In “Tough Passages,” we’re looking at the difficult verses in the Bible that are often brought up by secular people as reasons the Bible doesn’t make sense, and discovering how they actually reveal the character, love, and glory of God in a beautiful way. In August, we looked at whether or not you should wear a bikini to church. September’s edition was pre-empted by Trektember, but Tough Passages is back to talk about a terrible warning given by God in Leviticus.
But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you.
The Secular Response
In this part of Leviticus, it’s really God making a bunch of
threatsrules and maybe he just got a little out of hand, but yes, he says that if you disobey him, he’s gonna make you eat your kids.
Back in June, we discussed a similar passage from Psalm 137. In that verse, the nation of Israel had just suffered a terrible tragedy, with another army killing their children mercilessly and taking them into captivity. It was a weeping cry, begging for God to take justice on the people who killed their children.
But this time, it’s a warning from God (not a command, as some have stated). And it sounds barbaric: if you ignore God’s commands, he will make you eat your babies. But there are several things to consider.
To start with, this is a direct statement that applied to the Israelites, not to us. We shouldn’t necessarily expect that this prophecy will come true in our lives, but we should see the principle it is intending to convey.
Second, this is a warning, not a threat or a command. “This is going to kill you if you don’t turn around. PLEASE TURN AROUND!” He pleads. It’s a warning that God will discipline His people if they reject Him. And this warning is not the first thing he’s going to try; God actually says “if my people continue sinning and do not repent, I will discipline them” four times before this one, with increasing severity. God is disciplining the people of Israel, and this is his last resort.
But why is God so concerned with disciplining His people? Why is it such a big deal?
That question needs some context to answer. This passage comes near the end of Leviticus, the third book of the Bible. In Exodus, God has brought His people out of Egypt, graciously saving them from brutal slavery. In Leviticus, as He is trying to assemble this group of refugees into a nation, so He gives them the law to tell them who He is and how to relate to that. And if you were to boil that down to its basic essence – well, as always, Jesus says it better than I could:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
But let’s go deeper, shall we? Who is God, that He is so deserving of the love of our heart?
The Bible says that God is the creator and the ruler of the universe. It says that He set the whole place in motion, and that He keeps it together by his will alone. He’s the King of everything.
And since any offense against a King is treason.
Leviticus 26 is telling us that the penalty for treason is horrific; not because God is capricious and cruel, but because the danger is so great. This is the principle I mentioned above: God calls us to perfection, and disciplines us when we fail.
None of this ends with Israel. It goes on even today: A perfect God, calling us to perfection. That’s why it’s good that this isn’t just about Israel. It’s not just their babies dying. Millennia later, God made a way out of this terrible fate; He sent His son to be dashed and devoured for our sake, so that we can escape.
So while this passage looks like an expression of total contempt for an innocent nation, it’s actually a shocking, powerful, beautiful message of hope in a God who would sacrifice everything – just to save those who hate and abandon Him.
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Next month’s Tough Passages addresses cleanliness and childbirth. Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture; we hope you stick with us.
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