If I could, I would make sure you never lost at anything. But what would you learn from winning all the time? Losing keeps you humble.
If I could, I would catch you when you fall. But then you'd never know the power of rising up again.
If I could, I would take you directly to your life's destination. But then, you'd never know the thrill of getting lost along the way.
If I could, I would find the love you long for, the love of your life. But then you'd never know that the joy of true love is in the journey it takes to find it.
If I could, I'd make your days all sunny. But then you'd never know the cleansing of the rain.
If I could, I'd surround you with the treasures of the world you live in. But then you'd never appreciate the value of the treasures of the world within you.
If I could, I'd put happiness within your reach. But then you'd never learn that real growth only comes from reaching for things beyond your grasp.
If I could, and I will...I'll love you until my last breath of life and through eternity. Bob Perks
“If” is one of the shortest and yet most interesting words in the English language. We certainly get our fill of it in English class where we learn that it is combined with “then” in order to make conditional statements. What we do understand concerning “if” is that…debating over what might have happened had Germany won WW2 or should Napoleon have won at Waterloo is an exercise in futility. But, when the “ifs” are left out of these last chapters of Leviticus, then we miss the meaning. The word is used 32 times. The history of Israel cannot be fully understood apart from the “ifs” in God’s covenant. For the Israelites were to be responsible for fulfilling God’s covenant. For example, 26:3 says, “If you walk in my statutes, then you will have blessings…” The conditions are laid out by God, and His people must make a decision concerning Him.
The Almighty God is not some idol that the people manufactured. He reminds them, “I am the Lord your God.” In spite of Israel’s promises to obey the Lord, however, the Jews broke the first two commandments by turning to idols. If they had been true to God by keeping the laws, the feasts, the Sabbath, etc., these matters would have been a reminder to them that they were supposed to be God’s special people. They should have fully understood that God dwelled among them…in their camp…in the sacred tabernacle (and later in the temple). How could they think of disobeying Him when He was so near? The “so-called” gods of the other nations were nowhere “near” to them. God promises His children many things, but they are just this -- “children” in their faith. They need to learn and grow as all children must do. God promises rain, faithful harvests, peace and safety in their land in order to multiply their population…if they will enjoy the tremendous blessing of His presence. This is the most important thing…and every other blessing depends upon it. This is something that has not ever changed – right living has always been about God’s presence in our lives.
Israel’s privileged position brought with it the responsibility to obey and glorify God. Yet, as the privilege is forsaken, the Lord sends chastisement, discipline. There are six periods of judgment mentioned here for Israel. The first five punishments are concerning the land…and for the sixth, they are taken out of their land and dispersed among the nations. As he did with Pharaoh, God was turning them over to the desires of their hearts, and they would feel the “terror” of such. God’s purpose was to break down their stubborn pride. The rains would cease, the ground would become hard…no crops would grow. They would put forth great toil, but there would be no harvests. Still, they would refuse to repent. Next, there would be invasions of wild beasts that would kill the cattle and the people. Warfare, famine and plague would follow…and enemies would conquer and destroy them. As their hearts would remain hardened, ultimately God removes them from the land at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians to be taken away and disciplined. By His mercy, He brings back a remnant of Jews, but they are not really ever the same again.
It seems strange that this book should end with a section regarding vows, instead of some demonstration of God’s glory and holiness…but, as with many of these other matters, there is a purpose. God want his people’s hearts. There is opportunity for them to show their allegiance to Him and His will. The promises (vows) of God’s people should be as unbreakable as His covenant with us (Proverbs 20:25). The vows given to God are strictly voluntary and expressions of the worshipper’s gratitude to God for His blessings. It begins with the dedication of individuals. A worshipper might dedicate himself to the Lord or bring a family member or servant to serve the Lord for life at the sanctuary. Animals dedicated and redeemed are considered holy, or set apart, which means they would belong to the Lord. Property, likewise, is able to be dedicated and redeemed and would also be considered holy to the Lord, but the owner would have to add twenty percent to the amount when he gave redemption money to the priest. And there were other things that could be dedicated and redeemable. Ultimately, this would all change with the completion of the old covenant, some 400 year after the people’s return from exile. For those of us who live under the second or “new” covenant, God dedicated His Son. He made that commitment through a covenant of (His) blood in order that our sins would be washed away so that we could live forever. God still expects His people to make the most of their opportunities to give their hearts to Him…to accept His Son as their personal Savior…and live genuinely spiritually.
An American traveling in Syria became acquainted with a shepherd. Each morning he noticed the shepherd carrying something to the sheep. The traveler followed him one morning and found that he was taking food to one particular sheep that had a broken leg. As the traveler looked at the animal, he said to the shepherd, “How did the sheep break its leg…did it have an accident or was it attacked by a wild animal?” “No,” said the shepherd, “I broke this sheep’s leg myself.” “You broke it yourself, but why?” “You see, this has been a wayward sheep…one that would not stay with the flock, and in fact, would lead other sheep astray. Then, it would not let me near it. I could not approach it, but when I finally did connect with it, I broke its leg so that it might allow me, day by day, to feed it. In doing this, it will come to know me as its shepherd. It will learn to trust me as its guide and keep with the flock.”
Like Israel and the sheep, we humans tend to go astray from time to time. If we do not find a way to humble ourselves and bring ourselves back in line, the Lord will provide discipline for us in order that we will come to understand and follow His will. We need to keep ourselves humble by walking with the Good Shepherd, Jesus, on a daily basis. When we are able to do this, we avoid most of the same mistakes that prideful Israel made. In addition to this, we will be a blessing to the Lord and to those around us whom we serve. We don’t have to settle for a mediocre faith, as most of the Israelites did. We have every opportunity to make wise choices in our lives under this new covenant that will be to our spiritual and eternal benefit. God’s faithfulness to His Word and to His covenant should be great assurance to us…He always keeps His promises. If we give our lives to Jesus Christ and live for Him, one day He will return and take us home with Him…there are no ifs ands or buts about this…simply the fulfillment of promise.