We keep reading about blessings and curses in the Old Testament, but are they really necessary? And do they mean that God is mean?
The Israelites were the chosen people of God. They were protected by him in war and provided for by him for all their needs. But then their sins led them to exile where they were rejected and alone. Today’s psalm recounts the Israelites’ experience in exile.
Deuteronomy 34:1-Joshua 2:24:
- 8-12 – As easily spooked as the Israelites were, you can imagine that Moses’ death would have had the potential to send them into hysterics wondering if God would still show up for them. In God’s great wisdom, he had already begun to raise a new leader, Joshua, into power so the Israelites could have someone to follow.
- After four books worth of wandering in the desert, the Israelites are finally about to enter the Promised Land.
- 5-9 – God’s initial instructions to Joshua tell him how to lead the people of Israel. He must follow all the commands Moses relayed to him from God. He must also be strong and courageous. This command is repeated 3 times in rapid succession. Any time something is repeated 3 times, it means it’s something you need to pay particular attention to.
- 1-24 – Rahab is unlikely heroine in the Bible. She is a prostitute and is not an Israelite. However, she cares for the Israelite and asks only for safety in return. Because of her kindness and protection of the Israelite spies, she is rewarded. She is even mentioned in Matthew’s lineage of Jesus. She is the mother of Boaz who marries Ruth, who has a book of the Bible written about her.
- 22 – As early as chapter 9, the gospel writer describes Jesus as heading towards Jerusalem. Here we see it again. This does not mean it is a ridiculously long journey that takes all this time. It is simply that Jesus, starting then, was on his mission towards the cross.
- 24-30 – Many religious folks wanted to rely on their devotion to the rules to buy their ticket to God’s kingdom. Jesus is letting them know that following the rules would not be enough and soon he would be gone and they would have missed their chance to have a place in the kingdom.
- 34 – Jesus was sent first to the Jews and Jerusalem was their hub. Unfortunately the Jews rejected Jesus over and over again and would not allow him to protect them.
- This Psalm refers to the Israelites’ experiences during exile. The Babylonians conquered them and all the nations assumed the Israelites’ God who normally protected them had disappeared.
- 13 – So often throughout the Bible the Israelites are referred to as the sheep of God’s pasture. They were God’s original chosen people and the original ones that Jesus came to save. Thankfully Jesus expanded his ministry to gentiles as well.
- Humans are, by nature, selfish beings. We often fail to think about how our actions will effect others. This Proverb reminds us that our actions can lead people into righteousness or lead them astray.
Like the argument of the chicken and the egg, one of the biggest points of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees was whether Sabbath laws trumped human need or vice versa. Today, in our Luke section, Jesus heals on the Sabbath. He clearly chooses human need over Sabbath Law.
- Moses offers blessings to each of Israel’s tribes based on the role they tended to play. Some were larger, some had great warriors, some were set aside for teaching God’s law to the rest of the people.
- 29 – He rounds out his blessing with a reminder of how adeptly God cares for them and that they are truly set apart.
- 10-17 – The synagogue’s authorities yet again become enraged by Jesus’ actions because he “does work” by healing on the Sabbath. Jesus reminds them that they do too do work on the Sabbath, but have found a way to justify it, while he does work on the Sabbath to bless and love people.
- 18-19 – There are many interpretations of why the mustard seed is a good comparison for the Kingdom of God. Some say that it’s because a mustard seed is tiny and grows quickly into something great. Others say it is because a mustard seed grows in a wild, uncontrollable fashion. Others say it is because the birds make nests in the mustard tree just like we can make a home and be welcomed into the kingdom of God.
- 20-21 – Leaven activates ingredients do to what they’re supposed to do. Leaven also makes dough rise.
- There are several times in Scripture where it describes God as silent. Before he calls Samuel and when there were no prophets for 400 years before John the Baptist arrived are some examples.
- 68 – Judah was the tribe that both David and Jesus came from.
- Anxiety is normally equated with worry. The Bible often equates worry with a lack of trust. God continually gives us reason to trust as he continually proves himself faithful.
Throughout the gospels, being prepared for the coming of Christ is likened to “staying awake”. How do you think we become prepared for Christ’s arrival? The most obvious way is to live faithfully. Today’s reading reminds us that “staying awake” is an ongoing process.
- 32 – Sodom and Gomorrah were two towns in Genesis that God destroyed because of their egregious sins. They are often referred to when someone is trying to describe the worst of the worst.
- 28-43 – Moses’ song challenges those who have sought or relied on other gods. He assures the Israelites that Yahweh is the only God worth serving and that he will reign alone in the end.
- 50-52 – God commands Moses to see but not experience the land he had promised them. Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because he was unfaithful when bringing water forth from the rock.
- 35-38 – Remaining awake alludes to believing in Christ and remaining faithful over time.
- 41-48 – Jesus knew he would soon be killed and would not be with his disciples or other followers anymore. His instructions were to continue to do what Jesus had taught them to do while he was present. He also describes the consequences if they were not faithful in this.
- 51-53 – The division Jesus brings is whether or not you will follow him. Some would choose to follow him while others would choose to stay in their old ways. This would cause division.
- The psalmist explains the rebellious actions that caused the Israelites to be exiled and how God allowed it to happen. He vacated his presence with them and he removed his glory so that the Israelites’ enemies would be victorious.
Whether you’re teaching someone to paint the fence or run the nation of Israel, mentoring is beneficial. In fact, mentoring is crucial to the continued success of civilization. One generation passes down knowledge, skill and experience to the next. In today’s Deuteronomy reading, we see Moses pass the torch to a young, faithful, military leader, Joshua.
- 1-6 – Moses hands the reigns over to Joshua and reminds he and the Israelites that God goes with them and won’t forsake them so they have no reason to fear.
- 16-18 – As Moses is about to die, this must have been hard information to hear about the people he loves and has led for so long.
- 23 – Joshua was qualified to take over for Moses because he was a great military leader, when the 12 spies went to check out the Promised Land, only he and Caleb trusted that God would protect them against the larger inhabitants of the land, and he was called and appointed by God.
- 1-27 – Though all of Deuteronomy is a type of farewell speech from Moses, this section is his song regarding the unfaithfulness of the Israelites during his tenure. At the end he says that if it were up to him he would have destroyed them.
- 10 – Though this is a confusing verse, one explanation is that if one were to reject Jesus while he was on earth, the Holy Spirit was still to be unleashed at Pentecost and could still reveal the identity of Christ to that person. If however, you were to reject the Holy Spirit, there were no other persons of the Trinity to be sent.
- 13-31 – Jesus is not denouncing savings, clothing, or food and drink. He is, however, denouncing seeking these things first and not God. We often fall into the trap of providing for ourselves at the expense of building ourselves up spiritually first.
- This Psalm recounts the Israelites’ tendencies to half-heartedly return to God when they faced consequences for their unfaithfulness. We often question God’s punishments but fail to recognize the unfaithfulness of humanity. We also often point the finger at biblical characters like the Israelites and the disciples who perpetually fail God and fail to see that we do the same thing.
- 22 – When we do the things God calls us to (i.e. serve the poor, love our neighbor, honor our parents, etc.) he is delighted in us. This is how we please God.
Do you ever feel like you’re being asked to do the impossible? Or that what God is calling you to, whether it’s simply to be faithful, or to make a major move of some sort, is simply impossible? Today, in Deuteronomy, Moses reminds us that anything God asks of us, he will make possible. It may not be easy, but he will give you the strength and ability to fulfill what he’s called you to.
- 4 – The Israelites could not yet fully understand the great provision God had offered them.
- 10-15 – Though God had already established this covenant of making the Israelites his people, through Moses, Moses is now explaining it to the Israelites.
- 19 – This reliance on heritage and being a part of the covenant, but purposely continuing in sin was also something John the Baptist and Jesus warned against.
- 6 – The Israelites outward sign of covenant was male circumcision, but here he calls them to make the same commitment with their heart – an inward renewal.
- 11 – We are often under the illusion that what God calls us to do is actually impossible, yet Moses reminds us that we are able.
- 19-20 – The phrase “life and death, blessing and curse” is repeated frequently in Deuteronomy. This means it’s something we should pay attention to. We very clearly have free will to decide to choose life and God’s blessings or not.
- 37-41 – Once again, the Pharisees are much more concerned about ritual and outward symbols. Jesus is concerned with the cleanliness of the heart.
- 1 – Leaven is the part of the bread that activates and causes it to rise. Jesus explains to the disciples that the Pharisees do not practice as they preach.
- Vs. 21-24 – Though the Lord was angry with the Israelites because they didn’t trust him, he still provided manna for them to eat.
Today’s Psalm reminds us to look to our past to gain hope for our future. This may seem odd to those of us with troubled pasts, but we’re not looking for our own successes or failures, we’re looking for God’s faithfulness. When we see God’s faithfulness in our past, it reminds us that he will be faithful again and again.
- 1-19 – Moses clearly explains to the Israelites what is required of them and what the outcomes of both decisions will be. They can choose obedience and blessings or disobedience and curses.
- 20-68 – All of these verses describe the breadth of curses the Israelites will receive if they choose not to follow the Lord’s commands. Every aspect of their lives will be slowly destroyed.
- 17-23 – The people who accused Jesus of casting out demons by the devil’s power were simply trying to come up with any reason to explain away his abilities. Jesus explains how this can’t possibly be the case because why would Satan send some one who was constantly opposing his work. Jesus also requires that if these people call into question Jesus’ means of exorcism, they would need to call into question Jewish exorcists’ means as well.
- 27-28 – Jesus consistently redirects people to his main point. He’s not arguing that his mother should not be blessed, but instead redirecting this woman and the crowd to what he came to earth to teach.
- 29-30 – Jonah’s message to Nineveh was to repent or be destroyed. Jesus’ message was basically the same for the Israelites.
- This Psalm is a reminder to those who feel lost or forgotten by God to look back on his faithfulness in the past to give them hope that he is near and still faithful.
- 19-20 – God’s faithfulness to the Israelites in the desert seems to be the event later Israelites looked to the most as a sign of God’s faithfulness.
- Think about how true this has been in your own life. Careless words can be so hurtful and wise words so healing. This can be a reminder to us to choose wise words for others.
Busyness has become a sort of badge of honor for us these days. If, for some reason, you actually take the time to rest and relax, you get several underhanded “compliments” about how great it must be to not be busy. We fill our time with a bunch of “good things”, but often separates us from the best thing – spending time with God. Take a little inspiration today from Mary and Martha’s story in Luke.
- 5-11 – Moses commands the Israelites to give of their first fruits and acknowledge God’s faithfulness when they have success.
- 18-19 – All nations were not required to give back to God and acknowledge him. Only Israel, his chosen people, were, but that also meant that they received greater blessings.
- 16-26 – The word, “amen’s” meaning is significant as the Israelites’ response because it means “so be it”. In other words, they are accepting the consequences of being cursed if they fail in these areas.
- 38-42 – This is a crucial lesson for those of us who allow busyness to become an excuse for why we don’t spend time with God. We can choose to be consumed with a lot of good things or we can choose what’s best.
- 2-4 – The Lord’s Prayer. Can be used as a guide for our prayers.
- 5-13 – Jesus encourages his disciples to be persistent in prayer, seek what God wants, and expect great things from God.
- 15 – Though advice from others should never trump what God calls us to do, we are to seek wise counsel from those around us who can be trusted.
- 16 – This is a helpful thought for those of us who are easily angered.
Some of the laws Moses is sharing with the Israelites in today’s Deuteronomy reading may sound repetitive…because they are. We’ve heard them in Leviticus when he originally gave them the law. And while it may seem redundant, I know I sometimes have to hear things more than once to get it right. How about you?
- Not being allowed to enter the assembly of God is the focus of the first part of the reading. There are two explanations of what this might refer to. Some people say the phrase means that those are the people who are not allowed to marry, but more likely, this is describing the people who are not allowed to participate in Israel’s cultural practices such as military and legal affairs.
- 1-4 – This should not be read as encouragement to divorce. In the New Testament Jesus explains that Moses gave instructions for divorce because the Israelites’ hearts were hard. In other words, they were doing it anyway so Moses gave them parameters. These are Moses’ parameters.
- 16 – Certain parts of Scripture explain that sins are passed down through generations and/or certain consequences (like not being a part of the assembly of God) can be passed down. This, however, prohibits a father being killed for his son’s sins and vice versa.
- 19-22 – The Israelites are continually reminded to provide for travelers, orphans, and widows because they were once in a position where they could not provide for themselves.
- 7-10 – One of the few times in Scripture where a woman disrespects a man. And it’s funny that the man’s house is now called “the house of him who had his sandal pulled off” (though it wasn’t funny at the time).
- 13-16 – Weights were used for buying and selling agricultural products. Some people would try to cheat by using an unfair weight and causing others to pay too much for what they received.
- 13-15 – Tyre and Sidon were gentile cities while Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum were all Jewish cities who had seen miracles and heard Jesus’ preaching. The Jewish cities, despite their exposure to Jesus refused to repent. Jesus uses these gentile cities, who the Israelites looked down upon because they were not God’s chosen people, to show the unrepentant cities that his message trumped their heritage and self-righteousness.
- 25-37 – This is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Samaritans were despised by the Jews. In our context it might read that a pastor, and a prominent church member passed by the injured man, but a drug dealer took care of him.
- 12 – We often want the wealth and success of someone who gained it illegitimately because it seemed easy, but we should find joy in the fruit born by righteous efforts.
Do you know what can make a decision clear quicker than anything? Knowing the consequences of your decision before you make it. You may notice a strong emphasis in this week’s Deuteronomy readings on blessings and curses. Basically, through Moses, God gives the Israelites a scenario and explains that they can choose blessings or curses. One decision leads them down one path and the other down a different path. Whether they didn’t believe him, doubted the severity, or the temptation was just too strong, they unfortunately frequently chose curses. Just to give you a little cheat sheet – faithfulness to God leads to blessings; being unfaithful leads to curses. It’s pretty simple overall.
Starting today, and for the rest of our time in Luke, Jesus is definitively headed toward the cross. In the first verse of today’s Luke reading it says, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Throughout the rest of our readings until Palm Sunday, we will read over and over that he is headed to Jerusalem. He know his earthly ministry would end and his purpose would be fulfilled in Jerusalem with his death and resurrection.
This week, as we finish up Lent and prepare for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter, take time to thank Jesus for his resolute dedication to heading towards the cross.