Mark Twain famously noted that it wasn’t the parts of the Bible he didn’t understand that brought him grief—it was the parts he did understand! I think that’s the case with the section of Scripture in Deuteronomy 28-30. There’s not much that’s vague, ambiguous, or cryptic—it’s all very straightforward: Follow God and be blessed; forsake God and be cursed. It’s the details—especially the cursing details that makes our hair stand on end. 

There’s “curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to” (v. 20). There’s promise of diseases (v. 21), and dead bodies becoming food for wild animals (v. 26).  There is “madness, blindness and confusion of mind” where you grope about “like a blind person in the dark” (v. 28-29). Then when you don’t think it can get any worse, there’s pain that comes to you through the pain of others as in v. 30 where you’re pledged to be married to a woman and she is raped. And that’s before you get to the cannibalism part (v. 53ff). 

This the kind of head shaking, spirit numbing, inscrutable stuff we associate with something like the Holocaust—not God judging His people. But there it is, sounding more like something out of Revelation than Deuteronomy. Daniel Block notes, “When heard orally, these curses create terror in the mind of the hearer.” Fair enough, but they don’t make for any better reading! 

As is always the case, context is important. As harsh as these words might sound to our 21st century ears, it is helpful to remind ourselves that they were not written to us—they were written for a different set of ears—ones not nearly as sensitized and sanitized as ours. In fact, the curse format was something common in ANE treaties (Grisanti, Deuteronomy, Expositor’s Bible Commentary). To that end, the curses were written in a manner and style that was quite familiar to Israel. It’s unlikely they flinched as we do at the reciting of them.  

It’s worth noting that these curses weren’t disbursed the first time Israel strayed from God. You can read through the record and see they were parceled out over decades and centuries—after more warnings and pleadings from the prophets. These punishments culminated in the Assyrian (752-721 BC) and Babylonian invasions (605-586 BC). In all, the curses were given out over almost a millennium (see 2 Peter 3:8-9). God gave His people plenty of time and opportunity to repent!

The curses were a reversal of the blessings. God was no longer with them, they went from victor to victim in relation to the other nations, their land was taken from them. All of this is the unraveling that occurs when we reject God. It is a reminder of what a terrible thing it is to spurn Him and how seriously God takes our decisions (Brueggemann). 

“It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” (Hebrews 10:31).



Published by A Taste of Grace with Bruce Green

I grew up the among the cotton fields, red clay and aerospace industry of north Alabama. My wife and I are blessed with three adult children and five grandchildren.

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