Moses is nearing the end of his farewell speech, but he saved some very important issues for the end. What we have today is an entire section about blessings and curses. With chapter 26 Moses ended his exposition of the Law. Today’s reading is his personal challenge to the Israelites regarding obedience to the Lord’s commands. The Book of Deuteronomy is patterned somewhat like an ancient treaty that would have been given to a conquered nation and its king. The Lord is King, and Israel is His chosen nation and special people. Moses has told the Israelites that over and over. God took the Israelites to Himself by defeating Egypt, setting Israel free to love and serve Him. Moses has reviewed what the Lord has done for Israel and what the Lord has said to Israel. Now he spells out the terms of the covenant. The blessings and curses that we read today are the results of Israel’s behavior regarding that covenant. If Israel is obedient great and amazing things will happen for them. They will prosper. They will be the envy of the world. They will never know want or war or struggle. If they are disobedient life will not go well for them.
If the Israelites choose to be disobedient to the Lord and His covenant, no matter what they do, they will not prosper. The world will look at them and ask what the heck happened? They will plant much and reap little to nothing. They will not have the strength to fight off enemies and will fall under someone else’s control. Eventually they will be overtaken by a mighty foreign power and they will lose everything. Worse yet, the Lord will inflict on the Israelites the same plagues and horrors He inflicted on Egypt.
In this challenge to the Israelites Moses reminded the people they had been at Mount Sinai and made promises to the Lord that they would obey all God said to them. Now, on the plains of Moab the Israelites were given the opportunity to accept this solemn commitment a second time. And, in Joshua they will be given a third chance to accept the law and the covenant requirements. That is the ceremony we see on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. Joshua was to build an altar at the base of Mount Ebal where the priests would offer burnt offerings to the Lord. The burnt offerings meant total dedication to the Lord. They would also offer fellowship offerings. These would lead to a joyful celebration of the Lord’s blessings. To have God’s law without having a sacrifice for sins would bring condemnation upon the Israelites.
As we look at the list of curses this was not intended to be a prediction of what would happen…although it eventually was. The priests were calling on God to send these curses if the people failed to be obedient to the Lord’s law and covenant. By saying Amen to each statement the people were saying, “yes, it shall be so.” The people were telling God they were willing to be disciplined if they disobeyed Him. Their Amen was an acceptance of the terms of the covenant. What we will discover as we continue reading in the Old Testament is that many of these curses did happen because the people were disobedient. It is as if they made these promises to be obedient with one hand, fingers crossed, behind their backs. This was a very solemn time for the Israelites.
Here is something else we can see in these curses. They are closely related to the ten commandments and in fact explained many of them. Here is what I mean. The first curse, verse 15, relates to the first two commandments about having one God and not worshiping idols. The second curse related to families and the home. The third curse spoke of property and the fourth brought forth God’s concern for those with disabilities. Curse number five focused on being kind and just to those who were helpless and less fortunate. This included widows, orphans, and the aliens residing in the land. Often these people were cheated, abused, and treated with contempt. Curses six through nine (27:20-23) have to do with sexual purity and relate to the seventh commandment. These sins were the norm for the pagans whose land Israel was about to enter to conquer. And the Israelites were not to follow the same practices. Curses ten and eleven (27:24-25) point to commandment number six…thou shall not kill. Accidental killing was bad enough but murdering someone was the ultimate crime. Being paid to do so took this crime to another level. And taking bribes was a perversion of justice. The twelfth curse obligated the Israelites to obey every law God gave them. This was not a small, minor commitment. This was monumental, whether the people realized it or not. Deuteronomy 28:15-68 describes the judgements and punishments God would send on the Israelites AND the land if Israel is disobedient. These could be called prophetic or predictive. They are really the opposite of the blessings but given in more detail.
These curses would affect every single area of the Israelites’ life…body, family, livestock. They would be sick in both body and mind. The necessities of life would fade away and they would not be victorious in any battle. In fact, they would run out of fear. Some translations say the Israelites would be smited. There would be disease and famine severe enough for them to eat their children. And after all of that, they would be taken into exile in a foreign land. Every blessing God had given them would be lost and they would be left with nothing.
There are 14 verses about blessings and 53 about curses. However, there is good news. Even when God disciplines His people, He does not totally abandon them. Even after they worshiped idols and gods made by the hands of men, God still offers a way back. If God’s people will repent, that is turn away from the actions that have kept them from God, and they return to Him in repentance and fear/awe, God will restore them. If God’s people have a change of heart and turn from their sins, then they will enjoy life as only God can give. They will be restored to their land. Their crops and herds will once again be fruitful and produce bounty for the blessing of God’s people. We will see some of this when the Israelites return to Judah and Jerusalem after their Babylonian exile. But there will not be complete fulfillment until Jesus returns. In scriptural terms, Israel would need a spiritual operation…the circumcision of their hearts.
The fortunes of God’s people are in their hands. Both then and now. We are free to make our own choices, but we do so at our own peril. There are always consequences to our decisions and behavior. The awesome thing is that God wants us back. He is the only God who pursues His people when they stray. Buddha doesn’t. Allah doesn’t. Mohammed doesn’t. And neither do any of the multitude of gods people worship. Only our God pursues us and waits for our return with open arms. He is the only God who loves and the only one who creates. We are beyond blessed to worship Him and know His grace, peace, comfort, joy, and love.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.