Chapter 28

DEUTERONOMY CHAPTER 28

Blessings for Obedience

          • Before we begin this section, Guzik draws attention to this interesting fact, “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.” The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible elaborates on that point:

          • These verses state the conditions under which the following blessings (vv. 3-14) will be received, a feature common to other ancient Near Eastern lists of blessing. However, in other similar lists it is typically the king whose honor is primary, not the honor of the particular god involved, as is the case of Israel…However, mixed with the blessings for Israel from her God is a clear recognition and realization that she is his holy people…This overarching theological concept is not paralleled in the blessings of other ancient Near Eastern treaties.”

        • If you faithfully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all of His commands that I am giving to you today, He will put you above all the nations of the earth. If you obey the Lord your God, you will experience the following blessings:

          • HCSB notes what some see as a contradiction here in verse 1, “This verse appears to suggest that Israel’s place of preeminence in God’s program depends on obedience to Him, whereas other texts (cp. Deuteronomy 4:34; 7:6; 10:15) make it unconditional. This apparent discrepancy disappears when it is recognized that, though the Lord’s choice of Israel as His covenant partner was an act of His love and grace alone (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; cp. Hosea 11:1), but her ability to be blessed and prosper in that relationship depended on loyal obedience.”

          • I love the way Guzik articulates this concept, “The word ‘if’ looms large. In this chapter, Moses exhorted the nation with choice. The covenant God made with Israel contained three major features: The law, the sacrifice, and the choice. The idea behind the choice is that God was determined to reveal Himself to the world through Israel. He would do this either by making them so blessed that 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.”

        • You will be blessed both in the city and in the country; your descendants and your crops will be blessed; the offspring of your herds and flocks will be blessed; your baskets and kneading bowls will be blessed; wherever you go you will be blessed.

        • The Lord will conquer the enemies that attack you. They’ll march against you from one direction, but will run away from you in seven directions.

          • The Lord will bless you in everything you do. Your storehouses will be blessed. He will bless you in the land that He has given to you.

          • If you obey the commands the Lord has given to you and walk in His ways, then He will establish you as His holy people just as He swore He would do.

          • Guzik makes this important note, “Perhaps the best blessing had to do with Israel’s own relationship with God. God would separate an obedient Israel unto Himself, speaking of a special relationship. If not for this, all the material blessings described previously would be empty.”

          • Then all the people all over the earth will see that you are called by the Lord’s name and they will stand in awe of you.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “When the nations saw the blessings of Israel, they would know that it had happened because you are a people claimed by the Lord (literally the name of the Lord is called over you). When the nations saw Israel, they would think of the Lord and his faithfulness.”

          • Guzik notes, “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).”

          • The Lord will make you prosperous in the land that He swore to your fathers He would give to you by blessing you with many children, your livestock will produce many offspring, and your soil will produce crops abundantly.

          • The Lord will open His abundant treasury in the heavens, sending rain at the proper times and blessing all the work you do.

        • You will make loans to many nations, but never need to borrow from them.

          • HCSB adds, “The promise that Israel would lend but not borrow is not in the form of a commandment or prohibition; it is a promise of Israel’s future prosperity through obedience to God, whose blessing will make Israel the envy of the nations of the world.”

        • If you listen to the Lord’s commands that I am giving to you today and carefully obey them, the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, you’ll always be at the top and never on the bottom.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “If Israel obeyed the terms of the covenant, it would lead the nations and not be subject to them.”

        • Do not turn away from any of the things I am commanding you today, and do not follow and worship other gods.

Curses for Disobedience

          • The curses portion of the covenant is considerably larger than the blessings portion. The NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The curses receive more emphasis than the blessings, perhaps because people naturally pay more attention to promises than to warnings- promised blessings in the future can easily be understood as providing well-being, whereas judgment is more abstract and needs detailed, graphic description. God emphasizes the curses to drive home the consequences of wrongdoing. These warnings were very much in line with Jesus’ warnings about things to come (Matthew 24-25).”

        • However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all of His commands and statutes I am giving to you today, the following curses will overcome you:

          • You will be cursed both in the city and in the country; your baskets and kneading bowls will be cursed; your descendants and your crops will be cursed; the offspring of your herds and your flocks will be cursed; wherever you go you will be cursed.

          • HCSB writes, “The curse for covenant disobedience will be so severe and comprehensive that it will negatively impact all aspects of national life.”

        • The Lord will send curses, confusion, and will rebuke everything you do until you are quickly and completely destroyed because of the evil things that you have done and for abandoning Me.

A print from the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations in the possession of Revd. Philip De Vere at St. George’s Court, Kidderminster, England.
          • The HCSB clarifies, “The perishing of Israel must be understood in terms of her removal from the land (which is clear from v. 21), not a final and ultimate annihilation. That would contradict God’s covenant promises elsewhere (Genesis 17:7, 13; Psalms 105:9-10).”

        • The Lord will afflict you with persistent diseases until you have been exterminated from the land you are entering to occupy. The Lord will strike you with wasting diseases, fevers, inflammation, scorching heat and drought, and blight and mildew. These will follow you until you die.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The diseases that afflict (or cling to) Israel would be chronic, not releasing their hold until the nation had succumbed.”

        • The sky above you will be bronze and the earth beneath you iron. The Lord will change the rain that falls on your land into powder that will fall on you from the sky until you’re destroyed.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “In this graphic picture of drought and famine, the sky dams up the rain, making the earth hard and unfruitful. The only thing even resembling rain would be the swirling dust that coats everything to suffocation.”

          • Sometimes passages such as these are cited to mock individuals who believe that the Bible should generally be understood literally. However, this is what is known as a “straw man” argument in that most individuals who hold to this view do not argue that all passages should be taken literally, but rather literately. HCSB includes this apt response, “Such figures (of speech) should not be taken as evidence that the OT as a whole speaks in figurative language. A passage’s context always contains clues that make it clear when figures are being employed.”

        • The Lord will cause you to be defeated by your enemies. You’ll march against them from one direction, but run away from them in seven directions.

        • You will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on the earth. Your dead bodies will be eaten by the scavenging birds and wild animals in the land and no one will scare them away.

          • HCSB makes the following note regarding the curses in the verse above (v. 26) and following, “The curses listed here and in the following verses are stated in graphic and, no doubt, hyperbolic terms to emphasize the enormity of Israel’s sin and the punishment that must ensue, should she prove unfaithful. These punishments did not all take place, nor did they occur at all times, though the Bible records many examples of their fulfillment. They are representative of the kinds of judgments Israel could expect is she were to be disobedient to God’s covenant.”

          • The Lord will afflict you with incurable boils of Egypt, tumors, festering sores, and itching. He’ll also afflict you with madness, blindness, and mental confusion. At the height of daylight you’ll grope around like a blind man in the dark. Nothing you do will be successful. You’ll be continuously robbed and oppressed and no one will help you.

        • You’ll become engaged to a woman, but she will be raped by another man. You’ll build a house, but you’ll never get to live in it. You’ll plant a vineyard, but never get to enjoy its fruit. You’ll witness your own ox being butchered, but not get to eat any of it. Your donkey will be taken away and you’ll never get it back. Your enemies will take away your flocks, and no one will help you. You’ll watch your children be taken by other peoples as slaves and you’ll be powerless to prevent it. People you don’t know will eat the produce from the crops you worked so hard to grow. You’ll suffer continuous oppression. You’ll be driven to madness by the tragedy that you see all around you. The Lord will afflict you with painful, incurable boils from the soles of your feet to the top of your head.

          • HCSB notes, “These curses are, in part, the reversal of what would befall the corrupt Canaanites in Israel’s occupation of the land (Deuteronomy 30:19). That curses such as these would befall the guilty by no means justifies their propriety, morally or legally. These are not a reflection of the character of God, but reveal what can occur when He permits such human actions as instruments of His judgment.”

        • The Lord will exile you and the king that you appoint to a nation that neither you nor your ancestors knew of. In these lands you’ll worship other gods, wood and stone. You’ll be an object of horror, scorn, and ridicule to all the people in the lands the Lord has driven you to.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “This prediction had two major fulfillments in OT times- the Assyrian exile of Sumeria in 722 BC and the Babylonian conquest and exile of Jerusalem in 586 BC.”

          • You will plant a lot, but harvest very little because locusts will eat all your crops. You will plant and tend vineyards, but you won’t drink wine or eat grapes because the worms will eat them. You’ll have olive trees throughout your land, but not have any olive oil because the olives will fall off the trees before they ripen. You will have children, but you’ll lose them because they will be taken away into captivity. Swarming insects will take over all your trees and crops.

          • The foreigners who live among you will rise higher and higher above you while you sink lower and lower. They will make loans to you, but you won’t make loans to them. They will be the head, and you will be the tail.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “In God’s day of judgment, those regarded as the weakest and most vulnerable elements of Israelite society (foreigners living among them, see Deuteronomy 29:11) would dominate. Rather than Israel’s leading the nations, the reverse would be true when God punishes his people (see Deuteronomy 28:13).”

        • If you don’t obey the Lord your God and keep the commands and statutes He gave you, all of these curses will come upon you, follow you, and overwhelm you until you’re destroyed. These curses will be both a sign and a wonder against you and your descendants forever. If you don’t serve the Lord your God with a joyful and cheerful heart for the abundance of everything that you receive, you’ll serve the enemies that the Lord will send against you in famine, thirst, nakedness, and have nothing. The Lord will put an oppressing iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.

          • Will this curse really be levied upon Israel forever? The HCSB makes an important note about the Hebrew word commonly translated into English as “forever.” Frankly, this fact has implications throughout the OT that should be reflected upon, “An everlasting curse on Israel would appear contrary to the promise elsewhere that Israel would enjoy unending blessing (cp. Genesis 17:7, 13; Psalms 105: 9-10). The Hebrew phrase A.D. ‘olam, however, need not be understood to mean ‘forever’ in the cosmic sense. It can be understood as a ‘rhetorical Hebraism,’ with the sense of ‘a very long period of time.’”

        • The Lord will bring a distant nation from the end of the earth against you. A nation of people who speak a language you don’t understand. This ruthless nation will swoop down upon you like an eagle. They’ll show no respect for the old and no pity for the young. They’ll devour the offspring of your livestock and the produce of your crops until you’re destroyed. They’ll leave you no grain, new wine, olive oil, or offspring from your herds and flocks and you’ll starve to death. They will lay siege to your cities until all your high and fortified walls that you trust to protect you come falling down all throughout your land. They will lay siege to all the cities in the land the Lord your God has given to you.

        • The siege imposed upon you will be so severe you will resort to eating your own children. The most gentle and sensitive man among you will look wickedly at his own brother, wife, and surviving children, refusing to share with them the flesh he is eating- the flesh of his own child- because there is nothing else to eat. The most gentle and sensitive woman among you, who in the past would not even have walked barefoot on the dirt, will be selfish to the husband and children she loves. She’ll hide from them the afterbirth and new baby she has given birth to and secretly eat them because there is nothing else to eat.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “This horrific scenario depicts a mother so hungry as to eat a human placenta and the new baby she has borne.”

          • These verses are nothing short of horrifying. HCSB notes, “The allegation that resorting to cannibalism reflects a primitive ethic not worthy of ‘high religion’ or a ‘cultured people’ fails to understand that this gruesome practice is hardly being sanctioned here. The point is exactly the opposite; consuming one’s offspring is so out of keeping with civilized behavior that it provides a shocking example of the result of covenant disobedience. In the reign of Jehoram, a faithless king of Israel, an incident of this kind did occur during a famine brought about by siege (2 Kings 6:25-29).”

        • If you do not carefully obey all the words of the law written in this book and fear this glorious and awesome name- Yahweh- He will afflict you and your descendants with extraordinary plagues. Plagues of intense and chronic sicknesses- the diseases of Egypt which you feared so much- will cling to you. The Lord will also afflict you with sicknesses and plagues not mentioned in this book of law, until you are destroyed. Even though you had become as numerous as the stars of the sky, only a few of you will survive if you don’t obey the Lord your God.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The context suggests that all the words of instruction (literally all the words of this torah) refers to the entire book of Deuteronomy, in which lists of blessings and curses were a major part.”

        • Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosperous and numerous, so will He be pleased to destroy you. You will be deported from the land you are entering to possess. The Lord will scatter you among all the nations from one end of the earth to the other where you will worship gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known- even wood and stone.

          • HCSB makes these notable clarifications:

            • The threat that disobedient Israel will be left few in number does not contradict verses 61 and 63 which appear to teach that the nation will suffer total destruction. The language is that of hyperbole, intentional overstatement designed to drive home a point. The end of verse 63 makes clear that the destruction is removal from the land into exile.”

            • ‘From one end of the earth to the other’ must not be understood in modern terms, that is, worldwide. The idea has to be seen in the historical and geographical context of the time of the text when the known world was essentially the eastern Mediterranean, northern Egypt, and Mesopotamia. Moreover, the Hebrew word ‘erets more properly means ‘land,’ not ‘earth’ (the globe). In these terms, the curse was fulfilled in the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles.”

        • You will not find any peace or rest among these nations. The Lord will cause your heart to tremble, your eyesight to fail, and your soul to despair. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread all day and night, always fearing for you life. In the morning you’ll say, “I wish it were night!” and at night you’ll say, “I wish it were morning!” because your heart will be filled with terror by the sights you see around you.

        • The Lord will send you back to Egypt in ships by a route I said you’d never see again. There you will offer to sell yourselves to your enemies as slaves, but no one will buy you.

          • Guzik comments on the fulfullment of this verse, “In this siege of Jerusalem hunger became so great that many tried to escape the walls and forage for food. Five hundred or more were captured and crucified daily. ‘The soldiers out of rage and hatred amused themselves by nailing their prisoners in different postures; and so great was their numbers, that space could not be found for the crosses nor crosses for the bodies.’ (War 5.451) More than 600,000 died from starvation, and their dead bodies were dumped over the walls of the city. In total more that a million died and 97,000 were captured, with most of the captives being shipped as slaves to Egypt. The promise of Deuteronomy 28:68 was tragically fulfilled: you shall be offered for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you. This happened as too many Jewish slaves glutted the Egyptian slave market, and no one could buy all the available slaves.”

          • Guzik also calls our attention to this important fact, “Gloriously, the curse was not and is not the end of God’s plan for the Jewish people. As Ezekiel 37 describes, God will – and has begun to – revive the Jewish people as back from the dead and prepare them to be used in these last days. God is not done with Israel, and the curse will not be their final legacy.”