But it shall come to pass, if you will not listen to the voice of the LORD your God…
If Mount Gerizim had the weight cf. the people on the side of the blessing, Mount Ebal had certainly the weight of the deliverance. No wonder the Law was to be written on its rocky tablets, since the major part of the Law consists in such denunciation of possible disobedience as might serve to render it improbable. As Dr. Arnold has said, "As if, too, warning were far more required than encouragement, we find that the blessings promised for obedience bear a small proportion in point of length to the curses denounced against disobedience." We shall try to sum up the evils here threatened against Israel in case of their disobedience, and then point out their practical and present application.
I. DEGRADATION OF CITY LIFE. If the massing of people gives advantages to religious effort, it gives corresponding advantages to sin. Temptation becomes intensified. The leaven of corruption gets speedily through the compacter mass. The very mention of the city and its sins and sorrows brings a frightful panorama before us. Ignorance, drunkenness, irreligion, licentiousness, - all these are found in their most fearful forms in cities. No wonder that such a man as Dr. Guthrie delivered a series of special sermons on the subject. Now, the Jews are threatened with a curse upon their city life in case of their disobedience. Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum are but samples of doomed cities through the disobedience of the people (Matthew 11:20-24).
II. AGRICULTURE will be cursed because of their disobedience. The land of promise will become, through drought and carelessness, a barren waste, like the worn-out lands of slave-holding people, which once were glorious virgin soil. And travelers have no difficulty in believing that Palestine is under the curse of God. The threat of Deuteronomy has become a sad reality, and the land stands as a witness to the faithfulness of God to his threatenings.
III. A curse was to rest upon THEIR CHILDREN. No more terrible form of judgment can be supposed than this. Parents are touched deepest in their children. Hence it must have been a great trial for the wayward Jews to find their children deteriorating through their sin, and carrying in their persons the curse of God. Population dwindled, and instead of being the countless people they once were, they have become so small that it is one of the wonders of the world that they maintain their separate existence.
IV. DISEASES of the most frightful kind were to come upon them. Now, it would seem that certain diseases were peculiar to Egypt, and of these the Israelites were particularly afraid. Now, the Lord threatens them with all the diseases of Egypt, of which they were so afraid (vers. 27, 35, 60). The diseases with which the human frame is visited are certainly manifold and terrible. To attach them to sin in a way of natural law only makes the judgment the more terrible. Of course we cannot say special sickness is proof positive of special sin; but we can say that but for sin there would have been no suffering and no sickness; and that sin deserves all that is sent. The frightful character of the sickness and sorrows God sends is the expression of his detestation of man's sin.
V. FAMINE was a still worse curse. To perish with hunger because of the scarcity of food is terrible. To waste away for want of due nourishment is terrible. Yet this the Lord threatened, and ultimately sent as the history tells us.
VI. WAR AND SIEGE. The worst enemy of mankind is man. Of all judgments war is worst. And the siege endured in Jerusalem twice over transcends all others recorded in history. Of minor sieges at Samaria and elsewhere we need not speak. According to Josephus, eleven hundred thousand Jews perished in the course of the siege of Jerusalem under Titus by sword, pestilence, or famine. "Besides these eleven hundred thousand, ninety-seven thousand were taken prisoners; and these were reserved, not for the light sufferings commonly undergone by prisoners of war in our days, but for the horrors of the slave-market, and for a life of perpetual bondage."It is believed that direct reference is made to the Roman eagles in vers. 49, 50, etc., and it is known that women ate their children in the terrible siege.
VII. DISPERSION AND BONDAGE. To those with national spirit dispersion must have been terrible. Emigration is now deemed bad enough, even though it may be to a better inheritance. But the Jewish dispersion threatened was captivity which we know came upon them at different times. The Babylonish Captivity was acknowledged by them to be in consequence of their sins, the recognized curse of God. And even after their return in part to Palestine, they came in for bondage to the yoke of Rome, and felt the yoke of iron on them.
VIII. The OFFSCOURING OF ALL THINGS unto this day. The Jews were threatened with such a scattering among the nations as would make them universally despised. And they have become so. Even yet, notwithstanding toleration and Jewish money-grubbing, the nation has not secured the respect of mankind. As Byron wrote -
"Tribes of the wandering foot and weary breast,
How shall ye flee away and be at rest!
The wild dove hath her nest, the fox his cave,
Mankind their country - Israel but the grave!" Such in brief are the judgments threatened, and, as history shows us, faithfully executed. The nation constitutes the beacon of history - the most terrible evidence of the perils of disobedience! The following lessons of a practical character are surely taught: -
1. Of those to whom much is given shall much be required. No nation was so favored; but, neglecting its opportunities, no nation has been so cursed. It has been more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, and for Sodom and Gomorrha, than for the Jews.
2. It is terrible when judgment has to begin at the house of God. This is the meaning of the melancholy history. It is a tragedy at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed, lest he fall."
3. The prophetic threatening did not prevent their apostasy. Though as we believe, having their possible career through disobedience to direct judgment so carefully sketched, the prophecy lay for ages as a sealed, if not a neglected book. We think, with the rich man in Hades, that categorical warning would reform any of our brethren, no matter how abandoned, but find it a mistake (Luke 16:27-31). He who knows the end from the beginning has by his prophecy demonstrated that warning is often despised just in proportion to its particularity and faithfulness.
4. The judgment on earth is an image of a more terrible judgment beyond. "For us, each of us," said Dr. Arnold, "if we do fail of the grace of God there is reserved a misery of which indeed the words of the text are no more than a feeble picture. There is a state in which they who are condemned to it shall forever say in the morning. Would God it were even! and at even, Would God it were morning! for the fear of their heart wherewith they shall fear, and the sight of their eyes which they shall see." In forecasting what the doom of the impenitent shall be, we would do well to remember what God has done to sinners in the present life. Imagination may picture postmortem pardons and insist on sentiment determining the doom of disobedience, even when perpetuated; but the history of judgment here on earth should make every sane man fear to speak lightly of the judgment beyond. May God preserve us all from such an experience, through the blood and merits of Jesus! - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:
WEB: But it shall come to pass, if you will not listen to the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command you this day, that all these curses shall come on you, and overtake you.