WVW: Leviticus 26:29- The Worst Kind of Hunger
Updated: Aug 15
I was born in Chile, a long strip of land in South America and a third world country (although one of the most prosperous). Chile has a native dish called “wrapped kids” (flimsy translation) which consists of ground beef with spices wrapped in bacon. Today’s verse is not nearly as appetizing.
I know people who have gone through real hunger, and by hunger I don’t mean simple appetite. My grandmother, who lived in Dusseldorf, Germany, met actual survivors of the Jewish Holocaust. The stories she heard are what nightmares are made of. Her closest friend at that time had to hunt for rats in her place of refuge. They had to scrap their sticky iron pans because they couldn’t afford to leave whatever egg was left stuck to the surface of the pan. That is what I mean by “hunger.” It is the life-or-death situation a person faces when devoid of nutritional sustenance, also known as starvation. I’m almost entirely sure that no one who reads this short article has suffered hunger. To be honest, in our western world and civilization, hunger is not nearly as common as it was in ancient times, or as it is in poor nations where people have to eat out of the garbage in order to survive starvation. We take eating for granted. We take food for granted.
The weird verse might seem weird for modern day Europeans or Americans, or anyone else in a prosperous nation. It certainly wasn’t an anomaly in ancient Israel, especially when the nation was experiencing the curses of the Mosaic Law.
“You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters.” (Leviticus 26:29)
We in the modern church have a tendency to isolate Bible verses simply because we see numbers before them. Because of the number, we conclude it’s almost an independent unit. If we do that with this verse, questions come up. Is it a command? Why is God saying that I shall eat my children? How is this moral? As with every other obscure text found in Scripture, the context will shed light.
What’s the context?
Leviticus 26 follows commands about keeping the Sabbath, maintenance of the Temple’s lamps (menorahs), punishments for blasphemy, legislation concerning the Feast of Booths, the year of Jubilee, and several other topics. The chapter itself focuses on the blessings and curses that will fall on Israel, and it all depended on how well the Aaronic priesthood could keep these Levitical (priestly) commandments. Let’s not forget that the Levitical priests were the representatives of the people before God. Their failure only reflected the failure of the people, and brought the due curses, or blessings if they were obedient in the fulfillment of their duties. Verse 3 lays out the condition for blessing, “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then…” and verses 14 and 15 list the curses for disobedience, “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, then…” IT bears to mention that the blessings are only 9 verses long, and the curses are a whopping 30 verses long. God owes His blessing to nobody. The fact that He listed benefits and blessings for His people to do what they should do is a display of His grace. Were it not for God’s love and mercy, they (and we) only deserve the long list of curses.
Isn’t it too harsh?
Still, isn’t eating your own child too harsh of a curse? Given the previous escalating warnings, we shouldn’t conclude that it is. After a flurry of warnings concerning the curses, God cautions Israel with these words found in verse 20, “And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.” Famine is a repeated Old Testament curse, and a terrifying one at that. If Israel didn’t heed this warning through famine, things would get worse. “Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins” (verse 21). The first curse would affect the trees and the soil. All the food that was left were the surviving animals. This would be the worst curse for a vegan. Verse 22 makes it bad for carnivores too: “And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.” Now the livestock was to suffer. What else is there to eat once the land, trees, and livestock disappear? What else is there in a deserted wasteland? The answer is horrible, but it is the only viable option for survival: the weakest link. After another warning by Yahweh of punishing Israel’s stubbornness and sinfulness “sevenfold,” the dreaded outcome becomes the only escape. Already quoted, verse 29 says, “You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters.”
This curse is repeated by Moses in Deuteronomy 28 in an even longer list of curses. It became a reality within history at the siege of Samaria (2 Kings 6:28, 29). It was a serious matter of lament for the Weeping Prophet, Jeremiah (Lamentations 2:20; 4:10). It was also prophesied by Ezekiel concerning the fall of Judah at the hands of Babylon (Ezekiel 5:10). A man by the name of Doeg ben Joseph records in ancient Jewish literature that a mother had to slay her dear son so that she could roast him and eat him. The Jewish historian Josephus records similar cases in the destruction of Jerusalem by General Titus in 70 AD.
“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4)
This Mosaic curse is without a doubt worse than the most horrific of horror novels or movies. It is unimaginable, and this is coming from someone who isn’t a father.
What’s the Good News?
Thankfully, God’s mercy extends far beyond that relatively short list of blessings. His own Son, of the very essence of God, came to earth and received all those curses on behalf of anyone who will believe in Him and repent from their sins. And that is only half of the good news, because the blessings are endless. The greatest blessing is to know Him and the one whom He has sent, Jesus Christ. To behold the holy face of God will be the greatest blessing for all eternity.
Paul (Peals of Thunder)
Dingers, this Weird Verse Wednesday was written by our friend Paul Tkaczuk from the awesome podcast Peals of Thunder. Peals of Thunder is a podcast dedicated to sound Biblical theology, knowledge of Church history, and he also touches on controversial topics from a Christian worldview. You can also find him at @Pealsofthunder on Instagram!