But it shall come to pass, if you will not listen to the voice of the LORD your God…
Like the blessing, the curse is a reality. It cleaves to the sinner, pursues him, hunts him down, ruins and slays him (ver. 45). Does some one say, "An exploded superstition"? If so, it is a superstition in the belief of which mankind has shown itself singularly unanimous. View its reality as attested:
1. By conscience. The criminal cannot divest himself of the belief that avenging powers are following on his track.
2. By experience. "Rarely," says Horace, "has Punishment, though lame, failed to overtake the criminal fleeing before her." Greek tragedy rests on an induction from the facts of life.
3. By mythology. It was a conviction, true alike to conscience and the facts of life, which the Greeks sought to personify in the Erinyes, in Nemesis, and in Ate, who clung to a man or to a family in punishment for some half-forgotten crime.
4. By literature, which is full of the recognition of avenging powers. The Bible confirms the substance of this varied teaching, but lifts the subject out of the region of mythology. Jehovah alone has power to bless and curse. The blessings and curses of men have no efficacy save as he gives it to them. His blessings and curses are part of the moral government of the world, and turn exclusively on moral conditions. This is the contrast between the Bible and the heathen idea of a curse. The curse was a prominent part of heathen sorcery, but was wrought with charms and incantations. Protection against it was sought, not in a life of virtue, but in counter-charms and amulets - in conjurations more powerful than those of the enemy. The Bible countenances no such superstitions. Incantations are valueless. A curse is futile against those whom God has blessed (Numbers 23:20-23). The Bible doctrine is:
That of heathenism (with its modern survivals, the evil eye, charms, witches, etc.) is conspicuously the reverse.
I. THE CURSE IN ITS NATURE.
1. A natural fruit of sin. Natural process is not the whole. But a larger place may be allowed it than it had in the blessing. The blessing is "gift;" sin's fruit is of "debt" - "wages" (Romans 6:23). Conceivably, yet without miracle, God might have withheld from virtue its appropriate outward reward. But no power, even that of God, could prevent the sinner from reaping wretchedness and woe as a result of sin. "The righteous shall be recompensed in the earth; much more the wicked and the sinner" (Proverbs 11:31). The wiser course is not to oppose God to the laws of our moral nature, but to recognize him in them, and to draw from them a knowledge of his character and will. These, like all punitive laws, are the executors of his judgments. The sinner, having placed himself in conflict with the laws of life, of society, and of the outward universe, necessarily suffers in mind, body, and estate. Sin introduces discord, disorder, lawlessness, into the soul. It blinds and infatuates (vers. 28, 29). It makes wretched. This wretchedness is aggravated:
(1) By remorse and self-reproach.
(2) By sense of Divine anger.
(3) By opprobrium of society.
(4) By imaginative terrors.
Sin poisons the fountains of health, and induces diseases (vers. 22, 27, 85). The internal anarchy spreads outwards. The bonds of society are loosened; wealth accumulates in the hands of the few; the unhappy toilers, oppressed and spoiled, sink deeper and deeper in debt and wretchedness. At this stage the nation becomes an easy prey to the first strong power that cares to pounce upon it (vers. 29-38).
2. An effect of hostile action on the part of God. We fail of a complete view if we look only at the hostile relation of the sinner to God, and leave out of account the hostile relation which God assumes to the sinner. It is not merely that the sinner gets into conflict with himself and with the world around him, but nature and providence, under the direction of a hostile will, take up an antagonistic relation to him. Their movements are no longer for his good, but hostile and retributive (vers. 20-24). So the mental maladies of ver. 28 are more than the merely natural effects of sin (cf. 1 Kings 22:22). "The inquiring mind," says Dr. M'Cosh, "will discover designed combinations, many and wonderful, between the various events of Divine providence. What singular unions of two streams at the proper place to help on the exertions of the great and good! What curious intersections of cords to catch the wicked, as in a net, when they are prowling as wild beasts! By strange but most apposite correspondences, human strength, when set against the will of God, is made to waste away under his indignation, burning against it, as, in heathen story, Meleager wasted away as the stick burned which his mother held in the fire." Laws of nature are the warp, Divine providence the woof, of this awful garment of the curse with which the sinner clothes himself.
II. THE CURSE IN ITS OPERATION. Pictured in these verses in ample and vivid detail. The counterpart of the blessing (vers. 15-26). Takes effect in misfortune (ver. 20), sore diseases (vers. 21, 22), scouring by natural agencies (vers. 23, 24), invasions by enemies (vers. 25, 26). Action and reaction lead to the reproduction of these evils in aggravated forms. To worse bodily plagues (ver. 27) are superadded mental maladies (vers. 28, 29), issuing in renewed panic and defeat in war (ver. 29), with innumerable resultant calamities (vers. 30-33). Confusion and anarchy unite with oppression to produce madness of heart (ver. 34), disease pursues its ravages in forms of increasing malignity (ver. 35), and the nation ultimately sinks in total ruin (vers. 36, 37). Meanwhile, co-operating with these causes to reduce it to subjection, the curse has been working in all labor and enterprise, thwarting, blasting, destroying (vers. 43, 44; cf. Amos 4:6-12; Haggai 1:5-12; Malachi 2:2). The full terribleness of the Divine curse, however, is only brought out in the New Testament. As the re-laden of God to the soul goes deeper than life in the world, so it extends beyond it. The worse part of the curse is the sinking of the soul in its own corruptions, with the drying up of its possibilities of life, peace, and joy, under the weight of the Divine displeasure - an experience of "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile" (Romans 2:8, 9). Happily, no man in this life knows what the full extent of that curse is (Isaiah 57:16). A remedial system is in operation, in virtue of which no soul is utterly deserted of grace, and even the natural workings of sin are manifoldly checked, limited, and counteracted. Space is thus given for repentance, and salvation is possible. The end, however, if the riches of this goodness and forbearance are despised, will only be the more terrible (Romans 2:3-10).
III. THE CURSE IS ITS CAUSES. Sin, disobedience (vers. 45, 46). The curses written in this book were literally fulfilled. Israel would not serve the Lord with joyfulness and gladness of heart, therefore - sad retribution! - she had to serve her enemies "in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things" (ver. 48; cf. the prodigal son, Luke 15:14-17). All sin ends in bondage. Nations that imitate Israel in her sins may expect to be made like her in her punishment. - J.O.
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.