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By Stephen Green. (First Published in Christian Voice April 2003)
Of the sixty-eight verses of Deuteronomy chapter 28, fifty-four are curses for rebellion from God and only fourteen concern blessings for obedience. Does God prefer cursing to blessing? No, he prefers warning to judging. The word "Deuteronomy" means 'Second Law", referring to a mistranslation of Deut 17:18 in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Masoretic Text. Happily, the King James Version translates the words properly: "He (that is, the king) shall write him a copy of this law in a book".
Deuteronomy, the last book of the Pentateuch, is not a 'second law' but a restatement and expansion of the laws in the first four books of Moses. It is very similar in form to vassal treaties of the time. It begins with a historical introduction, moves to an enumeration of laws, sets out reminders to be faithful, and concludes with the appointment of Joshua and the death of Moses around 1400BC.
The New Testament writers quote Deuteronomy nearly two hundred times. It was the Lord Jesus' favourite Bible book, and He quoted from it exclusively to answer Satan's temptations. It contains the most important Jewish text, Deut 6:4-9, which is known as the Shema, after the first word which means 'Hear' in the sense of 'Obey'.
So is Deuteronomy relevant to individuals, church or nation today? As the words are addressed to ancient Israel, are they applicable today? And in what many describe as 'the age of grace', does God still bless and curse in judgment today as then?
Yes it is, yes they are, and yes He does. The 'age of grace' argument derives from a theology known as 'Dispensationalism' in which history may be divided into 'Dispensations.' Two dispensations are commonly talked about, namely the 'age of law' and the 'age of grace', which correspond to the Old and New Testaments, but more extreme dispensationalists can come up with seven.
The trouble is, when the Apostle Paul uses the word, in passages such as Ephesians 1:10 & 3:2, he does not mean a period of time, he means an administration, and in particular, the administration of God's saving purpose and His grace. Grace is of course not a New Testament invention; the first example of God's grace appearing in the third chapter of the book of Genesis. The KJV word 'lovingkindness', which is an equivalent of 'grace', appears 19 times in the Old Testament, and the word 'mercy' 208 times. The opposite of law is not grace, but lawlessness.
That God judges between Christ's resurrection and second advent may be seen from the New Testament, and there are specific examples in Acts 5 and Acts 12:20-23. As God is the source of all judgment, earthly rulers would not be able to exercise judgment today unless God does. Men have always been sinners needing both law to restrain them and grace to grant them repentance and faith in God through Christ Jesus.
ISRAEL THE MODEL
Israel was intended as a model nation, to set an example to other nations of the benefits of following the true God at a national level:
Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Deut. 4:5
Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. Deut. 4:6
For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? Deut. 4:7
And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? Deut. 4:8
It was not because Israel was good and faithful that God gave them the promised land, but because the nations that were there already were sinning grievously and in dire need of God's righteous judgment:
Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the LORD thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the LORD hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD doth drive them out from before thee. Deut. 9:4
Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Deut. 9:5
Understand therefore, that the LORD thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiffnecked people. Deut. 9:6
So if God judges today, and requires nations to follow righteousness, and if He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, as the Bible teaches (Mal 3:6; Heb 13:8), and if all scripture is given by inspiration of God, profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2Tim 3:16), then Deuteronomy, is relevant and applicable today, and the moral instructions, blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 28 apply to nations today.
The blessings of Deuteronomy 28 are wide-ranging and quite beautiful. They encompass agriculture, industry, family life, financial security and even the weather. There is freedom from crime:
Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out. Deut. 28:6
External security is also promised:
The LORD shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, and walk in his ways. Deut. 28:9
And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the LORD; and they shall be afraid of thee. Deut. 28:10
PUNISHMENT FOR DISOBEDIENCE
The curses are in many instances more specific than the corresponding blessings, because God is concerned to warn us out of his grace and mercy. It is striking how many of the curses of Deuteronomy 28 are already falling on the United Kingdom today. Survey after survey shows that the people do feel miserable and afraid, or 'cursed', in the city and in the countryside (vs16). We are personally in debt to the tune of 893 billion rather than building wealth (v17). The fruit of our bodies is cursed by infertility and abortion and our agriculture is cursed by disease (v18).
Everything appears to go wrong (v20), including the weather (vs23,24) and disease increases (v22). Family life is cursed and fidelity goes out of the window (v30). Farm animals are taken with no recourse (v31) and people's children are taken from them (vs32,41). That happens today in the 'generation gap', where children become strangers to their parents, and in divorce.
Any wealth there is in the nation is subsumed into another nation (vs33,36) reminding us of the money the UK pays to the Euro-super-state. Our agriculture is dependent on ever-increasing use of fertilisers and pesticides (vs38,39,40,42). Immigrants who profess another culture - in our case Islam - begin to rule the roost (vs43,44).
GAVE THEM OVER
It is easy to say that we have done all these things to ourselves without God's help, but part of God's judgment is to give us over to bad law (Ezek 20:25) which makes matters worse, and to uncleanness, vileness and a reprobate mind (Rom 1:24,26,28). It does make his judgments any the less real that we bring them on ourselves.
From verse 45, the curses are restated and deepened; invasion comes and siege, plague and disease, and dispersal abroad. That all looks improbable today, but then the state of Britain today would have seemed improbable forty years ago. It can get a lot worse yet.
In fact, Deuteronomy 28 is borne out by the lessons of history. The anthropologist J D Unwin observed that so long as a civilisation remains fiercely monotheistic and monogamous, it becomes strong and it grows. We should say it is blessed in the manner of the early verses. But when it becomes rich it becomes decadent. Its culture decays, extolling evil rather than good. Family life crumbles and sexuality becomes an end in itself. The people are greedy, but the money fritters away. People care only for themselves, not even about their own flesh and blood. Promises mean nothing. And when homosexuality becomes institutionalised and their own children are killed, sacrificed to the gods, whatever they may be, the end is very nigh.
TIME TO REPENT
Egypt, Sodom and Gomorrah, the massive Canaanite civilisation, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and mighty Rome were all sent by God down what I describe as the rubbish-chute of history. Even Israel and Judah succumbed and were judged too. Will we be any different? We are fooling ourselves if we think we shall be.
Thank God He is still, just, granting time of His mercy for our nation to repent.