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Friday, May 29, 2015

News!

I now have streamlined and made the Bible study site more user friendly. 
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Gail

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Covenanting at Moab - Deuteronomy 29

Introduction

So far in our study of Deuteronomy, we have learned about the history of the Israelites from Egypt to the Jordan River and recalled the Ten Commandments, God’s covenant with the Israelites. On top of this, we learned about the blessings and curses God promised to the Israelites for covenant faithfulness and unfaithfulness, respectively. These things occur in the first two sermons/speeches of Moses from Deuteronomy 1 – Deuteronomy 28.

From Deuteronomy 29 – Deuteronomy 32, we will learn about Moses’ third speech/sermon to the Israelites. Some biblical scholars call Deuteronomy 29 the covenant renewal at Moab while others call it the covenant of Moab. Since no difference appears between the Mount Sinai covenant with its blessings and curses from the covenant in Deuteronomy 29, I consider this the covenant renewal at Moab. Chapter 29 is not the end of Moses’ thoughts on the Israelites’ faithfulness to their covenant with God. He continued speaking about it through chapter thirty. Deuteronomy 30:19-20 summarizes Moses’ third and last sermon to the Israelites. Those two verses very well summarize the entirety of sermons one and two. When you read it, you will recognize it to be similar to what Joshua said in Joshua 24:15. Both passages are an entreaty to the Israelites to follow and serve the LORD God and only Him.

Words.

Because Deuteronomy 29 begins the final entreaty/sermon to the Israelites to follow the LORD faithfully, we would expect it to have common words from the earlier passages of Deuteronomy. In this chapter, Moses used the word “covenant” six times, “know” four times, and “observe,”, “keep,” and “do” once apiece. Remember that “covenant” comes from the Hebrew word beriyth and means pledge, treaty, or agreement. Moses used “covenant” in verses one, nine, twelve, fourteen, twenty-one, and twenty-five. Only in the last two instances did he use it in relation to a negative aspect – the curses of the covenant and the Israelites forsaking the covenant. “Know” comes from the Hebrew word yada and means a progressive, growing knowledge from learning to know, perceiving, recognizing, acknowledging, and confessing. “Observe” and “do” both come from the Hebrew word ‘asah  and mean to do, act upon, and accomplish. “Keep” comes from Moses’ oft used word shamar and means to listen, hear, and obey. In addition to these words, Moses used a word in this chapter he did not often say, the word “oath.” Moses used it twice, both times when speaking about God’s covenant. The “oath” is in addition to the covenant. “Oath” comes from the Hebrew word ‘alah and means a promise or oath of a covenant. An oath is part of a covenant.

Outline and Structure.

Verses 12-13 are the covenant renewal text of this chapter. Around these verses, the outline of the chapter unfolds. The structure of the text is A, B, C, D, ‘C, ‘B, *, ‘A. Biblical writers used this literary technique often. This structure is a chiastic structure. It presents a sequence of ideas, that then repeat in reverse order. The middle idea, the one not repeated, is the main idea of the passage. By placing it in the center of the passage, the writer emphasized it. In Deuteronomy 29, verses twelve and thirteen are the focal point of the passage. These two verses are the D in the structural outline mentioned earlier. D in this passage is the covenant renewal.

When a writer used the chiastic technique in the Bible, the last verse(s) of the chapter supported the emphasized focal point of the passage. Here verse twenty-nine supports verses twelve and thirteen. In Deuteronomy 29, God said the Israelites were responsible for acting on the things He revealed to them – in this case, the covenant – and living them out by obeying and teaching their children to obey them. They were accountable to being faithful to God because of the things they knew of Him. God had not revealed everything to the Israelites. The time for that had not yet arrived, but they were responsible for what He had shown them.

This idea brings us to another fact about this chapter’s chiastic structure. The asterisk (*) in the earlier chapter structure layout – A, B, C, D, ‘C, ‘B, *, ‘A shows a modification of the regular chiasm. It represents a mind change encompassing the future, not just the past and present of the Israelites. The asterisk represents the Israelites’ future if they did not keep their covenant with the LORD God. God, through Moses, reminded the Israelites how and where He had been for them in their past and their present. He wanted to make sure the Israelites realized He would be faithful to them in the future, too. He is I AM, the God of the past, present, and future. His power for them would not be only in what they have seen and experienced. God’s power was for all time and, therefore, His covenant with them was for all time, including the future. That was the purpose of the modification of the chiasm in this chapter. The future section (vs. 22-28) told the Israelites God was eternal and His covenant with them, including the blessings and curses, would stand throughout eternity. They were responsible to choose to be faithful to their covenant with Him based on what He revealed to them.

The chiastic form of this chapter leads the hearers and later readers to focus on the most important point of this chapter and of the book of Deuteronomy – the covenant relationship with the LORD and God’s promises through it. The modification (*) guides the hearers and readers to understand God is not bound by time, but His covenant with blessings and curses would go into the future. I AM is what God told Moses to tell the Israelites when they asked who came to release them from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 3:14). Jesus used “I am” statements in the Gospel of John. He said in John 8:58, “Truly, I say to you, even before Abraham was born, I am.” John, in his last writing, Revelation, recorded this revelation, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the LORD God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). Alpha and omega are the first and last of the Greek alphabet, which means God is the beginning and the end of all time and all things. Even the four winged living creatures of Revelation 4:8 declared the LORD Almighty as the one who was, who is, and who is to come. That was the significance of the modification of the chiastic structure. God was not just one who made the covenant with the Israelites and then would not appear in the future. God was, is, and would be their God and Savior. With these things in mind, here is the chapter outlined using the chiastic format.
  • v  Introduction – the LORD’s covenant with Israel (vs. 1)
    • Ø  Past - God for the Israelites (vs. 2-9)
      • §  Present - God with all of Israel (vs. 10-11)
        • ¨      Covenant Renewal (Present) (vs. 12-13)
      • §  Present segueing to future  - with all of Israel in the future (vs. 14-15)
    • Ø  Past - God for the Israelites (vs. 16-17)
    • Ø  *Future – (vs. 18-28)
  • v  Conclusion – God has secret things, but He reveals things to Israel and all humans expecting them to act on that knowledge, like this covenant. (vs. 29)

The Study

The Introduction – A.

Moses, in the introduction of his final sermon to the Israelites, summed up what he wanted the Israelites to focus upon and what was most important for them as they entered the Promised Land.  In verse one, he said, “These are the words of the covenant which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He had made with them at Horeb.” Moses explained that the succeeding words/speech, were the covenant. The LORD commanded Moses to say these words. God meant the covenant to be with the sons of Israel, not other people. In addition, this covenant was since the covenant at Horeb. Something new occurred in the covenant relationship between the LORD and Israel since Horeb. These are all significant facts and should have made the hearers aware of their importance.

Two things that must be pointed out is that this covenant of which Moses was about to speak was new since Horeb where God gave the Ten Commandments. This covenant added the blessings and curses of God for the Israelites’ faithfulness or unfaithfulness. The Ten Commandments did not include blessings or curses though they were assumed and implied. This covenant spelled out by Moses since Deuteronomy 27 left nothing assumed or implied. Moses taught and warned the Israelites. They had no excuse.

The second thing to notice is the idiom Moses used in the middle of verse one. This verse says, “The covenant which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel.” Saying “to make” a covenant used a common idiom of the time. This meant to cut a covenant. The word, “make,” comes from the Hebrew word karath and means to cut off. At the time of the Israelites entering the Promised Land, people who made covenants sealed the promise/contract/covenant by cutting animals in half, laying the halves opposite each other, and walking between the two halves. When God witnessed the contract/covenant between two parties, His Spirit walked between the halves as a tongue of fire. By doing this – cutting animals in half – there was an inference that if one party of the covenant proved faithless to the covenant, that person’s fate would be the same as the animal’s – death. From understanding this, we can understand more fully the idiom of making/cutting a covenant as Moses used it in verse one.

Past - B.

The B section of the chiastic formula is the section that reminded the Israelites who the LORD had been for them (vs. 2-8). It ends with an admonishment for them to keep (shamar) their covenant with the LORD (vs. 9). This section begins with Moses summoning all Israel to listen to him. The word “summon” comes from the Hebrew word qara’ and means to call out, cry out, and proclaim. It reminds me of other leaders of Israel who called out or cried out to the people, like Isaiah in Isaiah 40:3. Moses called out and got the attention of the Israelites. From verses ten and eleven, we understand Moses spoke to everyone of Israel, not just the elders and heads of tribes. He called out to get everyone’s attention because this covenant of theirs with God was for all the people who of Israel.
Moses called out and reminded them of what God did before their eyes in verse two. This is a figure of speech because these people were children when the Israelites left Egypt. The Israelites’ parents and grandparents were the ones who saw what God did in Egypt. They passed on the story of God saving them from Egypt as eyewitnesses. This expression also reminds us of what Moses said in Deuteronomy 4:34 and 7:19, that the Israelites saw what God did before them with their eyes.

Moses reminded the Israelites of the great trials God placed upon Pharaoh, his servants, and his land (vs. 3). “Great” comes from the Hebrew word gadowl and means large in magnitude, intensity, and extent. Moses reminded them of the great signs and wonders God performed for the Israelites against Egypt. He spoke of God’s signs and wonders often in Deuteronomy (4:34, 6:22, 7:19, 11:3, 26:8, 29:2, and 34:11). This made the current generation remember the greatness and power of the LORD who made this covenant with His people, Israel.

In verse 4, Moses said, “Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.” The Israelites saw the LORD in His power and greatness, though not this generation, but they saw through the eyewitness testimony of their parents and grandparents. Yet they did not see completely. The Israelites did not know everything about God and His plans. They did not understand their special place in God’s redemptive plan. The Israelites were blind to that. This verse is a metaphor about the spiritual blindness of the Israelites. Paul spoke of this in Acts 28:26-27, too. Even in the New Testament era, people did not and will not see, hear, or understand because of their lack of faithfulness to God. Only when the Israelites were 100% faithful to their covenant with God and were exclusively God’s own, would they see, hear, and know everything about God. The same applies to today. When people accept by God’s grace through faith the new covenant that came through Jesus Christ, they will completely see, hear, and know God because of the Holy Spirit living within them. The Israelites saw the LORD God in the past, Moses told them. They saw the LORD God in their present. Still the Israelites did not see completely because of their spiritual blindness and because God had not revealed His plan completely to them.

Because God is I AM, He is of the past, present, and future. When we talk of seeing in the past, we must always consider how we see God now and know God will have us see Him work in the future. He is eternal – working in the past, present, and future. God is ever faithful to His covenant with His people. We can see Him at work for His people and know with faith He will continue to work His great signs and wonders in the future. Keep this thought in mind. Moses spoke about seeing several times in this chapter, verses 2, 4, 17, 22, 29. Do we see or are we blind like the Israelites were? Do we show our lack of faith in God and our lack of faithfulness to our covenant with God?

In the next two verses, five and six, Moses reminded the Israelites about God’s provision for them during their exodus wandering. Moses said the LORD led them. The Israelites did not wander in blindness, but God led them. “Led” comes from the Hebrew word halak, which means to lead, bring, or carry. God carried them for forty years in the wilderness. Moses reminded them how God carried them. He recalled for them that their clothes and sandals did not wear out. Imagine growing up from child to adult and not having to make any new clothes over a forty-year period. Imagine the same for sandals. The Israelites did not live in one place long enough to set up a loom to weave new cloth, neither did they stay in one place long enough to tan new hides for shoes or mantles. Added to this, Moses told the Israelites, “You have not eaten bread, nor have you drunk wine or strong drink in order that you might know that I am the LORD your God.” They did not live in one place long enough to build ovens in which to bake or have vats in which to ferment grape juice. Remember, the people of the time drank wine and strong drink because the water would give them diseases. Yet even though the Israelites could not bake or ferment drink, the LORD provided what they could not - clean water (unusual for the time and place) and nourishing food - while walking in a wilderness. In Exodus 16:31, the people did not realize of what the manna came from but said it tasted like honey and possibly had coriander seed. The seed and honey gave them the energy to walk and exist though they had no ovens. In addition, the manna foreshadowed Jesus to them (John 6:34). Here again we can understand that the LORD was not just a God of might in the past or present, but He was busy preparing for the future of His children through His salvation plan, Jesus Christ.

At the end of verse six, we must note that God did these providential things for the Israelites so they would know Him. Remember, the word “know” comes from the Hebrew word yada, which means progressively to come to know – learning to perceive, perceiving, acknowledging, and then confessing. The LORD was teaching them about Himself. The Israelites still did not know the LORD completely. They were spiritually blind. The Israelites were like children needing to be led to realize who God was for them and who He would be for them. They had to learn what God required of them to be His children, too. This reminds me of Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 13:11-12 when he said, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” The Israelites were still babes in their faith. Thinking beyond their present time was difficult. It was like looking through a dim mirror. Moses kept teaching them about who God had been for them and was for them. He led them to comprehend who God would be for them in the future. The covenant helped point them to God.

In verses seven and eight, Moses reminded the Israelites God gave military victory to them. God’s might allowed the Israelites to defeat the kings of the Amorites, Sihon and Og, on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Without the LORD, the Israelites were too few to beat any nation. Besides these victories against their enemies, God gave the Amorites’ land to two-and-a half tribes of the Israelites. Moses said the LORD fulfilled part of His covenant to Abraham with the two victories against kings Sihon and Og. God was not just someone of the past who provided material things to the Israelites. He was for them when He gave them the Promised Land. This showed the Israelites the LORD God was faithful to His covenant with their forefathers.

Because of God’s faithfulness to the Israelites in the past and present and because of God choosing them and making a covenant with them – the current Israelites, their acceptance of the covenant with God required them to be faithful to the LORD. In verse nine, Moses stated this. He said, “So keep the words of this covenant to do them.” Moses said this same thing in Deuteronomy 4:6, too. Remember, “keep” comes from the Hebrew word shamar and means, hear, listen, and obey. Moses entreated them to be faithful to their covenant with God. Obeying the LORD and His commands showed their love of Him and their faithfulness to their covenant with Him. Obedience is a visible measure of faithfulness and shows love of the LORD. Moses continued entreating them by saying, “that you may prosper in all that you do.” This is the same as what God said earlier in Deuteronomy that by keeping to their covenant, the Israelites would possess the land and have prolonged life in it. This means He would bless them with of life, not curse with death. The word “prosper” relates to that idea. “Prosper” comes from the Hebrew word sakal. It means to be prudent, wisely understand and act, have insight, prosper, and have success. If the Israelites wisely considered their covenant with God, they would show their love to Him through obedience to His commands. He would then bless them with success and prosperity that came through their wisdom, insight, and prudence. Moses made sure they understood obedience required action when he added for emphasis they were “to do” the words of the covenant.

Present – C.

Moses explained to the Israelites about their covenant with the LORD. He reminded them of the LORD’s past activity in their lives. Moses reminded the Israelites of the LORD’s faithfulness to their covenant and to His covenant with Abraham. He carried this narrative from their past to present lives – the second and third generations of the exodus people. Moses made sure the Israelites realized God sought each individual person to be part of this covenant. He covenanted with ordinary people, not just the priests – the kohen’im and the levi’im. In verses ten and eleven, Moses explicitly stated with whom God covenanted - from chiefs to elders, from officers to little ones and wives. God covenanted even with the “aliens” within their camp who chose to be with the Israelites and follow the LORD. The LORD said they each could enter into the covenant with Him.

Covenant Renewal – D.

Within verses twelve and thirteen, we read the covenant renewal text. It is to these two verses that all the other verses of this chapter point. Moses told the people of Israel they stood that day on the eastern side of the Jordan River in Beth-peor because God brought them to that place - He chose them. The big question is why. Why did God bring them to that place? Moses answered that question in these two verses. He said,
That you may enter into the covenant with the LORD your God, and into His oath which the LORD your God is making with you today, in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. [NASB]
The LORD God wanted them to be His people and to receive His love and blessings just as their forefathers did. For the Israelites, this meant they had to choose Him, too, just as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did. A covenant had to exist as a testimony of this – the Israelites choice to worship and follow the LORD God alone. Abraham chose to be God’s man and God made a covenant with Him. Now the current generation of Israelites had to choose to make a covenant with God – to be His people, which meant worshipping Him and obeying His commands. That is the point of Moses’ speech in this chapter. The Israelites had to choose to be God’s people and receive His covenant and oath. They had to choose to be faithful to the LORD God. God was cutting a covenant with them that day (same wording as in verse one). He swore on His own name His faithfulness to this covenant He made with the Israelites that day. He testified as a witness to the covenant between Himself and the people. No one could give a stronger oath or witness a stronger covenant because it God swore it in His.

      Verse thirteen says God did this to establish the Israelites as His people. Why was that so important? God is true to His word to Himself and to their forefathers. Moses said that in verse thirteen. God made the covenant with them, “in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” God cannot be untrue/unfaithful to Himself or to His word – His oath. He summoned the Israelites to stand before Moses at that time so He could enter into a covenant with them that would establish them as His people. “Establish” comes from the Hebrew word quwm and means to confirm, prove, ratify, and constitute. With this covenant, God confirmed and ratified to the Israelites and to the surrounding nations that the Israelites were His people and He was their God. He would provide for them and give them life if they were faithful to their covenant with Him. This life came as the blessings from chapter twenty-eight. God’s linked the promises of His oath to His covenant; they were the blessings He promised. Just as the His promises related to His blessings so, too, they related to His curses. With the Israelites’ faithfulness, God’s promise of blessings would occur. Should the Israelites prove unfaithful, God’s promise of curses would occur. The latter would fulfill the reverse inference of the animal sacrifice for the covenant – the people would receive death for their unfaithfulness to the covenant. (See comments on verse four above.)

Present segue to Future – ‘C.

Just as verses ten and eleven related to the Israelites’ present time with the LORD, verses fourteen and fifteen related to their present time with the LORD. Yet, the modification of the chiastic structure begins in these verses. We read Moses segueing into the future from their present place and relationship with the LORD. Since the LORD was the Lord of their past – forefathers, Egypt, and exodus – then He can and will also be the LORD of their future. Moses taught them the LORD they learned to know from their past and the one they now perceived and acknowledged would be in their future. The “I AM” theme carries over from past to present and future in these verses.

Moses said, “Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here today.” The covenant of God with the Israelites was for the current generations of Israelites and future generations. We understand that as God’s intention when we read verses twenty-two and twenty-nine. Moses taught this in Deuteronomy 12:25 and 28 as did Paul in Acts 2:39. This covenant of the LORD, including His promises, were for all generations of Israelites and whoever in Israel followed the LORD God. (Consider Ruth the Moabitess.) The LORD is the I Am of past, present, and future – the Alpha and Omega. Moses called all the people of Israel to stand before God and covenant with Him for themselves and their future generations that they would worship and obey the LORD God exclusively. This moment was their chance before walking into the Promised Land to stand for, testify of, and make a covenant with God for all to hear and understand that He alone was their God.

Past – ‘B.

At this point in Moses’ speech, he gave a parenthetical summary of God with them from Egypt (vs. 16-17). He reminded the Israelites of how they lived in Egypt and how they exited from there through other nations. God was their strength and power to release them from bondage and give them safe travel through foreign land. Besides that, the Israelites saw the temples to false gods and their idols made of many materials. They heard God declare them abominations and put them under the law of the ban for total annihilation. The Israelites saw that the foreign gods did not defeat the LORD who prevailed and brought them through to the Promised Land. These reminded the Israelites of the might of the LORD against foreign people and their gods. While doing that, it reminded them of the LORD’s might should they choose to follow a false god, too. The LORD God of their past would be as strong against them in the future as He was against the abominations of the surrounding nations.

Future – *.

From verse eighteen, the Israelites’ present time segues into their future. This section continues the thought of verses fourteen and fifteen. It gives the reason for God calling all the people of Israel to stand and confirm their covenant with Him. The reason the LORD called them to stand before Him to make/renew their covenant with Him (vs. 14-15) was so no person would turn his or her heart away from the LORD to go after and serve the gods of other nations (vs. 18). In verses nineteen through twenty-eight, Moses explained what would happen inside the person who broke covenant with God, what actions God would bring against the person, and what would happen to the land of Israel because of unfaithfulness. Because of these dire consequences, each person of Israel had to stand before God and make the covenant (remember the idiom “cutting a covenant”) with Him as a person and as a nation. The ramifications of unfaithfulness would affect individual people and the whole nation.

On a personal level, God said the unfaithful person would become a root of poison fruit and wormwood (vs. 18b). Roots feed nutrients to a plant. If the root has poison in it, the plant will die. “Poisonous” comes from the Hebrew word ro’sh and means bitter, poisonous, and gall. “Wormwood” is a metaphor for bitterness. In Deuteronomy 32:32, Moses used this same metaphor when he spoke of the vine of Sodom and Gomorrah bearing poison grapes and bitter clusters. Just as Sodom and Gomorrah fed bitterness and poison to their inhabitants and God destroyed those vines, God would destroy any poisonous and bitter vines in Israel. God included in this statement any man, woman, family, or tribe in Israel. No one of Israel was exempt.

With verse nineteen, the Israelites learned what the poisonous, bitter root would be like. Moses said, “It shall be when he (the unfaithful person) hears the words of this curse that he will boast saying, ‘I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to destroy the watered land with the dry.’” The poisonous person would be stubborn and do what he or she wanted to do no matter what he or she knew the LORD said. This person would boast of his or her freedom to do what he or she wanted even though he or she understood it would destroy the land – both the watered and dry land. When Moses spoke of this boasting, he used an idiom that meant the person blessed himself/herself in his or her heart. Yet the person could not have peace (shalowm - completeness with God) by disobeying God proudly. He or she would just fool him or herself. The person’s rebellion would cause the destruction of everything – the good, productive land and the dry, barren land. That person’s rebellion would destroy the Promised Land God was giving the people of Israel. Though God is patient hoping a person would turn back from following his or her own way, the person would perceive God’s patience as an excuse to continue to rebel. God told the Israelites that though it seemed He did not see them when they rebelled, they could not hide from Him anything done in secret. His judgment would come. God’s love and mercy would be what kept Him from punishing the people immediately. From this verse then, the Israelites heard because of one person’s violations, all Israel would suffer.

Moses used a hyperbole in verse twenty. He said, “The LORD shall never be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and His jealousy will burn against that man and every curse which is written in this book will rest on him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven.” We understand this to be an exaggeration because we know the LORD will forgive and accept any repentant believer. David wrote about God’s graciousness, mercy, compassion, and love in Psalm 145:8 and 103:14. Before him, Moses taught the Israelites and wrote in Numbers 14:18a, “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression.” We realize then that Moses used this hyperbole to emphasize the importance of the Israelites not rebelling, but instead being faithful to their covenant with God. This verse emphasizes, too, how serious God took this covenant with Israel.

One other literary technique Moses used in this verse is anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is the placing of human characteristics or behavior on a god, animal, or object. In verse twenty, Moses used the human emotion of jealousy and applied it to God. In our earlier studies of Deuteronomy, we learned that “jealous” comes from the Hebrew word rendered “zealous.” God was zealous for His people, Israel. He protected them with fierceness because He chose them and consecrated them for Himself. God’s zealousness can turn to jealousy. He did not want the one poisonous root to lead the rest of Israel astray, so He would punish the bad root to protect the Israelites. The Israelites understood this emotion. They understood how great the power of jealousy was so they would understand how seriously God took rebellion against Him and how serious His punishment would be on them. His punishment for rebellion, God said, would be the blotting out of their name forever. This is like the law of the ban. Their name would not be remembered in the future because that person would have no children and he or she would die.

Added to these things – anger, jealousy, curses, and blotted out name, verse twenty-one tells one other thing God would do to the rebellious, boastful, and poisonous root in Israel. Moses said the LORD would single that person out for adversity from all the other tribes. On that person especially would God place all the curses of the covenant. In God’s attempt to get the person to repent and return to being faithful to his covenant, He would apply the curses of the covenant against the person. God did not want the one willful, poisonous person to lead the whole nation of Israel astray. This reminds us of why God told the Israelites to destroy the temples and idols of the people of Canaan. If they remained standing in the land, there would be a temptation to follow those gods and leave their covenant with the LORD God. The poisonous person would be like the temples and gods. He or she might lead other Israelites astray so that the nation would become rebellious against God.

From verse twenty-two through twenty-eight, Moses told the Israelites that the nation of Israel who rebelled against God by being unfaithful to their covenant with Him would be an example to other generations and nations. Verses 22-23 say the land would be like brimstone and salt (dead). It would be a burning waste, unsown, and unproductive. Even grass would not grow there. The land of Israel would be like Sodom and Gomorrah. The people of the Near East knew the history and fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Other nations would equate Israel to those evil cities because of God’s punishment of them for their unfaithfulness to Him and His covenant.

As a continued teaching tool useful for recitation, after nations saw what became of Israel, they would ask why it occurred. Moses then explained the nations would learn why the LORD would be angry and destroy Israel. The teaching moment for future generations and nations followed with his answer of their question. Moses said in verse twenty-five, “Then men will say, ‘Because they forsook the covenant of the LORD the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt.’” Moses explained that forsaking the LORD God meant they served and worshipped other gods, gods whom they did not know (vs. 26). The Israelites knew the LORD and yet other nations would see they forsook their covenant with Him and chose to follow gods they did not know.

Remember, Moses spoke repeatedly about the Israelites knowing the LORD. Knowing comes from the Hebrew word yada’. It means a progressive learning about someone or something. Moses taught the Israelites it was Yahweh God who covenanted with their forefathers. He taught them Yahweh God was the one who rescued them from Egypt, provided for them in the wilderness, and protected them against their enemies so far. The Israelites learned about the LORD God, learned to perceive Him, and then confirmed and acknowledged Him as their own God. That is what yada’ knowing means. So when Moses said the future generations and nations would know the Israelites served and worshipped gods they did not know, he meant they would follow those foreign gods to whom he had not introduced them and had not taught them to worship. The Israelites’ fickleness, immaturity, and rebelliousness would lead them away from the LORD God in spite of knowing Him well from their history with Him.
Moses said in verse twenty-seven this explained why the LORD’s anger would burn against the land of the Israelites so every curse written occurred to the people of Israel. What would occur to the one poisonous, bitter, and boastful root, would occur to the entire nation who willfully were unfaithful to the LORD and their covenant with Him. The LORD would uproot them in anger, rage, and great wrath and cast them, that is “fling” them, into another land. The Israelites would no longer have a nation of their own, but would live in other nation as foreigners with no rights because of their unfaithfulness. Their unfaithfulness to their covenant with the LORD would become the reverse covenant because of their unfaithfulness. What God meant to be a covenant of blessing and peace (completeness), the Israelites would turn into a covenant of curses. The nations and generations to come would understand what became of the Israelites. The Israelites would be a sign to all the nations about Yahweh. They could choose how other people remembered them - as positive examples of faithfulness to God or as negative examples of unfaithfulness. The results would teach other nations about the LORD one way or another.

The Conclusion – ‘A.

This concluding verse supports the focal verses of this chiastic outline. Remember verses twelve and thirteen are the focal point of this chapter. These two verses say,
You may enter into the covenant with the LORD your God, and into His oath which the LORD your God is making with you today, in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. [NASB]
The Israelites during their wilderness years came to yada’ know the LORD. They recognized and knew Him from their past and present. The Israelites acknowledged the LORD’s power and greatness and professed Him as their LORD God. They fully knew the LORD. Verse 29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” What the Israelites knew about the LORD, He had revealed to them. They were accountable and responsible for what they did with that knowledge. By proclaiming and professing the LORD as their God, the Israelites covenanted with the LORD. Verse twelve said they may enter into covenant with the LORD their God. Verse twenty-nine implies the LORD would hold the Israelites accountable to Him, to acknowledging Him as the LORD God and following Him, since He revealed Himself to them. The Israelites recognized the LORD God as the one God, greater than all manmade gods and greater than themselves. They agreed to and confirmed the covenant with God with its blessings and curses. By stepping over the Jordan River into the Promised Land, they sealed their covenant with the LORD.

Recap

The Israelites standing on the shore of the Jordan River waiting to cross into the Promised Land did not literally see the power and might of God at work in Egypt to bring about their release from slavery. Their parents and grandparents did. The Israelites did not see and have complete knowledge about the LORD as Moses said in verse four. Yet for what they knew via eyewitnesses and firsthand experiential knowledge, God held them accountable. These same Israelites agreed to the covenant at Moab. They agreed to be faithful to the LORD God and serve and worship Him alone. The Israelites agreed to live by the commandments, statutes, and laws of the LORD contained in the covenant agreement. For the knowledge they had of the LORD to that the LORD held them accountable. Moses spent many days reminding and teaching the Israelites about the LORD and His laws. His final plea was that they and their sons enter into the covenant with the LORD and observe all the words of the law of the LORD. When they did that, they would walk into the Promised Land knowing the LORD God, I AM,  from past, present, and future experiences. They would know I AM is all-encompassing – LORD of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Relevance and Conclusion

Today we do not live in the era of the Mosaic covenant. That covenant led the people to the LORD to worship, serve, and follow Him. God sent the better covenant, the one He planned from the beginning of time. That covenant is the Messianic covenant. Through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, we have complete atonement for sin. Sin no longer can separate us from God. Because God is holy, He cannot be in the presence of sin. Each human sins in his or her life. Any time we go against the divine order God established, we sin. Do not fool yourself; all of us are sinners. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” None of us is pure enough to be in the presence of God. Separation from God is death. That is the judgment for sin – the death penalty. Yet God wants us in His presence. He loves us that much. God provided atonement for our sin.

In Old Testament days, the laws of the Torah God gave to the Israelites provided an animal that would bear the sin penalty of people – death. People would kill a prescribed animal for their sins. Those sacrifices had to occur often because people sin often. The sacrifice was only good enough for the sin as of the time of the sacrifice.

God provided a better sacrifice, one that would take away the sin penalty of the world for all time. It is called a “once-for-all-sacrifice” because only one sacrifice was necessary. What sacrifice could be pure enough and good enough to pay the death penalty for a world full of sin? The sacrifice of God’s pure, sinless Son, Jesus Christ. God allowed His Son to live in the world, to be tempted and not sin, so He could die as the sacrifice for the sin of all people. Because Jesus Christ is eternal, His sacrifice is sufficient for all time. When Jesus died on the cross, He did not stay dead. Death is separation from God. Jesus had the power to break the chains of sin and death and rose from the grave to live again. He beat sin and death - the power Satan holds over all humankind. Because Jesus is God’s Son and was the sin sacrifice who beat death, when we accept Jesus Christ as the Lord and Master of our lives and repent of our sins accepting God’s forgiveness and Jesus as the Savior (the atonement) for our sins, we beat sin and death, too.

We are called to be accountable to what God revealed to us just as He called the Israelites in verse twenty-nine to be accountable for the things He revealed to them. We learned that the LORD – I AM – is God of the past, present, and future. The Israelites had to trust I AM was the God of the future since they had not experienced that yet. We realize since the Israelites’ time, as we look at the past 3400 years, the LORD truly is I AM of past, present, and future. We see He was faithful to His covenant with the Israelites. The Israelites had to trust He would be faithful, but we see and know He was.

Since we have this testimony of thousands of years and God has given the new and better covenant, we have to decide for ourselves if we will covenant with God. This Messianic covenant shows how great God’s love is for you. It comes through His Son’s, Jesus Christ’s, death and resurrection. You have heard about it from eyewitnesses and testimonies from other people. You have seen God’s faithfulness to His covenant at work in the lives of people in the world. Now you are accountable and responsible for how you respond to God’s greatest revelation. You must decide, as the Israelites did of the Mosaic covenant, if you will join God in His Messianic covenant. Will you accept His gift of forgiveness and eternal life? Will you believe in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? It is up to you. God will hold you accountable for acting on what you know as Moses said of the Israelites in verse twenty-nine.

                                                                                                                                                    

Sunday, May 17, 2015

It's coming

It seems this year is the year of illness and resting. Once again I have been hit with illness, this time the flu. When I am well enough to get out of bed for a long period of time, the new Bible study will be written.

During this time of waiting, please pray for my health and the health of my family.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Curses and God's Glory (part 2) - Deuteronomy 28:15-68

Introduction and Review

In the last lesson, Curses and God’s Glory (part 1), we recalled God’s blessings for the Israelites’ faithfulness to Him affected every part of their lives. Those blessings promised them prolonged life and possession of the land God gave them in Canaan. We learned, too, that blessings and curses were a normal part of any covenant or contract in the Near East at that time. Finally, we learned that verses fifteen through sixty-eight contain three sections of curses. We recognize them at verses fifteen, forty-five through forty-seven, and fifty-eight. In these three sets of verses that begin the sections of curses, Moses reminded the Israelites of their covenant with God in a negative way as a prelude for the succeeding curses from God for their lack of faithfulness to Him.

In this Bible study, we will understand that the second section of God’s curses occur through other nations against the Israelites. God used foreign nations to enact His curses of death on the Israelites for breaking covenant with Him. In the third and final section of curses, which begins with verse fifty-eight, we hear again how the LORD would actively strike the Israelites Himself, not through other people. In verses fifty-nine through sixty-eight, we read the LORD would bring plagues, bring back diseases, scatter them, and give them trembling. The LORD would apply His curses in this last section of curses. The biggest area in which God would affect the Israelites in this third section was in their bodies – physical and mental. Let us now get into our study for today.

Section 2

 

In the first section of curses, God actively struck the Israelites bodies, prosperity, families, and international relationships. In this current section, comprised of verses forty-five through fifty-seven, God’s curses against the Israelites occur through a third party, enemies of Israel, via siege warfare. As stated earlier, each section of curses begins with a reminder that the Israelites’ disobedience to their covenant with God would bring about His curses. The reminder in this section of curses is in verses forty-five through forty-seven.

Comparison.

In comparing verse fifteen to verses forty-five through forty-seven, we note the extended length of the latter. Verse 15 is brief and does not use the legal format of the if/then statement. Moses developed how the curses would occur in the latter. He reiterated God would curse the Israelites until their enemies overtook and destroyed them. Compared to verse fifteen, verses forty-five through forty-seven give greater depth as a reminder of the covenant they pledged with God - the curses for unfaithfulness, the extent of the curses, and the reality they, as unfaithful people, would be an example of scorn and horror.

The Preamble.

Moses said the Israelites would be an example to other nations. He said twice in verses forty-five through forty-seven the curses would occur because of the Israelites’ disobedience (vs. 45 “because you would not obey the LORD your God” and vs. 47 “Because you did not serve the LORD your God”). In verse 45, we must note again that God would send the curses until the overtaking and destruction of the Israelites occurred. The ultimate purpose of the curses, as Moses said many times in verses fifteen through sixty-eight, was the destroying and perishing of the Israelites. Added to this, Moses said these curses and their resultant destruction would be proof of their disobedience for themselves and their descendents forever. He said this in verse 46a when he said, “They ([the curses] shall become a sign and a wonder on you and your descendents forever.” We recall Moses said God did mighty things in the presence of the Israelites as signs and wonders (Numbers 26:10). Isaiah said God gave him and the Israelites as signs and wonders in Isaiah 8:18. Ezekiel, too, used this same wording when he prophesied about Israel being taken into captivity because of their unfaithfulness to God (Ezekiel 5:15 & 14:8). As a final thought, in verses forty-five through forty-seven, Moses reminded the Israelites of their first encounter with the LORD found in Deuteronomy 4:25-26. They agreed to the covenant and the resultant blessings and curses from God for their faithfulness or unfaithfulness.

From verses forty-seven and forty-eight’s interplay using a “because…therefore” statement (similar to an if/then statement), the Israelites heard they would serve their enemies that the LORD would send against them. In this section of curses, the Israelites learned God would not actively go against them, but He would send their enemies. Those enemies would bring the curses against their bodies, families, land, livestock (prosperity and food). Because their enemies did this through siege warfare, the warfare we cannot separate the curses of God against body, property, family, prosperity from the results of warfare. They intertwine. The curse of ruptured international relationships – battle with their enemies - would cause the others. Overall though, God caused each of the curses and they each caused mental anguish to the Israelites. Because of this, we will look in this section at the verses as a whole, not as individual types of curses.

The Body.

As introduced in the prior paragraph, the breakdown of international relations would cause their destruction. Verse 48 gives us the method God said He would use to bring His curses upon the unfaithful Israelites. It says, “Therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.” Moses said God would use the Israelites enemies to inflict His curses. He explained the enemies would affect their bodies, prosperity, freedom, and their lives. These covered each of the areas mention in the blessings of verses one through fourteen and the curses thus far studied. Lamentations 4:4-6 and Jeremiah 28:13-14 testify to the time God enacted these curses against Israel for disobedience.

From verse 49, Moses expanded the teaching of verse forty-eight to the Israelites. He said, “The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand.” The nation God would use to curse them would possibly be unknown to the Israelites. It would arrive suddenly like an eagle, swift to fly in and overtake. The distant nation would surprise the Israelites and confound them because of the language barrier. They would be foreign to the Israelites, which would give its own element of uncertainty. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea recorded the northern and southern kingdoms’ defeats in Isaiah 5:26-30 & 7:18-20, Jeremiah 5:15, 6:22-23, 48:40, & 49:22, Lamentations 4:19, and Hosea 8:21. Besides fear, surprise, and uncertainty, the Israelites would be hungry, thirsty, naked, lack all things, and be enslaved as Moses said in verse forty-eight.

Besides surprising the Israelites and confounding them with their foreign language, we read the enemy would do many other things. They would not have respect for the old or favor the young. The enemy would eat the Israelites’ herds and produce while leaving no wine or oil (vs. 50-51). This alone made the Israelites destitute and hungry. Yet, Moses added, the Israelites’ enemy would show them the faith they had in their high walls and fortifications throughout the land was unfounded (vs. 52). They would learn they should have put complete their trust in the LORD. The Israelites did not consider that the LORD, who gave them the land, was the sole one who could save their land, and in contrast, take it away. Jeremiah and Zephaniah foretold these events of God’s wrath/curses in Jeremiah 10:17-18 and Zephaniah 1:15-16. The prophets of God reminded the Israelites many times of God’s curses and pleaded with them to return to God.

When the Israelites had no food left in their cities and towns, while their enemy besieged them, they would become cannibals of their own families. In graphic detail, Moses told them they would eat their own offspring, their children whom the LORD gave them. The enemy would oppress them so thoroughly even the refined and delicate man and woman would become hostile toward his and her brother, spouse, and children so that he and/or she would eat their bodies (vs. 53-57). The woman would eat her placenta. Consuming flesh meant killing their family. God forbade human sacrifice and killing of innocent people. That made the eating of people wrong. By putting dead human flesh into their bodies, the Israelites defiled the dead and their own bodies. Remember if anyone touched a dead person, that person would be ritually unclean until he or she performed ritual cleansing and the priest approved him or her to enter the town/city and temple again. By consuming another person, which God disapproved in the Garden of Eden, the Israelite sinned against God, themselves, and other humans. On top of these things, by removing their children, they ended the family line. The land God gave them would not be kept in the family. Descendents would not survive to inherit the land. The Israelite’s life would not be prolonged by descendents. Arriving at the point of desperation and eating human flesh became the only way to survive. That shows the level of despair the Israelites would feel. Their desperation during the siege was so great it affected the peoples’ bodies, their families, their spiritual state, their mental state, their property, and, their international relations. The Israelites would feel a vast separation from God. Their bodies, minds, and souls would be in distress.

Section 3

Overview and Preamble.

We arrive now at the last section of curses. The verses from fifty-eight through sixty-eight show the magnitude of the results from the curses God would perform or would allow occur. Verse fifty-eight is very similar to verse fifteen. They both remind the Israelites that curses would occur if they did not observe the whole Law of God – His commandments and statutes. “Observe” comes from the Hebrew word ‘anah, which means to do. Moses told them in verse fifteen, “To observe to do His commandments.” In verse fifty-eight he said, “Be careful to observe all the words of this law.” In both verses, the Israelites were to do what God said. Notice, too, that in verse fifteen and fifty-eight, the words “obey” and “careful” come from the Hebrew word shama’, which means to hear, listen, and obey. Moses did this to stress his point. He told the Israelites in these verses carefully do them - to do them and make sure you do them. Moses wanted to make sure they got the seriousness of this message. He meant, “Do what God commands; your life depends upon it.” Moses repeated twice within each of these verses to obey/do what God’s laws said. He reminded them of this command in verses one, nine, and thirteen, when he said to “obey” (vs. 1), “keep” (vs. 9), and “listen to” (vs. 13) the commandments of the LORD. He tied the results for faithfulness and unfaithfulness to the same thing - obedience/disobedience to their covenant with God.

Moses added one other part to his restatement of their covenant. He told the Israelites to obey God because they fear “the honored and awesome name, that is the LORD God” (vs. 58). For the first time in this chapter, in verse fifty-eight, we read something extra. Moses told the Israelites a new reason they should obey God and His commandments. He told them to do it because of their reverence of the honorable, glorious, and awesome LORD God. “Honor” comes from the Hebrew word kabad, which means honorable and glorious. The Israelites were to obey God because He was worthy of their reverence, not just because they feared for their lives. In each of the other five verses, section preambles, (vs. 1, 9, 13, 15, & 45-47) of this chapter where Moses spoke to the Israelites about obeying God, he told them to be faithful and receive God’s blessings, not curses due to unfaithfulness. While we ponder that thought, keep it in mind as we look at the remaining ten verses of this chapter.

The Body.

Notice that verse fifty-nine begins with the word “then.” That means it is a conditional statement and we should read the prior section to see the condition. Moses often used this legal format when speaking to teach the Israelites. As we learned in the preamble, he told them, “If the Israelites were not careful to observe all the words of this law.” Their obedience was the condition of the Mount Horeb covenant. Verses 59 through 68 continue this legal format with the  word “then.” The “then” Moses told them was God’s curses He would bring upon unfaithful Israelites. Notice in the second section of curses God used other nations to destroy Israel and bring His curses upon them. In this third section of curses, God Himself brought the curses against the Israelites, just as He did in the first section of curses. These verses say, “The LORD will bring,” “The LORD will delight in their destruction,” “The LORD will scatter,” and “The LORD will give.”

God first directed His curse against the Israelites’ bodies. Verse 59 says, “The LORD will bring extraordinary plagues on you and your descendents, even severe and lasting plagues and miserable and chronic sicknesses.” This provides the “then” to the earlier “if.” When looking at the words of this verse, we find the word “extraordinary” comes from the Hebrew word pala’ and means surpassing. These plagues Moses told the Israelites about would be so great it would surpass any knowledge of plagues they had from previous times. The plagues and illnesses would ravage their bodies and stun their minds. Moses said its surpassing nature would be severe, lasting, miserable, and chronic. Only a great and everlasting God could create such great, lasting, and severe plagues and sicknesses.

On top of this, Moses told the Israelites, “He [God] will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt of which you were afraid, and they will cling to you.” He spoke of these Egyptian diseases before in verse twenty-seven. From research of mummies, skeletons, hieroglyphs, and pictures of healing in art, researchers conclude there were eye diseases, tuberculosis, polio, and parasitic diseases. (Disease in Ancient Egypt, University College London, http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/age/disease.html.) The Israelites were familiar with these diseases since they lived in Egypt for 400 years.

Because of these illnesses, not to mention the war sieges, the Israelites would be left fewer in number (vs. 62). Remember, one promise to Abraham was that God would make of him many nations which would be as great as the stars in heaven and the sands of the sea. Moses reminded the Israelites of God’s faithfulness to His promise to Abraham in Deuteronomy 1:10. After God’s curses, the Israelites would be few in number. This would show God removed His hand of blessing from them. The Israelites would continue experiencing the curses to the point of destruction and perishing from the diseases because they did not obey the LORD God. Later in history, when the Israelites returned from captivity, Nehemiah led them in confession of their sins to God. In his prayer with and for them, as he spoke to God, he reminded the people and God of how God made them as numerous as the stars and that He was the one who brought them into the Promised Land (Nehemiah 9:23). From Nehemiah’s account in the Bible, we learn the Israelites were unfaithful to God, but He was faithful to the covenant and cursed them by making them become fewer and become captives.

Lest we get sidetracked, let us continue to verse sixty-three. In this verse, Moses used an interesting mix of words. He said, “It shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it.” The LORD will delight over them to make them perish and destroy them? Does that seem odd to you? We must look at it in context with the verse and passage. Why did the LORD delight over the Israelites before when He prospered them? He rejoiced over them because of their obedience to Him and His laws. The Israelites obeyed the LORD because of who He is and what He did for them. They saw His might and power. The Israelites feared/reverenced Him. When the LORD placed His hand upon them with curses, they felt His might and power and they feared Him again. The Israelites and the nations around them re-experienced the might and power of God. They  recalled His greatness and revered Him again. That is why the LORD delighted in making them perish and be destroyed. He received reverence again. The LORD did not delight in hurting the Israelites. Their unfaithfulness/sinfulness required discipline and punishment. They agreed to the punishment when they agreed to the covenant. When God enacted the curses and the Israelites felt the curses, they remembered God’s power, might, and worthiness of praise. In human terms, we can say they respected God again. Would receiving respect give you delight? How much more would the God of all creation delight in that respect whether He received it the preferable way, by honor and love, or by the judgment that His righteousness requires. Let me say this straight: God does not want to judge and apply justice to return things to their rightful balance. He is like a loving parent who sets boundaries and rejoices when a child thrives within those boundaries. Yet, like a loving parent, sometimes a child steps outside the boundary and consequences arise, either as natural results of overstepping bounds (erring/sinning) or as discipline/punishment for not respecting boundaries and the parents who instituted them for the safety and wellbeing of the child. Just as those parents love their children and established boundaries with consequences, God loves His creation, humans, and established boundaries with positive and negative consequences. They are to bring us back into a right relationship with Him.

Along with striking the Israelites with plagues and leaving them few in number, Moses said. “Moreover, the LORD will scatter you from among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known” (vs. 64). The people would be sick and fewer in number; those are physical things. They affect a person’s/nation’s psyche, too, when they realize an army could overtake them and make them slaves because they are so few in number. Moses added to that fear when he told the Israelites they would not live among their own kind, but among strangers of a different language and gods. The Israelites would not understand the captor people because of a language barrier. Those nations would make them worship gods who were powerless, foreign, and unknown to them. The curses of God would affect their spiritual selves, too. Yahweh God, whom the Israelites knew was all-powerful, was not the god the foreign nations worshipped. Their captors would make them worship an inferior god.

To this point, the curses would affect the Israelites’ bodies, minds, spirits, properties, income, families, and international relations. From verse 65 through 67, the curses would affect almost exclusively their mental wellbeing. Moses said,

Among those nations, you shall find no rest and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot, but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, “Would that it were evening!” and at evening you shall say, “Would that it were morning!” because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see. (Deut. 28:65-67, [NASB])

The word “rest” in these verses comes from the Hebrew word raga’ and means to be quiet and not disturbed or stirred up. When the Israelites went to other nations as captives, they would be disturbed and stirred up within their minds and hearts. The writer of Lamentations confirmed this in Lamentations 1:3. On top of being disturbed, Moses said the LORD would give the Israelites trembling hearts, failing eyes, and despair of soul. They would be afraid of what would happen to them. The Israelites, shaken by much sickness, privations, death, and capturing, would not know the land or people in which they were to live. “They were afraid of their shadows,” we might say. The Israelites would wish for familiar things – home. The Israelites would think they did not have a God upon whom to call. Heaviness would overcome their souls. They would despair death at first. In this last section of the chapter, they would despair of what life might bring them as captives in a new land. Moses told them in verse sixty-six their life would hang in doubt. The Israelites did not know what to do or who to trust. They did not know what today, much less tomorrow, would bring. Dread and fear would pervade throughout the day into the night. The Israelites would have no assurance of life – death or life, fear or trust. They would hope the night would bring relief from fear and dread then get there and find it did not so wish for day to arrive. We, as human as the Israelites, understand this fear and dread. When a loved one has a terminal illness or when a child goes astray into a dangerous lifestyle, we live in dread of what the next phone call might tell us. We pray with each breath hoping God will hear and intervene with blessings. We know and understand the dread and anguish that would befall the Israelites.

      As the final nail in the coffin - the last dreaded part of the curses - Moses told the Israelites the LORD would take them back to Egypt and they would find no one to buy them as servants. no (vs. 68). Even their old lord, the Egyptians, to whom they threatened to return if the LORD did not give them food and drink during the exodus, would not buy them. The Israelites would become so low their old slave drivers and masters would not deign to look at and hire them. They could not even become the lowest in society when they disobeyed God and received their due judgment, His curses. The Israelites were lower than the lowest person of society. They were dead.

Recap

In Deuteronomy 28, Moses reminded the Israelites of their covenant with God at Mount Horeb (Sinai). In the first fourteen verses, he told them the blessings God promised to give them if they diligently obeyed the LORD and carefully did His commands. These blessings covered their bodies, nation, families, property (animal, land, and business), prosperity, and international relations. Just as the blessings covered these areas, so too did the curses. In the first section of curses, Moses related one to one the curse to the earlier expressed blessing saying God would actively apply the curse Himself. In the second section of curses, each part of the Israelites’ lives to receive blessing in the first fourteen verses God would curse by using a foreign enemy nation to enact them on the Israelites. Their implementation occurred during siege warfare. By that curse, the Israelites’ minds and spirits would begin to be affected so they would fear what would happen to them. In the final section of curses, God would actively enact the curses on the Israelites. The curses of this section would affect their mental and physical wellbeing. By the last curse, the Israelites would be lower than the lowest rung on the social ladder. They would not be able to sell themselves into slavery. This would show in how little regard other nations would hold the Israelites. International relations would not be profitable for them.

Relevance and Conclusion

Moses spent twenty-eight chapters and many days speaking to the Israelites on the border of Canaan. Before crossing the Jordan River, God had Moses remind them of their covenant with Him - what was required of them, and what He promised to do for or against them for their faithfulness or unfaithness. During these speeches, Moses reminded the Israelites of their past without the LORD God and since the LORD chose them to be His people. He reminded them of God’s faithful to their forefathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Throughout these speeches, Moses spoke of God’s power, might, and omniscience and the Israelites’ smallness and relative lack of power and might. He reminded them that God’s gift of the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, occurred because of His faithfulness to their forefathers, not their faithfulness to Him. The Israelites’ faithfulness to their covenant with God would result in their possessing the land in perpetuity and having prosperity in the land. Moses distinguished their covenant with God from Abraham’s so they could recognize God’s faithfulness to Abraham and separate it from their pledge with Him. He wanted them to realize two things – God is faithful and they would continue to live in the land if they were faithful to their covenant with God. Their inheritance ended with sin against God – unfaithfulness to their covenant.

This fact is important for us today. You may say, “I am not a Jew and I do not live in Israel, so how does this pertain to me?” Because the intention of the old covenant at Mount Sinai was to lead people to God, not to save them from the power of sin and death, God created a new and better covenant. Because humans are sinful, they needed a better covenant. We have free will, a gift from God when He created us. When we exercise our will in such a way as to choose what we want counter to what is best and God’s perfect plan, that is sin. Because humans cannot ever be sinless since the original sin in the Garden of Eden, no covenant, promise, or contract is ever guaranteed to be fulfilled. People may honor their agreements or not. If a covenant with God relied just on the will of a human to fulfill his or her promises before God would give blessings, then not every covenant would be fulfilled. Some people would not receive the blessings and love of God.

God made a better plan. He loves humankind very much. God planned from the beginning of time to provide the greater covenant, one in which humans are not required to do anything for God to bless them. God wants to bless humans because He loves them, us. In Old Testament times when the Israelites lived by the old covenant, God’s priests led them to recognize their sin against God and to offer a sacrifice by which to atone for their sin. With the new covenant, the one where humans do not have to do anything, God provided the sin sacrifice. This sacrifice was a perfect sacrifice, not a created animal, but the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The Son of God is a part of the Godhead and, so was perfect though Satan attempted to tempt Him during His life on earth. God provided this new covenant when He allowed His Son to be crucified on a cross though He did nothing wrong. He was sin free. Jesus Christ beat the power of sin Satan holds over humans. Before we accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Master, Satan was master of us because we are sinful. He held us in guilt, told us we are not good enough, and God could not love us. By Jesus’ death, our sins are atoned. God did not leave it there. He resurrected His Son from death beating the power of sin and death. We each deserve death because we are sinful. Sin separates us from God because He is pure and good and cannot be in the presence of sin. When we are not in the presence of God, we are dead; Satan made sure of that and works hard to keep us that way. God won though. There was no contest for God against Satan; Satan is a created being and God is the Creator. God had the plan for the better covenant from day one in Genesis. Paul spoke of it in Ephesians 1:4. God loves us and made a plan so we could be free of sin, the power of sin, and the power of death. We can choose to be with God and let Jesus Christ be our Lord and Master instead of Satan.

What do humans have to do to receive this mercy and forgiveness from Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice? Nothing. Nothing we can do could ever pay for the blessing of washing away our wrongs against God. Nothing. Because we can do nothing to wash sin away or to earn or pay for mercy and grace, God gives it to us freely – because God loves us that much. This great love is free. God wants us to receive His love and live with Him forever, you see. There is nothing we can do to earn it, but we must believe. Accept Jesus Christ is God’s Son and claim Him as your Lord and Master. Believe His death atoned for/washed away your sins. Confess your sins and receive His forgiveness.
Questions remain –
Do you believe?
Will you accept?

Is He your Lord and Master?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Curses and God's Glory (Part 1) - Deuteronomy 28:15-68

Introduction

In the previous Bible study, we looked at the blessings God promised the Israelites for obeying Him and His commandments, statutes, and laws. Throughout Deuteronomy Moses told the Israelites about God’s blessings and curses. Verses 15-68 are Moses’ teachings on the curses God will bring upon the Israelites for their disobedience to Him. Whether the Israelites obeyed and received God’s blessings or disobeyed and received God’s curses, they experienced and other nations saw the power and glory of the LORD God. For the next couple of weeks, we will be studying about God’s curses on the Israelites for their disobedience to their covenant with Him.

We must remember God’s blessings gave life and His curses gave death, either immediately or in the long-run. In the verses of this study, Moses taught how God would bring death upon the Israelites through His curses. Just as the blessings affected the Israelites’ bodies, land, animals, food, children, and international relations, the curses affected these, too.

Throughout the teaching on God’s curses, Moses reminded the Israelites of their covenant with God, but in a negative way, particularly in verses forty-five through forty-seven. The first six verses of the curses relates to the list of blessings Moses taught in verses three through six. Moses reflected the international relations of the Israelites referred to in verses seven and ten in verses twenty-five and forty-three through forty-four. In the remaining verses of curses, Moses expounded on and expanded for the Israelites how God’s curses would affect them. We must remember Moses taught about these curses of God in his first sermon to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 4:25-28.

Outline

Upon first looking at the fifty-four verses that comprise the curses portion of this chapter, one is apt to want to skim through them because of their length. However, if one takes the time to study the verses and map them out, an order and significance appears. When reading these verses, certain words repeat – observe, careful, obey, destroy, and perish. In mapping them out, we find that the words “observe”, “careful,” and “obey,” begin three sections of curses in Deuteronomy 28:15-68.

Moses reaffirmed his teaching about following God and His commandments before each expansion of the curses. The three sections of the curses portion of this chapter begin at verses fifteen, forty-five, and fifty-eight. Verse 15 begins the general curses that relate to the blessings of the first fourteen verses of this chapter. These verses state what the LORD will do to the Israelites that affect their bodies (physical and mental, their property), land, animals, families (offspring  and wives), international relationships, and the work of their hands. Verses 45-47 begin the section where God allows other nations to enact His curses upon the Israelites. The curses in verses forty-eight through fifty-seven occur because of siege warfare upon Israel. From the siege, the curses affect all the previous mentioned parts of the Israelites’ lives. Upon studying the Old Testament, readers learn these curses befell the Israelites numerous times. Verse 58 begins the final section about the curses of God on the Israelites for disobedience to their covenant with Him. In verses fifty-nine through sixty-eight, Moses taught the Israelites the LORD would bring plagues and reduce their population, scatter them over the earth, allow them to be impoverished, and delight in their perishing and destruction.

The words “destroy” and “perish” told the Israelites the most pertinent point of God’s curse on disobedient Israelites – disobedience brought death. Moses used the word “destroy” seven times and “perish” four times. “Destroy” comes from the Hebrew word shamad and means exterminate, annihilate, devastate, and destroy. “Perish” comes from the Hebrew word ‘abad and means vanish, die, exterminate, go astray, and perish. In the Law of the Ban from Deuteronomy 7, God told the Israelites to “utterly destroy” the Canaanites upon their entrance into the Promised Land. “Destroy” in that verse, Deut. 7:2, comes from the Hebrew word charam. It means to destroy completely so that the people group was removed from the earth, as well as their fame and reputation. This study shows that God’s curse would not remove the memory of the Israelites, but only their blessings of being God’s chosen people. God wanted (wants) people to remember the Israelites and learn from their blessings and curses. Verse 37 expresses that sentiment.

Section 1

As mentioned earlier, Moses began each section curses with a reminder of the covenant obedience God required from the Israelites. In verse 15 he said, “But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” First, notice Moses equated obedience to action, doing God’s commandments and statutes. Obedience, if you remember, comes from the Hebrew word shama’ (shamar) and means to hear, listen, and obey. In Hebrew understanding, hearing something means a person must act upon it. A person could not hear and listen to anything without it affecting him or her in some way so that he or she acted upon it either in following what he or she heared/learned or in denying what he or she lerned/heard. Hence, in the Israelite mindset, hearing required action. Their covenant with God required obedience and gave the resultant reward of blessings – long life and possession of the Promised Land. In this first part of verses fifteen, Moses stated three times the Israelites were to obey God when he used the words “obey,” observe,” and “do.” This brings us to the second part of verse fifteen. Notice there is an if/then statement in this verse. If the Israelites did not obey the LORD, then (“that”) curses would befall them. The giving of blessing or curse within a covenant was common in the Near East at that time. The Israelites knew about that structure and agreed to the covenant multiple times from its inception at Mount Sinai. Yet as we read and learn, they disobeyed God and were unfaithful to their covenant with Him. Hence, God rewarded them with curses – death, shortened life and dispossession of the Promised Land.

What did the curses entail? They affected every part of an Israelites’ life as well as his or her relationship with the LORD. Verses 16 through 19 related exactly to the blessings God promised in verses three through six. Just as Moses said God would bless the Israelites in the city and country in verse three, he said God would curse them in the city and country in verse sixteen. This phrasing expressed universal blessing in the earlier verse and universal cursing in the latter. No matter where the Israelites lived, God would curse them for unfaithfulness. Verse 17 reminds us of verse five. That verse said the Israelites would always have food on their table, whereas verse seventeen says God would curse them so they did not have enough food. Verse 18 relates to verse four. Whereas God promised the blessing of offspring from the Israelites’ bodies, their livestock’s bodies, and fruitfulness of their fields, verse eighteen curses them with lack of offspring and fruit/produce from the fields. The final general curse arises in verse nineteen and relates to verse six. The Hebrew idiom of verse six that said God would bless the Israelites in their coming in and their going out meant they and all their life activities were blessed. The curse then meant God would curse them and all their life activities. No matter what the Israelites did or who they were, God cursed them for their faithlessness.

To make the point more poignant, Moses told the Israelites in verse twenty that the LORD said, “The LORD will send upon you curses, confusion, and rebuke in all you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken Me.” This relates to the blessing in verse eight. Verse 20 told the Israelites everything they attempted to do God would obstruct. By thwarting them, they would perish and be destroyed. God told the Israelites disobedience would bring death. By God removing His hand from the Israelites’ lives, they would not prosper and would die. The next twenty-three verses relay how God, directly or indirectly, would obstruct them.

Bodily Curses.

The bodily curses with which God promised to smite the Israelties occur in verses twenty-one through twenty-two, twenty-six through twenty-nine, and thirty-four through thirty-five. In these, God actively would smite the Israelites or allow the curse through a third-party, the enemies of the Israelites. Verse 21 says God would make the pestilence cling to them until He consumed them from the land they entered to possess. A pestilence was any plague. “Consumed” comes from the Hebrew word kalah meaning finished and ended. In verse 22, God would smite the Israelites with a multitude of oppressing things that affected their bodies – consumption, fever, inflammation, fiery heat, sword, and blight and mildew. Moses said these would follow them until they perished. These plagues reminded the Israelites of what Moses taught them in Deuteronomy 4:26, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed.” When Moses gave the terms of God’s covenant with them to the Israelites, they agreed to them and the resultant curses if they were faithless to God and His commands. These curses of Deuteronomy 28 did not surprise the Israelites.

The second portion of bodily curses, verses twenty-six through twenty-nine, state the enemies of the Israelites would attack them and animals would eat their carcasses. In essence, their bodies would be defiled. In addition to this, the LORD would strike them with boils, tumors, scabs, and itching. They would remember the LORD’s power when Moses spoke of boils because He gave boils to the Egyptians as one of the ten plagues. With physical illness, God would strike the Israelites with mental anguish in the form of madness and bewilderment (vs. 28). God would send blindness so they would grope as in darkness just like He sent darkness on the Egyptians. The darkness would keep the Israelites from prospering and allow their enemies to oppress and rob them continually with no one to save them (vs. 29). This latter reminded them of the blessing the LORD promised in verse eleven relating to their prosperity.

With the third set of bodily curses, verses thirty-four through thirty-five, Moses once again told the Israelites they would experience madness by all they saw and encountered. They would fall to their knees in anguish only to realize the LORD struck them with boils on their knees and legs. The boil would not heal anywhere on the Israelites’ bodies. This curse covered all their body – all their life – from the soles of their feet to the crowns of their heads. God’s will was all-encompassing.

Proprietary Curses.

Moses told the Israelites about God’s curses that would befall their possessions – land, animals, homes, families. These occur in verses twenty-three through twenty-four, thirty through thirty-three, and thirty-eight through forty-two. They affect the Israelites’ fruitfulness and prosperity. The curse of these could affect their mental well-being.

In verses 23 through 24, the first set of verses aimed at their property/prosperity, Moses told the Israelites God would thwart their plans to be productive. He would do this by stopping the rains from His heavens. Moses said in verse twenty-three, “The heaven, which is over your head, shall be bronze and the earth, which is under your feet, iron.” The land would not produce because no rains would fall from God’s heaven. Because of that, the land would become like iron, hard. Bible writers often used iron as a metaphor for difficulties. If no rain fell, the Israelites would have difficulty feeding themselves and their animals. Eventually they would all die. Added to this, Moses said in verse twenty-four, “The LORD will make the rain of your land powder from heaven; it shall come down on you until you are destroyed.” Instead of nourishing rain, God would send dust to blow, choke, and spoil the produce of the land. In this way, without rain, produce, or meat, God would destroy the Israelites. Moses spoke to them of this in Deuteronomy 11:17. He told them the opposite of this curse in Deuteronomy 28:12 when he told them of God’s blessings for their faithfulness to Him.

With verses 30 through 33, God cursed the Israelite men’s wives and children. Moses taught God would allow another man to ravish a man’s betrothed fiancé. In addition, God would allow another man to live in and eat the fruit of the home a man built and the vineyard he planted, respectively. Moses said God would allow the enemy to steal and slaughter the man’s livestock. These latter curses would remind the Israelites of God’s promises from verses four and eleven. On top of these, the enemy would take the Israelites’ children and eat their produce (vs. 32-33). As the cherry on top, Moses explained the Israelites would “never be anything but oppressed and crushed continually.” (vs. 33) God would bring them low in the eyes of other people by His and their enemy’s actions. The Israelites’ hearts would be crushed.

These would not affect the Israelites’ productivity and prosperity much. The curses of verses thirty-eight through forty-two would, though. Each of these verses, except verse forty-one, relates to the vitality of their land. God would send locusts to consume the seed the Israelites’ sowed. He would send worms to devour the grapes they cultivated in their vineyards. God would make the olives fall off the trees and rot. He would send the cricket to possess the fruit of the trees of Israel. God’s blessing of offspring (children and descendents) for the Israelites turned to a curse because God promised they would be captives. The Israelites negated the promised prosperity of the LORD from verse eight when they were disobedient and unfaithful to the LORD. For their seeds, God would send locusts. The LORD would send worms for the Israelites vineyards and crickets to destroy their fruit crops. The olives would fall and rot and their children would become captives. The Israelites’ hope for the future would vanish and bring despair, bewilderment, and madness.

International Relationship Curses.

If the Israelites expected their international relationships to rescue them as Egypt did for the sons of Israel during the famine, Moses explained God would curse those relationships, too. He relayed these curses in verses twenty-five, thirty-six through thirty-seven, and forty-three through forty-four. With verse twenty-five, Moses recalled for the Israelites God’s blessing from verse seven. Prior to this chapter, the enemies of the Israelites were God’s enemies. Now in these verses of curses, the enemies of the Israelites became God’s tools because when the Israelites disobeyed God, they became His enemies. In verse seven, we learned God blessed the Israelites by routing their enemies. Those enemies escaped the Israelites any way they could find. In verse twenty-five, the Israelites enemies routed the Israelites. The Israelites would try to escape their enemies any way they could find. Yet God’s hand would be against them and they would fall to their enemies. Added to this, the Israelites would be an example of terror to all the people of the earth. They went against the LORD God, the God the other nations heard about and knew of, and they fell. Earlier in their history with the LORD, the other kingdoms heard and knew about the Israelites’ God because of His might and provision for them. That would cease to be with the Israelites unfaithfulness. The other nations would learn of God’s wrath for unfaithfulness and disobedience after that and would tremble at so great a God. Verse 10 would have new meaning when the Israelites disobeyed. Still, in it all, whether by God’s blessings or curses, people  would give Him glory.

God would make another nation the captors and rulers of the Israelites. Verse 36 expresses this curse. The Israelites would serve foreign gods made of stone and wood, the kind God spoke against in Deuteronomy 4:28. By becoming captives and under the rule of other nations after the LORD chose them and they failed Him, the Israelites’ story would become a horror, proverb, and taunt (vs. 37). “Horror” comes from the Hebrew word shammah and means waste, horror, and appalment. “Proverb” comes from the Hebrew word meaning a parable, ethical maxim, and proverb. The Israelites’ story would be appalling and one from which people would learn a lesson so horrible that they would respect and consider faithfulness to God. Notice at the end of verse thirty-seven, Moses made sure the Israelites understood that God led them to live among the people who beat and captured them. None of their lives were outside God’s control. He controlled their blessings and curses – prolonged life and death, either by His hand or their enemies hands.

The third international curse in this section of curses arises in verses forty-three and forty-four. Moses told the Israelites, “The alien who is among you shall rise above you higher and higher, but you will go down lower and lower. He shall lend to you, but you will not lend to him; he shall be the head and you will be the tail.” These two verses are the counter to verses twelve and thirteen in the blessings part of this chapter. Moses used two of the idioms of verses twelve and thirteen relating to the Israelites’ stature among aliens and other nations in verses forty-two and forty-three. He said the aliens would be the lenders and not the borrowers. The Israelites would be impoverished and need loans to buy necessities because of God’s removal of His hand from them. The people of other nations would no longer be followers, but the chiefs, the leaders. The people of other nations would hold a higher status in the community than the Israelites. These would occur because God removed His hand from the Israelites due to their unfaithfulness and disobedience.

Recap

The first section of curses, verses fifteen through forty-four, affect every part of the Israelites’ lives – body, property and prosperity, and international relations. Moses recalled for the Israelites their covenant with God and the result of disobedience and unfaithfulness to Him. He explained God rewarded these with curses. This reward was not something new to them because it was a common practice of covenanting in the Near East and they heard about them in Deuteronomy 4. As in the blessings section of chapter 28, so in the curses, God’s intentions will occur and His power and might will be glorified.

Application and Conclusion

From the Israelites’ experiences with God, we see and acknowledge God is greater than humankind. His power is greater whether He uses it for blessing or cursing. God’s glory is evident and we should acknowledge it and follow His will.

As we continue to study the justice side of God’s righteousness, we must realize that God was not active just in Old Testament times and no longer pertinent to today. His hand has been, continues to be, and will be on all created things – people and things. His power is evident every day. We must decide whether we will accept and acknowledge the God of eternal power and creation who chooses to love us. His action in the past did not result just in creation and saving/cursing the Israelites. God’s action continued so that He provided a Savior for all humankind in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, as Savior from sin and death. Remember, when the Israelites disobeyed God, they became His enemies. We, too, are enemies of God because of our sins, rebelling against God and His plan. Just as the Israelites needed a Savior, we need a Savior and God provided one 2000 years ago.
The question is –
Will we deny God’s gift of salvation or will we accept it and receive His love and salvation?

What will you decide?