The Word Made Fresh
1“Do not make idols. Do not set up carved images or a stone pillar to worship. Do not place any stone figures to worship in your land, for I am the LORD your God. 2Keep my Sabbaths. Treat my sanctuary reverently, for I am the LORD.
3“If you obey my orders and rules faithfully 4I will let your rains fall when needed to enable the land to yield a good harvest and the trees to put forth abundant fruit. 5Your harvest will last until the grapes are ready, and the grapes will last until the next planting and you will have plenty to eat and will live in safety in your land. 6I will see that you live in peace. You will sleep in safety and no one will threaten you. I will remove wild beasts from the land and war will not overtake your country. 7Your enemies will retreat from you and fall by your sword. 8A hundred will run from five of you, and ten thousand will flee before a hundred of you, and they will fall by your sword.
9“I will treat you well, and you will grow in numbers. I will keep my pledge to you. 10You will have plenty of grain, so much that you will have to clear the old to make space for the new. 11I will live among you and never hate you. 12I will walk with you and be your God, and you shall be my people, 13for I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt; you are slaves no more. I have broken your chains and given you your freedom.
14But if you refuse to obey all my commandments; 15if you ignore my rules and hate my laws so that you have turned away from me and reject my agreement with you, 16I will do this in response: I will make you terrified. I will allow disease and infections that damage your eyesight and make you live in misery. It will be a waste of your time to plant your crops because your enemies will take the harvest from you. 17I will be against you and allow your enemies to strike you down and rule over you. You will run fearfully even though you are no longer being pursued. 18If you do not then turn back to me I will increase your sufferings because of your sinfulness. 19I will destroy your pride. The sky will seem like iron and the ground like copper. 20You will labor for nothing. Your land will be bare. The trees will be empty.
21If you continue to be against me and refuse to be obedient I will make your troubles seven times worse. 22I will allow the wild beasts to return to take your children and livestock. Your number will decrease. Your roads will be deserted.
23“And if, in spite of all this, you have still not returned to me and continue to disobey, 24I will continue to be against you. I will strike you down because of your sins. 25I will bring war against you to take vengeance for my covenant that you have trashed, and if you hide within your walled cities I will send disease to afflict you and you will surrender to your enemies. 26I will afflict your grain harvest until ten women will bake all your bread in one oven and ration it out to you by weight. You will eat, but you will still be hungry.
27If in spite of all this you continue to be against me 28I will continue to be against you. I will be furious and will punish you even more because of your sinfulness. 29You will become cannibals and eat your own children’s flesh. 30I will tear down your pagan shrines and altars and throw your dead bodies on top of your dead idols. I will hate you. 31I will destroy your cities. I will empty your worship places. I will not enjoy the ‘pleasing smells’ of your sacrifices. 32I will make your land desolate, and when your enemies come to settle it, they will be shocked at its barrenness. 33I will scatter you among the other nations and bring violence against you. You land will be empty. Your cities will lie in waste.
34“Then the land will finally enjoy its Sabbath years while you are captives in enemy lands, 35and while it lies fallow it will have the rest you did not give it while you were living on it. 36Those of you who survive in enemy lands I will make your hearts weak before your enemies. You will flee from a leaf in the wind as if you were facing the sword and collapse even though no one is chasing you. 37You will trip over one another like you were fleeing from your enemies even though no one pursues you and you will be completely helpless before your enemies. 38You will cease to exist among the nations and waste away. 39Any of you who survive will waste away in your enemy’s land because of your sins, and because of the sins of your ancestors.
40But if they admit their sins and the sins of their ancestors, that they turned against me and continued hostile to me 41so that I continued hostile to them and sent them into exile; if then their unfaithful hearts are humbled and they are sorrowful for their sins, 42then I will remember my agreement with Jacob, and my agreement with Isaac, and with Abraham, and I will remember the land, 43for the land will have been deserted by them and rest in their absence while they pay for their mistakes, because they dared to disregard my laws and hated my rules. 44Still, for all that, when they are in their enemies’ lands I will not forget them or hate them to the point of utterly wiping them out and thus break my promise to them, for I am the LORD their God. 45I will remember for their sake the agreement I had with their ancestors I brought out of Egypt in full view of all the nations, to be their God, for I am the LORD.”
46So, these are all the rules and laws and provisions the LORD established between the LORD and Israel on Mt. Sinai through Moses.
1-2: This is the last chapter of the “Holiness Code,” and it is the chapter that deals with the consequences of obedience and disobedience. But first the people are asked to recall the first four of the ten Commandments, each of which have to do with the community’s relationship with God. Note that Sabbath-keeping is once again the ultimate expression of obedience.
The rest of the chapter reminds us of the creation story in Genesis 1, for seven movements are described:
3-13: The first movement has to do with “if you obey.” Obedience brings certain blessings ending with, “I will walk among you,” which recalls the Garden of Eden story.
14-17: The 2nd movement begins a long section on the consequences of disobedience. In this round, Israel’s enemies will be victorious over them.
18-20: The 3rd movement escalates the punishment of disobedience: the sky is like iron, the earth like copper, so that crops fail and trees cannot bear fruit. Remember the third day of Creation – the bringing forth of vegetation. This movement reverses that part of creation for Israel.
21-22: The 4th movement presents a sevenfold punishment, and now wild animals abound to the destruction of civilization in Israel.
23-26: The 5th movement presents a second “sevenfold” punishment, now the cities of Israel are besieged by their enemies – destruction at the hands of other human beings.
27-33: The 6th movement presents a third “sevenfold” punishment; the sieges result in the populace resorting to cannibalism, and they are forced into exile. Clearly the escalation of punishment here mirrors what is happening to Israel towards the end of the dynasty of David when Jerusalem is besieged, destroyed, and the people exiled to Babylon.
34-39: The 7th movement grants a Sabbath rest to the land (surprised?), which of course corresponds to the 7th day of the Creation story in Genesis 1.
40: But now an 8th movement is described: if they confess their sins, the land and the people will be restored. This may be thought of as an “8th day of creation,” a new beginning.
The blessings and punishments God is telling Moses about will be reiterated in Moses’ own words in Deuteronomy 26. Basically, God is telling the people (through Moses) they have the power to choose their own destiny. But because human beings are so inclined to violence (Genesis 6:11), obedience to God is their opportunity to escape the harm people can inflict on each other.