27 July 2013Leviticus 26:27-42
“If then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, 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.” (vv. 41-42)
This passage shocks. The people of Israel are warned that if they are disobedient they will suffer unimaginable horrors: defeat at the hands of their enemies, terror in their hearts, and exile. Most shocking of all, if they are hostile to God, they will end up eating the flesh of their own children.
What have the people of Israel done to deserve this? The answer is simple: repeatedly ignoring God's rules. One example of this is the failure to observe God's law (Leviticus 25:1-7) that every seven years the land should rest for a year. When the people are thrown off the land, and the land lies desolate, then the land will have the fallow time it needs. This is a pointed reminder that God will have ultimate sovereignty. Even if God's people disobey his law and are hostile, God's order will prevail. The land will have its sabbath rest.
This is a difficult passage to read. It feels hard to recognise in this vengeful God, who threatens the cannibalism of loved ones, the loving, self-sacrificial God we see in the person of Jesus Christ.
And yet even when we are tempted to despair, we are reminded of the faithfulness of God. If we recognise our sinfulness and make amends, then God will remember the promises made through the covenant. God will remain true to the people and to the land.
Part of making amends involves the people of God not only confessing their own iniquities, but also the sins of their ancestors. This is an important reminder that, although we are not responsible for the actions of our ancestors, we can certainly be beneficiaries of their sins. We call to mind the example set by the Baptist Union of Great Britain in 2007 when they made an apology for Baptist involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, recognising that in order to build right relationships now, repentance needed to be made for past wrongs.
God did not abandon the people of Israel, and God has not abandoned us today. Getting into a right relationship with God requires us to recognise our sins and the sins of our ancestors. We are challenged to repent for, and put right, the ways in which human beings have been contravening God's plans for us to live in harmony with one another and with the planet.
- How did you feel reading about the God's punishment for communities which disobeyed God's commandments?
- What are the sins of your ancestors from which you have benefited?
- Can you think of ways in which you need to put right your relationship with God, people and the planet?