“Choose life” isn’t a slogan that was invented in the 1980’s! It’s actually a Bible phrase of immense importance to us all. We’re going to explore that in Leviticus 26.
If you’ve ever tried reading the Bible from the beginning and then got bogged down by the time you got to Leviticus, you’re hardly the first. But hopefully by now your understanding of Leviticus is stronger than it was. If it is, your understanding of Jesus will be bigger too. Leviticus 26 is just the kind of chapter that might finish you off on first reading. But (you knew there was a but!) – it’s a superb reflection on God and on his desire to bless.
And it opens up huge vistas of understanding across the Bible, the world we live in, and the eternity that is ahead of you.
The people of Leviticus have come a very long way. In Leviticus 1:1 they had God dwelling in his Tabernacle in their camp, but no-one could go in or approach him – or they’d die. But God called from the Tabernacle and gave instructions:
- They were give a series of sacrifices – sins atoned for, approach and dedication to God made, and even a meal in God’s presence
- They were given a priesthood to mediate the worship, and to teach them.
- And a High Priest would even go into God’s immediate presence once a year to represent them all to God.
- The whole nation was to be holy – every one of them living out holiness in work, at home, in marketplace.
- And now God dwelling among them, and them being called weekly and seasonally to dedicate time to worship him; holy assembly in a holy place for a holy time.
And, like the lamps shining on the 12 loaves of bread within the Tabernacle before God, God’s own face would shine (as it were) on his people, the 12 tribes of Israel. The question is: Could it stay that way, forever? God finishes Leviticus with covenant promises so that it could:
Verses 3-13 list all the blessings God will lavish on them: Abundant crops, peace in the land, dominion over enemies, a fruitful and multiplying community and – especially – God himself would be with them. That’s the peak, the primary blessing.
- But these blessings were conditional on obedience.
- Obviously so, really. If there was no obedience, there would be no holiness, leading to separation from God.
- No holy assembly, no holy time with God.
Curses – and hope
So v14-39 lists a series of curses. They’re also conditional, each beginning “If…” But v23 in particular is crucial. Read Leviticus 26:23. The curses aren’t primarily punitive – they’re corrective (or should be). Each one is awful; but each one is a call to repent, to turn back to obedience and blessing.
Or else face the ultimate curse – exile. Read Leviticus 26:33. The ultimate curse is to be scattered, not gathered. Far from God – physically (Tabernacle) and spiritually. No holy assembly, no time in his presence. Lost.
Even so, v40-45 offer hope. If the people would only turn from their sin and repent before God, he will not utterly destroy them. The reason he won’t do that is that he made an earlier covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Their descendants might break the covenant made with them, but God will not go back on the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. A covenant that would bring blessing to all nations.
But here in Leviticus 26, the people are given a stark, binary, either/or choice: Blessing, or curse? Life, or death? It would be summarised again by Moses, 40 years later. Read Deuteronomy 30:11-20.
Choose life! Choose blessing! And that will look like a holiness of life, coming in holy assembly in a holy place for a holy time. Or choose death. Choose curse. Choose sin, and the consequences of sin: Death, separation, exile from God and all that is good.
Now all this actually then helps us see more clearly. With our “Leviticus specs” we can understand more of the Bible and more of what’s going on in our world today.
First, reading the Bible with Leviticus specs opens up new understanding.
Think about Eden, the way it was in the beginning. God dwelt on the earth with humanity; he was present. They could meet with him, speak with him, see his face. That is how humanity is meant to be – and what Leviticus begins to re-establish.
In time, God’s people would enter the land promised to them, with Jerusalem as its capital, and the mobile Tabernacle replaced by a permanent Temple! God permanently in their midst. His holiness flowing out through his chosen people so that all nations would know the Lord. At least, that was the vision. Except that Israel didn’t keep the covenant with God. They were disobedient.
The prophets (Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos, etc) use Leviticus 26 language to call out sin. But they do it – not pronouncing final judgment – but rather a call to repentance, to change, to come back to blessing under God.
- Leviticus 26 explains the exile. God was patient with them for centuries, but generation after generation kept turning away. So they were scattered to the nations.
- You see there how seriously God takes his covenants – he is quick to bless, patient when rejected, but ultimately righteous and just.
Let the reader understand!
Bible reader beware: Some things that seem a bit boring or unexciting are actually foundational to Bible understanding. And mature Bible readers should certainly be familiar with the covenants in the Bible, and how they affect God’s dealings with people.
- Back in Eden, sin led to curse. The man was cursed, the woman, the serpent – even the very ground was cursed.
- But God promised blessing to come through Abraham – in fact, through faith like Abraham’s.
- The repeated failure of Israel to keep the covenant made with them would mean another would be required.
- Through Jeremiah, God promised there would be a new covenant – though the blessing would be the same: “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jer 31:33)
- The ultimate blessing will come when the ultimate Eden is restored, at the end of this world as told in Revelation 21-22:
- 3 No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. 4 And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.
God with us
The New Covenant – the New Testament – is characterised by Immanuel, God with us. First Christ came to earth as a human, with his very real presence walking the dusty paths and roads of Judea, Samaria and Galilee.
- On his ascension to heaven, he then sent the Holy Spirit of God into the earth; he gives his holy presence and indwelling to every Christian.
- And as we gather in holy assembly – each of us made holy by the Holy Spirit in us – we are the physical representation of his body here on earth today.
- When we gather in holy assembly we’re doing a dress rehearsal for heaven and for eternity on a new earth!
All of which points to the final separation of humanity in Revelation 19-21. Curse, a second death, and eternal exile from all this is good. Or blessing, eternal life, with the light of the glory of God himself shining on you for all eternity.
In our world
The language of Leviticus 26 provides you with Leviticus specs to see the Bible, which in turn helps you understand the world around you too. Read Leviticus 26:23 again.
- God absolutely permits bad things to happen in the world.
- Partly he permits them as the natural consequence of sin. Bad things show sin up for what it is.
- Partly he permits them as calls to repentance – longing for humanity to cry out to God for help, instead of blaming him for all its trouble.
You might ask, “Why does God allow it? What doesn’t God do something?”
- He has. Right now he offers you an alternative. He offers you life. Turn in repentance and faith, turn in obedience to him, away from your sin.
- No? Can you really expect heaven on earth and reject God from whom all good things come?
- Besides, asking God to step in and do something means you’re asking him to limit human behaviour and choice – should he also step in and control you? He’d have to!
- In any case, the Bible ends with a picture of how his patience with you will one day end. He will act. This old world will be replaced by a new one – and all who reject him will have no place in it. They chose curse.
Leviticus, properly read, is wonderful. But to read it “properly” is to read it as a shadow, a 2D representation of a 3D wonder. Look especially at Leviticus 26:12.
If you’ve been following everything so far in Leviticus, that verse seems to be offering more than we’ve come to expect: “I will walk among you.” The Most Holy God will walk among his people, who must themselves be holy. It is only in Christ that the fullness of God’s promises is found.
In saying, “choose life,” no-one is saying, “choose a life of boring, limiting, obedient drudgery.” No-one is setting expectations on you for something you can’t do. The invitation is to turn to Christ for blessing.
- Read Romans 10:5-13.
- We are all offered life or death, blessing or curse.
- And that offer of life or death is the offer of faith in Christ, or not.
- He is the way, and the only way to God.
- He is truth, when all else is falsehood and dashed hopes.
- And more, he is the life itself; he is the end of the journey.
- To turn to Jesus in repentance and faith is to come into God’s eternal blessing. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
- And it’s not impossible, or hard. He is at hand. He is God with us. Near us. Near you.
You are already a slave to your sin; it holds you captive and keeps you bound for exile from God. But Jesus calls you to life – to be his forever. He will command you; he will demand things of you. To follow Jesus could even cost you your life (as it does for many today around the world).
Choose abundant life
But he offers you life. Abundant, meaningful life. Because being with him is life itself. For every Christian, Christ is in you. He is your hope of glory.
He sanctifies you (makes you holy) by his presence. We come together week by week in holy assembly around him. And we keep on doing it until the day when there is no more curse and we will be in holy assembly with all God’s people from all time and space, together, in the light of his glory, forever.
In the meantime, Leviticus has pointed you to your holy life. You are to be holy, because the Lord in you is holy. You’re called to a holy life in work, at school, at home, in the shops.
And week by week, we will gather to worship him.
There is nothing more worthy – or better for you – than to gather in holy assembly with God’s people and worship him.