The Way of Life . . . The Way of Death


I. God’s blessings were dependent on their obedience to the regulations of chapters 17-25.

A. The detailed lists of duties to be performed and perversions to be avoided:

  • There were many ceremonial issues concerning the priests, the set times of sacrifice and feasts. No sacrifices without the tabernacle and priest (17:1-6); Autonomously designed individual sacrifices not to be tolerated, but only done through the designated priest in the designated place. This was to continue to educate the nation of the coming of the one great sacrifice that would bring an end to these ineffectual ceremonies and bring about true forgiveness and justify God in passing over the sins that they were committing (Romans 3:21-26).
  • There were moral issues concerning personal holiness, sexual morality, and community justice (especially chapter 18). They were to avoid the sexual promiscuity characteristic of the Egyptians in their worship of Isis and that of the Canaanites into whose land they would be going. Isis, the mythological goddess of fertility in Egypt represented the pagan breakdown of distinctions that God had placed in the order of creation, for she was both the sister and the wife of Osiris. She was used to justify multitudes of sexual perversions and incestuous relations. They were to observe dignity and sanctity in family relationships in sexual matters. These specific laws were built on the moral law given in the Ten Commandments.
  • There were worship issues concerning the revering of God’s name and the observance of the Sabbath day. This was to set him aside as the one true God and to keep before their minds that they served the Creator of the world.
  • There were issues of compassion and love based on the love for one’s neighbor as oneself. Included are laws about slavery, about the poor, the sojourner, the redeeming of land and houses and people.
  • The promise of life through obedience (Leviticus 18:5) in its ultimate sense means a perfect obedience from the heart. Perfect obedience is required if one were to obtain eternal life by the law (Romans 2:13; Galatians 3:12). Their national security, however, depended on their faithful execution of the sacrifices and the maintenance of a just and equitable society according to the provisions set forth in these chapters.

B. Moses described the prosperity of the land in its abundant provisions for joyful life (26:4-6).

  • Rains will come in their most propitious time for the maximum production of a fruitful yield.
  • There will never be a time when their productiveness is at a standstill. Harvest of grain will give way to harvest of fruit, and harvest of fruit will give way to sowing the fields.
  • They will be sustained by this pattern of production and will find security in this provision.

C. The land will be peaceful (26:6-8)

  • The condition of the land will be so secure that they will not fear for their safety even when they sleep.
  • He will remove the threat of harmful beasts from their land.
  • They will be no invasion that has success among them – “The sword shall not go through your land.”
    • They shall chase their enemies and utterly defeat them.
    • Their victory will occur in such a way that it is obvious that a supernatural power is at work for their safety and victory.

D. They will know the blessings that arise from God’s presence among them (26:9-13).

  • He will cause their population to increase and confirm his covenant with them (Genesis 17:4) “The father of a multitude of nations.”
  • This covenantal blessing will be demonstrated by a never failing, never-diminishing provision for the sustaining of life (10).
  • The presence of God will be manifest in their national life and they will find an abundance of grace.
    • As symbolized in the Tabernacle, he will dwell among them.
    • “My soul shall not abhor you”.
    • “I will walk among you.” As he did with Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:8).
    • They would maintain their position as free men.


II. On the other hand, if they do not listen, if they disobey his commands, spurn his statutes, and abhor his rule, the promise of the blessings above will be reversed. If they break his covenant, he will not be bound to give covenant blessings. The strength of this covenant was dependent on the faithfulness of themselves to all of its provisions.

A. They will lose all sense of security and live in panic (verses 16, 17, 36, 37).

B. They will have disease that makes them waste away and gives them despair about life. (16)

C. They will benefit little from harvest time, for their enemies will eat what they have sown (16).

D. No longer will they defeat their enemies, but they will be struck down and be ruled over by their enemies. (17, 25)

E. Rains will not come and their strength will be spent in vain. (19)

F. Their population will decrease. Their children will be killed and in time of famine they will eat their children (22, 29)

G. Failure to repent at each level of discipline will result in an increased manifestation of divine anger. (Verses 18, 21, 23, 27)

H. At the final failure of discipline, they will be taken into exile and perish and rot away among the nations. (verse 33)


III. Even with all this, God will not utterly destroy them nor forget his covenant. (Compare Jeremiah 31:28)

A. They will confess their iniquity both personally and familially (40, 43).

B. Though the new covenant promises for God to give a new heart (Jeremiah 31:31-34), God calls on them even while they have uncircumcised hearts to be humbled for their sin and make amends for their iniquity (41). Their obligation to God does not rest on his granting of gracious favors; the obligation exists as an absolute, even though the appeal is made to a people uncircumcised in heart.

C. The land will enjoy its Sabbaths (43). In this way it will be renewed and again support the crops needed for survival. Also it will stand as a testimony of God’s prerogative in setting aside a day for his people to concentrate on their dependence on him for sustenance both physical and spiritual.

D. During the exile after the destruction of Jerusalem, Ezekiel prophesied of this by repentance and the granting of a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26, 32-36).

E. God will not forsake his covenant with them (42, 44, 45). For the sake of his own faithfulness in his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God will bring to pass his purpose in making this people his special people.

  • Paul uses the promise of life through the keeping of the commandments and statutes (Leviticus 18:5 cf Galatians 3:12) to illustrate the utter spiritual and moral incapacity we have to achieve such life by the keeping of the law.
  • The spectacular failure of Israel demonstrated the necessity of life through faith by divine grace poured out through Christ (Galatians 3:23, 24).
  • It shows us the irreconcilability of life by keeping the law and life by faith (Galatians 3:10-14).
  • The biblical way of salvation by faith honors both the law of God and the unmerited, freely-given grace of God (Romans 3:31). When we are faced with an unbending moral law that demands perfect obedience in the context of a loving and grateful heart, faith accomplishes the moral equivalent, not of itself, but by union with the perfect obedience and substitutionary death of Christ (Galatians 3:10; Hebrews 5:7-10; Romans 4:13-16, 22-25).
  • By faith, therefore, the promise to Abraham of righteousness and that he would be the father of many nations comes true. Of his seed came the Messiah who would reconcile divine law with faith (Romans 3:27-31).
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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