But it shall come to pass, if you will not listen to the voice of the LORD your God…
Does the Commination Service curse men? Are these good people (who are certainly right in their horror of cursing) right in the accusations which they bring against it? I cannot but think that they mistake when they say that the Commination Service curses men. For to curse a man is to pray that God may vent His anger on the man by punishing him. But I find no such prayer and wish in any word of the Commination Service. Its form is not "Cursed be he that doeth such and such things," but "Cursed is he that doeth them." Does this seem to you a small difference? A fine-drawn question of words? Is it, then, a small difference whether I say to my fellow man, I hope and pray that you may be stricken with disease, or whether I say, You are stricken with disease, whether you know it or not? I warn you of it, and I warn you to go to the physician! For so great, and no less, is the difference.
I. WE KNOW THAT THE WORDS OF THE TEXT CAME TRUE. We know that the Jews did perish out of their native land, as the author of this book foretold, in consequence of doing that against which Moses warned them. We know also that they did not perish by any miraculous intervention of providence, but simply as any other nation would have perished — by profligacy, internal weakness, civil war, and, at last, by foreign conquest. We know that their destruction was the natural consequence of their own folly. Why are we to suppose that the prophet meant anything but that? He foretells the result. Why are we to suppose that he did not foresee the means by which that result would happen? For even in this life the door of mercy may be shut, and we may cry in vain for mercy when it is the time for justice. This is not merely a doctrine: it is a fact; a common, patent fact. Men do wrong, and escape, again and again, the just punishment of their deeds; but how often there are cases in which a man does not escape; when he is filled with the fruit of his own devices, and left to the misery which he has earned; when the covetous and dishonest man ruins himself past all recovery; when the profligate is left in a shameful old age, with worn-out body and defiled mind, to rot into an unhonoured grave; when the hypocrite who has tampered with his conscience is left without any conscience at all. They have chosen the curse, and the curse is come upon them to the uttermost. So it is. Is the Commination Service uncharitable, is the preacher uncharitable, when they tell men so?
II. TRULY TERRIBLE AND HEART-SEARCHING FOR THE WRONG-DOER IS THE MESSAGE — GOD DOES NOT CURSE THEE: THOU HAST CURSED THYSELF. God will not go out of His way to punish thee; thou hast gone out of His way, and thereby thou art punishing thyself. Just as, by abusing the body, thou bringest a curse upon it; so by abusing thy soul. God does not break His laws to punish drunkenness or gluttony. The laws of nature, the beneficent laws of life, nutrition, growth, and health, they punish thee; and kill by the very same means by which they make alive. And so with thy soul, thy character, thy humanity.
III. LET US BELIEVE THAT GOD'S GOOD LAWS AND GOD'S GOOD ORDER ARE IN THEMSELVES AND OF THEMSELVES THE CURSE AND PUNISHMENT OF EVERY SIN OF OURS; and that Ash Wednesday, returning year after year, whether we be glad or sorry, good or evil, bears witness to that most awful and yet most blessed fact.
(C. Kingsley, M. A.)
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.