In the Utumishi wa Neno course we want to think carefully about how we handle the Word. And where necessary we want to question, prayerfully, the way we commonly read and apply the Bible - especially the Old Testament.
What about the language of blessings and curses? The key texts – Lev. 26 & Deut. 28 – are so commonly quoted and alluded to you could say that they've got into our bloodstream. And they are really crucial passages to get our heads and hearts around. The historical and prophetic books of the Old Testament constantly refer back to these texts (e.g. the much-used Malachi 3). Blessings and curses are all over the Old Testament.
Here are a few quick thoughts and pointers:
- The blessings: Life, health,prosperity, agricultural abundance, respect, and safety. The curses: Death, disease, drought, dearth, danger, destruction, defeat, deportation, destitution, and disgrace. (Fee & Stuart)
- Corporate – They are addressed to ‘you’ plural not ‘you’ singular. If the people of God as a whole obey/disobey then the whole people will be blessed/cursed. As we see in the days of Elijah and Elisha there were godly individuals and a godly remnant who were affected by the curse of drought and famine along with the rest of Israel.
- Historical – As you read through the curses in Leviticus & Deuteronomy they start to sound more like prophecy of what will happen rather than an abstract threat.
- And of course they did all happen, even (horribly) down to women eating their children (2 Kings 6).
- Relational – The point of the blessings and curses was not the blessings and curses themselves. The blessings were tokens of the LORD's love (see Lev. 26:11-12) and the curses were discipline designed to bring his people back to himself (see Lev. 26:23).
- Upped in the New Testament – We are in the New Covenant now – we don’t sacrifice bulls, we don’t go to a holy place, we don’t need priests. There are still blessings and curses but they’ve been massively ratcheted up. Compare Deut. 29:20-21 with Rev. 22:18-19. The blessing is now the joy of perfect fellowship with God in the New Creation (Rev. 21). The curse is now the lake of fire (Rev. 20). These are respectively far far better and far far worse than anything in Deuteronomy 28.
- Conditional - The key word in Deut. 28 and Lev. 26 is 'IF'. The blessings are for those who keep the covenant, obey God's voice, always walk in faithfulness. But none of has fulfilled the conditions. We are deceiving ourselves if we think we have. This is Law. It convicts us and condemns us.
- But the good news - Jesus has taken the curse of the Law on behalf of the believer (Gal. 3:10-14). We still live in a fallen world where work, environment, health, our spirits groan under the weight of sin (Rom. 8). We still await the wonderful day where there is no more curse (Rev. 22:3) but praise God that we are completely redeemed from the curse of the Law. So let’s not threaten God’s people with old covenant curses or promise them old covenant blessings but instead preach Christ in whom we are (already) blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm.