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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Blessings and God's Glory - Deuteronomy 28:1-14

Introduction

Deuteronomy 28 is the chapter where God explicitly told the Israelites what faithfulness and unfaithfulness to their covenant with Him will bring upon them. From Deuteronomy 5 when God gave the Ten Commandments, Moses taught, exhorted, encouraged, and beseeched the Israelites to be faithful to the covenant they made with God at Mount Sinai. Deuteronomy is not the only place in the Pentateuch where we read of Moses teaching the Israelites diligently to obey (shama) the LORD. Exodus and Leviticus both record this teaching and command from Mount Sinai.

Deuteronomy 28 is a long and exhaustive chapter that covers God’s blessings and curses for the Israelites for their faithfulness or unfaithfulness to their covenant with Him. This Bible study covers verses one through fourteen, God’s blessings. Within these verses, we read the magnitude of God’s blessings on those who were faithful to Him and His commands, statutes, decrees, and laws. If we read the verses with care, we can see the prelude to the Beatitudes of the Gospel of Matthew. While reading Deuteronomy 28, we must keep in mind what David said about the LORD in Psalm 145:8. He said, “The LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.” God did not want to dwell on disobedience and the curses. He wants to be in a love relationship with people and show His mercy, which explains why Moses started Deuteronomy 28 with God’s blessings for faithfulness to Him.

The Scope and Outline

When God blesses a person, it affects the whole life of the person. Healing brings the ability to work and provide for one’s family. It affects the mental, emotional, and spiritual parts of a person, not just the physical. When Jesus provided more wine at a wedding, His first miracle, it brought goodwill and a good reputation to the father of the bride. That could affect he father’s standing in the community and then his income level. It could contribute to the father providing for his family. These could affect the family’s worship of God and their mental and emotional well-being. When we consider this, we know then that blessings given in one part of life can affect many or every other area of life.

Regarding Deuteronomy 28, we read the blessings God would give the faithful Israelites and note He covers every aspect of human life from farming and herding to trade, from bodily to proprietary, from large scale (produce) to daily provision (food for meals), and from national to international life. Added to this, the first fourteen verses answer the main six questions people ask – what, where, when, who, why, and how. Finally, this section of chapter 28 begins by telling us what the blessings shall be to reminding us who will give them. We will learn what being blessed means and how God’s children should react to Him because of receiving from Him. Below is the outline of Deuteronomy 28:1-14.
Vs. 1 - If/Shama’ the people obey, keep, and do God’s commandments
               Then they will be set high above other nations (same as vs. 9 and 13. This will be
               done by God’s blessings)
               Vs. 2 - Then blessings will come if they obey the LORD
               What are the blessings? (implied the LORD will do them)
                     Vs. 3 - In the cities and towns (Where)
                     Vs. 4 – Fertile womb
                                 Fertile ground
                                 Fertile animals – cattle, sheep, goat, etc.
                    Vs. 5 – Plentiful daily food
                    Vs. 6 – When come and go
                    Vs. 7 – The LORD shall cause their enemies to be defeated
Who gives the blessings: The LORD will command the blessings (come from their success in keeping their covenant, not by their skill)
                    Vs. 8– The LORD will command the blessing on
                                    the barns and
                                    their trade and
                                    the land He gives them
Vs. 9b – If/Shama’ keep and walk
                  Then LORD will establish them as holy to Himself (vs. 9a)
                  Vs. 10 – Why? So the nations will see you are God’s holy people and will be
                                 afraid and in awe
                  Vs. 11 – LORD will make abound in prosperity in land LORD gave to Israelites:
                                   Fertile wombs
                                   Fertile animals
                                   Fertile ground
                  Vs. 12 – How? LORD will open His storehouse (heavens) to give them rain at
                                the right time, which will bless their work. (Their prosperity came from
                                God’s rains who blessed the work of their hands.
                  Prosperity Idioms –
1.      Lenders and not borrowers – vs. 12
2.      Head and not the tail – vs. 13
3.      Above and not underneath – vs. 13           
Vs. 13b – If/Shama’ do not turn aside from God’s commands to go after and serve other
                gods.
                Then they will be greater and more prosperous.

      Notice in these fourteen verses God reminded the Israelites of their covenant to Him and His to them. He then told them of His blessings to them because of their faithfulness. Next, God reminded the Israelites again they were His holy people and He is the one who would bless them. Finally, using a negative format, God reminded the Israelites again in verses 13b through 14 to stay faithful to Him and His commandments. In each of these four verses (1, 9, 13b-14) Moses used the if/then legal treatise format. In Near Eastern cultures treatises/covenants ended with blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. This method was a common practice of that day. Another point we should note about these verses is the LORD is the implied giver of the blessings of verses three through six, but in verses seven through twelve, Moses specified the LORD was the giver of blessings. Now we made note of these, let us understand the text.

God’s Blessings

The first thing we should note is the contractual nature of the first two verses. Moses used if/then statements when he spoke to the Israelites about their covenant with the LORD. As stated earlier, it was a common format used during that time in the Near East. He used his most often stated word when speaking to the Israelites in this chapter. That word is shamar/shama’. Remember, shamar/shama’ mean to hear, listen, and obey.

Moses used this word twice in the first part of verse one. He was adamant that the Israelites stayed committed to God as they covenanted with Him. Moses strengthened the command of shama’ both times in verse one by adding modifiers – the words diligently and careful. He stressed they were to do God’s commands. The word “do” in verse one is from the Hebrew word ‘asah. It means to accomplish, act with effect, and do. This word and definition is in line with the meaning of the word shama’. The Israelites’ faithfulness to their covenant with God, Moses said, brought them blessings. Moses stated the blessing from the LORD when he said, “The LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” This meant the LORD would consecrate and exalt the Israelites highest above the nations of the earth. The purpose of their elevation by God was to draw the other people of the world to Him.

This covenant was not new to the Israelites. Moses reminded them of the covenant they made with God at Mount Sinai in his writings in Exodus 15:26 & 23:22, Leviticus 26:3-13, and Deuteronomy 7:12-26 & 11:13. The foundation of the Israelites’ relationship with Yahweh God began with God’s promise to Abraham. It continued with His choosing them as His people and they covenanting with Him to follow and obey Him.

Moses reiterated God’s command to keep His commands. He said in verse two, “All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the LORD your God.” For the Israelites’ obedience, God would give them His blessings. The blessings would not come from their own hands. The Israelites could not give them to themselves. God gives blessings. Zechariah 1:6 says, “But did not My words and MY statutes, which I commanded My servants the prophets, overtake your fathers? Then they repented and said, ‘As the LORD of hosts purposed to do to us in accordance with our ways and our deeds, so He has dealt with us.’” The Israelites recognized the LORD gave them their blessings based on their deeds, their faithfulness. They had motivation to be faithful to their covenant with the LORD.

      As stated by Moses before in the earlier texts of the Pentateuch and as the Israelites remembered, “keeping” (hearing, listening, and obeying) their covenant with God brought blessing. Earlier in Deuteronomy, they learned that faithfulness to their covenant brought them life. Obedience brought blessings. Alongside that, disobedience brought them death. Hence, life is the blessing and death is the curse from the LORD God. This theme continues throughout the Bible.

      In verses three though seven, Moses explained the blessings God would give them for their faithfulness to Him. He would bless every part of their lives. Verse 3 says, “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.” The word “blessed” comes from the Hebrew word barak and means to kneel, praise, or salute. To be blessed means kneeling before the one who blesses. That act acknowledges the giver of the blessing as greater than the recipient. Hence, the blesser is worthy of praise, honor, and glory. Glory for the blessing and the ability to bless should return to the blesser. In this chapter, the blesser is the LORD God. In this verse, God would bless both farmers and tradesmen , Moses said. This means the blessing was universal - for every Israelite.

      Verse 4 says blessed be the Israelites by the increase of the offspring of their bodies, ground, and animals. The words “offspring” and “produce” come from the Hebrew word priy that means fruit. The word “beasts” comes from the Hebrew word behemeh that means beast. God explicitly stated these beasts are the herd and the young (cattle, ewe, flock, sheep, and goats). Every aspect of their nation God would bless. The blessing was all-encompassing, covering every part of their existence.

      God brought it closer to home. Moses said in verse five, “Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.” They would have plentiful crops for the nation as verse four stated. In this verse, each family would have enough food to eat. No one would be hungry or starve in Israel. Food would always be on the tables of the Israelites. This blessing was for families while the previous one was national.

      In verse 6, Moses said, “Blessed shall you be when you come in and blessed shall you be when you go out.” David said this in Psalm 121:8 when he said, “The LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” This phrase is a Hebraic idiom. It means God blessed every part of the Israelites’ life in the land He gave them. In everything the Israelites put their hand to, God blessed them. To this point, Moses spoke of God’s blessings on their food, agriculture, herds, wombs, and every other physical thing.

      In verse 7, Moses spoke of the Israelites’ international relationships. Moses said, “The LORD shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.” This showed God’s grace and might to fight the Israelites’ enemies. Their enemies might come against them with a strong show of force, but they would scramble to leave in any way they could to get away from the Israelites. They arrived in battle formation and left in fear by any route they could find by which to escape. When the Israelites’ obeyed God’s commands, their enemies were God’s enemies. If they disobeyed God’s commands, the Israelites became enemies of God and He would curse them, too. God would take care of the enemies of His children and every physical aspect of their lives. The Israelites’ obedience of Him acknowledged His greatness. The Israelites’ receiving God’s blessings acknowledged their unworthiness of praise and His worthiness. From the LORD God’s mighty hand blessings came.

      In verse 8, Moses reminded the Israelites that every blessing comes from God. God commands them to occur. None of the blessings came from the Israelites’ own hands. Moses said, “The LORD will command the blessings upon you in your barns and in all that you put your hand to, and He will bless you in the land, which the LORD God gives you.” Moses’ first line of this verse said what he wanted the Israelites to understand. The LORD would command the blessings upon them. Blessings originate with the LORD. In this verse, the word “barns” comes from the Hebrew word ‘acam, which means grain storehouses. God would bless the work of their hands in farming and trade, individually and as a nation. He gave the land to them based on His promise to Abraham and would bless their work on and in the land if they obeyed Him and His commands.

      With verse 9, Moses reminded the Israelites of their special relationship with the LORD. Because of their relationship with Him, the blessings He gave had meaning. The first part of verse nine explained this. Moses said, “The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself as He swore to you.” The word “establish” comes from the Hebrew word quwm and means to cause to arise. This word was a metaphor that meant to establish something. We see this in Deuteronomy 25:7 and 29:13. God’s choosing of the Israelites was His blessing of them. He caused them to be a holy people because He chose them and set them apart to be holy to Him. All His commandments, laws, statues, and decrees led them to Him so they would stay in a right relationship with Him. God’s commands led the Israelites to live in a right way so they would be righteous. Being right with God, meant they became righteous and, hence, holy. God’s choosing them and their obedience to His commands established and kept them holy/consecrated/set apart for Him. God called the Israelites to be His own people to show the people of the world His love and mercy – to lead them to Him. For doing this, choosing the Israelites and making them holy, God deserved glory. He chose a sinful people to be His holy people. The covenant with God was two-sided: God to the Israelites and they to Him. He chose them as His holy people. The Israelites agreed to covenant with God. They chose to worship Him only and to follow His commands. The second half of verse nine says that. Moses finished the verse this way, “If you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways.” The covenant with God was conditional. God chose the Israelites and they had to choose Him, which they showed by worshipping and obeying Him. They had a special relationship with God and Moses wanted to make sure they remembered that before they entered the Promised Land. God’s blessings to the Israelites were conditional upon them worshipping and obeying Him only.

      In the previous paragraph, I alluded to verse ten. Moses explained why God called the Israelites as His own. He stated God’s reason, “So all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will be afraid of you.” This sounds like the taunt children throw at each other. They may say, “You better leave me alone because my daddy is bigger than yours.” God wanted the other nations to see His strength. He wanted them to see His love and mercy, too. The word “called” in this verse comes from the Hebrew word qara’. It means to call out or proclaim aloud. The word “name” comes from the Hebrew word shem, which means name, reputation, fame, and glory. The Hebrew definition for the word “afraid” is reverence and awe. God expected His covenant with Israel and their obedience in word and action would proclaim aloud His name, give Him a reputation, and proclaim His glory. He wants every nation, tribe, and tongue of the world to hear about Him. God wanted the nations around Israel to be afraid to cross them in battle. Most importantly, He wanted His relationship with the Israelites to lead them to Him so they were awed and reverenced Him. He wanted the Israelites to be a means of revelation to the world about Him so each person would come to know Him. God, from the beginning of time, wanted to have a relationship with humankind. He chose at the time of the Israelites to begin concertedly seeking to bring people back to Himself. God’s purpose for blessing Israel was greater than just blessing them. It was to glorify Himself through blessing them. We see in the Bible an example of this when, in 1 Kings 10:1-13, the queen of Sheba recognized God through His blessings on the nation of Israel.

      In case the Israelites forgot the blessings they experienced came from the LORD God, Moses reminded them in summary in verse eleven they did not bring about their own blessings/prosperity. He said, “The LORD will make you abound in prosperity in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your beast and in the produce of your ground, in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give you.” The word “abound” comes from the Hebrew word yather and means to excel, have excess, and have more than enough. “Prosperity” comes from the Hebrew word towb Adoniyahahuw, which means the goodness of God. This means, Moses told them, “The LORD will make you excel and have more than enough through the goodness of God.” With verse eleven repeating verse three in a different order, He explained to them how they would experience God’s goodness. Moses added as a reminder that the land God was giving them did not come from anything they did, but from God’s promise/oath to their forefathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The prosperity of the Israelites came from God as part of the faithfulness of covenant-keeping. God gave the blessings. The Israelites received them; they earned them. The greater of the two covenant parties was God because He showed His power by His ability to give them each of the stated blessings – the ability to make wombs and ground fruitful, the ability to give victory against enemies, the ability to give the Promised Land. These were and are in God’s control.

      Moses made that point clear in verse twelve when He told the Israelites, “The LORD will open His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.” No matter how much work the Israelites put into their work to have good things, God is the one who controls its growth. Moses gave the example that the rains come from God’s heavens, His storehouse. Without His rains - His blessings – the Israelites received no fruit, be it of the womb, land, from their trade, or in victory. Moses made the point that besides having enough food for themselves as a family and nation, they would have excess they could loan to other nations. The Israelites would not have to borrow from nations. God’s blessing of them would be that great if they kept their covenant with Him. His blessing was life.

      Moses used three idioms of prosperity to make his point about God’s blessings. The first he noted in verse twelve - the Israelites would be lenders and not borrowers. In verse 13, Moses said they would be the head and not the tail. This meant they would be the head, the chief, not the last or follower. Because God chose them, made them holy, and blessed them, this was so. The last idiom of prosperity Moses used to speak of the blessed Israelites is they would be above and not underneath. “Above” comes from the Hebrew word ma’al and means on higher ground. “Underneath” comes from mattah and means below. The Israelites would be on higher ground because of the prosperity God’s blessings brought to them. Other nations and people would look up to them as an example of right living, blessings, and having the most powerful God. They would watch and want to know about the God of the Israelites.

      Moses reminded the Israelites once again, God’s blessings came from Him when they were faithful to their covenant with Him. With the second half of verse thirteen through verse fourteen, he told them God blessings would come if they remained faithful to the LORD. Moses said, “If you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I charge you today, to observe them carefully and do not turn aside from any of the words which I command you today, to the right or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.” This if/then statement began with the “then” part (the first half of verse thirteen) and moved to the “if.” In this last reminder to the Israelites of their covenant with God, Moses added a defining addendum. By doing that, they would understand without doubt that God wanted purity of their worship and obedience. He told them to shama’ (hear, listen, and obey) to the commandments of the LORD as he earlier said. Moses reinforced this by adamantly stating that the Israelites observe (do and accomplish) God’s commands carefully. He did that so  would not think they were just to hear and listen to them. He made sure they understood shama’ meant doing what God commanded.

      As icing on the top of the cake, Moses stated that being in covenant with the LORD God meant the Israelites walked only in His path, the ways He laid out. If the Israelites walked to the left or right of God’s path and followed other gods, they deviated from God’s marked path. When they followed other gods, they would serve them and that God called idolatry. God taught against idolatry in Deuteronomy 5:7-9 & 27:15 and Exodus 20:23 & 34:17. If the Israelites followed other gods, they were unfaithful to the LORD God and would not receive His blessings.  They would receive His curses. Later, after Moses’ death, God told Joshua in Joshua 1:7 to follow the law Moses commanded them. In this verse, He said, “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.” Sometimes following God requires strength of character and courage. Every person of the world did not follow the LORD. Some of them taunted and persecuted God’s people. Yet going around what God said instead of following His commands exactly meant the Israelites were unfaithful to Him. By circumventing what God commanded them, they sinned and became His enemies.

Recap

The Israelites willingly covenanted/pledged themselves to the LORD God at Mount Sinai. They agreed that the LORD would be their only God and they would obey Him. God told them if they were faithful to their covenant with Him, He would bless them. If the Israelites were unfaithful, He would curse them. Throughout Deuteronomy Moses reminded them many times of their covenant with God. He reminded them God’s blessing was life, now and in the future. Moses told them God’s curse was death. The Israelites agreed and pledged themselves to God and this covenant.

In the first fourteen verses of Deuteronomy 28, Moses explained what God’s blessings would be for the Israelites’ faithfulness to Him. He explained that the blessings would increase the offspring of their wombs and their animals’ wombs and make their land and trades profitable. Moses continued to explain God would give victory to the Israelites from their enemies. The most important part of these fourteen verses comes in verse ten when God explains why He would bless them. He would bless the Israelites so people of other nations would see and know the LORD called and blessed them. By this, the other people would want what the Israelites had – a covenant with the LORD God. The other nations would see the Israelites’ awesome God and want Him to proclaimed them as His people, too. Those people wanted to revere and glorify the God who protected and provided for them. They wanted a covenant, a relationship, with the loving LORD God.

Relevance and Conclusion

When God chose the people of Israel to be His holy, set apart people, He chose to be more active in bringing sinful humankind back to Himself. God actively and visibly sought to be in relationship with humans. When He created Adam and Eve, He did it because He wanted relationship. The Father loved the relationship with the Son and Holy Spirit so much, He wanted to grow that love and share it. God created humankind to share in His love. When Adam and Eve sinned - when anyone sins - separation from God occurs.

When God called the people of Israel His people and consecrated them as His holy people, He began to show His redemption of humankind from their sinful, self-centered selves. God’s commandments to the Israelites led them to Him, to seek to stay in relationship with Him. With their mutual covenant, the Israelites would draw closer to God, the One who created them for relationship with Himself. In this covenant, the LORD, through His blessings, would show His love for them when they were faithful to Him. By blessing the Israelites, people of other nations would see and hear of His might and love and would want to draw close to Him. The LORD would bring more people back from sinfulness. To them He could show His love and be in a relationship.

Lest we forget, being blessed is two separate actions – blessing and receiving. It requires two persons – blesser (giver) and blessed (recipient). Remember the word “blessed” comes from the Hebrew word barak, which means to praise, salute, kneel, and bless. The person receiving the blessing kneels in thanks to the giver of the blessing. This is profound. So often, we look only at the gift and the recipient. We most need to look at the giver, the blesser. To this blesser is due praise, thanks, and glory. Kneeling is showing the honor due to the one blessing. That person provided something the recipient did not have and which the recipient could not provide for him or herself. The giver is the originator of that blessing. For the gift, for the provision, and for being chosen to receive blessing, the giver (blesser) should be praised and glorified. Honor should go to that person. When the glory refers to the giver instead of staying with the recipient, the people watching or hearing about the blessing have their attention refocused onto the one who is more important. In the case of the Israelites receiving blessings from God for faithfulness to Him, God rightly commended them for their obedience. More importantly, God should be praised and glorified for having provided that which the Israelites could not give themselves – life. God is the originator, creator, and sustainer of life. His gift of life was reward for faithfulness to Him. The Israelites could not have created life. Because God is the creator and author of life as well as the blesser of more life and that abundantly, He is the one worthy of praise and glory.

This takes us now to our response. We each must ask ourselves the question, “Am I in a relationship with God?” The next question to arise is, “Am I faithful to Him?” Finally, “Have I thanked God for His faithfulness to me and have I given Him glory for His blessings?” It would be easy for each of us to say thanks and then run off or to just accept God’s blessings and not say thanks at all. None of us can provide for our own lives without God’s providing the means. That means we each owe God thanks as well as praise and glory for His blessings. Giving God glory for His blessings is a proclamation aloud that we are God’s children. God proclaimed the people of Israel as being His holy people in verse nine, of which Moses reminded them. This idea was not new. He proclaimed it in Exodus 19:5.

Just as God wanted the Israelites’ lives to show His power, mercy, and love, He wants the same from His children today. Do our lives show God to the people around us? Will the way we live and speak reflect praise back to God so other people will want to become children of God? When God blesses us, do we proclaim aloud God’s love so He is glorified? We have two purposes in life – to love the LORD with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We do the first by being in a loving and faithful relationship with God. For the second, the praise we give for our blessings must reflect back as glory to Him. By doing this, we glorify and love God and we lead our neighbor’s to Him. They will want to know, just as Israel’s neighbors would want to know, about the God we serve and the one who blesses us. God is the blesser. Until we glorify Him for blessings in our lives, we will not love Him with all we are. We will not love our neighbors well nor lead them to Him either. What kind of child of God would that make us?
We have choices to make.
Who will you choose to thank, praise, and glorify?

To whom are you leading your neighbor to follow?