The laws found in the Torah are part of a Brit – a Covenant between God and His holy and chosen people. This covenant that was mediated by Moses, included provisions for drawing near to God by means of the Priesthood and the Mishkan (the Tabernacle, later replaced by the Temple) and the Sacrifices that the Holy One ordained. The laws, Mishkan, Priesthood and the Sacrifices are a “package deal” between God and Israel. If one part is broken, then the whole covenant is broken. If the Jewish people were faithful to God, obedient to His laws, respectful of the Mishkan and the Sacrifices, the Lord promised to bless us with abundant physical and spiritual blessings. However, He warned us that if we were unfaithful to the faithful God, and disobeyed His laws, and were not respectful of the Tabernacle and the Sacrifices, we would be severely punished. To whom much is given, much is required, and since Israel was given greater knowledge, and greater revelation, and greater blessings than any other nation, the punishment for failure would also be greater.
In the Torah, in Leviticus 26, the Lord lays out for us two potential situations. Verse 3 starts off with “eem” – “if”: if we walk in His statutes, which means we practice them in our lives, and if we keep His commandments, which means that we actually do them, then the blessings of God would come in abundance: The rains would come at the right time and there would be abundant crops and plenty of food; there would be shalom – peace, a state of well-being throughout the Land of Israel; dangerous animals wouldn’t attack, and our human enemies wouldn’t be able to invade. If they tried, they would be utterly defeated, even by a much smaller force of Israelis; the Jewish population would multiply and increase; the Lord would keep His covenant agreement with us, and not withdraw from His obligations to us; the Almighty would draw near to us, manifesting His Dwelling Presence with us, walking among us, being a living God to us – powerful, helpful, both in this life, and beyond!
Verse 14 begins the second possibility. It also starts with “eem” – “if” – but it’s “eem loh” – “if not” – if we would not listen to God, and prove that we were listening to Him by obeying Him and keeping all His commandments; if instead of keeping them, we rejected His laws and ordinances, we would break our part of this Covenant. The consequences of breaking this very special contract that we had agreed to enter into with our faithful, true, good, righteous and holy God would be most unpleasant and severe. He would bring upon us: plagues and diseases; defeat before our enemies – they would conquer us, and take our food and wealth. If these initial signs of His judgment for disobeying Him and breaking His Covenant didn’t cause us to reflect, repent, turn from our godless ways, and turn back to Him, then He would increase the pressure on us: He would withhold the rains, so that there would be drought – no crops, no food, and more hunger and starvation; He would allow wild animals to kill our children, and destroy our herds. If these even greater punishments and judgments didn’t cause us to reflect, repent, turn from our godless ways, and turn back to Him, then He would increase the pressure on us even more: enemies would invade, and kill many of us; plagues would spread throughout our cities; hunger and starvation would prevail. If these even greater punishments and judgments didn’t cause us to reflect, repent, turn from our godless ways, and turn back to Him, and we continued to oppose Him, and be hostile toward this great and good God, then He would increase the pressure on us even more: we would become so hungry, that some would resort to cannibalism, and horrifically, eat their own children; our cities would be destroyed, our holy places made desolate, the sacrifices that enabled us to draw near to God would cease, and the Land itself would be ruined.
In particular, if we wouldn’t observe the Shemittah, the seventh, sabbatical year, so that the Land of Israel could enjoy its God-commanded rest, the Lord would overrule us, and make sure that His Holy Land got its rest. The Land would rest one way or another! It could rest every seven years, if we trusted God and willingly cooperated with Him, or it would rest when disobedient Israel was conquered and exiled from our Land. Then the land would have its God-ordained rest. Don’t you know that it is always better to trust God, and willingly cooperate with Him now, in the present, then be forced to do what He rightfully demands! Believe these words: every knee of every human being who has ever lived, will bow before Messiah Yeshua, and every tongue from the mouth of every person who has ever existed, will confess that Yeshua, is the Messiah, God’s Anointed Ruler over humanity, and the Lord, the divine Son of God! You can agree with God now, and bow your knee willingly to Adon Yeshua – the Lord Jesus, and serve Him willingly, now – in this life, agreeing with God that Yeshua is Lord, or a day will come when God will force your stiff knees to bow, and compel your mouth to confess that Yeshua is Lord, right before you are sent to the Lake of Fire. Which one will it be?
Sadly, Israel did not obey the Mighty One, and did not keep the seventh year of rest, because we are told in 2 Chronicles 36:21 that one of the reasons for the Babylonian Captivity was so that the Land could enjoy its Sabbaths – 70 of them to be specific, which implies that the Jewish people had ignored this command for 490 years. The Lord also warned us that if we still continued to oppose Him, and disobey Him, we would be conquered, removed from our Holy Land, and exiled to other nations, where life would be very unpleasant. We would be weak, vulnerable to our enemies, and terrified of them. Then, if in the Diaspora, we didn’t turn back to the Lord, and begin to obey Him from our hearts and souls, we would rot away and perish like a spoiled piece of meat, or a rotten cabbage or spoiled melon. But if in the Galut (Diaspora) we woke up, realized that we had been disobedient, unfaithful, treacherous and hostile toward God, changed our minds and began agreeing with God, and confessing our sins, changing our ways, and making amends, then the Faithful One promised that He would preserve us, and not allow us to be destroyed. He would reestablish His broken Covenant with us, continue to be our God, our Powerful, Mighty and Strong One – so we would be protected; He would continue to be the Eternal One, and the Source of Life, so we could live with Him forever!
Leviticus 26 ends with a promise and with hope. No matter how bad Israel will become, no matter how disobedient, and no matter how severely we will be punished; regardless of how much, how far, how long we may be exiled, the gracious God will not abandon His Chosen People, nor allow us to be destroyed! Rather, He will reestablish a renewed covenant relationship with us. These words were written by Moses, inspired by the Lord, some 3,500 years ago. Looking back over those 35 centuries, can’t we see with our own eyes that the Word of God is faithful and true? Hasn’t the history of the Jewish people over the centuries occurred exactly the way the All-knowing God said it would? Didn’t Israel disobey the Lord, worship false gods, set up a false religious system, sacrifice their children, become greedy and corrupt, and the Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC, carrying much of Israel away into exile? Didn’t the Southern Kingdom of Judah oppose God, become disobedient, immoral, defile the Temple, persecute the prophets, so that the Lord allowed the Babylonians to conquer us in 586 BC, destroying our cities, destroying Jerusalem and the Temple, killing many, and exiling thousands? The Lord was merciful to us, and remembered us in our exile, and allowed us to return to Israel, rebuild the Temple, bring the sacrifices that enabled us to draw near to Him, rebuild Jerusalem and the cities. But then, 500 years later, the Romans once again destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, killed hundreds of thousands, sold many into slavery, so that we have been without a Temple, without the sacrifices that help us draw near to God – not for 70 years, but for 1933 years, more than 27 times as long as the Babylonian Captivity! Haven’t the Jewish people been scattered to the nations, where for the most part, life has been very difficult, full of anti-Semitic persecutions?
The Babylonian Exile lasted for 70 years. Why has this Second Captivity lasted 27 times longer? Could we have done something even worse than the sins that led to the Babylonian Captivity? I believe that Israel sinned an even greater sin when God sent us His Son, the greatest of the prophets, who came bringing good news that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and offering us salvation. Didn’t the majority turn away from our good Rabbi Yeshua, and create a man-made form of Judaism that cannot save us? Didn’t we reject the long-awaited Messiah, our King, Lord, and mankind’s only Savior? Didn’t we break our Covenant with God? Hasn’t the past 2,000 years of life in the Diaspora, without the Temple, without the Sacrifices, proven it?
Luke 19:41-44 tells us that a week before Messiah died, knowing that He would be rejected by Israel’s leaders and a majority of the people, Yeshua approached Jerusalem, and He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace!” (If you only knew who I am – the eternal Son of God, the Savior, the Prince of Peace, the only One who can bring genuine peace and well-being to men and women, Jews and Gentiles – peace between God and men)! “But now they have been hidden from your eyes.” (You don’t know Me My people! You don’t understand who I am, and the good things I want to do for you). There are terrible consequences for the Chosen People who reject the Prince of Peace and the New Covenant that He brings. Yeshua went on to predict, “For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another.” Why would Jerusalem be destroyed? Why would we and our children be killed? The answer Messiah gives is that we didn’t recognize the time of our visitation. We should have, but didn’t welcome the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior; that the One who is rightly called Immanuel, was with us. We rejected Him, and broke our Covenant with God.
During that same time (recorded in Matthew 23:34-39), Yeshua, speaking to Israel’s corrupt leaders who rejected Him and were about to kill Him, said: “I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes” – referring to His disciples – the apostles and prophets of the New Covenant that followed Him, who witnessed to the Jewish people for 40 years, the number of judgment and testing, until 70 AD. Even though we rejected the Messiah, Messiah would, in His great love and mercy, give us a time of additional opportunities before judgment came. Would the majority, during this 40 year period of testing, realize that we had made a tragic mistake, and acknowledge that Yeshua was the Messiah, when we heard Messiah’s disciples preaching the Word of God with power, doing signs and wonders and miracles? Messiah predicts: “Some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city.” No, most wouldn’t turn to the Lord, and confess their sins, but rather would expand and intensify their opposition, and so Yeshua warned us of the terrible consequences: “Upon you will come the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on Earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the Temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” The majority’s rejection of Yeshua is in keeping with our rejection of all the prophets, and our disobedience to God, and so terrible judgment would surely fall.
Messiah went on to lament over the coming destruction of the nation: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!” Yeshua is a true prophet, and what He foretold took place. Jerusalem, our beautiful capital city, and the magnificent Temple of God, where the sacrifices were offered that enabled us to draw near to God, were destroyed. Hundreds of thousands were killed, and scattered to the nations. 1933 years later our house is still desolate. Our Jewish people are very far from God. There is no Temple, no sacrifices, no atonement. The Mosaic Covenant is broken, and the New Covenant rejected. But all that will change one day! Yeshua went on to predict: “from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'” A time will come when the majority of the Chosen People will recognize that Yeshua is God’s Messiah and acknowledge Him, and welcome Him and bless Him. May it take place speedily and soon! And can we say, “Amayn?”
As He was being led to the place where He was about to be crucified (see Luke 23:26-31), following Messiah was a large crowd of the people, and women who were mourning and lamenting Him. But Yeshua turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘cover us.'” Terrible devastating judgment was coming to the nation, so much so that most people would want to die, and women would be better off never having had children. I understand that the destruction of Israel, Jerusalem and the Temple, from 66 to 70 AD, was that bad. Why will God allow Israel to suffer so? Messiah tells us: “For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” In other words, “if you treat a righteous and innocent man this unjust way, don’t you think that God will treat you according to the way you are treating Me? In the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. And you are not innocent and righteous, like I am, but corrupt and evil.”
Is Yeshua anti-Semitic? No more so than Moses, who wrote these blessings and curses; no more so than the prophets who warned that terrible judgment would come on Israel for our disobedience and faithlessness. If Christians know that my people are far from God, does this mean that they should treat us with contempt? God forbid! Gentiles who believe in the God of Israel and His Messiah are to love us, show mercy and kindness to us, and make us jealous of their relationship with God, and the blessings of the New Covenant that they have. There is no justification here for anti-Semitism! Messiah Yeshua confirms what the prophets predicted – Israel broke the Older Covenant. “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the Covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My Covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord.” We broke the covenant made at Sinai – not the Lord. God was like a good and faithful husband, but we were like a bad, unfaithful, adulterous wife.
Adolph Safir, a wonderful Messianic Jew who lived several generations ago, raises some perceptive questions: Can you have the Mosaic Covenant without the Temple and the Sacrifices and the Priests? Where is the Older Covenant mediated by Moses? Why have we been in exile since 70 AD? Why has life been so difficult and painful for most of the Jewish people for the past 2,000 years? He answers: “During all these centuries the rabbis have not been able to adequately answer these questions or account for this strange condition, that the Jewish people are without Temple, Priest and Sacrifices, and that we have been exiled from our Land. It is absolutely impossible for non-Messianic Jews today to keep all the laws and ordinances of Moses, offer sacrifices, find atonement, or draw near to God the way we need to. As a result, we can’t truly understand the dealings of God. And in this spiritual darkness the rabbis have formed for themselves a religion of their own traditions and reasonings, based on man-made and unauthorized rabbinic laws instead of the divinely-appointed ordinances of the Mosaic Covenant.”
But, our breaking of the Sinai Covenant is one reason why God established the New Covenant! In His great grace and mercy God established the New Covenant, based on the life and death and resurrection of the Messiah. He promises to put His teachings deep within us – on our heart; to completely forgive all of our sins, reconciling us to Himself, so that we would know Him personally and intimately. He truly will be our God, and we will be His people! These are the provisions of the New Covenant.