The blessings for obedience. (1-14) The curses for disobedience. (15-44) Their ruin, if disobedient. (45-68)
Verses 1-14 This chapter is a very large exposition of two words, the blessing and the curse. They are real things and have real effects. The blessings are here put before the curses. God is slow to anger, but swift to show mercy. It is his delight to bless. It is better that we should be drawn to what is good by a child-like hope of God's favour, than that we be frightened to it by a slavish fear of his wrath. The blessing is promised, upon condition that they diligently hearken to the voice of God. Let them keep up religion, the form and power of it, in their families and nation, then the providence of God would prosper all their outward concerns.
Verses 15-44 If we do not keep God's commandments, we not only come short of the blessing promised, but we lay ourselves under the curse, which includes all misery, as the blessing all happiness. Observe the justice of this curse. It is not a curse causeless, or for some light cause. The extent and power of this curse. Wherever the sinner goes, the curse of God follows; wherever he is, it rests upon him. Whatever he has is under a curse. All his enjoyments are made bitter; he cannot take any true comfort in them, for the wrath of God mixes itself with them. Many judgments are here stated, which would be the fruits of the curse, and with which God would punish the people of the Jews, for their apostacy and disobedience. We may observe the fulfilling of these threatenings in their present state. To complete their misery, it is threatened that by these troubles they should be bereaved of all comfort and hope, and left to utter despair. Those who walk by sight, and not by faith, are in danger of losing reason itself, when every thing about them looks frightful.
Verses 45-68 If God inflicts vengeance, what miseries his curse can bring upon mankind, even in this present world! Yet these are but the beginning of sorrows to those under the curse of God. What then will be the misery of that world where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched! Observe what is here said of the wrath of God, which should come and remain upon the Israelites for their sins. It is amazing to think that a people so long the favourites of Heaven, should be so cast off; and yet that a people so scattered in all nations should be kept distinct, and not mixed with others. If they would not serve God with cheerfulness, they should be compelled to serve their enemies. We may justly expect from God, that if we do not fear his fearful name, we shall feel his fearful plagues; for one way or other God will be feared. The destruction threatened is described. They have, indeed, been plucked from off the land, ver. ( 63 ) . Not only by the Babylonish captivity, and when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans; but afterwards, when they were forbidden to set foot in Jerusalem. They should have no rest; no rest of body, ver. 65, but be continually on the remove, either in hope of gain, or fear of persecution. No rest of the mind, which is much worse. They have been banished from city to city, from country to country; recalled, and banished again. These events, compared with the favour shown to Israel in ancient times, and with the prophecies about them, should not only excite astonishment, but turn unto us for a testimony, assuring us of the truth of Scripture. And when the other prophecies of their conversion to Christ shall come to pass, the whole will be a sign and a wonder to all the nations of the earth, and the forerunner of a general spread of true christianity. The fulfilling of these prophecies upon the Jewish nation, delivered more than three thousand years ago, shows that Moses spake by the Spirit of God; who not only foresees the ruin of sinners, but warns of it, that they may prevent it by a true and timely repentance, or else be left without excuse. And let us be thankful that Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, by being made a curse for us, and bearing in his own person all that punishment which our sins merit, and which we must otherwise have endured for ever. To this Refuge and salvation let sinners flee; therein let believers rejoice, and serve their reconciled God with gladness of heart, for the abundance of his spiritual blessings.
Deuteronomy 28:1-68 . THE BLESSINGS FOR OBEDIENCE.
1. if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God--In this chapter the blessings and curses are enumerated at length, and in various minute details, so that on the first entrance of the Israelites into the land of promise, their whole destiny was laid before them, as it was to result from their obedience or the contrary.
2. all these blessings shall come on thee--Their national obedience was to be rewarded by extraordinary and universal prosperity.
7. flee before thee seven ways--that is, in various directions, as always happens in a rout.
10. called by the name of the Lord--That they are really and actually His people ( Deuteronomy 14:1 , 26:18 ).
11. the Lord shall make thee plenteous in goods--Beside the natural capabilities of Canaan, its extraordinary fruitfulness was traceable to the special blessing of Heaven.
12. The Lord shall open unto thee his good treasure--The seasonable supply of the early and latter rain was one of the principal means by which their land was so uncommonly fruitful.
thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow--that is, thou shalt be in such affluent circumstances, as to be capable, out of thy superfluous wealth, to give aid to thy poorer neighbors.
13, 14. the head, and not the tail--an Oriental form of expression, indicating the possession of independent power and great dignity and acknowledged excellence ( Isaiah 9:14 , 19:15 ).
15-20. But . . . if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord--Curses that were to follow them in the event of disobedience are now enumerated, and they are almost exact counterparts of the blessings which were described in the preceding context as the reward of a faithful adherence to the covenant.
21. pestilence--some fatal epidemic. There is no reason, however, to think that the plague, which is the great modern scourge of the East, is referred to.
22. a consumption--a wasting disorder; but the modern tuberculosis is almost unknown in Asia.
fever . . . inflammation . . . extreme burning--Fever is rendered "burning ague" ( Leviticus 26:16 ), and the others mentioned along with it evidently point to those febrile affections which are of malignant character and great frequency in the East.
the sword--rather, "dryness"--the effect on the human body of such violent disorders.
blasting, and with mildew--two atmospheric influences fatal to grain.
23. heaven . . . brass . . . earth . . . iron--strong Oriental figures used to describe the effects of long-continued drought. This want of regular and seasonable rain is allowed by the most intelligent observers to be one great cause of the present sterility of Palestine.
24. the rain of thy land powder and dust--an allusion probably to the dreadful effects of tornadoes in the East, which, raising the sands in immense twisted pillars, drive them along with the fury of a tempest. These shifting sands are most destructive to cultivated lands; and in consequence of their encroachments, many once fertile regions of the East are now barren deserts.
27. the botch of Egypt--a troublesome eruption, marked by red pimples, to which, at the rising of the Nile, the Egyptians are subject.
emerods--fistulæ or piles.
itch--the disease commonly known by that name; but it is far more malignant in the East than is ever witnessed in our part of the world.
28. madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart--They would be bewildered and paralyzed with terror at the extent of their calamities.
29-33. thou shalt grope at noonday--a general description of the painful uncertainty in which they would live. During the Middle Ages the Jews were driven from society into hiding-places which they were afraid to leave, not knowing from what quarter they might be assailed and their children dragged into captivity, from which no friend could rescue, and no money ransom them.
35. the Lord shall smite thee in the knees, and in the legs--This is an exact description of elephantiasis, a horrible disease, something like leprosy, which attacks particularly the lower extremities.
36. The Lord shall bring thee, and thy king, &c.--This shows how widespread would be the national calamity; and at the same time how hopeless, when he who should have been their defender shared the captive fate of his subjects.
there shalt thou serve other gods, wood and stone--The Hebrew exiles, with some honorable exceptions, were seduced or compelled into idolatry in the Assyrian and Babylonish captivities ( Jeremiah 44:17-19 ). Thus, the sin to which they had too often betrayed a perverse fondness, a deep-rooted propensity, became their punishment and their misery.
37. And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations whither the Lord shall lead thee, &c.--The annals of almost every nation, for eighteen hundred years, afford abundant proofs that this has been, as it still is, the case--the very name of Jew being a universally recognized term for extreme degradation and wretchedness.
49. The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far--the invasion of the Romans--"they came from far." The soldiers of the invading army were taken from France, Spain, and Britain--then considered "the end of the earth." Julius Severus, the commander, afterwards Vespasian and Hadrian, left Britain for the scene of contest. Moreover, the ensign on the standards of the Roman army was "an eagle"; and the dialects spoken by the soldiers of the different nations that composed that army were altogether unintelligible to the Jews.
50. A nation of fierce countenance--a just description of the Romans, who were not only bold and unyielding, but ruthless and implacable.
51. he shall eat the fruit of thy cattle, &c.--According to the Jewish historian, every district of the country through which they passed was strewn with the wrecks of their devastation.
52. he shall besiege thee . . . until thy high and fenced walls come down--All the fortified places to which the people betook themselves for safety were burnt or demolished, and the walls of Jerusalem itself razed to the ground.
53-57. And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body--(See 2 Kings 6:29 , Lamentations 4:10 ). Such were the dreadful extremities to which the inhabitants during the siege were reduced that many women sustained a wretched existence by eating the flesh of their own children. Parental affection was extinguished, and the nearest relatives were jealously, avoided, lest they should discover and demand a share of the revolting viands.
62. ye shall be left few in number--There has been, ever since the destruction of Jerusalem, only an inconsiderable remnant of Jews existing in that land--aliens in the land of their fathers; and of all classes of the inhabitants they are the most degraded and miserable beings, dependent for their support on contributions from other lands.
63. ye shall be plucked from off the land--Hadrian issued a proclamation, forbidding any Jews to reside in Judea, or even to approach its confines.
64. the Lord shall scatter thee among all people--There is, perhaps, not a country in the world where Jews are not to be found. Who that looks on this condition of the Hebrews is not filled with awe, when he considers the fulfilment of this prophecy?
68. The Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again with ships--The accomplishment of this prediction took place under Titus, when, according to JOSEPHUS, multitudes of Jews were transported in ships to the land of the Nile, and sold as slaves. "Here, then, are instances of prophecies delivered above three thousand years ago; and yet, as we see, being fulfilled in the world at this very time; and what stronger proofs 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 amaze and astonish me beyond expression; they are truly, as Moses foretold ( Deuteronomy 28:45 Deuteronomy 28:46 ) they would be, 'a sign and a wonder for ever'" [BISHOP NEWTON].