Deuteronomy 28 continues the storyline from Deuteronomy 27. Moses commands the people to gather at Shechem and recite both curses and blessings from Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. This is done with the Ark of the Covenant in the middle of the people, symbolizing the presence of God Almighty in the process.
These blessings and curses are given as the consequences for covenant-keeping. If the Israelites keep the covenant, then the blessings will apply. If they reject the covenant, then the people will face the curses. There are significant predictive concepts in the curses. Deuteronomy 28:36, for example, speaks of the king which Israel won’t have for another 400 years. Further difficulties are foreseen, including cannibalism and plagues like Egypt faced. The capstone of the curses is a forced return to Egypt (Deuteronomy 28:68) as slaves, but slaves without owners.
While these curses are comprehensive, let us dispense quickly with a few important facts. First, we should most likely see this as fulfilled in the life of Israel in the ancient world. Israel’s fall to Assyria in 722 BC and Judah’s fall in 586 BC are candidates for this, as is the Roman forced diaspora in 135-140 AD after the Second Jewish Revolt. There is no justification in these curses for willful anti-Semitism. Second, we should see this as predictive by the power of God, not as written retrospectively.
Draw your eyes back to the first portion of the chapter. In 68 verses, 14 relate to blessing and the rest to curses, but let us look closely at the blessings. Deuteronomy 28:2 speaks of blessings “overtaking” the people. This does parallel with the opening verses on curses, where the curses will “overtake” the people in 28:15. More importantly, though, this speaks of the inescapable truth that obeying God would bring blessing on the people.
The idea is that the blessing of God is comprehensive. It surrounds not only what you do, but where you go. It is not just for the people of Israel that day, but all of their offspring. And the end result?
The peoples of the earth will fear Israel and recognize YHWH as the Great God. (Deuteronomy 28:10).
In short, blessing comes through obedience for the purpose of the glory of God. The purpose is not the benefit of people. That is just the means to the greater end.
Let’s kill one practical step quickly: in reference to material prosperity, these verses relate to national Israel. Not to you. This passage does not endorse a personal wealth result from walking with Jesus. Not at all. Our results from walking with Jesus should be expected by His words: “you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33). Or perhaps the experience of the apostles in Acts 14:22, referring to hardships for entering the Kingdom.
Instead, substitute these practical expectations:
1. There is a natural structure of consequences from results. Disobedience will bring worse results, in time, than obedience brings. Looking through the lens of eternity, remember this in your personal life. There is more at stake than just right now.
2. When God’s people are gathered, the blessings of obedience multiply, but so do the curses of disobedience. When the church is gathered, though this passage is about Israel and not the church, the concept applies. One sinful person in a church may not bring great curse upon it, but a church which adopts of culture of sin will face God’s judgment, including its ultimate destruction.
3. Again, drawing from the principle, one can imagine that any nation which openly flaunts the righteousness of God should expect similar consequences.
It’s hard to do justice to this passage. The totality of the destruction envisioned in the curses, compared to the blessings, reflects the holistic nature of the Law, the Covenant, and the People.
One thing that you should notice in study is the parallel structure of the first sections. The blessings will be exactly countered by the curses. Further, one can see how badly life will turn. If we take this passage and place it into 2 Kings, we see just how terrible the fall of Israel truly was.
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