Friday, February 18, 2011

Blessings and Curses

In Deuteronomy 26, God provides regulations for the firstfruit offerings. In Deuteronomy 27, curses are pronounced on Mount Ebal against those who break a seemingly random subset collection of laws, as well as a general pronouncement of a curse for anyone who does not obey and enact the entirety of God's Law (Deuteronomy 27:26). With the conclusion of the relaying of God's Law to the Israelites, they are now ready to enter yet another covenant with God.

Blessings and Curses
They say that you can often tell what a person likes by gauging how much they talk about a particular thing; a hometown sports team, a new gadget, a favorite travel spot, or perhaps even merciless and prolonged torturing as a form of punishment.

Enter Deuteronomy 28-29. In these chapters, God is entering another covenant with the Israelites, and is explaining the terms of the covenant. The terms are simple. Do everything in God's Law, and be blessed. Skip out on some of God's Law, and be cursed.

The blessings for obeying God's Law occupy Deuteronomy 28:1-14. Fourteen verses. The curses for disobeying occupy Deuteronomy 28:15-68, plus Deuteronomy 29:16-28. Sixty-seven verses. Sixty-seven verses!!! Over four-and-a-half times the number of blessing verses!!! Oh yes, God loves vengeance. However, pure numbers are a bit removed from true meaning, so let us take a closer look.

First, the blessings. Obey, and you will get the following: a nation superior to all others, prosperity regardless of rural or urban location, bountiful children, crops, and livestock, safe and prosperous travels, protection from enemies, prosperity from all labor, God's holy stamp of approval, respectful fear from all other nations, just the right amount of rain, and they will lend to other nations but borrow from none.

Did you notice anything strange about the blessings? Except for God labeling the Israelites as His holy people, the blessings are all physical, and primarily financial, with absolutely no spiritual content or context. Plus there is no mention of eternal life. It is about as far away from the concept of Christian Salvation as you can be. It fails at foreshadowing.

OK, now for the curses. If you do not obey all of God's Law, there will be:
  • a lack of success regardless of rural or urban location
  • reduced and afflicted children, crops, and livestock
  • dangerous and unsuccessful travels
  • failure, confusion, and destruction of all of your labors
  • degenerative diseases
  • intensely hot temperatures
  • drought
  • blight
  • mildew
  • rains of dust
  • defeat at the hands of enemies
  • contempt from all other nations
  • bodies of fallen citizens eaten by birds and beasts
  • incurable boils, tumors, festering sores, and itchiness
  • madness, mental blindness, and confusion
  • groping about like you are blinded by darkness in the middle of the day
  • a lack of success in anything
  • daily oppression with no rescue
  • daily robbery with no rescue
  • rape of women promised to be married
  • theft of houses prior to being lived in
  • theft of vineyards prior to their first harvests
  • slaughtering and theft of your livestock with no recompense or rescue
  • theft of your children by foreign nations
  • capturing of all of your produce by foreign nations
  • enduring cruel oppression
  • more incurable boils from head to toe
  • forced exodus from the Promised Land by a foreign nation which God motivates
  • idolatry
  • scorn and ridicule from all other nations
  • swarms of locusts eating all vegetation and crops
  • grape-eating worms
  • rotting olives
  • the aliens living among you will become superior to you
  • borrowing from aliens, but aliens will not borrow from you
  • hunger
  • thirst
  • nakedness
  • dire poverty
  • attacks from ruthless foreign nation motivated by God
  • this attacking nation will
    • plunder your nation of grain, livestock, wine, and oil
    • siege and conquer all of your cities
    • drive you to selfish and wicked cannibalism out of desperation during the sieges
  • fearful plagues on you and your descendants
  • horrible and enduring disasters
  • severe and lasting illnesses
  • horrible diseases from Egypt
  • every type of sickness not recorded in the Torah
  • every type of disaster not recorded in the Torah
  • extreme reduction of your nation's population
  • scattering of your remnant throughout all other nations all over the world
  • no repose, peace, or rest
  • perpetual anxiety
  • chronic terror
  • return to Egypt in ships
  • refusal of anyone to buy you as an indentured servant
  • and any particular individual who does not heed God's Law will:
    • never being forgiven by God
    • receive God's zealous wrath
    • receive all of the curses listed in the Torah
    • get your name blotted out (cessation of you, your progeny, and your progeny's lineage)
    • be singled out for destruction by God through all of the curses mentioned above
  • conversion of the Promised Land into a burning waste of salt and sulfur
  • cessation of all vegetation on the Promised Land
Did you notice anything strange about the curses? They too are all physical, and primarily related to financial security and painful suffering, with absolutely no spiritual content or context. Again, there is no mention of eternal life. Nor is there mention of eternal punishment, aside from ending a family lineage. The curses are all temporal, dealing with life as the Israelites would have known it.

There are other weird and implausible things about the curses. How can mildew spread when the atmosphere will be hot and dry? How will locusts and worms eat the crops when they would not grow well enough to provide for such pests under severe drought and blight conditions? How can you be in dire poverty and yet own a vineyard and build a house? What could an invading nation really plunder under such conditions, and why would they want to invade such a cursed land? These would all be neat tricks, indeed.

According to Deuteronomy 29:19-21, only certain people will experience each and every one of these curses, people who completely disregard God's Law. Obviously from the list of curses, you would not want to live anywhere near such a person.

That is interesting too. If you take the implication of those verses, at least some people will experience some of the curses even though they respect God's Law for the most part just because they have not upheld the Law perfectly. Furthermore, the above-listed curses are so wide-reaching that even perfectly-pious, Law-abiding citizens would be affected. God would punish the innocent along with the guilty.

These curses are obviously not intended to be discipline, such as the way a father may discipline his son to keep him on the right path. Instead, they are the release of the pent-up, unmitigated wrath of God. It is a temporal wrath, divorced of eternal-life perspective, which is applied long after people have gone astray. Is it really any wonder that these curses were ineffective as a deterrent?

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