33. Bechukotai (In my statutes) Leviticus 26:3 – 27:34

How Are the Jewish People Still Around?

Torah Portion for week 33: Leviticus 26:3 – 27:34

בְּחֻקֹּתַי

Bechukotai (In my statutes)

Why are the Jewish people still around? How have they survived? This might seem like a strange question, but in light of today’s passage we can’t help but wonder. This week’s portion closes the book of Leviticus with a list of blessings and curses. These are the conditions of the Mosaic covenant that God made with Israel in Sinai. Just like any other agreement or contract, this covenant will yield rewards for keeping the conditions agreed upon, or punishments for breaking them: Israel will be blessed if they obey the covenant, or cursed if they disobey. But more specifically, Israel will either experience God’s blessing in the land, or experience God’s ultimate wrath in exile outside the land.

For example, in Leviticus 26:3-6 God says to Israel,

If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. . . . And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely.  I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land.

But in verses 32-33, God issues a warning to Israel if they will not obey: “And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it.  And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.” It is in light of warnings such as these that we ask, “Why are the Jewish people still around? And how have they returned to their land? Why didn’t God wipe them out completely for breaking his covenant?”

Sadly, we know that Israel did not obey the Mosaic covenant and suffered tremendously within the land during the times of the judges and the divided kingdom, eventually faced exile in  Assyria and Babylon, and more recently, after the second destruction of the temple, was exiled throughout the world. God had to remain faithful to the conditions of the covenant, and so he punished Israel for her disobedience.

But is there no hope for Israel? Have the Jewish people permanently lost the land that was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because of their disobedience? Did God utterly forsake the Jewish people because of their sin? As Paul writes in Romans, “May it never be!” (Rom 11:1).[1] There was hope for Israel then, as there still is today. Both in Leviticus and in its parallel passage in Deuteronomy 28 – 30, God predicts both punishment and restoration for the Jewish people:

I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. . . . Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God.  But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD. (Lev 26:42, 44-45)

It is true that Israel has broken the conditions of the Mosaic covenant and has suffered terribly as a result, but the covenant relationship that God has established with Israel is not based on the conditions of the Mosaic covenant, but on the unconditional, gracious promises of the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 15, a covenant that was later confirmed to Isaac and Jacob and the twelve tribes – a  covenant, which, according to Paul, cannot be cancelled by the Law of Moses which came 430 years later (Gal 3:17). God has vowed to bless Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to be the God of their descendants forever, to give them a land for an everlasting inheritance, and through them to bless all nations through Yeshua the Messiah. No strings attached. No conditions given.

Although Israel has disobeyed God, and even now mostly rejects the Messiah, the unique relationship with God and the gracious gift of the land are not things that can be taken away from the Jewish people, even in their disobedience. In Romans 11:28-29, Paul explains, “As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

That is why, even though they broke the Mosaic covenant repeatedly, the Jewish people are still around and are back in their land. The very existence of the Jewish people is a testimony to God’s everlasting faithfulness and grace.

[1] World English Bible

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