SynopsisIn the last passage, Moses outlined to the Israelites all of the blessings that God would bestow on them, if they would follow His commands and obey Him. But what if they don’t? In this passage, he outlines to them the curses that God will curse them with, if they don’t obey Him.
There isn’t much preamble in this passage; Moses just jumps right into the curses. If the Israelites don’t obey the LORD, then…
- God will curse all of the Israelites, in the city and in the country
- He will curse their basket and their kneading trough. Just as in the last passage, I’m not 100% sure what God means by this; is it in reference to their crops?
- God will curse the crops, the livestock, and the fruit of the Israelites’ wombs. (I don’t know if this means that they won’t be able to have children, or will only bear sickly children, or what.)
- He will curse them when they “come in” and when they “go out” (verse 19)
- If the Israelites obey God, he promised to bless everything they put their hands to. But if they disobey Him…
The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. The LORD will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess. The LORD will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. The LORD will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed. (verses 20–24)
Quite the poetry!
- They will be defeated by their enemies. In the last passage, God had promised that Israel’s enemies would come at them from one direction, but flee in seven; in this passage, God tells the Israelites that if they don’t obey Him, they will be the ones fleeing from their enemies in seven directions. That they will, in fact, become “a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth” (verse 25). Not only will the Israelites be defeated, but their carcasses will just be lying around as food for the birds and animals, and there won’t be anyone to shoo those animals away!
- God will afflict the Israelites with boils, and tumors, and itching diseases, and they won’t be curable. (In fact, in verse 27, it doesn’t just say that God will afflict them with boils, but with “the boils of Egypt”—He will give them the same punishment He gave the Egyptians!)
- God will afflict them with “madness, blindness and confusion of mind” (verse 28). They will grope about like blind people, even at midday.
- They will be unsuccessful in everything they do, and they will be oppressed and robbed, but there won’t be anyone to help them.
- Everything the Israelites have will be taken from them:
You will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and ravish her. You will build a house, but you will not live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you will not even begin to enjoy its fruit. Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will eat none of it. Your donkey will be forcibly taken from you and will not be returned. Your sheep will be given to your enemies, and no one will rescue them. Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation, and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand. A people that you do not know will eat what your land and labor produce, and you will have nothing but cruel oppression all your days. The sights you see will drive you mad. The LORD will afflict your knees and legs with painful boils that cannot be cured, spreading from the soles of your feet to the top of your head. (verses 30–35)
- The Israelites and their king—note that it’s already assumed that the Israelites will set up a king for themselves—will be taken into captivity into a foreign land, and not only be in captivity, but will fall into worship of the other nation’s idols.
- Verse 37 says: “You will become a thing of horror and an object of scorn and ridicule to all the nations where the LORD will drive you.”
- They will sow lots of seed for their crops, but won’t harvest much, because of locusts. They will plant their vineyards, but not harvest many grapes, because worms will destroy them. They won’t get many olives from their olive trees, because the olives will simply fall off. They will have sons and daughters, but they won’t keep them because they’ll be taken into captivity. Any other types of trees or crops will be destroyed by locusts.
- Aliens living within Israel will rise up higher and higher, while the Israelites themselves will sink lower and lower. The aliens will lend to the Israelites, but the Israelites won’t lend to the aliens. The alien will be “the head,” and the Israelites “the tail” (verse 44).
After announcing all of these curses, Moses stops to take a breather, and remind the Israelites why this is necessary:
All these curses will come upon you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the LORD your God and observe the commands and decrees he gave you. They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. Because you did not serve the LORD your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the LORD sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you. (verses 45–48)
After this, Moses goes on to talk about some more curses. It seems that the curses mentioned above are meant as a first warning; if the Israelites still don’t obey God, then He will bring a second wave of curses:
- He will send a nation from far away, whose language the Israelites won’t even understand, to attack them. This nation will be “fierce-looking,” and will have no respect for young or old (verse 50).
- This attacking nation will confiscate all that the Israelites own; their livestock, their crops, their grain, their wine, their oil, everything. They will then lay siege to the Israelites’ cities, and tear down the walls.
Verse 52a is interesting: “They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down.” The phrase I find interesting is “the high fortified walls in which you trust”—God is predicting that the Israelites are going to stop trusting Him, and trust in their walls, instead. In the works of their own hands.
- How bad will these sieges be? So bad that the Israelites will run out of food, and turn to cannibalism to survive!
- Men—even “gentle and sensitive” men (verse 54)—will be so consumed with their hunger that they’ll eat their children, and not even share any of the flesh with their wives and other children.
- Similarly, women—even a woman who is “so sensitive and gentle that she would not venture to touch the ground with the sole of her foot”—will give birth, and hide the afterbirth from her husband and children, so that she can eat it in secret, and not share it with them.
Moses ends the passage with this summary:
If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name—the LORD your God—the LORD will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses. He will bring upon you all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will cling to you. The LORD will also bring on you every kind of sickness and disaster not recorded in this Book of the Law, until you are destroyed. You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey the LORD your God. Just as it pleased the LORD to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess.
Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods—gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. In the morning you will say, “If only it were evening!” and in the evening, “If only it were morning!”—because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see. The LORD will send you back in ships to Egypt on a journey I said you should never make again. There you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.
That last piece gets me; it’s not just that they’ll be reduced to slavery, but they’ll be so forsaken that they won’t even be desirable slaves.
ThoughtsIf you look closely, you’ll see that this passage, in which Moses tells the Israelites all of the curses that they will receive if they don’t obey the LORD, is almost four times as long as the last passage, in which he recounted to them the blessings they would receive if they followed the LORD’s commands. I don’t know how significant that is, except that it’s probably because the LORD knows the human heart; it’s not enough for us to know the benefits of following Him, we also have to understand the serious consequences of not following Him.
Not surprisingly, all of the curses mentioned in this chapter actually came true, for the Israelites. They didn’t follow the LORD as they should have, and He eventually took away their prosperity, then took away their nation, and sent them into captivity in other nations.
I hope, if anyone is reading this other than me, that they are reading the actual passages in the Bible, and not just what I’m writing. Especially for passages like this; surprisingly, for a passage full of curses, there is some wonderful poetry in here.