"God's Love in the Old Testament" - Chapter 10



Chapter 10: "Blessed or Cursed - the Choice is Yours"




Chapter 10 – Blessed or Cursed – the Choice is Yours


"But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Jos 24:15)

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deut 30:19,20)

Contents of Chapter 10

10.1 The Law of Choice

10.2 Introducing Blessings and Curses

10.3 Blessings and Curses for Israel

10.4 ‘Obedience' to what?

10.5 Failure – Rebuke – Repentance – Restoration

10.6 Living in the Blessing of God

10.7 Conclusions



10.1 The Law of Choice


You may not like the title of this chapter for it involves words that we either don't understand or which sound spooky – but they are Scriptural as we'll see as we move on in this chapter.

However before we get to blessings and curses we need, first of all, to examine what I call ‘the law of choice' and which is so obvious we have missed it so far in this book - yet it is vitally important.
Take note of 'the law of choice'


‘Determinism' says we don't have real choices for everything is predetermined. Well that is not what the Bible says. As with so many things it doesn't spell it out but leaves us to deduce it from what is said and done. That which I refer to as ‘the law of choice' may be very simply stated:


God gives us clear choices, we have the freedom to make them, and they bring consequences.


We see in the Bible that God gives instructions and sometimes people disobey them. They clearly have the choice and the ability to reject God. That is fundamental. If God says, “Do this…” because we have free will, we have the choice of whether to do it – or not!


Probably the thing that concerns us most, I suspect, is what happens when we obey or don't obey, i.e. the consequences of our obedience or disobedience. The apostle Paul was quite clear about this:


Gal 6:7,8 “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”


The Message version of the Bible puts it like this:


Gal 6:7,8 “Don't be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he'll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God's Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.”


So there it is, we have the ability to make choices and the choice we make has consequences. Now please bear that in mind in all that follows in the rest of this book.  

Choices bring consequences!


We are going to examine, in the following chapters, God's actions that often bring complaints from those who haven't bothered to read the Bible and have not taken in the truth of what is declared there.


In every case, we will see, God's actions are in respect of a person or people and in every case God will have made very clear what the consequences will be, that follow from different courses of action.

The results are because of the choice made by a human being! We must hold this before us as we look at these case studies that will follow in later chapters. WE make choices and WE bring on ourselves the consequences.


The ultimate choice is that put forward by Joshua in the verses at the head of this chapter – whether to serve the gods we make in this world, or the Lord, THE One God revealed in the Bible.

Already we have seen the Lord's declaration through Ezekiel (Ezek 18) that God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone and would much rather people came to their senses, turned away from the destructive course they are following and receive life and God's blessing instead. The implication of the Deuteronomy verses at the head of this chapter, clearly indicate God's desire of Israel to choose blessings
God wants to bring blessing, not curse


This also is something we must keep before us as we examine the various case studies in the chapters to come.


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10.2 Introducing Blessings and Curses


Having referred to these briefly already we need to examine what the Bible means by them. Let's consider ‘blessing' first of all by first defining it and then seeing it in action in the Bible.


We have ‘blessing' in our lives, often without thinking about it. Someone sneezes and we say, “Bless you!” Mostly it is a habit thing with little or no meaning but it has a spiritual background. It means that where there are the signs of an illness we, the believing community, will declare, “May the Lord bless you,” or “May the Lord declare healing from heaven for you,” and we do it with the faith-knowledge that God wants to bring healing to us. When we are moving in faith we are able to say, “May the Lord bless you” meaning, “May the Lord decree goodness over your life.”


A ‘blessing' is simply a decree of God's goodness that has its origins in heaven.


A ‘ curse' by comparison, is simply a decree from God for bad that has its origins in heaven.


Now I had added at the end of both definitions “that has its origins in heaven” because although it is that which is spoken out on earth, it is only a true blessing or a true curse when it comes from the heart and will of God in heaven, otherwise it is mere words.  


W should also note that when God ‘decrees' something, it happens. 


The Earliest Examples


Gen 12:2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.”

  • This is God's promise to Abram
  • He promises to ‘bless' him and make him a ‘blessing


If we apply our definition above to this verse we would see it become, “I will make you into a great nation and I will decree good for you, I will make your name great and you will bring much good to others.”


Gen 17:18 Abraham said to God, "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!"

  • This is Abraham wanting God to decree good for Ishmael.
  • The Lord's response is very positive:


Gen 17:20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him [decree good for him, so…] I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.”

  • So He does promise to do him good.
  • Yet the bigger blessing will be the advent of Isaac who is born in old age to Sarah and Abraham.
  • It is when Isaac has gown up children of his own that we see the most significant examples of blessings:


The Example of Isaac


Gen 27:1-4  When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, …. "I am now an old man and don't know the day of my death… Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die."

  • Culturally it was that the father ‘blessed' the eldest son with God's decree of goodness so that they might carry on the family with that authority.
  • Isaac wants to make it a bit of an event so wants Esau to set up a meal for him, over which he will then ‘bless' him.
  • In the event Jacob, Esau's younger brother hears of it, sets up the meal first and deceives the old, virtually blind man into thinking he is Esau.
  • Isaac then ‘blesses' him:


Gen 27:28,29 “May God give you of heaven's dew and of earth's richness-- an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed."

  • Now the wider context of Scripture indicates that this indeed was God's will for Jacob and not Esau.
  • Thus this has come as a genuine prophetic declaration with its origins in heaven.
  • Indeed, a short while later when Esau turns up and Isaac realises what has happened, he realises that this is so and the prophetic word cannot be withdrawn:


Gen 27:34-40 Esau heard his father's words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, "Bless me--me too, my father!" But he said, "Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing." …. Then he asked, "Haven't you reserved any blessing for me?" Isaac answered Esau, "I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?" Esau said to his father, "Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!" Then Esau wept aloud. His father Isaac answered him, "Your dwelling will be away from the earth's richness, away from the dew of heaven above. You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck."

  • Now that is quite remarkable because Isaac recognises that the decree of goodness to lead the family has gone to Jacob and there is nothing he can do about that. (The seer Balaam knew the same thing - see Num 22:38, 24:13)
  • Furthermore, when he does prophesy over Esau it is to put him firmly in a second place for he speaks out what will happen because of the nature of the man that Esau is.
  • It isn't because God made it happen like that but simply God knew it would happen like that because of the sort of man Esau is. (His character has already been revealed earlier – see Gen 25:33,34 – and will shortly be revealed by his responses to this – see Gen 28:6-9)


The Example of Jacob in Old Age


When in old age Jacob realises he hasn't got much longer to live, he calls his sons in and prophesies over them all. It is tantamount to a blessing although that word is not used in it except in the case of Joseph. See Gen 49. It is only at the end that we find:


Gen 49:29   All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, giving each the blessing appropriate to him.

  • Note the words, ‘appropriate to him'
  • These were not just sentimental wishes, but the heart of God expressed prophetically.

Prior to that though, we find a very significant incident when Joseph brings his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to Jacob to be blessed:


Gen 49:13,14 And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel 's left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel 's right hand, and brought them close to him. But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim's head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh's head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.

  • Then he blesses them but Joseph objects saying that the right hand (the hand of authority) should be on the older, Manasseh.
  • Jacob is not put off for he senses God's will for the younger one and says:


Gen 49:19 “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations."

  • Blessing is not a matter of human desire but of God's will being expressed.


And So…


Why have we taken time with this? Because we have needed to note:

  •  blessings as God's decree of good over those He sees as having a heart that he can use,
  •  curses being a pronouncement of the bad that will ensue from bad attitude and bad behaviour.

That God works to bring about these two conclusions is quite clear from Scripture, but the key issue is the heart of the individual who makes a choice and then lives with consequences, good or bad according to what he says and does.


In what follows we will see that for Israel, in the whole matter of blessings and curses, the consequences are very clearly spelled out by God; there is nothing left to doubt. They could never say they weren't warned!

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10.3 Blessings and Curses for Israel


The magnitude of this spelling out the consequences through blessings and curses takes up such space in Scripture that we will only cite one or two by way of illustration.


Deut 28:1,2 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. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God:

  • This is the start of a chapter full of blessings and curses. So important were they that when Israel entered the Promised Land they were to stand on two mountain tops and declare these out loud by way of proclamation to the land and to their future.
  • The overall promise in verse 1 is that IF they are obedient THEN God will decree good for them that will make them greater than any other nation on earth. Obedience is crucial.
  • Let's consider some of the promises of good that follow:


Deut 28:3-11 “You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. 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. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. 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. 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. 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 his ways. Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will fear you. 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 forefathers to give you.”

  • The blessing, this decree of goodness that follows obedience, includes their ability to have children, fruitfulness for their crops and their flocks, triumph over their enemies, in fact everything they do, with the result that the world will see and know.
  • But there is another side to this coin:


Deut 28:15 “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 upon you and overtake you:”

  • Thus starts the things that will go wrong if they are not obedient.
  • Without doubt in the verses that follow the crucial words are, “The Lord will….” which are repeated again and again filling the entire rest of the chapter.
  • It is a frightful warning that is given so clearly here.
  • As we said previously, it is a warning of dire consequences.

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10.4 ‘Obedience' to what?


Throughout Deuteronomy, which is Moses' final reminders and instructions to Israel before entering the Promised Land before he dies, there are these constant references to Israel's obedience. Over twenty times in Deuteronomy, Moses warns them to obey the Lord.

It is like it is the most important thing that he can leave with them before he dies and before they enter the Land. He knows that it is THE thing around which everything else pivots.
Obedience is THE key to blessing


Obedience to what, the unknowing reader might ask. Obedience to the Law of Moses that we have referred to! A quick examination of that Law shows that there is nothing strange or freaky about those laws, in fact many of them have been seen as incorporated in different forms in our own legal system. (See chapter 20)


The Ten Commandments are general laws which can be applied to any society, but the other laws of the covenant (See Ex 21-) applied to Israel – and at that point of time in history. We say that because, for instance, it was still a time when slaves existed. Circumstances would change and therefore certain laws would simply no longer be applicable to them.

The purpose of the Ten Commandments and the other laws fthat we call the Law of Moses were to bring peace, order and stability to their society.
The Law has a clear purpose


God designed and planned this world before He created it, so that it would work in certain ways. We might call these the laws of nature.

The Law reflects God's design for His world
When it comes to how human beings ‘work' best, He conveyed this to Israel by means of the Law that we've just referred to. The key step of faith in all of these deliberations is to come to accept that God, the Designer-Creator, knows best.


But God is also a realist and so he knew that the Fall would occur and therefore Fallen man would get it wrong. God knows that we are sinners and knows that things will go wrong in society.

The Law recognises a Fallen world
Thus He gives laws that both restrain the wrong and lay down guidelines how to deal with things when they do go wrong. Moses also passed on a lot of ceremonial laws to be enacted at the Tabernacle and later, the Temple, that enabled sinful man to get back into a right relationship with the Lord after failure.


Thus there was the recognition that individuals would fail from time to time and the ‘social-contract-laws' laid down what was to happen within society when that happened, and the ceremonial laws what to do about the broken relationship with the Lord. Yet breaking the laws was to be an exception and not the rule.


Curses are consequences of disobeying God's design
The curses, that we have referred to, apply when there is a general moving away from the Law by the whole of society and by the leadership of society, not simply when there were individual occasional failures.


The call to obedience thus becomes a call to keep the heart of the nation right before God. We see this very thing happening again and again in the life of Israel. It is patently obvious in their history. To make the point even clearer, let's briefly observe this phenomenon in the book of Judges.

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10.5 Failure – Rebuke – Repentance – Restoration


Jud 2:10-12 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt . They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.

  • This is typical of what happened again and again.
  • Up until this point everything had been going well but gradually they drifted away from their obedience to the Lord and their worship of Him and instead turned to idols.


Jud 2:13-16 In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress. Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.”

  • You're going to have to wait until the next chapter to wait to see what the ‘anger of the Lord' is all about and, if you have doubts, why it is legitimate. Similarly how His judgment works.
  • Yet here we can note that His anger moves into action which permits raiders to enter their land and oppress them. He lifts off His hand of protection and the enemy comes.
  • Note here that it simply says “They were in great distress”. Elsewhere it will clarify that to show that it was repentance. As soon as that comes the Lord raises up someone to deliver them from these invaders – that is really what Judges is all about – the judges who were also deliverers.
  • Note also that God doesn't give them up to destruction – simply oppression which produces repentance.


Jud 2:18,19 Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

  • These summary verses tell it very well: God sends judges to save them, they become complacent and turn away from God and the cycle starts all over again.


Jud 3:7-11 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel 's judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died

  • Here it is again: they do evil, God lets a neighbouring enemy invade, they cry out to God, He sends a deliverer and peace reigns.
  • All it needed was for Israel to come to their senses and call to the Lord. As we've seen in an earlier chapter, they have been brought into being to be blessed and to bless the world - but sin still prevails and so they keep drifting from God and into idolatry and loose their sense of being special
  • Let's see it just one more time:


Jud 3:12-15 Once again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and because they did this evil the LORD gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel . Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel , and they took possession of the City of Palms . The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years. Again the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and he gave them a deliverer--Ehud

  • There it is exactly the same: they turn from God, He removes His protection from them, the enemy comes and oppresses them, they cry out to God and He raises up a deliverer.
  • How does God raise up a deliverer? He seems to find a man who is willing to be used of God and He either speaks to him or stirs him by His Spirit and the anger of the individual rises against the enemy so that he takes action against them. Sounds simple!

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10.6 Living in the Blessing of God


Before we conclude this chapter we perhaps need to think a little more about this ‘blessing' of God. What did it mean? Perhaps we may think it was some form of ‘magic' that made good happen? Wrong! It clearly came in two forms:


Living according to the Law


Very simply, if they were living according to the Law they were living according to God's design for mankind. The laws simply showed them how to live in peace and harmony. When they did that, life was good, and they prospered. It was as simple as that.


One day someone came to Jesus and asked a question. His answer summarised the Law:


Matt 22:36-40 Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

  • There it was: first of all love God totally and then love everyone else.
  • Love sums up all the obligations of how to live in peace and harmony
  • The first command cited in those verses comes from Deut 6:5 “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
  • The second command comes from Lev 19:18 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • Both are part of the Law books!


Blessed by God's activity


If keeping the Law was Israel 's side of the agreement, looking after Israel was God's side of it. In the making Israel into a nation at Mount Sinai, the Lord makes it very clear:


Ex 19:5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.

  • Their part was to obey Him. His part was to treat them as a treasured possession. What do you do with a treasured possession? You look after it!
  • As we'll note elsewhere, if they moved away from Him, He couldn't bless them.


So how did God bless them when they obeyed Him? Scripture indicates the following basic things (there may be others):

  • He gave their leaders wisdom – we see this again and again, the knowledge of how to lead well.
  • He protected them from enemies. How did he do that? I suggest He spoke into the minds of their leaders and made them fearful of Israel. There are also indications that He spoke confusing things into the minds of their enemies to stop them coming against Israel.
  • He clearly brought rain and sunshine to help crops grow.
  • He also seemed to bless crops and livestock simply by speaking life into them to increase fruitfulness – and that with humans sometimes.


To complete the picture of God's blessing Israel, even though we may not like it, He disciplined them as we've seen above, always with the intention of bringing them to their senses so that they would come back to Him and be blessed. We'll see more of that in the next chapter.

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10.7 Conclusions


In this chapter we have seen the following:


10.1 The Law of Choice

  • we noted that we have free will and the ability to make choices which have consequences

10.2 Introducing Blessings and Curses

  • we saw these as God's decrees of good or bad

10.3 Blessings and Curses for Israel

  • we saw the promises given to israel, depending on their obedience or disobedience

10.4 ‘Obedience' to what?

  • in the covenant it was obedience to the Law of Moses

10.5 Failure – Rebuke – Repentance – Restoration

  • the sequence seen in the book of Judges

10.6 Living in the Blessing of God

  • we saw how God brought good to Israel


Perhaps we should pick out the following crucial points:

  • God gives us clear choices, we have the freedom to make them, and they bring consequences.
  • God lays choices of action before us – each choice has consequences
  • A ‘blessing' is simply a decree of God's goodness that has its origins in heaven.
  • A ‘curse' by comparison, is simply a decree from God for bad that has its origins in heaven.
  • Blessings follow our choices to follow God
  • Curses follow our choices to disobey God
  • Obedience in the Old Testament period was in respect of the Law of Moses which were laws that
    • sought to establish and maintain peace, order and stability in their society,
    • restrain the wrong and lay down guidelines how to deal with things when they do go wrong,
    • laid down a ceremonial to follow failure to restore relationships with God.
  • Observing the history of Israel reveals a pattern where they drift away from God, are disciplined by God allowing neighbours to overrun them, they cry out to God and He sends a deliverer.


Particularly in respect of the Lord we should emphasise that:

  • His laws for Moses reflected the way He had designed them to live in peace, order, harmony and blessing, even after the Fall.
  • He made the options very clear to them,
  • He even showed them socially how to put things right when someone broke the Law,
  • His discipline was never to destroy the nation but to bring them back into relationship with Him whereby they could then be put back on to the right track of blessing,
  • His blessing came through them keeping the law and living in peace and harmony, and in His actions of bringing wisdom, protection and general provision.


Throughout all these things it is the LOVE of God that is evident to those who have eyes to see it!


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