Having viewed the bright side of the cloud, which is towards the obedient, we have now presented to us the dark side, which is towards the disobedient. If we do not keep God’s commandments, we not only come short of the blessing promised, but we lay ourselves under the curse, which is as comprehensive of all misery as the blessing is of all happiness. Observe,
I. The equity of this curse. It is not a curse causeless, nor for some light cause; God seeks not occasion against us, nor is he apt to quarrel with us. That which is here mentioned as bringing the curse is, 1. Despising God, refusing to hearken to his voice (Deut. 28:15), which bespeaks the highest contempt imaginable, as if what he said were not worth the heeding, or we were not under any obligation to him. 2. Disobeying him, not doing his commandments, or not observing to do them. None fall under his curse but those that rebel against his command. 3. Deserting him. “It is because of the wickedness of thy doings, not only whereby thou hast slighted me, but whereby thou hast forsaken me,” Deut. 28:20. God never casts us off till we first cast him off. It intimates that their idolatry, by which they forsook the true God for false gods, would be their destroying sin more than any other.
II. The extent and efficacy of this curse.
1. In general, it is declared, “All these curses shall come upon thee from above, and shall overtake thee; though thou endeavour to escape them, it is to no purpose to attempt it, they shall follow thee whithersoever thou goest, and seize thee, overtake thee, and overcome thee,” Deut. 28:15. It is said of the sinner, when God’s wrath is in pursuit of him, that he would fain flee out of his hand (Job 27:22), but he cannot; if he flee from the iron weapon, yet the bow of steel shall reach him and strike him through. There is no running from God but by running to him, no fleeing from his justice but by fleeing to his mercy. See Ps. 21:7, 8. (1.) Wherever the sinner goes, the curse of God follows him; wherever he is, it rests upon him. He is cursed in the city and in the field, Deut. 28:16. The strength of the city cannot shelter him from it, the pleasant air of the country is no fence against these pestilential steams. He is cursed (Deut. 28:19) when he comes in, for the curse is upon the house of the wicked (Prov. 3:33), and he is cursed when he goes out, for he cannot leave that curse behind him, nor get rid of it, which has entered into his bowels like water and like oil into his bones. (2.) Whatever he has is under a curse: Cursed is the ground for his sake, and all that is on it, or comes out of it, and so he is cursed from the ground, as Cain, Gen. 4:11. The basket and store are cursed, Deut. 28:17, 18. All his enjoyments being forfeited by him are in a manner forbidden to him, as cursed things, which he has no title to. To those whose mind and conscience are defiled every thing else is so, Titus 1:15. They are all embittered to him; he cannot take any true comfort in them, for the wrath of God mixes itself with them, and he is so far from having any security of the continuance of them that, if his eyes be open, he may see them all condemned and ready to be confiscated, and with them all his joys and all his hopes gone for ever. (3.) Whatever he does is under a curse too. It is a curse in all that he sets his hand to (Deut. 28:20), a constant disappointment, which those are subject to that set their hearts upon the world, and expect their happiness in it, and which cannot but be a constant vexation. This curse is just the reverse of the blessing in the former part of the chapter. Thus whatever bliss there is in heaven there is not only the want of it, but the contrary to it, in hell. Isa. 65:13; My servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry.
2. Many particular judgments are here enumerated, which would be the fruits of the curse, and with which God would punish the people of the Jews for their apostasy and disobedience. These judgments threatened are of divers kinds, for God has many arrows in his quiver, four sore judgments (Ezek. 14:21), and many more. They are represented as very terrible, and the descriptions of them are exceedingly lively and affecting, that men, knowing these terrors of the Lord, might, if possible, be persuaded. The threatenings of the same judgment are several times repeated, that they might make the more deep and lasting impressions, and to intimate that, if men persisted in their disobedience, the judgment which they thought was over, and of which they said, “Surely the bitterness of it is past,” would return with double force; for when God judges he will overcome. (1.) Bodily diseases are here threatened, that they should be epidemical in their land. These God sometimes makes use of for the chastisement and improvement of his own people. Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. But here they are threatened to be brought upon his enemies as tokens of his wrath, and designed for their ruin. So that according to the temper of our spirits, under sickness, accordingly it is to us a blessing or a curse. But, whatever sickness may be to particular persons, it is certain that epidemical diseases raging among a people are national judgments, and are so to be accounted. He here threatens, [1.] Painful diseases (Deut. 28:35), a sore botch, beginning in the legs and knees, but spreading, like Job’s boils, from heat to foot. [2.] Shameful diseases (Deut. 28:27), the botch of Egypt (such boils and blains as the Egyptians had been plagued with, when God brought Israel from among them), and the emerods and scab, vile diseases, the just punishment of those who by sin had made themselves vile. [3.] Mortal diseases, the pestilence (Deut. 28:21), the consumption (put for all chronical diseases), and the fever (for all acute diseases), Deut. 28:22. See Lev. 26:16. And all incurable, Deut. 28:27. (2.) Famine, and scarcity of provisions; and this, [1.] For want of rain (Deut. 28:23, 24): Thy heaven over thy head, that part that is over thy land, shall be as dry as brass, while the heavens over other countries shall distil their dews; and, when the heaven is as brass, the earth of course will be as iron, so hard and unfruitful. Instead of rain, the dust shall be blown out of the highways into the field, and spoil the little that there is of the fruits of the earth. [2.] By destroying insects. The locust should destroy the corn, so that they should not have so much as their seed again, 28:38, 42. And the fruit of the vine, which should make glad their hearts, should all be worm-eaten, Deut. 28:39. And the olive, some way or other, should be made to cast its fruit, 28:40. The heathen use many superstitious customs in honour of their idol-gods for preserving the fruits of the earth; but Moses tells Israel that the only way they had to preserve them was to keep God’s commandments; for he is a God that will not be sported with, like their idols, but will be served in spirit and truth. This threatening we find fulfilled in Israel, 1 Kgs. 17:1; Jer. 14:1; Joel 1:4. (3.) That they should be smitten before their enemies in war, who, it is likely, would be the more cruel to them, when they had them at their mercy, for the severity they had used against the nations of Canaan, which their neighbours in after-ages would be apt to remember against them, Deut. 28:25. It would make their flight the more shameful, and the more grievous, that they might have triumphed over their enemies if they had but been faithful to their God. The carcases of those that were slain in war, or died in captivity among strangers, should be meat for the fowls (Deut. 28:26); and an Israelite, having forfeited the favour of his God, should have so little humanity shown him as that no man should drive them away, so odious would God’s curse make him to all mankind. (4.) That they should be infatuated in all their counsels, so as not to discern their own interest, nor bring any thing to pass for the public good: The Lord shall smite thee with madness and blindness, 28:28, 29. Note, God’s judgments can reach the minds of men to fill them with darkness and horror, as well as their bodies and estates; and those are the sorest of all judgments which make men a terror to themselves, and their own destroyers. That which they contrived to secure themselves by should still turn to their prejudice. Thus we often find that the allies they confided in distressed them and strengthened them not, 28:20. Those that will not walk in God’s counsels are justly left to be ruined by their own; and those that are wilfully blind to their duty deserve to be made blind to their interest, and, seeing they loved darkness rather than light, let them grope at noon-day as in the dark. (5.) That they should be plundered of all their enjoyments, stripped of all by the proud and imperious conqueror, such as Benhadad was to Ahab, 1 Kgs. 20:5, 6. Not only their houses and vineyards should be taken from them, but their wives and children, Deut. 28:30, 32. Their dearest comforts, which they took most pleasure in, and promised themselves most from, should be the entertainment and triumph of their enemies. As they had dwelt in houses which they built not, and eaten of vineyards which they planted not (Deut. 6:10, 11), so others should do by them. Their oxen, asses, and sheep, like Job’s, should be taken away before their eyes, and they should not be able to recover them, Deut. 28:31. And all the fruit of their land and labours should be devoured and eaten up by the enemy; so that they and theirs would want necessaries, while their enemies were revelling with that which they had laboured for. (6.) That they should be carried captives into a far country; nay, into all the kingdoms of the earth, Deut. 28:25. Their sons and daughters, whom they promised themselves comfort in, should go into captivity (Deut. 28:41), and they themselves at length, and their king in whom they promised themselves safety and settlement, Deut. 28:36. This was fully accomplished when the ten tribes first were carried captive into Assyria (2 Kgs. 17:6), and not long after the two tribes into Babylon, and two of their kings, 2 Kgs. 24:15, 15; 25:7, 21. That which is mentioned as an aggravation of their captivity is that they should go into an unknown country, the language and customs of which would be very uncouth, and their treatment among them barbarous, and there they should serve other gods, that is, be compelled to do so by their enemies, as they were in Babylon, Dan. 3:6. Note, God often makes men’s sin their punishment, and chooses their delusions. You shall serve other gods, that is, “You shall serve those that do serve them;” a nation is often in scripture called by the name of its gods, as Jer. 48:7. They had made idolaters their associates, and now god made idolaters their oppressors. (7.) That those who remained should be insulted and tyrannized over by strangers, Deut. 28:43, 44. So the ten tribes were by the colonies which the king of Assyria sent to take possession of their land, 2 Kgs. 17:24. Or this may be meant of the gradual encroachments which the strangers within their gates should make upon them, so as insensibly to worm them out of their estates. We read of the fulfilling of this, Hos. 7:9; Strangers have devoured his strength. Foreigners ate the bread out of the mouths of trueborn Israelites, by which they were justly chastised for introducing strange gods. (8.) That their reputation among their neighbours should be quite sunk, and those that had been a name, and a praise, should be an astonishment, a proverb, and a by-word, Deut. 28:37. Some have observed the fulfilling of this threatening in their present state; for, when we would express the most perfidious and barbarous treatment, we say, None but a Jew would have done so. Thus is sin a reproach to any people. (9.) To complete their misery, it is threatened that they should be put quite out of the possession of their minds by all these troubles (Deut. 28:34): Thou shalt be mad for the sight of thy eyes, that is, quite bereaved of all comfort and hope, and abandoned to utter despair. Those that walk by sight, and not by faith, are in danger of losing reason itself, when every thing about them looks frightful; and their condition is woeful indeed that are mad for the sight of their eyes.