"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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    Images of the Savior (35 -- The Covenant Blessings and Curses)

    If you walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them, then I will give your rains in their season, and the land shall give its produce, and the trees of the field shall give their fruit....But if you will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments, and if you reject my statutes, and if your soul abhors my judgments, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant; then I will do this to you: I will appoint over you a terror, blight, and fever, that consume the eyes and waste away the soul; and you shall sow your seed in vain, and your enemies shall eat it.... – Leviticus 26:3-4; 14-16

    Throughout the entire book of Leviticus, we have seen demonstrated in many ways that the peculiar blessedness of God's people consists only in this, that he is their God, and has taken them unto himself to be his own people; and likewise, the land which he had promised to their fathers to give to them, was a blessing ultimately in this respect, that it was the land where God's tabernacle would dwell, the land where his presence would abide in the midst of the people. Accordingly, it is a matter of utmost seriousness, which extends far beyond the mere horrors of physical famine, fruitlessness, and subjugation to enemies, that the covenant curses at the end of the book hold forth to the people, if they disobey his law: for these are but fruits of a much vaster problem, viz., that God himself is displeased with his people, and cannot dwell with them favorably anymore. And likewise, the blessings held forth to the people, as long as they keep his covenant, are far greater than mere physical ease and prosperity, which things even the nations enjoy at some times and to some degree; for they signify that God is not only dwelling in the midst of the people, but that he is pleased to do so, and rejoices to be with them, and is favorably disposed to provide them with any good thing of which they might have need. So that, the essence of the covenant blessing consists most fundamentally in God's favorable presence; and the essence of the covenant curses consists in God's wrathful presence, so that he cannot endure anymore the sight and proximity of those whom in their rebellion he abhors.

    The blessings and curses which come at the end of Leviticus, therefore, remind us of two things: first, how serious and far-reaching the implications are of what God has done for his people, in bringing them alone out of the land of bondage, and covenanting with them to be their God; the mind cannot even fathom the depths of mercy and wondrous favor that God in this manner holds forth to his people, distinguishing them from all the other nations of the earth, and singling them out as a most peculiarly and wonderfully blessed people; but in consequence of this most deep and solemn wonder, the reward of rejecting and rebelling against so great and manifold a mercy is severe indeed, and must issue in a far greater wrath and punishment than any of the less blessed nations could ever merit (cf. Matthew 11:20-24); and we must pause here, and reflect upon this further truth, that if “one who broke the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the basis of two or three witnesses, of how much worse punishment do you suppose he will be considered worthy who has trampled upon the Son of God, and considered the blood of the covenant, by which he was sanctified, to be unclean, and reviled the Spirit of grace?”.

    But the second thing that this reminds us of is the incomplete and unsettled nature of this covenant into which God had just entered with his people, laying out his demands and judgments most particularly throughout many chapters, inasmuch as two very different and distinctly possible ends awaited the people, contingent upon two different responses, neither one of which had yet fully ensued. The covenant was as yet incomplete, in a probationary status, as it were, and unfulfilled.

    Now, we must be sure not to minimize the sovereign and unilateral promises of grace which the covenant held forth, and emphasize its conditionality to such a degree that we make it appear to be a very uncertain thing whether God's mercy would triumph after all; for he had before sworn to the patriarchs, and would not repent, that he would certainly have mercy on a people, and bring them back to himself. But the covenant was incomplete in this respect, that this final end had not yet been accomplished; and so its incompleteness had to do rather with the actual possession of the full measure of blessings held forth, and not the certainty of its eventual coming to pass. And this is also true of the promised curses, as well: for just as the blessings which were so definitely promised had not yet fully been accomplished; in the same way, neither had the promised curses been brought down upon the people in the full severity with which they were threatened. But the whole tenor of the priestly instructions and worship cultus underscored the truth that the blessings could not come at the expense of, or to the lessening of the curses merited; but rather, the blessings would come to the people through the very curses themselves, as they were brought down upon a substitute.

    But the conclusion of the book of Leviticus likewise makes clear that this substitutionary principle would not be effective in the case of the willfully rebellious and blasphemous. Hence, just as the beginning chapters of the book contained a brief historical account underscoring the gravity of the priestly instructions, that is, the account of the strange fire of Nadab and Abihu; so the end of it contains a similar account, lending gravity to all which had come before; and that is, the account of the man who blasphemed the Name of God.

    It is of utmost significance, in this account, that before the congregation of Israel stoned this man for his blasphemy, they first laid their hands upon his head, signifying that his guilt would not be transferred to a sacrificial animal, as it was when the worshiper would place his hand upon the head of the beast to be offered up; but instead, it would remain on his own head, even as they then declared in the most explicit of terms: “Any man whatsoever who curses his God shall bear his sin” (Leviticus 24:15). Thus we see that the grievousness of apostasy and rebellion is multiplied greatly by the very covenant which promises life: for it is his God which the man had cursed, and the nearness unto which the covenant had brought this man rendered his punishment all the more severe when he turned in rebellion against the God of the covenant.

    This event, too, is the occasion of the most solemn enunciation of that famous principle of strict retributive justice, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”; which comes here, as if to say, “The great and boundless mercy and favor of God, which he holds forth in his covenant, will never come at the expense of his perfect justice; the one who rebels will bear the full weight of his rebellion upon his own head, in exact proportion to the severity of his crime”. And of course, when the crime is rebellion against God himself, and a slight against One of infinite worth and dignity, the only proportionate punishment is infinite and eternal wrath. Thus so seriously does the conclusion to the book of Leviticus bring before us the weight of the eternal punishment, and the fearful consequences of rebelling against it.

    However, lest the reader should be too terrified by this solemn example of warning, the book does not end precisely here, but once again goes on to emphasize the principle of substitution, as if God wanted to say, “Those who rebel will indeed bear the eternal, just retributive consequences of their sin; but for those sinners who are repentant, that principle of implacable justice will be satisfied substitutionarily, and wreaked upon another, so that the illimitable and eternal weight of blessing might come down upon him instead”. Thus it is that, after this account, the whole principle of redemption is most carefully unfolded, climaxing in the declarations concerning the Year of Jubilee, which we looked at more closely before, and which taught the people that, whenever they become indebted, provision should be made by a kinsman-redeemer to buy them back from their debt, and that by God's own solemn and irrevocable decree.

    Now, this principle of redemption is again most solemnly emphasized in the very last chapter, concerning vows, a subject which some have seen as unusual and anticlimactic for the ending of the book, supposing that the enumeration of covenant blessings and curses should have made a more fitting conclusion. In reality, this chapter on vows is most appropriate; for after God had given notice of the blessings and curses that should one day most certainly ensue, he taught the people that, of all those things that had been vowed to God, whether fields, tithes, houses, man, or beast, they could be redeemed, and bought back, according to a very exact reckoning, based upon God's own valuation, and in the currency of his temple in which he dwelt among the people. This principle was of much practical use in the daily lives of the Israelites, no doubt, but further than that, it confirmed to them the truth of a principle upon which their future blessedness hanged, the principle of the possibility of the redemption of that which had been vowed, be it good or bad. God had vowed to make this people his own; and in order to fulfill that vow, there was an acceptable price to be paid, according to his own estimation, a price which he would indeed pay much later, when he sent his own Son to buy back the people he had vowed for himself with the price of his own precious blood without spot or blemish (1 Peter 1:18-20).

    And so we have concluded the book of Leviticus. O dear brother or sister, let us not forget the things we have learned, or fail to remember the gravity and seriousness of it all! The desperation of our natural condition, the sheer weight of the promised blessings of belonging to God and being found in his presence, the unspeakable way in which this promise could come about in fact, through a spotless substitute and the very tabernacling of God among his people, in a form adapted to their weakness; and the far greater and more terrifying end awaiting him who, having tasted such staggering blessings, should turn aside in apostasy – all these things are most clearly and solemnly taught in the pages of Leviticus; and in all those things, we who have the Spirit of God must be driven to flee to Christ for refuge, who is the great Subject of the entire book, the Fulfiller and the Substance of every promise, and the Avenger of all rebellion.

    Posted by Nathan on December 5, 2008 11:14 AM

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