Do you ever need to be reminded that God keeps His promises? There are so many stories throughout Scripture that show God’s faithfulness to His children. But, the most powerful evidence to me is not the happy endings. Instead, it’s the crushing reality of what happened to the Israelites when they refused to live up to their end of God’s covenant with them.
To truly grasp the impact of God’s kept promises, it is essential to know the entire history of the Israelites from the exodus through their captivity and restoration. Once that is familiar, a return to Leviticus is necessary.
Leviticus establishes the covenant between God and His chosen people, the Israelites. There are responsibilities for both parties. God promises wealth, prosperity, protection, and victory. The people promise obedience. God outlines what obedience entails. The people commit to heed the law.
But, as God outlines His law, He does not only tell the people what will happen if they obey. He also tells them what will happen if they disobey. It is a pretty horrible picture. And tragically, after reading through the entire history of the Israelites, reading back through Leviticus looks less like a warning and more like history written before it happened. Every one of the curses came to be because of the unfaithfulness of God’s people. I’ll be honest, once upon a time I found it hard to read Leviticus because I thought it was boring. Now I find it hard to read because it is so heartbreaking.
But, while reading Leviticus again recently, something stood out to me that I had not noticed before.
Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. Leviticus 26:44
Do you see it? This is so powerful to me! This covenant is labeled a bilateral one because both parties, God and the Israelites, had responsibilities in its maintenance. Because it was bilateral covenant, it is easy to assume that the failure of the people would result in the termination of the covenant and that the exile was the termination of the covenant. But, in this verse – long before the Israelites fail to live up to their end of the covenant – God states that termination of the covenant will never happen. The people’s disobedience cannot break it. Only God can break it by an action of His will. And He states here that He will not break it! The covenant stands, no matter what!
The people will sin, and horrifically so. But the covenant will stand.
Judgment will come and many will die because of disobedience. But the covenant will stand.
The people will be exiled and God will seem so far away. But the covenant will stand.
And when the time ordained in the exile has ended and the people are restored to their homeland, the covenant will be there waiting for them, offering a restored relationship with God.
Those of us who accept Christ’s sacrifice operate under a new covenant. We know that the laws established in the Old Testament can never be enough to earn God’s favor, and grace is our only route to a permanent relationships with God. But, we can still take comfort in the picture of the covenant given to us in Leviticus. Because just like the covenant bound up in Old Testament Law, this new covenant also stands, no matter what. If we belong to Christ, there is nothing we can do to break those bonds. There is nowhere we can go. There is no depth to which we can fall. We are His, and that is permanent. We might have to endure punishment that seems as if God is far away. But He is not. We can take comfort in knowing that if the Israelites, living under the law and the old covenant, could never lost their identity as His people, then neither can we. We can be assured, His covenant with us will never, ever be broken.