Torah Portion for week 50: Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8
Ki Tavo (When you enter in)
How can curses be removed? This week’s parasha is the most difficult of all the weekly Torah portions to read because its focus is primarily the curses caused by covenant disobedience. The word “cursed” appears 36 times in the Hebrew Bible, and half of them are found in this week’s reading portion. What is the cause of all these curses? Moses tells us in Deuteronomy 27:26, “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.” These curses are the consequences of disobedience to God’s commandments! Just as the Torah begins in Genesis with a focus on curses caused by Adam’s disobedience, so the final chapters of the Torah close with a warning about the curses that will come if Israel disobeys God.
A careful comparison of the covenant curses in Deuteronomy 27 – 28 with the later writings of Israel’s prophets makes it clear that the prophets knew these chapters in Deuteronomy quite well, and frequently referred to them when warning or rebuking the people of Israel. Take for instance Jeremiah’s warning to Israel on the eve of the Babylonian exile: “I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a reproach, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them” (Jer 24:9). These words are taken from Deuteronomy 28:37: “And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the LORD will lead you away.”
Another example is found in the first chapter of Isaiah. In Isaiah 1:5-7 we read:
Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil. Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence foreigners devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners. (Emphasis added.)
Isaiah’s words are borrowed from several of Moses’ warnings in Deuteronomy 28: “Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the LORD will bring upon you, until you are destroyed” (v. 61, emphasis added). “A nation that you have not known shall eat up the fruit of your ground and of all your labors, and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually” (v. 33). Please notice that the two words Isaiah uses to describe Israel’s physical condition, “struck down” and “sick,” come right from Moses in Deuteronomy 28:61; all of these words come from the same Hebrew root, nakah. Israel’s wounds are a direct result of her apostasy. She is suffering the curses of disobedience, the fullest expression of which is ultimately death.
The painful truth is that all of us like sheep have turned away from God and so all of us stand under the curses’ deadly shadow. Is there a way to escape the curses of disobedience we all deserve? Yes! God’s solution to the curse is provided in Isaiah 53:3-6:
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with sickness; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our sicknesses and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
The prophet describes the Messiah as one who bore our “sicknesses”, one who was “smitten” by God. Remarkably, Isaiah describes the Messiah’s physical suffering – “sickness, smitten” – using the same two words found to describe Israel’s physical condition in Isaiah 1, and the same two words Moses used to describe the curses of disobedience in Deuteronomy 28:61. Isaiah is describing a “cursed” Messiah! Amazing!
How can we avoid the curses that come from disobedience? According to Isaiah, God sent the sinless Messiah to suffer the curses we all deserve to suffer! In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ – so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:13-14).