We are now coming to the end of Moses’ second sermon. This sermon began back in chapter 5. Moses’ purpose was to put the law before the people and explain the law to them (4:44; 1:5). There has been no break in this sermon to the people as Moses has continued to explain the commands of God for when the people enter the land. But Moses does not simply leave the people with the law and tell them to do it. God’s goal has never simply been for people to mindlessly and dutifully keep his laws. It is shameful that often Christianity has portrayed God in such a light. Moses does not want that idea left in the minds of Israel. As Moses concludes this sermon that explained the law of the people, he will leave the people with three primary reminders for them to keep when they enter the land. There are responses that God desires for his people to have when they hear the law of the Lord. So let’s consider what Moses tells the people and we will consider what our response should be for what God has done for us.
Moses wants the works of God to bring the people to thankfulness. Moses opens by three times declaring that the Lord is giving them the land as an inheritance and they will enjoy the blessings of this land. The picture of beautiful as the people are to take the first fruits of their harvest, bring it to the priest, and say, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to give us” (26:3). Then the priest will take the fruit and the people will go on to declare how they were slaves in Egypt but God rescued them with a mighty hand and brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey (26:5-10). The people were to recall their story about what God had done in their lives. They were to worship because of what God had done for them. They were to see the transformation God had accomplished through Jacob. Look at verse 11.
And you shall rejoice in all the good that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you. (Deuteronomy 26:11 ESV)
Rejoice in all the good God has given to you. Then the people will declare their obedience to the Lord and pray for a blessing (26:12-15). Then Moses calls for the people to obey God’s voice and remember what God has done (26:16-19). This final paragraph of this chapter is an important passage because it is the formalization of the covenant relationship. The people will declare that they will obey God’s voice (26:17). The Lord has declared that the people are his treasured possession (26:18) and will make the people honored above all nations as a people holy to the Lord (26:19).
Moses’ first message is very similar to a song that we sing: count your many blessings and name them one by one. This is what the people are to do. Give thanks to the Lord because he is good. The response of God’s people is to rejoice in all the good God has done and declare the transformation that God has accomplished for us. This is something that is so important for us to do. We need to be thankful for all the good that God has done for us. We need to regularly reflect on how God has changed our lives. The problem is that we so easily forget what God has done. Like Israel, we focus on the present problem and forget God’s past deliverance. When Israel was in the wilderness, they would focus on their lack of food or water and completely forget that God had worked miracles for them to free them from Egyptian slavery. Every day we need to recall what God has done for us and see the good he has done. I submit to you that if we really try to name every good blessing God has given us that we would not be able to do it because they are so numerous. From giving us life, health, wealth, families, and careers to enjoy mercy, grace, forgiveness, faith, and more, it becomes so much to name. Yet we forget these blessings and God wanted them to constantly remember and constantly give thanks. The apostle Paul declared in Romans 1:21 that having darkened hearts and foolish thinking begins by failing to give thanks to the Lord. This leads us to the next chapter where Moses tells the people that they need a memorial.
Need A Memorial (27:1-28)
Moses tells the people that when they cross into the land that they need to set up large stones, plaster them, and write on them all the words of this law (27:2-3). These stones were to be set up on Mount Ebal, which we will see in a moment, is the mountain of curses. It is as if God is already foreshadowing the expected disobedience of Israel (which will be expressly stated in chapter 30). Then the people are to build an altar to the Lord on this mountain and offer burnt offerings and peace offerings. Again we are seeing a picture of establishing the covenant with the Lord because the people will make the offering and eat before the Lord on the mountain (reminder of what happened at Mount Sinai with Moses and the 70 men in Exodus 24:1-10). The people will rejoice before the Lord and write on the stones the words of the law (27:8). These large stones would stand on this mountain as a monument and memorial to the people regarding the covenant promises God had made.
The rest of chapter 27 records twelve curses for not keeping the covenant that God is establishing with the people. The curses are pronounced on idolatry, dishonoring parents, moving land boundaries, misleading the blind, perverting justice, committing sexual immorality, striking down your neighbor, and bribing others to shed innocent blood. We see the summary message of the curses in verse 26. “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.” Only when God is remembered and honored will society be just and compassionate.
It should be notable to us that God made us as a people who need memorials. We need things that recall the covenant God has made with us. We may think that only those under the old covenant had such physical reminders like these stones established on Mount Ebal or the sacrifices or offerings the people made on a regular basis. But we need memorials and reminders also and God gave those for his new covenant people in Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a weekly memorial so that we will not forget all that the Lord has done for us. The act of baptism is a memorial so that we will not forget that our sins have been taken far from us. The apostle Paul said in Romans 6 that your baptism was to have a meaning to you for your journey with the Lord. The response the people need to have is that they will remember this covenant and remember the blessings and curses of the covenant.
Blessings and Curses (28:1-68)
Therefore, Deuteronomy 28:1 records the expectation of the people’s completely loyalty to the Lord. If the people will be loyal to the Lord, then God’s blessings are going to overtake you (28:2). What a picture! The blessings are pictured like an army or power coming after you and overtaking you. You are going to be overwhelmed by God’s blessings when you obey. Now this is important. The point is not that the people will deserve or earn the blessings for their obedience. Nothing in this paragraph of blessings makes this point. Remember that God argued against this kind of thinking back in chapters 7-9. But God wants his people to understand that obedience is worth it. He taught this in the wilderness. Trust in the Lord and obey him and your obedience will be worth it. We serve a God who desires to bless his people.
By contrast, the curses for disobeying the covenant are also pronounced. You will immediately notice the differential in the size of the blessings section and the cursing section. The section of curses is significantly longer. There is much more about disobedience. The curses are described like the blessings in that the curses will overtake you like an army when you disobey (28:15). As humans we seem to need to hear the lengthy curses because use like to ignore their existence. We want to think that there are not consequences for our bad decisions. Today people want to think that there is not an eternal punishment for sins, even though the scriptures are plain about this reality.
What we see in this extensive list of curses is God showing his power over weather, life and death, crops, animals, sicknesses, and the other nations of the earth. If the people disobey then there will be no rain (28:22-24). So when you read about Israel in a drought (like in the days of Elijah), the people were to understand that this was God cursing the people for their disobedience to the covenant. God will also bring the plagues of Egypt upon Israel for their disobedience (28:27-35). In verse 45 God declares that the curses will come upon the people until they are destroyed as a nation because of their disobedience to the Lord. Listen to verse 47 carefully.
Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. (Deuteronomy 28:47–48 ESV)
Not only are the people cursed for not serving the Lord, but also because they did not serve the Lord with joyfulness and gladness of heart. God has always wanted the hearts of his people. God wants our hearts. Why do we not serve with joyfulness and gladness of heart? God says why in verse 47: “Because of the abundance of all things.” The people will not joyfully serve the Lord because of all God has done for them. Rather, their prosperity will prevent it. Your heart will go to your abundance rather than to the Lord who gave the abundance to you.
In verses 49-68 God describes the horrors of what will come upon the people for disobedience. These graphics horrors of judgment happened twice in Israel’s history: 586 BC and 70 AD. It was God’s message to the nation about their disobedience. Verses 58-68 describe the Lord reversing the exodus. Ruin will come upon and the people and they will be taken off of the land and put back into slavery. Rather than being as numerous as the stars of heaven, as promised to Abraham, the people will be destroyed (28:62-63). The people will have no rest (28:65), which is what the promised land was all about: resting with the Lord. In verse 68 the Lord finishes the reversal of the exodus by saying that the Lord will bring them back to Egypt as slaves. God’s message is that disobedience brings pain and suffering. Disaster will eventually come for disobedience. Israel thought that this would never happen to them. When you read the prophets you see that they do not believe this could happen because so much time had gone by. They had disobeyed for so long that they thought that God did not see and that God would not act. They were wrong for, as we mentioned earlier, God brought this judgment on Israel twice.
Now we might read these things as see them as old covenant blessings and curses. But turn in the scriptures to Luke 6 and listen to what Jesus taught.
20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. 24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. 27 But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:20–28 ESV)
What does this sound like? It sounds like the ratification of the covenant with its blessings and curses. Our covenant is no different in terms of long term blessings and curses that will come from the covenant of Christ. Now the covenant of Christ is different in that if it does not rain that we to see this as judgment. The covenant Moses gave was specific for Israel. But that does not mean that we do not live without the future promises of blessings and curses. In verse 23 Jesus says that our reward is great in heaven if we are abused for the cause of Christ. Jesus also gives warnings of judgment and loss for making life about right now rather than having life in Christ.
God is looking for us to have thankful obedience for all that he has done. We must never forget what God has done for us. We must desire and enjoy the memorials God has given to us to remember what he has accomplished. We must understand that God wants complete loyalty, just like he wanted from Israel. God will bless us if we will be loyal to the covenant, with the blessings that Jesus uttered. God will curse us if we are not loyal to the covenant, with the curses that Jesus uttered. God gives us the negative and the positive to encourage our obedience. We must not forget like Israel or think like Israel that such curses will never come. They were wrong and we are wrong if we think that we will not receive a just penalty for not being loyal to the amazing covenant God has established through the blood of his Son.