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Deuteronomy: Chapter 28

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1If you will only obey the LORD your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; 2all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the LORD your God:

3Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.

4Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock.

5Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.

6Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.

7The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you one way, and flee before you seven ways. 8The LORD will command the blessing upon you in your barns, and in all that you undertake; he will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 9The LORD will establish you as his holy people, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in his ways. 10All the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you. 11The LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your ground in the land that the LORD swore to your ancestors to give you. 12The LORD will open for you his rich storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all your undertakings. You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow. 13The LORD will make you the head, and not the tail; you shall be only at the top, and not at the bottom—if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I am commanding you today, by diligently observing them, 14and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I am commanding you today, either to the right or to the left, following other gods to serve them.

15But if you will not obey the LORD your God by diligently observing all his commandments and decrees, which I am commanding you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you:

16Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field.

17Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.

18Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock.

19Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.

20The LORD will send upon you disaster, panic, and frustration in everything you attempt to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. 21The LORD will make the pestilence cling to you until it has consumed you off the land that you are entering to possess. 22The LORD will afflict you with consumption, fever, inflammation, with fiery heat and drought, and with blight and mildew; they shall pursue you until you perish. 23The sky over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you iron. 24The LORD will change the rain of your land into powder, and only dust shall come down upon you from the sky until you are destroyed.

25The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out against them one way and flee before them seven ways. You shall become an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 26Your corpses shall be food for every bird of the air and animal of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away. 27The LORD will afflict you with the boils of Egypt, with ulcers, scurvy, and itch, of which you cannot be healed. 28The LORD will afflict you with madness, blindness, and confusion of mind; 29you shall grope about at noon as blind people grope in darkness, but you shall be unable to find your way; and you shall be continually abused and robbed, without anyone to help. 30You shall become engaged to a woman, but another man shall lie with her. You shall build a house, but not live in it. You shall plant a vineyard, but not enjoy its fruit. 31Your ox shall be butchered before your eyes, but you shall not eat of it. Your donkey shall be stolen in front of you, and shall not be restored to you. Your sheep shall be given to your enemies, without anyone to help you. 32Your sons and daughters shall be given to another people, while you look on; you will strain your eyes looking for them all day but be powerless to do anything. 33A people whom you do not know shall eat up the fruit of your ground and of all your labors; you shall be continually abused and crushed, 34and driven mad by the sight that your eyes shall see. 35The LORD will strike you on the knees and on the legs with grievous boils of which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head. 36The LORD will bring you, and the king whom you set over you, to a nation that neither you nor your ancestors have known, where you shall serve other gods, of wood and stone. 37You shall become an object of horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the LORD will lead you.

38You shall carry much seed into the field but shall gather little in, for the locust shall consume it. 39You shall plant vineyards and dress them, but you shall neither drink the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall eat them. 40You shall have olive trees throughout all your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives shall drop off. 41You shall have sons and daughters, but they shall not remain yours, for they shall go into captivity. 42All your trees and the fruit of your ground the cicada shall take over. 43Aliens residing among you shall ascend above you higher and higher, while you shall descend lower and lower. 44They shall lend to you but you shall not lend to them; they shall be the head and you shall be the tail.

45All these curses shall come upon you, pursuing and overtaking you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the LORD your God, by observing the commandments and the decrees that he commanded you. 46They shall be among you and your descendants as a sign and a portent forever.

47Because you did not serve the LORD your God joyfully and with gladness of heart for the abundance of everything, 48therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and lack of everything. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you. 49The LORD will bring a nation from far away, from the end of the earth, to swoop down on you like an eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, 50a grim‐faced nation showing no respect to the old or favor to the young. 51It shall consume the fruit of your livestock and the fruit of your ground until you are destroyed, leaving you neither grain, wine, and oil, nor the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock, until it has made you perish. 52It shall besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout your land; it shall besiege you in all your towns throughout the land that the LORD your God has given you. 53In the desperate straits to which the enemy siege reduces you, you will eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your own sons and daughters whom the LORD your God has given you. 54Even the most refined and gentle of men among you will begrudge food to his own brother, to the wife whom he embraces, and to the last of his remaining children, 55giving to none of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because nothing else remains to him, in the desperate straits to which the enemy siege will reduce you in all your towns. 56She who is the most refined and gentle among you, so gentle and refined that she does not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground, will begrudge food to the husband whom she embraces, to her own son, and to her own daughter, 57begrudging even the after‐birth that comes out from between her thighs, and the children that she bears, because she is eating them in secret for lack of anything else, in the desperate straits to which the enemy siege will reduce you in your towns.

58If you do not diligently observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, fearing this glorious and awesome name, the LORD your God, 59then the LORD will overwhelm both you and your offspring with severe and lasting afflictions and grievous and lasting maladies. 60He will bring back upon you all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were in dread, and they shall cling to you. 61Every other malady and affliction, even though not recorded in the book of this law, the LORD will inflict on you until you are destroyed. 62Although once you were as numerous as the stars in heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey the LORD your God. 63And just as the LORD took delight in making you prosperous and numerous, so the LORD will take delight in bringing you to ruin and destruction; you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to possess. 64The LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other; and there you shall serve other gods, of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known. 65Among those nations you shall find no ease, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and a languishing spirit. 66Your life shall hang in doubt before you; night and day you shall be in dread, with no assurance of your life. 67In the morning you shall say, “If only it were evening!” and at evening you shall say, “If only it were morning!”—because of the dread that your heart shall feel and the sights that your eyes shall see. 68The LORD will bring you back in ships to Egypt, by a route that I promised you would never see again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.

Text Commentary view alone
Commentary spanning earlier chapters

4.44–28.68 : The second discourse of Moses.

28.1–68 : The consequences of obedience or disobedience: blessing or curse.

The covenant specifies a series of blessings and curses that follow upon national obedience or disobedience to the law. These are modeled after ancient Near Eastern state treaties, in which the consequences of breach of the treaty are spelled out at its conclusion; this chapter has several close parallels to the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon (VTE), a Neo‐Assyrian treaty dating to 672 BCE. The disproportion between the sections devoted to blessing (vv. 1–14 ) and to curse (vv. 15–68 ) may be a reaction to the Babylonian conquest, deportation, and exile of Judah (597 and 586 BCE), here recast as a prophetic warning. Two appendices, vv. 47–57 and 58–68 , each seek to make theological sense of that catastrophe. The two other legal collections of the Pentateuch (the Covenant Collection of Ex 21–23 ; the Holiness Collection of Lev 17–26 ) similarly end with exhortations to obedience, accompanied by blessings and curses (Ex 23.20–33; Lev 26 ). Here an inclusio frames and defines the blessings section: if you … obey … by diligently observing (vv. 1,13 ).

1–2 :

The proem emphasizes the conditionality of the exalted status of Israel, perhaps because of the exile. High above all the nations (see also v. 13 ), a metaphor for the nation's election, also applied to the Davidic dynasty (Ps 89.27 ). (Contrast 26.19 , where this affirmation is unconditional, fulfilling God's past promises.)

3–6 :

The six benedictions have their malediction counterpart at vv. 16–19 . The two antonym pairs (vv. 3,6 ) provide a frame to the unit. The opposites form a merism to stress totality (like “night and day”); see 6.7n.

3 :

City and field, “everywhere,” urban and rural.

4 :

Fruit … livestock, fecundity is contingent upon obedience to God; see 7.12–14n.

7 :

Military success is conditional upon covenantal obedience, rather than strength of arms ( 9.1–3; Josh 1.6–8 ).

9 :

The Lord will establish … if you keep, holiness is conditional upon obedience, a shift from other passages where Israel's holiness is not future but present, and not conditional but unconditional ( 7.6; 14.2; cf. 26.19 ).

10 :

Called by the name of the Lord, relationship with God includes accountability and corresponding divine oversight. The formula can apply to either the nation (here; 2 Chr 7.14; Isa 63.19; Jer 14.9 ) or an individual (Ex 33.12; Jer 15.16 ).

12 :

Storehouse, in Israelite and Near Eastern cosmology, primordial waters above the dome of the sky were released as rain (Gen 1.7; 7.11 ). Lend … borrow, see 15.6 .

28.15–68 : Consequences of disobedience.

A broad range of misfortunes, from infertility to military defeat (vv. 15–46 ), precede a second section (vv. 47–68 ) on foreign invasion, siege, national defeat, and exile, a reversal of the covenantal promises and of the nation's history of salvation: By disobeying the covenant, the nation undoes its own history.

15–46 :

A chiastic inclusio frames the section: the initial sequence AB (not obey … observing, curses … overtake, v. 15 ) is repeated at the end as B′A′ (curses … overtaking, not obey … observing, v. 45 ).

15 :

A negation of v. 1 .

16–19 :

Negating vv. 3–6 .

20 :

Corresponding to the tripartite blessing for obedience (v. 8 ) stands the triple threat of disaster [better, “curse”], panic, and frustration. The threats are spelled out in vv. 21–44 . Me, the first‐person reference shifts from Moses to God, as at 7.4; 17.3 .

21–44 :

This section echoes treaties that the Neo–Assyrian empire imposed on its vassal states, suggesting that the curse section of these state treaties, perhaps in Aramaic translation, provided a model for this chapter. Judah was a vassal to the Assyrian empire (2 Kings 18.13–18 ) and both Neo‐Assyrian and Judean officials spoke Aramaic (2 Kings 18.26–27 ).

23 :

Bronze … iron, see VTE § § 63–64: “May [the gods] make your ground like iron … Just as rain does not fall from a bronze sky …”

25 :

Negates v. 7 .

26 :

Even executed criminals must be buried by sundown, lest the corpse become carrion ( 21.22–23 ); abrogation of that law underscores the punishment's horror (Jer 7.33 ).

27–35 :

The apparently arbitrary sequence of punishments corresponds to VTE § § 39–43, where each curse is associated with a particular Neo‐Assyrian god: the moon god Sin with leprosy; the sun god Shamash, blindness; and Dilipat (the planet Venus), rape, dispossession, and pillage.

27 :

Boils of Egypt, inversion of 7.15 . See Ex 9.9–11 .

28–29 :

Blindness, Shamash, the god of justice, punishes disobedience by withholding light and vision; this punishment entails the breakdown of civil order and legal standards.

30 :

Woman … house … vineyard, contrast 20.7 , which provides the same conditions for exemption from conscription, in different order.

32 :

The sale of the children to foreigners as slaves guarantees their non‐return (Gen 37.25–38 ).

36 :

Both the Neo‐Assyrian army (2 Kings 17 ) and the Neo‐Babylonian invaders (2 Kings 24–25 ) practiced deportation.

37 :

Byword, the opposite idea was central to God's covenant with Abraham, whose people were to become the paradigm of divine providence (Gen 12.3 ).

38–42 :

Futility curses. The frustration of human labor through infertility of the harvest (caused by invasion from insects or other natural enemies) is punishment for infringement of the covenant (Lev 26.20; Am 4.7–12 ), reversing the blessings of vv. 7–15 .

43–44 :

Reversing vv. 12b–13 .

46 :

A sign and a portent, the normal phrase for miracles God performed on behalf of Israel at the time of the Exodus, “signs and wonders” ( 4.34; 6.22; 7.19; 29.3; 34.11; Ex 7.3; 8.23; 10.1–2; 11.9–10 ), in the singular here designates the divine punishment of Israel.

28.47–57 : Scenario of foreign invasion.

A later appendix, outside the frame provided by vv. 45–46 .

47 :

Because you did not serve, the future curse is based upon wrongdoing in the past, in contrast to the conditional, future formulation of v. 15 , which presents disobedience as a future possibility. Abundance, prosperity in the land will cause Israel to forget its source (see 6.11–12; 8.11–20; 33.15 ,18).

48 :

The punishment corresponds precisely to the offense: Serve means both sacrificial worship of God ( 13.5 ) and labor as a servant or slave ( 5.13; 13.12 ). Iron yoke, symbolizing vassal status, as in Jer 27–28 .

49–57 :

Systematic presentation of foreign conquest, proceeding from invasion (vv. 48–50 ), to the invaders’ plunder and despoiling of the land (v. 51 ), to crippling siege (v. 52 ), and culminating in the horrors of starvation that arise from the siege (vv. 53–57 ). These descriptions of the invader and of the consequences of the siege are based upon the literary model of the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon.

49–52 :

Closely parallels Jer 5.15–19 .

49 :

Like an eagle, cf. Ezek 17.3 ,7; Hab 1.8 .

51 :

Contrast the idealist war laws of 20.19–20 , which prohibit occupiers from despoiling the land.

52 :

It shall besiege you … until your … walls … come down, the Neo‐Assyrian (2 Kings 17.5 ) and Babylonian armies (2 Kings 24.3; 25.1–7 ) employed advanced engineering to mount a siege campaign involving ramparts, battering rams, and catapults.

53–57 :

The starvation resulting from the siege causes a complete breakdown of the normal social order, as parents become predators of their children and family members compete for food. For cannibalism under siege conditions, see Lev 26.29; 2 Kings 6.28–32; Jer 19.9; Lam 4.10; Ezek 5.10 ; and VTE § § 47,69,71,75.

28.58–68 : Undoing the Exodus.

This seems to represent a third layer to the chapter.

58 :

This book, how the commandments have become transformed from oral proclamation to written text is unexplained, since it is not until 31.9 ,24 that Moses commands that the Torah be put into writing. Moreover, hitherto the required obedience was to the plural “commandments” (vv. 1,9,13,15,45 ). Here, for the first time in the chapter, Israel must obey a codified, single law (better, “Torah” or “teaching”). This … name, NRSV should have capitalized “Name” to clarify its distinctive use; it stands directly for God (elsewhere in the Pentateuch only Lev 24.11 ).

59–68 :

Consistent with the “book” perspective, the consequences for breach of the written Torah have a different focus: a systematic reversal of the national history, covenantal promises, and theology included in that Torah. The punishment amounts to an anti‐Torah that will dissolve the national identity.

59–61 :

After the miracle of the Exodus, God had promised, if the people obeyed, “I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians” (Ex 15.26 ).

62 :

Stars … heaven, God will cancel the promise made to Abraham that his people shall be as numerous as the stars of heaven (Gen 15.5–6 ).

63 :

Dispossession and exile (as in 4.26; Lev 26.33–39 ) rescind the covenantal promise of the land, contravening even the unconditional divine promises of Gen 12.7; 13.17 .

64 :

The double loss of Israel's identity: Dispersion of the population dissolves its political identity, and idol worship dissolves its religious identity.

65–67 :

In the absence of the national destiny provided by the covenant, historical existence has no meaning.

68 :

Forced return to Egypt, where the former taskmasters now spurn Israel's desperate bid to sell itself back into slavery and thus to undo its own history. For selling oneself into slavery under financial hardship to pay off debts or gain support (“indenture”), see Lev 25.39 . Route … never see again (cf. 17.16 ), reverses the unconditional promise at the time of the Exodus: “the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again” (Ex 14.13 ).

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