As my wife and I have worked to parent our 16-year-old son and 11-year-old twins, we want them to understand that actions have consequences. If, when they were toddlers, they played on the stairs, they were probably going to hurt themselves. For older children, if they finished their chores, then a treat might follow. And regardless of their age, if no one whines on long car trips, then life would be happier for everyone.
Since there’s also a five-year age gap between our children, just when we think we’ve moved past a particular stage, it comes around again. It’s time for the younger ones to learn what’s been taught years before.
And this is where we find “the children of Israel” in Deuteronomy 27:9–28:68. They’re a new generation. Their parents and grandparents escaped from Egypt. That generation had heard the voice of the Lord from Mount Sinai, received His commandments, and made a covenant with Him. But that was forty years ago. Now, in Deuteronomy 27–28, a new generation needs to hear the commands of the Lord, to renew the covenant for themselves, to know that their actions have consequences.
So, God directs Moses to declare afresh His commands in summary form (Deuteronomy 27:15–26). It’s not the Ten Commandments, but in this case, another representative list of God’s expectations. As a result, this new generation would learn anew that no area of life is off-limits. In God’s family, secret sins are no less sinful than public ones. God is God over all of life. We see in our reading today that He cares about every area: family life, sexual ethics, legal integrity, social harmony, and justice for the disadvantaged.
Deuteronomy 28:1–14 lists the blessings God promises if His people obey: prominence, success, victory, provision. The rest of the chapter details what will happen if the people break their covenant with God: economic disaster, military defeat, even national exile.
In these chapters, God is instructing a new generation. He reminds the people about what’s beneficial and what’s harmful, about what they can expect in a world where He is God and they live in obedience.
What grace to remind again and again of how life works best! What grace to put warning labels on poisonous behaviors! And what grace to us, that in all our failures, the curses we deserve fall on Christ (Galatians 3:10–13)! God has spoken to His children. He’s given His word about how life works: actions have consequences. Yet the final word is in Him, and in the work of our gracious Savior.