Day 25  Deuteronomy 28:1-29 ... Loud and Clear

Archaeologists have turned up samples of Near Eastern treaties that shed light on the covenant between God and the Israelites.  Typically, a small nation seeking protection would negotiate a “suzerainty treaty” with a powerful ruler, and Deuteronomy seems to follow closely the pattern of these treaties.  It sets down in official form the relationship between the Israelites and God.

The national treaties usually consisted of the following elements:

1.  An introduction identifying the parties of the treaty.

2.  A capsule history of prior relations between the two parties.

3.  Laws defining each party’s obligations.

4.  Public witnesses to the treaties.

5.  Curses and blessings specifying what will take place should one of the parties break the treaty.

Deuteronomy contains every one of those elements, in the proper order.  And the last of Moses’ great speeches, beginning in chapter 27, summarizes the curses and blessings.

For once, nearly everyone in the Israelite camp was jubilant.  They stood, eager as children, at the edge of the long-awaited land.  Moses, however, held back, unable to share the spirit of optimism.  For forty years he had led his cranky tribesmen, and he knew them too well to think that a change in scenery would alter their old ways.  A doleful sense of fatalism hangs over these last chapters of Deuteronomy.  The Israelites had failed far too often; they were doomed to fail again.

Aware of the significance to this, his last chance to impress upon the Israelites the seriousness of their covenant with God, Moses pulled out all the stops.  He began with the speech recorded here.  The benefits of keeping the covenant Moses defined in simple and elegant terms, but as he related the consequences of breaking it, his language changed in pitch.  His descriptions of those consequences are unmatched for their horror.

As if acknowledging that words were not strong enough to communicate to the Israelites, Moses also orchestrated a dramatic sequence of object lessons that would live in their memories forever.  First he had the words of the law painted on some large plaster-coated stones, so that the tribes would pass by visual reminders of the covenant as they entered Canaan.  Then, pre-selected shouters climbed two mountains with a narrow valley in between to yell out the rules governing the covenant.  As the tribes entered the new land, their ears rang with the loud dissonance of wonderful blessings from one side clashing with horrific curses from the other.

Finally, just in case the Israelites didn’t get the message, Moses taught them a song given him by God (chapter 32).  Everyone memorized it and sang it as they marched into Canaan.  Thus at the birth of their nation, euphoric over the crossing of the Jordan River, the Israelites premiered a kind of national anthem, the strangest national anthem that has ever been sung.  It had virtually no words of hope, only doom.

Point to Ponder: Do the principles set forth in this chapter--"Do good, get blessed; do evil, get punished"--still apply today? Why or why not?