From Deuteronomy 24-27
Today’s passage contains a whole heap of curses. As you may know Moses has devoted a large amount of attention to the Jewish law. Today he gets them to pronounce curses on those who fail to observe these commands.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
9 Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the LORD your God. 10 You shall therefore obey the voice of the LORD your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today.” (Dt 27:9–10)
Moses says this day they have become the people of the LORD. This is a new generation of Israel, they are about to enter the promised land. He reaffirms their identity. Since they are the LORD’s people, they are to obey his commandments and statutes.
What people do you identify yourself with?
11 That day Moses charged the people, saying, 12 “When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13 And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. 14 And the Levites shall declare to all the men of Israel in a loud voice: (Dt 27:11-14)
It would have looked something like the drawing below.
The ceremony is quite dramatic and reinforces the importance of keeping the commands. It also unites the people together under the LORD and the Law of Moses.
|The Levites shout||All the people shout|
|15 “ ‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the LORD, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’||And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’|
|16 “ ‘Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother.’||And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’|
|17 “ ‘Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor’s landmark.’||And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’|
|18 “ ‘Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.’||And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’|
|19 “ ‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’||And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’|
|20 “ ‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s nakedness.’||And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’|
|21 “ ‘Cursed be anyone who lies with any kind of animal.’||And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’|
|22 “ ‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.’||And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’|
|23 “ ‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law.’||And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’|
|24 “ ‘Cursed be anyone who strikes down his neighbor in secret.’||And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’|
|25 “ ‘Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.’||And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’|
|26 “ ‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’||And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’|
You wouldn’t forget this ceremony in a hurry.
‘Amen’ you may remember is a Hebrew word meaning ‘so it is’ or ‘let it be’. It is derived from a verb meaning ‘to be firm or sure’. The people bind themselves again and again to the Law of Moses and accept the consequences of breaking the law.
The laws themselves seem relatively important. Some are clearly associated with one another. But not all. They cover a good cross section of the Law of Moses. The main omission being the works of the law – the ceremonies such as circumcision, sabbath and festival observance, the food laws, temple worship, levitical sacrifices and washings.
Verse 26 refers to the entire law. Cursed is anyone who does not confirm all the words of this law. All the people agreed.
The chapter reading will continue into a greater description of the blessings and curses of the law of Moses.
Story of Israel
Afterwards, Israel does not continue in the law. They break it and turn away from God. According to the passage we have just read they should get cursed. And they did. If we jump forward to Nehemiah, he retells the history of Israel up to their return from exile. This passage picks up from when they were in the promised land and the LORD had shown them mercy a number of times.
26 “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies. 27 Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer. And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies. 28 But after they had rest they did evil again before you, and you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they had dominion over them. Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies. 29 And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them, and they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey. 30 Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. 31 Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.
32 “Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day. (Neh 9:26–32)
Nehemiah recalls the time before (Judges) and during the era of the Kings (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles). You can see the LORD did not punish them as harshly as he could straight away. He gave them numerous opportunities to repent and showed them mercy when they cried out.
33 Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly. (Neh 9:33)
Nehemiah here refers to the covenant righteousness of God. He has been faithful to his covenant promises. In this case he has cursed Israel as he is obligated to under the covenant and as the people did in the Deuteronomy passage above.
34 Our kings, our princes, our priests, and our fathers have not kept your law or paid attention to your commandments and your warnings that you gave them. 35 Even in their own kingdom, and amid your great goodness that you gave them, and in the large and rich land that you set before them, they did not serve you or turn from their wicked works. 36 Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. 37 And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress. (Neh 9:34–37)
After the exile, even when they had returned to their land they still considered themselves slaves. Under the curse because they were under foreign rule.
Story of Jesus
After Jesus died and rose again people came believe he was the Christ and they put their faith in him. Paul wrote a letter which quotes from the Deuteronomy passage we have read. He refers it to Gentile who feel they should observe the works of the law.
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Gal 3:10)
They did not intend to observe the whole law. Just the works of law (ceremonies) I mentioned above. Because they would not be observing the whole Jewish law (Gal 5.3) they would fall under the curse of the law. ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law’.
11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” (Gal 3:11–12)
Of course, Christians do not have to observe the Jewish Law. Neither does it mark out God’s people as righteous. Believing Jesus is the Christ does. The expression ‘The righteous shall live by faith’ is a rendering of Hab 2.4. There is some debate over the proper rendering of the expression. Richard Hay’s gives three possible interpretations;
“Thus, three possible interpretations of Gal 3.11 9=Hab 2.4 as employed by Paul) remain:
(a) The Messiah will live by (his own) faith(fulness).
(b) The righteous person will live as a result of the Messiah’s faith(fulness).
(c) The righteous person will live by (his own) faith (in the Messiah).
Paul’s thought is rendered wholly intelligible only if all three of these interpretations are held together and affirmed as correct. The ambiguity of Paul’s formulation allows him to draw multiple implications out of the Habakkuk text.” (Hays, R.B., The Faith of Jesus Christ, The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3.1-4.11)
We live by our faith in Jesus, not by observing the Law of Moses.
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Gal 3:13–14)
Jesus actually took on the curse of the law on our behalf. He did that when he died on the cross. Through his death we have been blessed and have received the promised Spirit.
And all the people shall say, ‘Amen’
Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2015. All Rights Reserved.