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This incredible chapter is the marvel of three millenniums! One may read in these tragic pronouncements the history of the nation of Israel, a history written by the great prophet who loved them enough to die for them, a history written 3,400 years before the events related! Where on earth is there anything else to compare with Deuteronomy? Furthermore, it is a history still being unfolded, day by day, decade by decade, century by century in every particular true to the pattern Moses outlined here. In this fantastic prophecy there is dissolved and expelled every shadow of doubt as to the author of these phenomenally dramatic lines. God Himself is the Author! None except Almighty God could have written such a circumstantial and accurate account of a whole nation of people, millenniums before it happened. Such a heart-breaking history could never have been written by a priesthood in Israel, regardless of when! No mere man, nor any group of mere men would have consented to lay out a projection such as this which drowned every legitimate hope of Israel in shame and tears. Not even Moses could have done it, or would have done it, unless it had been upon the express command and compulsion of the Almighty God.
There is another factor here. At the time when the Pentateuch was written by Moses, approximately 1400 B.C., we find it difficult to believe that Moses himself could have brought himself to write these curses, unless it had been true that when he wrote, the issue was not yet decided. The die was not yet cast; it still remained a hope in the heart of the Great Type of Jesus that Israel would avoid such curses by faithful adherence to the Word of God.
But "in the seventh century B.C.,"F1 some seven hundred years later, when Israel had already been rejected and disinherited as the Chosen People, could any Jew have brought himself to call down such imprecations upon Israel as those in this chapter, and which any discerning priest could not fail to have recognized as being fully deserved by Israel? The answer is absolutely NO! The ridiculous critical theories about a post-Mosaic date for the Pentateuch are blasted into oblivion by this single chapter! Thus, there is within the sacred text itself, as we have so frequently noted, the inherent, built-in proof of its integrity and authenticity.
The first fourteen verses of this lengthy chapter detail the blessings Israel will inherit from God, provided they continue in his ways.
Throughout the whole chapter, it appears that language itself breaks down as an adequate vehicle for enumerating all the blessings that God will give Israel. Among these blessings are prosperity in city, in field, in posterity, in wealth, and in the exaltation of Israel "high above all nations!" Israel, however failed to understand the two biggest words in this paragraph, namely, the mountain-high IF in Deut. 28:1, and there is another IF just like it in Deut. 28:2.
Again notice the recurring IF in Deut. 28:9 and Deut. 28:13,14. Also, it is significant that both in this paragraph and in the preceding one, there is the exaltation of Israel "high above all nations," "the head, and not the tail," "above only, and not beneath," etc. In a word, all these blessings are merely facets of the larger promise that God would bless Israel in every conceivable way, bodily health, material wealth, victory in war, etc. etc. One cannot think of any blessing that is not included in these superlative promises, even "everything to which they would put their hands" would prosper!
It is obvious that these five verses are the exact reverse of Deut. 28:3-6. Entry into Canaan would in no sense EXEMPT Israel from the obligations of the covenant. Can it be otherwise in the kingdom of God? There is a powerful parallelism between what happened to Israel and what can and frequently does happen to members in the body of Christ. Many have pointed out that Israel received the promised land as "an unmerited gift"; and indeed they did, in exactly the same way that the grace of God, through his unmerited favor, receives followers of Christ today into his kingdom. Furthermore, even if Israel had faithfully obeyed God's commandments and kept his statutes, even the fullest possible measure of their obedience could never in a million years have altered the "unmerited" and "unearned" nature of blessings which they received.
However, reckless disobedience and rebellion against God's rules could, and in the case of Israel, did forfeit all of those unmerited favors. Is it not also true in the kingdom of Christ? Saved by grace as we surely are, recipients of unmerited favor from God, rejoicing in a salvation we did not earn nor could we ever earn; but we may surely forfeit all such mercies and blessings through willful and continual disobedience and rebellion against the ordinances and statutes God has commanded. Is not this exactly what Paul was saying in the following passage?
"All your fathers were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and did all drink the same spiritual drink. Howbeit, with most of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness ... Now these things happened unto them by way of example; and they were written for our admonition ... Wherefore, let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." (1 Cor. 1-10)
What follows in this chapter is a series of parallel pictures, five successive tableaus, each depicting in specific and severe language the total ruin of the Chosen Nation. These five paragraphs are in Deut. 28:20-26,27-37,38-48,49-57, and Deut. 28:58-68. In each of these presentations, there is nothing less than the loss "of Israel's status as the people of God's kingdom."F2 It is most regrettable that the Protestant world as a whole, even today, have failed to recognize that, without exception, all of the vaunted privileges of the once Chosen People have been taken away. Indeed, God once promised to make them first in all things, high above all nations, above only, but not beneath, etc., but is this the status of Israel now? NO. Repeatedly, the N.T. declares that them "is no distinction" between Jew and Gentile (Romans 12:10), Peter was commanded to go to Cornelius "making no distinction" between Jew and Gentile (Acts 11:12). In the instance of that great type of Israel, the prophet Jonah's refusal to preach to Nineveh, he was "cast overboard," a figure of God's rejection of Israel for her refusal to receive Gentiles as fellow-heirs of God's grace. In the prophecy of Zechariah, God commanded the prophet to break both of his staves -- Beauty and Bands. One symbolized the abrogated covenant which God cancelled, and the other symbolized the removal of all racial considerations as being connected in any manner with redemption. And, if all of this should leave any doubt, let the reader turn and digest Hos. 9, where God flatly declared, "Therefore, I hate you (Israel), and I do cast you away, I shall not love you any more." (Hosea 9:15,16). (See my comment on this chapter in my commentary, Vol. 2 on the minor prophets.)
Furthermore, in the epistle of 1 Pet. 2, all of the once-proud titles of Israel were preempted and applied to the New Israel in Christ Jesus, which throughout this whole dispensation is the only Israel God has!
In these next five paragraphs, we shall marvel at how God said all this five times in succession!
Here is Cook's summary of this paragraph: "The curse of God shall rest on all they did, and should issue in manifold forms of disease, in famine, and in defeat in war."F3
Among all the kingdoms of the earth
(Deuteronomy 28:25). What other race of the earth's peoples have been so dispersed among all nations as the Jews? This part of this fantastic prophecy is being fulfilled at this very moment, as has been the case already, for thousands of years. But this prophecy goes far beyond that. The mention of the great Supper of God in Deut. 28:26 transcends and reaches beyond the mere history of nations. This is a reference to that great eschatological holocaust in which God will terminate his Experiment Adam. (See Rev. 19:17-18, and my commentary thereon in Vol. 12 of the N.T. series.)
Kline recognized this properly as a figurative presentation of the final judgment and the total destruction of the entire rebellious portion of the race of Adam. This is that same event, of which Zephaniah spoke (Zephaniah 2:1-3), in which God promised to "wipe this Adam (meaning the whole race) off the face of the earth," The import of this is exceedingly grave. It denies that, through some supreme act of mercy, God will intervene in spite of Israel's wickedness and save them anyway. In the Holy Scriptures, salvation is promised only through Jesus Christ, and there are not TWO ways to be saved. As our Lord expressed it, "No one cometh unto the Father except by me!"
Summary of following paragraph: "These are judgments on the body, mind, and outward circumstances of the sinners."F4
The destruction of Israel as a kingdom is clearly prophesied here. It is not necessary to suppose that this prophecy was written at a time after one of the kingdoms of Israel, or both of them, had been removed into captivity. Long before either the northern or southern kingdom had been removed by captivity, the prophet Amos had written: "Behold the eyes of the Lord Jehovah are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth" (Amos 9:8). The monarchy of Israel was itself an affront unto God and represented the rebellion of Israel against God.
Kline and others pointed out the chiastic arrangement in this paragraph, i.e., a rhetorical sequence featuring a contrast by parallelism in reverse order. Thus, we have:
(a) incurable disease (Deuteronomy 28:37);
(b) madness (Deuteronomy 28:28);
(c) continual oppression (Deuteronomy 28:29);
(d) frustration (Deuteronomy 28:30-32);
(c) continual oppression (Deuteronomy 28:33);
(b) madness (Deuteronomy 28:34); and
(a) incurable disease (Deuteronomy 28:25).F5
Such minute attention to arrangement and detail indicates the care and forethought which lie behind every paragraph in the Word of God.
It would appear that many of the disasters predicted in Deut. 28:30-34, "were the consequence of defeat in war and oppression by foreign powers."F6 An example of the historical fulfillment of this is found in Judg. 6:3-6.
Summary: "This series affects every kind of labor and enterprise until it has accomplished the total ruin of the nation, and its subjection to its enemies."F7
Scott remarked that, "This whole chapter is full of literary and historical difficulties!"F8 And as regards all scholars who follow the critical denial of the supernatural and of predictive prophecy in particular, it is easy to see that the difficulties presented here are insoluble by their methods. (See the chapter introduction for more on this.) The only comment these remarkable predictions, uttered in the form of curses due to disobedience, require is to be found in the history of Israel, which for millenniums has fulfilled and continues to fulfill every line written here.
This paragraph means far more than the captivity that was sent upon Israel, both nations of which did indeed go into captivity, the greater part of them into the hands of the Assyrians, "the breakers," "the emptiers." the most heartless and brutal of all the nations of antiquity! "A perpetual divine cursing of Israel is predicted."F9 "The punishment of Deut. 28:48, here, amounts to a return to the status from which God called Israel in covenant love (Leviticus 26:13)."F10
Summary: "Here we have a description of the calamities and horrors which should ensue when Israel should be subjugated by its foreign foes."F11
It is obvious that this account of the curses far exceeds in length the summary of the blessing in the first fourteen verses. However, as was pointed out in that section, one cannot imagine any more blessings than those mentioned in that brief account. This unevenness in the volume of words as between the blessings and curses has given rise to all kinds of foolish guesses and suppositions by speculative scholars, usually issuing in the mention of redactors, editors, composite documents, etc., etc., but none of that has any credibility whatever. For example, Watts claimed, without any proof or evidence whatever, that, "This chapter has been expanded in later versions of the book."F12 But as Craigie pointed out, "This imbalance finds several parallels in other Near Eastern texts (patterned after the suzerainty treaties) containing blessings and curses." "For example, in the Code of Hammurabi, the imbalance runs 20 to 1; and in the Lipit-Ishtar laws, the curses outnumber the blessings on a ratio of 3 to 1."F13 In this light, those constant rearrangers and rebuilders of the Bible should keep their hands off Deuteronomy.
A terrible feature of this fourth denunciation is the detailed prophecy of cannibalism, but terrible as these words are, Cook informs us that, "The Hebrew text in fact suggests an extremity of horror which the KJV fails to exhibit."F14 The question that arises here is, "What could possibly have motivated Jewish priests of any century whatever, to put such language, without any authority, into the sacred book of the Hebrew people?" Until the critics can come up with the answer to that, they should forget about their little fairy tale about the Jewish priests authoring any part of Deuteronomy.
The gruesome scenes here predicted (Deuteronomy 28:52-57) were accomplished in the siege of Samaria (2 Kings 6:28).F15 However, as many discerning writers have noted, "The description here applies especially to the Romans and carry one's thoughts immediately to those terrible scenes during the wars of Vespasian and Titus as narrated by Josephus."F16 We might go further and add that only the Romans fulfilled this prophecy, because they alone were from "the ends of the earth" (Deuteronomy 28:49), a stipulation by no means applicable to other alleged fulfillment of this awful prophecy. Josephus indeed has an extensive account of the horrors here foretold.F17
Cook pointed out that the word translated "young one" (Deuteronomy 28:57), "is actually afterbirth."F18
As is repeatedly evident, and as categorically stated, over and over again in this list of curses, it should be clear to all that, "The fulfillment of the promises (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) is conditioned upon full obedience to God's will."F19
Ackand's summary of this portion of Deuteronomy states that, "The circumstances of Israel's eventual decline and fall, and present conditions, are here described with amazing accuracy."F20
The persistent habit, seen throughout the O.T., of using various names for God, is conspicuous in Deuteronomy. As Harrison pointed out, we have the following names of God:F21 "The Living God" (Deuteronomy 5:26), "The Lord, the God of your fathers" (Deuteronomy 6:3), "The God of gods, and Lord of lords" (Deuteronomy 10:17), "The Rock, a God of faithfulness (Deuteronomy 32:4), "The Most High" (Deuteronomy 32:8), and "The Eternal God" (Deuteronomy 33:17).
Summary: "Here we have the uprooting of Israel from the Promised Land, and its dispersion amongst other nations."F22
Here the removal of Israel from the Promised Land is stated as one of the penalties of their repudiation of God's covenant, and, of course, that happened. Yes, following the Babylonian captivity, some of the Jews returned to Palestine, but the status of Israel (the old Israel) was not the same. Whereas they were at one time in covenant relationship with God, even having been allowed a king of their own, and being, in fact, God's wife, as symbolized in the prophecy of Hosea; they returned to the Holy Land, not as God's wife, but as his slave (a status they occupied until the Messiah was born). As God's property until the promise to the patriarchs was fulfilled, they were, of course, protected against annihilation by God's providence, but they remained "without king, without prince, without sacrifice, and without pillar, and without ephod or teraphim" (Hosea 3:4), and in that new and humble status Israel "sat still for God many days" (Hosea 3:3).
Many current scholars think that the restoration of a secular nation called "Israel," in the days of President Truman, is in some manner a sign that God has received Israel back as "his wife," and restored her to her ancient place as "the chosen nation," but an apostle declared that Christians are now "the people of God" (1 Peter 2:10). Christ himself declared that only those "who believe in Christ" are in any sense whatever "sons of Abraham" (John 8). Therefore, the pretension of modern Israel to any Divine sanctions for their usurpation of the ancient land of Canaan, even though they had the help of the U.S.A. and the United Nations, is without any Divine sanction whatever! The true Israel of God today is NOT an ancient racial element going back to Abraham, but it is the community of believers in Jesus Christ, in which all people, including Jews are welcomed to participate. This viewpoint fully harmonizes with what God declared through the apostle Paul, namely, that, "God has put no distinction between them and us" (Romans 10:12).
A discerning paragraph from Kline on this subject is the following:
"Prophetically following the besieged and conquered Israelites into their exile (Deuteronomy 28:64-67), Moses catches with a few strokes all the pathos of unbelieving, homeless Israel down through the long centuries -- once the people of God, but become in their exile like the heathen, without Christ, having no hope, and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). By repudiating their election and covenant calling, in virtue of which they had been delivered from Egyptian bondage to become God's theocratic sons, the people of Israel were doomed to fall back into a worse Egyptian bondage (Deuteronomy 28:68), into bondage to Satan, and sin, and death, and Hell."F23
Without at all disagreeing with the spiritual "slavery" in the Egypt of "sin," as indicated in the latter part of Kline's paragraph, above, we should also note that there was a literal return of a great many Jews to the literal Egypt, and that they were transported on ships. "After the capture of Jerusalem, the Roman general Titus sent a great many captives to the Egyptian mines."F24 Adam Clarke tells us that the Jews thus transported were "those above seventeen years of age."F25 Clarke also noted that "the eagle" (Deuteronomy 28:49) was universally identified with the Romans, an image of an eagle being atop all of the standards of all their legions. That, and the mention of an Egyptian slavery accomplished by the transportation "in ships" of many of the Jews to work in the mines of Egypt makes this passage an incontrovertible example of predictive prophecy. Have the critics ever come up with a reasonable means of denying this? No! Over fourteen centuries before it happened, Moses told exactly what would happen. Even the vain efforts attempting to move the authorship of Deuteronomy to a group of incompetent and rebellious priests in whatever century does nothing to aid their cause here! How did they know, in the seventh century, or at any other time, exactly how God would punish Israel?
Cook referred to this passage as the climax:
"Just as the exodus from Egypt was, as it were, the birth of the nation into its covenant relationship with God, so the return to the house of bondage is in like manner the death of it. The mode of conveyance is added to heighten the contrast. They crossed the sea from Egypt with a high hand, the waves of the sea itself being parted before them; but they would go back again cooped up on slave-ships!"F26
The utter contempt in which the Romans would hold the Jews is here prophesied exactly. "They would be offered for sale, and no one would buy them, and therefore they were transported to work the mines of Egypt."F27
In our studies we are deeply impressed with how little the critical scholars have to say about this chapter, but we do not blame them at all!
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.