Deuteronomy 28: Don't Reject 'Me'
Updated: Jan 19, 2020
Deuteronomy 28 - Don’t Reject ‘Me’
This week we’re going to focus purely on Deuteronomy 28 which stipulates the infamous blessings and curses. These are inherent in God’s covenant and his Torah. Deuteronomy 28 therefore is a fascinating read.
It contains two sections; the blessings and the curses (duh!). Like all parts of the Torah there’s a rhyme to its reason and a clear structure which can be seen when inspected. For Deuteronomy 28 it goes a little something like this;
There are 7 blessings followed by 7 actions which God will take to prosper Israel.
There are 7 curses which are likewise followed by 7 actions which God will take to bring about the curses onto Israel.
The curses are almost verbatim the reverse of the blessings.
The promises and threats are arranged with chiastic structuring (which gets a wee bit complicated).
Following the blessings and curses there’s a further 38 verses. These describe the consequence of the curses and all the afflictions that will befall Israel should it transgress the covenant with God.
In light of the structure of Deuteronomy 28 scholars debate whether or not this chapter was written as a single unit or pieced together and edited over hundreds of years. Most critical scholars tend to argue that this chapter, and in fact much of the Torah, was edited and redacted during the time of the Babylonian exile (…I know right…).
We now know however that ‘blessings and curses’ such as these are common within the ancient world and that these are expected as part of any ancient treaty document. (For those that remain unaware, the literary framework of the Torah coincides with treaty documents from the ancient world). Why do you care? Because in the ancient mind they would have seen the Torah as God’s ‘treaty’ between His people, Israel. In fact, the layout of the Torah follows what fancy pant scholars call a ‘Suzerain/Vassal’ treaty i.e. an agreement between a King (who is God) and His inferiors (who is Israel). At the end of such of treaty we always find the blessings and curses for keeping or breaking that agreement. In ancient documents the curses always far outnumber the written blessings as it does here in Deuteronomy. What this means is that the Torah is written in a manner consistent with its time and therefore leaves no need for people to debate whether or not it was written by a single author or not.
So, I like history which is why that’s interesting. But the Torah isn’t just history, its’ God’s laws for Israel and the way of life which our Messiah taught and lived. It’s also God’s greatest self disclosure to humanity and the sages rightly teach that by the Torah God created humanity, which is something I want you to consider.
What? Yes, the sages teach that God created the universe via the Torah. The story (which is a parable) goes like this. God, like an architect, consulted His ‘building plan’ and according to that plan He set out to create the universe. The ‘building plan’ they say is the written Torah. Obviously, in saying this the sages are not intending you to take it literally but they’re getting at a very true and fascinating point.
It’s something like this. The Torah is not our law, its God’s law. If its God’s law, if it’s the means in which He judges humanity etc., then the Torah should be correctly viewed as not just how we live, but how God lives. The sages say;
Midrash Rabbah (Shemot p. 355)
The ways of God differ from those of man; whereas man directs others to do a thing whilst he does nothing, God only tells Israel to do and observe those things which He himself does.
If the Torah is how He also lives, which is true and can be inferred by many places in the Bible; and if He sustains the universe; then the Torah probably has a far greater impact on reality that what we realise. I say that knowing you’ve read the blessings and curses and that you’ve no doubt personalized them to your own life. Well, good on you, you’ve every right to do that and you will be blessed and cursed accordingly. That said, on a broader scale, what we consider to be ‘natural law’ is no different with God’s law; it (being the Torah) determines how reality operates and is something that exists in the same sense as ‘natural law’ in that it is an eternal constant. We assume that gravity is constant and has always existed; well, it’s the same with Torah, it’s eternal, it’s God’s identity and if He’s sustaining reality, then the Torah teaches a thing or two about how reality operates. Torah then, is a sort of natural/universal law that governs the very universe.
That is a big deal. For Deuteronomy 28 though I want you to take that understanding, that Torah governs reality and is constant, and apply that to the blessings and curses. The blessing then can be conceptualized as not so much as reward (as per some sort of prosperity teaching) but the natural consequence for obedience with God: and likewise the curse. God is not bent on punishing you: you simply reap the natural consequence for your actions. If you jump in the air, gravity, will see you back down to world and no one would blame it; same same with the curses. If you sin the curse follows. Don’t take it personally; it’s just the constant fact and rule of reality.
The Kingdom of God
Torah is the rule of the Kingdom of God. In fact, Messiah had the blessings in mind when He said that ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’. The blessings here aren’t given with a late time frame in mind; they’re given as part of the Torah no different to the rest of it and can be lived and experienced at any time. In light of that Yeshua’s message was one of repentance. The blessings can be lived here and now, but so too can the curses.
Unfortunately, the curses read as a sort of predictive history of the nation of Israel. They speak of exile and prophesy and of exactly what has become of us.
Yeshua referenced these things when he said;
Matthew 23:36 (NKJV)
36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
And indeed they did. Our curses say;
Deuteronomy 28:49 (NKJV)
49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand
And the Roman eagle surely did descend and bring about the curses prophesied of in Deuteronomy 28 and by Yeshua.
We have seen all the curses fulfilled and they continue to be fulfilled. We have suffered sickness, famine, military defeat, slavery and more. Even Josephus records that Israel has ‘eaten the fruit of its body (Deuteronomy 28:53); we have seen the worst of the curses.
Perhaps due to the severity of the curse the Targum Yonatan says;
When Moses began to cite the words of the reproof, the earth shook, the heavens trembled, the sun and moon darkened, the stars lost their shine, the forefathers cried out from their graves, the creatures became silent and the branches of the trees no longer swayed…
In synagogues today people avoid the honor of publically reading the Torah due to fear of having to read the curses. Congregations read the curses quietly, others skip it all together.
In the Targum the patriarchs call out and the story continues;
‘woe to our children should they sin and bring these maledictions upon themselves; for how will they bear them if destruction be executed on them, and no merit of ours protect them and there be no man to stand and intercede on their behalf!’ Then the voice of God spoke from the high heavens and said, ‘fear not, ye fathers of the world. If the merit of all generations should fail, yours shall not; and the covenant which I have confirmed with you shall not be annulled but will continue to protect them’.
Some people might shrug off the ‘dumb’ story of the sages. But please note that the Targums were used in the synagogues in Messiah’s day and as before the Midrash is not a literal one but something which conveys a profound truth.
Here, the patriarchs fear the destruction of Israel due to the weight of the curses and yet God responds and affirms the covenant He made with them. The sages are teaching that the covenant of Abraham is still in effect and is still relevant for the children of Israel. That’s profound especially because Abraham’s covenant promises the coming of Messiah and was a covenant where Abraham was accounted as righteous due to his faith. Therefore, there are curses in the world, but the path to be saved is still one that relies solely on faith.
A man, who I’m sure you’ve heard of, called Paul, wrote about this and affirms this Jewish belief;
Galatians 3:16–18 (NKJV)
16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. 18 For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
Just as real as the curses are so is the covenant of faith which God made with Abraham. You are therefore sealed and declared righteous not by your actions, but by God Himself who promised it to His children. Your salvation cannot be earned by Torah; it is a promise and gift of God. This teaches an important lesson of Torah observance. We do it because we love the Lord, because we want blessing and not the curse. We don’t observe it to earn our salvation.
Forget About It
Speaking of Paul and curses, he famously quoted Deuteronomy and said;
Galatians 3:10 (NKJV)
10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”
James also famously said;
James 2:10 (NKJV)
10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.
Somehow these verses are interpreted like this.
‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’, everyone sins, and anyone who attempts to keep the Torah is therefore cursed and should therefore abandon any idea about observing the Torah’s commandments. Apparently all it does is bring curses upon you. Somehow this also means that the person keeping the Torah is not relying on faith but their works and will perish and probably go to hell.
Now this reasoning is fun. Apparently, Moses delivered 27 chapters of admonitions to keep the Torah and then concluded that if you break a single commandment, you are under the curse and there’s just no point in continuing.
It’s stupid and illogical.
Hear me out. When James wrote his epistle he did so in the decade before the destruction of the Temple. Zealots were at it big time during his day and they demanded strict adherence to Torah law but did so whilst executing Romans and any Jew they deemed to be a baddy (history, according to Jason). In fact, a lot of people and sects behaved this way where they fought, schemed and murdered their way into history whilst demanding religious Torah observance. In James’ day the Zealots had just assassinated a High Priest they thought was colluding with Rome (he probably was). In fact, read your history. The context to the 1st century will shock you with just how hectic and bloody it was.
My point though is that James was not making some kind of modern Christian interpretation of Torah observance; he was rebuking people for their murderous and hypocritical acts. Let’s try quoting James again;
James 2:8–13 (NKJV)
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
In other words, James was teaching that you could not ignore certain commandments. In his example, a murderer would not be exonerated of murder simply because he was a good monogamous husband. Adultery attracted the death penalty and that transgression had you just as dead no matter how much other Torah you observed. One fulfillment of the Torah does not outweigh another transgression and in the case of the Zealots, who James is believed to be referencing; their scrupulous adherence to the law does not excuse their acts of murder.
It’s not to say, you’re all cursed if you try to keep the Torah so don’t even bother.
Don’t be stupid.
Paul’s point is same same but different and again we need a little of context. Paul is addressing gentiles seeking to convert and the issue at hand is that of salvation. Paul’s message to them was that if they were to keep the Torah that they would then have to keep the whole Torah. There is no cherry picking with the commandments. Paul also taught that salvation is given as a gift and that it does not need to be earned via Torah observance. His opponents at the time taught that by virtue of becoming Jewish that you would be saved. Paul warned people that if they relied on being Jewish for salvation instead of faith that they would forfeit God’s grace (and the promise) and put their own souls in jeopardy;
Galatians 5:2–5 (The Scriptures)
2 See, I, Sha’ul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Messiah shall be of no use to you.
3 And I witness again to every man being circumcised that he is a debtor to do the entire Torah.
4 You who are declared right by Torah have severed yourselves from Messiah, you have fallen from favour.
5 For we, in Spirit, by belief, eagerly wait for the expectation of righteousness.
Please note that the translation can be rendered ‘if you receive circumcision’. Various translations I’ve read say ‘if you get circumcised’ but in the Hebraic mindset they’re not really talking about the act of circumcision as is the clear understanding and insertion of the translators. ‘The circumcision’ was a group of people in that time who believed you had to be Jewish in order to be saved. The discussion is far broader than just the act of circumcision.
At any rate, the curses and blessings again are not inherent factors in who is saved and who is not saved. You can be very much saved and receive a curse. Salvation is through faith. The curses are the natural consequence for your actions and Paul and James did not teach that if you fail one of the commandments that you should basically give up. The same men also spoke very glowingly of acts and of Torah observance. He wasn’t called ‘James the Righteous’ in a Jewish society for no reason.
Let’s get back to the good stuff; and there is nothing better than the Messiah Himself.
Now we’ve mentioned how Messiah referenced these words. His understanding of Torah and the ever present blessings and curses influenced His call to repentance. He did not wish to see His people suffer the consequence of the curses and He sought to see people experience the blessings that abide with God.
As before, understanding that the Torah applies to God helps us understand that these prophecies in fact prophesy of the Messiah. It might be somewhat controversial but Messiah does have a unity with Israel in many ways in Torah and the blessings and curses here describe not only Israel’s history in a sense, but also Messiahs.
One example of what I’m getting at is exile. As Israel has been exiled, so too has the Messiah and today He, for the most part, is not recognised amongst His people but recognized amongst the nations.
Deuteronomy 28:36 (NKJV)
36 “The Lord will bring you and the king whom you set over you to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known…
And as Messiah himself says;
Matthew 28:20 (NKJV)
20 … I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
Even the exile of the Holy Spirit is alluded to;
Deuteronomy 28:30 (NKJV)
30 “You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall lie with her; you shall build a house, but you shall not dwell in it; you shall plant a vineyard, but shall not gather its grapes.
The wife is His bride (Isaiah 54:5) violated as it has been over the centuries, the vineyard is the nation of Israel (Isaiah 5:7) which has been left barren and the house is the Temple, the house of God which now is empty and destroyed.
With this prophetic/messianic framework we could go on and make the connections.
Thankfully though, for every traumatic curse and prophecy there is a promise of God’s redemption. Some examples;
1. The violated wife will remember her reproach no more, ‘for your husband is your maker’ (Isaiah 54:5) and ‘it will no longer be said to you, ‘forsaken’, nor to your land will it no longer be said ‘desolate’, but you will be called ‘my delight is in her’ and your land, ‘married’, for YHWH delights in you and to him your land will be married’ (Isaiah 62:4).
2. God will again build and dwell in His house;
Ezekiel 43:7 (NKJV)
7 … this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever…
3. Our ‘sons and daughters shall be given to another people’ (Deuteronomy 28:32) and;
Isaiah 49:21–22 (NKJV)
21 … you will say in your heart,
‘Who has begotten these for me,
Since I have lost my children and am desolate,
A captive, and wandering to and fro?
And who has brought these up?
There I was, left alone;
But these, where were they?’ ”
22 Thus says the Lord God:
“Behold, I will lift My hand in an oath to the nations,
And set up My standard for the peoples;
They shall bring your sons in their arms,
And your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders;
That God will bless and redeem us in the end is only possible through Messiah.
Indeed, the curses allude to His death for our sake. Deuteronomy 28:29 says ‘you will grope at noon, as the blind man gropes in the darkness’. On the day of our Master’s death the sun was darkened at noon;
Matthew 27:45 (NKJV)
45 Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.
The prophet Amos correlates the curse of ‘groping at noon’ with the death of a firstborn son;
Amos 8:9–10 (NKJV)
9 “And it shall come to pass in that day,” says the Lord God,
“That I will make the sun go down at noon,
And I will darken the earth in broad daylight;
10 I will turn your feasts into mourning,
And all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on every waist,
And baldness on every head;
I will make it like mourning for an only son,
And its end like a bitter day.
As with all curses though; the Bible promises that it will all come good.
In the case of Messiah our portion says ‘your donkey shall be torn away from you…’ The donkey has always been associated with Messiah and so it is written;
Zechariah 9:9 (NKJV)
9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.
He is the one our patriarchs called out to as the ‘man to stand and intercede’ for us. The one who ‘was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due’ (Isaiah 53:8).
As always, Messiah is central to the Torah and the resolution of all things. Where there is blessing, there is unity with Yeshua. Where there is curse, there is His redemption; by the blood of our Master and King who bore our curse, paid the price that we could be redeemed, and who is with us even to the ends of the age. He is the King exiled with His people, He is with you always
Moses says an interesting thing in 28:20;
Deuteronomy 28:20 (NKJV)
20 “The Lord will send on you cursing, confusion, and rebuke in all that you set your hand to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, because of the wickedness of your doings in which you have forsaken Me.
He says not that you will be cursed for your rejection of God in this verse, but that we would be cursed for forsaking ‘me’ i.e. for forsaking Moses.
How can Moses say such a thing? That Israel would be cursed for forsaking him, a mere man?
Moses, here spoke as if he was God’s equivalent and he's in fact alluding to the unity that exists between God and Messiah. The allusion is Messiah whom Moses represents.
So, those who reject the author of the Torah, the source of all life, Yeshua, do so to their own demise. Herein lay the crux of the message;
Do not forsake the Messiah. Not ever. Do not forsake your redeemer.