Rewards and Punishments in Leviticus 26 from a NT Perspective

What does the New Testament really say about them in light of this chapter in Leviticus? This post will make hyper-grace teachers cringe, but the rest of us will feel sober and be biblically informed.

As I channel-surfed Christian TV a few years back, I heard one Word-of-Faith and Word-of-Grace teacher (he teaches both doctrines) say: “God is not a judging God.” I was surprised. I changed the channel and instantly heard another Word-of-Faith and Word-of-Grace teacher say: “God does not judge you.”

Really?

I don’t interpret this chapter symbolically, but literally in most cases. Believe it or not, we are allowed to take all the good promises of God forward from the Old Testament into our lives. Paul writes: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 1:20).

Now what about the punishments? How does God respond when we do wrong?

Before we begin:

For a general overview of the interrelations between the Old Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant, click on:

What Does the New Covenant Retain from the Old?

How Jesus Christ Fulfills the Law: Matthew 5:17-19

Many (not even close to all) elements are retained, and what is kept is improved on or streamlined.

The NIV is used here, unless otherwise noted. Readers are invited to go to biblegateway.com, choose their own translation, and open another window to follow along.

Now let’s begin with the promises in Lev. 26, with two commands at the very beginning.

Verses 1-13

The arrows are designed to “point” out the key blessings and warnings.

Here is the warning. God reminds his people not to make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone (v. 1). This verse reflects the Ten Commandments: “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below” (Exod. 20:4). 

God states the command to keep the Sabbath, which is also found in the Ten Commandments. ““Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exod. 20:8).

As usual, God’s promise of blessings is conditional (v. 3): If. If you do these things, then I will reward you with blessings. As it happens, hundreds of years later the ancient Israelites (in the North) and then the ancient Judeans (in the South) did not keep his commands, so the promises, in the end, were withdrawn (except for those times when the entire nation had moral and godly leadership.) The land really did vomit them out, just as he said (Lev. 18:25, 28)

And here are the blessings:

He will send rain in its season.

The ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit.

The threshing after harvesting the grain will be so plentiful that they will thresh until grape harvest, and thee grape harvest will continue util planting. That is, a busy farmer who has so much produce that no wonder he has to be commanded to keep the Sabbath.

People will live in safety in the land. God will grant peace to the country–the land–and the “sword will not pass through your country.” This shows that in God’s ideal setting, wars and violent conflicts does not rip the social fabric.

God will remove wild beasts from the land.

I like to spiritualize this promise: “You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you” (vv. 7-8). Yes, our spiritual and mental enemies will flee, but in ancient Israel, warfare was real. They didn’t live next door to peaceful Canada. God promised them military victory when called on.

God will make people fruitful and multiply–babies, in other words (v. 9). I see no reason why a couple trying to get pregnant can’t claim this promise. They can and should.

God will put his dwelling place (tabernacle) among his people (v. 11). He will walk among them and be their God, and they will be his people (v. 12). This finds its ultimate fulfillment in the incarnation and the church. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling [tabernacled] among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Paul writes that the church is the temple, as he quotes Lev. 26:12:

For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them
    and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.” [Lev. 26:12] (2 Cor. 6:15)

I love this next promise about God delivering his people from slavery and their holding their heads high. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high” (v. 13).

You don’t have to walk around with your head hanging, because he broke the bars of your yoke. Lift up your heads, Jesus followers! He has set you free!

Here are his very words:

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)

Verses 14-46

To count up the verses, the punishments are far more numerous then the rewards. This is because human nature is much more prone to go astray than remain steady and true. In fact the punishments are so numerous that I see no need to point them out, for the post would get too long!

You can go to the target verses in Leviticus 26 by clicking here: Verses 14-46.

People of the New Covenant are not subject to the Sinai curses. Instead, God disciplines us out of his love (see the next major section, below).

Before leaving this section in Leviticus, I like this promise of restoration to God’s ancient people:

“‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, 41 which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, 42 I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. (Lev. 26:40-42)

They acted hostilely towards God first, so God had to take matters into his own hands and make them suffer the consequences. However, God remembered his people through the covenant he made with Abraham. He will remember the land.

Please see my posts:

The Sinai Covenant

God’s Covenant with Abraham

Particularly this one:

Does the Land of Israel Belong to Jews Today by Covenant?

Discipline for New Covenant People

Let’s see if we can answer the questions I asked at the beginning. How does God judge his people? Do these Old Sinai punishments apply to his New Covenant people?

First, let’s dispense with the silliness (and error) of the two Word-of-Grace / Word-of-Faith teachers, which says God does not judge his people.

Peter writes just the opposite:

17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”  [Prov. 11:31] (1 Pet. 4:17-18)

That’s a strong Word from the Lord. The truth that it is difficult for the righteous to be saved comes in the context of going through trials. God uses them.

Let’s look at a second passage, which is very sobering:

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. (1 Thess. 4:3-7, emphasis added)

Apparently, God will punish people who don’t learn to control their own bodies sexually. But how does this punishment look? It can take a variety of forms, but I think in the majority of cases it goes in the direction of fatherly discipline (the third, point, below).

There are other verses about convicting and even disciplining his New Covenant children (e.g. Rom. 13:1-5; 1 Cor. 3:17; 1 Pet. 2:13-14; Rev. 2:5), but those two passages suffice.

Second, are the old Sinai curses / punishments carried over to the New Covenant? Deut. 28 is the ultimate passage for rewards and punishments, much stronger than the ones in Leviticus.

The Sinai covenant has curses built into it, and those curses cover every area of life, not just salvation for the soul (Deut. 28). The New Covenant has no curses built into it. In fact, the New purges out all the curses embedded in the Old.

This purging out of old Sinai curses is one of the main themes of Galatians. Paul’s issue in that epistle was circumcision, a ritual that physically showed that a man was part of the old Sinai and Abrahamic covenants. In other words, the ritual was essential in belonging to God and his former covenant. Paul says no:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.  (Gal. 5:1-6)

Paul says here that if a believer after the cross and Pentecost and life in the Spirit insists on following circumcision, then he is obligated to follow the whole law in all that it commands. That’s a trap and dead end, Paul says. One man was stoned to death for breaking the Sabbath (Num. 15:32-36) and another for blaspheming (Lev. 24:10-23). Such is the old Sinai covenant, and Paul wants to set people free from it.

I believe this principle of living under old ritual and ceremonial commands—like tithes and offerings—can become a “new-old” law that we should be careful of, if we bring it forward to the church today.

Paul writes:

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” (Gal. 3:10, emphasis added)

He quotes from Deut. 27:26, where the curses are spelled out. If you want to live under the law, then you will be subjected to the curses embedded in that law. That was the problem with the Judaizers who wanted to impose circumcision on New Covenant believers. The Judaizers were also imposing the curses of the Old Covenant on them, and Paul says no. In fact he invoked the Sinai curse on the Judaizers (Gal. 1:8-9). If they still lived within that covenant, then they were still subjected to its punishments. Paul was being consistent.

Best of all, we are delivered from the old-law curses. By dying on the cross Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law.

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Gal. 3:13)

Progress in revelation is a fact of the Bible. We don’t apply wholesale everything in the Old Testament—particularly not the curses—to the New Covenant believers after the cross and Pentecost.

Third, how does God judge his New Covenant people? He is judging / evaluating his people every day and in every way, and sometimes his judgment is positive (“I like how you resisted sin”), and sometimes they are corrective (“by my grace and Spirit, I’ll help you work on this problem area of you life”).

Here are the famous verses in the epistle to the Hebrews (well worth your time not to skim it):

 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
   and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” [Prov. 3:11, 12]

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:5-11)

So God evaluates us and corrects us, but he does not punish us in the normal way of life in Christ. His way of punishing us is normally fatherly and loving discipline.

Bottom line:

Sinai Covenant:

Blessings / Rewards or Curses / Punishments

New Covenant:

Blessings or Loving, Fatherly Correction

How does this post help me know God, his ways, and his Word more thoroughly?

Let’s shift our location from loving, fatherly corrections down here on earth to our judgment at the Final Judgment of all things, though some of the next verses can apply to judgment right now.

Let’s list verses that reveal that God will judge people–the Christian, atheist and everyone in between–by their good or bad deeds.

You reward everyone according to what they have done. (Ps. 62:12)

I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve. (Jer. 17:10)

But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matt. 12:36-37)

This one is very, very clear, and the doers of good will rise to live an eternal life.

 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:28-29)

The above verses come in the same Gospel where Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). If God throws into the lake of fire everyone who has not received Jesus in their hearts, then why bother judging them based on good or bad works? There is no Jacuzzi section in that lake for the good deed doers!

More reinforcement:

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. (1 Pet. 1:17)

God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. (Rom. 2:6-7)

The next three passages are about final judgment, probably the great white throne judgment, but people are still judged by works.

The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Matt. 13:36-43)

“He [the Son of Man] will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matt. 25:45-46)

The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. (Rev. 20:13)

Now for some positive words to Jesus followers. At the Final Judgment, he will stand by your side and say that he took the penalty for your sins. At that point, you will not be judged on whether you will go to heaven or hell, but on your rewards or your works you did while you were already saved and in Christ. If you did what God told you to do, like reaching people in your world, then your reward will be positive. If you did not obey God in his ministry he gave you, then you have heaven, but no rewards.

Please, please do what he calls you to do, without delay or goofing off. Obedience will have great reward.

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