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C. The blessings that follow obedience 28:1-14
"For the purpose of impressing upon the hearts of all the people in the most emphatic manner both the blessing which Israel was to proclaim upon Gerizim, and the curse which it was to proclaim upon Ebal, Moses now unfolds the blessing of fidelity to the law and the curse of transgression in a longer address, in which he once more resumes, sums up, and expands still further the promises and threats of the law in Ex. xxiii. 20-23, and Lev. xxvi." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:435.]
Moses began positively by holding out blessings as inducements to obedience (cf. Genesis 1:28-30). He stated the greatest blessing, and the one that comprehends all those that follow, first: Israel could become the most exalted of all nations on the earth. The condition for this blessing was obedience to the Word of Yahweh. So important was this condition that Moses stated it three times in this section-at the beginning (Deuteronomy 28:1), middle (Deuteronomy 28:9), and end (Deuteronomy 28:13-14; cf. Deuteronomy 28:15; Deuteronomy 28:45; Deuteronomy 28:58; Deuteronomy 28:62)-in both positive and negative terms. Specifically, he enumerated six benefits using four merisms in each of which representative extremes describe the whole. God would give His people blessing everywhere, economically, with safety, and in all their activities (Deuteronomy 28:3-6). Then, in the typical hortatory (exhorting) fashion characteristic of Moses in Deuteronomy, he elaborated on these blessings (Deuteronomy 28:7-14).
"The Canaanites believed that Baal had a house in the heavens with an opening in the roof from which the rains were sent. Whether this constitutes the background for the figure underlying the storehouse in the heavens here [Deuteronomy 28:12], Moses did insist that it was the Lord who would either bless Israel with abundant rain or withhold rain because of her disobedience." [Note: Kalland, p. 168.]
"It was only in feeble commencement that this blessing was fulfilled upon Israel under the Old Testament; and it is not till the restoration of Israel, which is to take place in the future according to Rom. xi. 25 sqq., that its complete fulfillment will be attained." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:436-37.]
Note that after a general statement (Deuteronomy 28:15; cf. Deuteronomy 28:1-2) the six formal curses (Deuteronomy 28:16-19) correspond almost exactly to the six blessings (Deuteronomy 28:3-6). The exposition follows in Deuteronomy 28:20-68 (cf. Deuteronomy 28:7-14). We can divide it into five sections of increasingly severe disciplinary measures.
D. The curses that follow disobedience to general stipulations 28:15-68
In this section Moses identified about four times as many curses as he had listed previous blessings (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). The lists of curses in other ancient Near Eastern treaty texts typically were longer than the lists of blessings. [Note: Gordon J. Wenham, "The Structure and Date of Deuteronomy" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of London, 1969), p. 161.] The reason was probably to stress the seriousness of violating the covenant by describing the consequences in detail. [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 357.] Israel was entering a very dangerous environment in Canaan and needed strong warnings against yielding to the temptations she would encounter (cf. Genesis 3:14-19).
In the first view of God’s discipline Moses explained various forms in which Israel would suffer punishment.
In the second view the outlook is worse. Israel would suffer physical distresses, and her enemies would plunder and oppress her. As freedom from Egypt came to epitomize God’s grace, so return to Egyptian conditions represented His judgment (Deuteronomy 28:27).
In the third view Moses saw Israel’s potential fate as rejection by God from covenant fellowship (though not partnership).
The fourth view pictures Israel invaded, conquered, and brutalized by her enemies.
The fifth view shows Israel deprived of all the benefits she had formerly enjoyed (cf. Deuteronomy 6:21-23; Deuteronomy 26:5-9). This section deals with disease and disasters in the land (Deuteronomy 28:58-63) and deportation from the land (Deuteronomy 28:64-68). Both parts picture a reversal of Exodus blessings.
In the later history of Israel the punishments God predicted here took place very literally when the people disobeyed His law. What Moses described in Deuteronomy 28:32-36 happened in the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Deuteronomy 28:52-57 found fulfillment then as well as in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and Israel in A.D. 70. Deuteronomy 28:64-68 have taken place during the Roman invasion of A.D. 70, in the Middle Ages, the Russian pogroms, Nazi Germany, and the present day.
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.
This section of Deuteronomy (chs. 27-28) is one of the most important ones in Scripture because it records the two options open to Israel as she entered the Promised Land. Obedience to the revealed Word of God would result in blessing, but disobedience would result in blasting. Scholars who do not believe in supernatural prophecy have said that it would have been impossible for Moses to have written these words. They say the subsequent history of Israel so accurately fulfilled these warnings that someone must have written them much later, perhaps after the Babylonian captivity. The books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings take pains to point out how God fulfilled what Moses said here in Israel’s later history. [Note: See George Harton, "Fulfillment of Deuteronomy 28-30 in History and in Eschatology" (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1981).] Martin Noth advanced the theory that one man or a group of men later in Israel’s history edited Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings to validate what the writer of Deuteronomy predicted. [Note: Martin Noth, The Deuteronomistic History.] Internal evidence as well as Jewish tradition, however, suggest that these books had separate writers, and their writers composed them earlier than Noth proposed.
"For understanding and explaining Israel’s history as recorded throughout the Old Testament, there are perhaps no more important chapters than Deuteronomy 28-30." [Note: J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come, p. 105.]
The purpose of the whole ceremony Moses described here was to impress the Israelites with the importance and solemnity of entering into and perpetuating covenant relationship with Yahweh. This ceremony was to be a formal occasion that the Canaanites as well as the Israelites would perceive as a covenant renewal ritual.
"When the Greeks invaded Palestine in 332 B.C., the Samaritans sought and obtained permission from the Greeks to build a temple on Mt. Gerizim. This temple was later destroyed and replaced by a Roman temple, but the Samaritans have observed their sacred festivals, including the Passover, on Mt. Gerizim ever since." [Note: G. Herbert Livingston, The Pentateuch in Its Cultural Environment, p. 208. Cf. John 4:20.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 28". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26