God has established a covenant with Israel at the foot of Mt. Sinai; a large portion of that covenant has to do with being the people that He has called them to be in the world. A people that will be set apart, a light to the rest of the world that living for God is blessed and profitable to the nation and the people. But to keep the covenant with God they will have to observe what He has said and live in obedience to Him. Sounds simple when we look back and see the 10 straight forward commandments God gave to Moses on the mountain. Should not His presence with them in the cloud and the fire, the water from the rock, the flock of quail, the manna, the thunderings on the mountain — should not all of it been enough to ensure their obedience? We have found out through wandering with the Israelites through the wilderness of the Sinai that daily miracles aren’t enough for people to become spiritual giants. They learn to expect it and when they don’t get it, they complain, grumble and murmur! The manna was boring, the quail made them sick when they gorged on it, they had to leave the rock where the water came out, Moses was too bossy! I can’t imagine wandering through the Sinai Peninsula – let alone under the primitive conditions they had to endure; but surely if I had to, I would want God’s presence guiding me through it!
In Chapter 26 of Leviticus, God addresses the issues of obedience to what would be an agricultural society when they did finally enter the Promised “Land” that God was going to give them. It would be God’s land, they would be the caretakers of it. He basically narrowed it down to this: You keep the covenant with me and I will give you 1) peace in the land 2)prosperity in the land 3) my Presence in the land. One of the things that God required is that they keep the Sabbaths; not only for the rest every 7th day for the people, but every 7th year for the land. I suspect this was a good agricultural habit to let the land lie fallow for a year to replenish the soil and let it rest so that it would produce more the next seven years. God also promises rain in its season, blessings on the threshing of the wheat, no evil beasts to devour your flocks and herds. He finally makes the statement “I will set My tabernacle among you and My soul shall not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God and you shall be My people. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves; I have broken the bands of your yoke and made you walk upright.” (verses 11-13)
“But if you do not obey me….” starts the very next verse. There are five “if” clauses in the remaining verses of this chapter – they all contain cursings for not keeping the covenant terms. They get progressively worse – culminating in being led away captive from the land which happened in Daniel’s day in Babylon. The destruction of the land overridden with foreign conquerors also happened in 70A.D. after Jesus had prophesied about it. Israel only returned to the land in 1948 and again they had to fight for every footstep of it! God will get His Sabbaths for the land! In Mark 11 when Jesus is cursing the fig tree, He is cursing Israel for its disobedience to God- its religious system particularly. The fig tree was often used as an analogy for the nation of Israel. The religious system of Israel was going to spit in the eye of God by crucifying the son of God like a common criminal and God would leave the land for a time and deal with the Gentiles.
But note, that there were five “ifs”! In scripture, the number five stands for grace. Even through all of God’s discipline – He promises that He would restore the land. Look at verse 40! “But if they confess their iniquity…..then I will remember My covenant!” Hope, even when Israel disobeyed time after time – confession, humility, admittance of guilt – God restores!
Okay! What does this have to do with me today in 2012? Being the humans that we are, we are not that far removed from the people that walked the Sinai Peninsula with Moses. We still grumble and complain and murmur when things don’t go our way; when God doesn’t answer our petulant requests with the answers we desire. Hardships, disease, death and brokenness are still our traveling companions on the journey. He has promised to be with us every step of the way, to meet our needs, and just sometimes we observe miracles – more than we realize. It seems prudent to observe here that where ancient Israel was looking forward to the land, we are living in it – Jesus is our “land of promise”. There are still blessings for obedience to God’s Word, and His Presence living in us enables us to live as a light to the rest of the world. We can enjoy peace, prosperity of soul because of the Presence!
I think the major things here to learn is that God desires obedience alright, but obedience that is rooted in love for Him. Love for the One who has delivered, redeemed, and loved us so much that He was willing to die to accomplish it. It would seem that simple obedience to a God like this would not be hard, but a delight because of the assurance that you are loved, respected, desired, and ultimately cared for and is at the heart of every human’s wants and needs for this life. We have a God like that. We have a Savior like that. Let’s live like He desires and experience the miracles that He desires to bless us with!