The Blessings & Curses in Deuteronomy through history and into our day
This past week has seen the attention of all major news websites and networks focus on a man who has just died. While many around the globe have been reading his obituary, and as I write this heads of state from around the world are traveling to attend his funeral, few are making the connection between this man’s life, and the final words of another man who made some sweeping pronouncements about 3500 years ago – who was about to die. From the perspective of deep history, the impact of the man’s life that has just passed, though resonating so powerfully around the world right now, can be seen as just one wave in a much stronger and deeper current that was unleashed by this other man who lived so long ago.
The man in question who just passed away is Ariel Sharon, the former Prime Minister of Israel and, according to many of these news outlets, was one of the fiercest and most brilliant military leaders in our generation. Reading through some of his military exploits sounds like the toughness of Rambo, the cunning of James Bond, and the ruthlessness of Genghis Khan – all rolled into one. But his bold political moves – sometimes towards confrontation and sometimes to peace – were equally as influential as his military exploits.
Though I have found these obituaries interesting reading, it is in the context of the last words of the earlier man – Moses – that the reading of the career of Ariel Sharon shifts gears to make me feel wonder, fascination, and even a little somewhat ‘eerie’. So permit me to unpack a part of the Bible seldom read so that you too can consider the impact of Moses’s parting words through lives like that of Ariel Sharon.
Moses’ final Farewell Speech
Moses lived about 1500 BC and he wrote the first five books of the Bible – known as the Pentateuch or the Torah. In the fifth book, Deuteronomy, were his final messages given months before he died. He concludes this final book, just before his passing, by issuing a set of sweeping Blessings and Curses to the people of Israel – the Jews. They can be viewed as his Farewell Speech. These Blessings and Curses were to be in effect down through history and were explicitly to be reflected on, not just by the Jews, but also by the surrounding nations. Any way you slice it that was meant to include you and me. You can read the complete Blessings and Curses here. I highlight the main points below.
The Blessings of Moses
Moses had previously issued the Ten Commandments and the Law which are detailed in the earlier books of the Pentateuch. Moses starts his Farewell Speech by describing blessings that the Israelites would receive if they obeyed The Law. These blessings were explicitly to be from the hand of God and would be in the sight of the other nations so that they would recognize His blessing. The outcome of these blessings would be that:
Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. (Deuteronomy 28:10)
… and the Curses
However, if the Israelites failed to obey the Commands then they would receive Curses that would match and mirror the Blessings. Again these Curses would be seen by the surrounding nations so that:
You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the LORD will drive you. (Deuteronomy 28:37)
And the Curses would be for the Israelites themselves and extend through history.
They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. (Deuteronomy 28:46)
But God warned that the worst part of the Curses would come from others.
The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed … until you are ruined. They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28:49-52)
It would go from bad to worse.
You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. … Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:63-65)
These Blessings and Curses were then established by a covenant (an agreement) between God and the Israelites:
…to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am making this covenant, with its oath … also with those who are not here today. (Deuteronomy 29:12-15)
In other words this covenant would be binding on the children, or future generations. In fact this covenant was directed at future generations – both Israelites and foreigners.
Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the LORD has afflicted it. … nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. … All the nations will ask: “Why has the LORD done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”
And the answer will be:
“It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt….Therefore the LORD’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. … the LORD uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.” (Deuteronomy 29:21-27)
Did The Blessings and Curses come to pass?
Wow! Nothing middle-of-the-road here. The Blessings were delightful, but the Curses were utterly severe. However, the most important question we can ask is: ‘Did these things happen?’ The answer is not hard to find. Much of the Old Testament is the record of the history of the Israelites and from that we can see what happens in their history. Also we have records outside the Old Testament, from Jewish historians like Josephus, Graeco-Roman historians like Tacitus and we have found many archeological monuments. All of these sources agree and paint a consistent picture of the Israelite or Jewish history. A summary of this history, given through the building of a timeline is given here. Read it and assess for yourself if the Curses of Moses came to pass.
The Conclusion to Moses’ Blessings and Curses
But this Farewell Speech of Moses did not end with the Curses. It continued. Here is how Moses made his final pronouncement.
When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors (Deuteronomy 30:1-5)
After Moses, successive writers in the Old Testament built on this theme that he inaugurated – that there would be a restoration after the Curses. I looked at how Ezekiel used the image of dead zombies coming to life to paint one vivid picture of this for us. These later writers made bold, troubling and detailed predictions. I look in my next post at how Ezekiel, Moses and Jeremiah combine to make an astounding set of predictions that are happening today. Predictions that the late Ariel Sharon played a forceful part in fulfilling. But for me at least, the fact that journalists and Heads of State around the world are right now reflecting on the passing of a man who played an important part in bringing this conclusion to Moses’ Farewell Speech about, coupled with the fact that this Speech was explicitly written as a sign to future generations of Jew and Gentile alike (i.e. you and me), is just a little eerie.