Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Promises and Threats - Leviticus 26
Just as the book of the covenant, the kernel containing the fundamental principles of the covenant fellowship, which the Lord established with the children of Israel whom He had adopted as His nation, and the rule of life for the covenant nation (Ex 20:22-23:19), concluded with promises and threats (Exo 23:20-33); so the giving of the law at Sinai, as the unfolding of the inner, spiritual side of the whole of the covenant constitution, closes in this chapter with an elaborate unfolding of the blessing which would be secured by a faithful observance of the laws, and the curse which would follow the transgression of them. But whilst the former promises and threats (Ex 23) related to the conquest of the promised land of Canaan, the promises in this chapter refer to the blessings which were to be bestowed upon Israel when the land was in their possession (Lev 26:3-13), and the threats to the judgments with which the Lord would visit His disobedient people in their inheritance, and in fact drive them out and scatter them among the heathen (vv. 14-39). When this had been done, then, as is still further proclaimed with a prophetic look into the distant future, would they feel remorse, acknowledge their sin to the Lord, and be once more received into favour by Him, the eternally faithful covenant God (Lev 26:40-45).
(Note: When modern critics, who are carried away by naturalism, maintain that Moses was not the author of these exhortations and warnings, because of their prophetic contents, and assign them to the times of the kings, the end of the eighth, or beginning of the seventh century (see Ewald, Gesch. i. 156), they have not considered, in their antipathy to any supernatural revelations from God in the Old Testament, that even apart from any higher illumination, the fundamental idea of these promises and threats must have presented itself to the mind of the lawgiver Moses. It required but a very little knowledge of the nature of the human heart, and a clear insight into the spiritual and ethical character of the law, to enable him to foresee that the earthly-minded, unholy nation would not fulfil the solemn demand of the law that their whole life should be sanctified to the Lord God, that they would transgress in many ways, and rebel against God and His holy laws, and therefore that in any case times of fidelity and the corresponding blessing would alternate with times of unfaithfulness and the corresponding curse, but that, for all that, at the end the grace of God would obtain the victory over the severely punished and deeply humbled nation, and bring the work of salvation to a glorious close. It is true, the concrete character of this chapter cannot be fully explained in this way, but it furnishes the clue to the psychological interpretation of the conception of this prophetic discourse, and shows us the subjective points of contact for the divine revelation which Moses has announced to us here. For, as Auberlen observes, "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." The peculiar character of this revelation, which must deeply have affected Moses, will explain the peculiarities observable in the style, viz., the heaping up of unusual words and modes of expression, several of which never occur again in the Old Testament, whilst others are only used by the prophets who followed the Pentateuch in their style.)
The blessings and curse of the law were impressed upon the hearts of the people in a still more comprehensive manner at the close of the whole law (Deut 28-30), and on the threshold of the promised land.
Lev 26:1 and Lev 26:2 form the introduction; and the essence of the whole law, the observance of which will bring a rich blessing, and the transgression of it severe judgments, is summed up in two leading commandments, and placed at the head of the blessing and curse which were to be proclaimed. Ye shall not make to you elilim, nugatory gods, and set up carved images and standing images for worship, but worship Jehovah your God with the observance of His Sabbaths, and fear before His sanctuary. The prohibition of elilim, according to Lev 19:4, calls to mind the fundamental law of the decalogue (Exo 20:3-4, cf. Lev 21:23; Exo 23:24-25). To pesel (cf. Exo 20:4) and mazzebah (cf. Exo 23:24), which were not to be set up, there is added the command not to put משׂכּית אבן, "figure-stones," in the land, to worship over (by) them. The "figure-stone" is a stone formed into a figure, and idol of stone, not merely a stone with an inscription or with hieroglyphical figures; it is synonymous with משׂכּית in Num 33:52, and consequently we are to understand by pesel the wooden idol as in Isa 44:15, etc. The construction of השׁתּחוה with על may be explained on the ground that the worshipper of a stone image placed upon the ground rises above it (for על in this sense, see Gen 18:2). - In Lev 26:3 the true way to serve God is urged upon the Israelites once more, in words copied verbally from Lev 19:30.
The Blessing of Fidelity to the Law. - Lev 26:3-5. If the Israelites walked in the commandments of the Lord (for the expression see Lev 18:3.), the Lord would give fruitfulness to their land, that they should have bread to the full. "I will give you rain-showers in season." The allusion here is to the showers which fall at the two rainy seasons, and upon which the fruitfulness of Palestine depends, viz., the early and latter rain (Deu 11:14). The former of these occurs after the autumnal equinox, at the time of the winter-sowing of wheat and barley, in the latter half of October or beginning of November. It generally falls in heavy showers in November and December, and then after that only at long intervals, and not so heavily. The latter, or so-called latter rain, fall sin March before the beginning of the harvest of the winter crops, at the time of sowing the summer seed, and lasts only a few days, in some years only a few hours (see Robinson, Pal. ii. pp. 97ff.). - On Lev 26:5, Lev 26:6, see Lev 25:18-19.
The Lord would give peace in the land, and cause the beasts of prey which endanger life to vanish out of the land, and suffer no war to come over it, but would put to flight before the Israelites the enemies who attacked them, and cause them to fall into their sword. שׁכב, to lie without being frightened up by any one, is a figure used to denote the quiet and peaceable enjoyment of life, and taken from the resting of a flock in good pasture-ground (Isa 14:30) exposed to no attacks from either wild beasts or men. מחריד is generally applied to the frightening of men by a hostile attack (Mic 4:4; Jer 30:10; Eze 39:26; Job 11:19); but it is also applied to the frightening of flocks and animals (Isa 17:2; Deu 28:26; Jer 7:33, etc.). רעה חיּה: an evil animal, for a beast of prey, as in Gen 37:20. "Sword," as the principal weapon applied, is used for war. The pursuing of the enemy relates to neighbouring tribes, who would make war upon the Israelites. לחרב נפל does not mean to be felled by the sword (Knobel), but to fall into the sword. The words, "five of you shall put a hundred to flight, and a hundred ten thousand," are a proverbial expression for the most victorious superiority of Israel over their enemies. It is repeated in the opposite sense and in an intensified form in Deu 32:30 and Isa 30:17.
Moreover the Lord would bestow His covenant blessing upon them without intermission. אל פּנה signifies a sympathizing and gracious regard (Psa 25:16; Psa 69:17). The multiplication and fruitfulness of the nation were a constant fulfilment of the covenant promise (Gen 17:4-6) and an establishment of the covenant (Gen 17:7); not merely the preservation of it, but the continual realization of the covenant grace, by which the covenant itself was carried on further and further towards its completion. This was the real purpose of the blessing, to which all earthly good, as the pledge of the constant abode of God in the midst of His people, simply served as the foundation.
Notwithstanding their numerous increase, they would suffer no want of food. "Ye shall eat that which has become old, and bring out old for new." Multiplicabo vos et multiplicabo simul annonam vestram, adeo ut illam prae multitudine et copia absumere non possitis, sed illam diutissime servare adeoque abjicere cogamini, novarum frugum suavitate et copia superveniente (C. a Lap.). הוציא vetustum triticum ex horreo et vinum ex cella promere (Calvin).
"I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not despise you." משׁכּן, applied to the dwelling of God among His people in the sanctuary, involves the idea of satisfied repose.
God's walking in the midst of Israel does not refer to His accompanying and leading the people on their journeyings, but denotes the walking of God in the midst of His people in Canaan itself, whereby He would continually manifest Himself to the nation as its God and make them a people of possession, bringing them into closer and closer fellowship with Himself, and giving them all the saving blessings of His covenant of grace.
For He was their God, who had brought them out of the land of the Egyptians, that they might no longer be servants to them, and had broken the bands of their yokes and made them go upright. על מטת, lit., the poles of the yoke (cf. Eze 34:27), i.e., the poles which are laid upon the necks of beasts of burden (Jer 27:2) as a yoke, to bend their necks and harness them for work. It was with the burden of such a yoke that Egypt had pressed down the Israelites, so that they could no longer walk upright, till God by breaking the yoke helped them to walk upright again. As the yoke is a figurative description of severe oppression, so going upright is a figurative description of emancipation from bondage. קוממיּוּת, lit., a substantive, an upright position; here it is an adverb (cf. Ges. 100, 2).
The Curse for Contempt of the Law. - The following judgments are threatened, not for single breaches of the law, but for contempt of all the laws, amounting to inward contempt of the divine commandments and a breach of the covenant (Lev 26:14, Lev 26:15), - for presumptuous and obstinate rebellion, therefore, against God and His commandments. For this, severe judgments are announced, which were to be carried to their uttermost in a fourfold series, if the hardening were obstinately continued. If Israel acted in opposition to the Lord in the manner stated, He would act towards them as follows (Lev 26:16, Lev 26:17): He would appoint over them בּחלה terror, - a general notion, which is afterwards particularized as consisting of diseases, sowing without enjoying the fruit, defeat in war, and flight before their enemies. Two kinds of disease are mentioned by which life is destroyed: consumption and burning, i.e., burning fever, πυρετός, febris, which cause the eyes (the light of this life) to disappear, and the soul (the life itself) to pine away; whereas in Exo 23:25; Exo 15:26, preservation from diseases is promised for obedience to the law. Of these diseases, consumption is at present very rare in Palestine and Syria, though it occurs in more elevated regions; but burning fever is one of the standing diseases. To these there would be added the invasion of the land by enemies, so that they would labour in vain and sow their seed to no purpose, for their enemies would consume the produce, as actually was the case (e.g., Jdg 6:3-4).
Yea, the Lord would turn His face against them, so that they would be beaten by their enemies, and be so thoroughly humbled in consequence, that they would flee when no man pursued (cf. Lev 26:36).
But if these punishments did not answer their purpose, and bring Israel back to fidelity to its God, the Lord would punish the disobedient nation still more severely, and chasten the rebellious for their sin, not simply only, but sevenfold. This He would do, so long as Israel persevered in obstinate resistance, and to this end He would multiply His judgments by degrees. 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 (Lev 26:18-20); (2) the extermination of their cattle by beasts of prey, and childlessness, - two punishments (Lev 26:21, Lev 26:22); (3) war, plague, and famine, - three punishments (Lev 26:23-26); (4) 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 (Lev 26:27-33). In this way would the Lord punish the stiffneckedness of His people. - These divine threats embrace the whole of Israel's future. But the series of judgments mentioned is not to be understood historically, as a prediction of the temporal succession of the different punishments, but as an ideal account of the judgments of God, unfolding themselves with inward necessity in a manner answering to the progressive development of the sin. As the nation would not resist the Lord continually, but times of disobedience and apostasy would alternate with times of obedience and faithfulness, so the judgments of God would alternate with His blessings; and as the opposition would not increase in uniform progress, sometimes becoming weaker and then at other times gaining greater force again, so the punishments would not multiply continuously, but correspond in every case to the amount of the sin, and only burst in upon the incorrigible race in all the intensity foretold, when ungodliness gained the upper hand.
First stage of the aggravated judgments. - If they did not hearken אלּה עד, "up to these" (the punishments named in Lev 26:16, Lev 26:17), that is to say, if they persisted in their disobedience even when the judgments reached to this height, God would add a sevenfold chastisement on account of their sins, would punish them seven times more severely, and break down their strong pride by fearful drought. Seven, as the number of perfection in the works of God, denotes the strengthening of the chastisement, even to the height of its full measure (cf. Pro 24:16). עז גּאון, lit., the eminence or pride of strength, includes everything upon which a nation rests its might; then the pride and haughtiness which rely upon earthly might and its auxiliaries (Eze 30:6, Eze 30:18; Eze 33:28); here it signifies the pride of a nation, puffed up by the fruitfulness and rich produce of its land. God would make their heaven (the sky of their land) like iron and their earth like brass, i.e., as hard and dry as metal, so that not a drop of rain and dew would fall from heaven to moisten the earth, and not a plant could grow out of the earth (cf. Deu 28:23); and when the land was cultivated, the people would exhaust their strength for nought. תּמם, consumi.
The second stage. - But if the people's resistance amounted to a hostile rebellion against God, He would smite them sevenfold for their sin by sending beasts of prey and childlessness. By beasts of prey He would destroy their cattle, and by barrenness He would make the nation so small that the ways would be deserted, that high roads would cease because there would be no traveller upon them on account of the depopulation of the land (Isa 33:8; Zep 3:6), and the few inhabitants who still remained would be afraid to venture because of the wild beasts (Eze 14:15). עם קרי הלך ("to go a meeting with a person," i.e., to meet a person in a hostile manner, to fight against him) only occurs here in Lev 26:21 and Lev 26:23, and is strengthened in Lev 26:24, Lev 26:27, Lev 26:28, Lev 26:40, Lev 26:41 into עם בּקרי הלך, to engage in a hostile encounter with a person. שׁבע מכּה, a sevenfold blow. "According to your sins," i.e., answering to them sevenfold. In Lev 26:22 the first clause corresponds to the third, and the second to the fourth, so that Nos. 3 and 4 contain the effects of Nos. 1 and 2.
The third stage. - But if they would not be chastened by these punishments, and still rose up in hostility to the Lord, He would also engage in a hostile encounter with them, and punish them sevenfold with war, plague, and hunger.
He would bring over them "the sword avenging (i.e., executing) the covenant vengeance." The "covenant vengeance" was punishment inflicted for a breach of the covenant, the severity of which corresponded to the greatness of the covenant blessings forfeited by a faithless apostasy. If they retreated to their towns (fortified places) from the sword of the enemy, the Lord would send a plague over them there, and give those who were spared by the plague into the power of the foe. He would also "break in pieces the staff of bread," and compel them by the force of famine to submit to the foe. The means of sustenance should become so scarce, that ten women could bake their bread in a single oven, whereas in ordinary times every woman would require an oven for herself; and they would have to eat the bread which they brought home by weight, i.e., not as much as every one pleased, but in rations weighed out so scantily, that those who ate would not be satisfied, and would only be able to sustain their life in the most miserable way. Calamities such as these burst upon Israel and Judah more than once when their fortified towns were besieged, particularly in the later times of the kings, e.g., upon Samaria in the reign of Joram (Kg2 6:25.), and upon Jerusalem through the invasions of the Chaldeans (cf. Isa 3:1; Jer 14:18; Eze 4:16; Eze 5:12).
Fourth and severest stage. - If they should still persist in their opposition, God would chastise them with wrathful meeting, yea, punish them so severely in His wrath, that they would be compelled to eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, i.e., to slay their own children and eat them in the extremity of their hunger, - a fact which literally occurred in Samaria in the period of the Syrians (Kg2 6:28-29), and in Jerusalem in that of the Chaldeans (Lam 2:20; Lam 4:10), and in the Roman war of extermination under Titus (Josephus bell. jud. v. 10, 3) in the most appalling manner. Eating the flesh of their own children is mentioned first, as indicating the extremity of the misery and wretchedness in which the people would perish; and after this, the judgment, by which the nation would be brought to this extremity, is more minutely described in its four principal features: viz., (1) the destruction of all idolatrous abominations (Lev 26:30); (2) the overthrow of the towns and sanctuaries (Lev 26:31); (3) the devastation of the land, to the amazement of the enemies who dwelt therein (Lev 26:32); and (4) the dispersion of the people among the heathen (Lev 26:33). The "high places" are altars erected upon heights and mountains in the land, upon which sacrifices were offered both to Jehovah in an unlawful way and also to heathen deities. חמּנים, sun-pillars, are idols of the Canaanitish nature-worship, either simple pillars dedicated to Baal, or idolatrous statues of the sun-god (cf. Movers Phnizier i. pp. 343ff.). "And I give your carcases upon the carcases of your idols." גּלּלים, lit., clods, from גּלל to roll, a contemptuous expression for idols. With the idols the idolaters also were to perish, and defile with their corpses the images, which had also become corpses as it were, through their overthrow and destruction. For the further execution of this threat, see Eze 6:4. This will be your lot, for "My soul rejects you." By virtue of the inward character of His holy nature, Jehovah must abhor and reject the sinner.
Their towns and their sanctuaries He would destroy, because He took no pleasure in their sacrificial worship. מקדּשׁים are the holy things of the worship of Jehovah, the tabernacle and temple, with their altars and the rest of their holy furniture, as in Ps. 68:36; Psa 74:7. ניחח ריח (Lev 1:9) is the odour of the sacrifice; and ריח, to smell, an anthropomorphic designation of divine satisfaction (cf. Amo 5:21; Isa 11:3).
The land was to become a wilderness, so that even the enemies who dwelt therein would be terrified in consequence (cf. Jer 18:16; Jer 19:8); and the Israelites would be scattered among the heathen, because Jehovah would draw out His sword behind them, i.e., drive them away with a drawn sword, and scatter them to all the winds of heaven (cf. Eze 5:2, Eze 5:12; Eze 12:14).
Object of the Divine Judgments in Relation to the Land and Nation of Israel. - Lev 26:34 and Lev 26:35. The land would then enjoy and keep its Sabbaths, so long as it was desolate, and Israel was in the land of its foes. השּׁמּה ימי כּל, during the whole period of its devastation. השּׁמּה inf. Hophal with the suffix, in which the mappik is wanting, as in Exo 2:3 (cf. Ewald, 131e). רצה to have satisfaction: with בּ and an accusative it signifies to take delight, take pleasure, in anything, e.g., in rest after the day's work is done (Job 14:6); here also to enjoy rest (not "to pay its debt:" Ges., Kn.). The keeping of the Sabbath was not a performance binding upon the land, nor had the land been in fault because the Sabbath was not kept. As the earth groans under the pressure of the sin of men, so does it rejoice in deliverance from this pressure, and participation in the blessed rest of the whole creation. וגו אשׁר את תּשׁבּת: the land "will rest (keep) what it has not rested on your Sabbaths and whilst you dwelt in it;" i.e., it will make up the rest which you did not give it on your Sabbaths (daily and yearly). It is evident from this, that the keeping of the Sabbaths and sabbatical years was suspended when the apostasy of the nation increased, - a result which could be clearly foreseen in consequence of the inward dislike of a sinner to the commandments of the holy God, and which is described in Ch2 26:21 as having actually occurred.
So far as the nation was concerned, those who were left when the kingdom was overthrown would find no rest in the land of their enemies, but would perish among the heathen for their own and their fathers' iniquities, till they confessed their sins and bent their uncircumcised hearts under the righteousness of the divine punishments. בּכם הנּשׁארים (nominative abs.): "as for those who are left in (as in Lev 5:9), i.e., of, you," who have not perished in the destruction of the kingdom and dispersion of the people, God will bring despair into their heart in the lands of your enemies, that the sound ("voice") of a moving leaf will hunt them to flee as before the sword, so that they will fall in their anxious flight, and stumble one over another, though no one is pursuing. The ἁπ. λεγ. מרך from מרך, related to מרח and מרק to rub, rub to pieces, signifies that inward anguish, fear, and despair, which rend the heart and destroy the life, δειλία, pavor (lxx, Vulg.), what is described in Deu 28:65 in even stronger terms as "a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind." There should not be to them תּקוּמה, standi et resistendi facultas (Rosenmller), standing before the enemy; but they should perish among the nations. "The land of their enemies will eat them up," sc., by their falling under the pressure of the circumstances in which they were placed (cf. Num 13:32; Eze 36:13).
But those who still remained under this oppression would pine away in their iniquities (ימּקּוּ, lit., to rot, moulder away), and "also in the iniquities of their fathers with them." אתּם refers to עונות, "which are with them," which they carry with them and must atone for (see at Exo 20:5),
In this state of pining away under their enemies, they would confess to themselves their own and their fathers' sins, i.e., would make the discovery that their sufferings were a punishment from God for their sins, and acknowledge that they were suffering what they had deserved, through their unfaithfulness to their God and rebellion against Him, for which He had been obliged to set Himself in hostility to them, and bring them into the land of their enemies; or rather their uncircumcised hearts would then humble themselves, and they would look with satisfaction upon this fruit of their sin. The construction is the following: וזכרתּי (Lev 26:42) corresponds to התודּוּ (Lev 26:40) as the apodosis; so that, according to the more strictly logical connection, which is customary in our language, we may unite Lev 26:40, Lev 26:41 in one period with Lev 26:42. "If they shall confess their iniquity...or rather their uncircumcised heart shall humble itself...I will remember My covenant." With בּמעלם a parenthetical clause is introduced into the main sentence explanatory of the iniquity, and reaches as far as "into the land of their enemies." With יכּנע או־אז, "or if, etc.," the main sentence is resumed. או, "or rather" (as in Sa1 29:3), bringing out the humiliation of the heart as the most important result to which the confession of sin ought to deepen itself. The heart is called "uncircumcised" as being unsanctified, and not susceptible to the manifestations of divine grace. את־עונם ירצוּ וץ̓הןךח́ףןץףי פב̀ע ב̓לבספי́בע בץ̓פש͂ם (lxx), they will take pleasure, rejoice in their misdeeds, i.e., in the consequences and results of them-that their misdeed have so deeply humbled them, and brought them to the knowledge of the corruption into which they have fallen: a bold and, so to speak, paradoxical expression for their complete change of heart, which we may render thus: "they will enjoy their misdeeds," as רצה may be rendered in the same way in Lev 26:43 also.
(Note: Luther has translated עון in this sense, "punishment of iniquity," and observes in the marginal notes, - "(Pleasure), i.e., just as they had pleasure in their sins and felt disgust at My laws, so they would now take pleasure in their punishment and say, 'We have just what we deserve. This is what we have to thank our cursed sin for. It is just, O God, quite just.' And these are thoughts and words of earnest repentance, hating itself from the bottom of the heart, and crying out, Shame upon me, what have I done? This pleases God, so that He becomes gracious once more.")
But where punishment bears such fruit, God looks upon the sinner with favour again. When Israel had gone so far, He would remember His covenant with the fathers ("My covenant with Jacob," יעקב בּריתי: the suffix is attached to the governing noun, as in Lev 6:3, because the noun governed, being a proper name, could not take the suffix), and remember the land (including its inhabitants), which, as is repeated again in Lev 26:43, would be left by them (become desolate) and enjoy its Sabbaths whilst it was waste (depopulated) from (i.e., away from, without) them; and they would enjoy their iniquity, because they had despised the judgments of the Lord, and their soul had rejected His statues.
"And yet, even with regard to this, when they shall be in the land of their enemies, have I not despised them." That is to say, if it shall have come even so far as that they are in the land of their enemies (the words גּם־זאת stand first in an absolute sense, and are strengthened or intensified by ואף and more fully explained by בּהיותם וגו), I have not rejected them, to destroy them and break My covenant with them. For I am Jehovah their God, who, as the absolutely existing and unchangeably faithful One, keeps His promises and does not repent of His calling (Rom 11:29).
He would therefore remember the covenant with the forefathers, whom He had brought out of Egypt before the eyes of the nations, to be a God to them; and He would renew the covenant with the fathers to them (the descendants), to gather them again out of the heathen, and adopt them again as His nation (cf. Deu 30:3-5). In this way the judgment would eventually turn to a blessing, if they would bend in true repentance under the mighty hand of their God.
Lev 26:46 contains the close of the entire book, or rather of the whole of the covenant legislation from Ex 25 onwards, although the expression "in Mount Sinai" points back primarily to Lev 25:1.