Threats & Penalties: Leviticus 26:14-46

The rest of the chapter piles up matching maledictions. What if the smooth relationship of reciprocal loyalties and gifts and blessings is disrupted? Who wants to read these threats aloud? What kind of God would do such things unless there was complicity or just deserts in terms of human pride to be broken with escalated consequences?

Skies like iron and earth like copper match the promise of rains and fertile fields. You may labour by the sweat of your brow, but your land and your vines will not yield.

Hostility to God will draw matching smiting, sevenfold. Beasts first will ravage your children and cattle and trade, but then wars will come, and pestilence.

The reversal of fecundity in plenty is cannibalism in want, with horrors of children eaten up, and bread doled out in short rations by too many women working too few ovens for too many mouths.

The ultimate threats are the wrecking of the cults and worship places, loss of God and city and sanctuary, no people with no God, no defense against enemies occupying the land as their own. No people, with no God.

These ultimate threats are elaborated at much greater length than the promises. Essentially, if you don’t give Sabbath rest to yourselves and to the land, then the rest will come despite you, as your agriculture and urban culture is disrupted and returned to fallow states.

Torah took its final form in Second Temple times, after the exile to Babylon, and these threats attributed to God at Sinai are heard in relation to that experience. Exile and humility are the correctives for pride and overreaching of entitlements. The retributive justice restores balance, and permits re-covenanting.

If you didn’t give the land a break – God will give it a break, through your exile. That’s an affirmation of providence, not simply a threat against humans.

Leviticus 26:14-46

14 But if you will not obey me, and do not observe all these commandments,

15 if you spurn my statutes, and abhor my ordinances, so that you will not observe all my commandments, and you break my covenant,

16 I in turn will do this to you: I will bring terror on you; consumption and fever that waste the eyes and cause life to pine away. You shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.

17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down by your enemies; your foes shall rule over you, and you shall flee though no one pursues you.

18 And if in spite of this you will not obey me, I will continue to punish you sevenfold for your sins.

19 I will break your proud glory, and I will make your sky like iron and your earth like copper.

20 Your strength shall be spent to no purpose: your land shall not yield its produce, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.

21 If you continue hostile to me, and will not obey me, I will continue to plague you sevenfold for your sins.

22 I will let loose wild animals against you, and they shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock; they shall make you few in number, and your roads shall be deserted.

23 If in spite of these punishments you have not turned back to me, but continue hostile to me,

24 then I too will continue hostile to you: I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins.

25 I will bring the sword against you, executing vengeance for the covenant; and if you withdraw within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into enemy hands.

26 When I break your staff of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven, nd they shall dole out your bread by weight; and though you eat, you shall not be satisfied.

27 But if, despite this, you disobey me, and continue hostile to me,

28 I will continue hostile to you in fury; I in turn will punish you myself sevenfold for your sins.

29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters.

30 I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense-altars; I will heap your carcasses on the carcasses of your idols. I will abhor you.

31 I will lay your cities waste, will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing odours.

32 I will devastate the land, so that your enemies who come to settle in it shall be appalled at it.

33 And you I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword against you; your land shall be a desolation, and your cities a waste.

34 Then the land shall enjoy its sabbath years as long as it lies desolate, while you are in the land of your enemies; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its sabbath years.

35 As long as it lies desolate, it shall have the rest it did not have on your sabbaths when you were living on it.

36 And as for those of you who survive, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; the sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall though no one pursues.

37 They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though no one pursues; and you shall have no power to stand against your enemies.

38 You shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall devour you.

39 And those of you who survive shall languish in the land of your enemies because of their iniquities; also they shall languish because of the iniquities of their ancestors.

40 But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their ancestors, in that they committed treachery against me and, moreover, that they continued hostile to me—

41 so that I, in turn, continued hostile to them and brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity,

42 then will I remember my covenant with Jacob; I will remember also my covenant with Isaac and also my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.

43 For the land shall be deserted by them, and enjoy its sabbath years by lying desolate without them, while they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they dared to spurn my ordinances, and they abhorred my statutes.

44 Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, or abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God;

45 but I will remember in their favour the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, to be their God: I am the LORD.

46 These are the statutes and ordinances and laws that the LORD established between himself and the people of Israel on Mount Sinai through Moses.