Far as the curse is found (Deuteronomy 28:15-16)

We have seen that life in the presence of the living God is about blessing.  In Genesis 1-3, this blessing is seen in terms of provision and protection for God’s people in the place he has given them. For Adam and Eve, that meant in the Garden of Eden. For Noah, this meant life on the land after the flood and for Abraham this meant life in the land God was giving him to go to. For the people of Israel it meant fruitfulness and fertility in the land with sure protection from enemies.

The opposite of life and blessing is death and curse. Throughout the Old Testament this is demonstrated by exile and absence from the place of God’s blessing. The ultimate example of this in Biblical history was the experience of God’s people in Egypt as slaves.

This will perhaps start us thinking about our status today. Is it right to describe believers as being in the place of God’s blessing?  What do you think.

Describing the Curse

V15 -19 mirrors the blessings. If obedience enables fruitfulness in fulfilling the creation mandate so that God’s promise is kept of people, land and plenty, so disobedience brings the full consequences of the Fall on Israel. The implication here is that they will experience drought, famine and barrenness.

V20-24 fleshes this out. The people will suffer from pestilence leading to destruction. Notice the imagery echoing other Old Testament judgements here. Just as the people who gathered at Babel experienced confusion, so too will the people of Israel be confused. Just as God told Adam and Eve that they came from dust and would return to dust, so we see here the symbolic falling of dust upon the people’s heads.

V25-35 develops this to look at how the people will be afflicted by war. If blessing meant that a united enemy would be defeated and scattered seven ways, so too will Israel experience scattering. This total defeat and humiliation without hope of recovery would be experienced in the form of an exile and diaspora experience for many generations.  Notice the fall of darkness which would come literally through the black arid smoke resulting from burning cities and the blindness many would be subjected to as their eyes were gouged out.  The possibility of dead bodies being left unburied was of course particularly troubling for the Israelites reflecting a sense of uncleanness and the pollution of the land.

The result of battle would be that their daughters would be taken captive and forced into marriage, or worse.  Just as the Israelites were now about to benefit from farms they had not planted and cities they had not built, so they would witness an occupying nation benefit from their labours.

V36-57 promises exile and occupation. We know that the exile warning was fulfilled through captivity to Assyria, Babylon and Persia. Later, Greek rulers and then the Romans would occupy the promised land. I’d like to think that there is a long distant hint of the ultimate occupying power in the reference to the eagle swooping down (v49).

Notice again how judgement follows the disobedience. Failure to enjoy serving the Good God is what leads to them being forced to serve harsh and hostile foreign overlords (47-48). If Blessing meant that God’s people would be raised up and exalted in the land, curse meant that they would be brought down and their enemies exalted (v43-44).

The cause of all of this and therefore the thing to avoid will be a failure to be careful and keep God’s law (v58-68). Notice how ultimate judgement is seen in terms of their experience in Egypt. For many, there would be a literal return to the land of Slavery but I would consider Egypt here as generally representing exile and slavery.

Seeing Through New Covenant Eyes

As with our look at the Blessings in Deuteronomy 28, I want to now take time to consider how we interpret and view the curses through New Covenant eyes. Remember that this is important in helping us to avoid dangers such as The Prosperity Gospel and legalism.

Let me take a moment just to explain at this stage, a little bit more about what I mean by “The Prosperity Gospel.” By this we are referring to the views of people like Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar (now if ever there was a case of nominative determinism it is right there in his name).  Prosperity teachers believe that God has promised us access to great wealth and guaranteed health (prosperity) and that we can claim those things from God. This simply requires us to exercise enough faith.

The problem with the Prosperity Gospel is that theologically it takes those things promised to all God’s people in eternity through God’s grace and re-promises them to some of God’s people, in the here and now on the basis of works.[1] Pastorally it ignores what the Bible has to say to us about suffering and persecution so that vulnerable people are left crushed, guilty and disillusioned when trouble comes.  Practically, it is open to abuse and corruption. Often such ministries function like gloried pyramid selling schemes where it is in fact only the person at the top of the pile who is getting rich and no doubt using the wealth to maintain his own health.

This is important because prosperity teaching will see our lack of material blessing as a sign that we are under some form of curse either as a result of our own lack of faith or our ancestors.  This viewpoint has no basis in Scripture.

Rather, when we look at the Bible, we see that the material affects of the Curse have come upon the whole of Creation since the Fall. Israel as God’s people enjoyed a foretaste of the future kingdom of Christ and saw some limitation and reversal of that curse. However, failure to keep the covenant put them back into the realm of curse again. We must be careful to understand Israel’s unique role in redemption history.

When Christ came, he did two things concerning the curse. The first is that he is represented as fulfilling Isaiah 42 and so reversing the curse.  He comes bringing light to a people who walk in great darkness, he opens blind eyes, he allows a woman with an issue of blood ( where the curse is affecting her womb) to touch him and be healed, he raises the dead. Christ is the one who defeats the dark forces of evil bringing liberation. These immediate signs of blessing are aimed once again to give a foretaste of what is to come for all of God’s people

All of this is possible because the other thing Jesus did was take the curse on himself as we have seen several times in this past week. He experiences his own exile in the wilderness and at Calvary. He is handed over to foreign powers, tortured, exposed at the point of death. Thick Darkness covers the land at the point of his execution.  His followers scatter when he is arrested. Whilst he is in fact exalted, lifted up above the people on the Cross it is as an object of shame, mockery and offence.

The consequence of this is that we are set free from the spiritual curse of sin and death to enjoy the blessing of grace. However, there is also the promise that his death and resurrection will one day result in the lifting of the curse over creation. We will enjoy a new creation free from pain and suffering. There will be no more curse.

At the same time, we should not ignore the warnings of Scripture. Jesus in Matthew 11 warns that it will be far worse for those who see his power and goodness and refuse it than for Tyre and Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrah. Similarly, the writer to the Hebrews talks about those who have had a taste of the Holy Spirit’s goodness and power. However, if they fail to enjoy it then this will lead to permanent exile from God’s people and the blessing of salvation, just as failure to enjoy serving the Lord led to servitude to foreign rulers and foreign gods for Israel.  It is my view that Hebrews 5-6 is talking about those who have an experience of religion but do not know Christ but it is is a stak warning to all of us to make sure we are truly in the faith.

Conclusion

However, we know that this isn’t everything. The Bible promises a New Heaven and a New Earth. There is more than just spiritual blessing to come. The New Testament promises Christ’s physical return and our physical resurrection. There is physical blessing to come in eternity. We sometimes refer to this sense that God’s promises have already been realised but that there is still much to fulfil as “The Now and the Not Yet.”

Our attitude as Christians to the curses of Deuteronomy 28 should be determined by our sense that we are living in the “Now and Not Yet.” Spiritually we are set free from the curse, physically, we look forward to the day when the whole of Creation will be free of its bondage.

This is an important Biblical principle. It helps us to answer the question we started with. Are Christians living life in the place of God’s Blessing. On the one hand, we want to say “Yes.” We are in Christ. He has defeated sin. So we are heirs to every spiritual blessing in him.


[1] Although these people often describe themselves as operating “word of faith” ministries, their understanding of what faith is has become so distorted as not to be about faith at all.

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