Have you ever read a book that seems to touch your very soul? Were you hanging on every word? Do you remember your heart being in your mouth with every sentence? For us as a Jewish nation, never was a book written that captivated the dreams of our nation like the book of Dvarim (Deutoronomy), where God forged an agreement with us, His people.
This week’s parasha brings chapters 11-27 to their conclusion – one section with one point: blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. When we hear of blessing and curses we might presume God intends to impart blessings upon Israel, while the curses remain only a feigned warning. In fact it is the other way around – God intends to bring curses upon Israel, it is the blessings that are theoretical. What do you make of these words?
And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. – Dvarim (Deutoronomy)28:1
But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. – Dvarim (Deutoronomy)28:15
Oy, what are these rules?
You might be thinking, “Oy, what are these rules?” And then perhaps wonder, “What are these curses?” Here’s a selection:
The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young. If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the LORD your God, then the LORD will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the LORD will bring upon you, until you are destroyed. Dvarim (Deutoronomy) 28.49-50, 28.58-61
Perhaps so you might be thinking, “I definitely need to get hold of the book of the law!”. That book is the book of Deuteronomy with the specific regulations in chapters 12-26. But we are too late. These curses have already befallen Israel and in 586 BCE Israel was destroyed and sent into exile (recorded in 2 Kings 24-25.)
When I first read it I cried. When I think about my grandmother’s village of 885 Jews who were deported to Auschwitz, or the great-grandfather I am named after. I see the Shoah as just one of the many calamities that befell us. The Holocaust is our most recent calamity, the exile by the Babylonians was our great spiritual slaughter, but we mustn’t forget Egypt was our previous calamity. We were slaves in Egypt, and mercifully God rescued us, just as the book of Dvarim (Deutoronomy) recalls:
But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. – Dvarim (Deutoronomy) 4:20
Why did Israel fall?
Why has the LORD done thus to this land? What caused the heat of this great anger?
…all the nations will say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land? What caused the heat of this great anger?’ Then people will say, ‘It is because they abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt, and went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them. Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, bringing upon it all the curses written in this book, and the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger and fury and great wrath, and cast them into another land, as they are this day.’ – Dvarim (Deutoronomy) 29:24-28
With the death and resurrection of Yeshua, the apostle Paul understand very clearly, that as a Jewish nation, we didn’t need to remain under the law:
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”- so that in Messiah Yeshua the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. – Galatians 3:10-14
Abiding in Yeshua, trusting in his words and his work on the cross, dying for our sins, we are actually embracing the law, but this time receiving the blessing of God’s forgiveness and the promise of eternal life, as Yeshua received the curse on our behalf.
This week’s Haftorah is remarkably apt:
Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified. – Yeshayahu/Isaiah 60:21
Through the sin bearing death of Messiah anyone can call upon the Lord and claim the promise of being with God forever in his eternal kingdom. Isaiah 60 describes a world mankind has never known, indeed it is heaven on earth! And you are invited! And all you have to do is believe Yeshua is the Lord who came from heaven to earth to die for you sins. Will you accept? Just as the Israelites entered into relationship with God, you can today, with the certain hope of blessing and avoiding all the curses.