13–19 May 2018.
For a long time in ancient Israel, the text of Deuteronomy 28 was lost. 2 Kings 22 tells us that when it was rediscovered and read to King Josiah, the text was so shocking the king tore his clothes in despair. Even though this text doesn’t apply to us, when we read it, even we get a feeling for how frightening it is.
Deuteronomy 28 sets out the conclusion and consequences of God’s contract with Israel, and it does so in very stark terms. The short section from vv. 1–14 explains that if Israel listens to God and obeys the contract, things will go well for the nation. But the much longer section from vv. 15–68 explains in terrifying detail the doom, disasters, and destruction that will come upon Israel if they ever abandon their contract with God. If Israel turns from God, every aspect and every level of the nation’s existence will be cursed. It’s hard to imagine a curse more total and comprehensive than the one we find here.
But it’s important to understand why this shocking curse exists. The message here is not a simple kind of moralism that argues that God will bless us if we are good and curse us if we are bad. Even Jesus criticizes and rejects that type of simplistic thinking. No, the issue in Deuteronomy 28 goes much, much deeper.
In Deuteronomy, the lesson that Israel must never forget is that they do not really count as a nation like others. Israel does not have a natural right to exist. Deuteronomy repeatedly reminds Israel that they are occupying a land that does not belong to them, they are living in cities they did not build, drinking water from wells they did not dig, eating food they did not plant, and enjoying all the benefits of something they have no natural right to claim (see for example Deuteronomy 6:10–12). Israel counts as a nation not because of their political power, not because of the strength of their military, not because of the cunning of their political leaders; they are allowed to exist as a nation only because they have entered into this contract with God. So Moses makes it absolutely clear to them: If they want to break the contract with God then there is nothing left that will preserve them as a nation; they will be absolutely destroyed. This passage is so shocking, because it simply makes clear to Israel that to betray God or turn their back on God means abandoning and even attacking the principle and power that supports their very existence.
As Christians, the good news for us is that our relationship with God does not depend on this kind of contract. Because of Jesus, we exist in a relationship of love with God, as God’s very own children. And because we are God’s children, even when we fail and do things wrong, God promises to keep loving us, and to never leave or abandon us. This amazing grace and love that we have from God is something to really praise God for, because there is no greater gift in all the world than being a loved child of God.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis