My Bible (ESV Study) has headings, or titles, throughout the text. Leviticus 26 has two headings; Blessings for Obedience and Punishment for Disobedience. I found myself reading the section titled “Punishment for Disobedience” with much anticipation. It goes something like this…
“But if you will not listen to me…I will set my face against you.” (Plus lots of other unpleasant punishments)
“Then if you [still] walk contrary to me…I will continue striking you.” (And other unpleasant punishments)
“If by this discipline you are not turned to me…I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins.” (And other unpleasant punishments)
“But if in spite of this you will not listen to me…I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins.” (And, yes, other unpleasant punishments)
It may seem strange to you, and it did to me, that each time the Lord punished Israel for their sin I felt extremely relieved. Relieved? Yes, relieved. I wondered why I felt so relieved. The reason came to me. I was relieved because each time I read the words, “If you continue to sin,” I was fully expecting to read that God was going to take His presence away. And I realized in that moment how merciful God was being even in these harsh punishments.
You see, there is something far worse than the punishment and correction of God. What if He left? What if He gave up on you?
If we have heard it once, we have heard it a thousand times, God punishes those whom He loves. But this passage (and my expectations) revealed to me just how merciful God is when He punishes us instead of leaving us.
It will not always be the case. There will be a separating, a judgement, but until that day every punishment from the hand of God is an act of mercy trying to guide you back to proper relationship and obedience to Him.
And yes, it hurts Him more than hurts you.
Oh, How He Loves Us!
P.S. When I ran spell check on this, it asked me if I meant “presents” rather than “presence” when I said that I was expecting God was going to take His presence away. No, that is not what I meant. My version is a much more terrifying prospect…for some.