I was talking to a Sunday school teacher about classroom behavior and how to manage the rowdier kids during the hour he has them every week. I mentioned that it might help if he set the expectations before class, being as specific as possible with what is okay (sitting in their chairs while listening to the lesson) and what is not (standing on the table while shouting during the lesson).
“Don’t assume they know anything,” I told the teacher. “Tell them exactly what you expect and what the consequences will be if their behavior doesn’t line up. Then, if they act like wild animals, you can enforce the rules with full confidence that they definitely know better. But I think you’ll see an improvement in their overall behavior.” I walked away from this conversation feeling so proud of my advice, convinced that it would work. I mean, how could it fail? Once we’re told what’s right, we just do the right thing, right?
Then I read my daily Bible reading from the book of Leviticus, chapters 25-26. It’s fairly long, so I’ll paraphrase what God told Moses to tell the Israelites: “If you follow all of the rules I just mentioned, I’ll give you plenty of good food to eat, peace from your enemies, and I’ll live right there with you. In other words, I’ll both be your God and your helpful next-door neighbor. But if you don’t do what I’m telling you, you’ll be plagued by diseases and poor harvests, and I’ll allow your enemies to defeat you. I’ll give you plenty of chances to repent and turn things around, but every time you ignore me or flagrantly disobey, I’ll make things worse.”
Of course, if you read on after Leviticus, the Israelites seemed to test God to see if He was just kidding about what He had said to Moses up on that mountain. (Spoiler: God was dead serious about their call to obedience.) All the things He said would happen if they were hostile toward God did, in fact, happen.
It’s a reminder that for some of us—both in Old Testament times and now—we just have to push and test and sneak a toe over the line. For whatever reason, we take the hard road when the godly path is right there in front of us. Maybe it’s about a lack of trust that God’s plan is perfect or maybe it’s about pride in our own decisions. Either way, we end up suffering.
But that’s not where the story of the Israelites, God’s chosen people, ends. At the close of Leviticus 26, God says, “But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors…then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.” God’s mercy is astounding. His memory is infallible. His promises are unbreakable. And I’m so, so grateful that He is my Father.