January 4, 2016.
Reading: Deuteronomy 26-28.
Background: Deuteronomy 23-25.
Concepts and Connections.
The offering of first fruits and tithes: This chapter focuses on the offerings that would be made by the people when they entered into the land that the Lord was giving them. They would come into the land and offer these offerings in the place where the Lord God would make His name dwell, which would be Jerusalem. We see that the offering was more than simply an obligation to give to the Lord, but a declaration that the people made honoring the Lord for bringing them into and giving them the land where they dwelt. When they gave the offering, they were to do so in the memory of the promise that the Lord had made to their father Abraham that He would give his decedents the land in which he sojourned. They were to remember how their fathers were oppressed by Egypt for 400 years and how the Lord brought them out of Egyptian bondage with great signs and wonders to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey. With this offering, they were giving back to the Lord only form that which He had already richly blessed them. They were to rejoice in what the Lord had blessed them with.
The tithing made in the third year to support the Levites, sojourners, orphans and widows was to be made with similar honor and rejoicing. They gave these tithes in accordance with the Law, declaring that they had followed the will of the Lord and not cheated the portion that the Lord required. Out of this obedience, they would ask the Lord to bless them, just as He had promised to do. The chapter ends with a strong charge to keep all the commands and statutes that He had commanded them, and He would keep them as a treasured possession, set apart from the other nations of the world.
Mount Ebal and curses: In this chapter, we see a memorial set up as a reminder of the Law and commands of the Lord, along with the dichotomy of the blessing and curse that comes from the Law, depending on the people’s willingness to stand by the Law of their Lord. The chapter opens with the memorial that is set up on Mount Ebal, large uncut stones that would be plastered, on which would be written the words of the Law. The uncut stones would serve as an altar to the Lord and a reminder of the Law.
The latter portion of the chapter deals mainly with the curses that come from transgression of the Law. When the children of Israel first entered the land of promise, half of the tribes were to stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people, and the other half were to stand on Mount Ebal for the curse. It is impertinent to notice that both a blessing and a curse are set up here, though the curse is what is emphasized. After each curse is stated, the people were to reply with’Amen’, indicating their understanding of the covenant that the Lord was making with them and their submission to it. In this way, they people were without excuse when they transgressed the Law, for they were very aware of what the Law said. Paul cites the final verse in this chapter in Galatians 3:10 as he shows that all those who live under the law live under a curse. Indeed, the Law brought about both righteousness and the knowledge of sin, and though necessary, it was a blessing and a curse. This will be further shown in the next chapter.
Blessings and Curses: As we have seen before, the Law set before the children of Israel brought forth both a blessing and a curse. Here, the blessings and curses are plainly and explicitly laid out for the children of Israel to know exactly where they stood. The blessings are told first. Most every aspect of the people’s lives was promised to be blessed by the Lord if they obeyed His voice and walked in His words. The fruit of their fields, their livestock, their families, their daily activities, their position against their enemies, their physical blessings, etc. The righteousness of the Law indeed had the potential to be very beneficial to the people of Israel beyond just the spiritual blessings that it brought with it. There were manifold physical blessings that would come from their obedience, for they served the Creator of the universe.
However, for every blessing, its seems there are two, if not more, curses. The Law had the potential to bring about great blessing, but it also set before the people a great curse. Notice how the blessings are reversed in the curses. Instead of bountiful fields, they would be barren. Instead of many children, there would be few. Instead of inciting fear in the eyes of their enemies, they would flee before them and be overtaken by them. Beyond the reversal of the blessings, the curses extend even further, laying out specific and explicit punishments for transgression of the Law. It almost seems to be more of a prophecy that simply curses put before them, for the children of Israel would go through a vicious cycle of obedience and disobedience throughout their history, and many if not all of these curses would indeed be set upon them. Notice how the passage says “you and your king whom you set over you.” The children of Israel had not set over themselves a king yet, but when they would, the Lord would see it as a rejection of Him as their King. Yet, He told them what would happen when, not if, they did and went astray from following His commands and statutes. Let us learn from Israel’s mistakes, seeing how these curses were inflicted on the people when they left the Law, learning just how seriously the Lord takes sin.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Nehemiah 11-13.
Seek blessing, not a curse.