Set Before You-Blessing and Curse
6th Sunday after Epiphany – A LSB #’s 506, 704, 412 v.1, 3, 5-6
Text – Deuteronomy 30:19a
I call heaven & earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life & death, blessing & curse.
SET BEFORE YOU – BLESSING & CURSE
It seems like a very simple proposition – blessing & curse. Who could not know which to choose? You almost have to wonder if God isn’t playing some kind of practical joke on Moses & the people of Israel. There really isn’t anything to consider. Obviously, everyone will choose blessing rather than curse, life rather than death!
So, why is their heavenly Father putting such a dramatic proposition in front of His people? It’s not every day life & death is set before you, especially with Yahweh calling heaven & earth against His people. In the Hebrew language it’s one way of saying that all of creation has been called by God as His witnesses.
To fill in the back story, the nation of Israel is on the verge of entering the Promised Land. In line with that the Creator of the universe instructs them to renew the covenant He 1st made with them at Mt. Sinai. After setting before the people blessing & curse, Yahweh says, “Therefore choose life that you & your offspring may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19b ESV)
Again, you may wonder why the people need to be told, “…choose life… that you may live.” So listen to these words, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good & evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV)
Do you remember the choice which Adam & Eve made? The question following that is this, “Before they made that choice, were they sinful or holy?” How about us, are we sinful or holy? It seems like a very simple proposition – blessing & curse. Who could not know which one to choose? Leading up to this instruction by Yahweh is a couple thousand years of history & God saw the choices that people made. The nation of Israel itself had been delivered from slavery in Egypt, been given the covenant on Mt. Sinai, been led to the Promised Land the 1st time, yet they chose curse instead of blessing & death instead of life. Listen:
“Joshua the son of Nun & Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes & said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, ‘The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, He will bring us into this land & give it to us, a land that flows with milk & honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, & the Lord is with us; do not fear them.’ Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?’” (Numbers 14:6-11 ESV)
So 40 more years the nation was led through the wilderness & finally brought to the eastern shore of the Jordan River. Other than Joshua & Caleb, an entire generation of Israelites had their bodies scattered across the desert. In a sense, Israel is now at the midpoint, between her redemption out of Egypt & her fulfillment in the Promised Land.
So, too, is the Church. We have been redeemed out of slavery to sin & death. You & I have been set on a pilgrimage toward the final fulfillment of God’s promises to His people. Yahweh has set before us eternal life in the final Promised Land of heaven. Our relationship to God today is very similar to that of Israel’s relationship to God in Deuteronomy.
The age-old problem with mankind is that we have never stopped eating the fruit that leads to death. Every day the scene in the garden gets replayed. Man sees something he desires. God says no. Satan taunts, “Did God really say . . . ?” And man replies, “Well, maybe just one little bite won’t hurt.” That’s why Moses wrote it down for us in Deuteronomy:
“I call heaven & earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life & death, blessing & curse. Therefore choose life that you & your offspring may live.” (30:19 ESV) We know the commandments of God. We know that He requires us to be holy & to live a holy life – perfect in thought, word & deed. Yet, how quickly caution is thrown to the wind & the warnings of God’s Word ignored when we see something we want.
We try & pretend that God has not spoken, or He wasn’t really serious when He said, “You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor; you shall not covet… anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Like the Israelites, we test the limits of Yahweh’s patience. Like a child testing his parents, we see just how much we can get away with, just how far the limits can be pushed, before our heavenly Father will inflict discipline upon us. The proposition is very simple – blessing or curse. Who could not know which to choose?
Yet, on scales large & small, we see it every day, people choosing curse & death. Granted, they often don’t realize what they’re doing, at least not the absolute finality of the road down which it leads. Still, every sin is a choice of death & every confession of sin is the expression of life.
Jesus is the Vine. We are the branches. If we remain in Him we bear much fruit. If we do not remain in Him, we’re like a branch that’s thrown away & withers. Those branches are picked up, thrown into the fire & burned. (John 15:5-6)
You have already been given life through Baptism & through the Word of God. That happened, not through your power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. Leading up to the OT reading, the people of Israel had already been given life through the parted waters of the Red Sea. That happened, not through their power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The choice before them in Deuteronomy is not whether they should remain in unbelief or choose God. Yahweh had already chosen them, as He called His people & rescued them from slavery in Egypt. Their heavenly Father had collected the branches & grafted them back into the Vine. Then, in the wilderness, they had been blessed through living water from the Rock, which was Christ. They are already alive. The choice before them now is whether they should remain alive in blessing or choose the curse of death.
To depart from God is to depart from life. To depart from God is to choose the curse. Yahweh’s entire creation was summoned to testify that He had told His people in advance what the results of their choice would be: a matter of life or death. The proposition before God’s people is a lot like the lyrics to a famous punk rock song, “Should I stay or should I go.”
The people are already with their Creator. Do they remain in Him & live, or do they depart from Him & die? That same question is set before you, not just today, but every day that you wake up with the breath of life in your lungs.
As they stand on the doorstep of the Promised Land, Moses is urging the people to accept the blessings given & to take their place in that relationship with obedience & gratitude. In other words, he urges them to remain what they already are – children of God. Do not follow the temptation of Lucifer to doubt God’s Word, & thus be deceived into choosing death.
The rite of confirmation has a lot in common with the reading from Deuteronomy 30. You are a child of God. That is your identity. Will you accept that? Will you remain what you are? Or will you reject it? The devil is certainly tempting you to. He throws all kinds of other identities, & other gods, before us.
Last Sunday’s sermon, from Matthew, was about being the people we are called to be – salt & light. Deuteronomy is reinforcing that message because we’re tempted to hide the light, to turn away from our role as salt. Jesus shows us what it means to be the salt & light with today’s Gospel reading. Do not be angry, do not insult anyone, do not look at a woman lustfully, do not divorce your wife. In other words, choose blessing rather than curse. You already have life. Live it, rather than choosing to reject life – rather than choosing to hide the light. Ultimately, the proposition that Yahweh set before us this morning – blessing & curse – is about belief & unbelief. How do we look at the world we live in & the life our Lord has given us in it.
So, a young couple moved into a new neighborhood. The next morning while they were eating breakfast, the wife saw her neighbor hanging out the wash to dry. “That laundry is not very clean,” she said. “Our neighbor doesn’t know how to wash her clothes correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap.”
Her husband looked on, but remained silent. Every time their neighbor would hang out the wash to dry, the young wife would make the same comments. About a month later, she was surprised to see a nice clean load of wash on the line & said to her husband, “Look, she’s learned how to do the laundry properly. I wonder who taught her this.”
The husband replied, “I got up early this morning & washed our windows.”
So it is with life. What we see & what we experience does depend upon the window through which we look. Are you looking through the window of faith or through the window of unbelief? For your heavenly Father has set before you blessing & curse, life & death.
Jesus promises that if you remain with Him you will bear much fruit & you will live with Him in Paradise, “…for He is your life & length of days…” (Deuteronomy 30:20 ESV) Amen.
Renew me, O eternal Light, & let my heart & soul be bright, illumined with the light of grace that issues from Your holy face. Remove the power of sin from me & cleanse all my impurity that I may have the strength & will temptations of the flesh to still. Create in me a new heart, Lord, that gladly I obey Your Word. Let what You will be my desire, & with new life my soul inspire. Amen. LSB 704:1-3
 Exodus 20:13–17
 A song by the English punk rock band the Clash, from their album Combat Rock. It was written in 1981.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet