Torah Commentary | Leviticus

Portion: Torah Portion No. 96
Torah: Leviticus 26:3–27:34
Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19–21
Apostolic: Luke 9:57–62

The Covenant & God’s Faithfulness

By Tim Hegg

As we come to this last parashah of VaYiqra (Leviticus), the main theme is that of covenant faithfulness, concluding with laws re­garding vows. This is a fitting conclusion to a book that has constantly kept the theme of “holiness” before us. To be “holy” (קָדושׁ) means to be set apart, and for God’s people this means set apart to Him by being members of the covenant with Him. Thus, to be holy (in one sense) is to be keepers of the covenant that HaShem has made. Those things which God has given us as the mitzvot of the covenant are to remind us of the relationship we have with HaShem and help us maintain our faithfulness to the covenant. As many of the berachot begin, “…who sanctifies us in His commandment.” God has graciously given us the means by which we may be constantly set apart to Him, and from the world. One of these means are His commandments. Note that the last parashah ends with the ad­mo­nition of the Sabbaths (weekly and mo’edim)—prime ex­am­ples of the mitzvot given to us by God in or­der to aid us in being set apart to Him.

Perhaps one of the most obvious, over arching lessons in the first half of our parashah is that God remains faithful to the covenant be­cause of Who He is—His essential character. Reiterating the words of the Shema ini­tially (obe­dience on Israel’s part will secure rain and pro­duce in the fields, etc.) and con­tinuing in typical cov­enant lan­guage to de­lin­eate both the blessings and the curses, chapter 26 graphically out­lines the con­se­quences of Is­ra­el’s obedience or diso­be­dience to God as cov­enant members. Obe­dience will be met with sub­se­quent blessing while disobedience will inevitably bring God’s hand of pun­ishment—in some cases se­vere punishment. But what we are most en­couraged by is the manner in which chapter 26 ends: (vv. 44f) “But despite all this, while they will be in the land of their en­emies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am Adonai their God.” God’s faith­fulness to the covenant is a matter of who He is (כִּי אֲנִי יהוה, “because I am Adonai”). He cannot deny His cov­enant with Israel because He cannot deny Him­self. This is no doubt what Paul has in mind when he writes (2Tim 2:11-13): “It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself.” Here we have the duality which, at first glance, seems con­tra­dictory. In our text, 26:15, the covenant is able to be annulled or broken: “if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My or­di­nances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant, I, in turn, will do this to you…. ” Paul writes similarly: “if we deny Him, He also will deny us.” It sounds con­tra­dictory: if the covenant is es­tab­lished by God on the basis of His own person, how can the cov­enant be broken or annulled by the diso­be­dience of covenant mem­bers? And how can the covenant be bro­ken through disobedience (Lev 26:15) yet maintained by God  through His faithfulness (Lev 26:44)?

The answer has to do with the two-fold perspective of the cov­enant: both individual and corporate. God’s covenant with Israel, whether con­sid­ered as the Abrahamic alone or the combination of Abrahamic/Mo­saic/Davidic, has both an in­di­vidual as well as a cor­po­rate sig­nifi­cance. As touching any in­di­vidual or single gen­eration, the blessings of the covenant come only when there is genuine obe­dience. But in terms of the overall nature of the covenant, and when viewing Israel as an eternal people, the covenant is secure by means of God’s own word. Confusing this truth has often led to bad the­ology through­out the Christian era, in which “replacement the­ology” has taken that which pertains to the individual or specific gen­eration and applied it to the eternal people of Israel. Conversely, Israel has herself misapplied this truth by pre­suming that God would not punish the individual because of the covenant promises made on a national level.

The blessings of the covenant, enumerated in the first 13 verses of chapter 26, are a treasure indeed! Note them: (1) provide rain, (2) provide food, (3) give peace, (4) protect from wild animals, (5) pro­tect from enemy armies, (6) victory in battle, (7) multiply popu­lation, (8) God’s sanctuary is placed among the people, (9) God’s Spirit would not reject the people, (10) HaShem would walk among the people, meaning He would make His presence known.

Ultimately, this list of blessings is summed up in the covenant phrase “I will be God to you and you will be My people.” Nothing could be a greater blessing than to have God in our midst! Here is the return to Gan Eden where man and God walked together and communed as genuine friends. This is the goal of the covenant, that we should be friends with the Almighty.

But the discipline of HaShem upon those who are His own possession can be severe, especially when rebellion becomes the pattern of their lives. There is a constant refrain of “sevenfold punishment” (26:18, 21, 24, 28). Some have taken this to mean that the pun­ishment will be in­creased seven times for the same sin. But one wonders whether or not this fits the character of God’s justice. Does not a righteous judge mete out measure for measure? Is it righteous to increase the penalty seven times? Would justice be served to give seven punishments for a single sin? Some would re­spond (and per­haps rightly) that con­tinuing re­bellion warrants an increased pen­alty, much like a re­peat offender re­ceives in­creasingly severe punishment from the courts.

The Sages, however, took this “sevenfold” another way, teaching that God will bring seven different kinds of punishment. The Stone Chumash translates the phrase “I will punish you further, seven ways for your sins.” Note the sins listed in vv 14-15:

    1   not listening to HaShem

2   not performing the mitzvot (occasional lapses of obedience)

3   considering the decrees loathsome

4   rejecting the ordinances

5   not performing the mitzvot (a pattern of life)

6   annulling the covenant, and thus

7   [implied] denying the existence of God


These will be punished seven ways:

    1   vv. 16-17 – defeat before enemies

2   vv. 18-20 – no success in work

3   vv. 21-22 – calamity in everyday life

4   vv. 23-26 – exile, defeat in battle

5   vv. 27-31 – utter despair; death

6   vv. 34-35 – complete exile into foreign land, land overrun

7   vv. 36-39 – generational loss; survivors weakened

Thus, God promises that, as a true Father, He will discipline those whom He loves, not allowing them to walk their own way or despise the covenant of which they are a part. But the greatness of our God is seen in His faithfulness, and His willingness to forgive. Even though Israel sins and in her sin despises the covenant, God is still committed to bringing her back in repentance and restoring her to the eternal covenant He has made. He will gather them from every di­rection and return them to the Land (so our Haftarah portion indicates). Here, once again, teshuvah, returning/repentance, is something initiated by God. Re­pentance is not pulling one’s self up by the boot straps, but re­sponding to the gracious work of God Who seeks the wayward sheep.

It is also to be noted that Israel, while in the lands of her enemies as a result of God’s discipline, is still able to prove her repentance through obedience to the Torah. But how would Israel be able to obey the Torah while in the land of her enemies? There would be no Temple, no functioning priesthood, and living outside of the Land would make other commandments impossible to obey. The answer seems obvious: when dispersed Israel would obey the commandments available to her, God would count this as true obedience, and a mark of true repentance. The ability to obey all of the commandments is not a necessity to demonstrate true obedience to the commandments that are able to be obeyed. We find ourselves in the same situation, and God calls us to obey all that we can. In so doing, we demonstrate a heart to obey God completely, and God looks on the heart, even if man looks on the outward appearance.

Our parashah ends, as does the book, with laws regarding vows, and particularly the vow of korban, or dedicating something to the Temple for its use. The laws are varied and somewhat involved, but what are we to learn from the fact that the text ends this way? Most obvious is that our vows to HaShem do, in many ways, bespeak the reality of our hearts toward Him. This being the case, we should be diligent to keep our vows, and to be careful in making them. In one sense, the doing of even the smallest mitzvah is a fulfilment of a vow, for we have committed ourselves before the Lord to walk in His ways and to do what He commands. But at the level of the smallest mitzvah we learn a most valuable lesson, one which applies to all acts of obedience, namely, that apart from His grace in giving us life and strength, not only would we be unable to obey Him, but we would not even have the heart to do so. Did you note carefully that one of the cov­enant blessings listed in our parashah was the presence of the Ruach, the Spirit of God, and His promise not to reject us? The presence of God in our midst, His walking amongst us, strengthens us to desire His ways and to do them. This divine “circle” means, in the end, that we are always and ultimately dependant upon Him for all things, including a heart to love Him.

חֲזֵק! חֲזֵק! וְנִתְחַזֵּק!

Chazaq! Chazaq! Venitchazeiq!

Be strong! Be strong! and let us be strengthened!



In the beginning

Genesis 1:1-6:8


In the beginning God…
Acceptable Worship
List of Generations

Tim Hegg

President / Instructor

Tim graduated from Cedarville University in 1973 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music and Bible, with a minor in Philosophy. He entered Northwest Baptist Seminary (Tacoma, WA) in 1973, completing his M.Div. (summa cum laude) in 1976. He completed his Th.M. (summa cum laude) in 1978, also from NWBS. His Master’s Thesis was titled: “The Abrahamic Covenant and the Covenant of Grant in the Ancient Near East”. Tim taught Biblical Hebrew and Hebrew Exegesis for three years as an adjunct faculty member at Corban University School of Ministry when the school was located in Tacoma. Corban University School of Ministry is now in Salem, OR. Tim is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature, and has contributed papers at the annual meetings of both societies. Since 1990, Tim has served as one of the Overseers at Beit Hallel in Tacoma, WA. He and his wife, Paulette, have four children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.