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Talk on Leviticus 26: Fruitfulness of the Nation of Israel

Most of the text is a talk given at Main Street Community Church, Frodsham, UK, Sunday 19 September 2021, by Andrew Basden. A few items have been added, which are in smaller font.

Scripture Passage: Leviticus 26:3-17.

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We are entering Big Green Week and, I understand, that is a reason I have been asked to preach on this passage today. It is the third in the series on fruitfulness. Two weeks ago, Paul spoke on Colossians 1:1-14, on our lives as representatives of Christ: Modelling Godly character; Christlike lifestyle, and so on. Last week, Moira spoke on the Fruit of the Holy Spirit, Love, Joy, Peace and so on.

This week we are looking at the fruitfulness at the national level. But what I have found does, I think, apply at the level of individuals, households and organisations like businesses too.

I am speaking to the people here and on Zoom, but also it might be viewed on the Internet by people all over the world - in Sweden, Russia, China, Korea, Japan, the Pacific Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Bhutan, SriLanka, Antarctica (!), South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, Libya, Italy, Greece, the rest of Europe, South America, North America - you are all welcome!

1. Blessings

Being careful to keep God's laws brings about many blessings:

What a wonderful, fruitful national life! Who would not want this! There are many passages that give a similar promise.

I find, in Leviticus 26:3-13 an expression of the love of God, the God who desires to bless. Did not Jesus say, "give and it will be given to you - pressed down and overflowing." Giving is an attitude rather than an action.

God loves the entire Creation and wants it to work well, with humans 'shepherding' it as God's representatives, to bring more and more blessing. The laws God gave indicate the way God has designed Creation to work, in all its aspects, whether physical, biological, animal, and in the human aspects, whether social, technology, power, love and dignity.

But then from verse 14 we get the opposite. If the people "abhor" and reject the Lord and His laws, then a whole set of corresponding disasters will come upon the people. There are many passages giving a similar warning. For example Hosea 4:2-3 says "It is because of your sins that the animals are dying and the crops are failing." I won't go into the warnings here, because I want to emphasise something else.

2. One Yields Many

In thinking about this, I got bogged down in the detail - until someone pointed out one obvious thing: In this passage all these many blessings come from one thing.

Students have to do many things to achieve one thing: they have attend many courses, submit many assignments and pass many exams, to get one thing, a degree or a set of A levels or GCSEs.

This passage is the opposite: one thing yields many blessings.

What is this one thing? It is what we may call attitude of heart. Being careful about the commands of God is an attitude.

This, if my scholarssip is correct, is where the emphasis lies in the Hebrew. The being-careful, the attitude of heart, comes first, and then comes "and-you-obey", almost as though obeying comes from attitude of heart. But remember when God told Samuel, about picking the youngest child, David, "Man looks on the outward appearance; God looks on the heart"? Remember when Jesus told us that "Out of the heart comes what we say and do"? And many similar passages.

We also find an emphasis on heart attitude in the negative direction: "abhoring" the Lord's ways and rejecting them. God made this attitude more concrete when he told the prophet Ezekiel (16:49) that the "sin" that got Sodom destroyed and Judah exiled was "affluence, arrogance, unconcern." It was out of this attitude that what they did came: mistreatment of the poor and other "despicable things".

3. What About Now?

But that was then, before Jesus came, and in a rural community. Does Leviticus 26 work now?

I think we can see the positives being worked out in nations where the Gospel of Christ has held wide sway, throughout all sections of society, from lowest to highest. Examples:

In both cases, the heart attitude of a large number of people was towards God and God's laws for living, especially those found in the Gospels. Historian Tom Holland recognises more widely the good the Gospel of Christ brought to the world. God's promise of Leviticus 26 still applied.

4. Today?

I think that Leviticus 26 still applies today, but in reverse, from verse 14 onwards. Think over the past 20 years.

Does not that sound like Leviticus 26:17? "I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you and you will flee even when no-one is pursuing you."

What a contrast! What's the difference? What I see is a different attitude. Before, those nations were following God; now I see "affluence, arrogance, unconcern".

Can we not see arrogance and unconcern in Donald Trump's "America First!" affluence and unconcern in the financial sector, arrogance in the USA's military actions, affluence and unconcern in our Covid-spreading lifestyles, of which more below? [Note on Earlier Times]

Let me give just one example of how this attitude has led to disaster, which I heard just the other day.

It seems that, after they were defeated, the Taliban sent a letter to Hamed Khazi, the new president, offering to lay down its arms - a letter of surrender. Apparently, the USA did not want surrender, they wanted a "comprehensive defeat". They wanted revenge for 9/11. So they put pressure on Hamed Khazi to ignore the letter, and the Taliban went into hiding and kept their arms. An opportunity was lost. Then the USA and its allies went into Iraq - and stimulated the rise of ISIL. The West poured money, skills and training into Afghanistan for 20, and suddenly, a month ago, the Taliban were allowed an amazingly fast victory. This was an attitude that went against the Gospel - directly against Jesus' command "Love your enemies". [See other examples]

To me, it is no surprise that the West has failed.

I wonder whether those things are warnings allowed by God, calling the USA, UK and all the affluent nations of the world to repent of this attitude and all that it creates. 9/11 was perhaps the first warning. What was hit, but the symbols of affluence and unconcern (the World Trade Center) and military arrogance (the Pentagon)? But the USA refused to repent - even though Billy Graham and his wife had warned "If God does not judge America, He'll have to apologise to Sodom and Gomorrah." So other warnings came, each one resulting from "affluence, arrogance and unconcern".

What saddens me is that many Christians in America and over here went along with this lack of repentance.

Now let me give you one more example, which is relevant to Big Green Week that is just starting, and more closely to us as people.

5. Lifestyle and Climate and Environmental Responsibility

To care for Creation is the primary responsibility that God gave humanity right from the start (Genesis 1,2).

Instead, we are plundering the earth. The USA and UK ecological footprint is two-and-a-half to three Earths. Ecological footprint measures the demand we make on the planet if our lifestyle were to be extended equitably to all people on earth. We are damaging the earth much faster than it can replenish. This includes climate, biodiversity, habitats - all belonging to God, and for which God has given humans responsibility. The time (kairos) has come for us to take it seriously.

Ecological footprint has three main parts: transport, power consumed and other things, especially meat-eating. Three Earths: We must reduce each of these by two-thirds. We need to cut down.

Or else, we take the attitude that the rest of the world can starve, so that we can enjoy our pleasant lifestyles! That is unconcern writ large.

Attitude of heart is revealed in our reactions. Is our reaction to resist that message? To reject? To "abhor" it [Leviticus 26:15]? Do we want to hold on to, and defend, our pleasures of life, our conveniences? Unconcern.

What perplexes me is: Why do Christians in America, or here, go along with this attitude? Ezekiel 16:49 shows us that God judges the attitude of both Sodom, who did not worship Yahweh, and Judah, who did. Is God judging Western Christians today, and sending warnings to us all?

To summarise Leviticus 26:

"When people ask for hope and mean, by that, the continuation of the status quo, the time for that is over. The world of the future is here, and to hope that we can get over the finish line with all stuff and all our prior behaviours and beliefs, is ill-advised - impossible. However, despite how much pain and suffering cannot be avoided, on our way to the world of tomorrow, there will be a world and we will be in it. And there will be possibilities for meaningful and rewarding action there will be new kinds of cultural formations that make our continuing to that world possible." Richard Powers.

6. The Opportunity

But let me return to the positive. The good news is: we don't need to be trapped in that attitude! God's people are supposed to be leaders to bring the world towards blessing.

In answer to Ezekiel 16:49 is Matthew 5, Jesus tells us where blessing - fruitfulness - comes from. Or, rather the type of people whom blessing follows:

And so on, with all the Beattitudes.

These work, to produce real fruitfulness. That is what many have founf - those who "no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again" [II Corinthians 5:15]. I myself have discovered that when I boldly obey, and give up apparent claims to the comforts and conveniences of life, to getting my way, to being applauded, then I experience joy and peace, I find things 'work' in my life. I find the kind of blessing described in Leviticus 26:3-13. Maybe you have a similar testimony to give?

As Romans 8 tells us, Jesus came so that we can be changed in heart and mind, if we are willing. Dimension 1 of salvation for the entire Creation is to make us right with God through the atoning death of Christ, so that the Holy Spirit can dwell in us (Dimension 2 of salvation) and grow fruit in us, as Moira was telling us last week, to make us mature and become like Christ, so that (Dimension 3 of salvation) the mature people of God will, as God's representatives ("the Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the [mature people] of God", Romans 8:19), who would treat Creation as their Heavenly Father would. And that is why Paul goes into a paeon of praise at the end of Romans 8. [Note: Romans 8 and Three Dimensions of Salvation]

The Beattitudes are part of that.

Let me finish with one little story.

Early in 1904 revival broke out in south Wales. People not only turned to Christ as their Saviour, but they took him and the Bible seriously. So alcoholics (as we call them today; drunkards then) just lost the desire for alcohol, violent men stopped beating their wives because they began to love them instead, thieves stopped stealing because they knew their new Heavenly Father would supply all they needed and stealing no longer held any thrill for them; Christ, and sharing Christ with others was what now thrilled them. Crime plummeted and the police and magistrates found they had nothing to do. No government action, nor any well-meaning efforts of preachers, had achieved anything like this before. People's attitudes of heart was changed - by the Spirit of God working in many people to change their deepest desires, aspirations and expectations of what is meaningful and good in life. Not everyone took part of course, but enough did for people's behaviour and the whole of society to be radically changed in just a couple of months.

We may sum it up by:

These apply at both personal and national levels. Think of the parable of the soils and sower.

7. Hope for the Future

Now, I believe that gives hope for the future. Can we tackle climate change, the climate emergency? I believe that if we retain our arrogance, affluence and unconcern, we will not do that, whatever laws we pass. But if we are open to the Holy Spirit, truly open to the Holy Spirit, then God can act and God will act. And Leviticus 26:3-13, I believe, applies, and is the hope for the future.

The young today are are terrified about the future. This is their hope.

So, Christians, all over the world, including in this place in Frodsham, take this hope and proclaim it. Don't harp back to what we learned at the Reformation, about the atoning death of Christ; don't harp back to what God sent into the world 150 years ago, the power of the Holy Spirit. God is doing a new thing. He's building on those - the atoning death of Christ and the Holy Spirit - so that His people will lead the world and preach Christ for the healing and care of Creation.

See Also

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On 9/11 and Its Aftermath: