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Podcast Episode

Covenant Curses

In the final movement of Deuteronomy, there’s a pretty lengthy list of curses that will fall upon Israel if they break their covenant with Yahweh. But what exactly is a curse? Why are there so many of them, and what do they have to do with Israel’s covenant with Yahweh? In this episode, Tim and Jon talk about blessings and curses, ancient Near Eastern law code, and the choice all humans have between death or life.

Episode 7
59m
November 14, 2022
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Show Notes
Episodes

QUOTE

In a way, the blessings and curses are kind of a defense of Yahweh’s integrity to say Yahweh was being faithful to the terms of the covenant as Israel agreed to them … which makes the redemption from exile even more brilliant of a gem shining in the dark … The curse will come, but also, Yahweh will show mercy so the curse doesn’t get the last word.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Yahweh’s blessing is an invitation to be fruitful and multiply and participate in God’s life-sustaining power in a secure, abundant environment. A curse is the inverse—not a vindictive punishment from God. But when humans choose to reject the blessing of life, they automatically choose death.
  • The covenant curses of Deuteronomy parallel common rhetorical techniques of other ancient Near Eastern law treaties. When two nations entered into a covenant with each other, the terms usually included a lengthy list of curses so that the two parties would understand the stakes of the agreement.
  • Just like Adam and Eve at the tree and Abraham at the oaks of Moreh, Israel meets Yahweh at the edge of the garden land, surrounded by trees and mountains. And the nation has a choice to make: Will the people trust Yahweh’s word?

Life and Death, Blessing and Curse

In part one (00:00-18:28), Tim and Jon dive into the final movement of Deuteronomy and begin tracing the words “blessing” and “curse.” You may remember these key words from the second movement of Genesis, and that’s no accident. Deuteronomy and Genesis form mirrored bookends to the Torah, and the theme of blessing and curse shows up more in those two scrolls than anywhere else in the Torah.

In Genesis and in Deuteronomy, Yahweh’s blessing is an invitation to be fruitful and multiply and participate in God’s life-sustaining power in a secure, abundant environment. A curse is the inverse—not a vindictive punishment from God. But when humans choose to reject the blessing of life, they automatically choose death. God’s blessing has everything to do with his power to create order and abundance out of chaos. So when God hands humans over to the curse, they enter into the state at which the cosmos existed before God brought order to the chaos. To make choices that separate you from the one who is the source of all life puts you in the realm of death and destruction.

Ancient Near Eastern Law Code

In part two (18:28-40:25), Tim and Jon explore the terms of Yahweh’s covenant relationship with Israel, spelled out clearly in Israel’s laws. Obedience to the terms of the covenant results in blessing, but rebellion leads to curse.

In this last movement of Deuteronomy, the curses outnumber the blessings, acting as warnings of what will happen if Israel rebels against their covenant with Yahweh. This parallels common rhetorical techniques of other ancient Near Eastern law treaties. When two nations entered into a covenant with each other, the terms usually included a lengthy list of curses so that the two parties would understand the stakes of the agreement.

Back to the Mountain Garden

In part three (40:25-58:02), the guys take a closer look at Deuteronomy 27, an example of the types of covenant curses we find all over Deuteronomy and in other ancient Near Eastern law codes.

At the beginning of Deuteronomy 27, Moses instructs the people to divide themselves into two groups and ascend either Mount Gerizim or Mount Ebal. The group on Mount Gerizim would pronounce covenant blessings over Israel, and the group atop Mount Ebal would shout covenant curses (which the Israelites do in Joshua 23-24).

The instructions we read in Deuteronomy 27 are repeated from Deuteronomy 11, but there are some subtle differences woven into the two accounts by the biblical authors. In Deuteronomy 11:29-32, Moses describes the two mountains as being near the oaks of Moreh—the same oaks where Abraham met Yahweh when he first entered the land of Canaan. In Genesis 12, Abraham receives his first test of faith at the oaks of Moreh, which is connected to his last test of faith at Mount Moriah in Genesis 22. By connecting these events from Abraham’s life to Israel’s covenant with Yahweh, Moses is not only reminding them that Yahweh is fulfilling the promise he made to their forefathers but also that an even older principle is at work. The blessings of Eden are for humans who are faithful to Yahweh and the values of Eden (the mountain garden).

Just like Adam and Eve at the tree and Abraham at the oaks of Moreh, Israel meets Yahweh at the edge of the garden land, surrounded by trees and mountains. And the nation has a choice to make: Will the people trust Yahweh’s word? Will they choose the blessings that lead to true life or follow their own way and embrace curses and death?

Referenced Resources

  • The Context of Scripture: Canonical Compositions, Monumental Inscriptions, and Archival Documents from the Biblical World, William W. Hallo
  • Interested in more? Check out Tim’s library here.
  • You can experience the literary themes and movements we’re tracing on the podcast in the BibleProject app, available for Android and iOS.

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS
  • “In Minutes” by Shrimpnose
  • “I Won’t Wait for You (feat. Philanthrope)” by Psalm Trees and Guillaume Muschalle

Show produced by Cooper Peltz with Associate Producer Lindsey Ponder. Edited by Dan Gummel, Tyler Bailey, and Frank Garza. Podcast annotations for the BibleProject app by Hannah Woo.

Scripture References
Genesis 3
Deuteronomy 28
Deuteronomy 34
Genesis 1:1
Genesis 12
Genesis 3:17
Genesis 22
Deuteronomy 1-11
Joshua 23-24
Deuteronomy 32
Joshua 8
Deuteronomy 26-34
Deuteronomy 12
Genesis 49:28-33
Romans 1:24-1:32
Joshua 1:1-9
Deuteronomy 13-34
Deuteronomy 27:1-3
Deuteronomy 27:4
Deuteronomy 11:26-31
Deuteronomy 27:15-26

12 Episodes

Episode 12
Simkhat Torah: Celebrating a Year of Reading
When a Jewish synagogue finishes reading through the Torah together, they celebrate Simkhat Torah. What is Simkhat Torah? Find out on today’s episode as Jon and Tim reflect on our year-long journey through the Torah and look ahead to the rest of the TaNaK.
1hr 16m • December 19, 2022
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Episode 11
When Do Words Become a Blessing?
How do we know the biblical authors intended to link certain words and stories? When do someone’s words become a blessing? How do sacrifices actually atone for sins? In this episode, Tim and Jon respond to audience questions from a year’s worth of conversations about the Torah. Thank you to our audience for your questions!
1hr 4m • December 12, 2022
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Episode 10
Which Laws Still Apply?
Which ancient Israelite laws still apply today and which don’t? Should the law be divided into moral, civil, and ceremonial categories? And why did Jesus quote Deuteronomy when Satan tempted him? In this episode, Tim and Jon respond to audience questions about the Deuteronomy scroll. Thanks to our incredible audience for your questions.
59m • December 5, 2022
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Episode 9
Moses’ Final Words
Who are Yahweh’s children? For most of the Torah, the answer seems to be all of Israel. But in his final moments, Moses tells Israel that Yahweh’s true children are those who remain faithful to his covenant. In the final episode of our journey through the Torah, join Tim and Jon as they explore a prophetic poem that will set the tone for the rest of the TaNaK.
1hr 20m • November 28, 2022
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Episode 8
Can Anyone Live a Blessed Life?
Moses gives the least motivating pep talk ever in the third movement of Deuteronomy. He outlines God’s covenant and the various blessings and curses associated with it, and then he tells Israel, “You’re going to fail.” Talk about demoralizing! In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they explore the paradox of righteousness accomplished by divine sovereignty and human freedom through the lens of Deuteronomy and the New Testament writers.
1hr 27m • November 21, 2022
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Episode 7
Covenant Curses
In the final movement of Deuteronomy, there’s a pretty lengthy list of curses that will fall upon Israel if they break their covenant with Yahweh. But what exactly is a curse? Why are there so many of them, and what do they have to do with Israel’s covenant with Yahweh? In this episode, Tim and Jon talk about blessings and curses, ancient Near Eastern law code, and the choice all humans have between death or life.
59m • November 14, 2022
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Episode 6
Jesus, Marriage, and the Law
The Pharisees frequently tested Jesus on his knowledge of the law, and in Matthew 19, they grill him on a particularly challenging law about divorce. In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they wrap up the second movement of Deuteronomy by exploring Jesus’ understanding of the law and how it can help us interpret the Torah.
1hr 10m • November 7, 2022
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Episode 5
How Do We Use the Law Today?
Israel’s laws were meant to form them into people of wisdom who lived differently than the nations around them. But what wisdom can Christians gain from the law? In this episode, listen in as Tim and Jon discuss the wisdom the apostles gleaned from the law.
54m • October 31, 2022
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Episode 4
The Law … Again
In the second movement of Deuteronomy, Moses gives Israel the law … again. But this time, he’s not talking to a nomadic group of people wandering the desert—he’s talking to the next generation preparing to settle in a permanent home for the first time. As they move into the land, their laws and their lives will need to look a little different. But in what way? In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they discuss how the law was always meant to form Israel (and modern readers) into people of wisdom, justice, and righteousness.
1hr 14m • October 24, 2022
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Episode 3
Giants and Justice
In this episode, we once again encounter the Nephilim, the evil demon-human hybrid beings we first met in Genesis 6. Now they resurface as giants inhabiting Canaan, the land Yahweh promised to Israel. Join Tim and Jon as they tackle the complex issues of violent conquest, human and spiritual evil, and divine justice.
1hr 13m • October 17, 2022
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Episode 2
The Way to True Life
In the first movement of Deuteronomy, two words appear more frequently than any others—listen and love. Why did Moses emphasize these two words in his farewell speech to Israel? In this episode, Tim and Jon explore what it looks like to be loyal to Yahweh, the God unlike any other, who listens to humanity.
1hr 6m • October 10, 2022
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Episode 1
What’s the Point of Deuteronomy?
Have you ever wondered where the earliest sermons in the Bible are found? Moses’ final speech to Israel, found in Deuteronomy, is the first time we see what is essentially a modern sermon—a long speech meant to communicate God’s truth. Just as Israel is about to enter the promised land, Moses reminds them that, just like their ancestors, they have the choice to live by their own wisdom or to follow Yahweh’s life-giving commands. Join Tim and Jon as they dive into the final scroll of the Torah and explore the choice before Israel—and the choice we face today too.
1hr 3m • October 3, 2022
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