Covenant Curses

If you will not listen to me … if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease” (vv. 14–16a).

- Leviticus 26:14-39

Since God’s covenants with His people have conditions, there are consequences for keeping and for breaking the covenants. Because the Old Testament prophets lived during the old covenant era, the consequences they preached for breaking or keeping covenant are those laid out in the Mosaic law. As we saw yesterday, the blessings for covenant faithfulness included fruitfulness of womb and field, safety from one’s enemies, and much more (Lev. 26:1–13). These blessings anticipated what life will be like in the new heaven and earth (Isa. 65:17–25; Rev. 21:1–4), and the ancient Israelites enjoyed them when they trusted Yahweh. Authentic trust manifested itself in love for the Lord, a striving after obedience, repentance when God’s law was broken, and hope that the Creator would one day send the Messiah to keep covenant perfectly in their behalf.

Blessings were not the only consequences attached to the Mosaic covenant. Leviticus 26:14–39 lists curses for breaking covenant (see also Deut. 28:15–68), curses including disease, infertility, and defeat in war. Moreover, in this list of covenant curses, the curses grow in intensity the longer the people remain impenitent, faithless, and disobedient. We see that God would send certain curses on His unfaithful people to prompt the Israelites to listen to Him once more and then evaluate their response. If the Israelites would not heed Yahweh, a sevenfold punishment would follow. If, after that, the Israelites still would not listen to Him, another sevenfold punishment would follow. The curses would worsen as the people remained impenitent, culminating in the worst covenant curse of all—exile, the banishment from God’s special place of blessing.

Note how the covenant curses prove the long-suffering patience of the Lord. Scripture teaches that God is “slow to anger” (Ex. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Jonah 4:2), not in that He ever tolerates wickedness but in His willingness to stay His hand. The Lord does not typically pour out the fullness of His wrath all at once, but He sends trouble to warn His covenant people of their waywardness and call them to repent. While men and women draw breath, the Lord calls them to repent and turn to Him, promising to relent from disaster when the wicked forsake their ways (Joel 2:13). Still, He will not be patient forever, and those who presume upon His grace and never turn from their sin will likewise find themselves exiled from His blessings—for all eternity (Matt. 25:31–46).

Coram Deo

Just as the Lord sent covenant curses on the old covenant church to call it to repentance, He will also allow His new covenant church to feel trouble as a means of disciplining us for our sin. We cannot equate every hardship that we face with the Lord’s hand of chastisement, but when God allows us to suffer the consequences of our sin, He is disciplining us and calling us to return to Him. May we always heed this call.

Passages for Further Study

2 Samuel 24
Psalm 145:8
Romans 2:1–11
2 Peter 3:9

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