Gracious restraint

Leviticus 26:23-24 “And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins.”

To what end will God go to save people from eternal destruction?  Does He just give us His laws, then sit back and watch, leaving us to ourselves?  Is He ambivalent as we approach the very gates of hell with our rebellion?   Or does He intervene?  Does He take an active role in our lives or is He, as some people think, just a God of the “big picture,” a “force,” so to speak, but not really involved in our lives in a personal way.  

To give us some understanding of these questions, God has given us Leviticus 26. Here the Lord speaks of some of the ways He may step into our lives to turn us from sin.  Leviticus 26 speaks of increasing levels of discipline that are at God’s disposal and that He will definitely use to humble a rebel and turn a person from a course of destruction to one of blessing.  Although God is sovereign over all, there are some things that make us particularly aware of this, especially if we think and live as if God doesn’t exist.  

For example, let’s think about the weather.  Though some people think we can influence the weather – just listen to all the talk about climate change – it is God Who ultimately controls it.   As the disciples learned on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus spoke and calmed a storm “Even the wind and waves obey Him (Matthew 8:27)!”  It will rain when He wills, and if He wills, rain can be withheld – and there isn’t a thing we can do about it.  We are at His mercy.  

Then Leviticus 26 speaks of other things that God controls; things like national conflicts that lead to war, disease epidemics, economic disaster, and the accompanying anxiety, fear, and even panic that can result.  Though man’s actions can influence such things, we often have no ultimate control over them, and it is only by the hand of a merciful God that we are not overcome by them as we persist in our sin.  

The fact is, as Leviticus 26 attests, God actually uses such things as He works to move people from an attitude of proud and self-destructive disobedience to humble submission and the blessings He really wants to bestow.   You see, God has an eternal view of things.  He knows what’s best for His Creation on those terms, and sometimes that means very hard things during the span of our short lives.  But if after all this, after all the verbal warnings of His Word, after all the consequences of our rebellious sin, and after increasing levels of discipline that we will not heed, then God can and will leave us to ourselves and “give us up” to our debased mind, as Romans 1 soberly warns.  

Yet, God, in His mercy, has filled His Word with examples of how others have suffered great hardships as a result of their sin, and if we will but listen, perhaps we can escape what they experienced. The entire Old Testament is a history of Israel as they followed cycle after cycle of enjoying God’s blessings, inevitably turned their backs on the God who gave those blessings, experiencing the discipline of God in various calamities as a result of that sin, then repentance, confession of sin, forgiveness, and a restoration of blessing – at least for a time until the cycle repeated.  This history is given to us for an example, so that we need not experience the same things. As we are told in 1 Corinthians 10:6-11 “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.  Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”  

Indeed, God has been gracious and merciful to us to give us one example after another in His Word. But it’s up to us if we will either heed these examples or, sadly, experience the same types of consequences for sin and rebellion ourselves.  May God help us to listen to His Word, that He has mercifully given to us to spare us from calamities in this life that can be avoided by simply obeying what He has said.  May we not persist in the rebellion and the consequences that are inevitable with sin to the point where God will “give us up” to that rebellion which, sadly, leads to an eternity without Him and His wonderful grace.

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