Blessings and Curses

“The Lord rewards everyone for their righteousness and their faithfulness”

1 Samuel 26:23 (NRSV)

Does God bless and curse based on deeds?

(To understand this rabbit trail about judgment, blessings, cursings, the implications and repercussions of Genesis 3, and so on, you’ll need to take a few minutes and skim over Deuteronomy 27-28.)

Or, is life less predictable than that? (the Book of Job gives that sense.)

There is no way we’re going to settle these questions in a conversation. This is one of those Big Topics that people have been wrangling with since…well…since Job, actually, so, thousands of years. At least. I hope you all weigh in, in the comments section, and help us dig deep on this one.

Just a few thoughts on the Deuteronomy passage.

  • All throughout Moses’ long sum-up of the Israelite’s forty year sojourn in the wilderness, and his exhortations for their imminent entry into Canaan, there was a recurring refrain…”that it may go well with you.”

So, Moses was describing a basic principle of life, life goes well for us when living God’s way, by God’s law. Even for Job. In the middle of his story, life was awful. At the end of the book God not only restores Job’s fortunes, they’re even better than when the book starts out. Job successfully endured the ordeal God permitted in his life, and he was blessed.

  • If you view Deuteronomy 27-28 as a basic principle, over time, for a body of people, you see it held true for Israel, and holds true today as well. When the whole group cooperates in living by good principles, it does go well with them, over time. (Mt. Vesuvius does come to mind, earthquakes, tsunamis. I know. This is about human interactions, not about natural disasters.)

Of course, there’s going to be some hammering about what constitutes good principles! And what constitutes cooperation. And really, in the end, a law is only as good as those who are willing to uphold it.

  • Sin is disastrously potent. Here’s how Moses described it,It may be that there is among you a man or woman, or a family or tribe, whose heart is already turning away from the Lord our God to serve the gods of those nations. It may be that there is among you a root sprouting poisonous and bitter growth. All who hear the words of this oath and bless themselves, thinking in their hearts, “We are safe even though we go our own stubborn ways” (thus bringing disaster on moist and dry alike) — the Lord will be unwilling to pardon them, for the Lord’s anger and passion will smoke against them. All the curses written in this book will descend on them, and the Lord will blot out their names from under heaven.

One person thinking one secret thought is all that’s needed for this horrific domino effect. I think what the Lord will be unwilling to pardon them means, in this context, is that God will not hold back promised consequnces of defiant disobedience. He will cause His justice to roll down.

Underlying Deuteronomy 27-28 and the book of Job is the foundation of faith. And faith is founded not upon the formula of good deeds=blessing, bad deeds=curses, but rather God is a good God, and what He does is good, so have confidence in Him, follow His guidance, live by His instruction, and trust the restults ultimately are bringing about something eternally good.

Much more controversial is the concept of cherem, described in such passages as Deuteronomy 7, what to do with the spoils of Holy War.

Cherem,  Herem or cherem (Hebrew: חרם, ḥērem), means ‘devote’ or ‘destroy’. It is also referred to as the ban. The term has been explained in different ways by scholars. It has been defined as

  • a mode of secluding, and rendering harmless, anything imperilling the religious life of the nation
  • the total destruction of the enemy and his goods at the conclusion of a campaign
  • uncompromising consecration of property and dedication of the property to God without possibility of recall or redemption.

Herem may mean that in the hour of victory all that would normally be regarded as booty, including the inhabitants of the land, was to be devoted to God. The enemy is to be be utterly destroyed, every harmful thing to be burned out and the land purified, and therefore be rendered into smoke–removed from the earthly realm through sacrificial fire and translated into heaven as spoils for God alone.

We are to understand from the language used in the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua, God meant this literally, and expected the Israelites to completely comply. Later, in books like the apostle Peter’s second letter, and Revelation, this language is used in an apocolyptic sense, and finally, it seems to appear in some of Jesus’ teaching as reference to eternal destruction.

This brings us into yet another long-debated topic, what is hell? Jesus did speak of forgiving one’s enemy, and He also spoke of the fires of Gehenna. How do we reconcile both of those concepts? Either Jesus Himself was being inconsistent, or there is some sort of connection. What do you think?

[“Job,” William Blake [Public domain]

Published by Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer

Bible Teacher and partner with Ancient Voices, Sacred Stories

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