To understand Israel’s blessing and cursing found within the Mosaic Covenant, we should review a brief storyline. The Bible begins with the creation of all things (Genesis 1), including humankind (Genesis 1:26–27), who was in perfect relationship with God. Sin, however, brought death and separation from God (Genesis 3:15, 24). Genesis then presents God calling out a people, beginning with Abram (Genesis 12:1–3). These people, who would later be known as Israel, were to be distinct, chosen by God, and in a relationship with Him. Because of this people’s sinfulness, God gave them the Mosaic Law (Galatians 3:19) to guide Israel and show their need for Christ.
Within this Law, God created a system where obedience led to blessing and disobedience led to cursing (Deuteronomy 11:26; 27–28). Deuteronomy 11:26 introduces this idea plainly, while Deuteronomy 27—28 details how this system is to work.
The book of Judges (and consequently Ruth; Ruth 1:1) provides an example of how this model works. The book of Judges details a sin cycle that begins with Israel’s sinfulness, followed by their cursing or oppression, then their repentance, and then God’s deliverance through a judge. However, once the judge died, Israel would go back into a sinful lifestyle, resulting again in cursing (Judges 2:11–23). While the people of Israel were in obedience, God blessed them mightily (Judges 3:11), but He utilized various means to curse Israel whenever the sin cycle repeated (verses 12–14).
Why did God utilize this system of blessing and cursing?
1) For the good of Israel: Whatever the specific reasons for the blessing and cursing, ultimately, Moses states that God’s commandments (of which the blessing and cursing are a part) are for the good of the people (Deuteronomy 6:24).
2) A reward for obedience: Throughout the Scriptures, God presents a reward for obedience (Genesis 2:6–7; Deuteronomy 11:27; 1 Corinthians 3:12–15; Revelation 22:12).
3) A rightful judgment for disobedience: God also presents judgment for disobedience throughout the Scriptures (Genesis 2:17; Deuteronomy 11:28; Romans 1:18; 1 Corinthians 11:30; Revelation 22:12).
4) A drive for repentance: The nation of Israel had a choice to make between life and death, blessing and cursing (Deuteronomy 30:19–20). Obedience would lead to the blessing of a prosperous life in the Promised Land, and disobedience would lead to the curses mentioned earlier, which led to oppression, death by various means, and ultimately exile away from the Promised Land. As modeled in the book of Judges, these cursings would show the shortcomings of the people, resulting in a push for repentance and a restoration of their relationship with God.
God demands obedience and holiness (1 Peter 1:15–16). Blessing and cursing is not only a principle found within the book of Deuteronomy or with relation to Israel; it’s also a principle for Christians. While the Christian has been born again (1 Peter 1:3) and positionally made holy (1 Peter 2:9), the things done while living on earth will be judged— things found to be obedience to God rewarded (or blessed), and those found to be disobedience to God burned up (or cursed), according to 1 Corinthians 3:12–15.
The biblical God is perfectly holy (Isaiah 6:3) and demands all be the same (Isaiah 6:5; 1 Peter 1:15–16). Whenever unholiness is found, the logical result is cursing. By God’s grace, Jesus became the curse for all those who have faith in Him and His work (Galatians 3:10–14). Jesus died on a cross to be the sacrifice that bore the curses deserved by all of humankind, giving instead the blessing He earned to all those who have faith (2 Corinthians 5:21). Paul states this grace should push the believer into a practice of godliness or holiness (Titus 2:11–15).