“‘Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the LORD your God.
“‘Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am the LORD.
“‘If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.
“‘I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove wild beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country. You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.
“‘I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you. You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.
– Leviticus 26:1-13
In ancient times, kings often made covenants (what we might compare to a treaty) with other people in return for his protection and provision. These covenants were usually written on something that would stand the test of time and detailed the expectations of both parties. Generally, the recipients of the covenant had their specific duties laid out in the middle section of the covenant. The end, however, almost always listed the particular blessings of staying true to the covenant, and the curses for failing to live up to the king’s expectations.
This was the means by which YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, met and started relationship with the people of Israel upon their deliverance from Egypt. This is why the first five books of the Bible have so many lists of laws and ordinances. God was not simply out to make friends with the Israelite people. He could have been friends with them just as well in Egypt. No, God wanted to extend His heavenly kingdom over them, so that they would be part of His kingdom and no longer of the kingdom of Egypt. Does this sound a bit more political than spiritual? Perhaps, but recall that Pharaoh, king of Egypt demanded to be worshipped as a god himself, so if it is politics, it is spiritual politics. If that is not a scary term by today’s standards, I’m not sure what is…
Essentially, God promises three things to His people: provision, protection, and freedom. God promises to provide food and shelter for them, year in and year out. God promises to protect them from the enemies which surround them. God also promises to keep them as free servants, not as those in bondage to forced slavery. God’s love is unconditional, but these particular promises are not. These promises are contingent upon the people following His laws and continuing to serve Him as their Lord.
Perhaps that sounds a bit arrogant or mean of God to impose His will on others and bless them only if they are obedient. Recall with me though, the story of the Prodigal son, from Luke 15, where the younger son grows weary of being under his father, demands his inheritance, and sets out to live life under his own rule. What did the young man gain? Nothing. What did he lose? His provision, his protection, and finally his freedom. He discovered that life on his own was worse than being a slave in his father’s house. Jesus told that story to show the way God loves and treats His people. If we choose to go our own way, He leaves us to it.
If we look further down in Leviticus 26 and the curses for disobedience, we see that it is simply God letting us go our own way and letting us suffer the consequences of our own actions. The punishment for sin is ultimately death, and while that sounds harsh at first, we must remember that death is the natural result of unplugging yourself from the source of all life. When Jesus announced that He was “the Way, the Life, and the Truth”, he was not simply speaking in poetic metaphors. He is our connection to the God of life and there is no other way to the Father but through Him. It is a fact, like gravity, that I can complain about all day long and find ways to show it to be unfair, that it holds me back from my life ambitions and desires – but that doesn’t change it one bit. If I leap from a rooftop I can expect pain, suffering, and perhaps even death… every time.
Does that mean God’s love really is conditional, since we only experience blessings if we are obedient to Him? No. Remember, Israel cried out for help from God, for deliverance from Egypt for many years, and especially when their children were slain during the time Moses was and infant. They did not give God anything in return for their freedom. They did nothing to be offered a land of their own. They did nothing to earn God’s presence, leading them, and fighting for them in battle. In fact, if we read Israel’s history, they were far more often unfaithful than they were obedient to God’s covenant. God did not have to put up with them. Yet He still did.
More than simply tolerating, we always see God acting first in the salvation of people in the Scriptures. We get ourselves into our own messes much of the time, but God has plans in the works for our salvation and deliverance even before we mess up. You see, He wants us to be His people, but He wants us to come willingly, not under force. Revelation describes the final city of God – a vast and beautiful place, yet it has no walls for God preserves our freedom even then. We are never “stuck with God”. On our worst days, when we cannot understand what His will or His ways, we simply reply with Peter “Lord, where else can we go?” He does not try to con us into the Kingdom by offering things He cannot provide. He never promises that we will always be happy. He never promises that life will be easy. He only promises to be our Lord. He only promises Himself – His life for ours, and He has proven that in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He is more than able. He is more than worthy. He is more than good.
Trust and Obey.