Fruitfulness: Leviticus 26
This talk was given by Prof. Andrew Basden on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church and on the Internet. The talk is long.
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I’m preaching on Leviticus 26. This Sunday is the start, I believe, of Great Big Green Week. I understand that’s the reason why I’ve been asked to preach on Leviticus 26. It’s the third of the series on fruitfulness. Two weeks ago, we had Paul preaching on Colossians and the fruitfulness of the individual believer. Last week, we had Moira preaching on the fruit of the Spirit. This is fruitfulness at the national level, fruitfulness of the nation of Israel. It’s rather different.
I’m talking today to the assembled group here, but also, I understand, through the internet, to anyone who watches throughout the world. If you’re in Sweden, or Russia, or China, or Korea, or Japan, or the Pacific Islands, or New Zealand, or Australia, or Indonesia, or Malaysia, or Antarctica, or South Africa, or Nigeria, or Uganda, or Libya, or Italy, Greece, Europe, or South America, or North America, you’re welcome. Leviticus 26, which we read earlier, verses 3 to 13, gives us a lot of blessings. I’ve made a list of them.
Rains at the appropriate time, good harvest, plenty of food that is satisfying, freedom from fear, protection from wild animals, protection from enemies, success in overcoming those who come against us, plenty of offspring for animals and humans alike, plenty of resources for the whole year, God’s dwelling among His people, God loving the people, the people representing God. Lastly, in verse 13, heads held high, that is dignity.
What a wonderful, fruitful natural life that would be. Who would not want that? I see in this an expression of the love of God for His people but also for the whole creation, all the animals and plants and the land and the people, and the peoples around, even. God wanted His creation to work well and He gave humans the mandate, the responsibility, to care. Gill’s already mentioned something of that. Thank you, Gill.
Verse 14 onwards, we get a different picture. “But if you’ll not listen to me and carry out all these things,” and then there’s a whole list of things that go wrong not just up to verse 17, which we read here, but a whole chapter of them. In preparing this, I got a little bit bogged down in the detail until someone pointed out something rather obvious. One thing leads to many blessings. Now, students do many things to gain one thing, a degree. They take many courses, submit many assignments.
They pass many exams to get one degree or one set of A levels. This is the opposite. We do one thing to gain many blessings. What is that one thing? That one thing I think is attitude. It says, “If you follow, if you are careful to obey,” and in the Hebrew, I understand the “being careful to” comes before the obeying, as though the obeying comes out of the “being careful to.” It’s our attitude of being careful, to follow the Lord. That is the one thing that leads to many blessings.
That list that I drew out of the passage expresses all aspects of life. There’s the biological, there’s the animal, there’s the human aspects of safety, achievement, even technology, perhaps, of love, the social aspect. All those things come together. That is the blessings that God has given us, or promised rather at the national level. That one thing is attitude. However, verse 14 tells us of a different attitude. If you refuse to follow, if you abhor God’s way and His laws, if you reject.
Now, God, to the Prophet Ezekiel, I think put shape on that negative attitude when He called it affluence, arrogance, and unconcern. Now, this is where I want my first spiritual aid. I don’t know if we can-- Can we see that? No, we can’t. Okay, I’ll hold it up. Wait a minute, that way. Just really trying to look at the Zoom. Affluence, arrogance and unconcern. That is the reason God destroyed Sodom and it’s the reason God exiled Judah. It’s that attitude.
From that attitude came the mistreatment of the poor and the “despicable things that they did.” Where does this leave us today? Does this apply today? I think Leviticus 26 does. The people of Israel way before Jesus came and they were a rural society. We are in the situation where Jesus has come and it’s an industrial and urban society. Do these apply? Well, if we look through history, we can see that wherever a people has responded wholeheartedly to the Gospel of Christ from the lowest to the highest, God has blessed that people.
Think of Britain. In the late 1700s, early 1800s. Because of the Gospel of Christ, the people of Britain decided to abandon the slave trade, even though it was the foundation of their economy and the pleasant life they led. God blessed them because the hundred years after that was a time of increasing prosperity. During that hundred years, Britain’s head was held high. Think of the United States. In the 19th Century, the people of the United States responded to the Gospel of Christ, so that it became the major nation, the beacon nation of the 20th Century. Yes, I think Leviticus 26 applies at the national level even in this era, but today, I think the picture is different. Today, I think Britain, Europe, and America, and I’m going to say some perhaps tough things here, the attitude is not following the Gospel of Christ. It is affluence, arrogance, and unconcern. Think of what’s happened in the last 20 years. 20 years ago, 9/11 happened. In 2008, there was a financial crash. Then there was the rise of ISIS/ISIL in the Middle East. 2019/20, the COVID pandemic came and swept the world.
A month ago, the Taliban gained an unexpected victory, pushing out the biggest nation in the world. That, to me, sounds like Leviticus 26:14 onwards, especially verse 17, “ I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you.” Think of the way in which the Americans fled Afghanistan. I see in each of those disasters the root cause is affluence, arrogance, and unconcern.
I won’t go into detail, let me just give you one example. A rather disturbing thing I heard the other day was that when the Taliban were defeated 20 years ago, they sent a letter to Hamid Karzai, the new president, offering to lay down their arms. It was a letter of surrender, but apparently the USA did not want them to surrender. They wanted “comprehensive defeat.” They wanted revenge for 9/11. In my mind, that goes directly against the gospel, directly against Jesus’s words to forgive your enemies.
Then the US and its allies went into Iraq and stimulated the birth and growth of ISIS/ISIL. They poured money, skills, technology into Afghanistan for 20 years, and God allowed the Taliban an amazingly fast victory. Do you see what’s happening? It’s a fulfilment of Leviticus 26. We’ve had the positive, and now the negative. Why? I believe it’s because the West has arrogance, affluence, and unconcern.
Let me give you one more example, which takes us nearer to Big Green Week and nearer to what we can do. God gave humans the mandate to care for His Earth, the planet, biodiversity, habitats and everything else, and yet we are plundering them, Because, we could say, because of our arrogance and so on. There’s a concept of the ecological footprint. Your ecological footprint, the ecological footprint of the lifestyle in the USA and the affluent west is two and a half to three Earths.
What does that mean? It means that if our lifestyle was to be shared equally among all peoples of the world, which a lot of people aspire to, then it would require nearly three Earths to support it. We are plundering the Earth, God’s planet, at a rate that it cannot sustain. Ecological footprint has three major parts. Travel, power consumption, and all other consumption, especially meat eating. We have to reduce each of those by two thirds to get down to just one Earth.
We must drive less by two thirds, we must use two thirds less power, and we must eat two thirds less meat and consume two thirds less everything else. What is your response to that? You see, our attitudes are often revealed by our gut response. Is it to resist? Is it to reject? Is it to abhor that, as in the words of Leviticus 26:15? Do we try to find ways to say, we don’t need to? Do we want to hold on to our comforts and conveniences of our current lifestyle? I believe Leviticus 26 still applies, but I want to turn from the negative to the positive.
You see, in answer to Ezekiel 16:49, there is Matthew 5. Instead of affluence, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor.” Instead of arrogance, “Blessed are the meek, who will inherit the Earth.” Instead of unconcern, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. They will be filled.” Those are attitudes, and they are attitudes that the Holy Spirit brings. I liked that last hymn about the Holy Spirit. Thank you very much. It covers quite a lot of those things. You see, Romans 8 covers three dimensions of the gospel.
Dimension one is that through the atoning death of Christ, we become acceptable with God if we accept Christ. Dimension two is the work of the Holy Spirit, so that we cry, “Abba, Father,” and are lead by the Spirit of God, and the Holy Spirit, as Moira told us last week, develops His fruit in us so we become mature like Christ, so that, dimension three, the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the mature people of God, who will treat creation like its Heavenly Father would.
That is why Paul goes into a peon of praise at the end of Romans 8. The Beatitudes are part of that. Let me finish with just one thing, one story. In 1904, in South Wales, revival broke out. People’s hearts were changed so that they did not want to do the things they did before. Alcoholics stopped drinking because they had lost the desire for alcohol because the Holy Spirit changed their hearts. Violent men stopped beating their wives because they started to love them.
Thieves stopped stealing because they knew their Heavenly Father would provide all they needed, and the thrill that comes from stealing, they no longer felt. The whole of society was changed. Crime fell, police and magistrates had nothing to do. That was achieved in two months, much faster than all the governments and all the preachers in the world had ever achieved before. That was the revival because of the Holy Spirit. It went to other places in the world as well, to northern Sweden, eventually to eastern Africa and so on, Indonesia. It changed society. I believe that is the hope for the future. Can we tackle climate change, the climate emergency? I believe that if we retain our arrogance, affluence, and unconcern, we will not do that, whatever laws we pass. If we are open to the Holy Spirit, truly open to the Holy Spirit, then God can act and God will act. Leviticus 26:3-13, I believe applies and it’s the hope for the future. The young today are terrified of the future. This is their hope. Christians all over the world, including in this in Frodsham: take this hope and proclaim it.
Don’t hark back to what we learnt at the reaffirmation about the atoning death of Christ, don’t hark back to what God sent into the world 150 years ago, the power of the Holy Spirit. God is doing a new thing. He’s building on those, the atoning death of Christ and the Holy Spirit so that his people will lead the world and preach Christ for the healing and care of creation.
References and sources
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Scripture quotations marked NRSVA on this page and in the audio are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NIVUK or NIV UK on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked NIV on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.