At this point, Moses has a few directives for when the Israelites get to the promised land, plus some blessings and a curse that might be the scariest thing I’ve ever read. These will be part four of Deuteronomy and Moses’s final speech.
Moses begins by telling them all that the law he has given them must be written down on plaster when they reached the land that was promised. This is then followed by separating everyone for a blessing and a curse. Why this happens doesn’t quite make any sense to me. The words of the curse make sense just fine, but why the separation this way? They have two groups of Israelites on two different mountains for this.
The groups that they are separated into are interesting, as the group listed for blessing are the sons of the free mothers (except Reuben and Zebuluun) and the other is the sons of the concubines (though this includes Reuben and Zebuluun). Of course, Reuben’s strange placement in all this is attributed to his transgression against his father by sleeping with his father’s concubine. This reasoning isn’t stated in the chapter but postulated upon in some of my research. As for Zebuluun, it is guessed that he was separated for being the youngest of Leah. So much for it being a good thing to be the baby.
Still, the whole sequence of events doesn’t make any sense to me at all. The commentaries didn’t help much past explaining why Zebuluum and Reuben were separated from the free born sons. It can as easily be assumed that it was only the second group that was cursed as it could be that they were not. Though the curses do appear to be overarching in and of themselves. They are:
“‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the LORD, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’
“‘Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother.’
“‘Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor’s landmark.’
“‘Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.’
“‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’
“‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s nakedness.’
“‘Cursed be anyone who lies with any kind of animal.’
“‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.’
“‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law.’
“‘Cursed be anyone who strikes down his neighbor in secret.’
“‘Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.’
“‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’
After each of these, all the people are to say “Amen.” And yeah, I can pretty much get with these. I’m not sure about eternal damnation, but this is crappy stuff that you really shouldn’t do. You should especially know that none of these are the kinds of things that make you a good person. They may not solidify someone’s badness, but they’re gateways, if you will. You’re free to disagree.
Then a blessing is given, not sure if this is to everyone or just the group on the blessing mountain. The crucial line out of this that basically sums up the rest is:
The LORD will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in his ways.
It’s a crucial “if” because if you don’t, he will let a whole lot of bad come your way. Now, I will segue for just a moment to point out that part of this blessing and promise negates the curse that was previously bestowed upon Adam. Yeah, I’m going that far back and it’s to point out this: Those curses on Adam and Eve were apparently for Adam and Eve alone. They were not for all men and all women for all time. Men came later and didn’t toil the way that is described in Adam’s curse and childbearing is different for every woman. Some have it easier than others, even without the drugs. Those curses were for those two transgressors and not everyone forever. Okay, I’ve said my piece, back to Moses.
First was the blessing of all the good things that will come to them from following the laws and commandments.Then there is a horrifying curse. It reads like the result of not following the laws and commandments is that God will bring the world of Mad Max down upon them.
So the whole thing is pretty awful and seems to be directed at everyone unilaterally, except this little bit where women are spoken of among the property:
You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall ravish her.
The rest of the things that are ruined for people here are things they own. Here, a woman is being ravished by someone other than her betrothed. Now, ravish may or may not relate to rape. There are two problems with that for me.
- If its not rape then she’s still property and that she was ruined is only because she was supposed to be your property and she was useful to someone else. Yeah, that’s the best way I can describe what I mean here, I hope its not confusing.
- If it is rape then I feel like we’re focusing on the wrong aspect of the problem. Not that your property will be ruined but that a person among you will be horribly violated and abused.
This chapter mainly renews the covenant with God and assures those congregated that they are the people of God themselves now, not just because of the ancestors. The deal is with them and they are obligated to keep it if they expect God to keep his end.
There is a strange mention about two other cities that were apparently demolished in the same manner as Sodom and Gomorrah. The cities are Admah and Zeboiim. Their kings had joined with Sodom and Gomorrah back in Genesis against Abraham and were mentioned there a few times and Admah will only be referenced once more and still in the Old Testament, twice for Zeboiim (sometimes spelled Zeboyim). I thought it was strange that their destruction wasn’t mentioned but then referred back to as if it were common knowledge.
It ends with an interesting line. This is the thing that makes it so hard sometimes to follow God’s lead and to have faith.
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
My controlling nature hates that there must be secret things. I know I’m not alone in that. But when I try to explain things to my son, I get it a little. There are things he isn’t developed enough to grasp. I can only hope that it is this kind of reasoning that makes it this way, but we’ll see in the end.
The beginning of this chapter made me smile a little. The first line begins:
And when all these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse…
In other words, no one here is pretending that these commandments and laws are about to be kept perfectly and indefinitely, but don’t you worry, when you remember them, God will remember you. When you come back to Him, God will come back to you.
Reading through the rest of the chapter and about the way God promised to disperse and gather His people depending on their worship of him, I was reminded of Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman. There’s a passage somewhere in there where she recounts that her family believed that the Holocaust was a result of this curse. When I read this chapter, I understand where that thought process comes from and why some would cling hard to these laws in hopes that it never repeat.
At the end, Moses reminds them that the choice is between life and death, blessing and curse. He encourages them to choose life.
So there are my feelings and impressions on chapters 27-30 of Deuteronomy. Have you read it? What do you think?