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. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. 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. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. 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.
Deuteronomy 28 is infamous among students of the Torah for its short list of blessings for obedience to God’s commands and very long list of curses for disobedience–you have to skip ahead to Isaiah 60 to get a fuller picture of the blessings.
This chiasm in verses 2-7 caught my eye as I was reading this chapter last week:
- V2 – You will be overtaken by blessing.
- V3 – You will be blessed wherever you are.
- V4-5 – Your labors will be blessed in the fields (agriculture) and cities (manufacturing).
- V6 – You will be blessed wherever you are going.
- V3 – You will be blessed wherever you are.
- V7 – Your enemies will be overtaken by curses.
If we are careful to keep all of God’s commandments, then blessing will overtake us, while curses overtake our enemies. We will be blessed whether we work in the fields or in the cities, whether we are going out into the world, or coming home to Israel. Whatever our professions might be, our labors will be rewarded.
I want to tell you three things about this chiasm and about the whole chapter in general.
First, I want to address the apparent imbalance in the amount of text given to blessings and obedience.
The curses aren’t given in more excruciating detail than the blessings because God is all lightning and brimstone with no patience for human foibles. To the contrary, God is extraordinarily longsuffering and generous in his forgiveness. He takes no pleasure in the suffering and death of the wicked, but longs to bless them through their repentance. No, there are other reasons for the lack of detail in the blessings.
True blessing is harder to perceive than curses. Defeat, poverty, disease, and barrenness…those things are easy to see and understand. But blessing is more and more subtle than victory, riches, health, and fruitfulness. Blessing comes also as love, contentment, honor, and purpose. This is one possible reason why the blessings for obedience aren’t enumerated: because they aren’t so easy to name and might look different to each recipient. Every child understands the threat of punishment, but most children will never understand the true value of their parents’ blessings until they are parents themselves.
Second, notice how this chiasm begins and ends: with pursuit and capture.
In the opening, we are overtaken by blessings in our pursuit of righteousness. In the closing, our enemies are overtaken by curses (defeat) in their pursuit of cursing us. This is related to the disparity of text dedicated to blessing and cursing.
Blessings are good things, by definition, and there is nothing at all wrong with wanting to be blessed in every way possible. Good health, profit, wisdom, children… These are all things that we should desire, but they must be kept in proper perspective. Balance can never be achieved by pursuing blessing, only by pursuing righteousness.
The light of God’s Word and Love desires to shine through us into the world, but it can’t do that if we are only focused on ourselves. The ultimate goal of every righteous man must be to become an effective conduit of God’s Light into his community and even the whole world. By every mitzvah–every good deed–that we perform, we show God’s love to one another as well as to him, because as Yeshua pointed out, to love God and to love one’s neighbor are together the cornerstone of the whole Law.
On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
Through pursuing greater righteousness (not for salvation, but out of love and gratitude toward our Creator and Messiah), we will be overtaken by the blessings of God, while those who pursue rewards for themselves and curses for their enemies will be overtaken by curses themselves.
Third, see where the blessings will come and how: in the city and in the field, in the fruits of agriculture and in the fruits of manufacturing, whether you are coming or going.
The point is that it doesn’t matter what you do for a living nor where you do it. It doesn’t matter if you are a farmer, builder, teacher, or accountant, whether your work is done on the road or at your kitchen table. What matters is who you are (Israel, both native and grafted in) and how you execute your labors (according to all of God’s commands).
It’s good to get your hands in the dirt, but no one is more righteous for being a farmer rather than a pastry chef. It’s also good to desire and to work for good things, so long as they never supplant God as our ultimate focus. By blessing God and our brothers and sisters, we bless ourselves.
Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.
Blessings come in many guises, but they come to all people who love God and keep his commandments before all else.