Bechukotai -“In My Statutes”

This week’s Parasha is B’chukotai and brings us to the conclusion of the book of Leviticus, covering chapters 26 and 27. In chapter 26 Adonai outlines the blessings for obedience and punishments for disobedience.  These blessings and curses depended on whether or not Israel would keep the Covenant that Almighty God gave His people. In chapter 26, the word “if” occurs nine times in relation to the Jewish people occupying and having abundance in the land of Israel.

The blessings were conditional. God says, “If you will do this, then I will bless you with these things”… things like rain when it was needed, abundant crops, a rich harvest, protection from their enemies, as well as making the Israelis numerous and fruitful. In fact, in verse 11 God says, “I will make My dwelling among you and My soul will not reject you”. Rabbi Paul quotes this verse in 2 Corinthians 6:16 when he describes the privileged place of Yeshua’s followers as His temple. The Lord’s own presence among His people is the guarantee of the rewards for obedience.

Historically, there have been times that the Jewish people did follow God, and we can see how God blessed them greatly. On the other hand, both history and the Word of God show that most of the time Israel did not follow God, and this also meant that the rest of the world didn’t know or follow God, either. But their time would come.

In verses 14 and 16 we see three of those ‘if’ statements: “If you reject My Covenant…”, “If you refuse to hear and to do…”, and “If you despise and reject My statutes, judgment will be on you and the land.” God lists five stages of judgment.

The first stage would be the removal of the blessing as described in verses four through seven, and would include defeat in battle. The second stage, if they have not listened, would include famine and drought.  Their pride would be replaced with humility and God says it would be sevenfold; not meaning seven times; but rather that their humiliation would be thorough and complete until such time as they repent. The third stage would include being overrun by wild beasts.

The fourth stage would bring war, pestilence, and lack of food. The fifth stage would be our people’s exile from the land. This exile would also provide the land an opportunity to have its own rest and to once again be holy to God since the land in which God would dwell with His people must be holy. This played out clearly in the exile of Israel in the North in 722 BC and Judah in the South in 586 BC.

For nearly 500 years Israel neglected to give the land its Sabbaths. That means the land missed 70 Sabbatical years. The Israelis failed to heed God’s requirement and Adonai finally had enough. So the Three-In-One God sent the Jewish people out of the land for 70 years. 2 Chronicles 36:21 makes the connection between the set number of years of the Babylonian Exile and the years of our neglect to honor the Sabbatical Year. Brothers and sisters, this shows who is in charge, and it isn’t us. It is the One who created us and all that we see in the earth or the sea or the sky, none other than El Gibbor, the Mighty God.

But Israel’s past failings will not negate the fact that God deeded that land to the Jewish people forever. This is a remarkable prophecy which shows that Adonai can and will restore and deliver His people. There are some people who see only the curses that God put on the nation at that time, and claim that God is finished with the Jewish people. This was the foolish thinking of the Babylonians, but 70 years later the Jewish people returned to the land. Though they were removed a second time around 135 A.D., the nation once again was re-established in 1948. But beyond the outworking of history, Romans chapters 9 through 11 clearly teaches that Adonai is not finished with His chosen people, the Jewish nation.

Verses 40-46 of chapter 26 show that repentance will bring hope, and that if Israel would return to God and forsake their disobedience, there would be forgiveness and blessing. God in his glorious grace will reinstate the blessings that He promised the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This demonstrates the unilateral nature of God’s covenant with Israel. Despite His punishment of the nation, including the dispersion of the Jewish people, God promises that He will neither reject nor destroy them, but rather discipline them as a father his children.

God can look down through the ages and see our repeated failures, but it is His faithfulness that brings the final victory.

In chapter 27, God gave instruction about fulfilling our vows concerning persons, animals, houses, and land. Something we should remember about making a vow is that it is voluntary. It is going the second mile; it is making a promise and then guaranteeing that we will see it through. We should never make a vow that we are not fully prepared to make good on. Breaking our vows displeases God.

We can see in Scripture a few examples of vows.  One is when Hannah vowed that if God gave her a son she would dedicate him to the Lord, and that is exactly what she did. When God gave her a son, she named him Samuel (“God has heard”).  He was a great prophet and leader of the Jewish people.  In fact, he anointed David as king at God’s command.

A tragic example of a foolish vow in Scripture was Jephthah. He vowed that he would sacrifice to the Lord the first thing he saw when he returned home from a victorious battle (assuming it would be one of his flock). Sadly, the first thing he saw was his daughter coming out of the house. Some scholars believe that he really did take his daughter’s life as an offering to God, since Judges 11:39 says he carried out his vow. There are other scholars who suggest that since God would never tolerate the sacrifice of one’s child, rather than offering her as a sacrifice, Jephthah instead dedicated her permanently in service to the Almighty; but it meant she would never marry or bear children. This would still a great sacrifice for an Israeli woman, and shows the importance of thinking twice before making a vow. We need to make good on our vows, or not make them at all.

The last part of chapter 27 deals with tithing to God. The fact that God ends the book of Leviticus here, describing the tithe, shows the importance of how we worship. Of course worship involves praying and giving praise to God in song, and in hearing the Word of God taught; but worship also includes the opportunity (and presumes our desire) to obediently give God what He deserves from us materially. After all, it was already His to begin with. So we should always be willing and eager to give back to Him our Time, treasures, and talents.

Naturally, for some this is difficult. We should pray that God gives us a desire to give Him what is rightfully His. We have Scripture to remind us what happens to those who hold back what is God’s, and those who are tight-fisted with their money. We read about the man who had so much surplus from his crops that he planned to tear down his barns to build bigger ones, instead of sharing what he had,  that very night God took his life. We also have the example of Ananias and Sapphira, who claimed that they had given the Lord the entire proceeds from the sale of land, but had held some back. The lie cost them their lives.

So brothers and sisters, remember that the Lord tells us that if we will follow and glorify Him, He will in turn bless us. But if we disobey Him, we will be punished accordingly.

Let’s remember that even when He disciplines us, He still loves us. And when we repent from our transgressions against Him, He always restores us.  What an incredible gift of grace that is.  Speaking of grace, I am reminded that in John 1:17 the inspired writer says “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Yeshua”.  Moses may have delivered the words that God gave him and acted as Israel’s mediator for a time, but the true and final Mediator between God and mankind is our Yeshua, the Messiah.

And speaking of discipline and repentance, I am reminded of what Jeremiah wrote, “Heal me and I will be healed, save me and I will be saved for You are my praise”. The great prophet understood that the same Lord who at times reproves us, is also the One who heals and saves us, and His name is Yeshua the Messiah.