SEVEN TIMES SEVEN (to the fourth power)! Part I
Who would ever imagine that the Old Testament Book of Leviticus would be the source of any of God’s prophecies let alone a prediction that is incredibly precise by virtue of a continuous “seven times over” chronological cycle that has a specific beginning and ending date. Leviticus is a book of the Mosaic Law that recorded God’s decrees, regulations, and commands to Israel; regarding (universal) moral standards, national ceremonial laws, atoning sacrifices, and celebratory annual festivals. Prophetic things are normally found in the books written by Jewish Prophets, i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, some of the Psalms, and more. But Leviticus?
What we are about to discover is a stunning counterpart to last week’s study of the time-capsule revelation given to the prophet Daniel as recorded in Daniel Chapter 9, and decoded by Sir Robert Anderson; specifically, the 483-year time-lapse prophecy that Messiah Jesus fulfilled to the very day, when he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday—five days before his crucifixion, and one week before his resurrection.
First, let’s examine the text to establish two important premises: (1) God’s specific instructions and conditions to Israel were, in fact, prophetic (both as a promise and warning); (2) the real-life and real-time fulfillment of the conditional promises/warnings actually occurred during a specified period of Israel’s history that is also an integral part of world history.
The Prophetic Conditions
You might recall from last week’s article: God had told Abraham that his descendants would be delivered from 400 years (four generations) of captivity and slavery in a foreign land. This prophecy was announced several hundred years before Jacob and his family moved to Egypt and then fulfilled when God delivered the Israelites from Egypt by means of astounding miracles, including parting of the Red Sea. A short time after this stunning deliverance, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments along with numerous other laws, not the least of which was the sacrificial system to atone for the transgressions of the people.
Through animal sacrifices, the sins of the people were forgiven; but this was a continual process day after day, year after year. However, these sacrifices only covered the wrongdoings of Israel (the people); they did not remove them. In other words, neither the sacrifices nor keeping of the law itself (which no one could ever do, including Moses himself) achieved an ultimate or perfect reconciliation to/with a Holy God. According to both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the only true means of salvation itself was the faith of an individual … total trust in the true and living God. This trust was credited as righteousness. We can best understand this God-approved accreditation as a guaranteed deposit (in this case a down payment), which at the God-appointed time hundreds of years later was completely validated, sealed, and stamped by the finished work of Christ on the cross.
Let’s read exactly what Scripture has to say about this matter. First from the Old Testament: “And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6). Then from the New Testament: “Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. For the Scriptures tell us, ‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith’” (Romans 4: 1-3).
From the very beginning of God’s relationship with man, faith—believing in and totally trusting God which is simply taking him at his word—constituted the true basis of righteousness … right-standing with God. Under the Mosaic Law, God continued to be the ultimate object of his people’s faith. But a vital component of this faith was also fine-tuned with a practical application and redirection to a continual trust in God’s provisions of atonement through the Levitical sacrificial system that was a prototype of God’s ultimate (better) covenant with both Jews and Gentiles. This New Covenant was authored and finished by God’s very Son, Jesus Christ, as the once and for all sacrificial payment for our sins and the penalty of those sins, which is the very foundation of the New Covenant of Grace. Then, to better understand the very essence of this prophecy in Leviticus, we need to recognize the conditional nature of the Mosaic Covenant: God’s blessing (not salvation, but God’s favor) depended on Israel’s obedience to God’s instructions.
Actually, this pattern or principle is also true with the New Covenant of Grace. Meaning that salvation is not based upon what we DO or don’t do, or our behavior, or our merit or worth; rather, it is contingent on one and only one thing … simply believing in Christ and what he did for us on the cross (TRUST). Yet, God’s blessings are often contingent upon our (with and through the strength of Christ and the Holy Spirit) obedience to his word and leading; which, by the way, is nothing more than continued trust in Him for all things. Just as the Israelites were to trust him for their entire welfare. Conversely, when we Christians (as with Israel under the Old Covenant) go our own way and leave God out of our lives and certainly when we deliberately sin and then refuse to confess the wrong things we’ve done, God will discipline us … because we are his children and he loves us and he wants the very best for us. (See Hebrews Chapter 12).
Let’s, then, examine the conditional promises of God to Israel and see exactly what happened to God’s people (and even more incredibly the historical time-lapse capsule of when it began and ended) as a prophetic fulfillment to blessings for obedience and punishment for disobedience.
Blessings for Obedience
Since we will learn that Israel eventually failed to keep her part of the covenant and because the seven times over result of her disobedience is the primary subject of these articles, we’ll take but a brief look at the blessings in exchange for Israel’s obedience. God begins his instructions to Moses (and the people) by saying:
“If you follow my decrees and careful to obey my commands, I will send you the seasonal rains. The land will then yield its crops … you will eat your fill and live securely in your own land … I will give you peace in the land, and you will be able to sleep with no cause for fear … in fact, you will chase down your enemies … I will look favorably upon you, making you fertile and multiplying your people. And I will fulfill my covenant with you. You will have a surplus of crops … I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people…” (Leviticus 26: 3-12).
As noted, the above excerpts are but a few of the highlight blessings that God would bestow on Israel, if they would only remain faithful to him. This passage and others throughout the Old Testament clearly demonstrate that in order for Israel to fully enjoy the Promised Land, to experience times of plenty and prosperity, to dwell securely in the land with no fear of their enemies, and finally TO EVEN REMAIN IN THE LAND ITSELF, Israel would need to listen, love, and continue to learn about the God of Israel—indeed, the only true and living God.
Disobedience Equals Discipline
God is loving and forgiving, but he is also holy, righteous, and truth itself; thus, there is always a perfect balance of justice to everything he does. The administration of discipline is an integral part of God’s awesome character and attributes. And so, we now must sadly turn to the “rest of the story” as found in Leviticus Chapter 26. And what we find is an extraordinary expression by God himself concerning the sequential progression of Israel’s corrective punishment. With subsequent articles, we will discover exactly WHEN and how these stunning announcements of Israel’s future (which makes them prophetic) would take place, to this very day.
We begin with the following: “However, if you do not listen to me or obey all these commands, and if you break my covenant by rejecting my decrees, treating my regulations with contempt … I will punish you….” (Leviticus 26: 14-16). The chapter continues with a few specifics of what would happen to the people. Then the passage suddenly turns to an emphatically harsher, more exacting … but also mysterious, almost cryptic description of how and to what extent God’s discipline would unfold. One that I had not really considered in-depth or by any means comprehended until a little over seven years ago when reading this chapter. For now I will just say that it was truly a phenomenal disclosure of what God is saying, the understanding of which could not be fully grasped until the 20th century … even beyond the time (late 19th century) when Sir Robert Anderson was given the insight into the Daniel Chapter 9 prophecy.
Let’s continue reading God’s Word to Moses and the Israelites: “And if, in spite of all this, you still disobey me, I will punish you seven times over for your sins. I will break your proud spirit by making the skies as unyielding as iron and the earth as hard as bronze. All your work will be for nothing, for your land will yield no crops, and your trees will bear no fruit” (Leviticus 26: 18-20, italics for emphasis).
*Note: Both for sake of time/space in this article and for your benefit in absorbing a complete panoramic overview of this “seven times over” prophetic warning, I would strongly encourage you to read the entire 26th Chapter of Leviticus. For now we will continue with the remaining three (there are a total of four) prophetic proclamations. With each seven-times warning, the passage presents the nature and extent of the punishment.
The second seven times warning: “If, even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey me, I will inflict disaster on you seven times over for your sins” (Leviticus 26:21, italics for emphasis). Then the third warning: “And if you fail to learn the lesson and continue your hostility toward me, then I myself will be hostile toward you. I will personally strike you with calamity seven times over for your sins. I will send armies against you to carry out the curse of the covenant you have broken…. (Leviticus 26: 23-25, italics for emphasis).
And then the fourth and final warning: “If in spite of all this you still refuse to listen and still remain hostile toward me, then I will give full vent to my hostility. I myself will punish you seven times over for your sins … I will make your cities desolate … I will take no pleasure in your offerings that should be a pleasing aroma to me. Yes, I myself will devastate your land…. (Leviticus 26: 27-32, italics for emphasis).
This fourth and final segment of the seven times over discipline contains more extensive and graphic details of what will happen to Israel, but the most severe of all begins in verse 33, “I will scatter you among the nations and bring out my sword against you. Your land will become desolate, and your cities will lie in ruins.” Then later in verse 36: “And for those of you who survive, I will demoralize you in the land of your enemies. You will live in such fear….”
Although we will expand on this more thoroughly in coming articles, for now all we need to remember is what happened when the Romans attacked and conquered Israel and Jerusalem in 70 AD, killing hundreds of thousands of Jews, utterly destroying the city and the Temple, and exiling nearly all survivors (eventually) to almost every nation on the earth. This catastrophic event is called The Great Dispersion. Next came an even more appalling and horrifying cataclysmic event that we all know as the Holocaust during World War II; in which six million Jews were ruthlessly murdered by Hitler’s Third Reich.
A Preparatory Evaluation of Seven Times Over
When reading the ominous warnings given directly by God to Israel in Leviticus 26 (and later summarized in the book of Deuteronomy), some 7 years ago, I asked myself the question: “Why did the Lord utilize the paradigm (or concept or model or formula—if you will) of seven times over, a total of four times? Wouldn’t once or maybe twice be totally sufficient to get the point across to Israel? My first knee-jerk response was that the seven times over was an allegorical means to emphasize the harshness of God’s punishment, i.e. the discipline would be seven times more severe than the offense itself for all four phases of Israel’s disobedience.
Please understand: There are four distinct series or sets of warning. All four generically describe Israel’s on-going disobedience and rejection of God. Why not just one sweeping statement by the Lord to announce his punishment for Israel’s continued hostility toward him? Why four? What specifically do all four or any one of the four characterize or denote? Do they represent or mean essentially nothing and/or is God simply repeating himself? No, there’s a reason for EVERYTHING in God’s Word. Plus each of the four sets of seven times over contains different penalties that depict unique and distinct consequences.
So, I quickly dismissed the metaphorical (severity) application for two main reasons:
– (1) God clearly states in the passage that he will, “not utterly reject or despise” Israel during their time of exile in the land of their enemies (conquerors). A seven times over harsher penalty administered in all four consecutive phases, simply doesn’t fit with God’s mercy or compassionate love for Israel. Think about it for a moment: If, in fact, God’s (in proportional, mathematical terms of severity) punishment of Israel was seven times harsher than their offense, they simply couldn’t have survived. They have barely survived as it is … for nearly two thousand years—until their miraculous rebirth as a nation in 1948.
Not only that, what does seven times the offense mean, or how could it possibly be understood or measured by Moses, or the Israelites or by anyone else (including you and me), in terms of just what constitutes seven times? Would it be the number of Jews killed by Gentiles, the length of crop failure, the relative brutality of their enemies, or any other hard-to-quantify criteria? It simply isn’t feasible to try to calculate all the specific means and methods that God would use to discipline his people seven times more than the offense.
Also, if God only meant to convey the idea that the punishment fits the crime (which, by the way, is a vital truth in the Mosaic law), then all four phases would/could not be seven times over; if, in fact, the seven times over is a metaphorical expression of the severity. If the expression of “times over” is simply metaphorical or symbolic of the degree of punishment; then it would be much more logical and comprehensible for the “times over” punishment to be incrementally progressive. For example: two times over for the 1st set, three times harsher for the 2nd set, five times for the third, then seven times over for the fourth and final installment. But each one of the four phases are seven times over.
– (2) With that in mind, there is an even stronger and more compelling reason that the seven-times over doesn’t apply to or represent in any way the severity factor or degree of punishment. If you read the passage carefully, here’s what you will find: Each time (phase’s one through four) that God identifies the punishment to be experienced by Israel, the punishments themselves ARE more severe. In other words, the severity factor is built-in to each of the four phases of discipline, as they become progressively more severe, one through four. With, by far, the most severe that of being completely conquered, destroyed, and exiled to other countries by their conquerors in the fourth set of the seven times over punishments. With the corresponding result that there would be absolutely no purpose or reason for the Lord to metaphorically describe the successive phases of punishments in terms of seven-times over. Because the text is very clear that each discipline, in and of itself, becomes progressively worse.
So what does the seven times paradigm represent or mean? Then it came to me; that is the Lord showed it to me. The expressive purpose for seven times over pertains to one and only one element: TIME. (As in chronological years of history).
Moreover, this time has a beginning point via an enormously significant event in Israel’s history and an equally monumental (exceeding the first event because of the sheer magnitude of joy in the accomplishment) event that marks the end of the seven-times over prophetic calendar. And, if you stay with me for next week’s article, I will do my best to explain exactly why and how the seven times over prophetic language/reference used by God himself resulted in a specific time-duration fulfillment of a significant part of Israel’s history, especially as it relates to the Times of the Gentiles. Stay tuned for what may be one of the most amazing discoveries you’ll ever find in God’s Word, comparable to the stunning disclosure given to Sir Robert Anderson as found in his book, The Coming Prince (see last week’s article).
Things to Ponder
– In preparation for next week’s article, and as a precedent to the premise that the seven times over (four times or to the 4th power) refers to a chronological time-line, did the prophecy of the Babylonian Captivity of Israel specify a measurable period of time? If so, how many years was it?
– And don’t forget the Daniel 9 prophecy that we covered last week, as discerned by Sir Robert Anderson, which entails a specified period of time … from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem to the coming of the Messiah. This was done by understanding the “sets of seven” language, which is essentially no different from the “seven times over” wording in Leviticus.