This chapter is about the government of God over His people. When there is faithfulness there is blessing for the whole people. When there is unfaithfulness there is curse and there are disasters and plagues for the whole people. The blessing contains only fourteen verses, while the curse is widely reported in no less than fifty-four verses. In a long speech Moses unfolds the blessing and curse: blessing when there is obedience to the law and curse when there is disobedience to the law. Here he takes up again the promises and threats of the law of Exodus 23 (Exo 23:20-33) and Leviticus 26 (Lev 26:1-39), summarizes them and expands them.
In the history of Israel there is obedience and therefore blessing only in the time of David and Solomon. For the rest, their history is one of unfaithfulness and curse. The revivals under some faithful kings have not been able to turn the final curse, because they are only temporary revivals. Here blessing and curse are national and temporary, not eternal.
God will bless the remnant of His people on the basis of the new covenant. Then he has written His law within them, and put away their sins (Jer 32:33; Eze 36:26; Heb 8:8-12). All the conditions of the new covenant have been fulfilled by the Lord Jesus.
In the history of Christianity as a whole, we do not see the people of God in a state of blessing, but of curse. That is the result of our unfaithfulness. In the Christianity, blessing and growth only occur in the beginning. Thereafter there is unfaithfulness and decline. Also in Christianity there are times of revival. But these too are phenomena without permanent effects. The general line is a descending one.
We learn this from the description of church history presented to us in the seven letters in Revelation 2-3. At each new beginning only the first phase is a time of blessing, after that the decay comes. For Christianity, there is no final recovery. It ends in the great Babylon, about which the judgment is described in Revelation 17-18.
1 - 14 The Blessing of Obedience
1 “Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the LORD your God: 3 “Blessed [shall] you [be] in the city, and blessed [shall] you [be] in the country. 4 “Blessed [shall be] the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground and the offspring of your beasts, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock. 5 “Blessed [shall be] your basket and your kneading bowl. 6 “Blessed [shall] you [be] when you come in, and blessed [shall] you [be] when you go out. 7 “The LORD shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways. 8 The LORD will command the blessing upon you in your barns and in all that you put your hand to, and He will bless you in the land which the LORD your God gives you. 9 The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, as He swore to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways. 10 So all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will be afraid of you. 11 The LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your beast and in the produce of your ground, in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give you. 12 The LORD will open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. 13 The LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you only will be above, and you will not be underneath, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I charge you today, to observe [them] carefully, 14 and do not turn aside from any of the words which I command you today, to the right or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.
The blessings that are presented to the people in these fourteen verses are subject to conditions. Only if these are met the blessing will remain. It is God’s desire to bless. He always has blessing on reserve, even if there is only limited recovery. Moses presents the blessings as powers that will follow the people closely and overtake them. The blessing concerns all areas of life (verses 3-6) and circumstances and situations of life (verses 7-14).
Verses 3-6. The blessing “in the city” represents the blessing that believers experience in the daily fellowship with each other (cf. Psa 133:1-3). By blessing “in the country” we can think of the activities each has in his own field of work. Blessed in “the offspring of your body”, points to the spiritual fruit that is there for God because of a state of faithfulness and devotion. “The produce of your ground” indicates (spiritual) food and “the offspring of your beasts, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock” indicates (spiritual) sacrifices.
The “basket”, in which the fruit of the land is put, and the “kneading bowl”, in which the daily bread is made, indicate that the blessing is processed into food for the heart. We can think of reading or listening to the explanation of the Word as food to the heart. The blessing “when you come in” and “when you go out” speaks of freedom in Christ (Jn 10:9); the whole walk is under God’s blessing.
Verses 7-14. A people living in the blessing in this way need not fear any enemies. Their safety is guaranteed. There are enemies, but they can’t do anything. Their enemies are a prey to the LORD. He delivers them defeated to His people. All they have to do is to chase them away. This is also the case with our spiritual enemies. The enemy has been defeated. We can resist the devil if we have taken up “the full armor of God” (Eph 6:13). Then the devil will flee (Jam 4:7).
The result is new blessing, an abundance of blessing, which is commanded by the LORD. “His good storehouse, the heavens” will open (cf. Job 38:22). He delivers that blessing out of His own inexhaustible fullness. He will bless the work of their hands, indicating that blessing is obtained through work. On the one hand God gives the blessing, on the other hand we have to make it our own, which means that we have to work for it (Pro 10:4).
In addition to all the personal enjoyment of the blessing, His people will be a blessing to others. From their own fullness they will be able to give others. A people who are faithful and blessed, and who distribute that blessing, will command respect. All who see this people will acknowledge that the name of the LORD is proclaimed upon them. The Name of the LORD is the revelation of His glorious Being. The head of this people will be the head of all peoples. The blessing has no end, as long as they listen to the commandments the LORD has given.
God is willing to give us also “the fulness of the blessing of Christ” (Rom 15:29). That fulness of the blessing can be found in Christ Himself, “in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). God wants us, that is, “all the saints” (Eph 3:18), to “be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19). For this we may pray, for He “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph 3:20). If only we are focused with all our hearts on the source of all blessings, on the Giver Himself, and if our only goal is to give Him “the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever” (Eph 3:21).
15 - 19 When Blessing Turns into Curse
15 “But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: 16 “Cursed [shall] you [be] in the city, and cursed [shall] you [be] in the country. 17 “Cursed [shall be] your basket and your kneading bowl. 18 “Cursed [shall be] the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock. 19 “Cursed [shall] you [be] when you come in, and cursed [shall] you [be] when you go out.
The verses that follow form a great contrast with the previous verses. It is a dramatic section full of warnings. These are prophecies that have literally been fulfilled.
The interpretation of Scripture is threefold: literally in history, prophetically in the future and the spiritual or practical application for us. It is a serious section not only for Israel, but also for us. This section is also written that we may learn from it. In Romans 11 we hear the same warning and prophecy for Christianity (Rom 11:16-24). Christianity has experienced the same. The question is: What do we do with the lesson that this section contains?
In verses 16-19, everything in which the people in verses 3-6 will be blessed by obedience is turned into a curse by disobedience. The curse runs parallel with the blessing. The curse hits them in the blessing. This is a penetrating presentation of the matter. From a spiritual point of view, we see that unfaithfulness causes the blessings to disappear – the insight in them and the enjoyment of them – and instead evil teachings come in, destroying the life of faith in every way.
20 - 26 Curse of Disease, Drought and Flight
20 “The LORD will send upon you curses, confusion, and rebuke, in all you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken Me. 21 The LORD will make the pestilence cling to you until He has consumed you from the land where you are entering to possess it. 22 The LORD will smite you with consumption and with fever and with inflammation and with fiery heat and with the sword and with blight and with mildew, and they will pursue you until you perish. 23 The heaven which is over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you, iron. 24 The LORD will make the rain of your land powder and dust; from heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed. 25 “The LORD shall cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you will go out one way against them, but you will flee seven ways before them, and you will be [an example of] terror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 26 Your carcasses will be food to all birds of the sky and to the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten [them] away.
The plagues mentioned in this and the following verses do not all affect the people at once. Every time the people sink further into disobedience, God will send other plagues to make the people return to Himself. Forsaking the LORD causes evil deeds and forces God to bring the curse upon them, until the people will have been exterminated and ruined.
The first plague mentioned is the deadly pestilence. The result is that they are swept away from the land. Before that the LORD shall strike them with seven diseases, by which they shall be persecuted and ruined. The threat is terrible, the warning penetrating. God will not only take away from them the good, but He, the LORD, will also bring evil upon them (verses 21-22).
Diseases and plagues that break out mean to us the breakout of sin, false teachings that are taught, the wrong that creeps in. There is also the loss of the good. They are deprived of the pleasure of blessing until God deprives them of the land itself. They will then be deprived of the fruits of the land; they will not know about it anymore. For us it means that we lose sight of heavenly Christendom and the place where the Lord Jesus dwells among His people and comes together with them.
Instead of a refreshing and fruit causing rain, the LORD will rain “powder and dust”. Disobedience is answered with drought in which no life is present and even the promise of life is lacking. Every hope of it is gone.
Other masters will rule over them. Those who profess to be God’s people will be ruled by the flesh and their own thinking. They will experience: “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die” (Rom 8:13a). They no longer ask for what God is interested in, but for what satisfies their own pleasures. The corpses, the dead bodies, the bodies without spirit, are prey to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts, that is to say of demonic powers.
27 - 34 Torments and Robberies
27 “The LORD will smite you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors and with the scab and with the itch, from which you cannot be healed. 28 The LORD will smite you with madness and with blindness and with bewilderment of heart; 29 and you will grope at noon, as the blind man gropes in darkness, and you will not prosper in your ways; but you shall only be oppressed and robbed continually, with none to save you. 30 You shall betroth a wife, but another man will violate her; you shall build a house, but you will not live in it; you shall plant a vineyard, but you will not use its fruit. 31 Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will not eat of it; your donkey shall be torn away from you, and will not be restored to you; your sheep shall be given to your enemies, and you will have none to save you. 32 Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and yearn for them continually; but there will be nothing you can do. 33 A people whom you do not know shall eat up the produce of your ground and all your labors, and you will never be anything but oppressed and crushed continually. 34 You shall be driven mad by the sight of what you see.
The first bundle of plagues has ended with death (verse 26). In these verses, Moses proposes a second bundle of plagues that the LORD will bring upon them. He talks about skin diseases that belong in Egypt. Then he mentions mental illnesses. They will be driven mad. Any sense of orientation will have disappeared. They will not know where they are or where to go. Their most intimate relatives and their possessions will be taken away from them. They will see it happen before their eyes, but are totally powerless to do anything against it.
35 - 37 Paralysis and Carried Away
35 The LORD will strike you on the knees and legs with sore boils, from which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head. 36 The LORD will bring you and your king, whom you set over you, to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone. 37 You shall become a horror, a proverb, and a taunt among all the people where the LORD drives you.
The diseases of verse 27 do their exhausting work in verse 35 “on the knees and legs”. Going and standing are made impossible, while there is no view of improvement. On the contrary, the disease affects their whole body. They themselves cannot do anything, but also their king, on whom they have placed their hope, cannot do anything for them (2Kgs 6:24-27). Finally, they are rejected, taken away from the promised land and brought to a foreign land. There they will serve other gods. Also in the land of their captivity they will have no rest. They will be an object of ridicule (1Kgs 9:7; Jer 24:9).
This bundle of plagues can also be seen in Christianity. Deviation from the Lord, from the Word of God, will lead to madness. The most senseless solutions are put forward to get out of a situation in which God’s people have ended up by their own unfaithfulness. Deviation from God’s Word brings hatred in the most intimate relationships. Relationships in families are broken. It happens before their eyes, but they are not able to turn the tide. Then other gods are served. Instead of returning to God and His Word, they resort to the paranormal, making them a mockery for the world.
38 - 44 The Harvest Cursed
38 “You shall bring out much seed to the field but you will gather in little, for the locust will consume it. 39 You shall plant and cultivate vineyards, but you will neither drink of the wine nor gather [the grapes], for the worm will devour them. 40 You shall have olive trees throughout your territory but you will not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives will drop off. 41 You shall have sons and daughters but they will not be yours, for they will go into captivity. 42 The cricket shall possess all your trees and the produce of your ground. 43 The alien who is among you shall rise above you higher and higher, but you will go down lower and lower. 44 He shall lend to you, but you will not lend to him; he shall be the head, and you will be the tail.
The first bundle of plagues ends with death (verse 26), the second with the exile (verse 36). In verse 38 Moses begins again with a people who are in the land amidst the blessings they possess. The curse will fall on every work they undertake to enjoy the blessing of the land – corn, wine and oil (Hag 1:9-11). God uses “the worm” and “the cricket”, among other things. Everything from which they expect any result will disappoint them terribly.
Even the idea that their descendants might then enjoy their work is not granted to them. Their children will go into captivity. Israel will become poorer and poorer, will sink further and further away. The alien is given the opportunity to rise above Israel. Israel will become dependent on the favor of aliens. Because of this, the opposite of verses 12-13 will happen.
Deviation from God and His Word never delivers what is expected of it. In contrast, God has means to ensure that the expected proceeds are lost. Despite all the effort that is made, it will not be enjoyed.
About Who the Lord Jesus – of Whom seed to the field is a picture (Jn 12:24) – is according to God’s thoughts, nothing is heard when God’s Word is replaced by a word of men. Real joy – of which the wine speaks (Jdg 9:13) – is not enjoyed if only earthly pleasure is sought. The work of the Holy Spirit – represented in the olive oil (1Jn 2:20) – does not take place when carnal means are used to obtain God’s blessing.
The descendants, which we can apply to the spiritual products, will not have a long life in the land of God. The spiritual products of own effort will end up in the world, because there they belong.
45 - 46 The Reason for the Curses
45 “So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the LORD your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you. 46 They shall become a sign and a wonder on you and your descendants forever.
These words of Moses do not yet form the conclusion of his speech, but he makes, as it were, a short break. After three bundles of threats, which are warnings not to deviate, he refers with these verses back to verse 15. There he started to denounce the curses. By reiterating it in between, he emphasizes the serious consequences of disobedience. The tone also becomes more threatening now. In verse 15 he still says: “If you do not obey the LORD your God”. Now he says: “Because you would not obey the LORD your God.”
He adds that the curses are also a sign and a wonder. They serve to amazement and dismay by their size and horror, in which the people must recognize the supernatural intervention of God. Forever, the wicked people will acknowledge the origin and righteousness of judgment. This does not alter the fact that God will not judge the whole people. God will keep His promises to make them true to a remnant to the election of grace (Isa 10:22; Rom 11:5).
47 - 57 Among the Cruelest Enemies
47 “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you. 49 “The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand, 50 a nation of fierce countenance who will have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young. 51 Moreover, it shall eat the offspring of your herd and the produce of your ground until you are destroyed, who also leaves you no grain, new wine, or oil, nor the increase of your herd or the young of your flock until they have caused you to perish. 52 It shall besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls in which you trusted come down throughout your land, and it shall besiege you in all your towns throughout your land which the LORD your God has given you. 53 Then you shall eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters whom the LORD your God has given you, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy will oppress you. 54 The man who is refined and very delicate among you shall be hostile toward his brother and toward the wife he cherishes and toward the rest of his children who remain, 55 so that he will not give [even] one of them any of the flesh of his children which he will eat, since he has nothing [else] left, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy will oppress you in all your towns. 56 The refined and delicate woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground for delicateness and refinement, shall be hostile toward the husband she cherishes and toward her son and daughter, 57 and toward her afterbirth which issues from between her legs and toward her children whom she bears; for she will eat them secretly for lack of anything [else], during the siege and the distress by which your enemy will oppress you in your towns.
In the previous bundles of plagues, the curse has been placed on all sides and terrains of life. Love for his people leads Moses to paint an even more terrifying picture, so that the people will remain obedient to God’s commandments.
The LORD has given His people blessing in abundance. This can only be a reason to serve Him with “joy and a glad heart” (verse 47). If that does not happen, it is the coarsest form of ingratitude. God cannot but surrender His people to the cruelest oppression.
When we think of “a people from afar” (verse 49) we can think of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, or Chaldeans, and the Romans. All three have done much harm to Jerusalem. In these verses it seems to be more about the oppression by the Romans – tellingly they have an eagle (verse 49) in their banner! – while the previous verses more describe the Chaldean as an enemy.
Verses 52-57 deal with the siege of Jerusalem and describe bewildering, unreal scenes. Distinguished, spoiled women of Jerusalem who have let themselves be carries in better times – “who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground”–, will lose any natural love for their children and turn into monsters with inhuman, beastly behavior. In their indescribable distress, they do not resort to God, but to the lowest conceivable: eating their own children (Lam 4:10; 2Kgs 6:28-29). To this deep depravity leads the disobedience to God.
58 - 68 The Full Measure of God’s Curse
58 “If you are not careful to observe all the words of this law which are written in this book, to fear this honored and awesome name, the LORD your God, 59 then the LORD will bring extraordinary plagues on you and your descendants, even severe and lasting plagues, and miserable and chronic sicknesses. 60 He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt of which you were afraid, and they will cling to you. 61 Also every sickness and every plague which, not written in the book of this law, the LORD will bring on you until you are destroyed. 62 Then you shall be left few in number, whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, because you did not obey the LORD your God. 63 It shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it. 64 Moreover, the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known. 65 Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. 66 So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. 67 In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see. 68 The LORD will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by the way about which I spoke to you, ‘You will never see it again!’ And there you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.”
These verses are about the words of “this book” and the Name of the LORD God (verse 58). The whole book is an enthusiastic eulogy to the land. But God says in verse 63 that He will delight to tear the people from the land if they are not faithful to Him and His Word. Thus, Christianity went into exile, as it were, because it did not keep its heavenly position and became earthly oriented. Taking an outward position is never a guarantee of remaining in the truth.
Holding the words of this book and holding or fearing the Name summarizes everything that is necessary to enjoy the blessings. Where these two things are abandoned, the people of God lose their place in the land and the place God has chosen to make His Name dwell. For us, this means the loss of our heavenly position and the loss of the place where the Lord Jesus gathers His own around Himself, to His Name.
The scenes of unprecedented distress described so far will not yet be the end of misery if the people refuse to be warned. God will bring the full measure of the curse upon His people. Nothing will be spared them. The fact that the previous disasters and plagues did not mean the end is testimony to God’s perseverance to do everything possible to make His people return to Himself. It is only when there is no hope of conversion that He makes the final judgment. He also reserves the right to save up a remnant according to His gracious choice.
There will always be fear for the day to come (verse 67). Even the night offers no rest. One is just as afraid of the night (cf. Job 7:4; Psa 91:5-6). The fear arises not only because of what they see with their eyes, but also because of the fear of the heart. In other words: not only real dangers will make them afraid, but also imaginary dangers. When one comes to investigate the causes of fear, they often turn out to be merely the creatures of the imagination.
Just as the liberation from the slavery of Egypt can be compared to the birth of the people, so the return to slavery can be compared to their death. No one will see anything useful in them and will spend even a penny to own them. It indicates a state of complete contempt and rejection.