The curse . In case of disobedience and apostasy, not only would the blessing be withheld, but a curse would descend, blighting, destructive, and ruinous. As the blessing was set forth in six announcements ( Deuteronomy 28:3-6 ), the curse is proclaimed in form and number corresponding ( Deuteronomy 28:16-19 ). The curse thus appears as the exact counterpart of the blessing. The different forms in which the threatened curse should break forth are then detailed in five groups.
Third group . Moses reverts to the calamities already threatened ( Deuteronomy 28:27 ), for the purpose of leading on the thought that, as such diseases separated the sufferer from the society of his fellows, so Israel should be separated from God and brought under the dominion of strangers as a punishment for rebellion and apostasy.
Love veiled in frown.
Probably many may think that this is one of the most awful chapters in the Word of God. Certainly we are not aware of any other in which there is such a long succession of warnings, increasing in terror as they advance. In fact, Matthew Henry tells us of a wicked man who was so enraged at reading this chapter that he tore the leaf out of his Bible! Impotent rage! Impotent as if, when a man dreaded an eclipse of the sun, he were to tear up the announcements thereof. It would come for all that! So here; there are two historical facts, viz. that the children of Israel did depart from their God, and, that all these curses did befall them. Some are unspent even yet. Hence this chapter is a standing proof of the accuracy of the foresight which dictated its prophecies. But while we thus get, on the one hand, a verification of the words, and so a proof of their Divine origin, another question is raised, viz. How are all these terrible realities consistent with the love of God? Now, far be it from us to attempt any vindication of the ways of God. He is infinitely beyond any need of that. What he does is right, whether we can see it to he so or no. One thing only do we aim at now: that is, to guard men against any misinterpretation of those ways, and to point them to such teachings concerning them as God has given to us. Our theme is —Love veiled in frown ; or , the terrors of the Lord a necessity of his infinite love .
I. There are some in every nation whom it is absolutely necessary to sway by deterrents, and in the infancy of a nation fear is more potent than faith.
II. God has a curse as well as a blessing. His love is not a mere desire to make men as easy as possible. It is, first of all, a righteous love. When love has to deal only with righteousness, its benevolent aspect only will be seen; but when sin has to be dealt with, the case is very different.
III. It should be deeply graven in our souls that the black-looking and lowering storm-cloud of Divine wrath, though we call it "the curse of God," must never be thought of in any way which would be inconsistent with his pure and perfect love. The wrath of God is holy love frowning on wrong.
IV. When once the wrath of God is incurred, the sinner cannot elude it, any more than he can retreat from his own shadow.
V. Given the actuality of sin, and a far-seeing eye can with certainty descry some of the consequences thereof; an infinite eye can discern them all.
VI. We know that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but his vindication of his own laws is essential to guard righteousness as with a wall of fire! Hence—
VII. The truest kindness is seen in the enunciation of the most alarming warnings which can be given. The truest love is that which is most faithful. Hence it will often seem the most stern.
VIII. A like holy guard to that which is here thrown around the Law of God is also thrown around the gospel. Just as, on the one hand, this Law did not and could not annul the promise which had been made to Abraham and his seed, even so, on the other hand, not even the richness and glory of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ can ever annul the action of these stern, retributive laws of God's providence on those who continue in sin, and who reject the redemption brought in by the Son of God (see Hebrews 9:1-28 ; Hebrews 10:1-39 .).
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Like the blessing, the curse is a reality. It cleaves to the sinner, pursues him, hunts him down, ruins and slays him ( Deuteronomy 28:45 ). Does some one say, "An exploded superstition"? If so, it is a superstition in the belief of which mankind has shown itself singularly unanimous. View its reality as attested:
1. By conscience . The criminal cannot divest himself of the belief that avenging powers are following on his track.
2. By experience . "Rarely," says Horace, "has Punishment, though lame, failed to overtake the criminal fleeing before her." Greek tragedy rests on an induction from the facts of life.
3. By mythology . It was a conviction, true alike to conscience and the facts of life, which the Greeks sought to personify in the Erinyes, in Nemesis, and in Ate, who clung to a man or to a family in punishment for some half-forgotten crime.
4. By literature , which is full of the recognition of avenging powers. The Bible confirms the substance of this varied teaching, but lifts the subject out of the region of mythology. Jehovah alone has power to bless and curse. The blessings and curses of men have no efficacy save as he gives it to them. His blessings and curses are part of the moral government of the world, and turn exclusively on moral conditions. This is the contrast between the Bible and the heathen idea of a curse. The curse was a prominent part of heathen sorcery, but was wrought with charms and incantations. Protection against it was sought, not in a life of virtue, but in counter-charms and amulets—in conjurations more powerful than those of the enemy. The Bible countenances no such superstitions . Incantations are valueless. A curse is futile against those whom God has blessed ( Numbers 23:20-23 ).
The Bible doctrine is:
That of heathenism (with its modern survivals, the evil eye , charms, witches, etc.) is conspicuously the reverse.
I. THE CURSE IN ITS NATURE .
1. A natural fruit of sin . Natural process is not the whole. But a larger place may be allowed it than it had in the blessing. The blessing is "gift;" sin's fruit is of "debt"—"wages" ( Romans 6:23 ). Conceivably, yet without miracle, God might have withheld from virtue its appropriate outward reward. But no power, even that of God, could prevent the sinner from reaping wretchedness and woe as a result of sin. "The righteous shall be recompensed in the earth; much more the wicked and the sinner" ( Proverbs 11:31 ). The wiser course is not to oppose God to the laws of our moral nature, but to recognize him in them, and to draw from them a knowledge of his character and will. These, like all punitive laws, are the executors of his judgments. The sinner, having placed himself in conflict with the laws of life, of society, and of the outward universe, necessarily suffers in mind, body, and estate. Sin introduces discord, disorder, lawlessness, into the soul . It blinds and infatuates ( Deuteronomy 28:28 , Deuteronomy 28:29 ). It makes wretched. This wretchedness is aggravated:
Sin poisons the fountains of health , and induces diseases ( Deuteronomy 28:22 , Deuteronomy 28:27 , 85). The internal anarchy spreads outwards. The bonds of society are loosened; wealth accumulates in the hands of the few; the unhappy toilers, oppressed and spoiled, sink deeper and deeper in debt and wretchedness. At this stage the nation becomes an easy prey to the first strong power that cares to pounce upon it ( Deuteronomy 28:29-38 ).
2. An effect of hostile action on the part of God . We fail of a complete view if we look only at the hostile relation of the sinner to God, and leave out of account the hostile relation which God assumes to the sinner. It is not merely that the sinner gets into conflict with himself and with the world around him, but nature and providence, under the direction of a hostile will, take up an antagonistic relation to him. Their movements are no longer for his good, but hostile and retributive ( Deuteronomy 28:20-24 ). So the mental maladies of Deuteronomy 28:28 are more than the merely natural effects of sin (cf. 1 Kings 22:22 ). "The inquiring mind," says Dr. M'Cosh, "will discover designed combinations, many and wonderful, between the various events of Divine providence. What singular unions of two streams at the proper place to help on the exertions of the great and good! What curious intersections of cords to catch the wicked, as in a net, when they are prowling as wild beasts! By strange but most apposite correspondences, human strength, when set against the will of God, is made to waste away under his indignation, burning against it, as, in heathen story, Meleager wasted away as the stick burned which his mother held in the fire." Laws of nature are the warp, Divine providence the woof, of this awful garment of the curse with which the sinner clothes himself.
II. THE CURSE IN ITS OPERATION . Pictured in these verses in ample and vivid detail. The counterpart of the blessing ( Deuteronomy 28:15-26 ). Takes effect in misfortune ( Deuteronomy 28:20 ), sore diseases ( Deuteronomy 28:21 , Deuteronomy 28:22 ), scouring by natural agencies ( Deuteronomy 28:23 , Deuteronomy 28:24 ), invasions by enemies ( Deuteronomy 28:25 , Deuteronomy 28:26 ). Action and reaction lead to the reproduction of these evils in aggravated forms. To worse bodily plagues ( Deuteronomy 28:27 ) are superadded mental maladies ( Deuteronomy 28:28 , Deuteronomy 28:29 ), issuing in renewed panic and defeat in war ( Deuteronomy 28:29 ), with innumerable resultant calamities ( Deuteronomy 28:30-33 ). Confusion and anarchy unite with oppression to produce madness of heart ( Deuteronomy 28:34 ), disease pursues its ravages in forms of increasing malignity ( Deuteronomy 28:35 ), and the nation ultimately sinks in total ruin ( Deuteronomy 28:36 , Deuteronomy 28:37 ). Meanwhile, co-operating with these causes to reduce it to subjection, the curse has been working in all labor and enterprise, thwarting, blasting, destroying ( Deuteronomy 28:43 , Deuteronomy 28:44 ; cf. Amos 4:6-12 ; Haggai 1:5-12 ; Malachi 2:2 ). The full terribleness of the Divine curse, however, is only brought out in the New Testament. As the re-laden of God to the soul goes deeper than life in the world, so it extends beyond it. The worse part of the curse is the sinking of the soul in its own corruptions, with the drying up of its possibilities of life, peace, and joy, under the weight of the Divine displeasure—an experience of "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile" ( Romans 2:8 , Romans 2:9 ). Happily, no man in this life knows what the full extent of that curse is ( Isaiah 57:16 ). A remedial system is in operation, in virtue of which no soul is utterly deserted of grace, and even the natural workings of sin are manifoldly checked, limited, and counteracted. Space is thus given for repentance, and salvation is possible. The end, however, if the riches of this goodness and forbearance are despised, will only be the more terrible ( Romans 2:3-10 ).
III. THE CURSE IS ITS CAUSES . Sin, disobedience ( Deuteronomy 28:45 , Deuteronomy 28:46 ). The curses written in this book were literally fulfilled. Israel would not serve the Lord with joyfulness and gladness of heart, therefore—sad retribution!—she had to serve her enemies "in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things" ( Deuteronomy 28:48 ; cf. the prodigal son, Luke 15:14-17 ). All sin ends in bondage. Nations that imitate Israel in her sins may expect to be made like her in her punishment.—J.O.
God, Ruler in nature.
I. NATURAL OBJECTS ARE OF HIS CREATION . The Psalmist bids us lift up our eyes to the hills, and seek help from God, "who made heaven and earth" ( Psalms 121:2 ). It is this which enables him to help us, and makes it reasonable in us to implore and trust in his assistance; as well as leads us to fear his displeasure. Seed, vineyards, olive trees, are his creatures, and subserve his purposes. He who made can destroy.
II. NATURAL AGENCIES ARE UNDER HIS CONTROL . The greater agencies of nature—rain ( Deuteronomy 28:23 , Deuteronomy 28:24 ), pestilence ( Deuteronomy 28:21 ), diseases ( Deuteronomy 28:27 , Deuteronomy 28:35 ). The lesser agencies—locusts ( Deuteronomy 28:38 , Deuteronomy 28:42 ), worms ( Deuteronomy 28:39 ), "powder and dust" ( Deuteronomy 28:24 ). He marshals these agencies at will, appoints them their work, superintends them in the doing of it. He brings strength out of weakness, making the feeblest creatures the instruments of his most terrible strokes of vengeance.
III. THE FRUITFULNESS OF THE EARTH IS DEPENDENT ON HIS BLESSING . He gives, and he can at will withhold. It is a false science which sees only "laws" in the productiveness of nature, and ignores the hand and blessing of a living God.—J.O.
A nation becoming a beacon.
If Mount Gerizim had the weight cf. the people on the side of the blessing, Mount Ebal had certainly the weight of the deliverance. No wonder the Law was to be written on its rocky tablets, since the major part of the Law consists in such denunciation of possible disobedience as might serve to render it improbable. As Dr. Arnold has said, "As if, too, warning were far more required than encouragement, we find that the blessings promised for obedience bear a small proportion in point of length to the curses denounced against disobedience." £ We shall try to sum up the evils here threatened against Israel in case of their disobedience, and then point out their practical and present application.
I. DEGRADATION OF CITY LIFE . If the massing of people gives advantages to religious effort, it gives corresponding advantages to sin. Temptation becomes intensified. The leaven of corruption gets speedily through the compacter mass. The very mention of the city and its sins and sorrows brings a frightful panorama before us. Ignorance, drunkenness, irreligion, licentiousness,—all these are found in their most fearful forms in cities. No wonder that such a man as Dr. Guthrie delivered a series of special sermons on the subject. £ Now, the Jews are threatened with a curse upon their city life in case of their disobedience. Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum are but samples of doomed cities through the disobedience of the people ( Matthew 11:20-24 ).
II. AGRICULTURE will be cursed because of their disobedience. The land of promise will become, through drought and carelessness, a barren waste, like the worn-out lands of slave-holding people, which once were glorious virgin soil. And travelers have no difficulty in believing that Palestine is under the curse of God. £ The threat of Deuteronomy has become a sad reality, and the land stands as a witness to the faithfulness of God to his threatenings.
III. A curse was to rest upon THEIR CHILDREN . No more terrible form of judgment can be supposed than this. Parents are touched deepest in their children. Hence it must have been a great trial for the wayward Jews to find their children deteriorating through their sin, and carrying in their persons the curse of God. Population dwindled, and instead of being the countless people they once were, they have become so small that it is one of the wonders of the world that they maintain their separate existence.
IV. DISEASES of the most frightful kind were to come upon them. Now, it would seem that certain diseases were peculiar to Egypt, and of these the Israelites were particularly afraid. Now, the Lord threatens them with all the diseases of Egypt, of which they were so afraid (verses 27, 35, 60). The diseases with which the human frame is visited are certainly manifold and terrible. To attach them to sin in a way of natural law only makes the judgment the more terrible. Of course we cannot say special sickness is proof positive of special sin; but we can say that but for sin there would have been no suffering and no sickness; and that sin deserves all that is sent. The frightful character of the sickness and sorrows God sends is the expression of his detestation of man's sin.
V. FAMINE was a still worse curse. To perish with hunger because of the scarcity of food is terrible. To waste away for want of due nourishment is terrible. Yet this the Lord threatened, and ultimately sent as the history tells us.
VI. WAR AND SIEGE . The worst enemy of mankind is man. Of all judgments war is worst. And the siege endured in Jerusalem twice over transcends all others recorded in history. Of minor sieges at Samaria and elsewhere we need not speak. According to Josephus, eleven hundred thousand Jews perished in the course of the siege of Jerusalem under Titus by sword, pestilence, or famine. "Besides these eleven hundred thousand, ninety-seven thousand were taken prisoners; and these were reserved, not for the light sufferings commonly undergone by prisoners of war in our days, but for the horrors of the slave-market, and for a life of perpetual bondage." £ It is believed that direct reference is made to the Roman eagles in verses 49, 50, etc; and it is known that women ate their children in the terrible siege.
VII. DISPERSION AND BONDAGE . To those with national spirit dispersion must have been terrible. Emigration is now deemed bad enough, even though it may be to a better inheritance. But the Jewish dispersion threatened was captivity which we know came upon them at different times. The Babylonish Captivity was acknowledged by them to be in consequence of their sins, the recognized curse of God. And even after their return in part to Palestine, they came in for bondage to the yoke of Rome, and felt the yoke of iron on them.
VIII. The OFFSCOURING OF ALL THINGS unto this day. The Jews were threatened with such a scattering among the nations as would make them universally despised. And they have become so. Even yet, notwithstanding toleration and Jewish money-grubbing, the nation has not secured the respect of mankind. As Byron wrote—
"Tribes of the wandering foot and weary breast,
How shall ye flee away and be at rest!
The wild dove hath her nest, the fox his cave,
Mankind their country—Israel but the grave!"
Such in brief are the judgments threatened, and, as history shows us, faithfully executed. The nation constitutes the beacon of history—the most terrible evidence of the perils of disobedience! The following lessons of a practical character are surely taught:—
1. Of those to whom much is given shall much be required . No nation was so favored; but, neglecting its opportunities, no nation has been so cursed. It has been more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, and for Sodom and Gomorrha, than for the Jews.
2. It is terrible when judgment has to begin at the house of God . This is the meaning of the melancholy history. It is a tragedy at the house of God ( 1 Peter 4:17 ). "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed, lest he fall."
3. The prophetic threatening did not prevent their apostasy . Though as we believe, having their possible career through disobedience to direct judgment so carefully sketched, the prophecy lay for ages as a sealed, if not a neglected book. £ We think, with the rich man in Hades, that categorical warning would reform any of our brethren, no matter how abandoned, but find it a mistake ( Luke 16:27-31 ). He who knows the end from the beginning has by his prophecy demonstrated that warning is often despised just in proportion to its particularity and faithfulness.
4. The judgment on earth is an image of a more terrible judgment beyond . "For us, each of us," said Dr. Arnold, "if we do fail of the grace of God there is reserved a misery of which indeed the words of the text are no more than a feeble picture. There is a state in which they who are condemned to it shall forever say in the morning. Would God it were even! and at even, Would God it were morning! for the fear of their heart wherewith they shall fear, and the sight of their eyes which they shall see." In forecasting what the doom of the impenitent shall be, we would do well to remember what God has done to sinners in the present life. Imagination may picture postmortem pardons and insist on sentiment determining the doom of disobedience, even when perpetuated; but the history of judgment here on earth should make every sane man fear to speak lightly of the judgment beyond. May God preserve us all from such an experience, through the blood and merits of Jesus!—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY D. DAVIES
The Nemesis of disloyalty.
It is instructive that Moses dilates with far greater fullness on the curses attached to disloyalty than on the rewards of disobedience. In the childhood of the world people were more under the influence of fear than of hope, more deterred by threatening than drawn by promise. The message of Moses was admirably adapted to the people's need.
I. THE EQUITY OF THESE CURSES .
1. Disobedience under such circumstances of privilege was eminently base and blameworthy . Disloyalty had no excuse. To refuse to hearken to the Creator's voice was sheer obstinacy, which could plead no extenuation.
2. It was perjury . They had sworn to be loyal subjects. They had acknowledged the just terms of the covenant, and had entered Canaan on the terms of pledged obedience.
3. It was rebellion against their accepted King . If such flagrant rebellion escaped with impunity, God would be dishonored in the eyes of the universe.
4. The curses were their own choice . They knew clearly what the fruits of disobedience were. They had seen the fruits in others' fate—in the Egyptians, in their brethren, in the Canaanites. If they should choose other gods, they should be led into captivity, and there they should "serve other gods, wood and stone."
5. The curses were the natural evolution of their crimes . Sin is the seed of which penalty is the fruit. If they forsook God; God would forsake them. What could be more equitable? Men say, "Depart from me; I desire not the knowledge of thy ways." God says, "Depart from me; I never knew you."
II. THE EXTENT OF THE CURSE .
1. It is a complete reversal of the purpose of God . His purpose had been to bless—to bless abundantly. But sin changes the light into gloom, sweetness into bitterness, summer into winter, food into poison. At every point and through every moment the sinner is in direct and absolute antagonism with God.
2. Every earthly possession becomes an instrument of pain . The body, which is the organic instrument by which the soul has intercourse with the material world, furnishes a thousand avenues for pain. Our children are intended as channels of joy; they become channels of sorrow. Every possession becomes a source of anxiety and care. Every occupation bears a harvest of disappointment. Blight is upon all the summer fruit. Black portents fill every quarter of the sky.
3. The natural elements become agents of woe . The sun becomes as a fiery oven, while no cloud tempers the scorching heat. Fierce winds fill the heated air with fine dust, which afflicts the eye with disease and blindness. Inflammation of the blood and fever follow. The air is charged with pestilence, and men breathe it with every inspiration. Material nature fights for God.
4. The curse includes disordered reason . Nor can we wonder. The delicate organs of the mind are sustained in vigor by God, and if he withdraw his hand, madness swiftly follows.
5. In proportion to the previous exaltation becomes the degradation . It is better not to be raised to eminence than to be lifted up and then cast down. This would be a stigma of reproach in the eyes of all the nations.
III. THE CERTAINTY OF THE CURSE . "It shall come to pass."
1. It is fixed by an inherent necessity . The law of Nemesis is embedded in the constitution of the universe. As surely as night succeeds to day, as surely as fire melts wax, so surely does penalty follow sin. Every dynamic force in nature is in league with righteousness against sin.
2. It is made certain by Jehovah ' s word . His word is a part of himself; and as his nature is unchangeable, so no word of his can ever be revoked. This is his prerogative: "I am Jehovah; I change not."
3. It is made sure by the holiness of God . For God to treat sin with levity or with impunity would be to do violence to his own nature—would be to act against himself. In the light of holiness sin must be consumed; and if it inhere ineradicably in the sinner, then must the sinner be consumed likewise. So long as God is holy he must, by the essential quality of his nature, pursue sin unto the death.—D.