God’s perk and penalty clauses
Perks: How God might bless Israel1 Here’s what’s going to happen if you get serious about obeying all the laws I’m telling you about today. If you carefully obey these rules—which come from the LORD your God—he’s going to make you into the number one nation in the world. 2 Here’s what I’m talking about. These are the good things that are going to happen to you if you obey the LORD your God.
What a blessing3 Good things will happen to your city folks and country folks alike. 4 Your families, fields, flocks, and herds will all start growing. It’ll be a remarkable blessing. 5 You can count on baskets full of food. And you’ll have plenty of bread dough for your kneading bowl. 6 You’ll come and go, but you’ll always take God’s blessing with you. 7 You’ll have enemies who attack you. But the LORD will make sure they lose the fight. They’ll attack from one direction. But they’ll run for their lives in seven.
8 The LORD will fill you barns. Whatever you do and wherever you go in this land the LORD is giving you, life is going to go well for you. 9 If you follow the law and do what the LORD your God says, he’s going to designate you as a sacred nation of people devoted to him. 10 Nations all over the world will treat you with respect and fear. They’ll do it because they’ll see you’re committed to the LORD your God. 11 You’ll have more success than you know what to do with. In this land that the LORD your God is giving you, you’re going to grow your families, fields, flocks, and herds. 12 The LORD will open the gate at heaven’s reservoir. You’re going to get wet. When the season is right and the ground is ready, he’ll send the rain. Whatever you do for a living, you’ll do well for yourself. Nations of the world will borrow money from you. But you won’t need to borrow a shekel from them. 13 You’ll get to be the head of the donkey, not the tail. You’ll lead the way. Everyone else will have to play catchup. That’s if you follow the law and do whatever the LORD your God says. 14 Do exactly as I’ve told you. Don’t test the boundary limits. And certainly, don’t go worshiping some other god.
Penalties: How God might punish Israel15 Now for the bad news, if you don’t follow the law and you refuse to do what the LORD your God says. Here are the consequences.
What a bummer16 Bad times are coming to your city folks and country folks. 17 Empty—that’s what your food baskets and kneading bowls are going to look like. 18 You’re going to have some painful experiences in your families, fields, flocks, and herds. Making babies and growing crops aren’t going to go well. 19 You’re doomed. You’ll come and go, but you’ll always take your doomed self with you. 20 The LORD will send you into a tailspin—a spiral of confusion, frustration, and panic. Everything you touch will die. Eventually, your nation will die, too. It will be your fault for choosing evil over God.
21 The LORD will plague you with diseases that won’t quit. They’ll hang around until there’s nothing left to hang onto because you won’t be there in the land anymore. 22 The LORD is going to lay some consequences on you: disease that makes you slowly waste away like a dying tree. You’ll suffer the pain of inflammation and fever. Drought and heat will scorch your land. Mildew and disease will kill your plants.
23 The LORD will seal the sky with iron and cover the ground in bronze. 24 You’ll look to the sky for rain. You’ll get blowing dust and powder. That’s all you’ll get for the rest of your life. It will destroy you. 25 Enemies will attack you and defeat you. The LORD will see to it. You’ll attack them in one direction, then you’ll run for your lives in seven. What happens to you will horrify nations around the world. 26 Your corpses will become birdfeed. Scavengers high and low will recycle you. There will be no one left to shoo them away. 27 The LORD will grow boils and bumps on your bodies, as a little reminder of Egypt. You’ll have oozing rashes and itchy scabs that never quit. 28 You’ll go out of your mind. Then you’ll go blind. The LORD will leave you stunned. 29 Lost in life, you’ll grope around in broad daylight for something to hold onto, like a blind person in the dark. Everything you do will fail. Others will repeatedly exploit you and rob you. No one to save you.
Your life of bad consequences30 Here’s your life. You’ll get engaged to a woman that another man will rape. You’ll build a house that someone else will take from you before you get a chance to move in. You’ll plant a vineyard, but you’ll never taste a grape. 31 Your cattle will get butchered, your donkey stolen, and your sheep given to someone you don’t like much. You’ll never eat the beef or recover your donkey and sheep. No one’s going to help you. 32 Your kids will become slaves. All you can do is watch it happen and grieve for your loss. There’s nothing else you can do.
Your unwelcome visitors33 You haven’t met these people yet, but they’re coming. And they’re going to eat everything of yours that’s edible. You’re in for nothing but abuse and plenty of it. 34 When you see it happen, you’re going to lose it. You’ll go mad. 35 Also, the LORD is coming at you with a bucket of boils. He’s going to throw them on your knees and thighs. Before he’s done with you, you’re going to wear boils from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head.
God’s people evicted from Israel36 Here’s what the LORD will do to you and your king. He’s kicking you all out of here. You’re all headed to a country you and your ancestors have never heard of. There, people you’ve never met will rule you. You’ll worship gods made from wood and stone. 37 Wherever you go after the LORD kicks you out, you’ll become the punchline of a joke, the bad guy in a horror story, and the sour note of a mocking song.
38 You’ll plant a huge plug of ground with seed. But you won’t harvest much. Locusts get the rest. 39 You’ll plant your vineyards and take good care of them. But you don’t get to drink the grape juice. Worms do. 40 You’ll have mature olive trees all over the country. But you won’t get to moisten your skin with the oil. No one does. Olives will drop before they get a chance to ripen. 41 You’ll have kids. But you don’t get to keep them. They’re headed to slavery. 42 Bugs will move in on your plants and eat their fill. Trees, too. If it grows on the ground it goes in their mouths. 43 Immigrants who move in among you will rise to positions of power. You’ll sink. 44 Immigrants will lend you money. But you won’t have any to lend to them. They’re the head of the donkey now; you’re the tail.
Take it as a sign45 These are consequences you’ll face for breaking the law and for refusing to obey the LORD your God. Your suffering won’t quit until you’re dead. 46 These tragic events will serve as a miraculous sign testifying against you and your descendants forever. 47 You didn’t take orders from the LORD your God. You could have done it in happy gratitude for all the successes and provisions he gave you. 48 So, you’ll take orders from your enemies. You won’t have anything to be happy about. Unless you like being hungry, thirsty, naked, and slaves. You’ll wear all of that like a cow wears a yoke. And you’ll do it till you die.
Invaders turn you into cannibals49 Invaders are coming from a faraway land with a language you don’t know. The LORD is sending them. They’re going to swoop down on you like an eagle on a mouse. 50 This nation has an attitude. Their people are defiant and cruel. They don’t give a rip if you’re young or old. 51 They’ll eat everything of yours that's edible. Your most valuable livestock, the firstborn. Your grain products. Your new harvest of wine. Your olive oil. Your calves and lambs. They’ll keep eating your stuff until you’re dead. 52 These invaders will lay siege to all your walled cities. They’ll stay as long as it takes to tear down those walls you thought would protect you. 53 During these sieges, starving and cut off from supplies, you’ll turn cannibals. You’ll eat your own sons and daughters—the children God gave you. That’s the kind of misery your enemies are bringing for you.
Refined people get ugly as sin54 The most refined, respected, and poised gentleman among you will mutate into a wretched soul. He’ll mistreat his brother, his loved wife, and the children he hasn’t eaten yet. 55 As for the kid he already killed, he won’t share any of the meat. He figures this meat is the only thing left to keep him alive. That’s what these invaders will do to those of you who live inside the cities. 56 The daintiest, most delicate, and most tenderhearted lady among you—someone who would never go barefoot in the dirt—will treat her family like dirt. Husband she once cherished. Son. Daughter. 57 She won’t tell anyone that she already gave birth. That’s because she ate the baby. She didn’t even share the afterbirth. She ate that, too. This is what the invaders will do to those of you who live inside the cities.
If you don’t follow the law58 If you don’t follow the law and obey the words I’m writing here, if you don’t respect the LORD your God, 59 then the LORD is coming for you. He’s bringing extraordinary diseases and terribly painful sicknesses. 60 Remember all those plagues of Egypt? He’s bringing them, too—all those horrifying events that still terrify you when you think of them. 61 Now, take a moment to think of all the diseases not listed in this Law Book. The LORD is bringing them, too. He’ll keep them coming until your nation doesn’t exist anymore. 62 There won’t be many of you left after that. Before God brought the hammer down on you, there were as many of you as stars in the sky.
God is happy to see you go63 The LORD was happy to show kindness to you and help you grow into such a large nation. But now, the LORD will be happy to vacate you from his property and get you out of here. 64 The LORD is going to scatter the people of your nation all over this earth. You’ll end up worshiping wood and stone gods that you and your ancestors have never heard of. 65 Scattered abroad, you’ll look for peace and a place to kick back and relax. You won’t find any. The LORD will leave you with a worried mind, longing eyes, a weary spirit, and a broken heart. 66 You’ll live every day worrying if you’ll survive the day. Then you’ll worry the same way through the night. 67 Each morning you’ll say, “Let me make it through another day.” At night you’ll say, “Get me through till morning.” Terrified, you’ll do that because of what you have seen. 68 The LORD once said, “You will never have to see Egypt again.” But now, he’s personally going to send you back in ships. For survival’s sake, you’ll offer yourselves for sale as slaves to your enemies. You’ll get no takers.
Whoever wrote this adopted the style from ancient treaties between countries and kingdoms in what is now the Middle East. Parts of this track nicely with a treaty that Assyrian king Esarhaddon made with kingdoms he strongarmed for tax revenue. It dates to 672 BC, hundreds of years after Moses. Much like some contracts today, this contract between God and the Israelite ancestors of today’s Jewish people, there are promises that need fulfilled and penalties no one wants to activate. Here, the list of 53 verses (14-68) of penalties far outweighs the 14 verses of perks (1-14). Some are scenes that ministers might say, “That won’t preach.” It means they don’t want to talk about it in a sermon, or anywhere. Perhaps the best of the worst examples is of a mother during a siege eating her newborn baby, and (ugh) the afterbirth (verse 57).
Many Bibles translate this Hebrew word, qados, as “holy.” The word can mean: innocent, free of sin or impurity. But Israel was never that, as far as the Bible reports. They were, however, sometimes devoted to God. That’s another meaning for the Hebrew word used here. It can mean set apart from others, sacred, and devoted. Israel probably wasn’t “holy” or “sacred” because the people were innocent. They were sacred and different from other nations because they were committed to obeying God.
No rain from the iron sky. No plants in a bronze-plated land.
Some scholars say the list of punishments here not only parallel what they find in other ancient treaties, the punishment in those other treaties are reportedly enforced by their gods. The moon god Sin can inflict or heal serious skin diseases. The sun god Shamash can do the same with blindness. Ishtar, associated with the planet Venus, featured sex rituals and was referenced in treaties that spoke of rape.
Many scholars speculate that this portion of the law was added a thousand years after Moses, and after Babylonian invaders from what is now Iraq invaded what was left of Israel after the Assyrians got through with it. Babylonians took down Israelite city walls and leveled Jerusalem in 586 BC. Survivors were deported, to keep them from reforming their nation. That worked for nearly a century, until a new empire—Persians of what is now Iran—rose to power and freed Jews and other political prisoners to go back to their homelands. Descriptions of what happened during the invasion are presented as prophecy, but track well with the history, which makes skeptics or critical thinkers wonder if someone wrote it during the time when Jews were exiled abroad. That’s when many historians say the Jewish Bible started taking form. Jews didn’t have their Jerusalem Temple anymore. All they had that was sacred and tangible were copies of their sacred stories, laws, and teachings. So, Jewish scholars got busy compiling them onto scrolls. Yet some ancient Jewish scrolls are older than that. Some go back to the 700s BC, when Assyrians erased the northern part of the Jewish nation of Israel and exiled the survivors.
Deuteronomy 28:58-68 is a way of saying that if the people of Israel reject God, he’s going to treat them as though they deserve to be shipped back to where they came from: Egyptian slavery. The difference is that slavery is too good for them; no one wants to buy them (28:68). They’re good for nothing but dying.
“Law Book” probably refers to the laws Moses delivered in his speeches, many scholars say. He reportedly wrote what is now Deuteronomy chapters 1-30 and gave them to the priests for safe keeping (31:9). This may be the long-lost book of Jewish laws that motivated King Josiah (ruled about 640-609 BC) to launch a revival and to destroy idols and shrines in the southern Jewish nation of Judah (2 Kings 22:8). The revival was apparently too little, too late. Babylonian invaders from what is now Iraq leveled Jerusalem and erased the Jewish nation from the political map.
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