Deuteronomy 28 Study Notes
28:1-2 In an interesting figure of speech, Moses promised that the blessings for covenant obedience would not merely lie at hand passively, but with dynamic life and power would overtake the obedient person. There is no escaping the blessings and favor of the Lord when a person is careful to obey him.
28:3-5 The promise to be blessed in the city and in the country uses a figure of speech called a “merism,” in this case indicating blessing with no geographical limitations. Wherever the obedient person went, God’s favor would follow.
28:7 An oncoming enemy moves as a solid phalanx, confident in its own power; but if Israel stayed true to the Lord, that concentrated force would flee from her in disgrace.
28:8 This verse concludes the first set of blessings by means of the comprehensive categories of whatever they would have and whatever they would do.
28:9 Here the promise of the Lord to establish Israel does not mean that they had not previously enjoyed that status. They were already his people by virtue of the Abrahamic covenant and its ratification at Sinai (Gn 17:3-8; cp. Ex 19:4-6). The verb translated establish bears the idea of confirming or reaffirming. Holy means that Israel was a people set apart from all others (Ex 19:6), but it also carries the idea of moral and spiritual purity.
28:10-12 If Israel obeyed the terms of the covenant, they would then indeed be the kingdom of priests and the holy nation that God created them to be, the means by which God would bless all the nations, as he had promised Abraham (Gn 12:3; 22:18; 26:4).
28:13 The head determines in which direction the whole animal moves while the tail just follows along. Israel was brought into being as God’s channel of blessing and hope to the world, to be the head of all the nations (Jr 31:7). Should they fail, however, they would become the tail (cp. Dt 28:44).
28:14 The Lord’s fundamental requirement was that the Israelites acknowledge only him as God (5:6-7; cp. 6:4). The greatest possible sin was that they would worship other gods. It is fitting that the list of blessings should be climaxed by the injunction to remain faithful to the Lord.
28:20-22 Curses is literally “the curse.” The only other place “the curse” occurs is in Mal 2:2 and 3:9, a clear echo of Dt 28:20. Confusion also has the definite article and alludes to the confusion which God would send on the Canaanites (7:23). The term translated pestilence refers to sickness in general and not to a particular disease. Literal disease did, indeed, afflict Israel from time to time (2Sm 24:13; 1Kg 8:37), but the allusion here to expulsion from the land suggests that pestilence is a metaphor or a means for deportation by enemies (Lv 26:25).
28:25 Disobeying God’s covenant would bring such devastation to Israel that the nations would no longer be in awe of her. What should have been a focus of others’ admiration and praise would become so disfigured as to elicit nothing but disgust and revulsion (Jr 15:4; 29:18; 34:17).
28:27 Just as the exodus of Israel from Egypt was the sign of God’s favor, their covenant failures would initiate a kind of reverse exodus. They would experience the boils of Egypt along with a host of other afflictions reminiscent of the ten plagues.
28:28-29 Continuing the exodus theme, Moses contrasted Israel’s experience in Egypt where the Lord was present, with future judgment when the Lord would be absent and no one would help them. Unfaithful Israel would be on her own.
28:30 Ordinarily, young men were exempt from military service under certain circumstances (20:5-7). Such gracious provision would someday be taken away in another reversal of fortune, and other calamities listed here would take place as well. The life of disobedience stands in opposition and reversal to life lived in obedience to God’s will.
28:33 Oppression by a people you don’t know was fulfilled a number of times throughout Israel’s history, notably in the days of the judges when foreigners wreaked havoc in Israel and even settled there (Jdg 6:1-6; 8:22).
28:36-37 Foreign occupation was followed by deportation. Moses prophesied that rebellious Israel would be uprooted by the Lord himself, and they and their king would worship other gods in a strange nation neither they nor their fathers had known. This rules out Egypt, of course, which their fathers knew well. History discloses that they ended up in Assyria (2Kg 17:6) and Babylonia (2Kg 24:10-17).
28:38-44 Here is another collection of futility curses.
28:46 Usually a sign and a wonder indicated the presence and blessing of God (4:34; 7:19; 26:8; Jr 32:21). He performed them to display his incomparable power and glory, especially in the eyes of a doubting world. Jesus performed signs and wonders to validate his ministry and to demonstrate his divine nature (Jn 20:30-31). On the day of Israel’s judgment, however, the curses listed in this passage would become signs and wonders not in support of the Lord and his power but as testimony against Israel. When the nations saw his wrath poured out against his own chosen people, they would stand in awe at the fall of a people group who had been greatly blessed. Israel through all the generations to come would be reminded by their disastrous end that disobedience of the Lord’s covenant carries a heavy cost.
28:48 An iron yoke speaks metaphorically of bondage so severe that it is inescapable. Prisoners of war wore yokes to secure them against escape and to humiliate them. Jeremiah described the Babylonian captivity of Judah as one in which the people would bear the yoke of oppression (Jr 27:7-8) until the Lord broke it (Jr 28:14; 30:8; Ezk 34:27).
28:49-52 The nation from far away turned out to be Assyria, as is made clear in light of later biblical events and descriptions. Assyria besieged Samaria, Israel’s capital city, for three years until the city was forced to surrender (2Kg 17:5).
28:53-57 The siege of Samaria would be so severe that the people would resort to cannibalism. Though the horrific behavior described here does not reference the Assyrian siege, an earlier siege under the Arameans resulted in precisely these events (2Kg 6:24-31). Jeremiah also predicted that the citizens of Jerusalem would become just as desperate to survive the siege of that city by the Babylonians in his own time (Jr 19:9), and in fact he lived to see it with his own eyes (Lm 4:10; Ezk 5:10).
28:58-61 Scroll in v. 58 and book (of this law) in v. 61 are the same Hebrew word (sepher). Note its reappearance in 29:19-20,26; 30:10; 31:26. McConville notes that “as the conclusion of Moses’s covenantal address—and of his life—draws near, therefore, the concept of his words at Moab as a written covenantal document comes to the fore.”
28:58 Moses reiterated that all the curses he had listed—concluding with cannibalism, the worst of them all—would come to pass if the people of Israel were not careful to obey all the words of this law, specifically those written in this scroll—the book of Deuteronomy. It was covenant violation, then, that would be the cause of all of Israel’s future judgment should she refuse to repent.
28:60 Reference to the covenant law calls to mind Israel’s gracious deliverance from Egypt and all its diseases. In an ironic twist, Moses declared that Israel’s coming judgment would bring the very diseases they had avoided in Egypt.
28:61 Israel would even be afflicted with sicknesses not recorded in the book of this law. Isaiah 1:6 describes such a condition: “From the sole of the foot even to the head, no spot is uninjured—wounds, welts, and festering sores not cleansed, bandaged, or soothed with oil.”
28:62 Reaching still further back into sacred history, Moses recalled the promise of the Abrahamic covenant that Israel would be as numerous as the stars of the sky (cp. 1:10; Gn 15:5; 22:17). That promise too would become inverted, leaving Israel with only a few people because they would not obey the Lord.
28:63 The Lord will be glad to cause you to perish is a rhetorical way of saying that he will not hesitate or have pity on them.
28:64 The Lord’s threat to scatter Israel clearly refers to the many times in Israel’s future when the people would undergo exile, whether under the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, or even in the Middle Ages and in modern times. One result of such dislocation would be the tendency to worship foreign gods that neither they nor their fathers had ever known (4:25-31).
28:68 The fact that the Lord would return disobedient Israel to Egypt suggests that a reverse of the exodus would take place. Many Israelites did indeed end up in Egypt (Jr 44:11-14,24-30). But the reference to ships and to other deportations (Dt 28:63) leads to the conclusion that Egypt was also a figure of speech—a “synecdoche”—to describe all manner of places of deportation and exile.