Day 49--Blessings and Curses--"Knowing God"--Deuteronomy 26:1 - 30:20
February 18, 2021, 6:11 AM

Day 49—“Blessings and Curses”—Knowing God—Deuteronomy 26 – 30

Blessings and curses. Actions and consequences. But this time, I was left almost reeling after the curses. With little time to delve into background research, what I found was disappointing. “Blessings and curses,” the writers would say. “God blesses obedience and curses those who turn away from him.”  Well that’s obvious, isn’t it? But the CURSES are so awful, so far beyond any of the sweet promises of the blessings. They are so terrible and far reaching and specific—boils, fevers, blindness, starvation to the point of having to eat your own children—STOP!!

That’s where I was not able to simply read. “No way!” I said to Alistair. “That is patently ridiculous. No one is going to eat their own children.” He did a little background study and said, that yes, during the exile, there were records of people eating their own children, but I am still not buying it. I do not believe this was widespread.

As I reason through this, both the blessings and the curses strikes me as hyperbole, stark overstatements to emphasize the importance of what Moses is telling his people.  I am also aware that portions of Deuteronomy were recorded, written down, and even rewritten during the exile of the Jewish people from their land (597  - 539 BCE), which makes more sense to me because these curses may have recorded actual suffering that the Israelites experienced after the loss of the land that God had given them. Strange people in a strange land, the exile is a central theme for Jews and represents the ultimate curse visited upon them, which did lead, at times, to the likelihood of the things we read here—genuine suffering, wives stolen from husbands, illness.

I also wonder if some of these aspects of suffering/curses were used, as I said before, to exaggerate, or perhaps highlight, the price of disobedience. When I was in 4th grade, we had to go to a special assembly that showed up the effects of drug addiction. The focus in that assembly was to make sure we knew that addiction was real and terrible and that we should make decisions about drugs well before we were even faced with the issue in our lives. I can still describe some of the things that I saw, and those consequences or ‘punishments’ stuck with me as a deterrent. Would that work for everyone? Absolutely not! But I know it had an effect on me.

But there are blessings, of course, and the blessings are grace-full—enemies will run from you, you will never run out of bread, you will have multitudes of children—everything about you will shout “Fertitlity!” in one way or another. And that’s what made me pause too. Certainly this didn’t happen either. Every family did not prosper. People still became sick. Crops failed.

This idealized, black and white picture of obedience vs disobedience reads like a morality tale, a very simple “If…then” formula. If you follow the God of the Universe, then…blessings!!! If you disobey and go your own way…curses!! In other words, the formula is a specific way of teaching the people that following God is a choice that will more likely lead to prosperity, something that still makes me squirm as I think about ‘prosperity gospel’ teachers of today. I don’t agree with the premise, and I don’t believe God works that way—clearly he continues to work with the misbehaving, stiff-necked Israelites, right? Moses makes it clear in Deut 9: 6 “Know then, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to occupy because of your righteousness.” Following God faithfully involves daily commitment, work, conscious decisions in every aspect of our lives, if we are honest about it. I am always overcoming ME as the center of my life in order to choose God as my north star, as my true center.

And it reminds me a little bit of Lent, when we are living in the wilderness or the desert of our own making. What would my life be without God? I understand that many people do live without devotion to God, but what does it mean to ‘unchoose’ him? What does it mean to know God, to be in relationship with God, and then to give up or lose that relationship? The curses in Deuteronomy are spoken to a people group who know God, who know that God has saved them, that God has shown his grace over and over again, and they are being encouraged to stay strong in devotion and practice. We can’t miss the fact that they are just about to charge into their new land of abundance, and that these curses may be exaggerated cautionary warnings, or they may have sprung from the real experience of the exiled Israelites.

The final verses of Chap 30: 15 – 20 are both memorable and poetic, leaving the choice to God’s people about whether or not they will continue to follow: “See I have set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity…choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”

Oh yeah. I’m choosing life…how about you?

Be blessed, and be a blessing to others,

ML+

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