A. Blessings and curses for Israel.
1. (1-13) Blessings for obedience.
You shall not make idols for yourselves; neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar shall you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it; for I am the Lord your God. You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the Lord. If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last till the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last till the time of sowing; you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none will make you afraid; I will rid the land of evil beasts, and the sword will not go through your land. You will chase your enemies, and they shall fall by the sword before you. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight; your enemies shall fall by the sword before you. For I will look on you favorably and make you fruitful, multiply you and confirm My covenant with you. You shall eat the old harvest, and clear out the old because of the new. I will set My tabernacle among you, and My soul shall not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves; I have broken the bands of your yoke and made you walk upright.
a. If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you rain in its season: God was determined to reveal Himself to the world through Israel, either by making them so blessed, the world would know only God could have blessed them so; or by making them so cursed, that only God could have cursed them and cause them to still survive. The choice was up to Israel.
b. And confirm My covenant with you: As a literary form, this chapter is similar to ancient treaties between a king and his people; this is God the King, making a covenant with His people, Israel.
i. "In the ancient Near East it was customary for legal treaties to conclude with passages containing blessings upon those who observed the enactments, and curses upon those who did not." (Harrrison)
c. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: This clearly speaks of a Divine blessing. These remarkable promises clearly have a supernatural element.
i. The principle behind that particular blessing is remarkable; the ratio of five to one hundred is one routing twenty; but the ratio of one hundred to ten thousand is one routing one hundred.
ii. Gideon's 300 defeated 135,000 Midianites; Jonathan and his armor bearer alone defeated a Philistine army.
d. I will set My tabernacle among you, and My soul shall not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people: The best promises are saved for last: First, that Israel would enjoy a special relationship with God. If not for this, all the material blessings described previously would be empty.
i. When Israel walked after the Lord, these blessings were real; one example of this is when the Queen of Sheba came to Solomon and saw a nation so blessed, she knew it had to be of God (1 Kings 10:1-13).
e. I have broken the bands of your yoke and made you walk upright: This final blessing speaks of freedom and dignity. This passage almost feels like the New Testament, God proclaims the liberty of His people and then invites them to walk in it.
2. (14-39) Curses for disobedience.
But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when no one pursues you. And after all this, if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. I will break the pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit. Then, if you walk contrary to Me, and are not willing to obey Me, I will bring on you seven times more plagues, according to your sins. I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, destroy your livestock, and make you few in number; and your highways shall be desolate. And if by these things you are not reformed by Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I will punish you yet seven times for your sins. And I will bring a sword against you that will execute the vengeance of the covenant; when you are gathered together within your cities I will send pestilence among you; and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. When I have cut off your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall bring back your bread by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied. And after all this, if you do not obey Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars, and cast your carcasses on the lifeless forms of your idols; and My soul shall abhor you. I will lay your cities waste and bring your sanctuaries to desolation, and I will not smell the fragrance of your sweet aromas. I will bring the land to desolation, and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it. I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste. Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies' land; then the land shall rest and enjoy its sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall rest; for the time it did not rest on your sabbaths when you dwelt in it. And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; the sound of a shaken leaf shall cause them to flee; they shall flee as though fleeing from a sword, and they shall fall when no one pursues. They shall stumble over one another, as it were before a sword, when no one pursues; and you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. You shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. And those of you who are left shall waste away in their iniquity in your enemies' lands; also in their fathers' iniquities, which are with them, they shall waste away.
a. If you do not obey Me . . . after all this, if you do not obey Me . . . if by these things you are not reformed by Me, but walk contrary . . . after all this, if you do not obey Me: These verses describe a progression of rebellion. God brought these curses slowly to a disobedient Israel, desiring repentance; but if Israel would not repent, the curses intensified.
b. I will punish you yet seven times for your sins: Significantly, God does not say He will forsake Israel, only that they will be cursed. Sadly, these curses became the tragic story of Israel's history - defeat, deprivation, exile, desolation, and disease all too often have marked Israel's past.
i. Even the horrific cannibalism described in Leviticus 26:29 was fulfilled in 2 Kings 6:26-29; Josephus also describes cannibalism in Jerusalem when under siege by the Romans; a woman killed and ate her own baby son (Wars, 6.3.4).
3. (40-46) The blessings of repentance.
But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, with their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, and that they also have walked contrary to Me, and that I also have walked contrary to them and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled, and they accept their guilt; then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham I will remember; I will remember the land. The land also shall be left empty by them, and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them; they will accept their guilt, because they despised My judgments and because their soul abhorred My statutes. Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.'" These are the statutes and judgments and laws which the Lord made between Himself and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses.
a. If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers: This displays the greatness of God's mercy. Despite how cursed Israel might be, God would always remember, receive, and bless a repentant Israel.
b. When they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them: This also applies to Christians under the New Covenant. God will always be faithful to the covenant, for the sake of the covenant we have with God through Jesus.
B. Blessing and cursing in a New Covenant perspective.
1. Are we under the same covenant of blessing and cursing? To some, Galatians 6:7 demonstrates this: Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. But in context, Paul is not promoting some law of spiritual "karma" that ensures we will get good when we do good, or always get bad when we do bad (such an absolute law would damn us all); instead he speaks simply about the management of our resources (see Galatians 6:6-10).
a. What Paul is simply saying is this: We may fool ourselves by expecting much when we sow little, but we cannot fool God, and the results of our poor sowing will be evident.
2. Galatians 3:13-14 makes it clear: Jesus received this curse upon Himself as He hung on the cross, fulfilling the Deuteronomy 21:23 promise of a curse to all who are not only executed but have their bodies publicly exposed to shame.
a. In the Jewish mind, such exposure was a fate worse than death itself; the humiliation brought upon the executed and their family was clear evidence of the curse.
3. Jesus bore the curse that we (even Gentiles) might bear the blessings of Abraham (the blessing of righteousness and life by faith) - but these blessings only come to those in Christ Jesus.
a. So, we are blessed not because of obedience, but because we are in Christ Jesus; and there is no more curse for us from God, because all the curse was borne by Jesus.
b. This does not deny the chastening hand of God; but the correction of a loving parent is good and desirable, though not pleasant at the time (Hebrews 12:7-11).
c. Nor does it deny the cause-and-effect nature of sin in our world; sin often carries with its own curse, which in some ways is distinct from God's direct curse upon us.
4. These blessings and curses may be necessary motivation for the carnal man, but it is not the ground God wants us live on - believing Jesus didn't bear all the curses we deserved, and believing we can be blessed in any other way than in Christ Jesus.
© 2004 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission