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The church and Leviticus 26

February 13, 2012

William D. Barrick, Professor of Old Testament at The Master’s Seminary, is the author of an article on The Eschatological Significance of Leviticus 26. [1] He says in the abstract, “Though the NT has only one direct reference to Leviticus 26, application of the chapter to believers of every era is obvious: faith is the binding requirement for anyone to have a relationship to the God of Abraham.”

The NT reference which he identifies is 2 Corinthians 6:16, where Paul says: “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

The chastisement of the people of Israel which is outlined in Leviticus 26 is described in terms of four successive periods of seven times. In the fulfillment of the prophecy, the first of these corresponds to the exile of the Jews in Babylon. Daniel alludes to it in Daniel 9:11. The second, third and fourth periods of seven times in Leviticus 26 fit the three sections in the seventy weeks: seven weeks, sixty two weeks, and one week. [Daniel 9:24-27]  In each of the three sections, a “time” takes different units. Thus Daniel provides an interpretation of the prophecy contained in Leviticus 26, in the 70 weeks prophecy.

The ministry of Jesus, which began at the conclusion of the first two sections of the 70 weeks, began the 70th week, and also the last of the four periods of seven times in Leviticus 26, in which Israel would be reconciled to God, and God would remember his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the 70th week, Jesus confirms his covenant with many, which refers to the gospel; this continues today. The last of the four periods of seven times, corresponding to the 70th week, also involves the loss of the land. [Leviticus 26:31-38] In these verses, God says, “I will bring the land into desolation,” [vs. 32]; “Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths,” [vs. 34]; “ye shall perish among the heathen, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up;” [vs. 38].

The correspondence between the three sections of the seventy weeks, and the last three of the four periods of seven times in Leviticus 26, confirms Barrick’s claim that Leviticus 26 applies to “believers of every era.” The Jews lost their land, in the centuries following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. But when applied to believers, the land in Leviticus 26 has another meaning. In the first century of the Christian era, the church possessed the true gospel; in the period that followed, people began to stray from the faith; Jude had to exhort his readers to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” [Jude 3] The saints straying from the faith corresponds to the Israelites losing their land. Possession of the land, in a spiritual sense, corresponds to being reconciled to God, receiving the benefits of God’s promises, and understanding the truth.

In his article on Leviticus 26, Barrick applied the chapter to the Jews. He wrote: [2]

Retribution and Chastisement

Application of the curses/penalties of vv. 14-45 is highlighted by two factors: (1) the gradation of the punishments in five stages of severity (vv. 16-17, 18- 20, 21-22, 23-26, and 27-38) and (2) the recurring refrain, “seven times for your sins” (vv. 18 , 21, 24, 28). The stages of chastisement are emphasized also by the occurrence of the term “discipline” (יַסְּר, vv. 18, 23, 28). From start to finish, the process is intended as a means of restoration. However, the primary purpose is not restoration, but the glorification of the covenant God, Yahweh (cf. vv. 44, 45).

Retribution may be terminal (cf. vv. 25, 30, 38), but chastisement may result in restoration through repentance (cf. vv. 39-45). Both are involved in Leviticus 26. Divine retribution will come upon those who do not confess their sins and chastisement will be administered to those who do confess their sins. Leviticus 26 emphasizes the seal/sign of the Mosaic Covenant, the sabbaths.

The refrain “seven times” might imply the sabbatical principle. “For your sins” indicates breach of covenant. Yahweh will judge His people for their nonobservance of the sabbaths, for their worship of idols, and for their defilement (cf. vv. 1-2, 29-31). Divine judgment is not a betrayal of the covenants (v. 44). On the contrary, judgment declares that disobedience is sin and that sin is rebellion against the Lord. Eventually, Yahweh’s judgments will increase to such intensity and nature that there will be no doubt that He has exercised His covenant rights to exact retribution from those who defy His authority.

The final period of seven times in Leviticus 26 is when the people are to be reconciled to God, and God is reconciled to them; similarly the last section in the 70 weeks, the 70th week, is when Christ confirms his covenant with many. The 70th week includes the ministry of Jesus, as the first half week, and the remaining time of the church is the last half week, represented by the phrase  “a time, times and a half.” Barrick continued:

Exile

Exile (“scattering among the nations,” v. 33) is the ultimate penalty for breach of covenant. It means removal from the land of promise. The landedness for which the nation hopes will dissolve into the landlessness that had characterized their sojourn in Egypt. Servitude will once again engulf them. Due to their “uncircumcised heart” (v. 41) God will place them among the uncircumcised–those who are outside the covenants. Exile is a living death, a living separation from the land of abundant life. Exile means removal from the setting in which Israel can experience the blessings of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. Exile, however, need not be terminal. Landlessness can be a condition that gives rebirth to hope (vv. 39-45). Landlessness is not synonymous with divine rejection or abhorrence (v. 44). As at Sinai and in the wilderness, landlessness presents the people with a goal for life and a meaning for history. The landless ones must cast their cares upon the One who will guide them out of bondage to freedom. Even in the land of their enemies, Yahweh is their God (v. 44). The covenant relationship knows no geographical or political boundaries. Yahweh’s loyalty is unaffected by the landedness or the landlessness of His people. He is above the circumstances of history, working for the repentance of His covenant people so that His covenants will one day be fulfilled completely.

If possessing the land has some spiritual meaning for the church, it must correspond to possessing the gifts of the Spirit, and unity of the faith, which are things that the church no longer possesses. Instead, the saints are scattered in tens of thousands of sects and denominations. They differ widely in their interpretations of the Bible. The state of the church corresponds to the exile described above. The saints are “landless,” in a spiritual sense. Paul spoke of the church as “the pillar and ground of the truth,” [1 Timothy 3:15] but with Christians believing different things, how can it be?

If the promised land represents the truth to which Jesus leads his church, they no longer possess it. The saints have become wanderers and exiles in other lands, and are scattered in the world, not possessing the ground of the truth, which is faith in Christ; instead, they “perish among the heathen.” That is, their faith is continually destroyed, because of the influence of the world, and various denominational traditions. The land of their enemies eats them up. This may be the sense in which Leviticus 26 applies to the church.

But the message of Leviticus 26 includes the promise, that “If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me; And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity: Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.” [Leviticus 26:40-42] This also applies to the church. The land which God says he will remember includes the spiritual things that the land represents, including the promise that the Spirit will guide the saints to the truth.

References

1. William D. Barrick. The Eschatological Significance of Leviticus 26. The Master’s Seminary Journal 16/1 (Spring 2005) 95-126.

2. Ibid., pp. 122-123.

 

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