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PROMISES AND THREATENINGS AS SANCTIONS OF THE LAW AND MOTIVES TO HOLINESS.
This chapter is the fitting close of this book of the law, the twenty-seventh chapter being manifestly supplementary. In this chapter will be found outbeamings of Jehovah’s nature more majestic than anywhere else in the Pentateuch, except at the giving of the decalogue on the Mount Sinai. There, his terror was displayed; but here, his “vengeance and compassion join in their divinest forms.” The appeal is to the two greatest motives of the human heart hope and fear. The union of these two great elements, the Law and the Gospel, constitutes the basis of genuine piety. The remarkable character of the revelation made in this chapter, which must have deeply affected Moses, will explain to the Hebraist the peculiarities observable in the style, especially in the threatenings the strain and struggle in the diction, the cumulation of unusual words and modes of expression, several of which never occur again in the Old Testament, while others are only used by the prophets as quotations from this portion of the Pentateuch. “There is a marvellous and grand display of the greatness of God in the fact that he holds out before the people whom he has just delivered from the hands of the heathen and gathered round himself, the prospect of being scattered again among the heathen, and that, even before the land is taken by the Israelites, he predicts its return to desolation. These words could only be spoken by One who has the future really before his mind; who sees through the whole depth of sin, and who can destroy his own work and yet attain his end. But so much the more adorable and marvellous is the grace which, nevertheless, begins its work among such sinners and is certain of victory, notwithstanding all retarding and opposing difficulties.” Auberlin. After a brief reiteration of the law respecting idolatry and sabbath-keeping, (Leviticus 26:1-3.26.2,) the sublime sanctions of the law are unfolded in promises and threatenings. Leviticus 26:3-3.26.46.
Kant remarks, that all the consequences arising from the transgression or observance of the divine commands are in Mosaisms limited to the present world. From this fact he infers that Judaism contains no religious belief, since we cannot conceive of a religion without faith in a future life. This is but the repetition of an old Mohammedan objection, that the Pentateuch which we now have could not have God for its author because there is not found in it any thing which pertains to eternal realities, as paradise, gehenna, and the last judgment. Hence the suggestion that this chapter was forged by the Jews. Bishop Warburton’s Reply is unsatisfactory. The substance of it is, that a religion which was not founded on the doctrine of immortality and the promise of eternal life must have been supported by the extraordinary providence of God, since, on the low level of Naturalism, civil government could not be supported without a religion teaching a future state of rewards and punishments. De Wette audaciously calls the Mosaic doctrine of retribution “a national delusion,” which rendered Israel vastly unhappy by engendering a gloomy view of life and destroying the fair harmony of man with the world, in which the Greek appears so nobly. J.D. Michaelis makes a fatal concession to the destructive rationalists and deists when he justifies the omission of the doctrine of future rewards and punishments on the ground that the whole Mosaic law was merely a civil institution. A much better reason for the omission of this doctrine in its fully developed form is, the fact that there is a progressive development of religious truth in the Old Testament as in the New. Israel in the wilderness was not ripe for this advanced doctrine. The notion of God’s holiness and justice must first be planted in the mind before faith in immortality could take root for any salutary purpose. Yet we find hints and germs of this doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments scattered through the Pentateuch in the elevated position assigned to MAN, created the last and standing at the head of creation, wearing the image of God, who is a Spirit, and the object of his special care, to whom he reveals himself and styles himself their God; a relationship which is not cancelled by death, and which Christ teaches us involves the immortality of the soul. Matthew 22:31-40.22.32. A hope of immortality, that is full of meaning, involving victory over death, is thus laid in the fellowship of man with God, the everliving. The imperishableness of this fellowship is felt to be sure, because God’s eternity secures the everlasting well-being of his people. “To him who has an eternal value for God an eternal existence is made sure.” Oehler. The translation of Enoch also clearly involves this doctrine in its germinal form, and the doctrine of temporal retribution is a manifest preparation for it. Yet it must be admitted that there is an entire omission of the eternal consequences of unforgiven sin, which the experience of the gospel ministry shows is a powerful motive to repentance. Yet the dispensation of Mosaism is good, as far as it goes, just as each day’s work in the creation was pronounced good, though all was imperfect till the close of the sixth day. Says Hengstenberg: “It may be shown how a consideration of the Egyptian superstition, in which a false doctrine of immortality occupies so conspicuous a place, was first of all a motive to leave this field uncultivated, on which the best doctrine was exposed to be grossly misunderstood, and to be satisfied with laying a foundation for the true faith in immortality. It may be shown, that for the present the whole attention of the people was to be directed to temporal retribution, in order that when this had taken root, the faith in future retribution might spontaneously spring up. But the deficiencies of the Pentateuch in reference to the doctrine of immortality are not of a kind to endanger its character as a record of divine revelation.” The visible and temporal judgments of the Old Testament present impressive historical proof of Jehovah’s moral reign over the nations, which may be the necessary preparation of mankind to appreciate the New Testament revelation of retributions in the unseen and future world. It must be borne in mind that these are not suited to a theocratic government of men in this world. A temporal government must be upheld by temporal sanctions. The theocracy was national and temporal. Moses was well acquainted with the Egyptian doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and the future judgment followed by rewards and punishments, yet he did not incorporate them into the law since they belong to the sphere of theology rather than of legislation. It is to be noted that when Mosaism teaches that piety brings happiness and godlessness misery, this does not justify the inference that every misfortune springs from a sin and that every piece of good fortune springs from righteousness. For God sometimes shows patience towards the wicked, and spares them for the sake of the righteous, (Genesis 15:16; Genesis 28:26,) while the righteous are proved and purified by affliction, as in the history of Joseph. Earthly benefits of themselves do not make up life. The idea that a godless man possessing abundant external good things is really to be felicitated, cannot be entertained from the moral standpoint of Mosaism. Only the gracious presence of Jehovah can confer happiness. See Leviticus 26:11, note. “A morality which rests on the basis of faith in the (national) elective grace and providential faithfulness of the covenant of God, and whose doctrine of good culminates in the prominence assigned to fellowship with God, cannot surely be accused of gross sensuous Eudaemonism a false charge against the ethics of the Old Testament.” Oehler.
IDOLATRY, THE SABBATH, AND THE SANCTUARY, Leviticus 26:1-3.26.2.
1. Standing image The matstsebah was a pillar or statue of stone or wood. It was used in the worship of Baal. The tendency of the Hebrews toward idolatry may be inferred from the vast variety of terms used in their literature to signify idols. There are twenty-one Hebrew words rendered in English by idol or image. Four of these are found in this verse.
I am the Lord The word “I” is emphatic in the Hebrew. Jehovah could tolerate no rival, for he alone is self-existent, eternal, supreme. The pagan god of one nation could allow the existence of another cultus in another nation: Jesus Christ was not complimented when the Roman senate decreed him a statue in the Pantheon. He must dethrone all rivals, because he is “God over all, blessed forever.”
2. Sabbaths… sanctuary The intimate connexion between the sanctuary and the sabbath is here very beautifully expressed. It rebukes all indolent use of the sabbath at home, and the modern, fashionable, professed worship of God in roving the fields and forests, vainly attempting to look through nature up to nature’s God. The God which a sinful Jew imperatively needed was best worshipped through the bleeding bird, the bleeding beast, and sprinkling priest; and the God most needed by the sinning Gentile is seen in the Lamb of God, whose Gospel is preached in our modern sanctuaries on the Lord’s day. There is no sin, except idolatry, against which the Hebrews were so frequently and earnestly warned as against sabbath breaking. The sabbath was intended to be an ever-recurring symbol of the heavenly rest. To despise it is to contemn heaven itself.
BLESSINGS PROMISED TO OBEDIENCE, Leviticus 26:3-3.26.13.
3. Walk in my statutes Mosaism was not mere ritualism, but a power which directed the conduct, shaped the character, and sanctified the heart. It aimed at inward as well as outward holiness. This is the end of all God’s statutes. The original statute signifies that which is absolutely fixed, a decree. Commandments signify acts definitely pointed out. The former is used to designate codes of law, the latter, specific precepts.
4. Rain in due season When the moral character of men influences the course of nature, the personality of God and his interest in human affairs are indubitably demonstrated. See Leviticus 26:19, note. A God who sways his scepter over the physical world in the interest of his moral government is especially offensive to the depraved heart.
5. Threshing The cereals of constant mention are wheat and barley, and more rarely rye and millet. Wheat was ripe at the pentecost, called also “the feast of harvest, the first fruits of thy labors.” The fifty days included the period of grain harvest, commencing with the offering of the first sheaf of the barley harvest in the passover, in April, and ending with that of the two first loaves made from the wheat harvest. So abundant would be the harvest that six months, from mid Nisan to mid Tisri, would be occupied in gathering the produce of the soil; first the harvesting and threshing of the grain and then the vintage, which would be prolonged till sowing time, about the autumnal equinox. See Amos 9:13, note. “The threshing comes between the reaping and the treading of grapes. Reaping is done in April, May, and June, and the vintage is in September and October. Hence the harvest, according to the promise, is to be so abundant that it will take several months to tread out the grain. And here, again, actual experience suggested the language of the prophecy. In very abundant seasons I have seen the threshing actually prolonged until October. Take the three promises together, and they spread over the entire year of the husbandman.” Dr. W.M. Thomson.
6. I will give peace in the land If obedient to Jehovah, the Hebrews were never to suffer the horrors of a hostile invasion or of a civil war. Exemption from the latter would be a natural consequence of submission to Jehovah, the theocratic head of Israel. By his overruling providence he would dispose all surrounding nations to maintain peaceful relations with his people. Indeed, their very unity would make them too formidable to be attacked. Only nations weakened by internal strifes invite invasion.
Perpetual peace and security of life and property are inestimable blessings, which no tribe of men has yet enjoyed. Evil beasts were to be exterminated, not by miracle, but by the agency of the people, as the Canaanites were driven out “little by little” by God, lest the balance of natural forces should be disturbed. See Exodus xxiii, 30.
8. Five… shall chase a hundred So great would be the prestige of the Hebrew name that a panic would seize the myriads of their foes on the battle field when confronted by a household of Israelites. This was true of the Canaanites when the spies visited Jericho, (see Joshua 2:9-6.2.11, note,) and of the hosts of Midian who decamped in confusion before Gideon and his select band of three hundred men. See also 2 Samuel 23:8; 2 Samuel 23:18; 1 Chronicles 11:18. Many are the parallel instances in Christian history in which hosts of foes to Christ have been overcome by simple faith in him exercised by a few believers.
A hundred… ten thousand The ratio of efficiency increases with the number. Of five, each one routs twenty; of a hundred, each puts to flight a hundred. At this rate an aggressive Christianity would soon conquer the whole world.
By the sword They would not be delivered from foreign wars, but they would conquer the enemy in his own country, since the sword should not go through their land.
9. I will have respect I will favourably regard you.
Multiply Rapid increase in population, especially with Oriental nations, is a manifest proof of the divine favour. Virtue promotes health and wealth. These conduce to a multiplication of the people, so long as luxury and its attendant vices are avoided. It is a sign of national decay when marriages and births relatively diminish.
Establish my covenant Confirm the covenant already made with Abraham.
10. Eat old store Literally, the old grown old. Each crop shall be so abundant that it will last till the new is fully ripened; and so great will be the overplus in the garner that they should bring forth the old to make room for the new harvest. What a glowing picture of material prosperity is this! But still greater blessings of a spiritual nature are to follow.
11. My tabernacle among you The highest possible honour and the richest source of blessings are found in the manifested and abiding presence of the gracious Jehovah in the midst of Israel, guiding their journeyings, forgiving their sins, and shielding them from their enemies by his outflashing glory. Exodus 14:24. But still greater blessings are here prefigured for the obedient in these latter days which have seen God tabernacling in the humanity of Jesus Christ, (John 1:14, note,) “in whom,” says Paul, “ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:22. Christian privilege in this life culminates in the fulfilment of this wonderful promise of Christ, “we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” John 14:23. Greater only in external manifestations of glory will be the bliss of the saints in the new Jerusalem, when a great voice from heaven will say, “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them.”
Abhor Thrust you away.
12. I will walk among you Here is implied the intimacy of delighted companionship, as Enoch walked with God. Thus Jehovah desired to walk with Israel, and thus he would have walked if the nation had cleaved unto the Lord. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”
And be your God Guidance, protection, sustenance, illumination, sanctification, present and eternal gladness and glory lie in these four short words.
Ye shall be my people Dignity, honour, sonship, and heirship are wrapped up in this promise. “All things are yours, and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”
13. Made you go upright The crushing yoke bowed the wearer to the earth, and assimilated him to the beast of burden often his yoke-fellow. Emancipation gave to him the erect form, and repeated the miracle of creation, “God will have no slavery of a social kind. He is against all bonds and restrictions that keep down the true aspirations of the human soul. God has always proceeded upon the principle of enlargement and the inheritance of liberty.” Joseph Parker.
Os homini sublime dedit, coelumque tueri
Jussit, et erectos ad sidera tollere vultus. Ovid.
To man he gave an upturned face,
And bade him scan the heavenly space,
And view, with countenance erect,
The firmament with stars bedecked.
THREATENINGS AGAINST DISOBEDIENCE, Leviticus 26:14-3.26.39.
Law is necessary to government. But we can no more have law without penalty than we can have a coin without a reverse side. Accountability implies free agents, with intelligence sufficient to apprehend the consequences of actions in the form of rewards and punishments distinctly announced beforehand. The seasonableness and the clearness of this announcement enhance the guiltiness of transgression and intensify the punishment. This graphic portrayal of the issues of disobedience leaves rebellious Israel without excuse. “This graduated advance of the judgments of God is so depicted in the following passage that four times in succession new and multiplied punishments are announced: 1) Utter barrenness in their land, that is to say, one heavier punishment, Leviticus 26:18-3.26.20; Leviticus 2:0) the extermination of their cattle by beasts of prey, and childlessness two punishments, Leviticus 26:21-3.26.22; Leviticus 3:0) war, plague, and famine three punishments, Leviticus 26:23-3.26.26; Leviticus 4:0) the destruction of all idolatrous abominations, the overthrow of their towns and holy places, the devastation of the land, and the dispersion of the people among the heathen four punishments which would bring the Israelites to the verge of destruction, Leviticus 26:27-3.26.33. These divine threats embrace the whole of Israel’s future.” Keil and Delitzsch.
14. Not hearken… not do A refusal to give undivided attention and earnest heed to the law of God by the proper use of our perceptive and reflective powers is as culpable as wilful disobedience, inasmuch as it implies a disregard of the divine authority. The most solemn and frequent injunction of Christ was this, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” It is worthy of remark that the process of apostasy begins with sins of omission, and in the next verse ends with sins of commission.
15. Despise my statutes In all deliberate rejection of God’s law, there is the offensive element of pride lifting itself above the divine wisdom and majesty. All wilful sin contemns Jehovah. Herein is the very essence of its turpitude. The following judgments are not for single transgressions, but for an inward contempt of all the divine commandments, breaking out in presumptuous and incorrigible rebellion against Jehovah, who had openly set his name in Israel.
Break my covenant The successive clauses of this verse are in the form of a climax, rising step by step till the culminating sin is reached a violation of that solemn compact whose seal was upon the person of every male, and which was pregnant with blessings, to the seed of Abraham. This would be national suicide. “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself.”
16. Appoint over you This is the very verb used to indicate that Potiphar made Joseph overseer in his house. Genesis 39:5. They who throw off allegiance to Jehovah will fall under the dominion of the ministers of his vengeance who, as the satraps of the rejected king, shall rule these rebels with the utmost rigour till they sue for pardon and peace.
Terror Appalling fear, ever present by day and by night a state of the utmost insecurity and alarm, of which the subjects of a stable and strong government in time of peace have no conception.
Consumption Emaciation naturally results from terror. Many a culprit, carrying a guilty secret in his bosom, has been wasted to a skeleton.
The burning ague Rather, the burning of fever. See R.V. When a tide of fire courses through the veins, the helpless victim realizes that he is under the rod of Omnipotence.
Consume the eyes The eye is the organ of grief. When sunken, it indicates extreme and long-continued suffering.
Sorrow of heart Causing the soul to grieve. The entire being, soul and body, shall be the vehicle of anguish.
Ye shall sow… in vain The insecurity of the people in some portions of the Holy Land, especially east of the Jordan, even now destroys the motive to activity in agriculture and turns the fertile plains into a desert.
17. I will set my face By direct interposition, in addition to those ministers of his wrath, will Jehovah vindicate his broken covenant and punish his refractory people.
Ye shall flee So great is the contrast in war between those obedient to God and the disobedient, that instead of one chasing a thousand, a thousand godless Hebrews shall flee when not even one enemy pursues.
18. Seven times more Seven typifies perfection. The chastisement will be complete. The resources of Jehovah are infinite, and he has the cycles of eternity for their development.
For your sins National sins are punished in this world, because nations do not exist after death. Individual sinners are reserved unto the day of judgment to be punished.
19, 20. Pride of… power The conceit of national puissance, which is so unlike the spirit of dependence and humility, must be eradicated by painful methods.
Heaven as iron The rain promised to the obedient shall be withheld from the disobedient. See Leviticus 26:4, note.
Earth as brass Through lack of water the fields will be as void of herbage as if metallic.
They shall yield no increase under the divine curse, in amazing contrast to the plethoric garners promised in Leviticus 26:4-3.26.5. In respect to spiritual good, the same contrast exists now between those who distrust and those who fully believe the promise of the Father respecting the gift of the Holy Ghost.
21. Walk contrary unto me Literally, go into encounter with me. Sin against the divine law is collision with the divine Person. Hence pantheism, in teaching the impersonality of God, destroys the sense of the guilt of sin.
Plagues Smitings. Not merely natural consequences of disobedience, but positive inflictions. The more aggravated the sin, the more severe the chastisement, though even then not equal to the demerit of their transgression.
According to your sins All this is spoken of temporal inflictions, else the nation had perished. See Psalms 130:3.
22. Wild beasts As the promise includes the extinction of destructive beasts out of the land, so the threatening includes their multiplication and their importation from surrounding countries, as the following words imply.
I will send Before the invention of fire arms wild beasts frequently became a great scourge by their enormous increase.
Rob you of your children So frequently are children destroyed by wild beasts in India that the English government in their mortality reports in the census tables have a column for the enumeration of the “wolf-eaten” children. A disturbance of “the balance of the power,” by a diminution of men and an increase of wolves, would become a calamity of gigantic dimensions.
Your highways shall be desolate There can be no more impressive description of national decay than the disuse and desolation of the thoroughfares through which commerce and social intercourse have ceased to move their busy feet, by reason of the decrease of population, the decline of business, the perils of travel, (see Judges 5:6, note,) and the absence of worshippers going up to the place of worship. Lamentations 1:4.
23. If ye will not be reformed The natural evil, or suffering, entailed in this world by moral evil, or sin, is corrective and not strictly penal. In this life it is of the nature of a purgative in its design; in the life to come it is a punishment, not for the amendment of the convict but for the conservation of the moral order of the universe, and hence a blessing when thus broadly viewed.
25. Avenge the quarrel of my covenant Literally, avenging the covenant of vengeance. The R.V., “Execute the vengeance of the covenant.” This was a punishment inflicted for breaking the covenant, and it was graduated, in severity, to the richness of covenant blessings forfeited by apostasy. “It may be reverently said that God does not deal carelessly with his own covenants. He does not throw them away, and take no further heed of their operation. In the sense of looking after his word and observing its issues he may be described in Old Testament language as a ‘jealous God.’” Joseph Parker. The Abrahamic covenant is here personified as a friend of God claiming vindication against the neglect and abuse of godless men. Sin changes the covenant of grace into the covenant of vengeance, and the love of the Saviour into “the wrath of the Lamb.” Revelation 6:16.
26. The staff of bread Bread is called “the staff of life,” because it is man’s chief sustenance. By famine this staff is broken.
Ten women… one oven The oven which commonly was sufficient for the use of one woman will hold the diminutive loaves of ten.
By weight So severe shall be the famine that wretchedly small rations shall be weighed out by the ounce. Hunger shall be aggravated and shall not be satisfied. In the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans many of the rich sold all they had for one measure of wheat, and the poor gave all their possessions for a measure of barley. Then shutting themselves up in the inmost rooms of their house they ate it, some without grinding, others made bread, and snatched it out of the fire half-baked, in their haste to banish the gnawings of hunger. Children pulled the morsels that their fathers were eating out of their very mouths, and so did the mothers to their infants.
28. In fury Hebrews, in the heat of encountering. Fury, as implying a perturbed and excited malevolence, is not predicable of Jehovah. Yet as a species of anthropomorphism, to convey in a vivid manner the intense activity of the divine justice against impenitent and defiant Israel, it is admissible.
Even I This seems to imply the direct interposition of the divine hand without the employment of secondary causes. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
29. Ye shall eat the flesh of your sons This awful prediction was literally fulfilled in the siege of Jerusalem by Titus and the Roman army. Mary of Perea, a woman of high birth and great wealth, was so maddened by hunger that she killed, roasted, and ate one half of her sucking child. See Josephus, book vi, chap. Leviticus 3:4.
30. I will destroy your high places These were probably artificial eminences on which idol worshippers set up the statues of their gods.
Images These were sun-pillars or sun-statues, standing on the altars of Baal. Your carcasses shall be denied decent sepulture, and shall share the shame of your dethroned idols.
31. I will make your cities waste Palestine is filled with ruined cities. Says Porter, in his Giant Cities of Bashan: “Every opening to the right and left revealed ruins; now a tomb in a quiet nook; now a temple in a lonely forest glade; now a shapeless and nameless heap of stones and fallen columns; and now, through a long green vista, the shattered walls and towers of an ancient city. The country is filled with ruins. In every direction to which the eye turns, in every spot on which it rests, ruins are visible so truly, so wonderfully, have the prophecies been fulfilled. Every view we got in Bashan was an ocular demonstration of the literal fulfilment of the curse pronounced on the land by Moses more than three thousand years ago. One day I climbed a peak which commands the sea of Galilee and the Jordan valley up to the waters of Merom. I was able to distinguish, by the aid of a glass, in a region thirty miles long by ten wide, every spot celebrated in sacred history. My eye swept the sea from north to south, from east to west; not a single sail, not a solitary boat, was there. My eye swept the great Jordan valley, the little plains, the glens, the mountain sides from base to summit not a city, not a village, not a house, not a sign of settled habitation was there, except a few huts at Magdala and the shattered houses of Tiberias. Desolation keeps unbroken sabbath in Galilee now. Nature has lavished on the country some of her choicest gifts a rich soil, a genial climate but the curse of Heaven has come upon it because of the sin of man.” Keith, after enumerating a large number of celebrated cities in the Holy Land lying in utter desolation, exclaims: “How marvellously are the predictions of their desolation verified, when, in general, nothing but ruined ruins form the most distinguished remnants of the cities of Israel; and when the multitude of its towns are almost all left, with many a vestige to testify of their number, but without a mark to tell their name.”
Your sanctuaries By the use of the plural number there may be an implied reference to idolatrous temples, but it is more probable that the future sanctuary cities, Bethel, Shiloh, and Jerusalem, are proleptically referred to, including the numerous synagogues scattered over the land.
I will not smell the savour In other words, “I will not smell with pleasure, 1 will not enjoy, the savour of your sweet odours.” Only the penitent, obedient, and devout heart can please God or appropriate spiritual good. The mere mechanical performance of sacrifice and burning of incense, dissevered from the appropriate state of the moral and religious sensibilities, is a solemn mockery and abomination. See Introductory notes 7 and 8. Isaiah 1:11-23.1.15.
32. Desolation “When Elisha came up the defile from Jericho to Bethel, forests clothed the surrounding heights, (2 Kings 2:24;) now there is not a tree. Vineyards then covered the terraced sides of glen and hill, from base to summit. They have all disappeared. Cities and fortresses, in the days of Israel’s power, crowned every peak and studded every ridge; shapeless mounds now mark their desolated sites.” Porter. A fact still more remarkable is, the discovery of cities in Bashan with houses as perfect as if finished only yesterday, and yet without an inhabitant. Porter, from the battlements of the castle of Scalah, “counted thirty towns and villages, many of them almost as perfect as when they were built, and yet for more than five centuries there has not been a single inhabitant in one of them.”
Your enemies… shall be astonished Not only are the Bedouins, who occasionally encamp in these cities of eastern Palestine, astonished at their utter solitude, but “the stranger that shall come from a far land, shall (do) say when they see the plagues of that land… even all nations shall say, Wherefore hath. the Lord done thus unto this land? What meaneth the heat of this great anger?” Deuteronomy 29:22-5.29.24.
33. I will scatter you This admonitory prophecy looks beyond the captivity of Israel in Babylon, its first fulfilment, to that world-wide dispersion which began at the destruction of Jerusalem and continues to this day, a miracle of national life perpetuated in spite of all opposing forces and destructive agencies, a people “scattered and peeled,” dwelling in every nation, yet resisting absorption and assimilation. “THE DISPERSION” was the general title applied to those Jews who remained in foreign countries after the return from Babylon, during the period of the second temple. Most of them were in bondage, and shut out from the full privileges of the chosen race. John 7:35; James 1:1, notes. There are legends pointing to settlements of Jews in Arabia, Ethiopia and Abyssinia. At the beginning of the Christian era the “dispersion” was divided into three great sections the Babylonian, the Syrian, and the Egyptian. For the breadth of the dispersion, see Acts 2:9-44.2.11, note. Its influence on the rapid promulgation of Christianity can scarcely be overrated. The course of apostolic preaching follows, in a regular progress, the line of Jewish settlements. Thus the wickedness of Israel was overruled for the furtherance of the Gospel.
34. Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths The sabbatical years are here referred to. Probably from the death of Joshua to the time of the Babylonish captivity, seventy of the years of rest had been neglected. During the seventy years in Babylon the land of Canaan had a period of rest equivalent to the number of which it had been defrauded by the disobedience of the Hebrews.
35. Because it did not rest The divine government has its compensations. What it does not receive as a willing offering it extorts in the form of penalty. The riches gained by unlawfully tilling the soil during these sabbatic years were wasted in the captivity, and the despised law received its due in one payment.
36. The sound of a shaken leaf The Hebrew is more poetical, the voice of a driven leaf. “So wrong doing is never blessed. Even when men appear to succeed and to save themselves alive, their success is partial, and may only create an opportunity for further divine judgment. Do not suppose that men are successful simply because they are living. A man may have escaped the sea only to die a more terrible death on land. Marvellous are the judicial resources of God. We have an indication here of a law to whose subtle force many men can testify. Fear takes away all power, and turns the most dauntless soldier into a coward.” Joseph Parker. No expression could more vividly portray the perpetual terror, the distressing alarm, of the poor captives.
In the lands of their enemies In the Orient, outside of the Hebrew theocracy, slaves had no civil rights. Even under Roman law the master with impunity could chop up his slaves into mince meat for his fish ponds if he should choose. After the return from Babylon four different dynasties obtained the supremacy of the land of Canaan. The dominion of Persia was from 536 to 333 B.C.; of Greece, from 333 to 167 B.C.; of the Asmoneans, from 167 to 63 B.C.; of the Herods under Rome, from 40 B.C., to 70 A.D.
38. Ye shall perish among the heathen Says Josephus, in Wars of the Jews: “The number of those that were carried captive during this whole war was ninety-seven thousand, and the number that perished during the whole siege one million one hundred thousand, the greater part of whom were, indeed, of the same nation with the citizens of Jerusalem, but not belonging to the city itself; for they were come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread and were on a sudden shut up by an army.” So many were led away into captivity that the slave markets of the world were glutted, and, in exact accordance with prophecy, there was no man to buy them. Deuteronomy 28:68.
39. In the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine For ten points of difference between the natural consequences of the parents’ sins and their punishment, see Exodus 20:5, note.
MERCY AFTER JUDGMENTS ISRAEL NOT UTTERLY DESTROYED, Leviticus 26:40-3.26.46.
40. If they shall confess Confession implies conviction of sin and sincere repentance. David said, “I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.”
And the iniquity of their fathers So far as they had endorsed the iniquity of their fathers, by approving and imitating it, they were in a modified sense guilty. Thus must we reprint not only of our actual sins but abhor their source, the poison stung into our nature by the transgression of our first parents. By so doing we obtain, through faith in Jesus Christ, not only justification from our personal sins, but the still greater blessing of entire sanctification from that corrupt state of heart which is technically called sin.
41. And that… I have brought Their captivity should be ascribed not merely to natural causes, after the style of the modern deist, but to the direct interposition of the personal God whose law had been broken.
Uncircumcised hearts Circumcision “the putting away the filthiness of the flesh” symbolizes the cleansing of the spiritual being through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. Romans 2:29, note. Till this is accomplished, the people of God are uncircumcised in heart, and are very often in humiliating captivity to the world. For the entire Hebrew nation was in a true and vastly important sense a typical people, whose history is full of spiritual lessons to the Christian Church.
Accept of the punishment Recognise its justice and their own ill desert. The Hebrew verb ratsah is here used figuratively, and signifies to pay off, as a debt, and not, as Drs. Keil and Murphy render it, to enjoy.
42. Will I remember Memory cannot be properly predicated of the Omniscient one with whom there is no succession of thoughts and no past nor future. He will surely bring to pass that which he has promised in the covenant with the patriarchs. Strictly speaking, God’s covenant with Abraham respecting the greatness of his seed was quite unconditional, except circumcision, and it amounts to a promise or an act of mere favour. See Galatians 3:15-48.3.16, where επαγγελια , promise, and διαθηκη , covenant, are used as synonymes.
44. Neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly The purpose of Jehovah embraced the ultimate conversion to the Lord Jesus of that generation of Jews who should be on the earth when the fulness of the Gentiles has been brought to Christ. Towards this end the marvellous continuance of the Jews in their world-wide dispersion manifestly looks. See Luke 21:24; Romans 11:25-45.11.26, notes. After the fulness of the Gentiles has been brought into the kingdom of Christ, so strong will be the faith of the Church that an era of great spiritual illumination will come, in which the seed of Abraham will be as powerfully converted as was Saul of Tarsus.
45. The covenant of their ancestors included certain earthly blessings of a national character, the trusteeship of the oracles of God, the adoption as his first-born, the glory, and the promises. All spiritual blessings in Christ are theirs, also, on condition of accepting him as their Messiah, and special providential care over Israel till that time. This promise is now in process of fulfilment in a most marvellous manner. The Jews have existed as a nation without a country and without a king more than eighteen centuries, resisting absorption into the nations among which they have been scattered, and assimilation to their character and faith.
46. In mount Sinai The whole Sinaitic peninsula is thus designated. It is not necessary to suppose that the whole of the ceremonial law was delivered on the summit of the mount where the decalogue was received.
By the hand of Moses Says Dr. Green, in his reply to W. Robertson Smith: “The Mosaic origin of the Levitical laws is abundantly declared by the formulas with which they are introduced, and which occur over and over again: The LORD spake unto Moses, or the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron; and the formulas by which they are often followed, for example, Leviticus 7:37-3.7.38; Leviticus 23:44; Leviticus 27:34.”
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Leviticus 26". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent