Moses' tenth speech, Part 4, The curses of the law, continued
Jun 17, 2013
As the people stood on Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim, they said “Amen” to all the curses for disobedience to the law. Moses continues in Deuteronomy 27:19,
19 “Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”
God’s concern was expressed earlier in Deuteronomy 10:16-19,
16 Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more. 17 For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe. 18 He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. 19 So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
This law appeals to those who live by the New Covenant—those whose hearts have been circumcised. Perhaps this is why the apostles (especially Paul and James) were so concerned about impartiality in the Kingdom. Numbers 15:16 says that there was to be one law for all people living in His Kingdom, and there was to be no partiality in the application of the law. So in Deuteronomy 27 we see the curse of God placed upon those who distort justice, which God says is “due an alien, orphan, and widow.”
Moses continues in Deuteronomy 27:20,
20 “Cursed is he who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s skirt.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”
This is one example of many laws forbidding incest, which are recorded in Leviticus 18. The example mentioned here is from Leviticus 18:8,
8 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness.
The next curse of the law is found in Deuteronomy 27:21,
21 “Cursed is he who lies with any animal.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”
Bestiality is forbidden also in Exodus 22:19,
19 Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death.
A longer version of this is found in Leviticus 18:23,
23 Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion.
While there are those today who advocate the legalization of such bestiality today, such activity brings the curse of God, who calls it “a perversion.” So regardless of how men may legalize such sin according to human ideas of “freedom,” God calls it perversion.
Moses continues in Deuteronomy 27:22,
22 “Cursed is he who lies with his sister, the daughter of his father or of his mother.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”
This again refers to the laws of incest in Leviticus 18, particularly verses 9 and 11,
9 The nakedness of your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether born at home or born outside, their nakedness you shall not uncover…. 11 The nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, born to your father, she is your sister, you shall not uncover her nakedness.
In those days the men often had multiple wives, some of them widows with children from a previous marriage. God was careful to specify all types of sibling, so that men would not be able to legalize certain forms of incest by taking Moses’ words too literally and applying them too narrowly.
Moses continues in Deuteronomy 27:23,
23 “Cursed is he who lies with his mother-in-law.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”
This is expressed in a reverse manner in Leviticus 18:15, which says,
15 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife, you shall not uncover her nakedness.
So a man may not lie with his mother-in-law, but neither can a man lie with his daughter-in-law. Even if they are not directly related by blood, it is biblical incest.
Moses continues in Deuteronomy 27:24,
24 “Cursed is he who strikes [Heb., nakah] his neighbor in secret.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”
The intent of this verse is to lay a curse upon those who would attack their neighbor with the intent of killing or doing bodily harm. The fact that such an act might be done “in secret” shows that the intent is probably to commit murder without being caught. A parallel law is found in Exodus 21:12,
12 He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.
Moses continues in Deuteronomy 27:25,
25 “Cursed is he who accepts a bribe to strike down an innocent person.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”
This was also legislated in Moses’ instructions about true justice in Exodus 23:8,
8 And you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just.
Bribery runs rampant in most countries among government officials. Many seek positions of authority in order to become wealthy through bribes. Whenever someone is given authority to decide the fate of others, or to decide who obtains a privilege or license to do business, there is danger of bribery. In many countries this has become an accepted way of life, and even Christians have participated in it.
The Kingdom of God forbids such bribery. Those who are called to rule with Christ in the Kingdom of God will be those who live by a higher standard. If they prove themselves unworthy in this life, they will be barred from positions of authority in the age to come.
Moses concludes this section with a summary of the curses in Deuteronomy 27:26,
26 “Cursed is he who does not confirm [quwm, “rise up; stand for, establish, perform”] the words of this law by doing them.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”
All Kingdom citizens are accountable to the law of God. Even those whose sins (violation of the law) have been forgiven do not have the right to continue in sin that grace may abound (Romans 6:1). Those who do will be held accountable to God as He disciplines His children in order to write the law in their hearts.
On the other hand, let us remember that the law was never given to save mankind, for it is not allowed to acquit the guilty (Exodus 23:7). It was meant to establish the character of God as the righteous standard. But because “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), all have come under the curse of the law and are in need of a Savior to give them grace.
Christ has therefore come to pay the full penalty that the law demands for the sin of the world. The law is thus satisfied, and the Court justifies us on account of the payment that Christ made on the cross. Our faith in Him—that is, in His work on our behalf—is the only thing that can justify us. If our appeal for justification is based upon any of our own works, our own righteousness, our own ability to keep the law, then we will lose our case in the Divine Court.
Either our appeal is for the grace given through Christ’s payment for our sin, or we appeal by the works that we have done. The first is the New Covenant method of salvation; the second is the Old Covenant method. This was Paul’s message to the Galatians, a church which was being pulled in both directions. Either they believed Paul’s message of justification by faith in Christ alone, or they believed the message of the Jewish Christians who had come from Jerusalem, who taught that the men must come under the Old Covenant in order to be saved.
The primary issue was about circumcision. The sign of the Old Covenant was physical circumcision; the sign of the New Covenant was heart circumcision. Whichever sign one took upon himself reflected his faith in one of the covenants.
Paul, therefore, wrote in Galatians 3:9-14,
9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer [“faithful one”]. 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written [in Deuteronomy 27:26], “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all the things written in the book of the law, to perform them.”
This is the final curse of the law that we have just studied. Paul was telling the Galatians that if they attached themselves to the Old Covenant by complying with the demands of the Christians from Jerusalem, they are obligated by that covenant to be saved by their own perfect obedience. This would be good if it were possible to be saved by one’s own ability to be obedient. However, that method will not work, Paul insists, because “all have sinned,” and no one can ever pay the full penalty for his own sin.
11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith” [Habakkuk 2:4].
In other words, even under the Old Covenant, men could be justified only by faith. The prophet Habakkuk was an Old Testament prophet advocating the New Covenant. Even in those days men were justified by faith, and obedience was a secondary consequence of their justification.
12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them” [Leviticus 18:5].
The “Law method” of justification is not the same as the “Faith method.” The Law method says that those who fulfill the law perfectly shall be given immortal life. This is very different from the Faith method, which says that those who have faith in Christ’s sacrifice (payment for sin) shall be given immortal life.
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written [in Deuteronomy 21:23], “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles [ethnos, “nations”], so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Because “all have sinned,” all have been sentenced to death by the law. Christ came to die in our place, taking the curse of the law upon Himself in order to give us life. He was hanged on a tree (the cross) in order that we might receive the blessing of Abraham. In other words, the only way that the Abrahamic covenant could be fulfilled—which was to extend the blessings to all families of the earth—Christ had to die for the sin of the world.
It is important to know that we have been delivered from the curse of the law—that is, the sentence of the law that was imposed upon us because of sin. This did not mean that the law was set aside. If God had set aside the law in order to save us, Jesus would not have had to die to pay its penalty. But instead, God upheld the law by sending His Son to pay its penalty. In doing so, He upheld the law’s righteous standard and His own holiness.
This is the fourth part of a series titled "Moses' Tenth Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones