Notes (NET Translation)
1 “‘You must not make for yourselves idols, so you must not set up for yourselves a carved image or a pillar, and you must not place a sculpted stone in your land to bow down before it, for I am the LORD your God. 2 You must keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary. I am the LORD.
The Israelites are not to make any likeness of God in any medium.
Both of these laws have to do with the proper worship of God. The placing of these laws on the proper worship of God at the beginning of the section on blessings and cursings indicates that the issue of blessings and cursings is intrinsically related to one’s relationship and response to God.1
3 “‘If you walk in my statutes and are sure to obey my commandments, 4 I will give you your rains in their time so that the land will give its yield and the trees of the field will produce their fruit. 5 Threshing season will extend for you until the season for harvesting grapes, and the season for harvesting grapes will extend until sowing season, so you will eat your bread until you are satisfied, and you will live securely in your land.
Verses 3-13 describe the blessings Israel will receive if it obeys God’s commandments. In ancient Israel heavy rains were needed in the fall (October-November) to water newly planted soil and gentle rains were needed in the spring (March-April) to yield grains. This is why verse 4 speaks of rains “in their time”. The harvests will be large enough that the Israelites will not have to ration their food for they will be satisfied. Since they will be secure in their land the Israelites can eat the bumper harvests God will provide.
6 I will grant peace in the land so that you will lie down to sleep without anyone terrifying you. I will remove harmful animals from the land, and no sword of war will pass through your land. 7 You will pursue your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword. 8 Five of you will pursue a hundred, and a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword. 9 I will turn to you, make you fruitful, multiply you, and maintain my covenant with you. 10 You will still be eating stored produce from the previous year and will have to clean out what is stored from the previous year to make room for new.
The image of a sword passing through the land refers to the ravages of war (v 6). While the Israelites will not suffer from war its enemies will (vv 7-8). When God turns toward his people they are blessed (v 9).
11 “‘I will put my tabernacle in your midst and I will not abhor you. 12 I will walk among you, and I will be your God and you will be my people. 13 I am the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, from being their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and caused you to walk upright.
In v 11 the tabernacle may refer more generally to God’s residence. The special relationship with God is the goal of the covenant (v 12).
The bars (motot) of the yoke (ʿol) were tied to the neck of a work animal by means of thongs (moserot). Jeremiah 28:10-13 provides a graphic description of a yoke on a human being; breaking the yoke is a metaphor for liberation. The bars of Jeremiah’s yoke are broken and thereby set him free. Yokes are still used in many parts of the Near East today and have not changed much since antiquity. The aptness of the biblical metaphor is apparent. A person who is subjugated, upon whom a yoke is placed, is bent over. Once the bars of the yoke are broken, he can stand at full stature, a position conveyed by the unique word komamiyyut, “in an upright position.”2
14 “‘If, however, you do not obey me and keep all these commandments — 15 if you reject my statutes and abhor my regulations so that you do not keep all my commandments and you break my covenant — 16 I for my part will do this to you: I will inflict horror on you, consumption and fever, which diminish eyesight and drain away the vitality of life. You will sow your seed in vain because your enemies will eat it. 17 I will set my face against you. You will be struck down before your enemies, those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee when there is no one pursuing you.
Verses 14-39 describe the curses that will befall the Israelites if they do not follow God’s commandments. The curses echo the preceding blessings. It was customary in the ancient Near East for the number of curses to be greater than the number of blessings. Verses 14-15 depict the people deliberately disobeying God and abhorring his regulations.
18 “‘If, in spite of all these things, you do not obey me, I will discipline you seven times more on account of your sins. 19 I will break your strong pride and make your sky like iron and your land like bronze. 20 Your strength will be used up in vain, your land will not give its yield, and the trees of the land will not produce their fruit.
Verses 18, 21, 23, and 27 imply that if the people repent God will stop imposing the punishments. The repetition of the phrase “seven times for your sins” (vv 18, 21, 24, 28) indicates that each stage of punishment is harsher than the next.
Iron and bronze were the strongest metals in ancient times. The land will become so hard that it will be impenetrable. This metaphor speaks of a long, enduring drought. All the energy spent in plowing and sowing will be for nought. The land will not yield any crops, and the fruit trees will not bear fruit.3
21 “‘If you walk in hostility against me and are not willing to obey me, I will increase your affliction seven times according to your sins. 22 I will send the wild animals against you and they will bereave you of your children, annihilate your cattle, and diminish your population so that your roads will become deserted.
2 Kgs 17:25-26 describes such an affliction by animals.
23 “‘If in spite of these things you do not allow yourselves to be disciplined and you walk in hostility against me, 24 I myself will also walk in hostility against you and strike you seven times on account of your sins. 25 I will bring on you an avenging sword, a covenant vengeance. Although you will gather together into your cities, I will send pestilence among you and you will be given into enemy hands. 26 When I break off your supply of bread, ten women will bake your bread in one oven; they will ration your bread by weight, and you will eat and not be satisfied.
The sentence “I will bring on you an avenging sword, a covenant vengeance” (v 25) means the sword will enforce the threats of the covenant.
27 “‘If in spite of this you do not obey me but walk in hostility against me, 28 I will walk in hostile rage against you and I myself will also discipline you seven times on account of your sins. 29 You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. 30 I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars, and I will stack your dead bodies on top of the lifeless bodies of your idols. I will abhor you. 31 I will lay your cities waste and make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will refuse to smell your soothing aromas. 32 I myself will make the land desolate and your enemies who live in it will be appalled. 33 I will scatter you among the nations and unsheathe the sword after you, so your land will become desolate and your cities will become a waste.
There were a few times in Israelite and Jewish history where cannibalism was resorted to (2 Kgs 6:28-29; Lam 2:20; 4:10; Josephus, Ant 4.3.4). The “high places” were places of false worship (v 30). By stacking the dead bodies of the Israelites on their idols the idols would be defiled (v 30). To say God will refuse to smell the soothing aromas of the offerings means he will not accept them (v 31).
34 “‘Then the land will make up for its Sabbaths all the days it lies desolate while you are in the land of your enemies; then the land will rest and make up its Sabbaths. 35 All the days of the desolation it will have the rest it did not have on your Sabbaths when you lived on it.
This was fulfilled according to 2 Chr 36:21.
36 “‘As for the ones who remain among you, I will bring despair into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a blowing leaf will pursue them, and they will flee as one who flees the sword and fall down even though there is no pursuer. 37 They will stumble over each other as those who flee before a sword, though there is no pursuer, and there will be no one to take a stand for you before your enemies. 38 You will perish among the nations; the land of your enemies will consume you. 39 “‘As for the ones who remain among you, they will rot away because of their iniquity in the lands of your enemies, and they will also rot away because of their ancestors’ iniquities which are with them.
A land may be said to devour its inhabitants in the sense that if it becomes unproductive, its population will perish. Ironically, this is how the spies, at least most of them, described the land of Canaan: “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers.” Here, the sense is that the exiled community will be swallowed up by the land of exile and become extinct.4
But v 39 speaks of survivors so complete extinction is not intended in v 38. Perhaps an ongoing process of perishing is in view.
40 However, when they confess their iniquity and their ancestors’ iniquity which they committed by trespassing against me, by which they also walked in hostility against me 41 (and I myself will walk in hostility against them and bring them into the land of their enemies), and then their uncircumcised hearts become humbled and they make up for their iniquity, 42 I will remember my covenant with Jacob and also my covenant with Isaac and also my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.
Verses 40-45 give a prescription for restoration. An uncircumcised, or thickened, heart is one that cannot feel or think (v 41). God “remembering” the covenant means he will act as the preserver of the covenant (v 42).
43 The land will be abandoned by them in order that it may make up for its Sabbaths while it is made desolate without them, and they will make up for their iniquity because they have rejected my regulations and have abhorred my statutes. 44 In spite of this, however, when they are in the land of their enemies I will not reject them and abhor them to make a complete end of them, to break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God. 45 I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out from the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God. I am the LORD.'”
Verse 15 states that Israel will have broken the covenant while verse 44 states God will not break the covenant. This raises the question of whether the covenant is broken or not.
This difficulty in interpretation is common to the variety of covenants that can be made. Each one has its conditional and unconditional aspects. In this section two kinds of covenants are witnessed: a grant in which Yahweh, its author, makes a unilateral pledge to the forefather of Israel and a treaty in which Yahweh imposes obligations on Israel, a second party. The promises made by Yahweh in the grant are unconditional; nevertheless, those promises can be carried forward and experienced only by those who are committed to him. In regard to the Sinaitic covenant, since it is more like a treaty, the benefits that Yahweh confers therein are conditional, based on Israel’s response, but the law of that covenant is irrevocable. In the scenario foreseen in these verses, Israel will have broken that covenant because she will have violated its stipulations. Therefore, she will be punished. Whenever she is being punished, she will not be directly benefiting from the promises made by the grant to Abraham. But her failure will not automatically mean that Yahweh will, on his part, abrogate that covenant, nor will he rescind the promises made to Abraham in the grant. In advance Yahweh renounces those options. Instead he promises that he will continue to bring about his promises to Abraham through a remnant who have humbled themselves and turned to him (cf. v 41). This great affirmation stands as the foundation of the hope that a dispersed Israel will someday return to the land of her inheritance.5
46 These are the statutes, regulations, and instructions which the LORD established between himself and the Israelites at Mount Sinai through Moses.
Hartley, John E. Leviticus. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1992.
Levine, Baruch A. Leviticus. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.
Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus 17-22. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.
Rooker, Mark, and Dennis R. Cole. Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Holman Reference, 2000.
Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.