We are near to the end of this great book. A single chapter follows the one we are reading tonight. The chapter we are about to read contains material that very obviously takes its shape from the covenant or treaty literature of the ancient near east, the diplomatic literature of the ancient world. The treaty documents that have been provided by archaeology and deciphered by linguists – some of the most remarkable achievements of ancient near eastern scholarship – follow a standard pattern. Typically treaties imposed on a lesser king by a greater one (hence the term “suzerainty treaty”), they begin with a preamble, typically beginning with the phrase “These are the words of…” whatever king it was who was making the covenant. In Exodus 20 the covenant document begins, “And God spoke all these words…” A short historical prologue follows summarizing the previous relationship between the two parties. In Exodus 20:2 we read “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” This is then followed by some summary stipulations or requirements (in Exodus 20, for example, the Ten Commandments occupy this spot) and then more detailed stipulations (after the Ten Commandments we have some chapters of more specific provisions). Provision is then made for the deposit of the copies of the text of the treaty, usually in the respective sanctuaries of the two kings.
(We have this in Exodus 25 and, more specifically, in Deut. 10:1-4. It was always thought in biblical scholarship that the two tables or tablets of the law referred to the first 4 commandments, those having to do with our duty toward God directly, and the last six, having to do with our duty toward men. But we now know that the two tablets were two separate copies of the law revealed on Mt. Sinai, one for each party to the covenant. Since God’s sanctuary is in heaven, no copy could be stored there. Both were stored in the Ark of the Covenant, in the tabernacle, which was both Israel’s sanctuary and Yahweh’s sanctuary.)
The provision made for the deposit or storing of the treaty document was then followed by a list of the divine witnesses to the treaty. Since there is but one God, this is a feature that is not explicitly replicated in the Bible, though the appeal to heaven and earth as witnesses to a covenant is found in both the Bible and the ancient treaties. The divine witnesses are followed by a list of blessings that will attend the king if he is obedient to the treaty and the punishments that will follow if he is not. In the Bible these blessings and curses are simple promises of what will come to pass depending upon the behavior of God’s people. In the treaties they take the form of prayers to the gods that should a particular king disobeys the stipulations of the treaty, these punishments will befall him; while if he is obedient to the treaty he would be blessed accordingly. Israel’s covenant is with God himself, so these blessings and punishments are found in the form of divine promises. God will do this or that depending upon how faithfully Israel keeps covenant with the Lord. It is this last section of the covenant document that is reproduced in the case of God’s covenant with Israel here in Leviticus 26 and in Deuteronomy 28.
These six principal parts are the typical form of these treaties and there is no doubt any longer that the Lord made use of this well-established treaty form in the publication of his suzerainty “treaty” or covenant with Israel. Common literary forms of ancient near eastern literature are found everywhere in the Bible, so the use of this particular form should not surprise us. We all communicate in the forms familiar to our culture. It was no different in the ancient world. God wanted to be understood, he wanted his people to appreciate what he was saying to them, and so he communicated in ways easily understood by his people. The book of Deuteronomy, for example, is almost universally acknowledged to be a virtually exact replication of this outline. In addition, many of the terms and phrases familiar from the ancient treaty documents are likewise found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. In fact, the vocabulary and phraseology of Lev. 26 reproduces many of the same blessings and curses found in the ancient treaty documents. [Hartley, 461] The discovery of these facts was one of the most significant advances in the study of the Bible in the 20th century. [Cf. D.R. Hillers, Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea, 29-45] It was also wonderful confirmation of historic Christian theology. That the historical prologue introduces the commandments of God is a powerful way of teaching that Christians do not obey the law of God in order to become the people of God or to be saved, but because God has made them his people, has saved them; they have been saved. The place of the Ten Commandments at the head of the section detailing the stipulations of the covenant illustrates their role as an epitome or summary of whole areas of ethical obligation, as the Lord Jesus specifically teaches us in his Sermon on the Mount.
Since the blessings and curses typically come near the end of the treaty document, this material in Leviticus 26 indicates that all the material in Leviticus so far belongs to the covenant Yahweh made with Israel. It is a further reminder that the division between Exodus and Leviticus is artificial. Lev. 26 is part, in fact it is the conclusion of the covenant document that began at Exodus 20:1. Remember, we noted at the beginning of chapter 25 that the material in these last three chapters is specifically said to have been revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai, a point that will be made again in the last verse of this chapter.
Another highly interesting and important implication of the use of the treaty form in the covenantal material in the Pentateuch is that only the treaty documents from the second millennium and earlier show clear evidence of both blessings and curses. Later exemplars of the treaty literature do not have both; the blessings are missing. Thus we have some interesting and important evidence evidence – there is a good bit of other such evidence (cf. Hartley, 459-460; Sklar 34-35) – that this material dates most plausibly from the Late Bronze Age (1550 B.C. – 1200 B.C.), the time the Bible suggests the Lord revealed his covenant with Israel through Moses.
v.2 The opening verses provide a representative summary of God’s law. The blessings and curses are meant to motivate Israel’s obedience to that law and so we begin with a reminder of what that law is.
v.4 Unlike Egypt that could depend upon the waters of the Nile, Canaan was absolutely dependent upon the two rains that defined the agricultural year, the early rains at the time of planting and the latter rains during the time the crops ripened before harvesting. Since rain did not fall during the rest of the year, the importance of the rains “in their season” cannot be overstated. Life literally depended on them.
v.10 You know about this ladies. You can some fruit or vegetable but then find that you have eaten only half of what you canned when you must can the next year’s harvest. And then, of course, each year you get further and further ahead until finally you have no room for any more canned food and you have no more mason jars. You have more than you can use.
v.14 As was typical of the treaty documents of this time, the curses far outnumber the blessings. In Deut. 28, for example, we find 13 verses of blessing, but 53 of curses! “Hammurabi’s law code has 16 lines of blessings and 280 lines of curses”! [Milgrom in Sklar, 317] It is easier for us to believe the happy things than the hard ones. This predominance of curses is God’s way of solemnizing us in regard to the absolute necessity of obedience. You will notice as we go that many of the curses are simply the reverse of the blessings promised for obedience. [Levine, 185]
You will notice, as well, that the curses increase in intensity as we proceed. [Levine, 182] The goal is discipline (as we read in v. 28) and so, as one commentator puts it, “The harder the heart, the stronger the hammer used to break it.” [Sklar, 320]
v.31 Israel was constantly tempted by the polytheistic ethos of her times to worship the Lord and other gods. But the Lord had made it clear to her that he would not brook such a divided allegiance. He would not accept worship from his people if they were dividing their loyalty between Yahweh and idols.
v.33 The land of Canaan was a central promise of the covenant God had made with Israel, so exile from the land was a powerful demonstration that she had dishonored the Lord and had been rejected as a result.
v.39 The picture painted in this paragraph is one of both objective and subjective desolation and devastation; people who have been crippled in the heart as well as stripped of both their possessions and their dignity. Don’t imagine that such things don’t happen: it is happening in the world everyday by the millions of people. We live in a world described in these last verses. If the unbelieving world suffers so, so may the people of God when they prove themselves unfaithful to the Lord.
v.45 True repentance can recover people from the worst and most severe of divine punishment. The covenant stands and will always stand. The burning question is whether any particular generation or any particular individual among the covenant people will participate in its blessings. As you no doubt realized as I read this passage, it is a transcript of the history of the nation of Israel as that history will be reported in the historical narrative of the Old Testament. The curses are going to be imposed for Israel’s sin and infidelity, she is going to repent and she is going to be brought from Babylon to the Promised Land. This explains the constant reference to these blessings and curses in the OT prophets, threatening judgment on Israel for her disobedience, promising blessing if only she would repent and walk faithfully with the Lord. [Hartley, 473]
This last section reminds us of what we are taught in many other places, both OT and NT, viz. that the Lord’s punishments of his people are meant to discipline them: to lead them to turn away from sin and to live in righteousness. If the lighter punishments are sufficient, the heavier ones will not be needed (as is suggested in v. 23). If the lighter do not cause Israel to turn, increasingly heavier punishments will be imposed. [Levine, 276] They all have a gracious intention, hard as it may be for us to appreciate that in the moment. What he is after is our faithfulness to him precisely because it is that faithfulness that brings upon us the happiness and goodness that he wants for his children! What is at stake, after all, is nothing less than eternal life, as both the OT and the NT makes clear. As parents, we learn our craft from God, both the granting of reward and the infliction of punishment.
Perhaps no two chapters in the Bible, Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, so powerfully confront us with two of the greatest problems of our faith, problems that are both theological and spiritual, that is, problems of the right understanding of our faith and of the experience of it.
The first problem is the perennial problem of finding the proper place for the exercise of the human will in the biblical system of salvation. How does the exercise of our freedom of choice, how does our effort, our obedience, how do our works fit into a salvation that the Bible tells us emphatically and repeatedly is God’s gift to us, a gift he must give us because we are incapable of achieving salvation by our own effort. If, as the Bible says, “salvation is of the Lord,” why this concentration in Leviticus 26 on the necessity of our obedience or else? Surely, anyone reading Leviticus 26 would conclude, at the very least, that however much salvation must be by grace, it requires us to do our part.
It is very clear, as I already said, that given the place of these encouragements and warnings in the covenant document that is Exodus and Leviticus, what is described here is not a theory of salvation by merit or achievement. The relationship between God and his people had already been created in election – that of Abraham and his descendants – and redemption, Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. The law of God is instruction in how God’s people are to live their lives, not instruction in how to become one of God’s people! The grace by which God draws us to himself comes first; law comes afterward to show us how to respond to the great gift that God has given us. But even to say that, true as it is, even to say that our faithfulness and obedience are only required for us to remain in the covenant, not to create the relationship in the first place, does not solve the problem. For that would still leave salvation in our hands. If God began it, we would still have to finish it. But the Bible teaches, one would think unmistakably, that salvation is the work and the gift of God from beginning to end, in all the links of the chain. It is his plan and purpose, it is his accomplishment at the cross and at the Lord’s resurrection, it is his work in the hearts of men, a work that continues from the new birth to death and beyond. Even the works, the faithfulness, the obedience, the exercise of the Christian will are explicitly said in the Bible to be what God has foreordained for us. It is not only that God foreordained our works that we should walk in them, as Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10, but, even more comprehensively, all our days were ordered for us before there was a one of them. You cannot overstate how comprehensively, relentlessly, and emphatically the Bible takes salvation out of our hands and places it in the hands of God. He chooses those who will be saved, he redeems them from sin and death, he recreates their hearts, he continues his good work in them and preserves them in faith and love to the end.
But, then, it is not only here in Leviticus 26; it is on every page of Holy Scripture that we are taught that what we do matters for time and eternity. “If we do this…God will do that” is writ large over the same Bible that teaches us that our salvation is from first to last the gift, the achievement, and the work of God alone.
The interplay between these two ideas is, next to the doctrines of the Trinity and the hypostatic union – Jesus Christ as both God and man the great theological problem of the Christian faith. And so it is that throughout the Bible and throughout Christian history ever since the pendulum has swung between legalism – the view that our effort and our obedience is the ground or the reason for our salvation – and antinomianism – the view that since salvation is entirely of the Lord, is completely his gift, is all of his grace, is the work of his power, that we in no way can contribute to it, then obviously our obedience, our faith, the decisions we make, the things we do, cannot ultimately affect our destiny one way or the other. We find both views vying for the heart and mind of the church, sometimes one gaining the upper hand, sometimes the other. Indeed, each of us, I think, swings between legalism and antinomianism in the deep attitudes of our own hearts every single day. At one moment we are legalists and in another we are antinomians. The most difficult thing in the world is to hold with absolute firmness and resolve and at one and the same time to the grace of God and the commandments of God. It is that latter obligation that we are taught in Leviticus 26 and taught quite emphatically are we not?
You will not be surprised to hear me say that there is no entirely satisfying way to explain the paradox that confronts us on almost every page of Holy Scripture: a salvation that is all of grace and depends entirely on God’s work for us and in us, on the one hand, and, on the other, a salvation that depends on the exercise of our faith and on our obedience to the commandments of God. Just as we cannot explain how God is one and three; just as we cannot explain how Jesus in his single can be almighty and eternal God and a human being with all of a man’s limitations, so we cannot explain how salvation is all of God and yet depends upon the faith and obedience of men and women, boys and girls. But the Bible teaches us that both are true, the absolute, unqualified sovereignty of divine grace and the absolute necessity of our exercise of faith and our obedience to God. Not one or the other; but both together.
When Francis Turretin, the great Reformed theologian of the seventeenth century, perhaps the quintessential representative of the scholastic school, the school of theology justly famous for its precise definitions and explanations, I say, when Turretin in his famous Systematic Theology:
“…although works may be said to contribute nothing to the acquisition of salvation still they should be considered necessary to the obtainment of it, so that no one can be saved without them…” [ET: vol. II, 703]
he was doing what all faithful theologians have done: sticking with the teaching of the Bible even if it can’t be easily explained how two of its teachings can be reconciled to one another. What, after all, does it mean to say that our works contribute nothing to acquiring salvation but are essential to obtaining it? It was our Lord Jesus himself who said both “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish” and “every branch in me that does not bear fruit shall be cut off and thrown into the fire;” both “without me you can do nothing” and “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
I don’t know how to explain how both things are true, but I know that both things are true and so I have given my mind and heart to believing them both. If you deny either one you must ignore or attempt to explain away vast amounts of biblical teaching. Only if you believe them both can you embrace all that the Bible says without hesitation or qualification. We are helpless, even as Christians, even as the born again, even as the new creation apart from the grace and work of God in Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And, it is absolutely essential; our salvation depends upon our trusting the Lord and following him in obedience to his commandments. His grace being what it is, not perfect obedience is required of course, but real obedience. The entire book of Leviticus to this point has described God’s grand provision for atonement and the forgiveness of sins, so what the Lord here requires of his people is not perfection but real faithfulness, the sort of faithfulness, the sort of obedience that even sinners can offer to God. “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
That is the first theological and spiritual problem posed by Leviticus 26 and what I have said is, in my mind, the only possible answer to the problem. The second is different but no less urgent and no less a matter of both doctrine and life. And it is simply this: where is the fulfillment of the promises we read here for those who remain faithful to God’s covenant? Where are those many wonderful blessings the Lord promised to shower upon his people if they love and serve him?
What the blessings clearly describe is a life of prosperity, security, and happiness in this world. But one does not have to be a Christian very long to know that godly men and women, men and women who love the Lord and have faithfully served him, suffer all manner of sorrows and troubles in this world and often seem to go quite without the blessings enumerated in Leviticus 26:3-13. How are we to answer the question of the man or woman who through tears says, “I have delighted myself in the Lord, but he has not given me the desires of my heart?” [Psalm 37:4] I’m not sure there is any experience of believing life that causes more deep and dark confusion than this: that the Lord does not seem to have kept his promise to bless those who love him and are trying hard to honor him and serve him with their lives.
Some want to earn a living, to have a job, such as the blessings of vv. 3-5 suggest God will provide. Some want peace such as is promised in v. 6. Some want children that they cannot seem to conceive, such as God promises in v. 9. But they don’t have what they want, even though God has promised it to them. What are we to do with this?
Well, whatever we may think about the question, we are certainly not making it up. It was a pressing question already in the biblical days and was often raised in anguished cries. Any number of psalms give vent to just this question: why is the Lord treating me as if I were his enemy instead of his friend? Psalm 73 is just the most famous example of the troubled soul wrestling with this very reality: the wicked seem to be doing better than the righteous and the righteous seem to be getting precious little benefit from living in faithfulness to God! The entire book of Ecclesiastes is devoted to this same question.
One typical solution to the problem is to say that while this was a troubling reality in the life of OT saints, it is no longer a problem for those who live in the age of the New Testament. Really? In the New Testament the blessings are fulfilled for all Christians. Or some say the blessings are all heavenly and have nothing to do with our lives in this world. But that won’t do. In Luke 6:20-26, in Luke’s version of the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, four blessings are followed by four curses, in just the same way as we find in Leviticus 26. And the Lord Jesus promised his disciples that those who proved faithful to him would receive in return a hundredfold in this world, a hundredfold of houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children and lands, with persecutions…” [Mark 10:30]
This difficulty of seeing precisely how the promised blessings have been received by the Lord’s faithful people has created its own chronic problems of both understanding and life throughout the history of the Christian church. You have Christians – many of them today, far, far too many of them today – who are sure that if you just have enough faith and do enough to serve God (often by giving money to some particular television ministry) you will get that new car, that better job, or that new house. The health and wealth preachers prey on their hopes take Leviticus 26 to mean that if you haven’t received all of these blessings and their modern equivalents, it’s your fault and they can tell you how to fix that. On the other hand, the failure of Christians to prosper in this world and to enjoy the blessed life that is described in the first part of Leviticus 26 has led many others to give up the faith or to live in deep discouragement. In other words, Leviticus 26 doesn’t pose a merely theoretical problem to our faith. It raises the very real existential question: does God keep his promises to his people? If he does, as every Christian must believe, how is it that the blessings enumerated here and then again by Jesus in the Gospels do not seem to be present in the lives of many faithful Christians?
An answer to this question begins to emerge when we consider again the fact that the blessings enumerated, as the curses later, are typical of the ancient near eastern treaty documents. Don’t suppose that these immense advances in our understanding of the background and the structure and the literature of the Bible are not immensely important in a very practical way, that they don’t have real life consequences. The blessings listed here are formulaic. They are taken from the thought world of that time and place. Fundamentally different as Israel’s faith was from the religious thinking of the ancient near east, there was no way that those formulaic blessings were going to mean the same thing to her that they meant to the neighboring peoples. She was going to understand those blessings in a very different way than her neighbors did.
But there is more than that. If you notice the movement of the blessings through vv. 3-13, it is very clear that we are moving from the lesser to the greater, so when we get to v. 11 and read the Lord saying to his people:
“And 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”
We have come to the greatest blessing of them all, the one that defines the rest. For what good is rain if you do not have God? What good is victory in battle if the Almighty remains your enemy?
We have the same lesson taught us in Psalm 73. The man so distressed about his circumstances in the world went to church one day. In the service he realized that he had been judging everything by what was temporary, that the prosperity of the wicked is a mirage because they must soon face the judgment of God at the end, and so he left church six inches off the ground, rejoicing in his salvation. What did he say?
“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide with your counsel, and afterward will receive me to glory. … God is the strength of my life and my portion forever.”
In other words, he was as much as saying that he had the blessings of 3 through 13. He had them all because he had the Lord and he had eternal life. “Portion” is literally a reference to a plot of land, but in Psalm 73 it has become a metaphor for the blessing of God’s love and presence in a believer’s life. He might have just as well said, “The Lord is my rain. The Lord is my victory in battle. The Lord is my husband, my wife, my child.”
In the same way, while Jesus promised a hundred fold in children and lands to his faithful disciples, none of them understood him to mean that he would make them rich land barons. Peter and Paul didn’t end their lives as real estate tycoons even though they were extraordinarily faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ! But they would have said that the Lord Jesus had more than fulfilled the promise he made to reward his faithful servants. As so often in the Bible the physical world and its blessings are pictures of something far greater and more important. As we read in Hebrews 11, the saints of the ancient epoch knew full well that Canaan wasn’t the extent of God’s promise to them. They were looking for a better country, an eternal city, of which Canaan and Jerusalem were signs or physical prophesies or what are called “types.” In the same way, the wealth, comfort, and success of unbelievers is an illusion. It is only a mask that hides from them their true condition and their dismal fate. Or as Bernard of Clairvaux famously put it: “nulla verior miseria quam falsa laetitia” (“there are no truer miseries than false joys”). Which would you chose to be if you had your druthers: a fabulously wealthy man who is about to lose everything forever or a poor man who is about to become wealthy beyond the power of words to describe?
I do not think there is a simple answer to the question posed by the blessings promised in Leviticus 26. When a Christian dies young, when a baby dies in infancy; when whole churches are bitterly and severely persecuted because of their faith, there is no easy way to understand how the Lord is rewarding the faithfulness of his people. There is surely some tension that cannot be entirely removed; some mystery that cannot be entirely resolved. As so often, the Bible says one thing in one place and a very different thing in another and we are left trying to hold on to both things when it is not obvious how they can both be true at the same time. But there are some things to say. Taking the teaching of the Bible together certain things seem clear to me:
- The same faith, the same life of faith, the same spiritual experience of believers are taught in the NT that are taught in the Old. In this respect the situation isn’t any different for Christians today than it was for the saints in Moses’ day.
- The material in Leviticus 26 is addressed to the people of God as a whole, not so much to individual believers. For example, how many among Israel had to be faithful for the entire community to receive the blessing? After all it isn’t just the faithful disciple upon whom the rains are going to fall in their season. The rain isn’t going to pick out his field and leave dry everything else. It is not said, but there is definitely a corporate cast to this teaching, harder nowadays for American individualists to appreciate. [cf. Ross, 468] It is clear throughout the Bible that each believer individually is part and parcel of the church and is subject to the fortunes of the church as a whole. All of us are exalted or diminished in keeping with the spiritual life and holiness of the church as a whole. We do not live to ourselves. Jeremiah lived without much obvious blessing not because he was unfaithful, but because the church of his day was unfaithful. An important lesson for us all. We are all going to be diminished by the spiritual declension of American Christianity. We must work against that influence but none of us will escape it. It is much easier to live a triumphant Christian life in the days of the Spirit’s power! We may wish it were not so, but biblical history and all of history since is against us in such a hope.
- In neither OT nor NT are we led to believe that God’s faithful people will be insulated from the shocks of life, from deep disappointments, or from punishing hardships. God will use such things for different purposes in the lives of his children than in the lives of unbelievers, but “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards.” The Bible not only teaches us this, but illustrates it comprehensively in its depiction of believing life from the beginning. Abraham was promised a son, but, as we are finding out in Genesis these days, he had to wait years, no, he had to wait for decades for that promise to be realized. He was promised the land of Canaan, but his descendants wouldn’t take possession of it for centuries, for 450 years; which is to say that generations of Abraham’s descendants never so much as saw a square foot of the Promised Land. The Lord Jesus promised to be with his people to the end of the age, as the Lord promised Israel here in Lev. 26:11-12, but he also promised them tribulation, persecution, and even martyrdom. Put those two things together, you can!
- The believer’s eye is always to be on the next world, not this one. While the Lord blesses his people in many ways while they live in this world – and no one should underestimate the blessedness of the Christian life, in so many ways superior to and happier than the unbelieving life – the great blessing of the Lord is always to be realized in the world to come. The Bible is always casting our eye forward to the next world and the life of heaven. This is made more explicit in the New Testament than in the Old to be sure – compare the way the Lord’s beatitudes or blessings read at the opening of his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 with the blessings here in Leviticus 26 – but it is already clear enough in the Old Testament, as, for example, in Psalm 73, where the psalmist spoke of being afterward with the Lord in glory. The outward circumstances of the man in that psalm hadn’t changed at all at the end of the psalm – the wicked were still prospering and the righteous were still suffering – but he had remembered what before he had forgotten: the final end of the wicked and of his own being with the Lord in glory when all is said and done! As a British pastor friend of mine summarized the realization of the author of the psalm: “I was blinded by their headlights as they rushed to outer darkness.” [Ian Tait] He had been acting as if the comparative fortunes of people in this world weren’t as temporary and insignificant as they actually are in comparison with the destiny of the wicked and the righteous in the world to come. And that same pastor friend of mine summarized the lesson of the psalm this way: “It isn’t the class you’re traveling by – first class or second or third – it is your destination that matters.”
- The greatest blessing of all, in this world or the next, is God himself, his love and his presence with us as our God and Savior. If God is for us, who can be against us, no matter what our circumstances in this short life may be. And when we are with the Lord we are going to be absolutely transformed simply by his presence. We shall be like him because we shall see him as he is.
Think of Allen Gardiner, the former British naval officer and then after his conversion pioneer missionary to Tierra del Fuego, the desolate and isolated islands at the tip of South America, then inhabited by some of the most degraded human beings that had ever been discovered to live on the face of the earth. Charles Darwin, after one of his voyages, wrote about how primitive and ugly their life was. Allen Gardiner arrived with his companions in 1850. The ship that was to bring them provisions never arrived and as they languished, slowly starving on that inhospitable shore, Gardiner wrote in his diary:
“Poor and weak as we are, our boat is very Bethel [– that is, a house of God –] to our souls, for we feel and know that God is here. Asleep or awake, I am, beyond the power of expression, happy.” [In Neill, A History of Christian Missions, 320-321]
Those words echoed around the world when his diary was found after all of them had died and eventually led to a great gospel work among those people, a work that so changed that society for the better than even Charles Darwin had to acknowledge how remarkable had been the change among the people there because of the arrival of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do you think, could you possibly think that Allen Gardiner thought he had been short-changed because his life wasn’t comfortable and prosperous as the world measures such things? What do you imagine he thinks now?
To be sure, the Lord often blesses his people with the very blessings enumerated in these verses in Leviticus 26. But they are not the real blessings and God’s people have always understood that, by a spiritual instinct if not by a sophisticated reading of the Word of God. And God always and everywhere grants his people the blessings of which these in vv. 3-10 are but pictures and figures, the blessings that are summed up in verses 11 and 12.
What did our Savior say? “He who has the Son has life and he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” And is that not what all of us want in the end? We want LIFE! Life with a capital “L.” And that is what God promises to us if only we will trust and obey him: life worthy to be called life and life forever, because it is his eternal and perfect life he shares and will forever share with us!