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Deuteronomy: The Second Law - Speech 8

A commentary on the eighth speech of Moses in Deuteronomy 27-28. The book of Deuteronomy is a series of 12 speeches that Moses gave just before his death at the end of Israel's wilderness journey.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 5

The Famine Curse

After giving us the blessings for obedience, Moses then devotes the rest of his tenth speech to the curses for disobedience. These begin with Deut. 28:15,

15 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, that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.

The laws of God are the laws of nature. Therefore, there are what men call “natural consequences” to every act, including national laws and policies. Good laws will result in good consequences, while bad laws will have destructive results. The bad “natural consequences” are called “curses” in biblical terminology.

We must also keep in mind that the judgment fits the crime. Bad farming practices will result in pollution and food contamination. Bad economic policies will result in poverty and debt. Unjust laws will result in injustice. Abolishing God’s land laws will result in people being disinherited, while more and more land is appropriated the by few who are rich. Abolishing God’s welfare laws will result in many poor people starving in the streets. Most of all, removing God from His rightful place as King will inevitably see the righteous persecuted and the eventual destruction of the nation itself.

The path to destruction, however, tends to be a long one. The mercy of God seems to allow the nation to get away with small sins at first, but in time they become an avalanche, destroying everything good in its path.

The Cursed Cities

Deut. 28:16 says,

16 Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country.

In the laws of the Kingdom, cities were small residential areas that were often walled for defense. The people lived near their fields, where they grew food or grazed their flocks. The city limits measured 2,000 cubits (or about 3,000 feet) in all directions from houses or the wall (Num. 35:5).

By the inheritance laws of the Kingdom, every family was given a land inheritance, which could not be sold permanently (Lev. 25:23), nor could it be taxed or confiscated by the government. Only God might disinherit the people by sending them into captivity. As we will see, Deut. 28:48 speaks of a “yoke of iron” in which God could root the people out of the land and send them into captivity to foreign lands. A lesser form of captivity, revealed in Jer. 27:2 as a yoke of wood, was when God sold Israel to other nations, but the Israelites were not removed from their land. Instead, they only paid taxes to those other nations.

City property could be bought and sold, if the city had a wall around it (Lev. 25:29-31). The seller, however, was given the right of redemption for a full year in case he changed his mind.

When these basic laws of the Kingdom are violated or replaced by the laws of carnally minded men, the nation begins its long trek into poverty, disinheritance, hardship, and ultimate destruction.

The Cursed Farmland

Kingdom law gives every family a land inheritance, so they are able to grow their own food and reap the fruit of their labor. Kingdom tax rates remained fixed at ten percent, known as a tithe. There was no “graduated income tax.” Everyone paid ten percent of whatever he harvested, plus the third-year tithe, and first fruits offerings.

When the church was “crowned” on Pentecost, God expected the believers to act like Kingdom citizens. Their faith in Jesus Christ implied obedience to His laws, which He had given to Moses and explained further through the writings of the prophets. Unfortunately, however, the church soon did exactly what Israel had done earlier. They cast aside the law, replacing it with their own traditions of men, even as the rabbis had done earlier.

When the Emperor Justinian revamped Roman law to reflect “Christian law” in 529 A.D., he established the Feudal System, rather than the laws of the Kingdom. The Feudal System gave land rights to the few “nobles” and enslaved the rest of the people to them as serfs. The serfs worked the land and normally paid 30% of their produce to their “lords.”

This was the system established by the “little horn” prophesied in Daniel 7:8 and verses 19-21. The result, Daniel saw, was that this little horn system waged war on the saints and overpowered them until the beast nations had run their course. It started when the emperor changes the laws of the empire. At the same time, the emperor changed the calendar. Instead of dating each year according to the year of Rome’s founding (A.U.C.), the years began to be dated from the birth of Jesus (A.D.) In making these two major changes, the emperor fulfilled the prophecy in Daniel 7:25, saying, “he will intend to make alterations in times and in law.”

The point is that the Feudal System formed the basic land law that ensured the enslavement and oppression of the people. They called themselves Christians, but they violated the laws of the Kingdom. Hence, instead of ensuring freedom and prosperity for the people, they enslaved and impoverished them for many centuries.

The result of God’s curse on the land is seen in Deut. 28:19,

17 Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.

The “basket” represented the produce of the ground, which they would gather in baskets. The “kneading bowl” was the bowl in which they kneaded their bread for baking. Together, these represent the people’s food supply, which was supposed to come from the ground that God had blessed. Instead, their food was cursed with unjust taxes that had to be paid to the lord (landlord) who had been given ownership of the land by the king or emperor.

Our Cursed Offspring

Deut. 28:18, 19 continues,

18 Cursed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock. 19 Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.

This shows the interconnection between land laws and slavery itself. If the land is cursed on account of its unjust laws of land and inheritance, then so are our bodies, which are made of the dust of the ground.

Our wellbeing is bound up in the land itself. From the beginning, man was made of the dust of the ground and even named after the ground from whence he was taken. The Hebrew word for “ground” is adama, and so Adam was named accordingly to identify him with the ground. Hence, the use of the ground would reflect upon our bodies. The curse on the ground in Gen. 3:17 also cursed our bodies with death, making them mortal.

It requires an immortal people to release the earth from its curse and to set all of creation free. Unfortunately, most Christians do not appreciate their earthly roots, and they spend most of their time yearning to be free of it. It is proper to yearn for freedom from the curse of sin and its fatal result, but our purpose and calling is to set the earth free so that it may do what it was created to do. Its purpose was to be an expression of the will and mind of the Creator and to be filled with His glory.

When God created the earth, He pronounced it “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Sin came later, bringing corruption to creation. The Hebrew perspective is that both spirit and matter is good, while the Greek concept taught that only spirit was good, while matter was inherently evil. In fact, they believed that the demiurge (devil) created matter, whereas the Bible says that “God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).

The difference in viewpoints about creation demanded opposite conclusions in their views of the end of all things. The Greeks sought to separate matter and spirit and thereby escape the physical creation. The Hebrews sought to merge spirit and matter, so that the earth would once again manifest and express the glory of God.

So also, much of the church today reflects these two differences. Those who promote the Greek view seek to escape the earth and to dwell in heaven in a purely spiritual state. Those who promote the Hebrew view seek the day when the glory of God covers the earth as the waters cover the sea.

The Greek view has spawned the Rapture idea, while the Hebrew view sees the coming of the Messiah in terms of the fulfillment of the biblical feast days.

The divine law defines proper relationships between God and man and between spirit and the earth. Man himself is a spirit being in a body made of earth. God’s purpose was to create beings who were both Son of man (adama, “earthy”) as well as Son of God (heavenly), so that they would retain authority in both realms. This combination was pronounced “very good” by the Creator Himself, so man should not call good evil, nor evil good.

Sin—not creation—has put the earth under the curse, for Gen. 3:17 says, “cursed is the ground because of you,” that is, because of the actions of Adam and Eve. That curse was legally reversed when the perfect Man, the Last Adam, died on the cross and was raised from the dead. The manifestation of this new condition will occur when the overcomers are raised and perfected in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6). The next main phase of restoration will occur at the general resurrection of the dead (Rev. 20:11-13).

The full restoration will occur at the end of the age of judgment at Creation’s Jubilee. The Jubilee cancels all remaining debts and brings every man back to his inheritance.

Meanwhile, the law reveals how the curse on the earth continues to be perpetuated through Israel’s repudiation of the divine law.  Through their violation of the law, “cursed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground” (Deut. 28:18). Land and people are both cursed at the same time. Because man is made of the dust of the ground, any curse upon man is immediately extended to all the ground over which he exercises authority.

Sin Curses All Actions and Projects

Deut. 28:20 continues,

20 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.

All you undertake to do” has come under this curse, because life is sustained by the ground itself. Yet more than that, Israel’s persistent violation of the law was to bring about national disinheritance and captivity. Deportation to other lands certainly affects everything that the people do. Further, when people are under divine judgment, life can be quite difficult, even though submitting to His judgment can greatly ease the disruption and can even bring prosperity.

We see this, for instance, in the example of Joseph, whose exile in Egypt foreshadowed that of his descendants first in Egypt and later in Assyria. Joseph prospered temporarily in the house of Potiphar and later in a much greater way under Pharaoh. Throughout history, while Israel (as a nation) was under the “curse” of divine judgment, some individuals within the nation were blessed in many ways. Not only Joseph but also Jeremiah and the Daniel were blessed though they lived in captivity. Jesus was born under the dominion of Rome, and yet He was blessed along with His disciples.

Therefore, we must keep in mind both levels of fulfillment, national and individual. Just because a nation is cursed, does not mean every individual is cursed. Just because a nation like Moab was cursed does not mean that Ruth could not reverse the curse for herself as an individual. Just because Egypt came under the curse at the time of the Exodus does not prohibit many Egyptians from joining with Israel. The same can be said of Edom and the cursed tree of Judah. There is always a path whereby individuals may step out of the curse into the blessing of God. Such is the nature of God’s grace, mercy, and love.

Seven Forms of Pestilence

After this, Moses launches into a very extensive description of the curses for disobedience. Deut. 28:21, 22 says,

21 The Lord will make the pestilence cling to you until He has consumed you from the land, where you are entering to possess it. 22 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.

The “sword” is only one such enemy. This appears to correlate with verse 7, where, if the nation was obedient, the Lord was to “cause your enemies… to be defeated before you.” Their disobedience brings their enemies against them. In connecting verse 7 with verses 21 and 22, we see that disease, sickness, blight and mildew are among the enemies that God will raise up to curse the nation that is disobedient. Ultimately, of course, the final enemy is death itself (1 Cor. 15:26).

It should also be noted that if enemies attack the obedient, “they shall come out against you one way and shall flee before you seven ways.” Conversely, if the nation is disobedient, these enemies will come in seven ways and flee only “one way,” that is, occasionally. Hence, Moses specifies seven of these pestilences in verse 22:

1.   Consumption

2.   fever

3.   inflammation

4.   fiery heat

5.   sword

6.   blight

7.   mildew

Solomon mentioned this in his official prayer when the temple was being dedicated. We read in 2 Chron. 6:28-30,

28 If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence, if there is blight or mildew, if there is locust or grasshopper, if their enemies besiege them in the land of their cities, whatever plague or whatever sickness there is, 29 whatever prayer or supplication is made by any man or by all Thy people Israel, each knowing his own affliction and his own pain, and spreading his hands toward this house, 30 then hear Thou from heaven Thy dwelling place, and forgive, and render to each according to all his ways, whose heart Thou knowest, for Thou alone dost know the hearts of the sons of men.

It is plain that Solomon, like Moses, considered sickness, blight, mildew, to be enemies in the same category as those who might invade or besiege them. Solomon clearly understood that God was in full control of these “natural” events and also had full control of Israel’s enemies and their motives.

Famine in the Land

One of the plagues or enemies Solomon mentioned in verse 28 above was “famine”, which is a consequence of having no rain to water the crops. Moses too speaks of this in Deut. 28:23, 24,

23 And the heaven which is over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you, iron. 24 The Lord will make the rain of your land powder and dust; from heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed.

Moses recognized that God controls the rain and thereby also the national economy. Drought, then, was attributed to God’s purpose, whether as judgment for sin or to motivate people to some other course of action. The Scriptures mention thirteen famines:

  1. Genesis 12:10 (Abraham goes to Egypt)
  2. Genesis 26:1 (Isaac goes to Gerar)
  3. Genesis 41:54 (According to Pharaoh’s dream)
  4. Ruth 1:1 (Ruth’s family goes to Moab)
  5. 2 Samuel 21:1 (In the time of David)
  6. 1 Kings 18:2 (In the time of Elijah)
  7. 2 Kings 4:38 (In the time of Elisha)
  8. 2 Kings 7:4 (In the siege of Samaria)
  9. 2 Kings 25:3 (In the siege of Jerusalem)
  10. Nehemiah 5:3 (The mortgage problem)
  11. Jeremiah 14:1-3 (In Judah)
  12. Luke 15:14 (In the parable of the Prodigal Son)
  13. Acts 11:28 (Prophesied by Agabus)

The number thirteen means disobedience or rebellion. The fact that there were thirteen famines shows that famine is the result of divine judgment for disobedience and rebellion. See my book, The Biblical Meaning of Numbers.

David’s Famine

The fifth famine (2 Sam. 21:1), which occurred during the time of David, lasted three years. When David inquired of the Lord about it, God revealed that it was on account of the sin of King Saul many years earlier. Keep in mind that this famine occurred toward the end of David’s life. Saul had died perhaps more than 30 years earlier.

God told David, “It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” Gibeon was a Canaanite city that made peace with Joshua during Israel’s invasion of Canaan (Josh. 9:15). Saul found an excuse to persecute the Gibeonites, perhaps justifying their actions on the grounds that the Gibeonites had tricked Joshua.

But God disagreed with Saul. Hence, God sent a three-year famine upon Israel, not during Saul’s reign but many years later in the time of David. The fault was laid at the doorstep of Saul, but David had to deal with it and restore the lawful order.

David asked the Gibeonites what he could do, and they demanded the death of seven of Saul’s descendants. (This implies that Saul had killed seven of the Gibeonites.) David complied with their request and delivered the seven to the Gibeonites, who hanged them on the first day of barley harvest, that is, the day of the wave-sheaf offering (2 Sam. 21:9). The wave-sheaf offering commemorated Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea, where they were baptized from death to life under the cloud and in the sea (1 Cor. 10:1, 2). Jesus later fulfilled this prophetic type by His resurrection from the dead.

This is a prophetic story of the Church, for King Saul—crowned on Pentecost, or the day of wheat harvest in 1 Sam. 12:17—was a type of the Church under Pentecost. The seven descendants of Saul are The Seven Churches of Revelation 2 and 3. It suggests that the Church under Pentecost will not inherit the First Resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6) that is prophesied by the first harvest—the barley harvest.

In other words, the Church in general will have to wait for the general resurrection of the dead, which is said to occur a thousand years later (Rev. 20:7, 12). For a fuller study of this, see my book, The Purpose of Resurrection.

The Famine of Hearing the Word

There is a fourteenth famine mentioned in Amos 8:11, which says,

11 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “When I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord.”

This is not an ordinary famine for literal food, but a more serious lack of hearing and understanding the word of God. I believe that the world has been in this famine for many years already. There is a serious lack of understanding of the word of God. Many great truths seem to be locked. Men read the Scriptures without understanding, as did the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:30, 31. They read but are unable to make sense of it. Amos 8:12 says,

12 And people will stagger from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.

The famine is not caused by their lack of seeking. Many people seek the word of the Lord and are willing to travel thousands of miles to get it. There is a deeper problem. Our forefathers have been breaking treaties for a long time, and God has brought this famine to judge us.

Our forefathers understood America to be like the New Canaan. They believed God brought them here to establish the Kingdom of God. This was seen as a direct parallel to Joshua leading Israel into the Promised Land. Unfortunately, many did not fully grasp the difference between the Old and New Covenants, and so they often saw Joshua’s war of conquest as the model for them to follow.

They should have understood that the New Covenant had given them the Sword of the Spirit by which to conquer not only America but ultimately the whole world. As a result of this shortcoming, many of the Native Americans were treated as Canaanites, and many carnally-minded men felt justified in engaging in a war of genocide.

Is it a coincidence that in the mid-1800’s the rise of Dispensational-ism occurred, which has brought about a famine of hearing the word? This viewpoint brought in the modern idea of the Rapture, instead of understanding the Feast of Tabernacles. It brought in Christian Zionism, where the Old Jerusalem has replaced the New Jerusalem as the “mother” of the Kingdom. It brought in the idea of a single Antichrist, which replaced John’s view of many antichrists. It brought in the idea of a future “Great Tribulation,” which ran contrary to the Laws of Tribulation that Scripture sets forth.

All of these things are far too extensive for our study here, but each of the main topics are covered in my book, Daniel’s Seventy Weeks.

In my view, Dispensationalism, which is now standard Evangelical and Pentecostal eschatology, has been God’s way of causing the end-time famine of hearing the word of the Lord. It has also prevented the Church from seeing the cause of this problem—or even seeing its connection to the famine caused by the house of Saul.

But the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit is near, in which this famine will end. Men will repent when the Spirit convicts them (John 16:8) and leads them into all truth (John 16:13).