Saturday Jul 23, 2022

Deuteronomy 28:1-14 - God’s Promise of Blessings on Israel

Introduction

     Deuteronomy 28:1-68 presents the blessings and cursings of the bilateral Mosaic Covenant (בְּרִית berith) which God promised to bring upon Israel depending on their obedience or disobedience to His commands. God’s written directives assume the integrity of language in which His meaning was infused in the words and phrases He selected, and that language itself served as a reliable vehicle concerning His expectations. The Israelites were responsible to know what was communicated and would be blessed or cursed based on whether they responded to it positively or negatively. God’s directives meant there were fixed categories of blessing and cursing, which allowed the Israelites to know with certainty what to expect from Him depending on how they treated their relationship with Him. This did not mean the Israelites could manipulate God to do their bidding; rather, it simply meant He was predictable and would do what He promised. A healthy relationship relies on clear and honest communication as well as predictable behavior.

     For the sake of emphasis, Moses repeated the conditional aspects of God’s blessings (Deut 28:1-2, 9, 13-14), and cursings (Deut 28:15, 20, 45-47, 58, 62; cf., Deut 29:24-28; 30:17-20). The word blessing translates the Hebrew noun בְּרָכָה berakah, which appears twelve times in Deuteronomy and sixty-seven times in the OT (TWOT). In Deuteronomy 28, the word refers to the tangible goodness that makes life enjoyable and rich, which God promised to His covenant people, Israel, if they would simply obey His commands. Areas of blessing would include: 1) healthy offspring, crops, and livestock (Deut 28:4-5, 8, 11), 2) military success (Deut 28:7), 3) fruitful labor (Deut 28:8, 12a), 4) international recognition and respect (Deut 28:9-10), 5) financial prosperity (Deut 28:12b), and 6) serving as an international leader to other nations (Deut. 28:13). God also promised to bring curses, which would undo all the blessings and bring Israel down, if they disobeyed (Deut 28:15-68). In Deuteronomy 28:16-19, Moses used the Hebrew verb אָרָר arar six times, which means, “to bind with a curse.”[1] The form of the verb is passive, which means a curse is received by the nation of Israel if they turn away from God. These blessings and cursings were predictable, depending on Israel’s knowledge of God’s directives and their adherence or insubordination to them (Deut 11:26-28; 29:29; 30:15-20).

     When considering the Mosaic Covenant, it is important to realize God’s blessings and cursings for Israel were tied to their moral behavior (see Lev 26:3-4; Deut 11:13-17; Jer 5:23-25; Amos 4:7; Mal 3:10).[2] When Israel abided by God’s Word, advancing on the moral high ground of His ethical standards, the Lord would bless His people in the everyday affairs of their lives. God’s blessings came directly in the form of rain, crop production, national health, etc. However, His blessings also came indirectly through His people who learned and lived His Word as it spoke to their marriages, families, education, labor, economic decisions, social activities, and welfare for the less fortunate in society. For example, God’s blessings of protection and provision for Ruth and Naomi came through Boaz, who modeled godliness and compassion in his words and actions (Ruth 2:1-23). Boaz’ choice to be a godly man meant he would serve as a conduit of God’s grace to others.

     Additionally, God’s blessings should not be thought of as producing equal outcomes to all, as social and economic stratification would continue within Israelite society. It also did not mean everyone would have perfect health, as the general effects of sin in humanity continued. It did mean, however, that even those at the lowest place in society would have their basic needs met; needs such as food, shelter, and clothing. The poor in Israel would be wealthier and better off than those of other nations.[3]

     But if God’s people turned from the Lord and His Word and adopted an alternate ethical standard, then they would forfeit His blessings and bring judgment upon themselves (Deut 11:16-17; 2 Ch 6:24-27). However, God’s judgments on Israel did not always happen in an instantaneous manner, as the Lord is patient, longsuffering, and slow to anger (Ex 34:6; Psa 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jon 4:2). And God often sent warnings to His people (Jer 7:25-26; 25:3-7; 29:18-19), which at times went on for centuries, and discipline came in stages. And even when God’s judgment fell, it sometimes took the form of lesser punishment (Psa 103:10-12; Ezra 9:13). And if His people humbled themselves, He would offer forgiveness and restore their blessings (2 Ch 7:13-14). God is always quick to forgive, and He prefers to bless rather than punish. Any loving parent understands this.

     A conundrum appears in the Old Testament as the righteous struggle from day to day while some evil people grow rich and seem to enjoy all the blessings this world can give. Asaph, a godly man, felt this struggle deeply (Psa 73:1-16). However, when considered from the divine perspective, worldly wealth does not always come with God’s blessing, and the life and final days of the evil person will be less than desirable (Psa 73:17-20). The godly desire the Lord more than the things of this world (Psa 73:21-28), and they have joy and peace with whatever He provides. For whatever God gives to His obedient children will include joy and peace that they might appreciate it, “For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy” (Eccl 2:25-26a). According to Solomon, “It is the blessing of the LORD that makes rich, and He adds no sorrow to it” (Prov 10:22), and “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and turmoil with it” (Prov 15:16). The godly are content with the Lord’s daily provisions (Phil 4:11-13; 1 Tim 6:8; Heb 13:5).[4]

Deuteronomy 28:1-14 - The Lord’s Blessings

     Moses opens the blessing section by saying, “Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth” (Deut 28:1). This opening introduces a conditional clause (Deut 28:1), which is repeated several times in this section (cf., Deut 28:2, 9, 13). As Israel’s Judge, Lawgiver, and King (Isa 33:22), the Lord had provided His people with clear directives concerning how they were to live, and if they chose righteousness, blessing would follow (Deut 11:26-28). God’s blessings (בְּרָכָה berakah) pertained to agricultural, national, social, and material prosperity. God promised to set His people “high above all the nations.” According to Eugene Merrill, “What it means to be set high above all the nations is answered in part by the string of blessings that follow in Deuteronomy 3:3-8. Inasmuch as Israel’s economy rested on an agrarian base, most of the blessing is associated with abundance in field and flock, but other aspects of safe and wholesome life are not ignored.”[5]

     Moses continued, saying, “All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the LORD your God” (Deut 28:2). The hiphil form of the Hebrew word overtake (נָשַׂג nasag) meant God would cause His blessings to come upon obedient-to-the-Word believers. That is, God’s blessings would chase them wherever they were in order to overtake them. The obedient believer would not be able to escape the Lord’s blessings. This is confirmed by the next clause, which reads, “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country” (Deut 28:3). God’s blessing would hunt them down, and their location was incidental. The word blessed (בָּרָךְ barak) means “to endue with power for success, prosperity, productiveness, longevity, etc.”[6] God wants to bless His people and He does not have to be cajoled or manipulated to do it.

     God’s blessings would not only be personal but would also spill over onto one’s children and the production of one’s labor, which included the ground as well as the animals. Moses said, “Blessed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground and the offspring of your beasts, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock” (Deut 28:4). Here is the concept of blessing by association. The adult Israelite who learned God’s Word and walked with Him would be blessed, and so would all who were in contact with him. Boaz was a good example of God’s blessings overflowing into the lives of others.

     God would also provide an abundance of food for His people to eat, as Moses said, “Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl” (Deut 28:5). Eugene Merrill states, “Abundant produce would, of course, result in abundant food supplies. Harvest baskets would overflow, and bakers would have more than enough wheat with which to bake their bread (v. 5).”[7] There would be no food insecurity among God’s people.

     And God’s blessing would touch His people wherever they were, whether in the home or out in the community. Moses said, “Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out” (Deut 28:6). To come in and go out is a merism—a figure of speech—that refers to all of one’s life and activities. According to Earl Kalland, “Going out and coming in is a common descriptive phrase of going out to one’s daily tasks and returning home after the day’s work is done, whatever that activity entails.”[8]

     Having God’s blessing did not mean Israel would not have enemies. God’s people always have enemies, as we live in a fallen world that is temporarily governed by Satan and those who align with him (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 1 John 3:13; 5:19). However, though opposition would arise against God’s people, He would secure their victory, as Moses said, “The LORD shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways” (Deut 28:7). When the text says, “they will come against you one way,” it’s speaking of an intelligent coordinated attack against God’s people. However, though the attack represents man’s best military strategies and actions, God will neutralize their efforts and cause them to be defeated. That the enemy “will flee before you seven ways” meant their enemies could not flee the battle fast enough. This promise of military victory could be trusted because God had already displayed His power over the Egyptians when He brought Israel out of captivity. Having defeated the greatest superpower of the day, lesser powers would be of no concern.

     The Israelite farmers would be blessed both in their efforts and the production of the land itself. Moses said, “The LORD will command the blessing upon you in your barns and in all that you put your hand to, and He will bless you in the land which the LORD your God gives you” (Deut 28:8). Eugene Merrill states, “Verse 8 forms a conclusion to this first set of blessings by summarizing the blessings according to the categories of what Israel would have and what Israel would do (the “barns” and “hand” respectively).”[9] Again, God’s promised blessings were tangible in nature.

     God’s intention of blessing His people was that they might be an example to the rest of the world of what it means to be set apart to the Lord, to walk with Him in holiness. Moses said, “The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, as He swore to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways” (Deut 28:9). The word holy (קָדוֹשׁ qadosh) means “commanding respect, awesome, treated with respect.”[10] It denotes being singled out for special use, to be consecrated for a unique purpose. But God’s people were not mere objects one could set apart, but rather, volitional creatures that were called into a special relationship with the Lord. For this reason, we see the conditional clause, “if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways.”

     If Israel, as God’s people, would learn and live His Word, then “all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will be afraid of you” (Deut 28:10). God was concerned about His image among the Gentiles. Being called by the name of the Lord meant being His representative in the world for others to see. God’s values were to be reflected in the words and actions of His people. If His people would represent Him well, then Gentiles would be afraid of them. The word afraid (יָרֵא yare) most often means “to fear, [or] to be afraid.”[11] However, at times, the word connotes reverence, respect, or awe. This latter meaning might be preferred, as other translations suggest, saying, “they will stand in awe of you” (Deut 28:10 CSB), and “they will respect you” (Deut 28:10 NET). For those possessed with negative volition, they would fear God and His people. However, for those possessed with positive volition, they would be awed by God and His goodness and would respect His people. Earl Kalland states, “By being God’s obedient and holy people (cf. 26:19), the Israelites would enjoy such an intimacy with God that they would become a testimony to all the peoples on earth who would fear or stand in awe of Israel (cf. 2:25; 11:25).”[12]

     God’s blessing would be obvious to His people as well as the Gentiles nations around them. Moses said, “The LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your beast and in the produce of your ground, in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give you” (Deut 28:11). To abound (יָתַר yathar) with prosperity meant to “be left over, remain over.”[13] The idea is that God would give His people more than enough prosperity that they would consider themselves blessed, and others would as well.

     Part of God’s blessing meant predictable weather patterns in which the Lord would send rain on the land and cause their crops to be productive. Moses said, “The LORD will open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow” (Deut 28:12). God created the universe and the world, and He controlled all His creation, including the earth’s climate. God promised He would cause the rain to fall on the soil at optimal times so as to maximize the soil’s production. Peter Craigie states:

  • "One of the roles of God in the promised land would be the provision of fertility; fertility depended primarily on the rains. Without the rains, the crops could not grow, and without the crops and the other produce of the field, neither man nor his domestic animals could survive. Thus in v. 12, there is a very rich expression of the blessing of God, for in providing the rains, God was providing what would be the mainspring of life in Israel’s land."[14]

     God’s blessings meant Israel would know economic stability in such a way that they would not have to borrow from others to engage in business ventures. In fact, Israel would be so prosperous, they would serve as bankers to others, in that they would lend to many nations and never have to borrow.

     In Deuteronomy 28:13-14, Moses provided a summary statement of all God’s goodness to His people as well as a final conditional clause. Moses said, “The LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you only will be above, and you will not be underneath, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I charge you today, to observe them carefully, 14 and do not turn aside from any of the words which I command you today, to the right or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them” (Deut 28:13-14). If Israel would listen (שָׁמַע shama) to God’s directives and observe them carefully, staying faithful in their walk with Him and not pursuing other gods, then His blessings would overtake them. Earl Kalland notes:

     Israel would move upward from her current status to that of the head among the nations, rather than become (or continue to be) the tail (v.13). She would “always be at the top, never at the bottom.” But all this would be determined by the adherence of the people to the stipulations of the covenant-treaty that they had accepted from the Lord. They must “carefully follow them” and “not turn aside … to the right or to the left” (v.14) from any of the commands Moses was rehearsing to them that day.[15]

     In closing, the specific body of laws that Israel would need to follow had been provided by Moses in Deuteronomy chapters 5 through 26. There was no guessing about God’s expectations for His people, and His blessings or cursings would follow, depending on whether Israel would obey or disobey the Lord (Deut 11:26-28). To be clear, the Mosaic Law was never intended to be a means of salvation, but a rule for life that could be obeyed by Israel who were in a covenant relationship with Him and who walked humbly with their Lord (see Deut 5:33; 8:6; 10:12-13; 29:29; 30:15-16; 31:11; Psa 1:2-3; 119:9-11).

 

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 91.

[2] In the larger picture, God gives common grace to everyone (Matt 5:44-45; Acts 14:16-17), and this in order to win their hearts to Him, as He “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). However, God’s common grace does not last forever, and if people turn away from Him and pursue wickedness (Rom 1:18-23), He will let them go their sinful way (Rom 1:24-32; cf., Psa 81:12-13), and they will eventually perish in their sin. For the rebel-believer, it means being least in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:19; cf. 1 Cor 3:15), but for the unbeliever, it means suffering eternally in the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15).

[3] Blessing is a relative term even in our own societies. According to The World Bank, as of 2018, half the world’s population lives on less than $5.50 a day (https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2018/10/17/nearly-half-the-world-lives-on-less-than-550-a-day). According to Pew research data in 2015, the poor in the US are much better off than the poor in other countries (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/09/how-americans-compare-with-the-global-middle-class/).

[4] Remember that Israelites, in the wilderness, were not content with the God’s provision of manna and complained to the Lord to give them meat (Num 11:4-6). God gave them what they asked for, but they did not enjoy it (Num 11:18-20, 31-34), as “He gave them their request, but sent a wasting disease among them” (Psa 106:15).

[5] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 353.

[6] John N. Oswalt, “285 בָּרַך,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 132.

[7] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, 354.

[8] Earl S. Kalland, “Deuteronomy,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 167.

[9] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, 354.

[10] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 1066.

[11] Ibid., 433.

[12] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 311–312.

[13] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 451.

[14] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 337.

[15] Earl S. Kalland, “Deuteronomy,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 168.

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