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III. The Third Address by Moses—Blessings, Curses, and Final Exhortation (Deuteronomy 27:1–30:20)


III. The Third Address by Moses—Blessings, Curses, and Final Exhortation (27:1–30:20)

27:1-8 In these chapters Moses identified the blessings and curses that would fall on Israel for keeping or despising the Lord’s covenant. Moses and the elders . . . commanded the people to conduct a covenant renewal ceremony that included writing the law on large stones covered with plaster (27:1-3). These stones were to be set up on Mount Ebal, located about thirty-five miles north of Jerusalem, where the Israelites were also commanded to build an altar of stones and offer burnt and fellowship offerings to the Lord (27:4-7). The burnt offerings were completely consumed, symbolizing complete commitment to the Lord, while the fellowship offerings were eaten in a communal meal that expressed thanksgiving to God and joy in his presence.

27:9-10 Moses described the unusual form of this ceremony, which Joshua later carried out (see Josh 8:30-35). Moses’s statement, This day you have become the people of the Lord your God (27:9), doesn’t mean the Israelites weren’t God’s people before this point. Rather, at this crucial moment in their history, as they were ready to enter the land God had given them, they had recommitted themselves to obey his covenant by drawing a new line in the sand and stepping across it, so to speak.

27:12-13 To confirm that renewal in an unmistakable way, Moses commanded the people to divide themselves into two groups of six tribes between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal (27:12-13) to hear the blessings and curses read. Moses designated the Levites to read the curses to the people. These sobering warnings are listed in the rest of this chapter.

27:14-26 Twelve curses were given, with a summary curse being made at the end. Moses had issued stern warnings before, but in this ceremony the people would affirm that they understood each point through following it with an “Amen!” (27:15-26). They were pledging their obedience before God on each point and also giving him permission to bring down on them the curse attached to committing the sin described.

There’s a new element introduced here that seems to tie these curses together: the fact that these sins could all be done in secret (27:15; also secretly, v. 24). A person could dishonor his parents behind the closed doors of their home, move his neighbor’s boundary marker at night (27:17), mistreat a blind person or the powerless without everyone else knowing about it (27:18-19), or commit sexual sins or murder without being found out (27:20-25). Nevertheless, the omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipresent (everywhere present) God would see what was done and judge the offender. Any Israelite tempted to commit so-called secret sins, then, was warned that God would not let him go unpunished.

The last verse here pronounced a sentence no Israelite—or anyone else for that matter—could escape: Anyone who does not put the words of this law into practice is cursed (27:26). As Israel would learn in the hard and bitter years ahead, they would prove incapable of perfectly keeping God’s law. That’s because the law doesn’t give one the power to obey. It simply points out your shortcomings without granting you the ability to overcome them. In this way, the law is like a mirror—it shows what you look like but doesn’t clean you up. The law is intended to show people our need for a Savior (see Gal 3:10-14).

28:1-6 Chapter 28 lays out for Israel the divine blessings for obedience to the covenant and the divine curses for disobedience. The chapter is hugely imbalanced: fourteen verses are devoted to blessings and fifty-four to curses. (Clearly God knew the tendency of his people to disobey.)

Nevertheless, the promised blessings for keeping the covenant were spectacular. God would bring a state of prosperity to every area of life if the Israelites would faithfully obey and be careful to follow all his commands (28:1). Not only would God exalt Israel far above all the nations of the earth, but his blessings would overwhelm them (28:1-2). Moses elaborated on that with a panoramic statement that covered every aspect of daily life (28:3-6).

28:7-14 Israel’s blessings would affect the nations around them. Those lands that were their enemies would not be able to stand up against them (28:7). As a result of God’s obvious favor on Israel, all nations [would] see that Israel bears the Lord’s name and stand in awe (28:10). And while Israel would be a lender nation, she would not be a debtor one (28:12). In others words, God would see to it that Israel was honored in the eyes of the nations—so that God was honored in the eyes of the nations. All peoples would know that Israel’s blessings came from the Lord, the Creator of all.

God’s blessing would also extend to the Israelites’ crops, children, and livestock (28:8, 11-12). This summary blessing provides a wonderful picture: Israel would be the head and not the tail among the nations, moving always upward and never downward if the people would be careful to follow God’s commands (28:13). By living under God’s authority and according to his agenda, you too get to live as the “head” rather than the “tail,” experiencing God’s blessings instead of being wagged this way and that as a result of sinful choices and their fallout.

28:15 Transitional words are important in Bible study. They are like flags signaling that an important change in thought, a conclusion, or a needed action step is coming. Here we see one of those transitional words: But. It’s a sad word because it was followed by a barrage of curses that are gruesome in their detail. If Israel would not obey the Lord, they would be overtaken, not by blessings, but by curses. Unfortunately, future generations of Israelites would live to see these curses imposed.

28:16-25 It would have been bad enough if the curses had stopped with 28:15-19, which reversed the blessings of 28:3-6. But that described only the beginning of the terrible national fallout of living in opposition to the Lord. Israel would find itself encountering a stark reversal of their fortunes among the nations. Instead of remaining victorious, the people would be defeated by their enemies. Instead of being held in awe by the surrounding lands, Israel would be an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth (28:25).

28:26-29 Disobedience would also cause God to afflict the people with the physical and mental plagues he inflicted on Egypt when he delivered Israel from slavery (28:27-29; see also 28:60). In other words, if God’s people chose to live as his enemies, he would treat them as such.

In the centuries to come, the curses were to have a teaching purpose, because when the people found themselves in an awful mess, they could see in God’s promises a clear reminder that it was because they had failed to obey their good God in times of prosperity. Moses’s desire was that future generations would read these words and commit themselves to avoiding the sins of their ancestors.

28:30-68 The worst horrors among the coming curses were the siege and the exile of Israel, two terrible judgments that would eventually come true (28:52, 63-64). The idea of exile is first mentioned in 28:36-37. But the real horrors associated with it are found in 28:49-57.

In the distant future, the nation from far away that would swoop down on Jerusalem like an eagle (28:49) would be Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar. Babylon was a ruthless nation, showing no respect for the old and not sparing the young (28:50). Its army would besiege Jerusalem until its people resorted to the unimaginable degradation of cannibalism on their own children as all human compassion and dignity melted under the madness of hunger (28:53; see Lam 2:20; 4:10). The same thing would happen even earlier when the Arameans laid siege to the city of Samaria (see 2 Kgs 6:24-29).

Moses spared no detail in showing how disobedience to God would cause his people to be abandoned to the depths of depravity. But even then he wasn’t done. The chapter ends with another powerful list of curses (28:58-68). Israel would endure plagues and sicknesses (28:59-61), their numbers would dwindle (28:62-63), they would be scattered among the nations (28:64), and they would find no peace (28:65). Such destruction would come upon them because they forgot the Lord and worshiped false gods. Therefore, the Lord would give them what they wanted: indeed they would worship other gods, make-believe deities with no power to hear them, let alone help them (28:64). And as a result, the Israelites would find themselves where they were before God had rescued them—as slaves (28:68).

Moses couldn’t have been more clear. Faithfulness to God’s covenant would grant the people of Israel everything. Rejection of the covenant would cost them everything. Neither the generation to whom he spoke or all those to follow could say they hadn’t been warned.

29:1 Here the Israelites were reminded that the words of the covenant came from the Lord through Moses. The covenant was initiated by God, and God set the covenant parameters. This was his covenant, and he called the shots. But this covenant was mediated through Moses, who was the Lord’s chosen representative. To reject Moses was to reject God, because Moses spoke God’s words to the people. When Miriam complained about Moses’s leadership, God struck her with diseased skin (see Num 12:1-10). When the Israelites complained about Moses and wanted to appoint a new leader, they were actually despising God (see Num 14:1-12).

As members of God’s kingdom and participants in the new covenant, Christians are called to live under God’s covenant in obedience to the covenant mediator, Jesus Christ. To reject Christ is to reject God.

29:2-4 Once again, Moses provided an important review of Israel’s history. He reminded them of everything the Lord did in Egypt to Pharaoh (29:2). But before continuing Moses made a powerful observation: Yet to this day the Lord has not given you a mind to understand, eyes to see, or ears to hear (29:4). This was a sad recognition that even as the people stood there on the plains of Moab with all of God’s miraculous deliverance and sustaining power in their memories, they had not yet fully grasped the spiritual significance of what he’d done. They would not operate according to the instructions of God’s covenant and receive its blessings without it.

29:5-8 Moses continued by reviewing God’s provision during their forty years in the wilderness (29:5) and their conquests in the Transjordan, as if to say, “Don’t you remember, don’t you see, don’t you understand that God has provided for you to this point and can be trusted with your future?” His approach reminds us that history is not self-interpreting. An unbeliever could look at Israel’s history and conclude that they were simply a resourceful and lucky people. But Moses provided the divine perspective on their experiences—that is, the only reliable perspective. Every blessing, provision, and victory Israel received was from the Lord.

If you recognize that a similar truth governs your own life story, you will understand your utter dependence on God. If you don’t grasp it, it won’t be long before you believe in your own self-sufficiency, operate outside of his covenant, and find yourself living as the “tail” rather than the “head” (see 28:13).

29:9 In light of all the Lord had done for them, the Israelites were to follow his covenant. Why? So that [they would] succeed in everything [they did]. If Israel wanted success—victory over enemies, fruitful harvests and families, the ability to overcome their circumstances—covenant faithfulness was necessary.

God’s covenants are designed to benefit his people. As members of the new covenant, Christians trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins. But, as his people, we are also called to live by the principles of and under the cover of his covenant. If you operate within God’s covenant, you will experience the flow of his power. If you operate outside of it, you will not receive the covenant benefits but will be subject to being oppressed by sin, the world, and Satan. God’s covenant is like an umbrella. It doesn’t stop the rain from falling, but it keeps you from getting wet if you keep it over your head. The umbrella doesn’t change your circumstances, but it keeps those circumstances from adversely affecting you.

29:10-15 The Israelites were standing with Moses before the Lord to enter into the covenant with him (29:10-12). Previously, these people’s parents had entered God’s covenant and failed to receive the promised land because of their disobedience. Now this new generation was being given an opportunity. God was going to fulfill what he promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—their forefathers (29:13). Nevertheless, it would require Israel’s obedience to take hold of what God had promised. The Lord also looked ahead to generations yet unborn, calling on his listeners to obey God not only for their blessings but also for the sake of their children and grandchildren (29:14-15).

29:16-18 Moses couldn’t put a period after the blessings, however. Another harsh warning was added for any man, woman, clan, or tribe who turned from the Lord to idolatry—a reminder of how even a small root of sin among the people could bear poisonous and bitter fruit (29:18) that would bring God’s judgment.

The author of Hebrews made reference to this verse when he warned his readers to make sure that “no root of bitterness [sprung] up” among them (Heb 12:15). When one of God’s people experiences trying circumstances, he needs the encouragement and comfort of the rest of the body of Christ. Otherwise difficulties can make people bitter and cause them to turn to sin, eventually poisoning the entire fellowship of believers.

29:19-21 Lest any Israelite consider himself exempt from this warning (29:19), he needed to know that such selfish thinking could lead to the ruin of the whole land—as well as bringing every curse written in Deuteron-omy down on his head as God blotted out his name under heaven (29:20). Nothing can be hidden from God, and he would have no trouble picking out and punishing an individual guilty of such thoughts (29:21).

29:22-28 To make his point more graphic, Moses described the destruction of Israel for idolatry in terms of the land becoming a burning waste of sulfur and salt . . . like . . . Sodom and Gomorrah (29:23). The nations around Israel that knew it was supposed to be the object of God’s favor would be shocked at such devastation and would ask how it could happen (29:24). The answer would be that Israel had forsaken its cov-enant with the true God and worshiped and served false gods, leading to its destruction and exile (29:25-28).

29:29 As was the case for Israel, it’s impossible for us to know everything there is to know about God. Paul declares, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and untraceable his ways!” (Rom 11:33). The Lord is infinite and transcendent. Whatever knowledge he chooses to keep from us is beyond our ability to obtain. Nevertheless, he has revealed to us everything that we need to know. God’s Holy Word contains all that we (and our children) need in order to understand, trust, and obey him.

30:1-10 Moses had pleaded with great passion for his hearers to maintain faithfulness to the Lord once they crossed the Jordan and took possession of the promised land. But he also foresaw their future apostasy and even exile from the land (30:1). So he gave them a promise of future regathering and blessing that his immediate audience and later generations of Israelites must have wondered about in terms of its fulfillment. This first half of the chapter is a prophecy, the interpretation of which requires that the full lens of Scripture be used. Moses was speaking about Israel’s full spiritual restoration and material blessing in the kingdom age, which will not come about until the return of Jesus Christ in his millennial kingdom. In other words, we’re still waiting for it.

But at that time God will give the people of Israel new hearts to obey him (30:2, 6), and they will believe in Jesus as their Messiah. They will enjoy a time of blessing in Christ’s millennial kingdom greater than the nation has ever known before (30:5). All the blessings that Moses had recited to the nation will be realized when the people of Israel become circumcised in heart to love God as he has commanded them to do (30:6). It will be God’s great delight to bless his people with abundant prosperity when they return to him wholeheartedly and obey him (30:9-10).

30:11-15 Moses spent almost the entire book of Deuteronomy explaining God’s law and urging the people of Israel to obey it. He could do this because the law was not some hard-to-understand code they couldn’t figure out, or a strange teaching they were hearing for the first time. (30:11). It was not a buried treasure they had to search for before reaping its benefits (30:12-13). Instead, Moses argued, God’s law was very near to them, something he had graciously made known to them (30:14). And they knew the consequences for obedience and disobedience: life and prosperity or death and adversity (30:15).

30:16-20 So Moses told the people once more the requirements for life—to love God, walk in his ways, and keep his commands (30:16). And he also declared once again the warning of judgment for disobedience (30:17-18). Then came this charge: Choose life so that you and your descendants may live (30:19). In other words, Moses argued, no other decision made sense: God himself is the life of his people. He is the only one who could prolong their days in the promised land (30:20). Therefore, to experience the favor of God, his people must choose obedience to divine revelation over their own autonomous human reason.