Under Siege (Deuteronomy 28:49-68)

It must have been a terrible experience for anyone – in whatever generation – to be a resident in a city under siege by a more powerful foe. At some point, all the resources run out, and the residents are left to extreme measures – to the extent even of cannibalism.

The passage today is a very graphic one, and thankfully it brings us to the end of the curses. Moses builds to this moment of the worst possible scenario. One would think that this would have been enough to sober Israel into never straying far from obeying God… but, no.

With these verses today, Moses finishes his sermon that delineates a list of consequences to follow for Israel if they do not obey the covenant with God.

Consequence 10 – (verses 49-57) – Horrors of Cities Besieged – I like to think that I can write rather colorfully and creatively … but I could not find words more descriptive than these – nor would I want to. Totally dreadful.

Consequence 11 – (verses 58-68) – The Reversal of all of God’s Blessings – As you look at these items, we are able to recall even from Deuteronomy that every curse listed here is a reversal of some blessing given to the nation in the past.

We cannot assume that just because God blessed our forefathers that he is in some way obligated to do the same for us in spite of how we live. May we be sobered in ways that Israel was not. May we be revived in our faith and commitment.

49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. 51 They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine or olive oil, nor any calves of your herds or lambs of your flocks until you are ruined. 52 They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the Lord your God is giving you.

53 Because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you. 54 Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children, 55 and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating. It will be all he has left because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of all your cities. 56 The most gentle and sensitive woman among you—so sensitive and gentle that she would not venture to touch the ground with the sole of her foot—will begrudge the husband she loves and her own son or daughter 57 the afterbirth from her womb and the children she bears. For in her dire need she intends to eat them secretly because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of your cities.

58 If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name—the Lord your God— 59 the Lord will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses. 60 He will bring on you all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will cling to you. 61 The Lord will also bring on you every kind of sickness and disaster not recorded in this Book of the Law, until you are destroyed. 62 You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey the Lord your God. 63 Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess.

64 Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods—gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known. 65 Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. 66 You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. 67 In the morning you will say, “If only it were evening!” and in the evening, “If only it were morning!”—because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see. 68 The Lord will send you back in ships to Egypt on a journey I said you should never make again. There you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.

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Not if, but when! (Deuteronomy 28:36-48)

As we look back over the scope of human history, and then project toward the future of mankind, there are some sad realities. There is no history of a nation or empire that continuously endured (though God’s preservation of Israel is the most positive example of longevity, which is an ironic thought in consideration of this depressing chapter we are slogging through right now!). All human institutions have failed and come to ruin at some point. There is no science or advance of modernity that will change this pattern. Everyone dies; and there is no science that is going to change that reality. At some point, we know also from the Scriptures that this world comes to an end.

Sorry to be a big downer today, but I’m just talking realities with you. For all of these things and many more in the human condition, it is not a matter of if, but when! But it can be our hope that it will not happen in our lifetime if we have anything to do about it … in positive obedience both by our own personal management, and with the coordination of others also following God’s truth.

The passage we read today presents a subtle change of tone in Moses’ warnings – from “if” they do not obey, to what will indeed certainly happen “when” they do not obey the covenant with God. Continuing the list:

Consequence 7 – (verses 36-37) – Exile to a Foreign Land – This would be fulfilled for the northern 10 tribes in 721 B.C. by the Assyrian Empire. The southern two tribes of Judah and Benjamin would hold out longer until 605 B.C. when taken into exile by the Babylonians.

Consequence 8 – (verses 38-42) – Crop Failure and Economic Ruin – In an agrarian society where wealth was measured more in terms of crops and herds than in currency, the economy was dependent upon the weather and other conditions such as freedom from pestilence. God would take that protection from his people upon their rejection of him.

Consequence 9 – (verses 43-48) – Servitude to Foreign Powers and Occupiers – Throughout Israel’s history – even before the captivities to Assyria and Babylon, the Israelites were at various times plagued by foreign occupiers – like the Philistines, the Midianites, and all the other –ites … not to mention the termites, etc.

Israel, don’t be stupid – just obey!  Tri-State Fellowship, don’t be stupid – just obey!

36 The Lord will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your ancestors. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. 37 You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the Lord will drive you.

38 You will sow much seed in the field but you will harvest little, because locusts will devour it. 39 You will plant vineyards and cultivate them but you will not drink the wine or gather the grapes, because worms will eat them. 40 You will have olive trees throughout your country but you will not use the oil, because the olives will drop off. 41 You will have sons and daughters but you will not keep them, because they will go into captivity. 42 Swarms of locusts will take over all your trees and the crops of your land.

43 The foreigners who reside among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower. 44 They will lend to you, but you will not lend to them. They will be the head, but you will be the tail.

45 All these curses will come on you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the Lord your God and observe the commands and decrees he gave you. 46 They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. 47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, 48 therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you.

 

 

Scattered in Seven Directions (Deuteronomy 28:25-35)

As those of you who know me well are aware, I’m much interested and involved in Civil War history, reading, research, and communication. It is very common when reading first-hand accounts of Civil War battles to see the writer talk about the effects upon a regiment when defeated in battle. The smoke from dozens of cannons and thousands of rifles, along with all the associated noise, blood, and terror of battle, made for a horribly confusing scene. When a regiment was being driven from the field, they would often end up running in varied directions. The wounded would lie in one spot until perhaps a time later when they would struggle if possible to regain their unit … but where would that be? It might take days for surviving stragglers to find and connect with their regiment and brigade. That sort of confusion and defeat is similar to what is pictured in today’s reading from Deuteronomy.

Moses continues in these verses with his sermon that delineates a list of consequences to follow for Israel if they do not obey the covenant with God.

Consequence 4 – (verses 25-26) – Defeat in Battle – This again is a turnaround statement from the blessing section at the beginning of the chapter. Instead of the enemy fleeing in seven directions, this would be Israel’s experience in battle as punishment for their rejection of God. The number (seven) indicates the idea of a total and complete rout.

Consequence 5 – (verses 27-29) – Egyptian-like Diseases – These were the kinds of illnesses and plaques that befell the Egyptians because of their enemy status – but here they would be the experience of Israel, essentially for becoming an enemy of God by rejection.

Consequence 6 – (verses 30-35) – Oppression of Godless Enemies and Occupiers – No longer would Israel be able to depend upon the Lord to protect them from the fully evil and conscience-hardened enemies who would afflict atrocities upon them without any guilt.

The total picture is of complete disarray and confusion. Their lives would be so convoluted as to be impossible to sort out successfully. What a total mess … a disaster that was unnecessary if only they would have obeyed. This truth is timeless.

25 The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth. 26 Your carcasses will be food for all the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. 27 The Lord will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, festering sores and the itch, from which you cannot be cured. 28 The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind. 29 At midday you will grope about like a blind person in the dark. You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you.

30 You will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and rape her. You will build a house, but you will not live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you will not even begin to enjoy its fruit. 31 Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will eat none of it. Your donkey will be forcibly taken from you and will not be returned. Your sheep will be given to your enemies, and no one will rescue them. 32 Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation, and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand. 33 A people that you do not know will eat what your land and labor produce, and you will have nothing but cruel oppression all your days. 34 The sights you see will drive you mad. 35 The Lord will afflict your knees and legs with painful boils that cannot be cured, spreading from the soles of your feet to the top of your head.

Chronic Spiritual Wasting Disease (Deuteronomy 28:15-24)

You have often heard it said, “Do you want the good news first, or the bad news?”  Moses didn’t ask this of the Israelites, but what he did here in chapter 28 of Deuteronomy is give them the good news first – the blessings for obedience that we talked about yesterday. It only took a total of 14 verses to cover that material. Now, as Moses lists the curses for disobedience, this bad news will cover a total of 54 more verses!

The same four general statements are listed as negative outcomes in today’s reading in verses 16-19, just as they were positive outcomes yesterday in verses 3-6. And as Moses gave a brief sermon of application yesterday (verses 7-14), the sermon in today’s passage (and the 3 to follow until the end of the chapter) will be much longer. I will speak about this over the four days in terms of “consequences of disobedience.”

Consequence 1 (verse 20) – Destruction – Thinking ahead to the conquest of the land and the manner by which God would make possible the Israelite’s victory over powerful foes – it often happened because God caused a confusion in the midst of those camps that rendered them defenseless. This same sort of experience would befall Israel if they disobeyed God. And like all disobedience, it has a long, slow erosion, with the actual destructive fall occurring seemingly all at once.

Consequence 2 (verses 21-22) – Diseases – A number of categories of physical diseases are listed here, as well as a variety of afflictions upon plants and vegetation that lead to death.

Consequence 3 (verses 23-24) – Drought – The devastation of drought is well-known to us, as we saw it in much of America this past summer. We are paying for it with increased prices everywhere, yet our problems are not as severe as in many other parts of the world. God would allow this calamity to come upon the people for disobedience, whereas his promise was to always provide sufficient water as a demonstration of his faithfulness if they would simply follow his commandments.

It is interesting that the passage speaks of a “wasting disease.”  This is something we hear about in our area as a specific ailment that affects the deer population. The animal simply has a disease that causes it to lose weight and waste away over time. So also, when we disobey God, there is a sort of spiritual chronic wasting disease of the soul that goes on within us. We cannot thrive apart from obeying God’s timeless commands.

On the day that I write this, I have spoken with a friend who shared with me of their efforts to counsel another mutual friend who has essentially walked away from God and is seeking satisfaction in all the wrong places and values. A particular crisis was being dealt with on this date, though both yesterday and tomorrow feature other trials that are the fruit of bad choices. Our friend is wasting away, sadly dying an inch at a time – all the while confused in the belief that there are answers to be found other than by trusting in God. The answer is of course to be found in the title of this series – REVIVE.

Curses for Disobedience

15 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:

16 You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.

17 Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed.

18 The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

19 You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.

20 The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. 21 The Lord will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess. 22 The Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. 23 The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. 24 The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.

Heads or Tails (Deuteronomy 28:1-14)

When I was a kid growing up in church with multiple children’s programs and various Vacation Bible Schools, we had to learn and memorize a lot of verses. This really agreed with me! You got points and prizes for that! It was a way of keeping score and competing, and I loved it. I can still remember the summer after 1st grade finishing 2nd in the entire church VBS with 905 points. This girl named Jennie Shields got 970 points to win – which I still am bitter about to this day, because she was three years older than me!

I recall that we were at times memorizing some pretty remote portions of the Bible. But I don’t remember ever being challenged to commit verse 13 from today’s reading to memory: The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. You’ve got to admit, that is a way cool verse! Who wants to be a tail? Who wants to be on the bottom? And all you’ve got to do to be a head or to be on top is to obey God’s commands. The verse packs a summary of what you need to know to be successful.

Remember the commercials in the past that said, “My broker is E.F. Hutton, and E.F. Hutton says …” … and the room suddenly would go quiet as everyone leaned in to hear. My father was a very quiet man who was a lot like E.F. Hutton.  He didn’t talk a lot, but when he did, everyone listened. I remember one occasion when I was pastoring my previous church in New Jersey – attended by my parents – and before receiving the offering I did a brief interview with my father, who was by far the oldest man in the church. He simply said that many years before, in the midst of the Great Depression when he was earning only $20 a week, he determined that he was going to live for God and at a minimum tithe his meager income. He said, “From that day forward, I did not ever cease to prosper in my life.” He went from being the tail to being the head, from being at the bottom to being at the top. A holy hush came over the congregation.

The passage today lists the blessings that will come from obedience to the covenant of Israel with the Lord God. This does not mean that every day and every situation will always be perfect. This does not mean that there will not be lean times that test one’s faith. This does not mean that we will not find a lot of disappointment in this life, along with a desire for a better world. But it does mean that our needs are met, and often in abundance. And that should REVIVE us today.

Blessings for Obedience

28:1   If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:

3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.

4 The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

5 Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.

6 You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

7 The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.

8 The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.

9 The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him. 10 Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. 11 The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.

12 The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. 13 The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. 14 Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them.