In Deuteronomy 22:5—23:18, the Lord reminds Israel of its calling to remain a holy people, set apart to walk in purity before the people of the world. One regulation regarding holiness in worship prohibited the involvement of anyone of Ammonite or Moabite descent: “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord . . . For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. However, the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live” (Deuteronomy 23:3–6; see also Nehemiah 13:1–3).
Despite being related to the Israelites through Abraham’s nephew Lot (Genesis 19:36–38), the people of Ammon and Moab were excluded from the holy assembly for two reasons: because they opposed Israel and failed to show hospitality to God’s people during their wilderness journey to Canaan (Deuteronomy 2:26–37); and because Balak, the king of Moab, hired Balaam, a profit-seeking false prophet, to proclaim curses on Israel (Numbers 22:1–41). Showing great faithfulness to Israel, God told Balaam, “You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed” (verse 12).
In dread and terror of the massive Israelite horde, King Balak desperately sought to strongarm Balaam into cursing God’s people (Numbers 23:4—24:25). Yet, no matter what strategy they attempted, the Lord kept turning their curses into blessings for Israel (see Numbers 23:11; 24:10). Balak was supremely frustrated at Balaam’s inability to curse Israel: “Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, ‘I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times’” (Numbers 24:10). Balaam went on to bless Israel four more times—a total of seven blessings.
A “curse” in the context of Deuteronomy 23:5 is an invocation of evil or divine harm upon someone. But God’s covenant promise to Israel through Abraham was to lavish blessings upon them: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2–3; see also Genesis 18:18; 26:4; Deuteronomy 1:10–11). Balaam’s experience proves that no one can successfully curse those whom God has chosen to bless. Anyone who curses them the Lord will curse. The Bible says God turns curses into blessings because of His love for His people (Deuteronomy 7:13; 23:5).
God’s promise to turn curses into blessings is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who “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” (Galatians 3:13–4, ESV; see also Galatians 3:16).
After the fall of Adam and Eve, divine curses came into effect upon God’s creation (Genesis 3:14–19; 8:21). These curses are the consequence of human disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15–19). But, through the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, the curse of humanity’s fall is reversed (Acts 3:25–26; Galatians 3:29). In the future kingdom of heaven, “no longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him” (Revelation 22:3, NLT).
If disobedience brings curses, obedience to the Lord brings His blessings (Deuteronomy 11:26–28; 28:1–14; 30:15–20). Believers are called to “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27–28; see also Matthew 5:39–42). We can turn curses into blessings when we “bless and do not curse” our enemies and those who persecute us (Romans 12:14). The apostle Paul testified, “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly” (1 Corinthians 4:12–13).