corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 28

 

 

Introduction

The Covenant Stipulations, Covenant Making at Shechem, Blessings and Cursings (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 29:1).

In this section of Deuteronomy we first have a description of specific requirements that Yahweh laid down for His people. These make up the second part of the covenant stipulations for the covenant expressed in Deuteronomy 4:45 to Deuteronomy 29:1 and also for the covenant which makes up the whole book. They are found in chapters 12-26. As we have seen Deuteronomy 1:1 to Deuteronomy 4:44 provide the preamble and historical prologue for the overall covenant, followed by the general stipulations in chapters 5-11. There now, therefore, in 12-26 follow the detailed stipulations which complete the main body of the covenant. These also continue the second speech of Moses which began in Deuteronomy 5:1.

Overall in this speech Moses is concerned to connect with the people. It is to the people that his words are spoken rather than the priests so that much of the priestly legislation is simply assumed. Indeed it is remarkably absent in Deuteronomy except where it directly touches on the people. Anyone who read Deuteronomy on its own would wonder at the lack of cultic material it contained, and at how much the people were involved. It concentrates on their interests, and not those of the priests and Levites, while acknowledging the responsibility that they had towards both priests and Levites.

And even where the cultic legislation more specifically connects with the people, necessary detail is not given, simply because he was aware that they already had it in writing elsewhere. Their knowledge of it is assumed. Deuteronomy is building on a foundation already laid. In it Moses was more concerned to get over special aspects of the legislation as it was specifically affected by entry into the land, with the interests of the people especially in mind. The suggestion that it was later written in order to bring home a new law connected with the Temple does not fit in with the facts. Without the remainder of the covenant legislation in Exodus/Leviticus/Numbers to back it up, its presentation often does not make sense from a cultic point of view.

This is especially brought home by the fact that when he refers to their approach to God he speaks of it in terms of where they themselves stood or will stand when they do approach Him. They stand not on Sinai but in Horeb. They stand not in the Sanctuary but in ‘the place’, the site of the Sanctuary. That is why he emphasises Horeb, which included the area before the Mount, and not just Sinai itself (which he does not mention). And why he speaks of ‘the place’ which Yahweh chose, which includes where the Tabernacle is sited and where they gather together around the Tabernacle, and not of the Sanctuary itself. He wants them to feel that they have their full part in the whole.

These detailed stipulations in chapters 12-26 will then be followed by the details of the covenant ceremony to take place at the place which Yahweh has chosen at Shechem (Deuteronomy 27), followed by blessings and cursings to do with the observance or breach of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28).

VIII BLESSINGS AND CURSINGS WITH RESPECT TO THE COVENANT (Deuteronomy 28:1 to Deuteronomy 29:1).

Chapter 28 Covenant Blessings and Cursings.

It should be noted that verse 1 is not an invitation to enter into covenant. The offer of the covenant had already been made by Yahweh out of His lovingkindness, and had been accepted by Israel in Exodus 24, as confirmed in the last chapter, Deuteronomy 27. This is a promise and a warning subsequent to the covenant concerning the consequence of being faithful to their Overlord, or of rebelling against Him. It parallels the cursing and blessing clauses in the 2nd Millennium BC Hittite treaty covenants, and even more the blessings and cursings in the 2nd Millennium law codes. The 1st Millennium treaties do not tend to have blessings clauses.

But there is one major difference between this covenant and other treaties. In other treaties outside parties (the gods) are called on to ensure the fulfilling of the treaty, but here Yahweh Himself will enforce His own covenant. No outside help is needed.

The consequence of the covenant is that if they respond to it and love Him and serve Him and are obedient to His commandments, Yahweh will bless them in a multitude of ways. That is what the tribes standing on Mount Gerizim represented (Deuteronomy 27:12). But if they turn away from Him and do not keep His commandment they will be horribly cursed. That is what the tribes standing on Mount Ebal represented (Deuteronomy 27:13). The length of the cursings considerably outweighs the blessing. This was normal in Ancient Near Eastern treaties.

“Thee, thou” is used all through this chapter, except where indicated, in order to indicate that the words are spoken to the nation as a whole and to every individual in it.


Verses 1-14

VIII. BLESSINGS AND CURSINGS WITH RESPECT TO THE COVENANT (Deuteronomy 28:1 to Deuteronomy 29:1).

Chapter 28 Covenant Blessings and Cursings.

It should be noted that verse 1 is not an invitation to enter into covenant. The offer of the covenant had already been made by Yahweh out of His lovingkindness, and had been accepted by Israel in Exodus 24, as confirmed in the last chapter, Deuteronomy 27. This is a promise and a warning subsequent to the covenant concerning the consequence of being faithful to their Overlord, or of rebelling against Him. It parallels the cursing and blessing clauses in the 2nd Millennium BC Hittite treaty covenants, and even more the blessings and cursings in the 2nd Millennium law codes. The 1st Millennium treaties do not tend to have blessings clauses.

But there is one major difference between this covenant and other treaties. In other treaties outside parties (the gods) are called on to ensure the fulfilling of the treaty, but here Yahweh Himself will enforce His own covenant. No outside help is needed.

The consequence of the covenant is that if they respond to it and love Him and serve Him and are obedient to His commandments, Yahweh will bless them in a multitude of ways. That is what the tribes standing on Mount Gerizim represented (Deuteronomy 27:12). But if they turn away from Him and do not keep His commandment they will be horribly cursed. That is what the tribes standing on Mount Ebal represented (Deuteronomy 27:13). The length of the cursings considerably outweighs the blessing. This was normal in Ancient Near Eastern treaties.

“Thee, thou” is used all through this chapter, except where indicated, in order to indicate that the words are spoken to the nation as a whole and to every individual in it.

The Blessings Which Will Result From Continuing Faithfully In The Covenant (Deuteronomy 28:1-14).

The basic premise here is that they will :

1) Listen diligently to the voice of Yahweh their God -- and observe and do all His commandments commanded that day (Deuteronomy 28:1).

2) Listen to the voice of Yahweh their God (Deuteronomy 28:2)

3) Keep the commandments of Yahweh their God and walk in His ways (Deuteronomy 28:9).

4) Listen to the commandments of Yahweh their God commanded that day -- to observe and do them (Deuteronomy 28:13).

5) Not go aside from any of the words spoken by Moses that day.

The net result will be great blessing as outlined below. For the sphere of the blessings, given to them by the graciousness of Yahweh in accordance with His promises to their fathers, is the covenant, and those who would enjoy them must walk in it.

Analysis mainly based on the words of Moses, but with some summary:

a And it shall come about that, if you will listen diligently to the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe to do all his commandments which I command you this day (Deuteronomy 28:1 a).

b Yahweh your God will set you on high above all the nations of the earth (Deuteronomy 28:1 b).

c And all these blessings shall come on you, and overtake you, if you shall listen to the voice of Yahweh your God (Deuteronomy 28:2).

d Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your beasts, the increase of your cattle, and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading-trough. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out (Deuteronomy 28:3-6).

e Yahweh will cause your enemies who rise up against you to be smitten before you, they shall come out against you one way, and shall flee before you seven ways (Deuteronomy 28:7).

f Yahweh will command the blessing on you in your barns, and in all that you put your hand to, and He will bless you in the land which Yahweh your God gives you (Deuteronomy 28:8).

f Yahweh will establish you for a holy people to himself, as He has sworn to you, if (as long as) you will keep the commandments of Yahweh your God, and walk in His ways (Deuteronomy 28:9).

e And all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of Yahweh, and they shall be afraid of you (Deuteronomy 28:10).

d And Yahweh will make you plenteous for good (give you an excess of plenty), in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your ground, in the land which Yahweh swore to your fathers to give you (Deuteronomy 28:11).

c Yahweh will open to you His good treasure the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hand: and you will lend to many nations, and you will not borrow (Deuteronomy 28:12).

b And Yahweh will make you the head, and not the tail, and you will be above only, and you will not be beneath (Deuteronomy 28:13 a)

a If you will listen to the commandments of Yahweh your God, which I command you this day, to observe and to do them, and shall not turn aside from any of the words which I command you this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them (Deuteronomy 28:13-14).

In ‘a’ if they will listen diligently to the voice of Yahweh their God, to observe to do all His commandments which Moses commands them this day (He will bless them), and in the parallel if they will listen to the commandments of Yahweh their your God, which Moses commands them this day, to observe and to do them, (then He will exalt them). In ‘b’ Yahweh their God will set them on high above all the nations of the earth, and in the parallel Yahweh will make them the head, and not the tail, and they will be above only, and they will not be beneath. In ‘c’ all these blessings shall come on them, and overtake them, if they will listen to the voice of Yahweh their God, and in the parallel this will happen for Yahweh will open to them His good treasure the heavens, to give the rain of their land in its season, and to bless all the work of their hand: and they will lend to many nations, and will not borrow.

In ‘d’ the great blessings that will come are outlined including the fruit of the body, the fruit of the land and the fruit of the cattle, and in the parallel Yahweh will give them an excess of plenty including the fruit of their body, and the fruit of their cattle, and the fruit of their ground, in the land which Yahweh swore to their fathers to give them. In ‘e’ Yahweh will cause their enemies who rise up against them to be smitten before them, they will come out against them one way, and will flee before them seven ways, and in the parallel all the peoples of the earth will see that they are called by the name of Yahweh, and will be afraid of them. In ‘f’ Yahweh will command the blessing on them in their barns, and in all that they put their hand to, and He will bless them in the land which Yahweh their God gives them, and in the parallel Yahweh will establish them for a holy people to Himself, as He has sworn to them, as long as they will keep the commandments of Yahweh their God, and walk in His ways.

Deuteronomy 28:1

And it shall come about that, if you will listen diligently to the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe to do all his commandments which I command you this day, Yahweh your God will set you on high above all the nations of the earth.’

The result of listening diligently to the voice of Yahweh, revealed in their keeping all of His commandments as represented by Moses’ current speech, is that He will set Israel on high above all the nations of the earth (compare Deuteronomy 26:19). This was what Yahweh had avouched that He would do for them, and He will do it. Note how this connects with the final words in Deuteronomy 26:19. This is the continuation of the theme.

This being set on high would be indicated by a number of things. Firstly by the multitude of natural blessings that they would receive (Deuteronomy 28:3-6; Deuteronomy 28:11-12; Deuteronomy 7:13; Deuteronomy 11:11-12; Deuteronomy 11:14-15; Deuteronomy 15:8-9; ). Secondly by the great security that they would enjoy (Deuteronomy 28:7; Deuteronomy 28:13, compare Deuteronomy 6:19; Deuteronomy 15:6). And thirdly by their material prosperity (Deuteronomy 28:8; Deuteronomy 28:12, compare Deuteronomy 8:18; Deuteronomy 15:6).

They would be set above all the nations of the earth, a promise which is a preparation for the Messianic promises that will arise later (Psalms 2:8). It will be fulfilled in His people when they as the true Israel are raised with Christ and share His throne (Revelation 3:21).

But how does all this apply to us? We will not enter the land, we will enter the better land, the city whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10), for if we are His we have already entered under the Kingly Rule of God. The blessings therefore that come to us through obedience are related to His Kingly Rule. To us He promises spiritual blessing and spiritual prosperity. Not for us the desire for physical land and wealth, but a seeking first His kingship and His righteousness. Then all things will be added to us (Matthew 6:33).

Deuteronomy 28:2

And all these blessings shall come on you, and overtake you, if you shall listen to the voice of Yahweh your God.’

And all this they would enjoy as long as they listened to the voice of Yahweh their God. For these things were all a part of the covenant. The blessings are then declared in depth. Note that there are six blessings. Three is the number of completeness, and six is three intensified. Furthermore there were six tribes on the Mount of blessing representing the whole of Israel who would be blessed, representing the covenant keepers (Deuteronomy 27:12).

Deuteronomy 28:3-6

“Blessed shall you be in the city,

And blessed shall you be in the field.

Blessed shall be the fruit of your body,

And the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your beasts,

The increase of your cattle, and the young of your flock.

Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading-trough.

Blessed shall you be when you come in,

And blessed shall you be when you go out.”

These words in poetic prose are emphasised in more abbreviated form in their parallel verse, Deuteronomy 28:11. The blessings relate to the fruitfulness of the womb, the fruitfulness of the ground, and the fruitfulness of their flocks and herds, and the blessing indicates the underlying activity of Yahweh in all that they do. They will be blessed in both city and countryside, in basket and kneadingtrough, (a bowl for making dough), thus they will be blessed in their own abundant offspring (city) and in the abundant offspring of cattle (countryside), and in abundant fruits (basket) and grain (kneading-trough). They will be blessed in all their going out and in, in other words they will be successful both in their ‘goings out and in’ in international affairs and in all aspects of their daily lives. Compare especially Deuteronomy 7:13-15 for all these. These are the fruit of the covenant.

The above arrangement reveals an interesting pattern. ‘The fruit of your ground’ and ‘the fruit of your beasts’ inverts to produce ‘the increase of your cattle and the young of your flock’ and ‘your basket and your kneading-trough.’ ‘Come in’ and ‘go out’ then parallel ‘in the city’ and ‘in the field’. The problem is then that ‘the fruit of your body’ seems to stand on its own. It does, however, relate to being blessed in the city. But the reference to dual aspects in lines 5 and 6 had to result in one parallel dropping out if the eight line pattern was to be maintained.

Deuteronomy 28:7

Yahweh will cause your enemies who rise up against you to be smitten before you, they shall come out against you one way, and shall flee before you seven ways.’

Yahweh’s protecting hand will also be on them. Their enemies will be smitten before them, for He will fight alongside them. The enemy may march boldly up in full confidence, but in the end they will flee in many directions (compare Deuteronomy 7:20). In the parallel all the people will see that they are called by the name of Yahweh and will be afraid (Deuteronomy 28:10).

Deuteronomy 28:8

Yahweh will command the blessing on you in your barns, and in all that you put your hand to, and he will bless you in the land which Yahweh your God gives you.’

The blessing will also include crops and fruits sufficient to store so that their barns will be full and overflowing. Indeed whatever they put their hand to will prosper, both in agriculture and business. For they will be blessed in every way in the land which Yahweh their God has given them. This blessing is not a reward. It is a fruit of their relationship with Him.

Deuteronomy 28:9-10

Yahweh will establish you for a holy people to himself, as he has sworn to you, if (as long as) you will keep the commandments of Yahweh your God, and walk in his ways. And all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of Yahweh, and they shall be afraid of you.’

As they continue to keep the covenant and walk in His ways He will establish them as a holy people for Himself, a people watched over, cared for, protected and loved because they are separated to Him. And the whole world will see that they bear His name, as someone might bear the name of a great king, and they will be afraid of them, that is, they will revere them and look up to them because of Whose they are. So will they be a testimony to the name of Yahweh. Compare for the whole idea of this verse Deuteronomy 7:6-8. See also Deuteronomy 19:9; Deuteronomy 26:17.

Deuteronomy 28:11

And Yahweh will make you plenteous for good (give you an excess of plenty), in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your ground, in the land which Yahweh swore to your fathers to give you.’

This parallels the poem in Deuteronomy 28:3-6. They will be blessed in the good land that He has given them, they will ‘have an excess of plenty’, because He swore to their fathers that He would so bless them, and they will produce abundantly, in their own offspring (the fruit of their body), in the offspring of their flocks and herds and in all their produce. Notice that the reference to their fathers is a further reminder that all this comes to them not because of what they do, but for the fathers’ sakes. What they do is simply the fruit of it.

Deuteronomy 28:12

Yahweh will open to you his good treasure the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hand: and you will lend to many nations, and you will not borrow.’

Yahweh will open the treasure house of the heavens so that rain will fall abundantly in its season (compare Deuteronomy 11:11-12; Psalms 104:13). Thus all the work of their hand will be blessed, so much so that they will become wealthy and lenders to the nations, and will not need to borrow (Deuteronomy 15:6). The picture is one of overwhelming prosperity and wellbeing.

Note that the treasure house of the heavens is under His control. There will be no need for them to look anywhere else. The Baal myths at Ugarit picture Baal as having a palace in the heavens through the windows of which he poured water on the earth. But here it is made clear that that is not so. They come from Yahweh’s treasure house. But the parallel made clear that it would be because they listened to His voice (Deuteronomy 28:3).

Deuteronomy 28:13

And Yahweh will make you the head, and not the tail, and you will be above only, and you will not be beneath, if you will listen to the commandments of Yahweh your God, which I command you this day, to observe and to do them,’

As long as they listen to Yahweh’s commandments, and observe them and do them, they will always be at the head among the nations (Deuteronomy 28:12), and never at the tail. None will be above them, for they will rather always be ranked above others. In the parallel in Deuteronomy 28:2 they will be set on high above all the nations of the earth. This is the natural position for those who walk with the One Who is over all things.

Deuteronomy 28:14

And shall not turn aside from any of the words which I command you (ye) this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.’

But all will depend on their not turning aside from any of His words as given by Moses, neither to the right hand nor to the left, and on their not going after other gods to serve them.

For us the same blessings are offered under the Kingly Rule of God. Our enemies will not stand against us, our lives will be fruitful, and He will provide all that we need. But above all we will be His holy people through whom He can fulfil His purposes so that people will know that we are called by His name.


Verse 15

The First Series of Curses (Deuteronomy 28:15-46).

There now follows a series of five sixfold curses, the sixfold curses paralleling the six tribes on the Mount of cursing. Whereas the sixfold blessing was limited to one, for God’s blessing is total, the sixfold curses are multiplied. It is possible to discern seven sets of sixfold curses in all in what follows (two in the second series). This multiplying of curses as against blessings follows the pattern in ancient treaties and law codes. For this whole section compare Leviticus 26:14-39.

Analysis based on the words of Moses.

a But it shall come about that, if you will not listen to the voice of Yahweh your God (Deuteronomy 28:15 a).

b To observe to do all His commandments and His statutes which I command you this day (Deuteronomy 28:15 b).

c That all these curses shall come on you, and overtake you, cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field, cursed shall be the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your cattle, and the young of your flock, cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out, Yahweh will send on you cursing, confusion (discomfiture), and rebuke, in all that you put your hand to, to do, until you are destroyed, and until you perish quickly, “because of the evil of your doings, by which you have forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:15-20).

d Yahweh will make the pestilence cleave to you, until He has consumed you from off the land, to which you go in to possess it. Yahweh will smite you with consumption, and with burning fever, and with inflammation, and with fiery heat, and with the sword (or ‘drought’), and with blasting, and with mildew; and they will pursue you until you perish, and your heaven that is over your head will be bronze, and the earth that is under you will be iron (Deuteronomy 28:21-23).

e Yahweh will make the rain of your land powder, and dust from heaven shall come down on you, until you are destroyed (Deuteronomy 28:24).

f Yahweh will cause you to be smitten before your enemies. You will go out one way against them, and will flee seven ways before them, and you will be tossed to and fro (or ‘will be an object of horror’) among all the kingdoms of the earth, and your dead body will be food to all birds of the heavens, and to the beasts of the earth, and there will be none to frighten them away (Deuteronomy 28:25-26).

g Yahweh will smite you with the boil of Egypt, and with plague boils (or ‘tumours’), and with the scurvy (or ‘eczema’, etc.), and with the itch (or scabies, etc.), of which you cannot be healed (Deuteronomy 28:27).

h Yahweh will smite you with madness, and with blindness, and with astonishment of heart, and you will grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness, and you will not prosper in your ways, and you will be only oppressed and robbed always, and there will be none to save you (Deuteronomy 28:28-29).

i You will betroth a wife, and another man will lie with her; You will build a house, and you will not dwell in it; You will plant a vineyard, and will not use its fruit (Deuteronomy 28:30).

j Your ox will be slain before your eyes, and you will not eat of it; Your ass will be violently taken away from before your face, and will not be restored to you; Your sheep will be given to your enemies, and you will have none to save you. (Deuteronomy 28:31)

j Your sons and your daughters will be given to another people, and your eyes will look, and fail with longing for them all the day, and there shall be nought in the power of your hand( Deuteronomy 28:32).

i The fruit of your ground, and all your labours, will a nation which you know not eat up, and you will be only oppressed and crushed always (Deuteronomy 28:33).

h So that you will be mad because of the sight of your eyes which you will see (Deuteronomy 28:34).

g Yahweh will smite you in the knees, and in the legs, with a sore boil, from which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head (Deuteronomy 28:35).

f Yahweh will bring you, and your king whom you will set over you, to a nation that you have not known, you nor your fathers, and there will you serve other gods, wood and stone, and you will become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all the peoples to whom Yahweh will lead you away (Deuteronomy 28:36-37).

e You will carry much seed out into the field, and will gather little in, for the locust shall consume it (Deuteronomy 28:38).
d You will plant vineyards and dress them, but you will neither drink of the wine, nor gather the grapes, for the worm will eat them, you will have olive-trees throughout all your borders, but you will not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olive will cast its fruit (Deuteronomy 28:39-40).

c You will beget sons and daughters, but they will not be yours, for they will go into captivity, all your trees and the fruit of your ground will the locust possess, the resident alien who is in the midst of you will mount up above you higher and higher, and you will come down lower and lower, he will lend to you, and you will not lend to him. He will be the head, and you will be the tail (Deuteronomy 28:41-44).

b And all these curses will come on you, and will pursue you, and overtake you, until you are destroyed (4Deuteronomy 28:5 a).

a Because you did not listen to the voice of Yahweh your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you, and they will be on you for a sign and for a wonder, and on your seed for ever (Deuteronomy 28:45 a-46).

Note that in ‘a’ and parallel and ‘b’ and parallel the similar thought is expressed in almost the same words. In ‘c’ we have a list of cursings which come together and parallel the blessings in Deuteronomy 28:2-6, and in the parallel similar thoughts are expressed. In ‘d’ we have pestilence and disease and in the parallel diseased vineyards and olive tree. In ‘e’ there is lack of rain (which will destroy the vegetation) and in the parallel locusts devouring the vegetation. In ‘f’ they will be smitten before their enemies and they will be ‘an object of horror’ and in the parallel a similar thing is described and they will be ‘an astonishment, a proverb and a byword’. In ‘g’ they will be smitten with boils as in the parallel. In ‘h’ they will be smitten with blindness and in the parallel they will be mad because of the sight of their eyes. In ‘i’ they will not use its fruit and in the parallel other nations will eat of its fruit. In ‘j’ they will lose their herds and flocks and in the parallel their sons and daughters.

Deuteronomy 28:15

But it shall come about that, if you will not listen to the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command you this day, that all these curses shall come on you, and overtake you.’

For if they refuse to listen to the voice of Yahweh their God, and fail to obey His commandments and His statutes as commanded by Moses that day, then all the curses outlined will come on them and overtake them. (Note the parallel in reverse order in Deuteronomy 28:45).

They will not be able to avoid these curses. They will pile on, one on top of another. The curses are the opposite of the blessings. Again their intensified completeness is indicated by the number six, and again they parallel the six tribes on the Mount of cursing (Deuteronomy 27:13).


Verses 15-68

The Cursings That Will Result If They Are Not Faithful To The Covenant (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

But once they wander outside the sphere of the covenant only cursings can await them. They will have put themselves in the same place as that already taken by those whom they had cursed in Deuteronomy 27:15-26. Those examples were but samples of a wider Law, a Law which they would now have broken. Thus they have by their ‘Amen’ themselves acknowledged that it will be right for Yahweh to curse them. And the cursing will be terrible. Great privileges renounced can only produce great judgments.

Attempts have been made to parallel these curses with those in various treaty forms which have been discovered, but while there is general resemblance none parallel exactly and all that can really be said is that they all share a common pattern. Moses would have seen many examples of such treaties in his youth.


Verses 16-20

The First Sixfold Curse (Deuteronomy 28:16-20).

These curses parallel the blessings in Deuteronomy 28:3-6 and must therefore all be seen together.

Deuteronomy 28:16-19

‘Cursed shall you be in the city,

And cursed shall you be in the field.

Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading-trough.

Cursed shall be the fruit of your body,

And the fruit of your ground,

The increase of your cattle, and the young of your flock.

Cursed shall you be when you come in,

And cursed shall you be when you go out.’

They will be cursed in the city, in all their comings in, and in their production of offspring; they will be cursed in the countryside, and in all their goings out, and in the increase of their cattle, and the young of their flock; they will be cursed in their basket and their kneading-trough, because the fruit of their ground has been cursed and there is nothing to fill them. This is the tragedy of the Garden of Eden multiplied. Not only is the ground cursed but everything is cursed. They had been on the edge of Paradise and by their folly they have lost everything.

Deuteronomy 28:20

Yahweh will send on you cursing, confusion (discomfiture), and rebuke, in all that you put your hand to, to do, until you are destroyed, and until you perish quickly, “because of the evil of your doings, by which you have forsaken me”.’

In everything that they now do they will be cursed, they will suffer discomfiture and confusion (compare Deuteronomy 7:23; 1 Samuel 5:9; 1 Samuel 5:11; 1 Samuel 14:20; Isaiah 22:5), and they will experience constant rebuke in all that they seek to do (compare Isaiah 30:17; Malachi 3:11), and this will go on until they are destroyed, until they perish quickly, and all because of the evil of their doings as a result of which they have forsaken Yahweh.

“Send on you” is emphasised by coming first in the sentence. Like the blessings these cursings will be the result of Yahweh’s personal response, as is now made evident. But this time it is not the natural result of the application of the covenant but specifically as a response to their sin.

“Because of the evil of your doings, by which you have forsaken me.” The sudden introduction of a direct word from Yahweh heightens the impact. This is what they are suffering, because of the evil of their doings resulting from the fact that they have forsaken Him.

This summary compounds the individual curses and warns of the final consequences. They will be destroyed because of the evil of their ways. It is comparable to the summary in Deuteronomy 28:2 which introduces the blessings. Note again how this first six-fold curse with the summary resembles very closely the blessings lost as described in Deuteronomy 28:2-6.


Verses 21-29

The Second Sixfold Curse (Deuteronomy 28:21-29).

This is now followed by a further sixfold curse, with each of the six, commencing (in EVV, in MT it comes second with the verb coming first for emphasis) with Yahweh’s name.

Whereas the first curses where on their daily lives and mainly affected the fruitfulness of their crops and herds, resulting from famine conditions, these further curses range wider covering pestilence, disease, and sword. The series contains six detailed curses. Note that we have here also a carefully constructed chiastic structure. Pestilence and disease (Deuteronomy 28:21-22), sword (Deuteronomy 28:22), famine (Deuteronomy 28:22-23), famine (Deuteronomy 28:24), sword (Deuteronomy 28:25-26), pestilence and disease (Deuteronomy 28:27).

The personal aspect of these judgments is now outlined in these six statements as all attributed to Yahweh. They will be smitten with pestilence, with various other disasters, with shortage of rain, by powerful enemies, with the boils of Egypt, and with madness, blindness and despair.

The catastrophes mentioned include those regularly described as judgments, plague, disease, famine, and sword (compare 1 Kings 8:37; 2 Chronicles 20:9; Isaiah 51:19; Jeremiah 14:12; Jeremiah 21:9; Jeremiah 24:10; Jeremiah 27:8; Jeremiah 29:18; Jeremiah 38:2; Jeremiah 42:17; Jeremiah 42:22; Jeremiah 44:13; Ezekiel 5:17; Ezekiel 6:12; Ezekiel 12:16; Ezekiel 14:21;

Deuteronomy 28:21

Yahweh will make the pestilence cleave to you, until he has consumed you from off the land, to which you go in to possess it.’

The first main curse sent by Yahweh will be ‘destroying pestilence’, a plague of epidemic proportions. Such plagues have from time to time smitten the world and decimated populations. It will ‘cleave to them’ (emphasised by its place in the sentence) so that they are unable to shrug it off until they are consumed off the land (compare Leviticus 26:25; Numbers 14:12 and see Exodus 9:3; Exodus 9:15).

Deuteronomy 28:22-23

Yahweh will smite you with consumption, and with burning fever, and with inflammation, and with fiery heat, and with the sword (or ‘drought’), and with blasting, and with mildew; and they will pursue you until you perish, and your heaven that is over your head will be bronze, and the earth that is under you will be iron.’

This is then followed by a sevenfold description of disasters; consumption (Leviticus 26:16), fever (Leviticus 26:16), inflammation , fiery heat, drought, scorching (1 Kings 8:37; 2 Kings 19:26) and mildew (Amos 4:9; Haggai 2:17). The first four suggest unpleasant human diseases which cause high temperatures, not necessarily individual diseases but a spread of diseases which have these symptoms, the last three are disasters which affect plant life. Drought (the translation resulting from repointing from chereb to choreb to fit the threefold pattern. The vowels were not a part of the original text. But see below for a defence of chereb) comes from lack of rain, scorching from the sirocco which sweeps in from the desert, mildew is a form of plant disease. All these things would be their lot until finally they perished from the earth either through disease or starvation (contrast the opposite blessings in Deuteronomy 28:8). The heavens would be hard and unyielding, with the sun shining remorselessly in the sky, and the earth would be caked like the hardest stuff known to man (compare Leviticus 26:19). In the parallel in Deuteronomy 28:39-40 specific examples are given

However, while the repointing to choreb fits the threefold pattern it can be argued that ‘sword’ (chereb - which LXX agrees with) fits better the following verses where after the sirocco (Deuteronomy 28:24) come the enemy and thus the sword (Deuteronomy 28:25-26), followed by disease (Deuteronomy 28:27) and then affliction and confusion (Deuteronomy 28:28-29), a reversing trend to the descriptions above. Thus we should probably retain ‘sword’.

Deuteronomy 28:24

Yahweh will make the rain of your land powder, and dust from heaven shall come down on you, until you are destroyed.’

Under Yahweh’s hand, instead of raining water the heavens would rain powder and dust. This may have in mind the sirocco on a huge scale sweeping sand in from the desert. And this would continue until they were destroyed. This in huge contrast with the regular covenant promises of rain (contrast Deuteronomy 28:12). Dust will come down from heaven instead of the rain. ‘Dust from heaven’ is a contrasting parallel to the heaven giving rain from God’s treasure house (Deuteronomy 28:12). And this will destroy them for it will destroy their vegetation. The parallel Deuteronomy 28:38 (according to the analysis) reveals their vegetation as being destroyed by locusts, an even more devastating curse.

Deuteronomy 28:25-26

Yahweh will cause you to be smitten before your enemies. You will go out one way against them, and will flee seven ways before them, and you will be tossed to and fro (or ‘will be an object of horror’) among all the kingdoms of the earth, and your dead body will be food to all birds of the heavens, and to the beasts of the earth, and there will be none to frighten them away.’

Yahweh will also cause them to be smitten by their enemies. Central to the covenant had been His driving their enemies from before them (contrast Deuteronomy 28:7). That will now be reversed. He will drive their enemies towards them. Note the contrast with Deuteronomy 28:7. It will now not be their enemies who will be scattered ‘seven ways’ after marching confidently forward, but they themselves.

And they will be ‘tossed to and from among the nations’ like something unwanted by anyone, or alternatively ‘will be an object of horror’ to them (the basic verb means ‘to move, to tremble’, compare its use in Ezekiel 23:46), and their bodies will be thrown to the scavengers, and there they will be left to be torn apart, for there will be no one interested enough to scare them away and bury the body. Instead of having dominion over the beasts and the birds (Genesis 1:28), the beasts and birds will eat them up (Psalms 79:2; Jeremiah 7:33; Jeremiah 12:9; Ezekiel 39:17-20; Revelation 19:17-18). They will be totally alone and deserted, especially by Yahweh. He will not care what happens to their bodies. Being unburied was seen in those days as a fate worse than death.

The translation as ‘object of horror’ would fit better with the parallel in the analysis in Deuteronomy 28:37 ‘an astonishment, a proverb and a byword’ where the threefoldness intensified the curse.

Deuteronomy 28:27

Yahweh will smite you with the boil of Egypt, and with plague boils (or ‘tumours’), and with the scurvy (or ‘eczema’, etc.), and with the itch (or scabies, etc.), of which you cannot be healed.’

The boil of Egypt was an unpleasant disease which they had known from Egypt and which was infamous (Exodus 9:9-11; compare Leviticus 13:18-23). A similar disease is identified in an Egyptian medical text. Plague boils indicated the presence of the plague among them, compare Deuteronomy 28:21 (also 1 Samuel 8:11-17 for what probably represented plague boils). For scurvy (or eczema, etc.), compare Leviticus 21:20; Leviticus 22:22. The itch may represent scabies, and other similar skin diseases. We must not look for individually identified diseases, but diseases described by their symptoms. Note the final comment, ‘from which you cannot be healed’. The constant emphasis is on the unpleasantness of the diseases and the permanency of their fate. We can contrast here Deuteronomy 8:4 where they had been kept even from foot diseases in the wilderness.

In the parallel Deuteronomy 28:35 in the analysis the boils will smite knees and legs and ‘from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head’, an intensification of the curse. Yahweh would smite them with clinical depression and schizophrenia producing insanity, both of which are regularly the product of trauma, especially childhood trauma, and with blindness, and with delusions. The traumas of life resulting from Yahweh’s desertion, and the evil living resulting from their rebellion, would have their inevitable consequences. Some have connected this with widespread syphilis which would result from consorting with temple prostitutes, but this must be considered doubtful. The picture is one of abject helplessness and defencelessness, groping their way even in day time, not prospering as they had under the covenant (compare Deuteronomy 28:8; Deuteronomy 28:12), and being prey to every robber with none to defend them. We are intended to contrast their previous state when Yahweh had been their protector and they had not needed to fear.

God’s instruction had warned against taking advantage of people’s blindness (Deuteronomy 27:18; Leviticus 19:14), but now advantage would be taken of them, for they would not be among a people who feared Yahweh. There is here a reversal of covenant blessing.

The blindness and its effects are emphasised. But there is also a spiritual impact. They are also blind towards God. They have turned from the light and are thus now in darkness.


Verse 30-31

The Third Sixfold Curse (Deuteronomy 28:30-31).

This is then followed by a further sixfold curse divided into three and three, the first three patterned on ‘you will -- and’, the last three patterned on ‘your -- and’. This third set of curses refers to what have been called ‘futility curses’ where the proper enjoyment of something is not experienced but is frustrated by circumstances.

Deuteronomy 28:30-31

‘You will betroth a wife, and another man will lie with her;

You will build a house, and you will not dwell in it;

You will plant a vineyard, and will not use its fruit.

Your ox will be slain before your eyes, and you will not eat of it;

Your ass will be violently taken away from before your face, and will not be restored to you;

Your sheep will be given to your enemies, and you will have none to save you.’

The first three examples can be compared with Deuteronomy 20:5-7. The betrothing of a wife, the building of a house, and the planting of a vineyard were seen as the three main boons that came from God’s blessing and were to be the result of His promises and His covenant. Here they would be lost and would go to others because of their rebellion against Yahweh. The main measure of wealth was a man’s herds and flocks. Here all would be lost because they had broken the covenant. Note the constant stress on the fact that there is none to help (Deuteronomy 28:26; Deuteronomy 28:29, and here). They have forsaken Yahweh, and so Yahweh has forsaken them.

In the parallel Deuteronomy 28:32-33 in the analysis their sons and daughters will be given to another people and the fruit of their ground and all their labours will be eaten up by a nation that they know not, an intensification of this curse.


Verses 32-37

The Fourth Sixfold Curse (Deuteronomy 28:32-37).

The next sixfold pattern is more complicated. It is again divided into three and three, each made up of two statements followed by a consequence. The curses are now becoming more severe.

The first set of curses related to famine. The second set related to confusion, pestilence, disease and sword. The third set related to the frustration of all that has been laboured for being lost without enjoyment of it, and included the loss of a wife. Now the loss goes deeper with the loss of their children for ever.

Deuteronomy 28:32

Your sons and your daughters will be given to another people, and your eyes will look, and fail with longing for them all the day, and there shall be nought in the power of your hand.’

Even their sons and daughters would be lost to them. Deportation was common practise as it provided slave labour. They would be handed over to strangers. And though they might long all through the long days, and day after day, to see them it would never be. They would be in no position to bring it about.

Deuteronomy 28:33

The fruit of your ground, and all your labours, will a nation which you know not eat up, and you will be only oppressed and crushed always,’

Their produce and all that they had laboured for, in order to give it to their loved ones, would instead come into the hands of a nation that they had not even known about, who would suddenly come upon them (compare Genesis 14). These strangers would eat what they had sown, and they instead would be continually oppressed and crushed.

Deuteronomy 28:34

So that you will be mad because of the sight of your eyes which you will see.’

The net result of seeing these things with their eyes, as all that they had built up during their lives for their children was lost to them and their children, and their children were lost to them as well, would bring them into depression and madness. What they saw would be too much for them to cope with. They would also experience disease and exile and watch as they left their homeland far behind (compare Psalms 137).

Deuteronomy 28:35

Yahweh will smite you in the knees, and in the legs, with a sore boil, from which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head.’

And they would experience many diseases of a kind that Yahweh had previously saved them from. Their knees and their legs would be smitten with sore boils which would never heal, making their life of drudgery a nightmare. Indeed their whole bodies would be affected from head to toe. This would probably be the result of the awful conditions under which they would have to live (see Deuteronomy 28:27 contrast Deuteronomy 7:15; Deuteronomy 8:4; Exodus 15:26). It would, of course, render them ‘unclean’.

Deuteronomy 28:36

Yahweh will bring you, and your king whom you will set over you, to a nation that you have not known, you nor your fathers, and there will you serve other gods, wood and stone.’

Note the negative view of their future king. Moses perceptively recognises that having a king over them, as he knows one day they will have (for not only was it prophesied but in neglecting Yahweh they would have to look elsewhere for leadership, as they had to Moses), would not tend to lead to faithfulness to Yahweh. He was fully aware that Deuteronomy 17:14-20 was a pleasant hope, a picture of Yahweh’s ideal king, rather than something that could be expected. He knew this people too well. Their king would come from among them and be like them. And he links their king with them going into their exile. They would have chosen to be like the Canaanites and he is seeing them in those terms, in the terms of the nations driven out of Canaan who would also be exiled with their kings. What they had done to the Canaanites, would be done to them, because they would have become like the Canaanites. And there they would be without Yahweh. They would serve other gods of wood and stone (compare Deuteronomy 4:28), for that is one reason why they will have been cast out of the land, because of their idolatry.

They would have already chosen to follow gods of wood and stone in the land. Now they would be all that they had, because Yahweh had deserted them. (This certainly did partly happen. But God did not full desert them. He raised up prophets in order to encourage the remnant so that they might still have hope).

Deuteronomy 28:37

And you will become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all the peoples to whom Yahweh will lead you away.’

And all the people among whom they would find themselves would be astonished. They would be talked about and gossiped about as the foolish nation that turned away from Yahweh. Proverbs would be made up about their folly. They would become a byword. Compare Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 26:18-19 which brings home what they would have lost. (For the idea compare Isaiah 14:10; Isaiah 14:16 spoken of the king of Babylon. They too, like him, had once made the earth tremble).


Verses 38-44

The Fifth Sixfold Curse (Deuteronomy 28:38-44).

This is now followed by a further sixfold pattern. Here the curses more reflect conditions in the land. The whole of their agriculture, on which they all depended, would fail and fall into total chaos. It was not only outside enemies that they had to face.

Deuteronomy 28:38

You will carry much seed out into the field, and will gather little in, for the locust shall consume it.’

Though they would sow plentiful seed in great hopes, they would harvest little, for the locust would descend and eat it, and all their hopes would be dashed before their eyes as they watched helplessly while it was consumed. The swarm of locusts, sometimes 8 kilometres (5 miles) wide, would on descending eat every bit of vegetation in the area over a wide distance. The land would be stripped bare. It was regularly a picture of God’s judgment (Exodus 10:4-19; 1 Kings 8:37; Psalms 105:34; Joel 1:4).

Deuteronomy 28:39

You will plant vineyards and dress them, but you will neither drink of the wine, nor gather the grapes, for the worm will eat them.’

Their vineyards which they had dressed so carefully would be attacked by worms or vine weevils so that they produced no fruitfulness. One morning they would come down and perceive the destruction of their vines, about which they could do nothing.

Deuteronomy 28:40

You will have olive-trees throughout all your borders, but you will not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olive will cast its fruit.’

Even though they might have many olive trees throughout the land, there would be a dearth of oil because they would not produce, but would prematurely cast their fruit because of olive disease. These three examples were a reminder of the fact that all their harvests in the end depend on Yahweh. Contrast Deuteronomy 7:13 for what might have been.

Deuteronomy 28:41

You will beget sons and daughters, but they will not be yours, for they will go into captivity.’

Even though they begot sons and daughters, the delight of their eyes, they would lose them. They would no longer be available to help the family on the land. They would be carried off as slaves to work for others.

Deuteronomy 28:42

All your trees and the fruit of your ground will the locust possess.’

Not only the grain would be eaten by locusts, but locusts would descend on the whole land and eat everything so that nothing would be left. The arrival of a swarm of locusts was one of the things most dreaded by farmers in the Ancient Near East.

Deuteronomy 28:43-44

The resident alien who is in the midst of you will mount up above you higher and higher, and you will come down lower and lower. He will lend to you, and you will not lend to him. He will be the head, and you will be the tail.’

On top of all this, the resident aliens whom they had always seen as needy and requiring assistance, and whom they had always called on for extra labour when needed, would become more and more wealthy (they would not be affected by the curse), while they themselves would sink deeper and deeper into poverty. Instead of lending to resident aliens they would be driven to borrow from them. The resident aliens would have become the head, Israel would be the tail (contrast Deuteronomy 28:12-13).


Verse 45-46

A Summary.

The first series of curses are now summarised. There have been five sixfold curses, and it might have been felt that that was enough, but more were to come. And they would be even more terrible and be intensified. This again is typical of ancient treaties.

Deuteronomy 28:45

And all these curses will come on you, and will pursue you, and overtake you, until you are destroyed, because you did not listen to the voice of Yahweh your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded you.’

All that has been described will come on them, and will pursue them, and will overtake them. The threefold emphasis stresses the inexorable certainty of it. Some will endure one, and some another, but all will have to endure until finally they are destroyed. And this is because they did not hear Yahweh’s voice and did not keep His commandments and statutes which He had commanded them.

Deuteronomy 28:46

And they will be on you for a sign and for a wonder, and on your seed for ever.’

What would happen to Israel if they forgot God would be a sign and a wonder to the nations. Indeed we read it ourselves for that very reason, and we too wonder. God speaks to us through their experiences. They warn us of the severity of His judgments on those who are not faithful to Him. They had been intended to be a sign and a wonder to the glory of God because of their deliverance from Egypt (Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 7:19; Deuteronomy 26:8). That should have been their message to the world, the glorious message of what Yahweh had done for them. But they would have forfeited that by their disobedience. Instead they will be a sign of His displeasure, and of what happens to those who having claimed to be His people refuse to obey Him.


Verse 47-48

The Second Series of Curses (Deuteronomy 28:47-57).

The curses in this second series can be analysed as follows in the words of Moses:

a Because you did not serve Yahweh your God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, by reason of the abundance of all things (Deuteronomy 28:47).

b Therefore will you each (thou) serve your enemies that Yahweh will send against you, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things, and He will put a yoke of iron on your neck, until He has destroyed you.

c Yahweh will bring a nation against you from far, from the end of the earth, as the eagle flies, a nation whose tongue you will not understand, a nation of fierce countenance, who will not regard the person of the old, nor show favour to the young (Deuteronomy 28:48-50).

d And they will eat the fruit of your cattle, and the fruit of your ground, until you are destroyed; who also will not leave you grain, new wine, or oil, the increase of your cattle, or the young of your flock, until they have caused you to perish (Deuteronomy 28:51).

e And they will besiege you in all your gates, until your high and fortified walls come down, in which you trust, throughout all your land (Deuteronomy 28:52 a).

e And they will besiege you in all your gates throughout all your land, which Yahweh your God has given you (Deuteronomy 28:52 b).

d And you will each eat the fruit of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters, whom Yahweh your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies will distress you (Deuteronomy 28:53).

c The man who is gentle among you, and very caring, his eye will be evil towards his brother, and towards the wife of his bosom, and towards the remnant of his children whom he has remaining, so that he will not give to any of them of the flesh of his children whom he shall eat, because he has nothing left him, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy will distress you in all your gates.

b The tender and delicate woman among you, who would not adventure to set the sole of her foot on the ground for delicacy and tenderness, her eye will be evil towards the husband of her bosom, and towards her son, and towards her daughter, and towards her young one who comes out from between her feet, and towards her children whom she will bear, for she will eat them for want of all things, secretly, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy will distress you in your gates (Deuteronomy 28:54-57).

a If you will not observe to do all the words of this law which are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and fearful name, YAHWEH YOUR GOD (Deuteronomy 28:58).

Note that in ‘a’ it will be because they did not serve Yahweh their God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, by reason of the abundance of all things, and in the parallel it was if they would not observe to do all the words of this law which are written in this book, that they may fear this glorious and fearful name Yahweh their God. In ‘b’ they will each (thou) serve their enemies whom Yahweh will send against them, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things, and He will put a yoke of iron on their neck, until He has destroyed them, and in the parallel each man will eat his children without giving any of the meat to any others of his family (because he is so hungry) in the siege and distress with which their enemy will distress them in their cities. In ‘c’ Yahweh will bring against them a nation of fierce countenance, who will not regard the person of the old, nor show favour to the young, and in the parallel the tender and delicate woman will be so wrought on that she will eat young and old in order to survive. In ‘d’ the enemy will eat the fruit of their cattle, and in the parallel they themselves will eat the fruit of their own body. In ‘e’ ‘they will besiege you’ with its consequences parallels ‘they will besiege you’ with its consequence.

Note also the repetition in Deuteronomy 28:55; Deuteronomy 28:57 of ‘in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy will distress you in your gates’. This repetition in the second half of a chiasmus is typical of the Pentateuch and occurs in Exodus 18:21-22 a with Exodus 18:25-26 a and Numbers in Numbers 18:4 with Numbers 18:7, and Numbers 18:23 with Numbers 18:24; and elsewhere in Deuteronomy in Deuteronomy 2:21 with Deuteronomy 2:22), a pointer to unity of authorship.

Introduction.

Deuteronomy 28:47-48

Because you did not serve Yahweh your God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, by reason of the abundance of all things, therefore will you serve your enemies that Yahweh will send against you, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things, and he will put a yoke of iron on your neck, until he has destroyed you.’

The cursing is now taken up again. The purpose of this lengthy treatment and constant repetition in different ways was in order that the point may not be easily forgotten. It is the sign of an adequate preacher that he represents things in different ways so that they will not be forgotten.

The main point being made here is that they had had the opportunity of serving Yahweh in joyfulness and gladness of heart, abundantly provided for, and abundantly blessed. But they had refused. And now the opposite would come on them. Instead of the joyous service of Yahweh, they would be slaves of their enemies, they would hunger and thirst, they would be without proper clothing and made to walk naked in order to shame them (compare Isaiah 20:4), and they would have an iron yoke around their neck. Their condition would be even worse than that from which they had been delivered when they had been in bondage in Egypt. And this would go on until at last they had been destroyed.

The yoke of iron was particularly expressive. Such yokes would have been known in Egypt, purchased from the Hittites. But they were comparatively rare and would have been looked on as something wonderful and to be feared. They were inescapable. You could break a yoke of wood, but not one of iron. And it was excessively heavy and chafing.


Verses 49-58

Details of the Sixth Sixfold Curse (Deuteronomy 28:49-58).

The curses now go deeper while repeating some of what has gone before. They had been engaged in much siege warfare in their defeat of Sihon and Og, and the capture of their great cities. They would remember the conditions when they had had to starve people out, and the treatment that they had dispensed. Now they learn that these thing would come back on them if they failed in obedience to the covenant.

Deuteronomy 28:49-50

Yahweh will bring a nation against you from far, from the end of the earth, as the eagle flies, a nation whose tongue you will not understand, a nation of fierce countenance, who will not regard the person of the old, nor show favour to the young,’

Literally the last part is, ‘a nation of fierce face who does not lift up the faces of the old ---.’ Unlike Yahweh they are merciless, not compassionate.

These words could have been spoken to the people of Bashan, for that was what had happened to them when Israel arrived. Now it is to be the case of the biter bit. As they had seemed to come on Bashan from nowhere, from ‘the end of the earth’, speaking in a strange tongue and appearing fierce and wild (deliberately so), so would Yahweh bring a similar situation on themselves. This would be a nation ‘from the ends of the earth’ who would come from afar like the eagle flies (compare Hosea 8:1 of Assyria; Jeremiah 48:40; Jeremiah 49:22; Habakkuk 1:8, of Babylon; Daniel 7:4).

But this picture was not of Assyria, or of Babylon, both of which would be known to Moses, for while they were nations who came ‘from far’, they were not ‘from the end of the earth’. Moses is speaking of unknown nations from distant countries from the end of the earth. The whole point of the curse is the mysteriousness of these invaders. But any attacking nation which was not local would seem to be talking in a strange language, and to be fierce and wild. It was part of the training of an army to appear fierce and wild.

“As the eagle flies.” Fiercely, swiftly, voraciously ever seeking its prey.

“A nation whose tongue you will not understand.” Compare Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 28:11; Isaiah 33:19). The aim is to give an impression of mysteriousness and strangeness.

“Who will not regard the person of the old, nor show favour to the young,” Such invaders would show no mercy to either old or young. They would see them all as the enemy. They would treat all with the same disdain.

Deuteronomy 28:51

And they will eat the fruit of your cattle, and the fruit of your ground, until you are destroyed; who also will not leave you grain, new wine, or oil, the increase of your cattle, or the young of your flock, until they have caused you to perish.’

These armies would take possession of all that they had. Like a swarm of human locusts they would devour everything leaving them with nothing. For that was usually the reason for the invasion. Compare the picture in Judges 6:1-6, a vivid illustration of this.

Deuteronomy 28:52

And they will besiege you in all your gates, until your high and fortified walls come down, in which you trust, throughout all your land, and they will besiege you in all your gates throughout all your land, which Yahweh your God has given you.’

Their recent memory of their own activities in Gilead and Bashan would come back to mind as they heard these words. As they had besieged, so would they be besieged, until their walls came down, the walls in which they trusted instead of in Yahweh, and their gates would be attacked until they fell. And this in the land which Yahweh their God had given them, because they had despised the gift by their behaviour.

Deuteronomy 28:53

And you will eat the fruit of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters, whom Yahweh your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies will distress you.’

And as a result of starvation, as the effects of the siege began to bite, they would even eat their own children, again what Yahweh their God had given them, (even in the midst of the curses they were constantly being made to recognise what gratitude they should show to Yahweh), because of the distress in which they would find themselves.

Deuteronomy 28:54-55

The man who is gentle among you, and very caring, his eye will be evil towards his brother, and towards the wife of his bosom, and towards the remnant of his children whom he has remaining, so that he will not give to any of them of the flesh of his children whom he shall eat, because he has nothing left him, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy will distress you in all your gates.’

But the situation would be so desperate, that even the most gentlemanlike and the most loving would lose all restraint and become the very opposite. In eating their children they would keep it from their wives and other children because they did not want to have to share what they ate, because of the dire need, so dreadful would conditions be. Such behaviour during sieges was not unknown.

Deuteronomy 28:56-57

The tender and delicate woman among you, who would not adventure to set the sole of her foot on the ground for delicacy and tenderness, her eye will be evil towards the husband of her bosom, and towards her son, and towards her daughter, and towards her young one who comes out from between her feet, and towards her children whom she will bear, for she will eat them for want of all things, secretly, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy will distress you in your gates.’

And even the woman who was so ladylike and delicate that she would not want her feet to touch the ground but would clad them to protect them, not wanting any dust or dirt to defile them, or would arrange to travel in litters for the same purpose, would think nothing of eating her husband and all her children, including the baby that she had just given birth to, even without washing it, because of the desperate state that she was in because of the distress of the siege.

The picture is a dreadful and horrific one, deliberately so, for the purpose was that it might be remembered (compare Leviticus 26:29).

Deuteronomy 28:58

If you will not observe to do all the words of this law which are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and fearful name, YAHWEH YOUR GOD,’

In the midst of the gloom, the way of escape is offered. If they live in accordance with the covenant and observe to do all the words of His instruction ‘written in this book’, and fear the glorious and fearful name of Yahweh their God, this will not happen to them. But if they do not then they can only expect the worst.

So ends the sixfold pattern of sixfold curses, thirty six curses in all, a further reminder that they were being applied to the six tribes on Mount Ebal who were ‘for the curse’. And yet he had not yet finished. One final series of curses had to be given in order to make them sevenfold, the ultimate in divine curses.


Verses 59-68

The Third Series of Curses (Deuteronomy 28:59-68).

The sixfold pattern here is not quite so apparent (there is always the danger of seeking to fit the text into a pre-prepared straitjacket). It is certainly more complicated here, but what has preceded suggests that we should seek such a pattern here too, to make up seven sixfold patterns, the number of divine completeness.

This is the ultimate in curses. In the final analysis they will be removed from the land, as they had removed the nations of Canaan from the land. This had to be so, for their permission to be in the land was dependent on obedience to the covenant which had granted them the land. It would be the final fulfilment of all the warnings that Yahweh had given them (compare Leviticus 26:33-39).

The final six curses will result in dreadful diseases (see Deuteronomy 28:22; Deuteronomy 28:27; Deuteronomy 28:35; Leviticus 26:16; Leviticus 26:21; Leviticus 26:25; compare Exodus 32:35; Numbers 11:33; Numbers 14:12; Numbers 25:8-9), decimation of their numbers (Deuteronomy 4:27; Leviticus 26:21-22), destruction and removal from the land (Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 6:15; Deuteronomy 7:4; Deuteronomy 8:19-20; Deuteronomy 11:17), scattering among the peoples (Deuteronomy 4:27; Deuteronomy 32:26; Leviticus 26:33), total lack of rest (Leviticus 26:36; Leviticus 26:39 contrast Deuteronomy 12:9-10) and finally a return to bondage in Egypt (compare Hosea 8:13; Hosea 9:3).

Analysis in the words of Moses;

a Then Yahweh will make your plagues wonderful, and the plagues of your seed, even great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance. And he will bring on you again all the diseases of Egypt, which you were afraid of, and they will cleave to you. Also every sickness, and every plague, which are not written in the book of this law, those will Yahweh bring upon you, until you are destroyed (Deuteronomy 28:59-61).

b And you will be left few in number, whereas you were as the stars of heaven for multitude, because you did not listen to the voice of Yahweh your God (Deuteronomy 28:62-63).

c And Yahweh will scatter you among all peoples, from the one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth, and there you will serve other gods, which you have not known, you nor your fathers, even wood and stone (Deuteronomy 28:64).

c And among these nations you will find no ease, and there will be no rest for the sole of your foot (Deuteronomy 28:65 a).

b But Yahweh will give you there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and pining of soul, and your life will hang in doubt before you, and you will fear night and day, and will have no assurance of your life. In the morning you will say, “Would that it were even!” and at even you will say, “Would that it were morning!” for the fear of your heart which you will fear, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see (Deuteronomy 28:65-67).

a And Yahweh will bring you into Egypt again with ships, by the way of which I said to you, “You shall see it no more again,” and there you will sell yourselves to your enemies for bondsmen and for bondswomen, and no man will buy you (Deuteronomy 28:68).

Note in ‘a’ that He will bring on them the diseases of Egypt and in the parallel they will again be bondsmen in Egypt. These were the two most vivid bad memories of life in Egypt. In ‘b. they will be left few in number and in the parallel we have a vivid description of how that will come about. In ‘c’ they will be scattered among all people and will serve other gods, and in the parallel among these nations they will find no ease and no rest for their feet (the consequence of serving other gods).

Deuteronomy 28:59-61

Then Yahweh will make your plagues wonderful, and the plagues of your seed, even great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance. And he will bring on you again all the diseases of Egypt, which you were afraid of, and they will cleave to you. Also every sickness, and every plague, which are not written in the book of this law, those will Yahweh bring upon you, until you are destroyed.’

The level of disease that would come on them would be extremely high for they would be His judgments and he would have withdrawn His protection. He would bring on them ‘extraordinary plagues’, and on their children He would bring great plagues, long continuing plagues, and long continuing sore sicknesses. The purpose is to bring out the awful consequences of sin. Much of the disease in the world is due to sin, not as a direct judgment, but as the result of the way men live and act. For this bringing of disease contrast Deuteronomy 7:15; Exodus 15:26; and for the plagues of Egypt compare Exodus 9:9-14).

“All the diseases of Egypt, which you were afraid of.” There were many diseases in Egypt of which they had been afraid, including among many others tuberculosis, trachoma causing blindness, elephantisis, and severe boils (Exodus 9:9). The boil of Egypt was an unpleasant disease which they had known from Egypt and which was infamous (Exodus 9:9-11; compare Leviticus 13:18-23). A similar disease is identified in an Egyptian medical text. They would not only suffer from these diseases but they would ‘cleave to them’. They would be permanent.

“Which are not written in the book of this law (instruction).” This implies instruction already in writing and must indicate at least the basis of the Pentateuch in writing at this time.

Deuteronomy 28:62-63

And you (ye) will be left few in number, whereas you (ye) were as the stars of heaven for multitude, because you (thou) did not listen to the voice of Yahweh your God.’

In Deuteronomy 1:10; Deuteronomy 10:22 he had boasted how Yahweh had multiplied them. Now he warns that He would decimate them. Growing in numbers was a part of the covenant made with their fathers (Genesis 12:2; Genesis 22:17; Genesis 26:4; Genesis 26:24). It was a proof of Yahweh’s blessing. But to desert the covenant would result in decimation. We have only to think of what is described in the curses to recognise how this would be so. Yet hidden within this threat is a promise. In destroying them there would be a small remnant remaining (compare Isaiah 6:13).

Deuteronomy 28:63

And it will come about, that, as Yahweh rejoiced over you (ye) to do you (ye) good, and to multiply you (ye), so Yahweh will rejoice over you (ye) to cause you (ye) to perish, and to destroy you (ye), and you (ye) shall be plucked from off the land to which you go in order to possess it.’

The contrast is made between what Yahweh had done and longed to do for them, and what He would do because of their rebellion. He had rejoiced over them, it had been His good pleasure to do them good, He had multiplied them. But because of what they would have become He would rejoice in causing them to perish and destroying them. There is a real sense in which God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He would prefer that they turned from their wickedness and lived. But what was righteous in Him could only rejoice in the destruction of those who were the causes of sin when there was no hope of repentance. Thus some would perish, some would be destroyed, and some would be plucked from the land which Yahweh had given them to possess. For that possession had depended on obedience.

This would be no rush decision. Later history testifies to His forbearance and longsuffering. But eventually He would do it if He had to.

Deuteronomy 28:64

And Yahweh will scatter you (thee) among all peoples, from the one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth, and there you will serve other gods, which you have not known, you nor your fathers, even wood and stone.’

And when they were plucked from the land they would be scattered among the nations, among ‘all peoples’, from one end of earth to the other. The picture is of widespread distribution far exceeding that of Assyria and Babylon. It is general rather than specific. And there they would throw themselves into idolatry, serving many gods, so lost to all that they had once believed in would they be. They would become like the Canaanites whom they should have driven out.

This did indeed happen to many. And that was why many never came back. They were scattered by many things, captivity, fear, necessity, the sad state of the land, and they ended up among many nations in total apostasy. The picture is the reversal of all the hopes that they had as they listened to Moses. It must have appeared surreal.

Deuteronomy 28:65-67

And among these nations you will find no ease, and there will be no rest for the sole of your foot, but Yahweh will give you there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and pining of soul, and your life will hang in doubt before you, and you will fear night and day, and will have no assurance of your life. In the morning you will say, “Would that it were even!” and at even you will say, “Would that it were morning!” for the fear of your heart which you will fear, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see.’

But let them be assured of this. They would find no rest (contrast Deuteronomy 3:20; Deuteronomy 12:9; Deuteronomy 25:19; Exodus 33:14; Joshua 1:13; Judges 3:11, etc.). There would be no ease, no rest for the sole of their feet, no rest for their hearts and minds. Their hearts would tremble, their eyes would fail because of their distress, their souls would pine, their lives would be in the balances. Day and night they would be afraid, and they would far for their lives. In the morning they would long for the evening, and in the evening they would long for the morning, so terrible would their lives be, because of what their hearts feared, and because of what their eyes saw. They would have lost the covenant rest which God had promised them.

Deuteronomy 28:68

And Yahweh will bring you into Egypt again with ships, by the way of which I said to you, “You shall see it no more again,” and there you (ye) will sell yourselves (ye) to your enemies for bondsmen and for bondswomen, and no man will buy you.’

And finally they would ‘return to Egypt’. Yahweh will do what the king must not do (Deuteronomy 17:16). Here was the ultimate curse. They would be back to the place from which they had been delivered from slavery and they would not even be wanted as slaves.

Now it is clear from what has been said that all these things could not apply to all the people. Least of all this when so many had been scattered among the nations. It is rather the significance that was in mind. Many of them would be returned whence they came. The deliverance would be reversed. ‘By the way that you came’ does not under this interpretation mean a strict using of the ways previously travelled but arrival at the same place from which they had originally set out, Egypt.

Moses knew that a common way to travel from Egypt in order to avoid the hardships of the way was by ship along the coast, but he probably had little knowledge of the difficulties of the Palestine coastline. He did, however, know that much trade along the coast took place by ship. The thought is not of general trade but rather of their being in such desperation that they would travel there in order to sell themselves into slavery. Slaves would often be delivered to Egypt by ship. Yahweh had said that they would see it no more. But that had depended on obedience. It would be a different matter now.

Alternately it has been suggested that based on Ugaritic evidence ‘with ships’ should be rather translated as ‘casually’. Then the thought would be that they literally returned by the way that they had come with little forethought, in order to sell themselves as slaves in Egypt, or that they were dragged there by traders who cared little.

But, whichever be the case, so poor would be their condition that no one would buy them. They would simply be dispensable. This would be the final ignominy. They would be so valueless that they would not even be wanted as slaves in Egypt.

A little thought will demonstrate that this had to be said by Moses at this time. No one in the future would ever have seen this as the ultimate curse. And to no one else but Israel then would it have had the same impact.

It should be pointed out that this is not intended to be prophecy. It is in fact describing what could happen in any century BC. Famine, pestilence and war were commonplace, sieges constantly took place. We only relate it to later centuries because we have records of what happened then and see it in that light. But to Moses it was simply the inevitable result of the losing of the protection of Yahweh and the incurring of His anger, and the consequence of their disobedience in incurring the loss of the gift of the land as the Canaanite had before them. The choice was simple. Remaining within the covenant and enjoying all that God had in store for them as His people, or turning from the covenant and facing the inevitable consequences of rejection.

Deuteronomy 29:1

These are the words of the covenant which Yahweh commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which he made with them in Horeb.’

With these words Moses’ great speech, which began at Deuteronomy 5:1, finishes. It is stated as portraying a covenant which parallels that given at Horeb. It is not a replacement. The two are to be seen as one, as his first introduction demonstrated. For it was fully based on what happened at Sinai (Deuteronomy 5). This may also be the colophon on the tablet or papyrus on which it was written.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 28:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/deuteronomy-28.html. 2013.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology