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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Deuteronomy 28

 

 

Verse 1

Deuteronomy 28:1. If thou hearken diligently — The foregoing blessings and curses being appointed to be pronounced in so solemn a manner, Moses takes occasion from thence to enlarge upon both of them, to show the Israelites what they and their posterity had to expect at the hands of God, according as they complied or not with the terms of the covenant which they were now under.


Verses 2-6

Deuteronomy 28:2-6. All these blessings shall overtake thee — The blessings which others greedily follow after, and never overtake, shall follow after thee, and shall be thrown into thy lap by special kindness. In the city, and in the field — Whether they were husbandmen or tradesmen, whether in the town or country, they should be preserved from the dangers of both, and have the comforts of both. How constantly must we depend upon God, both for the continuance and comfort of life. We need him at every turn: we cannot be safe if he withdraw his protection, nor easy if he suspend his favour: but if he bless us, go where we will, it is well with us. Store — Store-house, it shall always be well replenished, and the provision thou hast there shall be preserved for thy use and service. Comest in — That is, in all thy affairs and administrations.


Verse 9-10

Deuteronomy 28:9-10. Establish thee — Shall confirm his covenant with thee, by which he separated thee to himself as a holy and peculiar people. Called by the name of the Lord — That you are in truth his people and children: a most excellent and glorious people, under the peculiar care and countenance of the great God.


Verse 11-12

Deuteronomy 28:11-12. Plenteous in goods — The same things which were said before are repeated, to show that God would repeat and multiply his blessings upon them. His good treasure — The heaven or the air, which is God’s store-house, where he treasures up rain or wind for man’s use.


Verse 13

Deuteronomy 28:13. The head — The chief of all people in power, or at least in dignity and privileges; so that even they that are not under thy authority shall reverence thy greatness and excellence. So it was in David’s and Solomon’s time, and so it should have been oftener and much more, if they had performed the conditions.


Verse 15

Deuteronomy 28:15. These curses shall overtake thee — So that thou shalt not be able to escape them, as thou shalt vainly hope and endeavour to do. There is no running from God, but by running to him; no fleeing from his justice, but by fleeing to his mercy.


Verse 20

Deuteronomy 28:20. Cursing, vexation, and rebuke — The first of these words seems to import that God would blast all their designs; the second relates to disquiet and perplexity of mind, arising from the disappointment of their hopes, and presages of approaching miseries; the third respects such chastisements from God as would give them a severe check and rebuke for their sins and follies.


Verses 21-24

Deuteronomy 28:21-24. Shall make the pestilence cleave to thee — Sometimes Divine Providence shall scourge you by one calamity, and sometimes by another, and they will cut off your people in great numbers. Thy heaven shall be brass — Dry, and shut up from giving rain or dew. The earth iron — Exceeding hard through drought, and barren. The rain of thy land powder and dust — As unprofitable to thy ground or seed as if it were only so much dust. Or rather, by reason of long droughts, dust blown up into the air by winds shall fall in showers instead of rain.


Verses 27-29

Deuteronomy 28:27-29. The botch of Egypt — Such boils or blains as the Egyptians were plagued with, spreading from head to foot. The emerods — Those painful swellings of the hemorrhoidal vessels, called piles. Blindness — Of mind, so that they should not know what to do. Astonishment — They should be filled with wonder and horror because of the strangeness and soreness of their calamities. Grope at noon-day — In the most clear and evident matters thou shalt grossly mistake. Thy ways — Thy counsels and enterprises shall be frustrated and turn to thy destruction. Compare Jeremiah 25:16; Jeremiah 25:18; Zephaniah 1:17; Lamentations 4:14; Jeremiah 4:9; Ezekiel 4:17.


Verse 32

Deuteronomy 28:32. Thy sons and thy daughters shall be given — When you have provoked the divine justice to deliver you into the hands of your enemies, you shall have nothing left which you can call your own. Your very wives and children shall become a prey to your enemies; shall be taken from you and given, or sold, to another people — By those who have conquered you and taken them captives. Thine eyes shall fail — Or be consumed, partly with grief and plentiful tears, and partly with earnest desire, and long and vain expectation of their return. There shall be no might in thy hand — No power to rescue, nor money to ransom them.


Verse 33

Deuteronomy 28:33. Which thou knowest not — Who shall come from a far country, whom thou didst not at all expect or fear, and therefore will be the more dreadful when they come. This was remarkably fulfilled when Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, came and dispossessed the ten tribes, and when Nebuchadnezzar carried the other two tribes away, and placed other people in their room. Thou shalt be oppressed and crushed always — They were not to be quite rooted out and destroyed, as the Amalekites and Canaanites were, of whom no footsteps now remain; but to be scattered through other nations, and there oppressed, crushed, and enslaved.


Verse 34

Deuteronomy 28:34. Thou shalt be mad for the sight of thine eyes — Quite bereaved of all comfort and hope, and abandoned to utter despair. “Into what madness, fury, and desperation have they been pushed,” says Bishop Newton, in illustration of this prophecy, “by the cruel usage, extortions, and oppressions which they have undergone! We will allege only two similar instances, one from ancient, and one from modern history. After the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, some of the Jews took refuge in the castle of Masada, where, being closely besieged by the Romans, they, at the persuasion of Eleazar their leader, first murdered their wives and children, then ten men were chosen by lot to slay the rest; this being done, one of the ten was chosen in like manner to kill the other nine, which having executed, he set fire to the place, and then stabbed himself. There were nine hundred and sixty who perished in this miserable manner; and only two women and five boys escaped by hiding themselves in the aqueducts under ground. Such another instance we have in our English history: for in the reign of Richard I., when the people were in arms to make a general massacre of them, fifteen hundred of them seized on the city of York to defend themselves; but being besieged they offered to capitulate, and to ransom their lives with money. The offer being refused, one of them cried in despair, that it was better to die courageously for the law than to fall into the hands of the Christians. Every one immediately took his knife and stabbed his wife and children. The men afterward retired into the king’s palace, which they set on fire, in which they consumed themselves, with the palace and furniture.”


Verse 36

Deuteronomy 28:36. The Lord shall bring thee and thy king — The calamity shall be universal; even thy king shall not be able to avoid it, much less his subjects, who have far less advantage and opportunity for escape; he who should protect or rescue them shall be lost with them. This was partly fulfilled when Jehoiachin was carried captive to Babylon, with his mother, wives, officers, and the mighty of the land, 2 Kings 24:15; and afterward Zedekiah, 2 Kings 25:7; Jeremiah 52:11. For the Assyrians were a people, though not quite unknown to the Jews, in Moses’s time, yet with whom they had but little intercourse. But it was more especially accomplished in their last dispersion by the Romans, a nation which neither they nor their fathers knew. There thou shalt serve other gods, wood and stone — So that what formerly was their choice and delight should now become their plague and misery. And this, doubtless, was the condition of many Israelites under the Assyrian and Babylonish captivities, being either influenced by the example and counsels of their conquerors, or compelled by their tyranny to practise this idolatry. And Bishop Newton on this passage proves, by authentic testimonies, that “it has been common for Jews in Popish countries to comply with the idolatrous worship of the Church of Rome, and to bow down to stocks and stones, rather than that their effects should be seized and confiscated.”


Verse 37

Deuteronomy 28:37. Thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a by-word — “And do we not hear and see this prophecy fulfilled almost every day? Is not the avarice, usury, and hard-heartedness of a Jew grown proverbial? And are not their persons generally odious among all sorts of people? Mohammedans, heathens, and Christians, however they may disagree in other points, yet generally agree in vilifying, abusing, and persecuting the Jews. In most places where they are tolerated, they are obliged to live in a separate quarter by themselves, (as they did in London in the Old Jewry,) and to wear some badge of distinction. Their very countenances commonly distinguish them from the rest of mankind. They are in all respects treated as if they were of another species.” Bishop Newton.


Verse 43

Deuteronomy 28:43. The stranger that is within thee — Within thy gates; who formerly honoured and served thee, and were, some of them, glad of the crumbs which fell from thy table. Shall get above thee very high — Shall rise to great wealth and prosperity upon thy ruin.


Verse 45

Deuteronomy 28:45. Moreover, all these curses — Here some critics have made a division of these prophecies, and have interpreted the preceding part as relating to the former captivity of the Jews, and the calamities which they suffered under the Chaldeans; and the remaining part as referring to their latter captivity, and the calamities which they suffered under the Romans. But “there is no need,” says Bishop Newton, “of any such distinction; there is no reason to think any such was intended by the author; several prophecies of the one part, as well as of the other, have been fulfilled at both periods; but they have all been more amply fulfilling during the latter period; and there cannot be a more lively picture than they exhibit of the state of the Jews at present.” Indeed, the present deplorable state of the Jewish nation so exactly answers these predictions, that it is an incontestable proof of the truth of the prophecy, and consequently of the divine authority of the Scriptures. And their destruction by the Romans, far more dreadful than the former, shows that their sin in rejecting Christ was more provoking to God than idolatry itself, and left them more under the power of Satan. For their captivity in Babylon cured them effectually of idolatry in seventy years. But under this last destruction they continue above eighteen hundred years incurably averse to their own Messiah, the Lord that bought them.


Verse 46

Deuteronomy 28:46. They (these curses now mentioned) shall be upon thee for a sign — This, indeed, they have been in a most wonderful and astonishing manner. Since man was first placed on the earth, never was there a people that were such a sign to all the inhabitants of it as the Jews have been. Never did any other people experience such a strange series of events; never were calamities like theirs; never were people so dispersed, and carried into captivity, and yet kept so entire and separate, and thereby made a spectacle and sign to all nations. Though the above verse was written above three thousand years ago, yet do the nations of the earth see it in full force at this day! The seed of this very people still remain, and their state is such, as makes them for a sign and a wonder over the face of the earth. What a striking and wonderful evidence is this of the divinity of the Holy Scriptures! Who but God, that declareth the end from the beginning, could declare this, and bring it to pass? O God, very wonderful art thou! Thou makest thy enemies to bear witness to thy truth, and advance thy honour!


Verse 48

Deuteronomy 28:48. He shall put a yoke of iron about thy neck — That is, cruel thraldom, and rigorous oppression, Jeremiah 27:11-12. This is highly just, that they who refuse the reasonable service of God should be made slaves to their enemies; and, instead of the easy yoke of God, should be put under a yoke of iron. See 2 Chronicles 12:8.


Verse 49

Deuteronomy 28:49. The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far — “The Chaldeans might be said to come from far, in comparison of the Moabites, Philistines, and other neighbouring nations, which used to infest Judea.” See Jeremiah 5:15; Jeremiah 6:22. And they are represented as pursuing them with the swiftness of eagles, Lamentations 4:19. But the Romans, no doubt, were chiefly intended. “They were truly brought ‘from far, from the end of the earth;’ Vespasian and Adrian, the two great conquerors and destroyers of the Jews, both coming from commanding here in Britain. The Romans too, from the rapidity of their conquests, might very well be compared to eagles, and perhaps not without an allusion to the standard of the Roman armies, which was an eagle, and their language was more unknown to the Jews than the Chaldee.” — Bishop Newton.


Verse 50

Deuteronomy 28:50. A nation of a fierce countenance — Such were the Chaldeans, who, according to the historian, “slew the young men” of the Jews “in the house of the sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man or him that stooped for age.” Such also were the Romans, who, Josephus says, when they entered Gadera, showed mercy to no age, out of hatred to the nation, and remembrance of former injuries. They made the like slaughter at Gamala, “not so much as sparing young children, but every one, snatching up many, cast them down from the citadel.”


Verse 52

Deuteronomy 28:52. He shall besiege thee in all thy gates — Thus did Shalmaneser, Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnezzar. See 2 Kings 18:9-10; 2 Kings 18:13, and 2 Kings 25:10. But this prediction was especially fulfilled by the Romans, to whom the best fortified places in Judea were forced to yield, as may be seen in Josephus’s History of the Jewish war, which is the best commentary on this part of the prophecy. And the Jews might well be said to trust in their high and fenced walls; for they seldom ventured to fight in the open field. In particular, they confided in the strength and situation of Jerusalem, as the Jebusites, the former inhabitants of the place, had done before them, 2 Samuel 5:6-7.


Verse 53

Deuteronomy 28:53. Thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body — The stoutest and most obstinate resistance will avail you nothing; all the advantage you will gain by it will be to suffer such long and pressing straits by the siege as will force you, after thousands have perished with hunger, to feed upon the flesh of one another. This prediction was repeatedly fulfilled, especially when Vespasian and his son Titus begirt Jerusalem so closely that the besieged were reduced to a most grievous famine, which forced them, after they had eaten up their horses and other creatures, to eat even their own children, whom parents, who had used to live delicately, Moses here foretels, should themselves eat up privately, and let none share with them.


Verse 54-55

Deuteronomy 28:54-55. His eye shall be evil toward his brother — His wants will make him throw off all distinction of, and compassion for, his nearest and dearest relations. Hunger will make him snatch the meat out of the mouths of his own children, and grudge every morsel that they eat. Accordingly Josephus informs us that wives forced away the meat out of the very mouths of their husbands, children of their parents, and, what was yet more unnatural, mothers of their infants, taking away from them, as they lay languishing in their arms, the very last support of life. Nay, he tells us that “in every house, if there appeared any semblance of food, a battle ensued, and the dearest friends and relations fought with one another, snatching away the miserable provisions of life.” So, literally, were the words of Moses fulfilled! — Bel. Jud., lib. 5. cap. 10, sect. 3; and lib. 6. cap. 3, sect. 3.


Verse 56-57

Deuteronomy 28:56-57. The tender and delicate woman — shall eat her children — secretly — Not in order to escape the infamy of the action, but lest others should have a share with her. In the siege and straitness — This was fulfilled about six hundred years after the time of Moses, among the Israelites, when Samaria was besieged by the king of Syria, and two women agreed together, the one to give up her son to be boiled and eaten that day, and the other to deliver up her son to be dressed and eaten the next, and one of them was eaten accordingly, 2 Kings 6:28. It was fulfilled again about nine hundred years after Moses, in the siege of Jerusalem, before the Babylonish captivity, Baruch 2:1-3; Lamentations 4:10. And again it was fulfilled above one thousand five hundred years after Moses, in the last siege of Jerusalem by Titus; Josephus informing us particularly of a noble woman’s killing and eating her own sucking child; and she did it, as Moses says she should do it, secretly; for, according to Josephus, when she had boiled and eaten half, she covered up the rest, and kept it for another time. At so many different times, and distant periods, hath this prophecy been fulfilled, to the perpetual reproach of the Jewish nation; for never was the like done, either by Greek or barbarian. See the fruit of being abandoned of God! Nothing is too barbarous for such to do.


Verse 62

Deuteronomy 28:62. Ye shall be left few in number — “Not to mention here any other of the calamities and slaughters which the Jews have undergone, there was in the last siege of Jerusalem, by Titus, an infinite multitude, saith Josephus, who perished by famine; and he computes that, during the whole siege, the number of those who were destroyed by that and by the war amounted to eleven hundred thousand, the people being assembled from all parts to celebrate the passover. And the same author hath given us an account of one million two hundred and forty thousand four hundred and ninety destroyed in Jerusalem and other parts of Judea, besides ninety-nine thousand two hundred made prisoners, as Basnage has reckoned them up from that historian’s account.” — Bp. Newton. Another Jewish writer relates that there were above one hundred and sixteen thousand dead bodies of the rich and honourable men of Jerusalem carried out at one gate of the city during the siege, besides those which were carried out at other gates, and thrown over the wall. But when the city was taken, the massacre was dreadful. Titus would have put an end to it, but could not. His men killed all, except the most vigorous, whom they shut up in the porch of the women. The youngest and most beautiful of these were reserved to grace Titus’s triumph. Those above seventeen years of age were sent bound into Egypt, to be employed in some public works there; and great numbers of others were sent into several cities of Syria, and other provinces, to be exposed on the public theatres, to exhibit fights, or to be devoured by wild beasts. So that the whole number of Jews who perished in this war is computed at upward of one million four hundred thousand. Besides these, however, a vast number perished in caves, woods, wildernesses, common sewers, &c., of whom no computation could be made. — Encycl. Brit. Add to the above, that the slaughter was very great which was afterward made of them in the wars of Julius Severus, sent against them by Adrian, when fifty of their strongest fortresses were razed, and nine hundred and eighty- five of their most noble and populous towns were sacked and consumed by fire, insomuch that, as Dion expresses it, “all Judea was in a manner laid waste, and left as a desert.” But indeed there is no nation on earth that hath been exposed to so many persecutions and massacres. Their history abounds with them. And if God had not given them a promise of a numerous posterity, the whole race would many times have been extirpated.


Verse 63

Deuteronomy 28:63. The Lord will rejoice over you, to destroy you — His just indignation against you will be so great, that it will be a pleasure to him to take vengeance on you. For though he doth not delight in the death of a sinner in itself, yet he doth delight in glorifying his justice upon incorrigible transgressors, seeing the exercise of all his attributes must needs please him, else he were not perfectly happy. And ye shall be plucked from off the land, &c. — This was fulfilled when the king of Assyria carried the ten tribes into captivity, and planted other nations in their stead; and when the king of Babylon carried away the other two tribes; and especially when the Romans took away their place and nation, not to mention other captivities and transportations of them. “Afterward, when the Emperor Adrian had subdued the rebellious Jews, he published an edict, forbidding them, upon pain of death, to set foot in Jerusalem, or even to approach the country round about. Tertullian and Jerome say, they were prohibited from entering Judea. From that time to this their country hath been in the possession of foreign lords and masters, few of the Jews dwelling in it, and those only of a low, servile condition.”


Verse 64

Deuteronomy 28:64. The Lord shall scatter thee among all people — According to Nehemiah, (Nehemiah 1:8-9,) these words were fulfilled in the Babylonish captivity; but they have been far more amply fulfilled since the great dispersion of the Jews by the Romans. “What people have been scattered so far and wide as they? And where is the nation that is a stranger to them, or to which they are strangers? They swarm in many parts of the East, are spread through most of the countries of Europe and Africa, and there are several families of them in the West Indies. They circulate through all parts, and are, as one may say, the brokers of the whole world.” — Bp. Newton.


Verse 65

Deuteronomy 28:65. Among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall thy foot have rest — They have been so far from finding rest, that they have been banished from city to city, from country to country. In many places they have been banished and recalled, and banished again. Several remarkable instances of this kind are mentioned by Bishop Newton here, to whom the reader is referred. In some of them the Jews must have suffered much, particularly when, in the latter end of the fifteenth century, they were banished from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella. At that time, according to Mariana, there were one hundred and seventy thousand families, or, as some say, eight hundred thousand persons, who left the kingdom. Abarbinel, a Jewish writer, gives the following account of this their last expulsion from Spain. He says, “Three hundred thousand of them, old and young, men and women, (among whom he was one,) went away on foot, upon one day, not knowing whither to go. Some went into Portugal, others into Navarre, where they conflicted with many calamities: for some became a prey or perished by famine and pestilence; and therefore others committed themselves to sea, hoping to find a quiet seat in some other countries. But on the sea they met with new disasters; for many were sold for slaves when they came on any coast, many were drowned, many burned in the ships, which were set on fire. In short, all suffered the punishment of God the avenger: for, after all this, a plague came and swept away the rest of the miserable wretches, who were hated by all mankind; so all that vast number perished by some calamity or other, except a very few.” Some who sought for rest in the kingdom of Fez, lived there a long time upon grass, and ate its very roots, and then died, and their bodies lay exposed, none being so charitable as to bury them.

The Jewish writer just quoted mentions some taking refuge in Portugal. They paid dearly for this liberty to John II., but within a few years were expelled from thence also by his successor. And in the beginning of the next century a dreadful massacre was made of them at Lisbon, for three days together, where they were not suffered to die of their deadly wounds, but were dragged by their mangled limbs into the market-place, where the bodies of the living and the slain, with others half alive, half dead, were burned together in heaps. Two thousand of them perished in this barbarous manner. Parents durst not mourn for their children, nor children sigh for their parents, when they saw them haled to the place of torment. Fear so dispirited them, as an historian relates, that the living in their aspect did not much differ from the dead, so that they were exactly in the condition Moses here describes, when he says, And the Lord shall give thee a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind.


Verse 66

Deuteronomy 28:66. Thy life shall hang in doubt — Either because thou art in the hands of thy enemies that have power, and want not the will, to destroy thee; or because of the terrors of thy own mind, and the guilt of thy conscience making thee to fear, even where no fear is.


Verse 68

Deuteronomy 28:68. The Lord shall bring thee into Egypt — Which was literally fulfilled under Titus, when multitudes of them were carried thither and sold for slaves. With ships — This expression seems to be intended to remind them of that time when they went over the sea without ships, God miraculously drying up the sea before them, a time which now they would have occasion sadly to remember. By the way whereof — That is, to which place or part of the world, namely Egypt; I spake unto thee, thou shalt see it no more again — Referring to what he had said, Deuteronomy 17:16. This is also well illustrated by the bishop. “They had come out of Egypt triumphant, but now they should return thither as slaves. They had walked through the sea as dry land at their coming out, but now they should be carried thither in ships. They might be carried thither in the ships of the Tyrian or Sidonian merchants, or by the Romans, who had a fleet in the Mediterranean, and this was a much safer way of conveying so many prisoners than sending them by land. It appears from Josephus, that in the reigns of the first two Ptolemies many of the Jews were slaves in Egypt. And when Jerusalem was taken by Titus, of the captives who, as we have observed on Deuteronomy 28:62, were sent into Egypt, those under seventeen were sold: but so little care was taken of these captives, that eleven thousand of them perished for want. The markets were overstocked with them, so that Josephus says, in another place, they were sold with their wives and children at the lowest price, there being many to be sold, but few purchasers.” And we learn from St. Jerome, “that after their last overthrow by Adrian, many thousands of them were sold, and those who could not be sold were transported into Egypt, and perished by shipwreck or famine, or were massacred by the inhabitants.” Hegesipus also says, “There were many captives offered for sale, but few buyers, because the Romans disdained to take the Jews for slaves; and there were not Jews remaining to redeem their countrymen.”

We have quoted thus largely from Bishop Newton’s able exposition of these predictions of Moses, because we believe more clear and convincing proof cannot be given of their accomplishment, and are apprehensive that many of our readers have it not in their power to consult his excellent volumes on the prophecies, from which these extracts are taken. His concluding observation is worthy of peculiar attention. “Here are instances of prophecies delivered about three thousand years ago, and yet, as we see, fulfilling in the world at this very time: and what stronger proof can we desire of the divine legation of Moses? How these instances may affect others, I know not; but for myself I must acknowledge they not only convince but astonish me beyond expression. They are truly, as Moses foretold they would be, a sign and a wonder for ever.” “I have heard of a wicked man,” says Mr. Henry, “who, on reading these threatenings, was so enraged, that he tore the leaf out of his Bible.” But to what purpose is it to deface a copy, while the original remains upon record in the divine counsels, by which it is determined that the wages of sin is death, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear. Let us all learn from hence then to stand in awe and not sin.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 28:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/deuteronomy-28.html. 1857.

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