost home, and all of a sudden she said, “Kevin, Kevin.” I said, “What? What? What?” “A snake.” I said, “Let me look.” “No, don’t look at it.”
I was almost going to take a picture last Sunday afternoon and show it to you. We had a great big snake on our front porch. I took it as a metaphor of something, I don’t know. It was a black snake and I know, I know, lived here long enough, all of you would comment, “Don’t! The black snakes are the good snakes. They eat all the things. They’re the great snakes. They will make dinner for you. Don’t do anything to the black snakes. We love those snakes, Pastor. It’s the copperheads, it’s the venomous ones.”
Well, it was dark out and I said, “Well, let’s see what kind of…” “No, don’t stop to see what kind of snake it is.”
I told you before when we moved here and people said, “All the snakes in North Carolina.” It’s the most, it’s the largest population of venomous snakes anywhere in the United States. People so scared. We were expecting it to be like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark and just everywhere. You couldn’t walk anywhere without snakes just slithering. But we see multiple snakes every year. Someone should write a book about the snake crusher.
Well, imagine we can see here and there a snake and be careful and no, don’t touch that one, that one’s a good one, that one’s a bad one. Well, they lived out in the real wilderness. They had reason to fear the wild beasts, and God said I can restrain the animals and I can let them go.
Come to stage 4, verses 23 through 26. More discipline. Pestilence, hunger, defeat, death by the sword – “‘If you walk contrary to Me, I will walk contrary to you,’ says the Lord.”
Stage 5, verses 27 through 39. Here is the very pinnacle. He says in verse 28, “I will walk contrary to you in fury.” And this is as bad as it gets. Cannibalism, they’re eating their own children, they’re so starved. Destruction, devastation, rejection, and finally exile. Why? Because the Promised Land is like a kind of garden of Eden and when Adam and Eve sinned they were expelled from the garden.
So if they sin in this new garden, this Promised Land, they, too, will be banished from the presence of God. They will be kicked out east of Eden.
So Israel in the north in 722 taken away by Assyria. Judah in the south 586 to Babylon. The land vomits out the Israelites. They are blown away like chaff.
You remember that from Psalm 1? The wicked will be chaff, they will be blown away, so God’s people were blown out of the land.
They had had their heads held high. Look at this in verse 13 – “I have broken the bars of your yoke, made you walk erect.” It’s a picture of a people who are strong, who are confident, who are blessed.
Then look what happens in verses 36 and 37 – “And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts… The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees the sword and there’s none to pursue them. They shall stumble.”
They’re tripping over one another. They hear a twig crack in the wilderness and they run. That’s what’s become of God’s strong, courageous people.
Or look at this other pattern. You see back in verse 11 the word “abhor” as the ESV translates it – “I will make My dwelling among you and My soul shall not abhor you.”
Look at what God says as His curse in verse 30 – “And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and My soul will abhor you.”
I have news for you. The adage “God hates the sin, loves the sinner.” I understand what we’re getting at with that, there’s not really biblical warrant for that distinction. More often than not, when the Bible talks about God’s abhorrence, His hatred, it’s not simply for the sin, it’s for the sinner.
But notice here. These are God’s people. So lest you say, “That’s right, He hates all those bad people out there.” No, it’s like bad people like us, abhors.
There’s bad news upon bad news, but that’s not the end. I could entitle this sermon “Good News, Bad News, Good News,” because the chapter ends with a word of hope. All is not lost. There is a way out of this mess.
You remember Ephesians 2:4, there’s that famous “but God.” Dead in trespasses, in sin, at enmity… All of the negative. “But God, being rich in mercy.”
Well, here we have “but if they,” verse 40, here’s the glimmer of hope, and it’s more than a glimmer, it’s an offer, it’s a gracious offer, after all of these verses, five chances God gives His people, five increasing steps of discipline, all the way to cannibalism, desolation, destruction, and banishment, but that’s not the end of the story. “If they confess…”
This is the word for us. This is the word for each of you individually. It’s a word for God’s people writ large. Do you want His blessing, the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places? Do you want to know that divine favor that is ours in Christ Jesus? Confess.
If their uncircumcised hearts were humble, if they were sincerely broken for their sin, if they would make amends for their iniquities, if they would stop walking in that direction, turn around and walk in the right direction, then God will remember His covenant.
Verse 44 – “Yet for all that… I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly.”
God will keep His covenant.
We forget, He remembers. If, if you and I would confess, confess our iniquities.
Sometimes people say, well, this Christianity thing, this evangelical Gospel thing, man, it’s just so easy. It’s too easy. You’re just saying you just live your life, do whatever you want, and then just sometime, boom, just say, “Yep, Jesus, I want you in my life. Sorry.” There you go and you’re on your way to heaven. Piece of cake.
Except that there is almost nothing rarer in this world than true, genuine, deep, earnest repentance, because it means dethroning yourself and enthroning God.
Regret, that’s not rare. We all regret things. Relationships broken, job got bad, relationship with the kids is a mess. Regret, that’s easy. Try to be a better person, that’s not rare.
Blame, well, that’s a real common one.
Bitterness. Yep. That happens all the time.
But repentance with honest confession, humble brokenness, a real change of direction, is just about the rarest thing in the world. The Puritans said repentance is the vomit of soul.
I don’t like puking. I don’t know anybody who does. It’s about the worst feeling in the world physically. That’s not, it does not feel natural. I’ll stop there with the description.
How was the sermon? Well, we got snakes and vomit.
But that’s what repentance, it doesn’t feel natural because it’s not natural to us as fallen human beings. It’s painful. Everything is coming up and there’s the bile and it’s just painful. You don’t like it. That’s why it’s rare.
It takes a miracle of God’s grace.
Each one of you, on this side of the pulpit and this side of the pulpit, needs to take a look at your heart and think to yourself, honestly, in the past year, has your been getting harder or humbler? It’s not too late, if you still have ears to hear.
This is why the end of God’s judgment is always “He handed them over, He handed them over.” He says, “Go ahead, do everything you want to do.” That’s a supreme act of judgment. But if you still have ears this morning and there’s still a conscience that’s firing and the Spirit is still speaking to you, then know this, beloved – God opposes the proud but He will give grace to the humble. Whoever comes to the Father in Jesus’ name He will in no way cast out. But when you come, you have to come confessing.
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, we thank You for Your Word, for Your great and precious promises. So with great thankfulness we come before You, confessing our sins, knowing that in Jesus You will forgive and turn our cursing to blessing. We ask it all in Jesus’ name. Amen.