Sun, 10/16/22 Brad Barrett
The Story of God and Man: Blessings and Curses— Chapter 5
More than 75% of the Bible is something we call “Old Testament.” Even though it’s the vast majority of the entire Bible, I suspect many of us are relatively unfamiliar with it.
So we may have questions about it.
- What’s it all about?
- Why so confusing with so many people, places, and events?
- Why do we have a NEW Testament? Was something wrong with the OLD one?
- Is God really as constantly angry as it seems at a glance?
We are in the middle of a sermon series going through what could be described as an overview of the Bible. To examine some key events and themes of the Bible. To develop stronger CONVICTIONS about what God has said and done. And then to respond to Him in OBEDIENCE.
Our topic today from the OT is beautiful. And foundational. We call it “Blessings and Curses.” In your books, Story of God and Man, open to page 68. This Chapter in the Story is a way to summarize a covenant God gave to the people of Israel. This covenant is often represented by the Ten Commandments.
My goal this morning is this:
- I hope to give you a better sense of what is happening in the OT with Israel. And how it connects with the NT.
- And I hope this leads you to reading the OT more. And reading it with greater clarity.
- And then through that, learning how to walk with God, how to trust him more.
It’s a tall goal. Let’s see what we can do.
The Mosaic Covenant
Last week Matt talked about “Covenants.” God has made several covenants or agreements…like a contract…with his people.
- A covenant to Abraham is most foundational.
- That covenant connects to the covenant with Israel which we’ll look at this morning.
- And it also connects us to the covenant concerning Jesus Christ, which we call the New Covenant. Or the New Testament.
This morning our main focus in The Story of God and Man is on one of those covenants. A contract that God made with the people of Israel through Moses. (The light blue in the middle.) We can call it the Mosaic Covenant. That’s not “mosaic” as in a piece of artwork. That’s “Mosaic” as “from Moses.”
Let’s read the paragraphs on page 68 in The Story of God and Man.
“Throughout Israel’s history, God interacted with His chosen nation—speaking through the prophets, dwelling within the temple, and blessing the nation according to their faith and obedience. But Israel treacherously spurned the Lord, again and again turning to idolatry.
“In the end and in accordance with His warnings, God nearly destroyed the nation, exiling the survivors to Assyria and Babylon. After seventy years, God brought a remnant back to the land, yet Israel never fully regained its sovereignty, remaining subject to foreign domination and devoid of a king sitting on David’s throne.”
I should have given you a spoiler alert: After many centuries, this covenant failed. That’s why we now have a “New Covenant.” Yet there was a beauty and glory to it because it came from God.
So let’s focus on this Mosaic Covenant. The OLD Covenant. What is it?
Essentially it is a covenant God made with Abraham’s descendants. (We’ll spend quite a bit of time in Deuteronomy.)
Deuteronomy 1:8 ESV See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them.’
This Mosaic covenant reaches out to some of the descendants of Abraham. Specifically, the family and nation of Abraham’s son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. (Jacob’s other name, given by God, was Israel.)
So this morning in Deuteronomy, we are going to read some details of this covenant to Moses and Israel.
ALERT: I’m going to spend quite a bit of time this morning giving us the Big Picture. If we can all hang in there, I’m confident this Big Picture will help us to understand God and even the Christian life better.
What is the essence of this covenant?
So what is the essence of this covenant from Moses to Israel?
We could say that the emphasis in all of God’s covenant is in large part relational. God wants to be in loving, covenant relationship….not unlike marriage. And he wants to bring them heavenly good, and to let them share in his glory and majesty. To reward and bless them. (And by the way, that is the same heart he has today in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.)
If we don’t understand this, we might think that the essence of it is all about rules. Laws. Well, this covenant has plenty of them. More than 600. And those laws are important. And holy. And good.
But an even deeper essence of God’s covenant with them is that he has chosen them to be in relationship with him.
Deuteronomy 7:6–8 ESV “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
This reflects the beautiful heart of God. He chose Israel, not because they were mighty or unique or righteous. He simply set his love on them. And he was keeping his covenant (his oath) to Abraham, that the whole world would be blessed through Abraham.
But let’s get more specific about this covenant. It is conditional. He is requiring a response from Israel.
The strong emphasis in the covenant are three conditions as they follow the Lord or don’t follow. Three If-Then statements (for all you programmers).
- If you follow me, love me, obey me, and fear me, then I will bless you overwhelmingly.
- If you turn away from me and rebel, then I will curse you overwhelmingly, even putting you to death and sending into exile (kicking you out of the land I promised).
- If you humble yourself and return to me, then I will show grace and mercy overwhelmingly and restore you to those blessings.
Now let’s look at each one of these If-Then statements in more detail.
Let’s read from Deuteronomy about the first If-Then condition: Blessings.
First, let’s read some of the blessings God is offering.
Deuteronomy 28:1–12 ESV “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. 3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. 4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock…
7 The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways…
9 The Lord will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways…
11 And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. 12 The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands…
What’s not to like about that? He simply wants them to walk with him. To love him. To reject all other gods—just like in marriage we should reject other lovers. And if they do, he is going to give them unimaginable good in their lives. Family. Crops. Protection from enemies. Wealth.
A simple and beautiful picture of this blessing is in the first part of King Solomon’s reign over Israel. The Queen of Sheba visited Solomon and heard his wisdom.
She said to Solomon:
1 Kings 10:6–8 ESV The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!
So if Israel walks with God, he will bless them richly.
Now let’s read about the second “If-Then” condition of the covenant. The curses God promises if Israel rebels against him. God is holy and pure and righteous. And he is just. So if Israel turns from their Creator, there will be judgment.
I’ll read an excerpt from a long, long, long list of curses.
Deuteronomy 28:15–37 ESV But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you…
17 Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 18 Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock…
20 The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me…
22 The Lord will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew…
25 “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies…
26 And your dead body shall be food for all birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away…28 The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind…
And you shall be only oppressed and robbed continually, and there shall be no one to help you…
36 “The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. 37 And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away.
Very intense, isn’t it? Heavy. Terrifying. They will physically get sick. Children will die. Wombs will remain empty. Crops will die. Enemies will raid the land. They will be hauled off into exile by enemies to foreign countries.
This should unsettle us. God is holy and righteous. And he loves his people so much that if they turn to other lovers, his jealousy rises and he has righteous anger… just like happens in a marriage when one spouse betrays the other.
We’ll read a powerful example of the curses in a few minutes.
So far, Israel has two choices before them.
- Do you want blessings in your life? Good things, strong relationships, bountiful crops, health, peace & safety?
- OR, do you want curses in your life? Bad things, broken relationships wherever you turn, blighted crops, poor health, death, and foreign armies coming into your land to take you into exile?
Which would you want? Surely, no one in their right mind would choose the path that leads to curses, would they?? – stirring up the holy anger of our Creator God.
The problem is that when Israel… chose the path of sin, they were NOT in their right minds. Vs. 28 says he will “strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind.” Israel became deceived. They believed lies. It happened to Israel. And the same thing happens to us.
If you’ve read any of the OT, it seems that 90% of the time Israel chose the path that led to curses.
If we ended there, life would be hopeless. So then, because of this constant failure, the third “If-Then” of the covenant is so crucial. Restoration. And it reveals the remarkable mercy of God. And this is what gives us hope.
Deuteronomy 30:1–6 ESV And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, 2 and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.
4 If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. 5 And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
So beautiful. What a kind and forgiving God. After Israel would reject him completely and be judged and sent into exile, God is so tender and so willing to show mercy…IF and WHEN they humble themselves and plead for mercy.
We see God’s heart like this many, many times in the OT.
One powerful example of restoration is found in the story of King Manasseh. Manasseh was one of the more evil kings Israel ever had. He led the entire nation astray. He worshiped idols. He even offered up one of his own sons as a human sacrifice to a false god. So God brought down curses upon him. The Babylonian king defeated Israel and captured Manasseh. They put a hook in his nose and with chains they hauled him to Babylon.
2 Chronicles 33:12–13 ESV And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.
If anyone was unforgiveable, it was Manasseh. But he humbled himself greatly, and God showed mercy to him. God’s kindness is stunning. If you or I ever feel we’ve sinned too much for God to forgive us, let us read the story of Manasseh.
What was the Outcome of the Covenant?
These three conditions of the Covenant to Israel—Blessings, Curses, and Restoration— summarize what happens in the stories of the OT. So if we understand this, the OT becomes so much clearer when we read it.
So what was the outcome of this covenant? How did it end?
In the simplest of terms, here’s the answer.
God was faithful, the people were not.
Now, over the centuries, there were some beautiful successes from the people. Some did walk by faith and are glorious examples for us to learn from. E.g., Joshua. And some kings were good (David, Hezekiah, Josiah).
But those successes were scattered among many, many failures.
So over the years, Israel was up and down. From blessings to curses to restoration. That cycle was repeated dozens and dozens of times.
Let me read one important passage that shows how it all ended for Israel. This is a startling story. This is now ~600 B.C. About 800 years after Moses. Eight centuries of this covenant. The king, Zedekiah, is the last king Israel ever had. The last one until Jesus.
As we read this passage, look for two things: God’s attributes and man’s heart.
2 Chronicles 36:11–17 ESV
Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. 12 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord his God. He did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the Lord. 13 He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God. He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord, the God of Israel.
14 All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the Lord that he had made holy in Jerusalem.
15 The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.
17 Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. He gave them all into his hand.
- The parallel passage in 2 Kings 25 tells us that the Babylonians killed King Zedekiah’s sons in front of him.
- And then they gouged out his eyes.
- And he was hauled off to Babylon as a prisoner.
God promised curses on them if they rebelled. And after centuries, it finally all came crashing down with finality.
When we read this, we shouldn’t be surprised at all at God’s severe judgment. Actually, we should be surprised how patient he was. Repeatedly he sent prophets to them, urging them to walk with God. Warning them of what would happen. But they simply refused. Hardening their hearts.
Think of this from merely a human perspective. If I treated you the way mankind treats God—proud, hardened, mocking, despising, scoffing, mistreating—how would you respond to me? I suspect it wouldn’t take long at all before you decided you’re done with me. That you’re not putting up with me any longer. And no one would fault you for it.
Over centuries, Israel was like this. Finally, God was done. “There was no remedy.”
So as we read this tragic and dark ending to OT history, we ought to say, “I get it. I understand now why God brought judgment on his people.”
What Was Needed?
What can we learn from these 800 years from Moses to Zedekiah? What was the problem? What was wrong?
Was the problem with God? Hardly. When we read the OT (and I hope you will)…..we find out the beautiful heart of God. Longing like a husband has for his wife. Yearning for relationship like a parent to the children.
Deuteronomy 5:29 ESV Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!
So the problem was not with God.
Was the problem with the Law that he has given them? Were they bad rules? Not at all. In fact, as the Apostle Paul looked back to this time, he examined that very question and concluded this:
Romans 7:12 CSB So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.
So what was the problem? The problem was (and still is) the heart of man. Hebrews 8 says the covenant didn’t fail. But the people did. Around the time of the final exile of Israel, the prophet Jeremiah wrote so succinctly:
Jeremiah 17:9 CSB The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?
Israel’s problem—in fact, all of humanity’s problem, even today—is the heart. Ever since Genesis 3, sin has resided in the hearts of every man, woman, and child. We don’t want to yield to this powerful, loving Creator God.
After all these centuries in the OT, something had to change.
Like Jeremiah, the prophet Ezekiel lived during these days of Zedekiah and the final exile. He wrote these words from God:
Ezekiel 36:26–27 CSB I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances.
God told them something brand new was coming. An entirely new and better way. One that will dig down deep inside and change us from the inside out. And he will place his Holy Spirit inside us. That may sound familiar.
About the same time as Ezekiel, the prophet Jeremiah penned for God one of the more profound prophecies of the entire Bible.
Jeremiah 31:31–34 NIV “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Who is the One who will be sent from heaven to make this New Covenant a reality? Jesus Christ.
And all this—all these covenants over all these centuries involving so many people and generations—all of it was planned by God since before creation.
As we begin to understand God’s glorious, eternal plan through his Son, a physical descendant of Abraham and the nation of Israel…. we begin to marvel at God. What wisdom. What love. What patience. What power. What authority. What justice.
When Zedekiah was sent into exile in 2 Chronicles 36 in about 600 B.C., the Lord said, “There was no remedy.”
But God had a plan. He was planning all along to provide THE Remedy. The only hope—not only for Israel but for every man and woman in this world. The New Covenant.
Where Do We Go From Here?
So that is a lot of time to give us the background of the Bible. A screenshot big picture of the Old Testament.
So now what? Where do we go from here?
As I said at the outset, my desire is that everyone of us would read the OT more. And read it with a growing understanding.
I propose that everyone of us….
Read the Old Testament more and look for three things:
- To know God better and follow him more closely by observing him in the OT.
This is my prayer for you all. More than 75% of the Bible is right in front of us to shout to us and whisper to us who our God is.
If you wonder if God is patient and kind and merciful….you should read the OT. If you wonder if He is holy and just and powerful…you should read the OT.
Romans 15:4 ESV For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
I know the OT is large. And it can be confusing with the many people and places and events. But it’s worth the effort…because there we will discover God.
- Also, as we read the OT, we can learn from Israel.
There are many examples of faith. Of trusting God in indescribably difficult situations. King David is one of the better examples.
And there are many, many examples of Israel’s failure. And we take heed from the warning.
1 Corinthians 10:6–7 ESV Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were…
So read the OT and learn from the people.
- Third, as we read the OT, realize that not only was something better promised by Jeremiah and others, that promise has actually come.
So God now calls us to respond to his call of covenant relationship… not in the Mosaic Covenant… but in the New Covenant. The Covenant of Jesus Christ who offers a whole new heart. A brand new us. Jesus calls it, “Being born again.” The next two Sundays will center on that.
I love the Old Testament. For the early years of my Christian life, I focused mainly on reading and studying the NT. And that’s probably an appropriate emphasis early on. But over the years, the more I read the OT and began to put people and places and events and dates together, I began to rejoice at this marvelous work of God. His beautiful, holy, merciful, unfolding plan to bless all the nations through the One Descendant of Abraham. His name is Jesus. What a God we serve!