““All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you. They shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever. Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things,” (Deuteronomy 28:45-47 ESV)
I struggle with chapter 28 because it is a threat to my systematic theology. It’s a challenge to my core conviction that every word of the Bible agrees with every other word of the Bible. Here’s what I mean: Deuteronomy 28:63 says,
63 And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
The issue is that twice in Ezekiel, God says he does not take pleasure in the death of the Israelites:
For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” (Ezekiel 18:32)
Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 33:11)
So which is it? God delights in the destruction of rebellious Israel, or God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone?
The NIV Quest Study Bible (online) gives us one possible way to reconcile this. It suggests that, “punishment does not please God in the sense of making him feel good. Rather it pleases him that justice is done.”
Which makes me feel a little better, I guess. But it sounds a little like “God-splaining” (which is like man-splaining, where a guy tries to rationalize and justify something that he shouldn’t have said, only its on God’s behalf).
I hear Tara-Leigh say that verse 63 is typical covenant language that doesn’t reflect the character of God. But if it doesn’t reflect the character of God, then why is it in the Bible? Unlike the book of Job, where anything that seems contrary to God’s character can be written off as coming from a human being that doesn’t speak the truth about God (Job 42:7), we don’t get an easy out in Deuteronomy 28, because these words are coming from God himself, through Moses.
But if I struggle with seeing God’s character in this chapter, I don’t struggle at all with seeing human nature. Because for whatever reason, we are wired to respond to the fear of bad things more than the promise of good things. In the 68 verses of chapter 28, only 14 of them are about the blessings of obedience, compared to 54 dealing with the curses of disobedience. Nearly four times as many!
There’s a reason “judgment house” presentations at churches are so popular at Halloween. There’s a reason why the only sermon most people know from Jonathan Edwards is “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Human nature tells us that fear motivates. A recruit in boot camp is trained for battle by a drill sergeant, not by Mister Rogers. Many preachers spend more time on graphic depictions of hell than glorious depictions of heaven.
So while the whole of Scripture is God saying to us, “This is who I am,” Scripture also says to us, “This is who you are.” It is a horrifying thing to turn away from God. The truth of Deuteronomy 28 is that I need constant reminders of the consequences of rejecting God. Because I am a sinful, fallen, forgetful, broken, rebellious child, and sometimes that’s what it takes.