Deuteronomy Chapter 28  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Deuteronomy 28
Deu 28:1

“listen, yes, listen.” In a context like this, the word “listen” can also be used idiomatically and have the meaning “obey.” Some scholars refer to this as the pregnant sense of the word. Many Hebrew words are used with an idiomatic or pregnant sense (see commentary on Luke 23:42). Here in Deuteronomy 28:1, God repeats the verb “listen” twice in a row, with the verb in different cases, which is the figure polyptoton. The double use of “listen” is for emphasis, and thus means “listen intently” and then obey.

[See figure of speech “polyptoton.”]

“Yahweh your God will set you on high above all the nations of the earth.” In the Old Testament the Jews were not commanded to evangelize like Jesus’ disciples were (Matt. 10:5-7; Luke 10:1-10), and believers in the New Testament are (cp. Acts 1:8; 2 Cor. 5:20). Instead, God said He would bless Israel as a nation and that would draw people to God. God designed Israel as a whole nation to be a “holy nation” (Exod. 19:6). If Israel obeyed the commandments of God the whole country would be blessed with rain in its season, abundant crops, no disease, and victory over its enemies (Deut. 28:1-14). Then people of other nations would notice and be attracted to Yahweh and His laws and way of doing things. At that point, if a person of another nation wanted to come to Israel and live among the Jews they could do that, and if they wanted to be assimilated into the Jewish population and be able to participate in the voting congregation and in the feasts such as Passover, with the exception of a couple enemy nations, they could do that too (Exod. 12:48).

The situation changed for believers after the resurrection of Christ. God does not work anymore through a “holy nation” like the Jews and Israel. Instead, God and the Lord Jesus Christ work in every believer individually to evangelize the whole world. Believers are to evangelize non-believers (Acts 1:8; 2 Cor. 5:20), and have the ministry of reconciling others to God and Christ and the message to do it with (2 Cor. 5:18-19). Today believers live in every country and are to evangelize there, and every believer is blessed and equipped with the gift of holy spirit (Acts 2:38; Eph. 1:13-14) and has “Christ in them” (Col. 1:27). Due to the New Birth believers are guaranteed salvation and thus have a wonderful future hope to look forward to. That salvation, gift of holy spirit, and hope, combined with the blessings of God one gets when living an obedient life, is designed to make Christians so peaceful, joyful, and thankful that other people are drawn to them and then through them learn about Jesus Christ and the wonderful gift of salvation. In a very real sense, a major purpose for every believer is to make God and Christ look good so that people are drawn to them and accept Christ as Lord and get saved and have everlasting life.

[For more on the shift between the Old and New Testaments when it comes to evangelism, see commentary on Acts 1:8. For more on a Christian’s salvation, see Appendix 10: “God’s Promise of Salvation.” For more on the New Birth, see commentary on 1 Peter 1:3. For more on how to get saved and how easy it is, see commentary on Romans 10:9.]

Deu 28:2(top)
Deu 28:3

“Blessed.” Here in Deuteronomy 28:3-6, God emphasized the word “blessed” by putting it first in the sentence just like Christ did in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-11). Starting a sentence in the same way over and over is the figure of speech anaphora, and it is done for emphasis.a God wanted Israel to know and clearly understand that if they would obey Him they would be blessed, in the same way that Christ wanted people to know that if they were humble and obeyed God they would be blessed. However, in the next verses, God uses the figure anaphora to emphasize to Israel that if they did not obey God they would be cursed (Deut. 28:16-19). It is worth noting that God pronounces seven blessings and six curses. Seven is the number of spiritual perfection, whereas six is the human number and is the number of imperfection and failure and thus the number of the antichrist is 666, the fullness of imperfection.b

[See figure of speech “anaphora.”]

See E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, 199, “anaphora.”
E. W. Bullinger, Number in Scripture, “Six hundred and sixty six,” 282.
Deu 28:4(top)
Deu 28:5

“kneading bowl.” The kneading bowl was the bowl in which dough was placed and kneaded to make bread. The blessing is that if Israel obeyed God they would have an abundance of food, and bread was the staple of their diet.

Deu 28:6(top)
Deu 28:7

“by seven roads they will flee before you​.” The opposite of this will happen if Israel disobeys God (Deut. 28:25).

Deu 28:8(top)
Deu 28:9(top)
Deu 28:10(top)
Deu 28:11(top)
Deu 28:12(top)
Deu 28:13

“listen to.” The Hebrew word “listen to” is often used idiomatically for “obey.” Here it means “listen to and obey” (see commentary on Luke 23:42). God says over and over again that His blessing upon Israel was conditional upon their being obedient to Him.

Deu 28:14(top)
Deu 28:15(top)
Deu 28:16

“Cursed.” Deuteronomy 28:16-19 has six phrases that start with “cursed,” which is the figure of speech anaphora and is done for emphasis (see commentary on Deut. 28:3). The city and the open field are really the only two places a person could be, so saying “city” and “field” together like this refers to being cursed where ever you are, thus there will be a continual curse upon you.

Deu 28:17(top)
Deu 28:18(top)
Deu 28:19

“when you come in...when you go out.” This refers to going into one’s house or tent at night, and going out of it in the morning. “Coming in” goes before “going out” because the Hebrew day started at sunset, so on any given day a person came in at night before they went out in the morning, which is the opposite of what we do in modern Western society. Here, “coming in” and “going out” is the figure of speech polarmerismos, where two opposite things are juxtaposed such that they refer to a complete whole. Some people in the southern United States use the expression, “That is the long and short of it,” meaning that is all of it, which is also polarmerismos. In effect, what God said was “You will be cursed throughout your whole life.” This text and others like it are the very words of God and need to be taken seriously because God was certainly serious when He said them.

[See figure of speech “merismos.”]

Deu 28:20

“Curse, Confusion and Rebuke.” The Hebrew text treats these three words as if they were real things, not just concepts. The JPS Torah Commentary notes, “all three terms are reified with the definite article, which can be expressed in English by capitalization.” The JPS commentary uses the uncommon word “reified,” which means to consider something abstract as a material or concrete thing.a The Schocken Bible by Everett Fox capitalizes the three words as if they were real entities, not concepts, and The JPS Torah Commentary does too. That Curse, Confusion, and Rebuke are treated as real entities may be as simple as that they were made to be real by the figure of speech personification in the same way that “Wisdom” and “Folly” are made out as real entities in Proverbs. However, it is also possible that Curse, Confusion, and Rebuke, refer to real demons who have those names or titles and they attack and afflict the people who ignore or disobey God.

Furthermore, God draws the attention of the reader to these three words because they rhyme. When an author purposely puts rhyming words together to catch the reader's attention and/or to emphasize something, that is the figure of speech paronomasia. In Hebrew, the words are “ha-me’era, ha-mehumah, ha-mig’eret” (transliteration in the JPS commentary).

[For more on the figures of speech personification and zoomorphism, see commentary on Proverbs 1:20. For more on the figure paronomasia, see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, 307. ]

[See figure of speech “paronomasia.”]

“Rebuke.” The Hebrew word means a rebuke, which is basically telling the person they did something wrong or can’t do what they want to do. In other words, people are being told “no” to what they want to do. The NRSV, NAB, and ESV translate the word as “frustration,” which is certainly what being rebuked produces.

See also, S. R. Driver, Deuteronomy [ICC], 307.
Deu 28:21(top)
Deu 28:22(top)
Deu 28:23

“The heavens that are over your head will be bronze, and the earth that is under you will be iron.” This is a graphic way of saying that there will be no rain from the sky and the earth will become hard as rock and unproductive.

Deu 28:24

“Yahweh will make the rain of your land powder and dust​.” One of the great lessons of the Bible is that the behavior of people affects the land that they live on. This lesson is throughout the Old Testament (cp. Deut. 11:13-17; 28:1, 12, 15, 22-25, 38-40; Lev. 18:24-25; Ps. 107:33-34; Jer. 3:2-3; 12:4; 23:10; Amos 4:6-10). (See commentary on Lev. 18:25).

Deu 28:25

“by seven roads you will flee before them​.” This is the opposite of what God said in Deuteronomy 28:7. We see this played out many times in the Bible. When the people of God obeyed God, there were miraculous victories, but when they disobeyed there were stunning defeats (see commentary on Josh. 11:8).

Deu 28:26

“Your dead body will be food for all birds of heaven and for the animals of the earth.” In a culture where family tombs were common and family and community ties were strong, to not have family or friends bury one’s dead body was considered a terrible curse. In fact, many people believed (falsely, but it was a very widely held belief) that a proper burial was important for a comfortable existence in the afterlife. Thus the threat of not being buried but having one’s dead body eaten by animals and birds was a horrifying threat of unspeakable loneliness and rejection, both on this earth and in the afterlife.

[For more on the curse of not being buried, see commentary on Jeremiah 14:16.]

Deu 28:27

“festering rash.” The exact meaning of the Hebrew word in this context is unknown. Suggestions include “festering rash,” “festering sores,” and “scabs.” Whatever it is, it is not good.

Deu 28:28

“madness.” That is, insanity.

“blindness.” In this context, “blindness” likely refers to mental blindness. Not seeing the things that you need to see and understand in life. However, some scholars think that insanity, physical blindness, and confusion are symptoms of diseases that will come upon Israel if they disobey God. It has been suggested that people might have syphilis, the symptoms of which include insanity, blindness, and confusion, but those symptoms could be from other things as well, or as seems more likely, the blindness could be mental blindness, not physical blindness.

Deu 28:29(top)
Deu 28:30

“lie with her.” Although it is not directly stated, these three curses are the opposite of what exempts a man from having to go to war, and therefore they strongly imply that this curse relates to being defeated by an enemy, especially in light of the next verse, which mentions the enemy taking and killing livestock (Deut. 28:31). According to Deuteronomy, a man was excused from having to go to war if he had built a new house but not yet lived in it, planted a vineyard but had not yet gotten to enjoy its fruit, or was pledged to marry a woman but had not yet gotten to consummate the marriage (Deut. 20:5-7). But this curse is exactly what would happen if Israel was attacked and conquered by another country. Ordinarily, the women would be raped and the men killed or captured and taken away into slavery. Israel had a choice: they could obey God and be abundantly blessed, or they could disobey Him and suffer terrible curses that were in many cases the opposite of the blessings.

Deu 28:31(top)
Deu 28:32

“but your hand will have no power to do anything.” The Hebrew text is idiomatic, and more literally, “but your hand is not to God,” where “God” is used for strength or power. The phrase means you are powerless, in this case, powerless to do anything about the situation.

Deu 28:33

“all your days.” The text is more literally, “all the days,” and depending on whether or not the people repent and obey God, this oppression could be multigenerational.

Deu 28:34(top)
Deu 28:35

“knees and thighs.” The specific reference to knees and thighs seems to be sexual and related to sex and childbearing. Although the reference to knees is somewhat obscure, the knees did have something to do with childbearing (cp. Gen. 30:3), and the “thigh” was commonly used as a euphemism for the sexual organs (see commentary on Gen. 24:2). So these boils were not just painful and “inconvenient,” they stopped one from having sex and bearing children, which may have something to do with why God calls them “evil.”

“evil.” Although the Hebrew is not often translated “evil” in the English versions, it is the Hebrew word “evil,” and if they prevented people from having children the boils were truly evil.

“from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head.” After saying the boils are on the knees and thighs and thus likely prevent childbearing, God says the boils will actually be over the entire body.

Deu 28:36

“you and your king whom you have set over you.” God anticipates that the people will decide to put a king over them, which they did, but not for over 400 years. It is a sad fact about fallen human nature that many people would rather have someone make decisions for them than make the decisions themselves, so the fact that Israel would one day want a king over them instead of an invisible God was predictable. God saw it coming and spoke of the day Israel would have a king. God spoke more about the king in Deuteronomy 17:14-20.

“and there you will serve other gods of wood and stone.” There is so much evil behind that statement. The people of Israel would turn away from Yahweh, who is loving and righteous, and follow “gods” of wood and stone, which are not gods at all but just man-made idols. But those lifeless idols have demons associated with them, demons that are very real and very evil, and so the idol gods are evil and cruel, and demand such things as human sacrifice and obedience to rules and regulations that are anything but righteous.

Deu 28:37(top)
Deu 28:38(top)
Deu 28:39(top)
Deu 28:40(top)
Deu 28:41(top)
Deu 28:42(top)
Deu 28:43(top)
Deu 28:44

“He will lend to you, but you will not lend to him.” So the foreigners living in Israel will prosper and do well while the people of Israel will do poorly and have to borrow from the foreigners among them.

Deu 28:45(top)
Deu 28:46

“they will be for a sign and for a wonder.” In Deuteronomy 28:1-14, God told Israel some of the many ways they would be blessed if they obeyed God. So it is appropriate that now He tells them that if they disobey Him and are experiencing the curses and problems that are mentioned in Deuteronomy 28:15-68, those curses and problems are to be signs to them that they are being disobedient and need to return to Him. Many times people disobey God in ignorance and do not realize they are disobeying God, so God tells Israel that if they are having the problems mentioned here in Deuteronomy, they should examine the Word and examine their lives and find out what they are doing that all these curses should be happening to them.

Deu 28:47(top)
Deu 28:48(top)
Deu 28:49(top)
Deu 28:50

“will not respect the elderly.” The Hebrew text is idiomatic, and more literally, “will not lift up the face of the elderly.”

Deu 28:51(top)
Deu 28:52

“in all your gates.” Here, “gates” is put by metonymy for the cities that have the gates, so the meaning of the text is “It [that enemy nation] will besiege you in all your cities.” Many English versions have “cities” or “towns” even though that translation is not literal. It is appropriate to put “gates” for “cities” in this context because the gate was the weakest point in any fortified city and was a major focus of any siege.

[See figure of speech “metonymy.”]

Deu 28:53(top)
Deu 28:54

“his eye will be evil.” The “evil eye” is a Semitic idiom for being greedy and stingy. Deuteronomy 28 is revealing how the people of Israel will be cursed if they do not keep God’s Law. There will be such shortages that even the man who is tender among the Israelites will have an evil eye toward his family, that is, be stingy and selfish when it comes to even them. Biblically, an evil eye is greedy or stingy; while a “good eye,” or a “single eye,” is generous. This verse shows us that terrible times can cause people to turn against their families, and in the siege, the man will be stingy and will withhold good from his family and keep it for himself, which is the fallen human nature at its worst.

[For more on idioms involving the good eye, see commentary on Proverbs 22:9. For more on the idiom of the evil eye, see commentary on Proverbs 28:22.]

Deu 28:55(top)
Deu 28:56(top)
Deu 28:57(top)
Deu 28:58

“this book.” The “book” is actually a scroll, and the Hebrew word means “writing, what is written, document.”

“awe-inspiring.” The Hebrew word is related to “fear” (the same word for “fear” used earlier in the sentence), and can mean “awe-inspiring” or “fear-inspiring.” The two concepts are related, and a good part of one’s awe for God should come from one’s recognition of God’s power, holiness, and righteousness, and that He is not to be trifled with but treated with some level of fear, much like electricity.

Deu 28:59(top)
Deu 28:60(top)
Deu 28:61(top)
Deu 28:62

“few in number.” The implication in the Hebrew text is “few men” in number, meaning the strength and defense of the nation is gone.

Deu 28:63

“plucked up from the ground.” God uses vocabulary that compares disobedient Israel to an unwanted plant, a weed, that is plucked up from the ground and destroyed.

Deu 28:64(top)
Deu 28:65(top)
Deu 28:66

“hang in doubt.” People’s lives will be uncertain and hang in suspense as to what will happen next and what will happen to them. There will be constant anxiety and distress.

“night and day.” The Jewish day started at sunset, so “night and day” is how the Jewish day went.

Deu 28:67(top)
Deu 28:68

“in ships.” The Hebrew vocabulary as we understand it today does not make any sense because Israel left Egypt and went over land to the land of Israel. The area is mostly wilderness and desert, and so it is not possible for Israel to return to Egypt the way they came out “in ships.” There is no water. It has been suggested that the text may be referring to sailing back to Egypt from the coast, but that would not fulfill the Scripture because Israel did not come out of Egypt that way. There is some evidence from the Ugaritic that the word may mean “at ease” or “casually,” and thus voluntarily, and that would make sense and certainly be a curse, but at this time there is no way to confirm that.a

29:1. In the Hebrew Bible the verse that is numbered Deuteronomy 29:1 is numbered Deuteronomy 28:69, and it is more logical that it is the end of chapter 28 because it points back to the covenant God made with Israel and the covenant promises. Also, the verse that is Deuteronomy 29:2 in the English versions is most naturally the start of a new subject.

Cp. Peter Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy [NICOT].

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