Deuteronomy 28

The Word Made Fresh

1“If you obey the LORD your God and keep all the rules and laws that I give you today, the LORD your God will raise you above every nation on earth. 2If you obey the LORD this is what you can expect in return:

3“You will be rewarded in the city and in the fields and countryside.

4“You will be rewarded with children, with abundant crops, and healthy flocks and herds.

5“Your baskets and your kneading bowls will be full.

6“You will be rewarded when you go out and when you return.

7“The LORD will defeat all your enemies; they will attack from one direction and run away in seven directions.

8“The LORD’s rewards will be in your barns and in all you try to do; you will be so happy in the land the LORD your God is giving you. 9As the LORD promised, you will flourish in the land if you obey all the LORD’s commands and live by the LORD’s ways. 10Every nation on earth will see that you belong to the LORD and will fear you. 11The LORD will make you prosperous, will give you many children and increase your livestock and all the things you grow in the land being given to you. 12The LORD will open the sky and send you rain at the proper seasons, and everything you do will be rewarded. You will lend to other nations but not have to borrow from any of them. 13You will be the head, not the tail. You will be on top, not at the bottom. All these things will be yours if you obey the rules and laws of the LORD your God and carefully keep them, 14and if you never embrace other gods or serve them.

15“But, if you are not obedient to the LORD, if you do not keep all the laws and commandment’s I’m giving you today, you will suffer terrible punishments. 16You will be cursed in the cities and in the countryside. 17Your baskets and your kneading bowls will be cursed. 18You will not be blessed with children; your fields will not produce. Your cattle and your sheep will not increase. 19You will be cursed coming and going.

20“The LORD will send you frustration and fear and failure in everything you do until you are completely wiped out because of your wickedness at having turned your back on me. 21The LORD will besiege you with evils that will waste you away in the land you are entering. 22You’ll have trouble breathing. You will be feverish. Heat and drought will besiege you, and blight and mildew. 23The sky will be like a sheet of metal over you, and the ground beneath you will be hard as iron. 24Instead of rain, the LORD will send powdery dust until you perish from the land.

25“The LORD will let your enemies have their way with you. You will engage them in battle from one direction and then run away in seven directions. Your fate will be horrible in the eyes of the other peoples. 26Birds and other scavengers will feed on your dead bodies and no one will chase them off. 27The LORD will send you the plagues of Egypt – ulcers, dirty and gross swellings and itches you can’t get rid of, 28and madness and blindness and inability to think straight. 29You will grope around in the middle of the day unable to find your way. You will be abused and robbed, and no one will help you. 30You will marry a woman but another man will sleep with her. You will build houses you will never live in. You will plant vineyards and never taste the wine. 31Others will butcher your ox before your very eyes, but you’ll never taste any of it. Your donkey will be stolen while you watch, and you’ll never see it again. Your sheep will be taken away by your enemies, and no one will lift a finger to help you. 32Your children will be given to others while you watch. You’ll search every corner looking for them and be powerless to do anything. 33People you’ve never seen before will eat all your crops that you worked so hard for. Over and over, you will be taken advantage of until you have nothing. 34You will be driven insane by the things you will see. 35The LORD will afflict you with painful, incurable boils on your knees and legs, and they will spread from your feet to the top of your head. 36The LORD will give you and the king you have put over you to a nation you’ve never heard of where you will serve other gods made of wood and stones. 37People will look at you in horror, and you will be a joke to all the people the LORD will send you to.

38“You will scatter baskets of seed in your field but have little to show for it because the locusts will eat it. 39You will plant vineyards and prune the vines but never drink a drop of wine nor eat a single grape because the worms will beat you to them. 40Oh, yes, you’ll have plenty of olive trees all over the land, but the olives will drop off and you’ll never rub a drop of oil on your skin. 41You will have children, but they will be taken as captives. 42Cicadas will consume your trees and your fruit. 43Foreigners living among you will outstrip you while you sink lower. 44They will lend to you, but never borrow from you. They will be the head and you will be the tail.

45All these terrible things will happen to you; they will pursue you and overtake you and you will be destroyed because you did not obey the LORD your God and observe all the rules and laws the LORD ordered you to follow. 46All these maladies will be among you from now on as a sign of your faithlessness.

47“Since you wouldn’t serve the LORD with joy and with all your heart for everything the LORD wanted to give you, 48you will serve the enemies the LORD sends against you. You will be hungry and thirsty. You will be naked and own nothing. They will harness you with an iron yoke and destroy you. 49The LORD will bring a nation from far away, and they will swoop down like an eagle. They will speak a language you do not recognize. 50They will look at you with grim faces that show no respect for old or young. 51They will eat your livestock and your crops until you have nothing – no grain, no wine, no oil, no cattle or sheep or goats – and you will perish. 52They will attack your towns, and your high walls you trusted in will fall, and all your cities and towns will fall.53You will be in such desperation that you will become cannibals. You will eat the flesh of the sons and daughters the LORD has given you. 54The kindest and gentlest among you won’t give his own brother or his own wife or his own children a single bite to eat. 55He won’t even share the flesh of his children when he has to eat them because he has nothing else. That is the condition the enemy sieges will leave you in. 56The kindest and gentlest woman among you, so refined she would never go barefoot in public, will refuse to offer food even to her husband or her son or her daughter. 57She won’t even share the afterbirth that comes from her own body, or the children she has birthed because in secret she is even eating them because there is nothing else. That is the condition the enemy will leave you in when they besiege your towns.

58“If you don’t observe all the words of the law being written in this book and have total respect for the name of the LORD your God, 59the LORD will smother you and your children with terrible and unending suffering, 60bringing back upon you all the diseases of Egypt that you were so afraid of. 61And if there is any terrible suffering not written in this book of laws, the LORD will bring those against you as well until you are finished. 62Even though you may come to be as numerous as the stars in the sky, there will only be a handful of you left because you did not obey the LORD your God. 63Just as the LORD is happy to make you prosperous and numerous, the LORD will be just as happy to destroy you, wiping you off the land you are going over to possess. 64The LORD will scatter you all around the world, and you will serve other gods of wood and stone that you have never heard of before. 65You will never be able to relax among these other peoples. You will find no resting place. You will only find weak hearts, failing eyes, and a fading hope. 66You will never be able to relax night or day. You will be in constant fear. 67Every morning you will wish for the evening and every evening you will wish for the morning because your heart will be heavy with dread at the things you will see. 68The LORD will take you back in ships to Egypt along the way I promised you would never travel again. When you get there, you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as slaves. But no one will buy you.”

Commentary

1-6: Now Moses tells them what they can expect if they, as a community, are obedient: every aspect of life in ancient Israel is covered by the four blessings given here.

7-14: The blessings are fleshed out a little more prominently here. The general benefit of obedience is security from enemies and fruitfulness – in the field, in the livestock, in the people.

15-24: The blessings are balanced by corresponding curses if they are disobedient. (The 12 curses in the last chapter had to do with specific altercations. Here they are more general.)

25-37: The curses continue – Moses really wants to emphasize the importance of obedience! In these verses the curses seem to be that they will suffer the same deprivations and horrors as the people of the land they are going to displace, combined with the plagues the Egyptians suffered on their account.

38-44: The tables are turned if they disobey. Fruitfulness will be taken away from the ground and from the people. Their station will descend lower and lower vis-à-vis the other peoples.

45-57: Now, instead of “if you disobey” Moses seems to be taking it for granted that they will disobey, and these will be the consequences. Then he describes what sounds like the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, an event still centuries away. The depravities and dehumanizing effects of a prolonged siege of the city are described in sickening detail.

58-68: If they forget the commandments, he tells them, the clock will turn back: they will suffer the plagues of Egypt, their numbers will dwindle until only few of them will remain; they will be scattered through the world. Then the ultimate insult: they will return to Egypt and offer themselves as slaves and be turned down!

Takeaway

It is unthinkable that God would threaten people with such awful things. However, God is not threatening them. Moses is simply telling them what people can be like who worship other gods, or no gods at all, and what can be their fate if they fall into the hands of the godless. We have seen as far back as Genesis 6 that, without faith in God, people can degenerate into violence, perversions of every kind, and other destructive practices.