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The Blessings of Obedience
v. 1. And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord, thy God, to observe and to do all His commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord, thy God, will set thee on high above all nations of the earth, this being the thought which is developed in the description of the blessings, as it now follows;
v. 2. and all these blessings shall come on thee and overtake thee, so as to surround every obedient Israelite with their fullness, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord, thy God, for that is always the condition whose fulfillment may not be evaded.
v. 3. Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field, out in the country, these two designations including the spheres in which life ordinarily moves.
v. 4. Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. The rich blessing of many children, always represented so in the Bible, would be equaled by the number and the quality of all other products.
v. 5. Blessed shall be thy basket, the place where the products of farm and orchard are stored for immediate use, and thy store, the kneading-trough, Exodus 12:34, where the bread was prepared from day to day.
v. 6. Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out, Numbers 27:17, the blessing thus extending to all undertakings.
v. 7. The Lord shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face, said in the form of a sincere wish: May the Lord deliver thine enemies smitten before thy face! the obligation of obedience thus being brought out once more. They shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways, in hopeless confusion, in utter rout.
v. 8. The Lord shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, literally, place it at their disposal in causing their granaries and elevators to he full to overflowing, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto, in business of every kind; and He shall bless thee in the land which the Lord, thy God, giveth thee.
v. 9. The Lord shall establish thee, set thee up on high, an holy people unto Himself, as He hath sworn unto thee, Exodus 19:5-6; Genesis 22:16, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord, thy God, and walk in His ways. Thus the destiny of Israel would be realized.
v. 10. And all the people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the Lord, this conviction would be impressed upon them by the evidence before their eyes, the life of the entire people serving as an object-lesson, showing that Israel was in intimate fellowship with Jehovah; and they shall be afraid of thee, filled with awe and fear of the almighty power of Jehovah as shown in His dominion over Israel.
v. 11. And the Lord shall make thee plenteous in goods, give them more than enough for good fortune and prosperity, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers to give thee.
v. 12. The Lord shall open unto thee His good treasure, the storehouse of His rich blessings, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, Leviticus 26:4, and to bless all the work of thine hand; and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow, Deuteronomy 15:6.
v. 13. And the Lord shall make thee the head and not the tail, always first and never last; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath, having the advantage in every undertaking, always the victor in every war, if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the Lord, thy God, which I command thee this day to observe and to do them;
v. 14. and thou shalt not go aside from any of the words which I command thee this day, to the right hand or to the left, the slightest deviation from the path of God's commands being regarded as unfaithfulness to the covenant between them and Jehovah, to go after other gods to serve them. There is always that suggestive and impressive reminder of the necessity of keeping the covenant with all strictness, in that perfection which the holiness of God demands. This applies also today. Where the fear of God dwells in a country, the blessing of the Lord is usually in evidence, for righteousness exalteth a nation.
The Curses of Disobedience
v. 15. But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord, thy God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes which I command thee this day, that all these curses, namely, those enumerated in the second part of the Chapter, shall come upon thee and overtake thee, like the victorious enemies seeking to take as many captives as possible.
v. 16. Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field.
v. 17. Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store.
v. 18. Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.
v. 19. Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out. These four verses correspond exactly to Deuteronomy 28:3-6, in order to emphasize the curse as the direct opposite of the blessing.
v. 20. The Lord shall send upon thee cursing, His emphatic execration, vexation, the dismay and consternation following the divine curse, and rebuke, the threat of His holy wrath, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, in every plan and in every undertaking, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly, the judgment of God striking down the offenders suddenly, because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken Me. After this introductory summary a more detailed enumeration of the various punishments is given.
v. 21. The Lord shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until He have consumed thee from off the land whither thou goest to possess it. The most severe and the most dreaded disease is named first, to increase the effectiveness of the description.
v. 22. The Lord shall smite thee with a consumption, the terrible white plague, the scourge of the world, and with a fever, Leviticus 26:16, and with an inflammation, fever attended with a very high temperature, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, or drought, and with blasting, which would dry up the grain in the fields, and with mildew, the untimely blight falling on the green ear and turning it yellow; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish.
v. 23. And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, not sending forth one drop of rain, Leviticus 26:19, as often happened in the later history of Israel, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron, not yielding SO much as an ear of grain.
v. 24. The Lord shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust, in the form of severe dust storms, accompanied by a burning wind, as they sometimes sweep over Palestine; from heaven shall it come upon thee until thou be destroyed.
v. 25. The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies; thou shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them, this being the reverse of the blessing spoken of in v. 7; and shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth, literally, "for a removing," or, for a football, namely, for all the kingdoms of the earth to play with, 2 Chronicles 29:8.
v. 26. And thy carcass shall be meat unto all fowls of the air and unto the beasts of the earth, the greatest shame and disgrace which could strike a dead person, Jeremiah 7:33; Jeremiah 16:4, and no man shall fray them away, scare away the birds and beasts, of prey from their gruesome meal.
v. 27. The Lord will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, a form of leprosy which was very common in Egypt, and with the emerods, painful ulcers, and with the scab, and with the itch, both disagreeable skin diseases, whereof thou canst not be healed; all medical skill would avail nothing when the virulence of the cases would be a punishment of the Lord.
v. 28. The Lord shall smite thee with madness, an insanity which shut off all sane consciousness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart, a disease which interfered with the proper functioning of the heart.
v. 29. And thou shalt grope at noonday, at the time when objects should be doubly clear, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways, utterly unable to find the way which would lead to success; and thou shalt be only oppressed and spoiled evermore, and no man shall save thee. The utter ruin of the individual and of the entire country is here depicted.
v. 30. Thou shalt betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her, thus deflowering the bride-to-be and bringing sorrow to him who was her husband before God; thou shalt build an house, and thou shalt not dwell there in; thou shalt plant a vineyard, and shalt not gather the grapes thereof, the owner would not retain it in his possession till the fifth year, when he might enjoy the fruit.
v. 31. Thine ox shall be slain before thine eyes, and thou shalt not eat thereof; thine ass shall be violently taken away from before thy face, and shall not be restored to thee; thy sheep shall be given unto thine enemies, and thou shalt have none to rescue them.
v. 32. thy sons and thy daughters shall be given unto another people, dragged away into shameful slavery, and thine eyes shall look, and fail with longing for them all the day long; and there shall be no might in thine hand, the parents would be altogether helpless, unable to rescue their children. This section is now summarized.
v. 33. The fruit of thy land and all thy labors shall a nation which thou knowest not eat up; and thou shalt be only oppressed and crushed alway,
v. 34. so that thou shalt be mad, driven to insanity, for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see. The threat of v. 27 is now once more taken up.
v. 35. The Lord shall smite thee in the knees and in the legs with a sore botch, a leprosy of all the joints, that cannot be healed, from the sole of thy foot unto the top of thy head, for the ulcers spread out from the joints.
v. 36. The Lord shall bring thee, and the king which thou shalt set over thee, unto a nation which neither thou nor thy fathers have known; and there shalt thou serve other gods, wood and stone, seduced into idolatry of the most flagrant kind.
v. 37. And thou Shalt become an astonishment, an object which would cause horror, a proverb, one whose example would be cited in proverbial sayings, and a byword, an object of raillery, among all nations whither the Lord shall lead thee. Details of the curse as it would strike Canaan are now given.
v. 38. Thou shalt carry much seed out into the field, and shalt gather but little in; for the locust shall consume it, Joel 1:4.
v. 39. Thou shalt plant vineyards and dress them, do the work of a husbandman with painstaking care, but shalt neither drink of the wine, nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them. Throughout this section the Hebrew brings out the contrast much more strongly by placing the object first.
v. 40. Thou shalt have olive-trees throughout all thy coasts, but thou shalt not anoint thyself with the oil; for thine olive shall cast his fruit, or it would be rooted out and its fruit scattered by strong winds.
v. 41. Thou shalt beget sons and daughters, but thou shalt not enjoy them, literally, "they shall not be thine"; for they shall go into captivity.
v. 42. All thy trees and fruit of thy land shall the locust consume, take possession of and enjoy as they choose, utterly destroy.
v. 43. The stranger that is within thee shall get up above thee very high, growing richer and more influential right along; and thou shalt come down very low, becoming impoverished in the same degree as the other increases in wealth.
v. 44. He shall lend to thee, and thou shalt not lend to him; he shall be the head, and thou shalt be the tail. So the opposite of Deuteronomy 28:12-13 would come to pass.
v. 45. Moreover, all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, like a relentless, vindictive enemy, till thou be destroyed because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the Lord, thy God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which He commanded thee;
v. 46. and they shall be upon thee for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy seed forever. The curses are spoken of as arousing astonishment and horror, because they so plainly show the direct interference of the Lord in punishing the disobedience of the people. The punishment is now presented from still another angle.
v. 47. Because thou servedst not the Lord, thy God, with joyfullness and with gladness of heart for the abundance of all things, for the Lord, from the beginning, had blessed His people in an unusually rich amount,
v. 48. therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things; and he, the enemy, shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck until he have destroyed thee. Since they would have rejected the Lord with the richness of His goodness, He would compel them to accept the alternative of the enemies' sore oppression.
v. 49. The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth, as he pounces down suddenly upon his prey; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand, and therefore be unable to communicate with the enemy and to plead for a merciful treatment on his part;
v. 50. a nation of fierce countenance, beyond every impression of mercy, which shall not regard the person of the old, nor show favor to the young, striking down indiscriminately whatever happens to be in the way;
v. 51. and he shall eat the fruit of thy cattle and the fruit of thy land, until thou be destroyed; which also shall not leave thee either corn, wine, or oil, or the increase of thy kine, or flocks of thy sheep, until he have destroyed thee. This description fits all the great world powers, through whom the Lord carried out His punishment upon the disobedient and rebellious Israel, Assyrians, Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Romans.
v. 52. And he shall besiege thee in all thy gates, every city in the entire land, until thy high and fenced walls, solid and fortified as they are, come down, wherein thou trustedst, throughout all thy land; and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates through out all thy land, which the Lord, thy God, hath given thee. The campaign is thus described as being both comprehensive and exhaustive. To such extremities would the people be reduced that the means resorted to for the purpose of maintaining life would be almost unbelievably horrible.
v. 53. And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters, which the Lord, thy God, hath given thee, a most revolting form of cannibalism, in the siege and in the straitness wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee, these words being repeated in a horrible refrain in Deuteronomy 28:55; Deuteronomy 28:57;
v. 54. so that them an that is tender among you, having avoided hardships of every kind all his life, and very delicate, his eye shall be evil toward his brother, and toward the wife of his bosom, and toward the remnant of his children which he shall leave, he who formerly was satisfied only with the finest delicacies and despised ordinary food, would now grudge those nearest to him a share in the loathsome meal, the flesh of his own children;
v. 55. so that he will not give to any of them of the flesh of his children whom he shall eat; because he hath nothing left him in the siege and in the straitness wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee in all thy gates. Cf Leviticus 26:29.
v. 56. The tender and delicate woman among you, which would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground for delicateness and tenderness, insisting upon riding some beast of burden for even the shortest distances or reclining upon the cushions of a litter, her eye shall be evil toward the husband of her bosom, and toward her son, and toward her daughter,
v. 57. and toward, rather, because of, her young one, the afterbirth, that cometh out from between her feet, and toward her children which she shall bear, namely, during the siege, for these she would keep for her own food; for she shall eat them for want of all things secretly in the siege and straitness wherewith thine enemy shall distress thee in thy gates. This was literally fulfilled, 2 Kings 6:28-29; and Josephus relates an instance from the siege of Jerusalem. And still the measure of the curse is not full.
v. 58. If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this Law that are written in this book, the precepts as they were contained in the five books, including Deuteronomy, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, the Lord, thy God, Leviticus 24:11; Exodus 14:4-17; Leviticus 10:3,
v. 59. then the Lord will make thy plagues wonderful and the plagues of thy seed, visit them with unheard-of diseases, even great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance.
v. 60. Moreover, he will bring upon thee all the diseases of Egypt, the sicknesses included in the ten great plagues, which thou wast afraid of; and they shall cleave unto thee. The Israelites had been delivered from them by the departure out of Egypt, but the Lord would now deliberately turn the diseases back upon them.
v. 61. Also every sickness and every plague which is not written in the book of this Law, them will the Lord bring upon thee until thou be destroyed.
v. 62. And ye shall be left few in number, whereas ye were as the stars of heaven for multitude, because thou wouldest not obey the voice of the Lord, thy God. And still more strongly the Lord puts His threat, as if He felt vindictive satisfaction in punishing the sinners.
v. 63. And it shall come to pass that, as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good and to multiply you, so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you and to bring you to naught; and ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it. Thus the last prop of the people which held up a false confidence and a false conception of the mercy of God was knocked away; for the righteousness and holiness of God demands the punishment of all those that despise the riches of His goodness and long-suffering.
v. 64. And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other, a threat which was also literally fulfilled, as the history of the Jews shows; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone.
v. 65. And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest, a homeless people, always feeling the curse of the exile; but the Lord shall give thee there a trembling heart and failing of eyes and sorrow of mind, Leviticus 26:36 ff. ;
v. 66. and thy life shall hang in doubt before thee, like a precious treasure hanging suspended by a very thin thread and ever in danger of being lost; and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life, despairing continually of its preservation;
v. 67. in the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were even! and at even thou shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the fear of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see. The uncertainty of their fate would keep them in a continuous state of fear and terror.
v. 68. And the Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again with ships, stored away in slave ships, and with no possibility of escape, by the way whereof I spake unto thee, Thou shalt see it no more again, Deuteronomy 17:16; and there ye shall be sold unto your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen, put up for sale in the slave-market, and no man shall buy you, for their look, by the curse of God, would frighten the buyer away. It would mean the lowest stage of degradation. This curse was fulfilled at the time of the Romans, in Egypt, but all the others were also fulfilled in a terrible manner during the Middle Ages, and even in modern times. The fate of Israel is a constant warning: Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 28". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19