“Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this Law by carrying them out” (Deut. 27:26).A basic principle of the Law Covenant is that obedience brings blessing; disobedience, punishment. How important it is that we understand the tragic consequences of our failure to obey God.
Moses and the elders gave instructions for building an altar when they entered the Promised Land (27:1–8). Directions were given for giving blessings and curses from Mount Ebal (vv. 9–26). Blessings for obedience (28:1–14) and curses for disobedience (vv. 15–68) were given.
Understanding the Text
“Build there an altar to the Lord” Deut. 27:1–8. This command is the last of the covenant stipulations stating what the people must do. The laws in chapters 21–26 list practices to be followed faithfully by future generations. This chapter calls for a ceremony to be performed once: a ceremony in which God impressed on Israel the utter necessity of obedience. By that ceremony the people of Israel indicated their complete acceptance of God’s Law and the consequences of disobedience. The altar and sacrifices made on it confirmed the official acceptance of God’s Laws by that generation. You and I need to be sure that our children understand the consequences of wrongdoing. When we have spelled out consequences, we have a clear basis on which to punish and correct.
“Cursed is the man” Deut. 27:9–26.
Twelve violations sum up laws contained not only in Deuteronomy but also in earlier books of Moses. The chart on this page lists parallel passages. The people were to shout “Amen!” to the recitation of each of these curses. There could be no confusion. Israel knew the Law and accepted responsibility for obeying it. “If you fully obey” Deut. 28:1–14. The blessings promised to Israel for obedience focus on security and prosperity within the Promised Land. The Christian has no similar commitment from God. Rather we’re told that God has “blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Spiritual blessings assure us of God’s loving presence in our lives, and that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). “If you do not obey” Deut. 28:15–68. Three groups of curses are found here. Verses 15–46 warn that if Israel disobeys, the nation will experience poverty rather than prosperity. Verses 47–57 warn that if Israel disobeys, the nation will live under constant threat of foreign invasion. Verses 58–68 warn that persistent disobedience will result in Israel being torn from her land and hurled among the nations. There God’s people will find no rest, but only “an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart.” As many have pointed out, this chapter previews what actually did happen to Israel. First the Assyrians and Babylonians scattered God’s people. Later Rome crushed those who had regathered in the Holy Land. Only today is there a sign of a regathering of scattered Israel in her ancient homeland. When the prophets shouted out their warnings to rebellious Israel, they based many of their predictions on the divine program revealed in this critical Old Testament chapter. The fulfilled predictions of disaster remind us that no one can sin safely. God, directly or through the natural consequences following our actions, will punish sin.
The “Now” Generation(Deut. 28:15–68)
A recent article in the St. Petersburg newspaper stated that while it takes an average of 8 to 10 years to experience the full destructive power of alcohol abuse, the person who starts taking crack cocaine will find his life ruined in six to eight months! Yet according to the paper, crack is epidemic in St. Petersburg, attracting users from every strata of society. I’m not really surprised. We Americans have increasingly become a nation of people who demand instant gratification. We want our pleasures now. Tragically, few seem concerned whether getting them involves doing right or wrong, or whether the pleasures we demand will help or harm us in the long run. Somehow, to many people, only the present seems important. The future, shaped by the consequences of present choices, seems too unreal to consider at all. Perhaps this is why Deuteronomy gives four times as much space spelling out consequences of disobedience as describing blessings the obedient can expect. People have always tried desperately to ignore the future. We are not the first to pretend that sin is irrelevant and that today’s choices will carry no consequences over into tomorrow. I suspect that some would be a little upset with God for spending so much time painting such a dark picture. But actually, this passage reminds me of how gracious God is. He understands our human tendency to choose pleasure without considering tomorrow. By spelling out the dark consequences of wrong choices in terrible detail, God compels us to face reality. No one can sin safely. No one can sin impudently. No one can escape the consequences of his acts for long.
Live a righteous life today, and tomorrow will take care of itself.