The Threat of Exile
“If in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then … I will scatter you among the nations, and will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation” (Lev. 26:27–33).- Leviticus 26:14-39
Much of the time, discussions of God’s judgment in Scripture refer to that final day on which the Lord will judge “the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” according to the gospel (Rom. 2:12–16). Yet this does not mean that He will judge wickedness only when Christ returns. As we saw in Genesis 15 a few days ago, there are times when God pours out a measure of His wrath on sinners before the consummation. The Lord did not wait for Christ’s return to evict the Canaanites from their land as punishment for their flagrant sin (vv. 12–21; Lev. 18). Such judgments anticipate the final verdict God will render on the last day and prove His judgment is surely on its way. They are, as the late Old Testament scholar Meredith Kline used to say, “intrusions” of the eschaton (the messianic age/last days) — points at which end-time realities are manifested in the present.
Under the old covenant, Israel was warned that one of these intrusions could happen to the covenant community. Today’s passage lists the curses that old covenant Israel faced for violating the terms of her relationship with Yahweh. God made it clear that a relationship with Him required covenant loyalty on the part of the Israelites and that disloyalty would result in the blessings of Canaan being turned into curses. Beginning with panic, disciplinary measures would escalate if hard-heartedness continued, with the Lord finally expelling Israel from the land (Lev. 26:14–39). This exile would be a type of the final exile all impenitent sinners will experience at the last judgment. Just as unrepentant Israel would lose its place in Canaan, the land of God’s blessing, so too will those who do not turn to Christ be expelled from His gracious presence, although unlike the Israelites exiled from the Promised Land, there will be no second chance for repentance for those who experience the final exile (Lev. 26:40–46; Rev. 20:7–15).
Exile was not inflicted for just the occasional sin found in any repentant heart. Only gleeful, repeated covenant infidelity resulted in exile. Similarly, God disciplines us when we sin, but we who live under the new covenant risk proving ourselves faithless only if we are unrepentant. If we take up the cross and follow Jesus in a life of repentance, we need not fear the final exile (Matt. 10:38–39).
Though it may be painful at times, God’s discipline is one of the greatest blessings that we have as His children. He chastises us when we sin that we might continually turn to Him, proving the reality of our faith and providing us assurance that we will not endure the final exile. Do you look at our Father’s discipline as a blessing or a curse? It is far better to experience firm discipline in this life than to escape it and end up exiled forever.
Passages for Further Study
1 Chron. 5:23–26