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Parasha Bechukotai: Walking Out of Exile into Blessings

Bechukotai (In My Statutes)
Leviticus 26:3–27:34; Jeremiah 16:19–17:14; Luke 22:7–20

“If you follow My decrees [chukkot] and are careful to obey My commands [mitzvot], I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit.”  (Leviticus 26:3–4)

Torah scroll-Kotel

Jewish men pay respect to the Torah scroll at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem. (Photo by opalpeterliu)

Last week in Parasha Behar, God instructed Israel to give the land a Sabbath rest in the seventh year.  This Sabbatical year is called Shemitah (release).  As well, God commanded that every 50th year also be a Shabbat year, the Yovel, commonly called the Year of Jubilee.  Behar ends with God’s directive to observe His Shabbats and reverence His sanctuary.

This week’s Parasha, Bechukotai, which is the last reading from the book of Leviticus, details the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience.

God promises the people that they will be blessed, enjoying prosperity and security in the Holy Land, if they keep His statutes (chukkot) and commandments (mitzvot).  He also warns that if they reject the Torah and abandon His covenant, they will be cursed.

This ominous exhortation is called the Tochacha (rebuke or reproof) and is one of two Torah portions in which such a warning is given.  The other is Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1–29:8).

Open Torah scroll

Open Torah scroll

Walking in His Blessings

Parasha Bechukotai begins with ten verses that describe the general blessings that reward obedience to God’s commandments.

The first of God’s promises is seasonable rain in the Land, which will produce such an abundance of fruit that the time for threshing will extend until the time for sowing seed.

“I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit.”  (Leviticus 26:4)

The book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time and season for everything. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

One needs to look no further than a season of drought in their land to understand how it brings destruction rather than blessing. God’s blessings are always delivered on time.

grapes, produce, Israel, vines

Israeli vineyard (State of Israel Photo)

God also promises that if the Jewish people keep His commandments (Torah), then they will live in peace in their Land. They will chase their enemies, who will fall before them:

“I will grant you peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid….  You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you.” (Leviticus 26:6–7)

This comforting section of blessing concludes with God’s promise of a reciprocal relationship with His people.

If they walk in His ways, He will accept them as His people and put His Tabernacle among them, walking in their midst.

“I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people.”  (Leviticus 26:12)

Israel, jerusalem, siblings, family

Ultra-Orthodox Jews walk in Jerusalem (Photo by Michael Jones)

The blessings that result from obedience are framed by the metaphor of walking (halak) in His chukkot (divine decrees or statutes that defy reason, such as the law of the Red Heifer) and keeping (shamar) His mitzvot (commandments).

The list of 13 blessings ends with a curious reminder that God set the Israelites free from the bondage of slavery in Egypt.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.”  (Leviticus 26:13)

We understand from this verse that it is God who enabled the Israelites to walk uprightly by revealing Himself to them and setting them free from slavery.

It is only within this covenantal relationship that they could walk in His ways.

These verbs “walking” and “keeping” in this week’s Torah portion imply that blessing comes from deliberate action on our parts.  Nevertheless, keeping His commandments is only possible because He has set us free.

It is wonderful to claim the blessings of God; however, these promises are conditional upon our obedience.  It is futile to walk in disobedience and still claim the blessings that result from our relationship with God.  

Disobedience is a symptom of a broken relationship.

Father, sons, Jerusalem, Family

Orthodox family at the old city of Jerusalem.

Disobedience, Curses, and Exile

A 28-verse section detailing about 30 specific curses that result from disobedience follows the blessing section of this Parasha.

It is a list of ever-worsening consequences that will come upon God’s people if they disobey His commandments.

These passages are recited in the synagogue with fear and trembling:

“I will bring on you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength.  You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it.  I will set My face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you.”  (Leviticus 26:16–17)

Torah, scroll, Moses, hand

A yad (Torah pointer) is often used when reading from the Torah scroll to protect the handwritten text and parchment, as well as the sanctity of the scroll itself.

This Torah portion underlines the importance of giving the Holy Land its Shemitah year of rest by emphasizing that it would finally be able to rest when God exiled His people because of their disobedience.

“Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its Sabbaths.” (Leviticus 26:34)

Indeed, God brought upon His people the worst punishment ever — exile from their own Land.

Although a remnant remained in the Land, the Jewish People were scattered to the four corners of the earth where they have been persecuted in the nations.

“I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out My sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins.”  (Leviticus 26:33)

While the Jewish People remained in exile, the Land itself received the rest that that the people denied it when they inhabited it.

Israel, Landscape, Mountain, climbing, hiking, nature

A hiker in Israel takes in a magnificent vista.

Despite the excruciating description of severe punishments and terrible calamities that would come on Israel for her disobedience, God ends with a word of comfort and consolation:

“Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God.

“But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the LORD.”  (Leviticus 26:44–45)

God’s love for His people is not based on the fickleness of human emotion; it is based on the bedrock of covenant.

Although the covenant blessings promised to the Israelites when they left Egypt came with specific if / then conditions, the Abrahamic Covenant upon which they were based was given without conditions.

For evidence of the reliability of the Bible and the faithfulness of God, we need look no further than the establishment of the modern-day state of Israel, the restoration of the land to amazing fruitfulness, and the drawing of His people home to the Promised Land from the four corners of the globe.

Women pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Women pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Trusting in God

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD.”  (Jeremiah 17:5)

The prophetic portion of Bechukotai follows the theme of the blessings associated with walking with God in a covenantal relationship and the curses associated with walking away from Him.

In this portion, the prophet Jeremiah rebukes the people of Israel for idolatry and faithlessness, telling them that they will go into exile.

But the Haftarah section ends with a note of anticipation when Jeremiah shows his trust in the Hope of Israel by praying, “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for You are my praise.”  (Jeremiah 17:14)

Elsewhere in Jeremiah, God promises through this prophet a New Covenant (Brit Chadashah), in which the law of God would be written on the heart.

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant (Brit Chadashah) with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke My covenant, though I was a husband to them.”  (Jeremiah 31:31–32)

passover-haggadah-seder

The Passover Seder (ritual meal; literally, order) follows a pattern that is set in the Haggadah, a Jewish text that is read on the first night of Passover. Among the symbolic foods served at the Seder are matzah (unleavened bread) and four cups of wine: the Cup of Sanctification; the Cup of Deliverance; the Cup of Redemption; and the Cup of Restoration.

The Passover Seder (ritual meal; literally, order) follows a pattern that is set in the Haggadah, a Jewish text that is read on the first night of Passover.  Among the symbolic foods served at the Seder are matzah (unleavened bread) and four cups of wine: the Cup of Sanctification; the Cup of Deliverance; the Cup of Redemption; and the Cup of Restoration.

This New Covenant was sealed in the blood of Yeshua the Messiah when he died on the Roman execution stake.

On the Passover, less than a day before His death, Yeshua held up the Cup of Redemption and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.”  (Luke 22:20)

Under the strength of this covenant, our sins are forgiven and remembered no more.  (Isaiah 43:25)

But does this new-found freedom in Messiah give us a license to sin, forsaking the standards set forth in God’s law? The Jewish Rabbi Sha’ul (Apostle Paul) answers this question with a resounding chas v’chalilah! (God forbid!)

“What shall we say, then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”  (Romans 6:1–2)

Jewish prayer, Kotel, Jerusalem

An Orthodox Jewish man prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall.

While Yeshua has paid the price for our sins and the resulting curse of the law, and we can abide in God’s love through faith, the New Covenant in no way nullifies our call to walk in holiness.

He has set us free from slavery to sin and we need no longer serve that evil master, suffering the curses of the law.

Neither do we need to serve God in fear of punishment; rather, we are now free to enjoy the relationship promised in this Torah portion.  He walks among us, and we are His people who serve Him out of love, devotion, and gratitude for all He has done for us.

The apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans that there is nothing — absolutely nothing — which can separate us from the love of God that is in Messiah Yeshua.

Now that is truly the good news!

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Messiah Yeshua Adoneinu (our Lord).”  (Romans 8:38–39)

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