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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?