Deuteronomy 28 - Blessing and Cursing
A. Blessings on obedience.
1. (1-2) Overtaken by blessing.
a. In this chapter, Moses exhorts 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, either by making them so blessed, 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.
b. 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!
c. 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.
i. "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)
2. (3-14) God will richly bless Israel's obedience to the covenant.
a. 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. An obedient Israel would be blessed in warfare: They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. This speaks of a clearly Divine blessing.
c. Perhaps the best blessing has to do with Israel's own relationship with God: The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself. 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. 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: 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.
e. 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.
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. Like the blessings for an obedient Israel, the curses for a disobedient Israel would be inevitable: all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.
c. 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.
a. A disobedient Israel would be cursed everywhere: In the city . . . in the country . . . when you come in . . . when you go out.
b. A disobedient Israel would be cursed in their homes, their farms, and in their kitchens (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).
c. A disobedient Israel would be cursed in their health (plague . . . consumption . . . fever . . . the boils of Egypt . . . the scab . . . the itch . . . madness and blindness and confusion of heart).
d. A disobedient Israel would be cursed in their weather (your heavens . . . shall be bronze . . . the Lord will change the rain of your land to powder and dust).
e. A disobedient Israel would be cursed in warfare (to be defeated before your enemies).
f. A disobedient Israel would be cursed by simple, terrible injustices and tragedies (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). All of these tragedies would bring a result: you shall be driven mad because of the sight which your eyes see.
g. 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.
ii. Lamentations 4:1-11 vividly describes the horrors of the siege of Jerusalem.
h. In the end, Israel would be dispersed: The Lord will scatter you among all the peoples, from one end of the earth to the other. 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 had finally had enough of the rebellious Jews in their province of Judea, so the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem. At the time, the Jews were fervently expecting the coming of the Messiah to save them and conquer the Romans, based on the prophecy in Zechariah 12:1-9, when God promises to destroy the armies laying siege to Jerusalem. Sadly, the Jews of that time refused to fulfill Zechariah 12:10, which describes their humble, repentant embrace of a pierced Messiah.
ii. Yet, the Jews of that day were so confident of Messiah's coming that the Jewish factions actually fought each other, burning each other's food, trying to be the most powerful group when the Messiah would come. According to Josephus, it was "as though they were purposely serving the Romans by destroying what the city had provide 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 just 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 God 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. The branches 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. Why? In part, it was pay-back for the 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 would present a scroll of the Old Testament to the Pope. He would receive the scroll and say, "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. Even as with the blessings, God's purpose in cursing Israel would be greater than just immediately punishing them for their sin: you shall become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword among all nations where the Lord will drive you.
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)