Saturday Aug 27, 2022

Deuteronomy 28:47-68 - Continuation of God’s Curses for Disobedience

     Continuing the reason for God’s judgments on Israel, Moses stated, “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you” (Deut 28:47-48). In this statement we are reminded that God’s cursings would come upon His people “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart” (Deut 28:47a). Wiersbe comments:

  • "It’s quite depressing to read this long list of calamities, especially when you realize that Israel experienced all of them at one time or another and that innocent people suffered because of the sins of the guilty. Not only Deuteronomy 28, but also Jeremiah’s Book of Lamentations is a solemn reminder that it doesn’t pay to rebel against God and try to have your own way. And what was the reason for all this trouble? “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart for the abundance of all things” (Deut 28:47)."[1]

     One would expect that God’s magnificent kindness to Israel would result in humility and a natural expression of gratitude and service to Him. However, it appears in her prosperity and in her abundance of all things, that Israel would forget the Lord and pursue her gifts rather than her Giver. This language harkens back to Moses’ previous words in which he warned the nation not to forget God because of His goodness (Deut 6:10-12). By failing to serve God with joy and gladness, Israel would bring God’s judgment, and the result would be that the nation would serve its enemies whom the Lord would send against her. Israel’s enemies, like all enemies, would be cruel. Israel would know hunger, thirst, nakedness, and a “lack of all things”, which are indicators of poverty. And this will be God’s judgment upon them, as He will place an iron yoke on their neck until they are brought down. Most yokes were made of wood, so an iron yoke would be heavier and impossible to break. At a later time in Israel’s history, Jeremiah used this language to explain God’s judgment upon those who would not submit to Babylon (Jer 27:6-8).

     God’s judgment would come in the form of a foreign power whom He would raise up to attack Israel. Moses said, “The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand, 50 a nation of fierce countenance who will have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young” (Deut 28:49-50). This reveals that God is the sovereign Lord of the universe, that all nations are ultimately under His control, and He will raise up one and bring down another. The Assyrians are described as an eagle that swoops down with destruction on Israel (Hos 8:1), and the Babylonians when they were used by God to destroy Moab (Jer 48:40). Daniel Block offers this insightful comment:

  • "Verses 49–50 characterize Yahweh’s agent of doom with five bold brushstrokes, each of which intensifies the terror of Israel’s demise. (1) The enemy will come “from the ends of the earth.” What is near is familiar; what is distant is mysterious and fearful. (2) The enemy will be fast. Like an eagle swooping down on his prey, he will attack his targets suddenly and without warning. (3) The enemy will speak an unintelligible language. This rules out negotiations and contributes to horror. (4) The enemy will be “fierce-looking” (lit., “strong of face”), which expresses both the terror of a victim and the resolve of the attacker. (5) The enemy will be heartless, showing no respect for the aged or mercy toward the young."[2]

     Moses’ description continued, saying, “Moreover, it shall eat the offspring of your herd and the produce of your ground until you are destroyed, who also leaves you no grain, new wine, or oil, nor the increase of your herd or the young of your flock until they have caused you to perish” (Deut 28:51). Here we observe a kind of scorched-earth tactic where the enemy would devastate the land and leave nothing for the inhabitants. And this would envelop the whole land, as “It shall besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls in which you trusted come down throughout your land, and it shall besiege you in all your towns throughout your land which the LORD your God has given you” (Deut 28:52). Israel would make the mistake of trusting in its own fortified cities and abilities when they came under attack, but these would prove useless against the forces God would raise up to defeat them. If Israel would have maintained their walk with the Lord, He would have been their protection against all enemy forces (Deut 28:7). But turning away from God meant leaving the fortress of His love and care.

     Then, in horrific detail, Moses explained the degree to with Israel would act when being starved while under siege, saying, “Then you shall eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters whom the LORD your God has given you, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy will oppress you” (Deut 28:53). When all food portions had run dry, Israelites would resort to cannibalism, even eating their own children. Moses continued, saying, “The man who is refined and very delicate among you shall be hostile toward his brother and toward the wife he cherishes and toward the rest of his children who remain, 55 so that he will not give even one of them any of the flesh of his children which he will eat, since he has nothing else left, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy will oppress you in all your towns” (Deut 28:54-55). Eugene Merrill states:

  • "The intensity of the distress is emphasized by the fact that parents would eat their children, their only hope of earthly remembrance and posterity (v. 53). And not just the most crass or barbaric among them would do so. The gentlest soul would abandon all restraint and loyalty and in his hour of self-preservation would feed upon his own precious loved ones (v. 54), not retaining a shred of generosity toward others in similar plight (v. 55). The basest human (or animal?) instincts would prevail when choice had to be made between one’s own life and another’s."[3]

Having discussed the gentle man who engages in cannibalism, Moses said of the gentle woman:

  • "The refined and delicate woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground for delicateness and refinement, shall be hostile toward the husband she cherishes and toward her son and daughter, 57 and toward her afterbirth which issues from between her legs and toward her children whom she bears; for she will eat them secretly for lack of anything else, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy will oppress you in your towns." (Deut 28:56-57)

Eugene Merrill states:

  • "Lest it be thought that the maternal side of womanhood might preclude such abhorrent behavior, the text goes on to reveal, in terms that stagger the imagination, that women so refined and genteel as to avoid touching the ground with unshod feet would not hesitate to consume their own offspring (vv. 56–57a). In fact, they would keep for themselves their newborn infants and even the afterbirth even if it meant that their husbands and other children had to do without and starve. These they would hoard and eat secretly to preserve themselves in that day of unspeakable horror."[4]

     These horrible acts of cannibalism occurred among the ten northern tribes of Israel during the Aramean siege by Ben-hadad II circa 850 B.C. (2 Ki 6:24-30), and the two southern tribes of Judah when they were besieged by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. (Jer 19:9; Ezek 5:9-10; Lam 2:20; 4:10).

     What follows in Moses’ speech is a summary statement that all the curses described herein would come upon God’s covenant people if they turned away from Him. Moses said, “If you are not careful to observe all the words of this law which are written in this book, to fear this honored and awesome name, the LORD your God” (Deut 28:58). Serving God and experiencing His blessings was not a guessing game. Moses had clearly communicated “all the words of this law”, which words, he said, were “written in this book” for Israel to know and follow (Deut 28:58a). Moses had referenced the words of the law before (Deut 17:18-19; 27:2-3, 8, 26), and he would reference them again as being “written” for posterity to study, understand, and follow (Deut 28:61; 29:20-21, 27; 30:10; 31:24, 26). Studying God’s Word and walking in obedience meant they would fear and honor (כָּבַד kabad) His “awesome name”, which name embodied all that God is in character and conduct. According to Kalland, “This glorious and awesome name speaks of his essence, character, and reputation as the God of the promises, the true and living God revealed to the people, particularly at Horeb (Sinai).”[5] If Israel would not honor God’s name, “then the LORD will bring extraordinary plagues on you and your descendants, even severe and lasting plagues, and miserable and chronic sicknesses” (Deut 28:59).

     Unfortunately, throughout Israel’s history, the book of Deuteronomy was rejected and Israel fell into all sorts of sinful behavior and judgment. It was during the reign of Josiah (2 Ki 22:1), that a copy of Deuteronomy was found in the temple (2 Ki 22:8-20), and the land was largely purged of idolatry and the temple restored to its proper place of function (2 Ki 23:1-25). However, after Josiah died in 609 B.C., the four subsequent kings all did evil in the sight of the Lord until eventually Judah and Jerusalem were destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.

     The disobedience of Israel meant they would suffer diseases, sicknesses, and plagues, some of which Israel had seen God bring upon Egypt, but also included other maladies not mentioned here. Moses said, “He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt of which you were afraid, and they will cling to you. 61 Also every sickness and every plague which, not written in the book of this law, the LORD will bring on you until you are destroyed” (Deut 28:60-61). Merrill states, “the Hebrew construction in v. 61 allows the sickness to be viewed as a divinely ordained instrument of judgment, not just an illness of happenstance or of no apparent purpose.”[6] And such illnesses would decimate the nation’s population, as Moses said, “Then you shall be left few in number, whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, because you did not obey the LORD your God” (Deut 28:62). Whereas God had promised to bless the nation with a multitude of people, here the curse would cause their numbers to shrink, making them smaller and smaller as His judgments advanced, and this until they were destroyed.

     God is righteous, and it pleases Him to bless His people when they walk in righteous conformity with His directives. However, it also pleases the Lord to act righteously to judge His people when they disobey Him. Moses said, “It shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it” (Deut 28:63). God prefers to bless and not discipline; however, His attribute of righteousness demands He act justly toward His people. Block correctly observes:

  • "Moses begins by speaking shockingly of a change in Yahweh’s disposition toward his people. Where previously Yahweh had delighted in causing Israel to flourish, now he will delight in their destruction. The notion is troubling to modern readers, but read within the ancient conceptual environment, it contrasts sharply with the notions of Israel’s neighbors. Where others attributed such calamities to demonic forces and hostile deities, Yahwism refuses to take the easy way out. These statements reflect the other side of Yahweh’s passion: When his people trample underfoot his grace, his passions will be ignited against them."[7]

     Not only would God remove Israel from their land because of idolatry, but He would scatter them among the pagan nations to worship and experience what they sought to elevate above God. Moses said, “Moreover, the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known” (Deut 28:64). Of course, the reality is that these idols are dumb—wood and stone—and are foreign to the living God who revealed Himself to their patriarchs.

     The sad reality is that idols offer no real rest from the troubles of this world because they cannot deliver. Moses said, “Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul” (Deut 28:65). There would be no rest physically “for the soul of your foot”, and there would be no rest mentally or emotionally, as they would have a heart that constantly trembles, eyes that never fail to see trouble, and a soul that despairs all that life offers. Merrill states, “External transience would be matched by internal, emotional upheaval. The mind would be anxious (lit., “there will be a quaking heart”), the eyes would fail because of longing (cf. 28:32), and the heart (nepeš; i.e., the inner being as a whole) would become faint. The very lives of the people would be hung up before them, that is, would be in suspense.”[8]

     The state of their difficult condition would be constant. Night and day they would have no confidence about their condition. Moses said, “So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life” (Deut 28:66). When blessed by God, Israelites would experience long life in the land of blessing. However, when cursed by God, they would never know from day to day whether their lives would be safe. They would be in a constant state of anxiety.

     Internal fears and stress from life’s experiences would cause them great anguish. Concerning their mental state throughout the day, Moses said, “In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see” (Deut 28:67). Here is psychological and emotional disequilibrium that is caused by the uncertainty of a troubled life.

     Slavery and subjugation would be the end result, as Moses said, “The LORD will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by the way about which I spoke to you, ‘You will never see it again!’ And there you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer” (Deut 28:68). These would become the lowest of slaves, regarded as so worthless that no one, not even their former captors in Egypt, would want to buy them. Deuteronomy 28:68 shows a final reversal of all God’s blessings as the Lord, who had once brought them out of slavery in Egypt, would return them to their former captors, only in a worse state than before. According to Craigie, “In the blessing of God, the people had been brought out of Egypt and freed from that old servitude. In the curse of God, they would return to Egypt once again, and there they would experience the depth of humiliation; in offering themselves for sale, they would be deemed by the Egyptians to be substandard, not even worth making into slaves.”[9]

     All of these cursings could have been avoided. None of them had to happen. In fact, God desired to bless His people, and all they had to do was to know His Word and walk in it, keeping covenant with the Lord. These curses served as a warning of the consequences of turning away from the Lord and pursuing a life of sinful rebellion. Constable states, “God designed these blessings and curses to persuade His people to obey His covenant with them. Stronger proof of the blessing of obedience and the blasting of disobedience is hardly imaginable. God’s will was, and is, very clear and simple: obey His Word.”[10]And Wiersbe adds:

  • "There’s a sobering message here for the church in today’s world. Like Israel of old, we are God’s chosen people and a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9–10) and have been greatly blessed in Jesus Christ. We are here to “advertise” the virtues of the Lord and declare the good news of the Gospel. If we fail to glorify God and obey His Word, He will chasten us just as He chastened Israel (Heb. 12:1–14). “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17) If God chastens His own people for their sins, what will He do to those who don’t belong to the family and have resisted His will? But judgment will begin in God’s family, and the only way we can avoid it is to turn from our sins and obey His will."[11]



[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series, 169.

[2] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 658.

[3] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 367–368.

[4] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary, 368.

[5] Earl S. Kalland, “Deuteronomy,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 176.

[6] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary, 370.

[7] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, 660–661.

[8] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary, 371.

[9] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, 351–352.

[10] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Dt 28:58.

[11] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, 171.



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