DEUTERONOMY 27 – The Nature of the Curse
For those who have only just joined my Breadcrumbs, you’ve come in on a rather perplexing day! You’ve entered into a journey with me that’s already been going for 53 days. So, what you read in today’s chapter could cause you to ditch the Creator God outright. For one thing, He’s just cursed humans 12 times! What kind of a compassionate God is that?!
Well, today’s chapter can only be put into context if you read my Breadcrumbs from the beginning. More than that, though, you’d get a better picture of this Creator God if you read the first five books in His epic storyline so far, because today’s chapter is like another brick in the wall. It’s sitting on top of the 179 chapters that have already been laid down. If that’s too much, then the last seven days, which covers this Book of Deuteronomy, will help you to avoid jumping to negative conclusions too swiftly.
Today’s chapter is part of a story of the Creator God creating humans – a creature designed in His image. The word “human” could be translated as “image-bearer”. And the plan for the Creator’s image-bearers was that they’d be like Him – operating in His likeness.[a] In this context, we’ve come across an entire region of people who had been given at least six centuries to change their ways to no avail. And so, in a series of judgements on the part of their Creator, Father God moved in several different people groups into this region in a bid to stem the corruption from spreading.[b]
In today’s chapter, this newly formed nation of Israel is about to move into the land of the Canaanites, and their Maker is very concerned that they understand the devastation of corruption. To remind them, they’re to set up twelve large “memory stones” (one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel), at the very place where they cross to river into this new land flowing with milk and honey.[c] And they were to write the words of the law on them. [v2-3] But like any father who loves his children, Father God’s next instruction was to celebrate:
“I don’t want much. I don’t want anything fancy. [v5] I just want obedience and fieldstones. Then, with the right level of solemnness – rightly revering Me as Judge of all the Earth[d], not just for the good that I’ve done for you in the past, but all this in the grave light of what I’m about to do in judging these nations through you – eat the “fellowship offerings” and take heart. Rejoice in My presence [v7] and, now that you’ve become My people, obey Me.” [v10]
Reading slowly enough through this epic Play, one has to conclude that this isn’t a violently deranged god out to destroy anyone who steps out of line. What’s happening in this chapter is incredibly important, not just for the Israelites (and “setting the bar” on behaviour in their new home), but for understanding what it was that so corrupted the people groups in this region so that judgement, which is ordinarily to kept for the end of one’s life or at the end of the world[e], had to prematurely fall upon them.
Most importantly for us today, it shows where the standard is that we (as image-bearers of our Maker) are to be aiming for, if we’ve any hope at all of living in His “likeness”. In a dramatic visual-aid, Moses got half the nation to stand on one hill [v12]; the other half of the nation to stand on the other hill [v13]; while the priests stood in the valley between. [v14] In this way, they were to recite solemn declarations that distinguish between what a blessing looks like, and what a curse looks like.
By doing this, the Creator God takes this entire nation back (in a metaphoric way) to the Garden of Eden. Standing in the land flowing with milk and honey, He gives them the knowledge of good and evil.[f] And it must be noted that, all this was happening before they engaged in war against the local people. They needed to first understand why they were about to act as tools of judgement. And secondly, the context of their own judgement, if they also indulge in similar practices.
I mentioned in today’s breadcrumb how difficult it was to explain to our three-year-old son that, putting his finger (or anything metal) in the electric socket would kill him. But not knowing what “die” meant, I could only scare him with a gruff voice and a huge frown. At least there may be a chance of saving his life if only he’d get the picture, and had a respectful “fear”, at least enough to obey. This respectful “fear of the Lord” is what King Solomon of Israel once said was “the beginning of wisdom”.[g] It’s the hope in the heart of our Maker and Father God, through this graphic playact in today’s chapter. But what’s He saying?
“Cursed is anyone who…” And this is where most of us want to run a mile! No-one wants to know that they’re cursed. They’d rather pretend that either God doesn’t exist at all. Or else, He’s a bottomless pot of gold at the end of our rainbow – always benevolent when we want to dip into Him but shelved as a fairytale for the rest of the time. The problem isn’t with the Creator God or His words, but more with our understanding of His words.
Today’s chapter is better understood when the word “curse”, in our Maker’s language, means: “devoid of blessing”. It isn’t about putting a hex on people to ruin their lives. It’s explaining what patterns of behaviour will cause a “blessed-less” life experience. Written differently it could read: “Absent from blessing is anyone who…”
But here’s the thing, when we’re separated, or absent, from “blessing” we’re separated from God. “Blessing” comes from the Creator who began “blessings” in the beginning, when He blessed the animals, blessed humans, and blessed the seventh day.[h] Therefore, the full understanding of each “curse” in today’s chapter should read: “Devoid of blessing, and therefore separated from God, is anyone who…”
Then all the people said, “Amen!” – which means “Yes, we agree! May it be so!”
Twelve times, things were declared that, if indulged in, would cause us not just to be cut off from “blessing”, but we’d risk being separated from our Maker at the same time. And twelve times, the people receiving this declaration agreed to it. So, either they were nuts, or else the agreement sounded viable. What they agreed to was then documented and miraculously preserved, against all odds, for us to free read today.
From where I’m sitting, I’d say that today’s chapter isn’t just relevant for us, but vitally important for anyone who is hoping not to be separated, or absent, from their Maker in a life devoid of blessing. Having a healthy “fear” loss will keep us away from behaviour that will cause that loss.
Understanding the Creator God in this way, helps us to know Him more as a Father, rather then a tyrant. He’s not here to “curse us” or to spoil our fun. He’s ensuring that we develop what He started. Created in His image, we’re fully equipped with the potential to operate in His likeness. If we do as today’s chapter advises, we’ll not just retain “blessing” in our everyday experience, we’ll end up with lifestyles that display our Maker’s likeness – how He’s behave if He were in our shoes.
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[a] Genesis 1:26-27
[b] Deuteronomy 2:9-25
[c] Joshua 4:3-20
[d] Genesis 18:25
[e] Hebrews 9:27 (See also: Daniel 7:22; Matthew 10:15; 11:22-24; 12:36; 2 Peter 3:7 etc)
[f] Deuteronomy 1:39 (Context: Genesis 2:9&17; 3:6)
[g] Proverbs 1:7
[h] Genesis 1:22&28; 2:3; 5:2