The Horrors that Await Disobedience
My latest Deuteronomy (Ch. 28) reading was a little disturbing. It is a clear example of the Old Testament reward/punishment structure for the nation of Israel in response to their obedience or disobedience.
The simple, specific language (take note, all ye who would desire to be good writers!) is especially powerful. If you obey, it says, "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." Later it says, "And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity…"
However, if they do NOT obey, the results are horrifying. "The Lord will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish." Not only that, but starvation will be so pervasive that, "The most tender and refined woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because she is so delicate and tender, will begrudge to the husband she embraces, to her son and to her daughter, her afterbirth that comes out between her feet and her children whom she bears, because lacking everything she will eat them secretly, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in your towns." It really does not get much worse than that.
What do you think it felt like, to be among the people receiving this communication from the Lord? Would it not drive you to moralism, to fear, to shame? On one hand, I think our tendency is to gloss over passages like this. We prefer to talk about Jesus, about love, about joy. But are those things even possible without their antithesis? Could the Israelites hope for a Savior to come without a desperate fear of their inability to save themselves?
One portion of faithfulness in the life of a Christian is meditating on all that we have been saved from. The driving, sickening fear of punishment is now a mild guilt; we learn to be dismayed at our sin, but do not feel the pits of hell advancing every time we make a mistake. We cry before God, but not in abject horror at the shrieking tortures awaiting those who fall into serious moral decay.
Yes, our situation is somewhat different. God no longer ties earthly wealth to ethical adherence. But ultimately, our situation is the same. Our disobedience equals death and horror, and we only have one location in history to look to for salvation: the life, death, resurrection, and offer of salvation by Christ to all those who place their faith in him.
It is good to read the Old Testament. It allows us to see our need not merely as individual sinners, but as humanity. And it ought to fill us with desire for the spread of the gospel, as the only hope of the nations.