God Is Faithful. Are You?

1 These are the words of the covenant that the Lord commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb.

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet. You have not eaten bread, and you have not drunk wine or strong drink, that you may know that I am the Lord your God. And when you came to this place, Sihon the king of Heshbon and Og the king of Bashan came out against us to battle, but we defeated them. We took their land and gave it for an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of the Manassites. Therefore keep the words of this covenant and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do.

10 “You are standing today, all of you, before the Lord your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, 11 your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, 12 so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 14 It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, 15 but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today. Deuteronomy 29:1-15 ESV

At this point in his address to the people of Israel, Moses seems to take a break from his recitation of the law, the blessings, and the curses. In a sense, the preceding passages in Deuteronomy have been a recounting of the covenant made by the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. Moses has been reminding them of God’s law and their covenant obligation to keep that law if they expect to enjoy His presence, power, and blessings upon entering the land.

Exodus 19-23 records the event at Mount Sinai in the wilderness when God made His original covenant with the people of Israel. It had been a spectacular occasion, accompanied by fire, smoke, lightning, and thunder, as God descended upon Mount Sinai. He delivered His law to Moses, who then communicated it to the people.

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” – Exodus 24:3 ESV

With that statement, they had ratified the covenant and communicated their willingness to keep their part of the agreement. After offering blood sacrifices to God to seal the covenant, Moses “took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient’” (Exodus 24:7 ESV). So, once again, they expressed their determination to abide by the covenant requirements as outlined by God.

And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” – Exodus 24:8 ESV

In the Hebrew Bible, verse 1 of chapter 29 is actually the last verse of chapter 28. It concludes Moses’ recitation of the covenant and his reminder to the people of the blessings and curses that would accompany either their obedience or disobedience.

Now, Moses appears to present a break in the narrative, providing a historical overview of Israel’s relationship with God. His primary objective is to stress the covenant faithfulness of God. Yahweh had done all that He had promised to do. And they had been eyewitnesses to the mighty acts of God. The truth is, most of the people in the audience that day were too young to have experienced God’s deliverance from Egypt. Their mothers and fathers had been the ones to see all that God had done “to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land” (Deuteronomy 29:2 ESV). They had seen firsthand “the great trials…, the signs, and those great wonders” (Deuteronomy 29:3 ESV).

And, over time, they would have shared the details of their remarkable experience with their children. Moses would have made sure the next generation was fully aware of all that God had done to deliver their people from captivity, lead them through the wilderness, and deliver them to the land of promise. And Moses includes the younger generation when he delivers this stinging indictment:

“But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” – Deuteronomy 29:4 ESV

In spite of all they had heard about God’s past dealings with their ancestors and all they had seen God do in their own lifetimes, they still didn’t get it. They remained clueless when it came to their understanding of God’s covenant faithfulness. He had guided them through the wilderness for 40 years. And during all that time, God had miraculously provided for all their needs. Amazingly, their clothes and sandals never wore out. Evidently, after four decades of wandering through the wilderness, they were still wearing the same garments they had one when they left Egypt.

And God had fed them with manna, quail, and water from the rock. They had no access to bread, wine, or strong drink. Their very existence had been dependent upon God. He had been their sole source of sustenance for nearly half a century.

Then, when they had finally arrived at the borders of Canaan, God had given them victories over Og and Sihon, two kings whose kingdoms were located east of the Jordan and outside the land of promise. God had helped Israel defeat these two nations, providing their land as an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of the Manassites. This had all been the work of God.

“But to this day the Lord has not given you minds that understand, nor eyes that see, nor ears that hear!” – Deuteronomy 29:4 NLT

God had given them everything except the ability to comprehend the significance of His actions on their behalf. In a way, this is a somewhat sarcastic statement meant to reveal just how stubborn the people of Israel had been. It is silly to think that God would have to give them the capacity to understand just how faithful He had been. They had seen it with their own eyes. They had heard all the stories with their own ears. But they remained unimpressed and ungrateful for all that God had done on their behalf.

So, Moses has to make it a point to remind them that, because God had been faithful to keep His end of the covenant agreement, they were going to have to keep the commitment they had made at Mount Sinai: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Exodus 24:7 ESV).

And Moses reminds them that their commitment to keep the covenant would require the participation of every single member of their community, including “the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water” (Deuteronomy 29:10-11 ESV). No one was exempt. No one got a free ride. God had made His covenant with the entire nation of Israel, and every single one of them had personally enjoyed the blessings that came as a result of His covenant faithfulness.

The entire nation was expected to ratify the covenant before they entered the land of promise, and Moses tells them why.

“…that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 29:13 ESV

This covenant stretched back more than 40 years, to the first generation of Israelites who had stood at the base of Mount Sinai and committed themselves to keep the commands of God. But the covenant was to be a timeless document that reached into the future, impacted generations of Israelites to come.

“But you are not the only ones with whom I am making this covenant with its curses. I am making this covenant both with you who stand here today in the presence of the Lord our God, and also with the future generations who are not standing here today.” – Deuteronomy 29:14-15 NLT

God is eternal. He exists outside time and space. And His commitment to the people of Israel was not bound by the limitations of years, decades, or centuries. What He had promised to do, He would do, regardless of how much time passed by or how many generations came and went. Abraham was long gone, but God was keeping the promises He had made to His servant. Moses would soon be gone, but God would remain faithfully committed to doing what He said He would do. Generations of Israelites would come and go, but God would never abandon His covenant commitment. He would be true to His word, but what about them?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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A Reversal of Fortunes

15 “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. 16 Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. 17 Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 18 Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. 19 Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.

20 “The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. 21 The Lord will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 22 The Lord will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish. 23 And the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron. 24 The Lord will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed.” Deuteronomy 28:15-24 ESV

Obey God, and things will go well with you. That is the basic message behind verses 1-14. But, at any point, should you choose to disobey God, you can expect things to take a decidedly different turn – for the worse.

Over the next 54 verses, Moses is going to provide a detailed explanation of the curses that will fall on the people of Israel if and when they choose to disobey God’s laws. And the first part of the list contains a very noticeable and intentional contrast to the blessings outlined in verses 1-14. Moses basically removed the word, “blessed” and replaced it with the word, “cursed.”

Your towns and your fields
    will be cursed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
    will be cursed.
Your children and your crops
    will be cursed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
    will be cursed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
    you will be cursed. – Deuteronomy 28:16-19 NLT

Things would go from good to bad. Fruitfulness would turn to barrenness. Productivity would languish. Prosperity would greatly diminish. And the doom and gloom would follow them wherever they went. There would be no escape. They could disobey God, but they would never be free of His just and righteous punishment.  As the blessings would be a constant reminder of His power and presence, so would be the curses. To disobey God is to act as if God does not even exist or, if He does, He lacks the power to do anything about your disobedience. That’s why King David described the one who chooses to disobey God as a fool.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. – Psalm 14:1 ESV

Another psalmist echoed David’s sentiments when he wrote:

In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
all his thoughts are, “There is no God.” – Psalm 10:4 ESV

But Moses makes it clear that the people of Israel can run from God, but they will find no place to hide. He will find them and punish them for their sins. They can act as if there is no God, but that will do nothing to eliminate the wrath of God against them for their rebellion.

“The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. – Deuteronomy 28:20 ESV

Moses promises three things: mĕerah, mĕhuwmah, and mig`ereth. These three alliterative Hebrew words each have significant meaning and, together, they paint a bleak image of the results of God’s curses. The first word, mĕerah, is not the same one used for curses throughout this passage. That word is ‘arar. The kind of curses to which Moses refers in verse 20 seem to be the byproducts or outcomes of God’s original imprecations. The fruitlessness and barrenness brought on by God will result in further, more advanced problems, like hunger and starvation. The inability to bear children will result in smaller family units and a diminishing population. Things will go from bad to worse.

And this will bring with it mĕhuwmah, a word for turmoil, confusion, or disquietude. Anxiety and lack of peace will be the order of the day. Which reminds me of the phrase:

Know God, know peace. No God, no peace.

The curses of God will leave the people of Israel in a state of confusion and unrest. Moses uses the same word used to describe a rich man who has everything but lacks a fear of God.

Better is a little with the fear of the Lord
    than great treasure and trouble [mĕhuwmah] with it. – Proverbs 15:16 ESV

The third word Moses uses is mig`ereth, which means “rebuke” or “reproof.” The ESV and NSRV translate this word as “frustration.” Its only occurrence in the Bible is in this verse, so its exact meaning is difficult to nail down. But it seems that these three words are meant to convey the outcome or result of the curses of God. So, it makes more sense to see it as the byproduct of God’s rebuke or reproof, which would be feelings of frustration and confusion. The root word for mig`ereth is ga`ar and it is used by the Psalmist to describe the reproach and contempt felt by those who arrogantly disobey God.

You rebuke the arrogant, the cursed,
Who wander from Your commandments.
Take away reproach and contempt from me,
For I observe Your testimonies. – Psalm 119:21-22 NASB

God’s curses will have long-lasting and debilitating consequences. They will leave the people of Israel in a confused and perplexing state, facing the unrelenting rebuke of their God and the reproach of their enemies.

And just so the people of Israel fully understand the severity of these curses, Moses describes them as being accompanied by pestilence, wasting disease, “and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew” (Deuteronomy 28:22 ESV). Not exactly a pleasant proposition. His curses will prove to be all-consuming, bringing His full wrath to bear until, as Moses so unapologetically puts it, “you are destroyed” (Deuteronomy 28:24 ESV).

This will not be a temporary or partial rebuke. It will be comprehensive and complete, leaving the formerly chosen people of God devastated and utterly destroyed. And in the following verses, Moses will describe with painstaking detail how the destruction will come. Every area of Israelite life will be impacted. They will experience curses, confusion, and frustration from all sides. Their enemies will defeat them. Diseases will consume them. Oppression and injustice will plague them. Enslavement will eventually befall them. And all as a result of disobedience to God’s law.

As the people of Israel prepared to enter the land of promise, things should have been looking up for them. They were about to inherit the land God had promised to Abraham. After a four-century delay, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were about to occupy the land flowing with milk and honey. But their occupation of the land would come with conditions. They were going to have to obey the commands of God. It was that simple. And this section of Deuteronomy contains God’s clear and compelling warning of just how serious He was about their adherence to His commands. He has Moses spend what appears to be an inordinate amount of time communicating the consequences that accompany obedience and disobedience. And the two lists are meant to be dramatically and deliberately different. There should be no confusion. The Israelites will have no excuses. They will not be able to say, “We didn’t know!” They will not be able to claim ignorance. By the time Moses is done, the list of curses will be long and unmistakably clear.

“…if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. – Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Curses

11 That day Moses charged the people, saying, 12 “When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13 And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. 14 And the Levites shall declare to all the men of Israel in a loud voice:

15 “‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the Lord, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’

16 “‘Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

17 “‘Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor’s landmark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

18 “‘Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

19 “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

20 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s nakedness.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

21 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with any kind of animal.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

22 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

23 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

24 “‘Cursed be anyone who strikes down his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

25 “‘Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

26 “‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ Deuteronomy 27:11-26 ESV

In this passage are recorded the words of Moses instructing the Israelites to conduct a special ceremony in conjunction with the construction of the memorial and the altar to God. Moses had made it clear that these things were to be high priorities, having instructed the people to complete them “on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 27:2 ESV). The inscribing of the law onto the plastered stones, the building of the altar to God, and the offering of sacrifices to Him were all to be completed within the first 24 hours of their arrival in the land. And verses 11-26 contain one more important task the people were obligated to complete that very first day.

As soon as they crossed over the Jordan, Joshua was to divide the tribes into two separate groups. One group was to stand on Mount Ebal, while the other was to make their way to Mount Gerizim. The Levites would stand in the valley between the two mountains and shout out the blessings and curses that would come with their decision to keep or disobey the law of God.

The fulfillment of this order from Moses is recorded in the book of Joshua.

At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them. – Joshua 8:30-35 ESV

But it is important to note that this event took place after the Israelites had won a victory against Jericho, an endeavor that took six days to complete. This was followed by an attempt by the Israelites to defeat the city of Ai. But because of sin in the camp, the Israelites were routed by the people of Ai. After several days of delay, during which Joshua ascertained the guilty party and had him executed, the Israelites finally defeated the city of Ai. But more than a week had passed since they had entered the land. It was after their destruction of Ai and its inhabitants that Joshua finally got around the carrying out the instructions given to them by Moses.

When Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and struck it down with the edge of the sword. And all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000, all the people of Ai. But Joshua did not draw back his hand with which he stretched out the javelin until he had devoted all the inhabitants of Ai to destruction. Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their plunder, according to the word of the Lord that he commanded Joshua. So Joshua burned Ai and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day. And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening. And at sunset Joshua commanded, and they took his body down from the tree and threw it at the entrance of the gate of the city and raised over it a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day. – Joshua 8:24-29 ESV

One of the things Moses had repeatedly warned the people about was the need for them to obey God completely. He had clearly warned them, “You shall therefore obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today” (Deuteronomy 27:10 ESV).

And yet, just days after having entered the land and after having experienced a miraculous victory over the city of Jericho, God accused the entire nation of unfaithfulness.

“Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings.” – Joshua 7:11 ESV

While it turned out that one man was guilty of the crime, God held the entire nation accountable. And until Achan was exposed as the guilty party and dealt with accordingly, God’s judgment would hang over every single Israelite. God warned them that they must deal with the sin in their midst, or they would continue to fall before their enemies.

“Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.” – Joshua 7:12 ESV

Once Achan and his family were eliminated, the curse was lifted and the people enjoyed a great victory over Ai.

So, when Joshua finally got around to carrying out Moses’ instructions regarding the memorial of stones, the building the altar to God, and the recitation of the blessings and the curses, he had the full attention of the people. They had just seen first-hand what happens when anyone disregards or disobeys God’s commands. Thirty-six Israelites had needlessly died in battle against Ai because Achan had chosen to disobey God.

The recitation of the blessings and curses was intended to remind the people of Israel of just how serious God was about obedience. The people would have walked anywhere from 20 to 25 miles to get from Ai to Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, in spite of their weariness after two battles.

Their defeat against the city of Ai was a powerful reminder of just how dependent they were upon God and how vital the link was between their obedience to God and their future success in the land. If they chose to disregard God’s laws and do things their way, they would find themselves isolated and alone, fighting battles without the assistance and power of God.

There are 12 curses listed in this section, perhaps as a recognition of the 12 tribes of Israel. The list appears to be rather random, dealing with everything from idolatry to lack of love for one’s neighbor. The diversity of the offenses seems intended to represent the broad application of the law to every area of daily life. Any form of disobedience was going to bring the curse of God against them. It was not the significance or seeming magnitude of the transgression that mattered. It was the disobedience itself.

Dishonoring your mother and father, moving a neighbor’s boundary marker, taking advantage of a blind person, or failing to show justice would all result in a curse upon the nation. And with the reading of each successive curse, the people were to shout their affirmation by saying, “Amen!” This word in Hebrew simply means “So be it!” The people of Israel were affirming their understanding of the curse and acknowledging that God was just and righteous in His pronouncement of it. The punishment fit the crime.

Disobedience of God’s holy law was going to have consequences. He had given them free will to obey or disobey, but their choice would not be without ramifications. And as we will see in the next section of verses, the decision to obey God always delivers a far better outcome.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Don’t Celebrate Too Soon.

28 In the year that King Ahaz died came this oracle:

29 Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of you,
    that the rod that struck you is broken,
for from the serpent’s root will come forth an adder,
    and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent.
30 And the firstborn of the poor will graze,
    and the needy lie down in safety;
but I will kill your root with famine,
    and your remnant it will slay.
31 Wail, O gate; cry out, O city;
    melt in fear, O Philistia, all of you!
For smoke comes out of the north,
    and there is no straggler in his ranks.

32 What will one answer the messengers of the nation?
“The Lord has founded Zion,
    and in her the afflicted of his people find refuge.” – Isaiah 14:28-32 ESV

The Philistines were another powerful nation that had made its presence known during the days that Isaiah prophesied. They occupied land to the west of Judah between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Their presence in the Land of Promise, the land promised to Abraham by God and conquered under the leadership of Joshua, was due to the failure of Israel to remain obedient to God. The book of Judges tells us that God left the Philistines in the land as a test.

“Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua. – Judges 2:20-23 ESV

SouthernTribalAllotments2Earlier, in the book of Judges, we are told that the tribe of Judah had been successful in conquering the cities of Gaza and Ashkelon, located in the Philistine territory along the Mediterranean coast. They had also taken possession of the hill country, located to the east, along the Jordan River. But they had failed to take the area in between, known as “the plains.” This was a region occupied by the Philistines.

Judah also captured Gaza with its territory, and Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory. And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. – Judges 1:18-19 ESV

So, as a result of Israel’s failure to obey God and cleanse the land of its immoral and idolatrous occupants, God allowed those pagan nations to remain in the land. With their various false gods, they became a constant source of temptation to the people of Israel, drawing them away from the one true God. They remained a constant thorn in the side of the people of God, conducting raids and plundering their towns and villages. Interestingly enough, the very name, “Philistine” is derived from the Hebrew word, Philistia. In the Greek, it is rendered palaistinei, from which we get the English word, “Palestine.” Even to this day, those who occupy this land to the west of Jerusalem and along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, remain a threat to the people of Israel.

But in this oracle, Isaiah delivers a message from God to the Philistine people. And Isaiah ties the oracle to the year of the death of King Ahaz. The book of 2 Kings provides us with a bit of insight into the life of Ahaz.

Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree. – 2 Kings 16:2-4 ESV

We’re also told that at one point during his reign, Ahaz made a visit to Damascus in Syria, where he met with the Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser. Syria and Israel had formed an alliance against Judah, threatening to destroy them. So, Ahaz had made a treaty with Assyria, paying Tiglath,pileser tribute money for his assistance against Syria and Israel.

Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria listened to him. The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir, and he killed Rezin. – 2 Kings 16:8-9 ESV

While visiting Damascus, he saw the altar that the Syrians used to worship their false god. So, he sent word back to Judah, providing Uriah the priest with detailed instructions to make a replica of the pagan altar in Jerusalem.

When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, he saw the altar that was at Damascus. And King Ahaz sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus. – 2 Kings 16:11-12 ESV

Ahaz then had the brazen altar removed from the temple and replaced with this new pagan altar, where he offered sacrifices to the false gods of the Syrians. He repurposed the brazen altar, using it for divination.

So, this oracle is tied directly to the death of Ahaz. He died in 715 BC and his death marked a low point in the spiritual condition of the people of Judah. They had wandered from God about as far as they possibly could. Their land was filled with altars and high places to false gods. They were immoral and idolatrous. And yet, God focuses His attention on the Philistines.

God warns the Philistines not to be too quick to celebrate.

Don’t be so happy, all you Philistines,
just because the club that beat you has been broken! – Isaiah 14:29 NLT

It’s not exactly clear who is being referred to here. The “club” may be a reference to the house of David. All throughout his reign, David had waged war against the Philistines. As a young boy, he had defeated their champion, Goliath, in battle. And the tribe of Judah and the Philistines had remained enemies up until the days of Isaiah.

With the death of Ahaz, the Philistines could have been rejoicing over the loss of yet another king from the dynasty of David. It may be that they knew of Ahaz’ agreement to serve Assyria in return for their aid against Syria and Israel. Ahaz had told Tiglath-pileser, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me” (2 Kings 16:7 ESV).

The Philistines would have seen this alliance between Assyria and Judah as a good thing, further weakening Juhah’s power in the region. But it seems more likely that the Philistines were rejoicing over the removal of Syria as a threat to the region. These recurrent power struggles were taking place constantly, causing tremendous instability in the region. And the fall of one nation in the area was viewed as good news by all the rest. But God warns the Philistines to tap the break on their enthusiasm. In fact, rather than rejoice, they should weep and mourn.

Wail, O city gate!
Cry out, O city!
Melt with fear, all you Philistines!
For out of the north comes a cloud of smoke,
and there are no stragglers in its ranks. – Isaiah 14:31 NLT

While the people of Israel had failed to remove the Philistines from the land, God had plans for them. They could sit back and relish the troubles taking place in Judah, but the fate of the Philistines was sealed by God. There was judgment coming, and they could not escape it. While the nations could rejoice over the struggles of Israel and Judah, the would not escape from God’s wrath. God had promised Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt” (Genesis 12:3 NLT).

God had vowed to bring His curses upon any and all nations that attempted to treat His people with contempt. And the Philistines were part of a long list of nations that had made a habit of mistreating the people of God. So, Isaiah warned them:

How will they respond to the messengers of this nation?
Indeed, the Lord has made Zion secure;
the oppressed among his people will find safety in her.  – Isaiah 14:32 NLT

We know that, in 712 BC, the Assyrians invaded Philistia. And again, in 701 B.C. they returned under the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, meting out judgment against all those, including the Philistines, who stood opposed to them.

But there is a future judgment reserved for all those nations who have stood opposed to God and His people. There is a day coming when Christ will return, and He will wage war against the nations of this earth – all those who, in their pride and arrogance, have chosen to reject the reign of God Almighty. During the final days of the Tribulation, they will join the Antichrist, choosing to worship him instead of God. They will persecute the people of God, putting many of them to death. But at just the right time, God will send His Son again. And this time, He will come as a conquering King, not a baby in a manger.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Law and Blessing.

30 At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, 31 just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings. 32 And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. 33 And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. 34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them. Joshua 8:30-35 ESV

ten_commandments-720x340Joshua and his forces have just defeated and captured the city of Ai. The men of the neighboring city of Bethel, who had joined forces and fought alongside Ai, were also defeated. So, in essence, the Israelites now had three cities they had conquered in their relatively short tenure in the land of promise. And now, Joshua leads the people to a place called Mount Ebal, where he builds an altar to the Lord. What is going on here? What prompted Joshua to do this? Was it simply because they had enjoyed two rousing victories over their enemies and he wanted to express thanks to God?  And why would he choose to travel all the way north to Mount Ebal in order to build his altar there? This would have entailed a 30-mile journey on the part of the people, so Joshua must have had a good reason for making this arduous trip immediately after a major military engagement against the city of Ai.

To understand what is going on in this passage, we must recall the instructions that Moses had given to the people of Israel concerning their entrance into the land of promise. He had been very specific, providing them with detailed instructions as to what they were to do as soon as they crossed over the Jordan. But it would appear that the people of Israel were behind schedule, having taken time to capture Jericho and Ai before they actually obeyed what Moses had told them to do.

1 Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today. And on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you. And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. And there you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the Lord your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God, and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God. And you shall write on the stones all the words of this law very plainly.” – Deuteronomy 27:1-7 ESV

Mount Ebal was located near a place called Shechem, a site with historical and religious significance for the people of Israel. It was at Shechem that Abraham had built an altar to the Lord after having arrived in the land of Canaan for the very first time.

Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. – Genesis 12:6-7 ESV

So, Joshua’s selection of Shechem and Mount Ebal were not arbitrary. He was following the commands of Moses and replicating the actions of Abraham, the great patriarch of the people of Israel. On this site, Joshua and the people of Israel renewed their covenant with God, recommitting themselves to keep His law and live as His people in the land He had provided for them. They built an altar to the Lord God, the God of Israel. This monument built of stones would be a tangible representation of Israel’s presence in the land and their dedication to worship their God as opposed to the many false gods of the inhabitants of Canaan.

The people erected an altar to God and offered sacrifices on it. But, in addition, Joshua “wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written” (Joshua 8:32 ESV). This seems to indicate that Joshua wrote the law on the stones of the altar, not two tablets of stone as Moses had done. And while it is not clear what the text means by “the law of Moses,” it is possible that Joshua wrote the entire contents of the Book of Deuteronomy. The text states that, once Joshua had written the law on the stone, “he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law” (Joshua 8:34 ESV). The blessing and the curse is a reference to the content found in chapter 28 of Deuteronomy. In that chapter is spelled out all that God will do for the people of Israel if they remain obedient to His law and all that He will do to them if they choose to disobey. They had already learned a painful, yet invaluable lesson about obedience in their initial defeat at the hands of the people of Ai. They had failed to keep God’s command regarding the plunder from Jericho and had suffered because of it. Now, with the building of the altar and the recitation of the law of Moses, the people were receiving a powerful reminder that their hope of receiving blessings from God while in the land was directly tied to their willingness to live in obedience to His law. And God had made it very clear what would happen to them if they chose to disobey.

15 “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. 16 Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. 17 Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 18 Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. 19 Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. – Deuteronomy 28:15-19 ESV

Their ability to conquer the land was dependent upon their willingness to obey God. He would bless them beyond measure, if only they would obey Him without question. This ceremony was more than just a religious ritual. It was a solemn and sobering reminder that their God was serious about obedience. He was a holy God who demanded that His chosen people live lives that would be set apart and distinctively different than those of the people living in the land. He had given them His law in order that they might live in keeping with His divine will. The law was to regulate all their behavior and all their relationships, including their relationship with God Himself. God had not left it up to their imagination. Right and wrong was not going to be a subjective issue for the people of Israel, because God had established an objective, black-and-white criteria for life and godliness.

With the reading of the law, the people of Israel received a much-needed reminder of their covenant commitment to God. Nothing had changed since God had given the law at Mount Sinai all those years before. The original tablets of stone, on which were written the commandments of God, were still in the ark of the covenant. His law had led them across the wilderness and over the Jordan. It had gone before them as they marched around the walls of Jericho. Now, they saw it written on the stones of the altar at Mount Ebal. And it would remain there, a permanent memorial, visible to Israelites and Canaanites alike, declaring the holiness of God and His unwavering demand that His chosen people live according to His will.

“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” – Leviticus 19:2 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

If You Return…

“If you return, O Israel,
declares the Lord,
    to me you should return.
If you remove your detestable things from my presence,
    and do not waver,
and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’
    in truth, in justice, and in righteousness,
then nations shall bless themselves in him,
    and in him shall they glory.”

For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem:

“Break up your fallow ground,
    and sow not among thorns.
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord;
    remove the foreskin of your hearts,
    O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem;
lest my wrath go forth like fire,
    and burn with none to quench it,
    because of the evil of your deeds.” Jeremiah 4:1-4 ESV

God’s continued call for the people of Judah to return to Him was conditional. In other words, He was fully expecting them to change their ways. It wasn’t going to be enough for them to display some half-hearted effort at reform. They were going to have to destroy their idols, tear down the pagan alters, and as God so graphically puts it, “circumcise their hearts.” And God knew their hearts were the sources of their idolatry addiction. As God complained through the prophet Isaiah, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13 NLT). Any worship the people of Israel did direct toward God was tainted by legalism and man-made decrees. Their hearts weren’t really in it. They were going through the motions, while also worshiping the false gods of the nations around them.

But the conditional nature of God’s call also had a positive side. If they would return, in sincerity and with the proper proofs of their determination to make God their only God, then He would bless them. God would take a rebellious, unfaithful people, who were doomed to destruction, and place them once again at the center of His will and affections. And when the other nations saw the radical reversal of Israel’s fortunes, they too would turn to God.

“…the nations will pray to be as blessed by him as you are
and will make him the object of their boasting.” – Jeremiah 3:2 NLT

When Israel had been delivered by God from captivity in Egypt, the other nations heard about what had happened. The news of Israel’s salvation by their God spread quickly. And as they made their way through the wilderness to the land of Canaan, the nations occupying the land became increasingly more fearful of this nation and its God. In fact, when the two spies went into Jericho to check out the fortifications of the city, they were protected by Rahab. And she told them:

“I know the Lord is handing this land over to you. We are absolutely terrified of you, and all who live in the land are cringing before you. For we heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you left Egypt and how you annihilated the two Amorite kings, Sihon and Og, on the other side of the Jordan. When we heard the news we lost our courage and no one could even breathe for fear of you. For the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below.” – Joshua 2:9-11 NLT

God’s power was impressive. His care for those who worshiped Him was like nothing these pagan nations had ever seen before. And God is telling Israel that those very same nations will be blown away when they see how forgiving the God of Israel can be when they repent. But again, God was very specific. He was going to require legitimate heart change.

“Like a farmer breaking up hard unplowed ground,
you must break your rebellious will and make a new beginning;
just as a farmer must clear away thorns lest the seed is wasted,
you must get rid of the sin that is ruining your lives.” – Jeremiah 3:3 NLT

One of the things we tend to leave out when we confess our sins is the legitimate intention of changing our ways. For many of us, confession is nothing more than a required step to get to what we really want: His forgiveness. Our objective is to keep God happy, not to pursue holiness. We know we have screwed up and we also know God is not pleased with us. So, to escape His anger and possible discipline, we confess. It is the equivalent of saying, “I’m sorry.” But what is typically missing is our intention to change our behavior. We simply want to escape God’s wrath, but we have no real desire to pursue holiness. But God had a serious warning to the people of Israel.

“…you must genuinely dedicate yourselves to the Lord
and get rid of everything that hinders your commitment to me,
people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem.

If you do not, my anger will blaze up like a flaming fire against you
that no one will be able to extinguish.
That will happen because of the evil you have done.” – Jeremiah 3:4 NLT

Just as God had done all the way back in the days when Moses leading the people of Israel to the Promised Land, He gives the people of Israel a choice. They could choose to keep His commands and enjoy His many blessings, or they could choose to disobey Him and face the consequences of His curses.

“Look! I have set before you today life and prosperity on the one hand, and death and disaster on the other. What I am commanding you today is to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to obey his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances. Then you will live and become numerous and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are about to possess. However, if you turn aside and do not obey, but are lured away to worship and serve other gods, I declare to you this very day that you will certainly perish!” – Deuteronomy 30:15-18 NLT

Once again, they had a choice to make. And as before, it was between life and death. And God is trying to get them to understand that their choice of life will require a dedicated commitment to follow Him faithfully, but it will be well worth the effort. But it is interesting to note, that even in light of all the God has promised to do for the, we know that Israel will prove too stubborn to take God up on His offer. They will choose death over life. Why? What would cause them to be that stubborn and self-destructive? The simply answer is sin. Their hearts are wicked. Yes, they had been set apart by God and been deemed His chosen people. But their hearts were far from Him. By the giving of the Law, God had made it perfectly clear what He expected of them. He had made His requirements for holy and acceptable living plain as day. But they couldn’t live up to them. Not only that, they couldn’t stop themselves from chasing after other gods. Their natural inclination was toward sin and away from God. And that has been man’s problem since the fall. Mankind has been on a trajectory away from God, not toward Him. Paul puts it this way:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” – Romans 3:10-12 ESV

The amazing thing about God is that He knew Israel would fail to return to Him. He knew they would continue to sin against Him and doom themselves to suffer His discipline. But He was not going to give up on them. In fact, God is far from done with Israel. Their track record of apostasy is undeniable. But God’s faithfulness to them is unalterable. He will one day redeem them and place within them the capacity to do what they have never been able to do from the beginning: Love Him with all their hearts. In the book of Ezekiel, we have recorded a promise made by God to the people of Israel that has yet to be fulfilled.

“For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:24-27 NLT

God knew Israel would not return to Him. But He also knows that there is a day when they will. But it will be the result of His sovereign work and His Spirit’s transforming power. He will do for them what they could never have done for themselves: Change their hearts.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Forgive Mercifully.

When your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you, and if they turn again to you and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them again to the land that you gave to their fathers. – 1 Kings 8:33-34 ESV

1 Kings 8:22-53

Solomon continues his prayer of dedication for the temple. These verses contain the second of seven conditional circumstances that Solomon used as illustrations to appeal to God for His continued mercy and forgiveness. Solomon knew that while they had been experiencing an unprecedented period of peace and tranquility as a nation, that could all change in a heartbeat. All that was necessary was for the people to sin against God. As part of their covenant relationship with them, God had agreed to give them the land of Canaan as their possession. He had promised to bless them and give them victory over their enemies – as long as they remained obedient to Him. But if they failed to remain faithful to Him, they would experience cursing. “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28 ESV). It seems that the primary sin Solomon had in mind was idol worship. He knew that if the people ever worshiped other gods, things would not go well for them. God would punish them for their unfaithfulness. And knowing the track record of the people of Israel, Solomon realized that this was a very real possibility. God had been very clear when He had warned the Israelites what would happen if they proved to be unfaithful. “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them” (Deuteronomy 28:25 ESV). Not only that, “The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone” (Deuteronomy 28:36 ESV). In other words, their sin against God would result in expulsion from the land and a life of exile as captives of another nation. That is why Solomon mentions God bringing the people back again to the land He had given their forefathers. This was a worse-case scenario as far as Solomon was concerned. In essence, he was playing the “What-if Game”. What if we turn away from you and start worshiping other gods and you punish us by allowing us to be defeated and taken captive by our enemies? Will you still hear us if we repent and forgive us of our sins and restore us to the land?

God would answer those questions as soon as Solomon had finished his prayer. God responded clearly and affirmatively. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV). God will consistently forgive those who come to Him with truly repentant and contrite hearts. The writer of Lamenations reminds us, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;  they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV). Solomon knew his God to be holy and just, demanding faithfulness and unwavering obedience from His people. But he also knew His God to be loving, merciful and forgiving. The whole idea of the temple and the sacrificial system it accommodated was to take advantage of God’s prescribed plan for receiving forgiveness from sin. God had provided a means by which His people could remain in a right relationship with Him. He knew they would sin. He was well aware that they would fall short of His expectations. So He provided forgiveness through sacrifice. Blood had to be shed. Payment had to be made. Confession and repentance had to be expressed. Then forgiveness and restoration could be enjoyed. 

Solomon was appealing to the unwavering mercy of God. Even if the worse-case scenario should happen, he wanted to know that God’s mercy would be available. And it would be. That is the story of the Bible. In spite of man’s sin and rebellion against Him, God continues to show mercy. And since the sacrificial system could never fully take away the sins of man, God mercifully sent His Son as the once-for-all sacrifice or payment for all sin. Paul tells us that God was mercifully holding off His judgment against the sins of man until His Son came. “For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past” (Romans 3:25 NLT). Jesus became the final sacrifice for mankind’s sins. He was the fully acceptable sacrifice that satisfied the justice of God and allowed Him to show mercy to sinful men who come to Him with repentant hearts and in full dependence upon the sacrifice of His Son. Solomon knew God to be merciful, so he appealed to that mercy. He was counting on what he knew about God. He knew full well the words of God. “When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice. For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:30-31 ESV). Without God’s mercy, man is hopeless. But God is faithful, just, loving and good. He has provided a way. He has made forgiveness available through His Son.

Deuteronomy 27-28, Acts 2

Blessed and a Blessing.

Deuteronomy 27-28, Acts 2

And all the people of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. ­– Deuteronomy 28:10 ESV

God was serious when He called His people to live in obedience to His commands. They were not suggestions. They were not up for debate or open to interpretation. And God made it abundantly clear that obedience to His law came with unbelievable blessings, while disobedience would result in devastating consequences. If the Israelites obeyed God, they would enjoy a place of honor and exaltation as His people. They would experience God’s favor in the form of fruitfulness, abundance, victory in battle, and recognition among the nations as being the people of God. But disobedience would be extremely costly. The warnings found in chapters 27 and 28 were meant to be deterrents toward disobedience. Their free-will choice to disobey God would not go unnoticed or unpunished. And it’s interesting to note that many of the curses that are outlined in these two chapters are violations of the commands of God. “And you shall be only oppressed and robbed continually, and there shall be no one to help you. You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall ravish her. You shall build a house, but you shall not dwell in it. You shall plant a vineyard, but you shall not enjoy its fruit” (Deuteronomy 28:29-30 ESV). By disobeying the laws of God, they would experience first-hand what violation of those laws felt like. God had told them, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 25:15 ESV). Yet if they failed to obey that law, they would find out what it was like to be on the receiving end. They would discover the devastating consequences of life lived in opposition to God’s divine will.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God’s intention had been to make Israel a showcase of His grace and mercy. They were to be a witness to the nations of His abundant power and amazing love. He had told them, “And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you” (Deuteronomy 28:10 ESV). But their disobedience would have a completely different outcome. “And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away” (Deuteronomy 28:37 ESV). They would go from being a blessing to becoming a curse. They would move from being blessed by God to being under His curse. But God’s desire all along was that they might be a blessing. He wanted to pour out His grace, mercy, and love on them. He desired them to be a shining example of what it looked like for men to live in obedience to and in favor with God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

God’s favor required man’s obedience. The blessings of God were conditional and demanded adherence to His commands. Throughout these two chapters in Deuteronomy we see “if…then” statements that clearly indicate that enjoyment of God’s blessings required obedience to His laws. But in spite of Moses’ dire warnings, the Israelites would find it virtually impossible live up to God’s exacting standards. They just didn’t have it in them. Their hearts would prove to be unfaithful. Their strength would prove to be too weak. Their good intentions would not be enough to overcome their bad choices. And God knew exactly what was going to happen. He was not surprised by their inability to live up to His holy standards. He gave His law to them in order to illustrate just how holy He was and just how difficult it would be for ordinary men to meet His extraordinary requirements. The apostle Paul understood the role of the law well. “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (Romans 7:7-8 ESV). When God gave the law to the people of Israel, they found themselves facing an impossible task. They had been given God’s righteous standards and yet were ill-equipped to meet those standards. They were sinful men and women attempting to live up to the righteous requirements of a holy God. And they would fail. Every one of the curses outlined in these two chapters would take place. They would end up in exile, living in a foreign land, serving as slaves to a pagan king and worshiping false gods. Their fortunes would be reversed. They would go from many to few, from blessed to cursed, from free to slave, from honored to reviled, and from worshiping the one true God to serving “other gods of wood and stone” (Deuteronomy 28:64 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

But God had a plan. He was not done. His relationship with the people of Israel would not end with their failure to keep His commands. The history of the Jewish people is a picture of God’s faithfulness, love, mercy and grace. He had made a covenant with them and He was going to keep that covenant in spite of them. While they proved to be faithless, He would be faithful. He would do what He said He would do. Yes, He would fulfill every one of the curses. They would end up in exile. They would experience every single one of the consequences outlined in these chapters. But they would also experience God’s amazing grace when He restored them to the land and returned them to their rightful place as His chosen people. And God would fulfill every one of His promises made to Abraham. He would make the descendants of Abraham a blessing to the nations. It would be through the nation of Israel that Jesus would come. He would be born a Jew, required to keep the laws of God and meet the exacting standards that God had given to Moses. Jesus would be the one man who would do exactly what God had commanded to be done. He would live in obedience to the laws of God, resulting in a perfectly sinless life, and making Him a perfectly blameless sacrifice for the sins of mankind. But Jesus was not just destined to die. He would rise again, and He would return to His Father’s side in heaven, sending His Holy Spirit in His place. And we see the arrival of the Spirit in the second chapter of Acts, when He came upon the disciples and empowered them to speak in foreign languages they didn’t know. These “Galileans” were transformed by the Spirit of God and became powerful witnesses for God. These common Jews would end up being a blessing to the nations, including “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians” (Acts 2:9-11 ESV). The disciples would be blessed and a blessing. They would receive the power necessary to live in obedience to God’s laws and reveal to the nations “the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11 ESV). And that is exactly what God wants to do in my life. He has blessed me through His Son and He wants me to be a blessing to the nations. He wants my life to be a living testimony of His grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. He wants my life to exhibit His power and testify to the fact that a holy life is impossible without the help of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is only available to those who have placed their faith in the only man who was able to live a holy life: Jesus Christ. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 1For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV).

Father, You have blessed me with the gift of Your Son. You have saved me. You have given me new life and the promise of eternal life. But You have also called me to be a blessing to all of those around me. May my life be a constant reminder and an illustration to those around me of Your grace, mercy and love. Never let me forget that I was as hopeless as the Israelites when it came to living the life You have required of all men. I was incapable of meeting your exacting standards. But You sent Your Son to do what I could never have done. He lived the life I couldn’t have lived and He met the standard You required, making Himself the perfect sacrifice and payment for the sins of mankind. And His death made it possible for you to extend Your blessings upon all those who would accept His gift of new life through His death. Thank You! Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org