The Curse, in case Israel should not hearken to the voice of its God, to keep His commandments. After the announcement that all these (the following) curses would come upon the disobedient nation (Deu 28:15), the curse is proclaimed in all its extent, as covering all the relations of life, in a sixfold repetition of the word “cursed” (Deu 28:16-19, as above in Deu 28:3-6); and the fulfilment of this threat in plagues and diseases, drought and famine, war, devastation of the land, and captivity of the people, is so depicted, that the infliction of these punishments stands out to view in ever increasing extent and fearfulness. We are not to record this, however, as a gradual heightening of the judgments of God, in proportion to the increasing rebellion of Israel, as in Lev 26:14., although it is obvious that the punishments threatened did not fall upon the nation all at once.
Deu 28:16-19 correspond precisely to Deu 28:3-6, so as to set forth the curse as the counterpart of the blessing, except that the basket and kneading-trough are mentioned before the fruit of the body.
The first view, in which the bursting of the threatened curse upon the disobedient people is proclaimed in all its forms. First of all, quite generally in Deu 28:20. “The Lord will send the curse against thee, consternation and threatening in every undertaking of thy hand which thou carriest out (see Deu 12:7), till thou be destroyed, till thou perish quickly, because of the wickedness of thy doings, because thou hast forsaken Me.” The three words, מְאֵרָה, מְהוּמָה, and מִגְעֶרֶת, are synonymous, and are connected together to strengthen the thought. מְאֵרָה, curse or malediction; הַמְּהוּמָה, the consternation produced by the curse of God, namely, the confusion with which God smites His foes (see at Deu 7:23); הַמִּגְעֶרֶה is the threatening word of the divine wrath. - Then Deu 28:21. in detail. “The Lord will make the pestilence fasten upon (cleave to) thee, till He hath destroyed thee out of the land...to smite thee with giddiness and fever (cf. Lev 26:16), inflammation, burning, and sword, blasting of corn, and mildew (of the seed);” seven diseases therefore (seven as the stamp of the words of God), whilst pestilence in particular is mentioned first, as the most terrible enemy of life. דַּלֶּקֶת, from דָּלַק to burn, and חַרְחֻר, from חָרַר to glow, signify inflammatory diseases, burning fevers; the distinction between these and קַדַּחַת cannot be determined. Instead of חֶרֶב, the sword as the instrument of death, used to designate slaughter and death, the Vulgate, Arabic, and Samaritan have adopted the reading חֹרֶב, aestus, heat (Gen 31:40), or drought, according to which there would be four evils mentioned by which human life is attacked, and three which are injurious to the corn. But as the lxx, Jon., Syr., and others read חֶרֶב, this alteration is very questionable, especially as the reading can be fully defended in this connection; and one objection to the alteration is, that drought is threatened for the first time in Deu 28:23, Deu 28:24. שִׁדָּפֹון, from שָׁדַף to singe or blacken, and יֵרָקֹון, from יָרַק to be yellowish, refer to two diseases which attack the corn: the former to the withering or burning of the ears, caused by the east wind (Gen 41:23); the other to the effect produced by a warm wind in Arabia, by which the green ears are turned yellow, so that they bear no grains of corn.
To this should be added terrible drought, without a drop of rain from heaven (cf. Lev 26:19). Instead of rain, dust and ashes should fall from heaven. נָתַן construed with a double accusative: to make the rain of the land into dust and ashes, to give it in the form of dust and ashes. When the heat is very great, the air in Palestine is often full of dust and sand, the wind assuming the form of a burning sirocco, so that the air resembles the glowing heat at the mouth of a furnace (Robinson, ii. 504).
Defeat in battle, the very opposite of the blessing promised in Deu 28:7. Israel should become לְזַעֲוָה, “a moving to and fro,” i.e., so to speak, “a ball for all the kingdoms of the earth to play with” (Schultz). זַעֲוָה, here and at Eze 23:46, is not a transposed and later form of זְוָעָה, which has a different meaning in Isa 28:19, but the original uncontracted form, which was afterwards condensed into זֹועָה; for this, and not זְוָעָה, is the way in which the Chethib should be read in Jer 15:4; Jer 24:9; Jer 29:18; Jer 34:17, and 2Ch 29:8, where this threat is repeated (vid., Ewald, §53, b.). The corpses of those who were slain by the foe should serve as food for the birds of prey and wild beasts - the greatest ignominy that could fall upon the dead, and therefore frequently held out as a threat against the ungodly (Jer 7:33; Jer 16:4; 1Ki 14:11, etc.).
The second view depicts still further the visitation of God both by diseases of body and soul, and also by plunder and oppression on the part of their enemies. - In Deu 28:27 four incurable diseases of the body are threatened: the ulcer of Egypt (see at Exo 9:9), i.e., the form of leprosy peculiar to Egypt, elephantiasis (Aegypti peculiare malum: Plin. xxvi. c. 1, s. 5), which differed from lepra tuberosa, however, or tubercular leprosy (Deu 28:35; cf. Job 2:7), in degree only, and not in its essential characteristics (see Tobler, mediz. Topogr. v. Jerus. p. 51). עֳפָלִים, from עֹפֶל, a swelling, rising, signifies a tumour, and according to the Rabbins a disease of the anus: in men, tumor in posticis partibus; in women, durius quoddam οἴδημα in utero. It was with this disease that the Philistines were smitten (1Sa 5:1-12). גָּרָב (see Lev 21:20) and חֶרֶס, from חָרַס, to scrape or scratch, also a kind of itch, of which there are several forms in Syria and Egypt.
In addition to this, there would come idiocy, blindness, and confusion of mind, - three psychical maladies; for although עִוָּרֹון signifies primarily bodily blindness, the position of the word between idiocy and confusion of heart, i.e., of the understanding, points to mental blindness here.
Deu 28:29 leads to the same conclusion, where it is stated that Israel would grope in the bright noon-day, like a blind man in the dark, and not make his ways prosper, i.e., not hit upon the right road which led to the goal and to salvation, would have no good fortune or success in its undertakings (cf. Psa 37:7). Being thus smitten in body and soul, it would be only (אַךְ as in Deu 16:15), i.e., utterly, oppressed and spoiled evermore. These words introduce the picture of the other calamity, viz., the plundering of the nation and the land by enemies (Deu 28:30-33). Wife, house, vineyard, ox, ass, and sheep would be taken away by the foe; sons and daughters would be carried away into captivity before the eyes of the people, who would see it and pine after the children, i.e., with sorrow and longing after them; “and thy hand shall not be to thee towards God,” i.e., all power and help will fail thee. (On this proverbial expression, see Gen 31:29; and on חִלֵּל, in Gen 31:30, see at Deu 20:6.) - In Deu 28:33, Deu 28:34, this threat is summed up in the following manner: the fruit of the field and all their productions would be devoured by a strange nation, and Israel would be only oppressed and crushed to pieces all its days, and become mad on account of what its eyes would be compelled to see.
The third view. - With the words, “the Lord will smite thee,” Moses resumes in Deu 28:35 the threat of Deu 28:27, to set forth the calamities already threatened under a new aspect, namely, as signs of the rejection of Israel from covenant fellowship with the Lord.
The Lord would smite the people with grievous abscesses in the knees and thighs, that should be incurable, even from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head. רָע שְׁחִין רָ is the so-called joint-leprosy, a form of the lepra tuberosa (vid., Pruner, p. 167). From the clause, however, “from the sole of thy foot unto the top of thy head,” it is evident that the threat is not to be restricted to this species of leprosy, since “the upper parts of the body often remain in a perfectly normal state in cases of leprosy in the joints; and after the diseased parts have fallen off, the patients recover their previous health to a certain degree” (Pruner). Moses mentions this as being a disease of such a nature, that it would render it utterly impossible for those who were afflicted with it either to stand or walk, and then heightens the threat by adding the words, “from the sole of the foot to the top of the head.” Leprosy excluded from fellowship with the Lord, and deprived the nation of the character of a nation of God.
The loss of their spiritual character would be followed by the dissolution of the covenant fellowship. This thought connects Deu 28:36 with Deu 28:35, and not the thought that Israel being afflicted with leprosy would be obliged to go into captivity, and in this state would become an object of abhorrence to the heathen (Schultz). The Lord would bring the nation and its king to a foreign nation that it did not know, and thrust them into bondage, so that it would be obliged to serve other gods - wood and stone (vid., Deu 4:28), - and would become an object of disgust, a proverb, and a byword to all nations whither God should drive it (vid., 1Ki 9:7; Jer 24:9).
Even in their own land the curse would fall upon every kind of labour and enterprise. Much seed would give little to reap, because the locust would devour the seed; the planting and dressing of the vineyard would furnish no wine to drink, because the worm would devour the vine. תֹּולַעַת is probably the ἴψ or ἴξ of the Greeks, the convolvulus of the Romans, our vine-weevil.
They would have many olive-trees in the land, but not anoint themselves with oil, because the olive-tree would be rooted out or plundered (יִשַּׁל, Niphal of שָׁלַל, as in Deu 19:5, not the Kal of נָשַׁל, which cannot be shown to have the intransitive meaning elabi).
Sons and daughters would they beget, but not keep, because they would have to go into captivity.
All the trees and fruits of the land would the buzzer take possession of. צְלָצַל, from צָלַל to buzz, a rhetorical epithet applied to locusts, not the grasshopper, which does not injure the fruits of the tree or ground sufficiently for the term יֵרֵשׁ, “to take possession of,” to be applicable to it.
Israel would be utterly impoverished, and would sink lower and lower, whilst the stranger in the midst of it would, on the contrary, get above it very high; not indeed “because he had no possession, but was dependent upon resources of other kinds” (Schultz), but rather because he would be exempted with all his possessions from the curse of God, just as the Israelites had been exempted from the plagues which came upon the Egyptians (Exo 9:6-7, Exo 9:26).
The opposite of Deu 28:12 and Deu 28:13 would come to pass. - In Deu 28:46 the address returns to its commencement in Deu 28:15, with the terrible threat, “These curses shall be upon thee for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy seed for ever,” for the purpose of making a pause, if not of bringing the whole to a close. The curses were for a sign and wonder (מֹופֵת, that which excites astonishment and terror), inasmuch as their magnitude and terrible character manifested most clearly the supernatural interposition of God (vid., Deu 29:23). “For ever” applies to the generation smitten by the curse, which would remain for ever rejected, though without involving the perpetual rejection of the whole nation, or the impossibility of the conversion and restoration of a remnant, or of a holy seed (Isa 10:22; Isa 6:13; Rom 9:27; Rom 11:5).
The fourth view. - Although in what precedes every side of the national life has been brought under the curse, yet love to his people, and the desire to preserve them from the curse, by holding up before them the dreadful severity of the wrath of God, impel the faithful servant of the Lord to go still further, and depict more minutely still the dreadful horrors consequent upon Israel being given up to the power of the heathen, and first of all in Deu 28:47-57 the horrible calamities which would burst upon Israel on the conquest of the land and its fortresses by its foes.
Because it had not served the Lord its God with joy and gladness of heart, “for the abundance of all,” i.e., for the abundance of all the blessings bestowed upon it by its God, it would serve its enemies in hunger, and thirst, and nakedness, and want of everything, and wear an iron yoke, i.e., be obliged to perform the hardest tributary service till it was destroyed (הִשְׁמִיד for הַשְׁמִיד, as in Deu 7:24).
The Lord would bring against it from afar a barbarous, hardhearted nation, which knew not pity. “From afar” is still further strengthened by the addition of the words, “from the end of the earth.” The greater the distance off, the more terrible does the foe appear. He flies thence like an eagle, which plunges with violence upon its prey, and carries it off with its claws; and Israel does not understand its language, so as to be able to soften its barbarity, or come to any terms. A people “firm, hard of face,” i.e., upon whom nothing makes an impression (vid., Isa 50:7), - a description of the audacity and shamelessness of its appearance (Dan 8:23; cf. Pro 7:13; Pro 21:29), which spares neither old men nor boys. This description no doubt applies to the Chaldeans, who are described as flying eagles in Hab 1:6., Jer 48:40; Jer 49:22; Eze 17:3, Eze 17:7, as in the verses before us; but it applies to other enemies of Israel beside these, namely to the great imperial powers generally, the Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Romans, whom the Lord raised up as the executors of His curse upon His rebellious people. Isaiah therefore depicts the Assyrians in a similar manner, namely, as a people with an unintelligible language (Deu 5:26; Deu 28:11; Deu 33:19), and describes the cruelty of the Medes in Deu 13:17-18, with an unmistakeable allusion to Deu 28:50 of the present threat.
This foe would consume all the fruit of the cattle and the land, i.e., everything which the nation had acquired through agriculture and the breeding of stock, without leaving it anything, until it was utterly destroyed (see Deu 7:13), and would oppress, i.e., besiege it in all its gates (towns, vid., Deu 12:12), till the lofty and strong walls upon which they relied should fall (יָרַד as in Deu 20:20).
It would so distress Israel, that in their distress and siege they would be driven to eat the fruit of their body, and the flesh of their own children (with regard to the fulfilment of this, see the remarks on Lev 26:29). - This horrible distress is depicted still more fully in Deu 28:54-57, where the words, “in the siege and in the straitness,” etc. (Deu 28:53), are repeated as a refrain, with their appalling sound, in Deu 28:55 and Deu 28:57.
The effeminate and luxurious man would look with ill-favour upon his brother, the wife of his bosom, and his remaining children, “to give” (so that he would not give) to one of them of the flesh of his children which he was consuming, because there was nothing left to him in the siege. “His eye shall be evil,” i.e., look with envy or ill-favour (cf. Deu 15:9). הִשְׁאִיר מִבְּלִי, on account of there not being anything left for himself. כֹּל with בְּלִי signifies literally “all not,” i.e., nothing at all. הִשְׁאִיר, an infinitive, as in Deu 3:3 (see at Deu 28:48).
The delicate and luxurious woman, who had not attempted to put her feet to the ground (had always been carried therefore either upon a litter or an ass: cf. Jdg 5:10, and Arvieux, Sitten der Beduinen Ar. p. 143), from tenderness and delicacy - her eye would look with envy upon the husband of her bosom and her children, and that (vav expl.) because of (for) her after-birth, which cometh out from between her feet, and because of her children which she bears (sc., during the siege); “for she will eat them secretly in the want of everything,” that is to say, first of all attempt to appease her hunger with the after-birth, and then, when there was no more left, with her own children. To such an awful height would the famine rise!
The fifth and last view. - And yet these horrible calamities would not be the end of the distress. The full measure of the divine curse would be poured out upon Israel, when its disobedience had become hardened into disregard of the glorious and fearful name of the Lord its God. To point this out, Moses describes the resistance of the people in Deu 28:58; not, as in Deu 28:15 and Deu 28:45, as not hearkening to the voice of the Lord to keep all His commandments, which he (Moses) had commanded this day, or which Jehovah had commanded (Deu 28:45), but as “not observing to do all the words which are written in this book, to fear the glorified and fearful name,” (viz.) Jehovah its God. “This book” is not Deuteronomy, even if we should assume that Moses had not first of all delivered the discourses in this book to the people and then written them down, but had first of all written them down and then read them to the people (see at Deu 31:9), but the book of the law, i.e., the Pentateuch, so far as it was already written. This is evident from Deu 28:60, Deu 28:61, according to which the grievous diseases of Egypt were written in this book of the law, which points to the book of Exodus, where grievous diseases occur among the Egyptian plagues. In fact, Moses could not have thought of merely laying the people under the obligation to keep the laws of the book of Deuteronomy, since this book does not contain all the essential laws of the covenant, and was never intended to form an independent book of the law. The infinitive clause, “to fear,” etc., serves to explain the previous clause, “to do,” etc., whether we regard the two clauses as co-ordinate, or the second as subordinate to the first. Doing all the commandments of the law must show and prove itself in fearing the revealed name of the Lord. Where this fear is wanting, the outward observance of the commandments can only be a pharisaic work-righteousness, which is equivalent to a transgress of the law. But the object of this fear was not to be a God, according to human ideas of the nature and working of God; it was to be “this glorified and fearful name,” i.e., Jehovah the absolute God, as He glories Himself and shows Himself to be fearful in His doings upon earth. “The name,” as in Lev 24:11. נִכְבַּד in a reflective sense, as in Exo 14:4, Exo 14:17-18; Lev 10:3.
If Israel should not do this, the Lord would make its strokes and the strokes of its seed wonderful, i.e., would visit the people and their descendants with extraordinary strokes, with great and lasting strokes, and with evil and lasting diseases (Deu 28:60), and would bring all the pestilences of Egypt upon it. הֵשִׁיב, to turn back, inasmuch as Israel was set free from them by the deliverance out of Egypt. מַדְוֶה is construed with the plural as a collective noun.
Also every disease and every stroke that was not written in this book of the law, - not only those that were written in the book of the law, but those also that did not stand therein. The diseases of Egypt that were written in the book of the law include the murrain of cattle, the boils and blains, and the death of the first-born (Exo 9:1-10; Exo 12:29); and the strokes (מַכָּה) the rest of the plagues, viz., the frogs, gnats, dog-flies, hail, locusts, and darkness (Ex 8-10). יַעְלֵּם, an uncommon and harder form of יַעֲלֵם (Jdg 16:3; cf. Ewald, §138, a.).
Israel would be almost annihilated thereby. “Ye will be left in few people (a small number; cf. Deu 26:5), whereas ye were as numerous as the stars of heaven.”
Yea, the Lord would find His pleasure in the destruction and annihilation of Israel, as He had previously rejoiced in blessing and multiplying it. With this bold anthropomorphic expression Moses seeks to remove from the nation the last prop of false confidence in the mercy of God. Greatly as the sin of man troubles God, and little as the pleasure may be which He has in the death of the wicked, yet the holiness of His love demands the punishment and destruction of those who despise the riches of His goodness and long-suffering; so that He displays His glory in the judgment and destruction of the wicked no less than in blessing and prospering the righteous.
Those who had not succumbed to the plagues and strokes of God, would be torn from the land of their inheritance, and scattered among all nations to the end of the earth, and there be compelled to serve other gods, which are wood and stone, which have no life and no sensation, and therefore can hear no prayer, and cannot deliver out of any distress (cf. Deu 4:27.).
When banished thus among all nations, Israel would find no ease or rest, not even rest for the sole of its foot, i.e., no place where it could quietly set its foot, and remain and have peace in its heart. To this extreme distress of homeless banishment there would be added “a trembling heart, failing of the eyes (the light of life), and despair of soul” (vid., Lev 26:36.).
“Thy life will be hung up before thee,” i.e., will be like some valued object, hanging by a thin thread before thine eyes, which any moment might tear down (Knobel), that is to say, will be ever hanging in the greatest danger. “Thou wilt not believe in thy life,” i.e., thou wilt despair of its preservation (cf. Job. Deu 24:22).
(Note: “I have never seen a passage which describes more clearly the misery of a guilty conscience, in words and thoughts so fitting and appropriate. For this is just the way in which a man is affected, who knows that God is offended, i.e., who is harassed with the consciousness of sin”' (Luther).)
In the morning they would wish it were evening, and in the evening would wish it were morning, from perpetual dread of what each day or night would bring.
Last of all, Moses mentions the worst, namely, their being taken back to Egypt into ignominious slavery. “If the exodus was the birth of the nation of God as such, return would be its death” (Schultz). “In ships:” i.e., in a way which would cut off every possibility of escape. The clause, “by the way whereof I spake unto thee, thou shalt see it no more again,” is not a more precise explanation of the expression “in ships,” for it was not in ships that Israel came out of Egypt, but by land, through the desert; on the contrary, it simply serves to strengthen the announcement, “The Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again,” namely, in the sense that God would cause them to take a road which they would never have been again if they had continued in faithful dependence upon the Lord. This was the way to Egypt, in reality such a return to this land as Israel ought never to have experienced, namely, a return to slavery. “There shall ye be sold to your enemies as servants and maids, and there shall be no buyer,” i.e., no one will buy you as slaves. This clause, which indicates the utmost contempt, is quite sufficient to overthrow the opinion of Ewald, Riehm, and others, already referred to at pp. 928, 929, namely, that this verse refers to Psammetichus, who procured some Israelitish infantry from Manasseh. Egypt is simply mentioned as a land where Israel had lived in ignominious bondage. “As a fulfilment of a certain kind, we might no doubt adduce the fact that Titus sent 17,000 adult Jews to Egypt to perform hard labour there, and had those who were under 17 years of age publicly sold (Josephus, de bell. Jud. vi. 9, 2), and also that under Hadrian Jews without number were sold at Rachel's grave (Jerome, ad Jer 31). But the word of God is not so contracted, that it can be limited to one single fact. The curses were fulfilled in the time of the Romans in Egypt (vid., Philo in Flacc., and leg. ad Caium), but they were also fulfilled in a horrible manner during the middle ages (vid., Depping, die Juden im Mittelalter); and they are still in course of fulfilment, even though they are frequently less sensibly felt” (Schultz).