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Daniel Block: In verse 20 we arrive at the longest literary unit in Deuteronomy. Whereas the imprecations of 27:15–26 and 28:15–19 are formulaic in nature, the curses in verses 20–68 are cast in impassioned rhetorical style and expound in exhaustive detail the reversal of the blessings specified in verses 7–13. When heard orally, these curses create terror in the mind of the hearer. . .

These hyperbolic expressions declare Yahweh’s goal: to destroy the covenantal triangle and in effect “wipe out” the nation itself. Moses highlights Israel’s hopelessness by punctuating the litany of disasters with declarations of the absence of any relief. By means of a seemingly endless catalogue of secondary agents of doom, Moses warns that Yahweh will marshal every conceivable agent of destruction against his people. At critical junctures Moses inserts reminders of the causes of these disasters. Although Yahweh is directly involved in Israel’s demise, the Israelites will be destroyed because they have been unfaithful to him (vv. 20, 45, 47, 62).

Gerald Gerbrandt: If Israel does not obey, well-deserved punishment will follow (v. 15). The short opening set of curses (vv. 16–19) are the negative counterpart to the opening blessings (vv. 3–6) and thus introduce curses as the withdrawal of blessing. As with the list of blessings, after a short general set in the passive voice, stating that Israel will be cursed everywhere and all the time, the text continues with further curses in which God is the active agent against Israel. Only these curses expand much beyond the blessings.

Michael Grisanti: Moses probably made use of certain covenantal curse terminology common in his day to express the potential covenantal judgment. It is likely that there existed a common collection of covenantal curse statements that appear with slight variations throughout ancient Near Eastern treaties.

Peter Craigie: It is more likely that there was a body of common conceptions in the Near East associated with curses, whether in treaties, law codes, or other types of texts. Both Deut. 28 and the Assyrian texts indicate that they have drawn on these resources, but in both texts they have been adapted to their immediate context. . .

The imbalance [between blessings and curses] finds an obvious reason in light of the purpose of the exposition of the curses in the address of Moses. The curses come close to the end of the ceremony of covenant renewal; they provide the speaker with an excellent opportunity for one final warning to the people of the dangers of disobeying the law of God. Moses was about to die, the congregation were about to cross the Jordan, and the whole future of Israel depended on faithful obedience to the law of God. Thus the long and solemn sermon on the curse of God provides a final incentive for wholehearted commitment in renewing the covenant.

Warren Wiersbe: This section is predictive; it describes the judgments God promised to send on the nation if the people refused to obey His law. The judgments are given in greater detail than are the blessings and are just the opposite of the blessings. God wanted His people to know that when these calamities struck, they would recognize the hand of the Lord and not think it was a series of coincidences.


A. (:15) Condition for Cursing = Disobedience

1. Condition Introduced

“But it shall come about, if you will not obey the LORD your God,

to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes

with which I charge you today,”

2. Consequences of Disobedience

“that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.”

Michael Grisanti: Moses clearly defines the people on whom the curses will fall, namely, those who do not obey the stipulations of the covenant. This verse is a near replica of 28:1, except for the last clause. Instead of Israel’s being set high above all the nations of the earth, “all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you” (same verbs as 28:2) The presence of this curse language, also found in various ancient Near Eastern treaties, emphasizes the seriousness of infidelity in Israel’s relationship with Yahweh.

B. (:16-19) Comprehensive Spheres of Cursing

1. (:16) Where You Live

“Cursed shall you be in the city,

and cursed shall you be in the country.”

2. (:17) What You Eat

“Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.”

3. (:18) What You Produce

a. Children

“Cursed shall be the offspring of your body”

b. Crops

“and the produce of your ground,”

c. Livestock

“the increase of your herd and the young of your flock.”

4. (:19) Where You Go – Daily Activities

“Cursed shall you be when you come in,

and cursed shall you be when you go out.”


A. (:20) Summary Introduction –

Variety of Curses Leading to Destruction Due to Wicked Covenant Disloyalty

“The LORD will send upon you curses, confusion, and rebuke, in all you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly,

on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken Me.”

Daniel Block: The opening declaration (v. 20) may be interpreted as a heading for the entire section, summarizing the key issues in the imprecations:

(1) the source of Israel’s doom;

(2) the agents of doom;

(3) the scope of doom;

(4) the goal of doom; and

(5) the reason for Israel’s doom.

Verses 20 and 45–46 frame the first volley of woes, announcing the issues involved. While linked in substance, the styles of these bookends differ.

– Whereas verse 20 has Yahweh dispatching the agents of Israel’s doom, verse 45 compares the curses to an animal pursuing and overtaking its prey.

– Whereas in verse 20 Yahweh commissions a triad of agents of doom against Israel, verse 45 replaces these with a triad of verbs.

– Whereas verse 20 identifies the targets of doom as the work of the Israelites’ hands, verse 45 identifies the Israelites themselves as the targets.

– Whereas verse 20 declares that Yahweh’s actions against Israel are precipitated by the people’s evil deeds and their abandonment of Yahweh, verse 45 specifies the offenses as refusing to obey Yahweh, not keeping his commands and decrees.

– The reference to the long-range effects of Yahweh’s actions against Israel in verse 46 represents the most striking difference between these borders: They will be a “sign” and “wonder” forever.

B. (:21) Pestilence

“The LORD will make the pestilence cling to you until He has consumed you from the land, where you are entering to possess it.”

Eugene Merrill: Most immediately, however, destruction and ruin would come through disease, blight, and unremitting drought. The nature of the sickness is unclear since the generic term deber is used (v. 21). Whatever it is, it will be chronic, as the verb form indicates (hidbîq, “cause to cling to”). There will be no relief until the Lord has “finished you off” (lit., “destroyed you,” v. 21) in the land. This no doubt refers to physical disease that would ravage the land from time to time (cf. 2 Sam 24:13; 1 Kgs 8:37; Ezek 5:12; Amos 4:10), but in its finality it speaks metaphorically of the affliction of deportation (Lev 26:25) or disinheritance (Num 14:12).

C. (:22-23) Overwhelming Difficulties

1. (:22) Seven Destructive Afflictions

“The LORD will smite you with consumption and with fever and with inflammation and with fiery heat and with the sword and with blight and with mildew, and they shall pursue you until you perish.”

Daniel Block: In verse 22 Moses becomes more specific, listing seven afflictions with which Yahweh will strike his people. The catalogue of seven afflictions expresses Yahweh’s sovereignty over all agents of death and destruction. . . “Blight” apparently refers to premature drying of grain growing in the fields, perhaps because of the desiccating effect of scorching east wind. “Mildew” seems to involve pathological yellowing of grain, attributable to plant disease, inadequate nutrients in the soil, or drought.

Michael Grisanti: vv. 22-24 — Moses then lists seven afflictions, signifying the comprehensive nature of these curses (as “seven” is commonly the number for completion). The first three are clearly human diseases (consumption, fever, and inflammation). The last three describe climatic or agricultural conditions. The fourth term, which means “feverish heat,” could refer to either category (an illness [Craigie, 343] or severe heat [NIV; Merrill, Deuteronomy, 359]). All seven terms can be associated with heat. The diseases will plague them personally or their crops “until you perish.”

2. (:23) Cosmic Opposition

“And the heaven which is over your head shall be bronze,

and the earth which is under you, iron.”

Daniel Block: These verses echo Leviticus 26:19, which also portrays the heavens as a sheet of metal preventing moisture above the firmament from watering the earth, and the ground as hardened and resisting cultivation.

Eugene Merrill: As impervious as these metals are to water and tools, so both the heavens and the earth would be in the day of calamity. The rains would not leak through the skies, nor would the earth be able to be broken up to receive the farmer’s seed. Instead, the heavens would rain down dust, which would only exacerbate an already hopeless situation on the earth (v. 24; cf. 11:17).

D. (:24) Crop Failure

“The LORD will make the rain of your land powder and dust;

from heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed.”

E. (:25-26) Military Defeat

“The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out one way against them, but you shall flee seven ways before them, and you shall be an example of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 26 And your carcasses shall be food to all birds of the sky and to the beasts of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away.”

F. (:27) Incurable Skin Ailments

“The LORD will smite you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors

and with the scab and with the itch, from which you cannot be healed.”

Daniel Block: The curses in verses 27–29a, 34 threaten the personal health of the Israelites. A pair of identical clauses highlights Yahweh’s role in Israel’s future disaster (vv. 27a, 28a, cf. v. 35a), to be followed by a list of agents he will engage. The seven listed here correspond to the seven listed after the same principal clause in verse 22, though now the first four involve incurable skin ailments, while the last three are psychosomatic and psychological in nature.

G. (:28-34) Psychological Attacks

1. (:28-29a) Psychosomatic Afflictions

“The LORD will smite you with madness and with blindness and with bewilderment of heart; 29 and you shall grope at noon, as the blind man gropes in darkness,”

2. (:29b) Material Deprivation and Physical Danger

“and you shall not prosper in your ways; but you shall only be oppressed and robbed continually, with none to save you.”

3. (:30-33) Emotional Frustration Due to Violated Expectations = Futility Curses

a. (:30a) The Futility of Betrothal

“You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall violate her;”

MacArthur: v. 30 – These 3 curses were in contrast to the exemptions from military service granted in 20:5-7. The exemptions were possible because God would grant His people victory in battle. Disobedient to the Lord, however, would mean that God would no longer fight for His people. Those normally exempted from military service would be forced to fight and be killed.

b. (:30b) The Futility of Home Construction

“you shall build a house, but you shall not live in it;”

c. (:30c) The Futility of Agricultural Labors

“you shall plant a vineyard, but you shall not use its fruit.”

d. (:31) The Futility of Owning Livestock

1) Ox

“Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes,

but you shall not eat of it;”

2) Donkey

“your donkey shall be torn away from you,

and shall not be restored to you;”

3) Sheep

“your sheep shall be given to your enemies,

and you shall have none to save you.”

Duane Christensen: The center of this structure (vv 30–31) contains a list of calamities that essentially undo the blessings of vv 4, 8, and 11. Everything the people of Israel have will be taken by those who conquer them: their fiancées will be raped, their homes and vineyards taken, their oxen slaughtered, their asses and sheep stolen, their children enslaved, and their produce consumed.

e. (:32) The Futility of Family Relationships

“Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes shall look on and yearn for them continually; but there shall be nothing you can do.”

Daniel Block: The Israelites’ children will be seized and delivered over to merchants to be sold in the international slave trade. Parents will look on helplessly and spend the rest of their lives “crying their eyes out” for them.

f. (:34) The Futility of Hard Work

“A people whom you do not know shall eat up the produce of your ground and all your labors, and you shall never be anything but oppressed and crushed continually.”

4. (:34) Unhinged Mental State

“And you shall be driven mad by the sight of what you see.”

H. (:35) Incurable Boils

“The LORD will strike you on the knees and legs with sore boils, from which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head.”

Earl Kalland: Blow upon blow continues. What the people would see – the devastated land, ruined by drought and marauding armies; their possessions gone; their bodies sickened; the many dead; their children taken captive into a wretched condition – would drive them insane (v. 34).

I. (:36-44) Relentless Opposition

1. (:36) Physical Opposition — Oppressive Captivity

“The LORD will bring you and your king, whom you shall set over you, to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone.”

2. (:37) Psychological Opposition — Humiliating Disgrace

“And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a taunt among all the people where the LORD will drive you.”

3. (:38-44) Productivity Opposition — Futility Curses

“You shall bring out much seed to the field but you shall gather in little, for the locust shall consume it. 39 You shall plant and cultivate vineyards, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall devour them. 40 You shall have olive trees throughout your territory but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives shall drop off. 41 You shall have sons and daughters but they shall not be yours, for they shall go into captivity. 42 The cricket shall possess all your trees and the produce of your ground. 43 The alien who is among you shall rise above you higher and higher, but you shall go down lower and lower. 44 He shall lend to you, but you shall not lend to him; he shall be the head, and you shall be the tail.”

Michael Grisanti: Verses 38–41 present a painful contrast between a significant expenditure of labor and having nothing to show for it. Notice the repeated pattern:

Sow much seed / harvest little / harvest consumed by locusts

Plant and cultivate vineyards / no wine to drink / grapes consumed by worms

Have numerous olive trees / no oil to use / olives drop off prematurely

Have sons and daughters / no enjoyment of their company / children go into captivity

J. (:45-46) Summary Conclusion

1. (:45) Inescapable Destruction Due to Disobedience

“So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the LORD your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you.”

2. (:46) Shocking and Shameful Legacy

“And they shall become a sign and a wonder on you

and your descendants forever.”

Michael Grisanti: The pair “signs and wonders” commonly signifies anything that testifies to Yahweh’s presence and power (Dt 4:34; 7:19; 26:8; 29:3 [2]; Jer 32:21).

Duane Christensen: The structure of 28:45–68 may be outlined in a similar five-part concentric structure, a “wheel within a wheel”:

A These curses will pursue you until you are destroyed 28:45

B Israel’s utter privation—in lack of everything 28:46–48

X Military siege and the undoing of God’s blessings 28:49–52

B´ Israel reduced to cannibalism—in lack of everything 28:53–57

A´ Complete reversal of Israel’s history until you are destroyed 28:58–68

Eugene Merrill: The inevitable calamities that befall the disobedient nation would be indelibly engraved in their memories and forever after would witness to the truth that the Lord and his covenant will cannot be flaunted.


Gerald Gerbrandt: In this larger block of curses, the focus is narrowed to portray the catastrophe resulting from siege and defeat at the hand of the enemy. Because Israel did not serve God, it will serve the enemy (vv. 47–48). Conventional images and language are employed with gruesome effect to describe what happens to a people when an enemy comes and besieges a city, causing starvation, cannibalism, and the loss of all dignity. In the process the land and the children God has given will be lost.

A. (:47-48) Root Causes and Summary Consequences

1. (:47) Root Causes

“Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things;”

2. (:48) Summary Consequences

“therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD shall send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.”

Eugene Merrill: To fail to serve would result in Israel’s being given over to another sovereign whom they would serve until they were utterly decimated (v. 48). The service this time would not be marked by joy (im â) and gladness (b ûb l b b, lit., “with goodness of heart”) but with their very opposite, destitution and deprivation. It would be onerous slavery like that of prisoners of war led about with iron yokes upon their necks.

B. (:49-52) Relentless Tactics of the Lord’s Agents of Destruction

1. (:49-50) Ruthless Resolve of the Attacking Enemy

“The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand, 50 a nation of fierce countenance who shall have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young.”

Daniel Block: Verses 49–50 characterize Yahweh’s agent of doom with five bold brushstrokes, each of which intensifies the terror of Israel’s demise.

(1) The enemy will come “from the ends of the earth.” What is near is familiar; what is distant is mysterious and fearful.

(2) The enemy will be fast. Like an eagle swooping down on his prey, he will attack his targets suddenly and without warning.

(3) The enemy will speak an unintelligible language. This rules out negotiations and contributes to horror.

(4) The enemy will be “fierce-looking” (lit., “strong of face”), which expresses both the terror of a victim and the resolve of the attacker.

(5) The enemy will be heartless, showing no respect for the aged or mercy toward the young.

MacArthur: God would raise up a nation to act as His own instrument of judgment against His ungrateful people. This foreign nation was described as coming from a far distance from Israel, a nation that would arise quickly and one that would completely devastate the Land. This was fulfilled first by Assyria (Is 5:26; 7:18-20; 28:11; 37:18; Hos 8:1) and second, by Babylon (Jer 5:15; La 4:19; Eze 17:3; Hab 1:6-8).

2. (:51) Comprehensive Consumption by the Attacking Enemy

“Moreover, it shall eat the offspring of your herd and the produce of your ground until you are destroyed, who also leaves you no grain, new wine, or oil, nor the increase of your herd or the young of your flock until they have caused you to perish.”

3. (:52) Suffocating Siege by the Attacking Enemy

“And it shall besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls in which you trusted come down throughout your land, and it shall besiege you in all your towns throughout your land which the LORD your God has given you.”

Michael Grisanti: This last indictment (“walls in which you trust,” v.52) is Israel’s fundamental problem. Yahweh repeatedly demanded that his covenantal nation trust him. He demonstrated his stupendous power and willingness to intervene in their behalf on numerous occasions. Nevertheless, on too many occasions in the face of an insuperable challenge (humanly speaking), the chosen nation either turned back (cf. Nu 13–14; Dt 1:28) or resorted to other sources of strength (political alliances, idolatry, etc.). Their refusal to trust in their covenantal Lord led to their rebellion and idolatry and, eventually, to their experience of covenantal curse.

C. (:53-57) Radical Cannibalism in Desperate Times

1. (:53) Monstrous Cannibalism Described

“Then you shall eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters whom the LORD your God has given you, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy shall oppress you.”

MacArthur: The unthinkable activity of cannibalism is introduced in v. 53 and then illustrated in the verses that follow (see 2KI 6:28, 29; La 2:20; 4:10).

2. (:54-55) Monstrous Cannibalism by Even the Most Refined Man

“The man who is refined and very delicate among you shall be hostile toward his brother and toward the wife he cherishes and toward the rest of his children who remain, 55 so that he will not give even one of them any of the flesh of his children which he shall eat, since he has nothing else left, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy shall oppress you in all your towns.”

3. (:56-57) Monstrous Cannibalism by Even the Most Refined Woman

“The refined and delicate woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground for delicateness and refinement, shall be hostile toward the husband she cherishes and toward her son and daughter, 57 and toward her afterbirth which issues from between her legs and toward her children whom she bears; for she shall eat them secretly for lack of anything else, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy shall oppress you in your towns.”

Daniel Block: Both panels also depict men and women turning against members of their own families. The image of the woman who becomes hostile even toward her afterbirth is shocking (vv. 56–57a). Verses 55 and 57b paint two pictures of unspeakable horror. The first image is tragic: Exhibiting no compassion toward his brothers and remaining children, the father refuses to share with them the flesh of his children. The second is grotesque: The mother secretly eats her children, and like an animal she also devours the afterbirth.

Eugene Merrill: The intensity of the distress is emphasized by the fact that parents would eat their children, their only hope of earthly remembrance and posterity (v. 53). And not just the most crass or barbaric among them would do so. The gentlest soul would abandon all restraint and loyalty and in his hour of self-preservation would feed upon his own precious loved ones (v. 54), not retaining a shred of generosity toward others in similar plight (v. 55). The basest human (or animal?) instincts would prevail when choice had to be made between one’s own life and another’s.

Lest it be thought that the maternal side of womanhood might preclude such abhorrent behavior, the text goes on to reveal, in terms that stagger the imagination, that women so refined and genteel as to avoid touching the ground with unshod feet would not hesitate to consume their own offspring (vv. 56-57a). In fact, they would keep for themselves their newborn infants and even the afterbirth even if it meant that their husbands and other children had to do without and starve. These they would hoard and eat secretly to preserve themselves in that day of unspeakable horror.


A. (:58-62) Final Warning – What Will Happen If You Disobey God’s Law?

1. (:58) Obligation to Obey and Fear God

“If you are not careful to observe all the words of this law which are written in this book, to fear this honored and awesome name, the LORD your God,”

MacArthur: Significantly, the phrase “the Lord your God” is used approximately 280 times in the book of Deuteronomy. The full measure of the divine curse would come on Israel when its disobedience had been hardened into disregard for the glorious and awesome character of God.

Earl Kalland: This glorious and awesome name speaks of his essence, character, and reputation as the God of the promises, the true and living God revealed to the people, particularly at Horeb (Sinai).

2. (:59-62) Overturning of Previous Blessings into Extraordinary Curses

a. (:59-61) Severe Plagues and Sicknesses

“then the LORD will bring extraordinary plagues on you and your descendants,

even severe and lasting plagues,

and miserable and chronic sicknesses.

And He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you.

Also every sickness and every plague which, not written in the book of this law, the LORD will bring on you until you are destroyed.”

Peter Craigie: First, the general principle is expressed; disobedience to the law of God invites the curse of God (vv. 58–59). The potential actions of God described in the verses that follow are not the mindless or capricious acts of an unknown and malevolent deity; they are the just acts of a righteous God whose covenant love would have been spurned by his own people. The curses following, reversing the blessings of God which the Israelites had already begun to experience, constitute a final, awesome warning to the Israelites who are now engaged in the last part of the renewal of the covenant in Moab.

b. (:62) Severe Depopulation

“Then you shall be left few in number, whereas you were as the stars of heaven for multitude, because you did not obey the LORD your God.”

Eugene Merrill: The result would be a greatly reduced population. The nation that was “as numerous as the stars in the sky” (v. 62) would end up with a comparative handful of people. This was clearly a judgment on covenant violation as the repetition of the conditional protasis clause (“because you did not obey the LORD your God”) puts beyond doubt. Moreover, the reduction of numbers from the uncountable stars to the remnant is a deliberate harking back to the covenant promise made to Abraham that his offspring would be as multitudinous as the stars (Gen 15:5; 22:17; cf. Deut 1:10; 10:22). If increased population is a sign of the blessing of covenant fidelity, population decline is a sign of covenant unfaithfulness. The contrast is further defined by v. 63: just as the Lord had increased Israel’s numbers and prosperity, he would, in judgment, decrease them in the day of his wrath. No less tragic and stark would be the reversal of the covenant promise concerning the land. Whereas God at one time had sworn to give the land of Canaan to the patriarchs and their offspring (Gen 15:7, 18-21; 17:8), he would in a future day remove them from it because of their disobedience (v. 63). Thus decrease in population and eviction from the land answer point by point (and in the same order) the matching blessings of number and land in the original promise passages (Gen 15:5-7; 17:4-8).

B. (:63-68) Hopeless Condition — How Bad Will It Get?

1. (:63) Torn from the Promised Land

“And it shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you shall be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it.”

2. (:64) Scattered and Subjected to Foreign Bondage

“Moreover, the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known.”

3. (:65-68) Destined to Despair of Soul

“And among those nations you shall find no rest, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. 66 So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you shall be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. 67 In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you shall see. 68 And the LORD will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by the way about which I spoke to you, ‘You will never see it again!’ And there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.”

Jack Deere: Israel had been permitted to serve the Lord but now she would be compelled to serve idols (v. 64). Once she lived in security, but now she would live in anxiety, despair, and in constant suspense and fear for her life (vv. 65-66). To escape her misery she will long for night to come and then for the daytime. God had delivered her from bondage in Egypt, but the people would voluntarily return to that misery and in such a humiliated condition that no Egyptian would purchase them as slaves.