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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?