The Rejection of Israel

Parashat Behar-Bechukotai - Leviticus 25:1-27:34

The double portion of Behar-Bechukotai is the last reading in the book of Leviticus. And although the bulk of the book of Leviticus deals with laws of the sacrificial system and the inauguration of the levitical duties, it ends on quite a different tone. Parashat Bechukotai begins with a reminder that if the Children of Israel heed Hashem’s instructions and obey His commandments, they will be blessed. It begins, “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them,” and is followed by a list of things that will happen as a result of their obedience. 

However, immediately following is a stern warning of what will happen if they refuse to obey his Torah and walk in His ways. This list of curses is nearly three times as long as the blessings for obedience. When reading this list of afflictions that will come upon the Israelites, it seems that God will be angry enough to wipe them off the face of the earth entirely. He tells them:

And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies' lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them. (Leviticus 26:38–39)

This seems to confirm what many within the church believe has happened: God has rejected Israel just as He promised. Because of a misunderstanding of Paul’s language in Romans 11, there are entire denominations within Christianity that believe and teach that the Jewish people have been forsaken by God due to their rejection of Yeshua as Messiah. They believe that the Jewish people are no longer the true people of God, and that they have been displaced by a “truer” people of God, namely Christians. But is this really what Paul meant? If so, this would contradict what the LORD had already promised in the Torah:

Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, 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)

Paul, himself, rejects this line of reasoning that the physical people of Israel have been cast off or displaced. He said:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. (Romans 11:1–2)

Who then, is Paul referring to when he speaks of the “natural branches” who are “broken off” from the olive tree (11:17ff)? He is speaking of the same Israelites both John the Immerser and Yeshua longed to reach. He is addressing those who rely upon their Israelite heritage, rather than their relationship with God, to get them into the Kingdom. John rebuked them for this line of reasoning:

Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Luke 3:8–9)

Yeshua, also, longed for the secular and wayward among his people to return to God and His Torah. He explained this to the spiritual leaders of his day:

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matthew 9:12–13).

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, the LORD makes the bold statement that at some point in the future all Israel will walk before Him in righteousness: “Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever” (Isaiah 60:21). Paul, looking forward to the fulfillment of this promise, says that one day “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). Both of these passages anticipate a time when the blessings of our portion will be fulfilled:

I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. (Leviticus 26:11–12)

Has God rejected Israel, the people He redeemed from Egypt? God forbid.