A. Blessings on obedience.
1. (1-2) Overtaken by blessing.
Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God:
a. If you diligently obey the voice of the Lord: The word “if” looms large. In this chapter, Moses exhorted the nation with choice. The covenant God made with Israel contained three major features: The law, the sacrifice, and the choice.
i. The idea behind the choice is that God was determined to reveal Himself to the world through Israel. He would do this either by making them so blessed that the world would know only God could have blessed them so; or by making them so cursed that only God could have cursed them and cause them to still survive. The choice was up to Israel.
ii. As a literary form, this chapter is similar to ancient treaties between a king and his people; this is God the King, making a covenant with His people, Israel.
iii. “In the ancient Near East it was customary for legal treaties to conclude with passages containing blessings upon those who observed the enactments, and curses upon those who did not.” (Harrrison)
b. That the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth: Therefore, if Israel would obey the Lord, He would set them high above all nations of the earth, and the blessings would be so powerful that they would come upon you and overtake you. They wouldn’t be able to escape the blessings.
2. (3-14) God will richly bless Israel’s obedience to the covenant.
Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. The Lord will command the blessing on you in your storehouses and in all to which you set your hand, and He will bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you. The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways. Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. And the Lord will grant you plenty of goods, in the fruit of your body, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your ground, in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. The Lord will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hand. You shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them. So you shall not turn aside from any of the words which I command you this day, to the right or the left, to go after other gods to serve them.
a. Blessed shall you be: An obedient Israel would be blessed everywhere: In the city . . . in the country . . . when you come in . . . when you go out. An obedient Israel would be blessed in their homes and in their farms, and in their kitchens (the fruit of your body . . . the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds . . . Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl).
b. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways: An obedient Israel would be blessed in warfare. This degree of blessing speaks of a clearly Divine blessing.
c. The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself: Perhaps the best blessing had to do with Israel’s own relationship with God. God would separate and obedient Israel unto Himself, speaking of a special relationship. If not for this, all the material blessings described previously would be empty.
d. All the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord . . . the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath: God’s purpose in blessing Israel was greater than just enriching the nation for its own sake. He intended to glorify Himself through blessing them.
i. When Israel walked after the Lord, these blessings were real; one example of this is when the Queen of Sheba came to Solomon and saw a nation so blessed, she knew it had to be of God (1 Kings 10:1-13).
B. Curses on disobedience.
1. (15) Introduction to the curses.
But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:
a. If you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God: The covenant’s aspect of the choice was a sword with two edges. Obedience would carry great blessing, but disobedience would carry terrible curses.
b. All these curses will come upon you and overtake you: Like the blessings for an obedient Israel, the curses for a disobedient Israel would be inevitable.
c. All these curses: The rest of the chapter is almost overwhelming. “Actually, a logical analysis of the chapter is almost impossible, since the final aim was not to be logical but to build up a vivid impression by presenting picture after picture until the hearer could see and feel the import of the preacher’s words.” (Thompson)
2. (16-68) The curses upon Israel’s disobedience.
Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your body and the produce of your land, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. The Lord will send on you cursing, confusion, and rebuke in all that you set your hand to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, because of the wickedness of your doings in which you have forsaken Me. The Lord will make the plague cling to you until He has consumed you from the land which you are going to possess. The Lord will strike you with consumption, with fever, with inflammation, with severe burning fever, with the sword, with scorching, and with mildew; they shall pursue you until you perish. And your heavens which are over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you shall be iron. The Lord will change the rain of your land to powder and dust; from the heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed. The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them; and you shall become troublesome to all the kingdoms of the earth. Your carcasses shall be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and no one shall frighten them away. The Lord will strike you with the boils of Egypt, with tumors, with the scab, and with the itch, from which you cannot be healed. The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of heart. And you shall grope at noonday, as a blind man gropes in darkness; you shall not prosper in your ways; you shall be only oppressed and plundered continually, and no one shall save you. You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall lie with her; you shall build a house, but you shall not dwell in it; you shall plant a vineyard, but shall not gather its grapes. Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you shall not eat of it; your donkey shall be violently taken away from before you, and shall not be restored to you; your sheep shall be given to your enemies, and you shall have no one to rescue them. Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, and your eyes shall look and fail with longing for them all day long; and there shall be no strength in your hand. A nation whom you have not known shall eat the fruit of your land and the produce of your labor, and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually. So you shall be driven mad because of the sight which your eyes see. The Lord will strike you in the knees and on the legs with severe boils which cannot be healed, and from the sole of your foot to the top of your head. The Lord will bring you and the king whom you set over you to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods; wood and stone. And you shall become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword among all nations where the Lord will drive you. You shall carry much seed out to the field but gather little in, for the locust shall consume it. You shall plant vineyards and tend them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them. You shall have olive trees throughout all your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil; for your olives shall drop off. You shall beget sons and daughters, but they shall not be yours; for they shall go into captivity. Locusts shall consume all your trees and the produce of your land. The alien who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. He shall lend to you, but you shall not lend to him; he shall be the head, and you shall be the tail. Moreover all these curses shall come upon you and pursue and overtake you, until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you. And they shall be upon you for a sign and a wonder, and on your descendants forever. Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of everything; and He will put a yoke of iron on your neck until He has destroyed you. The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand, a nation of fierce countenance, which does not respect the elderly nor show favor to the young. And they shall eat the increase of your livestock and the produce of your land, until you are destroyed; they shall not leave you grain or new wine or oil, or the increase of your cattle or the offspring of your flocks, until they have destroyed you. They shall besiege you at all your gates until your high and fortified walls, in which you trust, come down throughout all your land; and they shall besiege you at all your gates throughout all your land which the Lord your God has given you. You shall eat the fruit of your own body, the flesh of your sons and your daughters whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you. The sensitive and very refined man among you will be hostile toward his brother, toward the wife of his bosom, and toward the rest of his children whom he leaves behind, so that he will not give any of them the flesh of his children whom he will eat, because he has nothing left in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you at all your gates. The tender and delicate woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because of her delicateness and sensitivity, will refuse to the husband of her bosom, and to her son and her daughter, her placenta which comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears; for she will eat them secretly for lack of everything in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you at all your gates. If you do not carefully observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, The Lord Your God, then the Lord will bring upon you and your descendants extraordinary plagues; great and prolonged plagues; and serious and prolonged sicknesses. Moreover He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. Also every sickness and every plague, which is not written in this Book of the Law, will the Lord bring upon you until you are destroyed. You shall be left few in number, whereas you were as the stars of heaven in multitude, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God. And it shall be, that just as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known; wood and stone. And among those nations you shall find no rest, nor shall the sole of your foot have a resting place; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and anguish of soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you; you shall fear day and night, and have no assurance of life. In the morning you shall say, “Oh, that it were evening!” And at evening you shall say, “Oh, that it were morning!” because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see. And the Lord will take you back to Egypt in ships, by the way of which I said to you, “You shall never see it again.” And there you shall be offered for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.
a. In the city . . . in the country . . . when you come in . . . when you go out: A disobedient Israel would be cursed everywhere.
b. The fruit of your body . . . the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds . . . Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl: A disobedient Israel would be cursed in their homes, their farms, and in their kitchens.
c. Plague . . . consumption . . . fever . . . the boils of Egypt . . . the scab . . . the itch . . . madness and blindness and confusion of heart: A disobedient Israel would be cursed in their health.
d. Your heavens . . . shall be bronze . . . the Lord will change the rain of your land to powder and dust: A disobedient Israel would be cursed in their weather.
e. To be defeated before your enemies: A disobedient Israel would be cursed in warfare.
f. You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall lie with her . . . Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you shall not eat of it . . . Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people: A disobedient Israel would be cursed by simple, terrible injustices and tragedies. All of these tragedies would bring a terrible result: you shall be driven mad because of the sight which your eyes see.
g. The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar: A disobedient Israel would be attacked and conquered by a nation of fierce countenance, and they would fight until they have destroyed you.
i. You shall eat the fruit of your own body: This became horribly true in the days of the later kingdom. 2 Kings 6:24-30 describes a famine so severe in a besieged Israelite city that there was a fight between two women over eating their children! A terrible fulfillment of the promise, he will not give any of the flesh of his children whom he will eat. Lamentations 4:1-11 vividly describes the horrors of the siege of Jerusalem.
h. The Lord will scatter you among all the peoples, from one end of the earth to the other: In the end, Israel would be dispersed. We find that because of their disobedience, these curses became the history of the nation of Israel.
i. Of course, many of these horrible curses upon a disobedient Israel were fulfilled in the years of history recorded in the Old Testament; but their fulfillment did not end with the end of Bible history, Old or New Testament.
ii. For example, around 68 a.d. the Romans finally had enough of the rebellious Jews in their province of Judea, so they laid siege to Jerusalem. At the time, the Jews fervently expected the coming of the Messiah to save them and conquer the Romans, based on God’s promise to destroy the armies laying siege to Jerusalem in Zechariah 12:1-9. Sadly, the Jews of that time refused to fulfill Zechariah 12:10 which described their humble, repentant embrace of a pierced Messiah.
ii. Nevertheless the Jews of that day were so confident of Messiah’s coming that their factions actually fought each other and burned each other’s food, trying to be the most powerful group when the Messiah came. According to Josephus, it was “as though they were purposely serving the Romans by destroying what the city had provided against a siege and severing the sinews of their own strength” (Wars 5.24). “Through famine certainly the city fell, a fate which would have been practically impossible, had they not prepared the way for it themselves.” (Wars 5.26)
iii. When the Roman general Vespasian came to Jerusalem, the Jewish factions were busy fighting each other. His staff urged him to attack immediately, but he knew that an attack would instantly unite the Jews. So he held back and let them destroy each other for as long as possible. He said that God was a better general than he, and that He was delivering the Jews into the hands of the Romans. Before Jerusalem was attacked, Vespasian became emperor, and he put his son Titus in charge of the attack.
iv. In contrast, Christians in Jerusalem heeded the words of Jesus in Luke 21:20-24, in which He told people to flee Jerusalem when it was surrounded by armies, because the days of vengeance were at hand.
v. In this siege of Jerusalem hunger became so great that many tried to escape the walls and forage for food. Five hundred or more were captured and crucified daily. “The soldiers out of rage and hatred amused themselves by nailing their prisoners in different postures; and so great was their numbers, that space could not be found for the crosses nor crosses for the bodies.” (War 5.451) More than 600,000 died from starvation, and their dead bodies were dumped over the walls of the city. In total more that a million died and 97,000 were captured, with most of the captives being shipped as slaves to Egypt. The promise of Deuteronomy 28:68 was tragically fulfilled: you shall be offered for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you. This happened as too many Jewish slaves glutted the Egyptian slave market, and no one could buy all the available slaves.
vi. After the conquest the Jews still living in Judea were continually subjugated and humiliated by the Romans. The Romans continued to collect the temple tax from the Jews, even though their temple had been completely destroyed. So the Romans took the temple tax and used it to support their pagan temples.
vii. After some years of this, the Jews of Judea rebelled against the Romans again in 132 a.d. with a man named bar-Kochoba leading the fight. He was proclaimed messiah by the rabbis who supported the revolt. But after the bar-Kochoba rebellion, Rome finally and utterly crushed the Jewish population of Judea. Josephus said that as a result of the many battles, the once beautiful land was destroyed, and that it could not even be recognized.
viii. But the curse for Israel had not ended. Now, tragically, the church and Christians turned on the Jews. It was as if the branches of the tree attacked their own root. As the church gained in political power and became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the decided to attack the Jews.
ix. They did this in part as retribution for the distant early years of Jewish persecution of the Christians. It was also because the current Jewish rejection of Jesus as Messiah was thought so offensive. But the greatest motivation was a bizarre evangelistic strategy. Christians thought, “The Jews are cursed because they have killed their Messiah. The curses are meant to turn the heart of the nation back to God. We will help God by being His instrument to curse the Jewish people.”
x. For centuries, the worst enemies Jews ever had were the Christians who thought they could help God by cursing the Jewish people. At one time in Medieval Rome, the Pope commanded a procession of the Jews through the city, where they presented a scroll of the Old Testament to the Pope. He received the scroll and said, “Beautiful law; wretched people.” The shameful history of the Church against the Jews is recorded in the story of the Crusades, the slaughters, and the ghettos.
xi. This helps to explain the great corruption and lack of spiritual power in the church through the Dark Ages. God promised to Abraham and his covenant descendants, the Jewish people, I will bless those who bless you, and curse him who curses you (Genesis 12:3). Satan’s clever, and powerful strategy to curse the church was effective: Curse the church by inspiring them to curse the Jewish people. Just as God judged Assyria, Babylon, Rome, and Germany for their mistreatment of the Jewish people, so the church was cursed as long as it persecuted the Jews. The church ignorantly disregarded the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:7: For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! If the Jewish people were to be cursed, it was God’s business, not the Church’s business!
xii. “They have, it is true, grievously sinned; but, O ye Christians, have they not grievously suffered for it? Is not the stroke of God heavy enough upon them? Do not then, by any unkind treatment or cruel oppression, increase their miseries. They are, above all others, the men who have seen affliction by the stroke of his rod.” (Adam Clarke, 1811)
xiii. Gloriously, the curse was not and is not the end of God’s plan for the Jewish people. As Ezekiel 37 describes, God will - and has begun to - revive the Jewish people as back from the dead, and prepare them to be used in these last days. God is not done with Israel, and the curse will not be their final legacy.
i. You shall become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword among all nations where the Lord will drive you: Even as with the blessings, God’s purpose in cursing Israel would be greater than just immediately punishing them for their sin. It was to be a witness to the nations.
i. God would do this for His glory, and because it would glorify Him, it can even be said that He would rejoice in the work: just as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing.
ii. “For though he doth not delight in the death of a sinner in itself, yet he doth doubtless delight in the glorifying of his justice upon incorrigible sinners, seeing the exercise of all his attributes must needs please him, else he were not perfectly happy.” (Poole)
© 2006 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission