By Joshua Spurlock
It can be hard to see the good within the bad times. This is especially true when those difficulties, even tragedies, are consequences of our sin. How can such horrid, awful experiences carry within them any good thing?
In fact, the beauty of HaShem’s approach toward His people is that even the chastisement He inflicts on us for our misdeeds carries with it hope, promise, and mercy. Whereas, if you think you are getting away with your sin, then you should really be concerned!
Parashat Ki Tavo holds within it a famous litany of blessings and curses that stand as dire warnings against sin. The system is simple: If Am Yisrael (the People of Israel) as a whole obeys HaShem, we receive the blessings. If we disobey, the result is curses.
Moshe (Moses) said it this way:
“And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God [Elohekha]…. But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God [Elohekha] or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.”
– Devarim (Deuteronomy) 28:2,15, ESV
But while the result of obedience and sin may be certain, that does not mean that the curses imposed because of sin are intended to be a deathblow. In fact, the opposite is true. In the midst of the tragedies outlined in the Book of Eikhah (Lamentations), for example, there is hope.
Yirmeyahu HaNavi (the Prophet Jeremiah) writes,
“For the LORD will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.”
– Eikhah (Lamentations) 3:31-33, ESV
So be certain that consequences will find HaShem’s people when they sin (Cf. Bamidbar / Numbers 32:23), but be equally certain that the purpose behind Divine discipline is repentance and Life (Cf. Yekhezkel / Ezekiel 18:23,32).
The curses outlined in Parashat Ki Tavo are not the only time we read about the penalties for the sin of Am Yisrael. In the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus), HaShem promises one round after another of curses if His people do not repent.
“And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins.”
– Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:18, ESV
Rather than being a promise of destruction, however, the round after round format of punishment for sin—each time “seven times more”—actually offered hope.
The commentary within Artscroll’s The Stone Edition: The Chumash (a collection of all the parashot and corresponding readings from the Nevi’im / Prophets) points out that the intensifying punishments show the intent of them is to influence Yisrael to repent.
Indeed, over and over again in the Scriptures we read that HaShem has no plan to wipe His people out—at the end of this harrowing list of punishments in Vayikra included.
“Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God [Eloheihem]. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt [Mitzrayim] in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God [Elohim]: I am the LORD.”
– Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:44-45, ESV
Yet HaShem is slow to anger (Cf. Shemot / Exodus 34:6, Tehillim / Psalms 103:8). Even with regard to the wicked, HaShem does not move swiftly to judgment. With the pagan, child-sacrificing nations that dwelled in Kena’an (Canaan) before Yisrael, HaShem gave them hundreds of years to repent (Cf. Bereshit / Genesis 15:16).
As Kefa (Peter) says regarding the pending wrath of HaShem on the world,
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
– Kefa Beit (2 Peter) 3:9, ESV
If that is true for the wicked pagans of this world, how much more for the people of HaShem! So then, HaShem is not bringing the curses upon His people for their sin to destroy them. His Divine discipline is meant to bring us to saving repentance.
A Good Pain
The Book of Mishlei (Proverbs) informs us that the chastisement from HaShem for our sins actually shows us that He loves us.
“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”
– Mishlei (Proverbs) 3:11-12, ESV
In fact, before Moshe described the future curses of chastisement for sin, he had already told Am Yisrael that their difficulties in the wilderness were part of a good plan by HaShem.
“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God [Elohekha] has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God [Elohekha] disciplines you.”
– Devarim (Deuteronomy) 8:2-5, ESV
Biblically speaking, a father’s discipline is always associated with love.
“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”
– Mishlei (Proverbs) 13:24, ESV
“Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.”
– Mishlei 19:18, ESV
And that brings us to the irony behind the chastisement of HaShem: Those who receive punishment for sin now are ultimately blessed, but those who “get away with it” will receive an even stricter judgment.
As the writer of Ivrim (Hebrews) says,
“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God [Elohim] is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”
– Ivrim 12:7-8, ESV
Indeed, the one who is tells himself that he can engage in rebellious disobedience and escape the wrath of HaShem is promised intense punishment instead.
“Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. And the LORD will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for calamity, in accordance with all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law [Torah].”
– Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29:18b-21, ESV
Here’s a terrifying thought:
That wicked man, who receives such an awful penalty for his sin, was born into Yisrael, the people of HaShem. Imagine what awaits those who have always opposed G-d!
“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God [Elohim]; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God [Elohim]? And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’”
– Kefa Aleph (1 Peter) 4:17-18, ESV
If, then, people are sinning without consequence today, it is not because they are blessed. They should be very afraid that HaShem is not disciplining them like His children now. Because if they are not treated like His children now, they should not think they will be treated like His children later.
How to Respond
If you are suffering at the hand of HaShem, what should you do?
Rabbi Yeshua (Jesus) is clear that not everyone who endures trials is being chastised for sin (Cf. Yokhannan / John 9:2-3). It should, however, prompt one to consider one’s ways and repent if necessary (Cf. Khaggai / Haggai 1:6-7).
Shaul (Paul) points out the ultimate curse of the Torah, the finality of death, is removed from the believers in Yeshua HaMashiakh (Jesus the Christ):
“For all who rely on works of the law [Torah] are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law [Torah], and do them.’…Christ [Mashiakh] 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.’”
– Galatians 3:10, 13, ESV
Indeed, without the salvation wrought for us by Yeshua’s death and resurrection, we would all suffer the final punishment and curse of the wicked. But just because Shaul said the faithful do not succumb to the ultimate curse, he does not argue that there is no Divine discipline for sin. On the contrary, as he points out in the same letter.
“Do not be deceived: God [Elohim] is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit [Ruakh] will from the Spirit [Ruakh] reap eternal life [Khayei Olam].”
– Galatians 6:7-8, ESV
So what shall we then do when faced with trials for our sin? R. Nakhman of Breslov encouraged people do something we may not consider at first: act in hope (Yossi Katz, A Second Chance, Breslov.org).
As the writer of Ivrim likewise says,
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.”
– Ivrim 12:11-13, ESV
Ya’acov (“James”) urges his readers to weep for their sin (Cf. Ya’acov 4:8-10), and Shaul adds that our sorrow over our sin needs to lead to a changed life.
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”
– 2 Corinthians 7:10-11, ESV
If you are enduring trials and struggles over sin, don’t let it crush your spirit. Remember that the same Ya’acov who wrote that we should weep over our sin also encouraged us to rejoice in trials.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
– Ya’acov 1:2-4, ESV
So don’t give up hope if you’re suffering for sin. The Divine discipline shows that HaShem hasn’t given up on you. Instead of despairing, may you heed the call to repentance in the grace and power of our Lord Yeshua HaMashiakh through faith.