The last of the five books of Moses, Deuteronomy wraps some things up and reviews some others. He knows that he will not be entering the Promised Land, and wants to encourage the Children of Israel one last time to remember God and keep his commandments. Chapter 28 is in two parts; first the blessings for obedience followed by a list of curses for disobedience.
The first 14 verses of Deuteronomy 28 list the blessings for obedience. In short, God will bless the land allowing it to flow with mild and honey. Crops will fill their barns, grapes will fill their winepresses, children will be born and the nation will live in peace from their enemies. They will be high and mighty over the other nations of the world. Many more verses, 15 – 68, detail the curses God will bring for disobedience. If the people do not remember God and honor the covenant, all the blessings listed will happen in exactly the opposite fashion. Israel will retreat in seven directions instead of their enemies; other nations will eat the produce of their labors, and they will be scattered from one end of the earth to the other. Again, this is just the short list. The point is clear: remember God and be blessed, forget God and be cursed. The commandments and consequences get repeated many times because the children of Israel have already proven to be stubborn.
I want to use Deuteronomy 28 to answer a larger question: Why should Christians read the Old Testament? For one thing, the history of Israel is our heritage as Christians. Christianity in the first century was a natural progression out of Judaism. If you don’t understand at least the basics of Judaism, the New Testament does not make as much sense. Joseph and Mary, Jesus, the 12 disciples plus the Apostle Paul were all Jews. Anytime Jesus is reading or quoting scripture, it is the Old Testament he is referencing. When Phillip sits down by the Ethiopian eunuch, he uses Isiah to preach Christ.
Secondly, and I believe more importantly, is that we can learn a lot about God by reading the Old Testament. In the first three chapters of Genesis we see what sin does to the relationship between God and man. Just reading a few chapters of the Bible shows us what behavior God likes and hates that humans do. Read the 10 commandments again. What does it say about God that he doesn’t want us to kill each other? There is a command to honor father and mother; that should tell us something about where God places family on his list of priorities. One criticism Jesus has of the Pharisees is they have kept the letter of the law but missed the spirit of the law. They were supposed to learn something about God that they missed. It’s a “couldn’t see the forest for the trees” type thing.
Finally, the two testaments are complimentary. The Old Testament makes a lot more sense after reading the New. Once you’ve read the whole Bible, it is impossible to not see the Old Testament in a New Testament light. Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son makes more sense after learning the God was willing to sacrifice his son. The Passover story in Exodus takes on new meaning after Jesus shares the last supper with his disciples. Genesis 50 and Acts 2 teach almost an identical lesson about God; man does what he wants, God gets what he wants. The whole Bible tells one story, and that is how sinful and fallen people that are broken relate to a holy, righteous God. Jesus is right in the center of the story. The Bible is about Jesus.
The Old Testament is kind of like the children’s sermon. It is a practical demonstration of ideas that are sometimes abstract. Those Old Testament stories help us to understand the Gospel message of the New Testament. Look again at Deuteronomy 28. The literal nation of Israel will be blessed in the real world if they obey God, but cursed – in this lifetime on this earth – if they disobey. Those of us alive today will be blessed in the Kingdom of God if we hear and respond to the Gospel. The blessings of heaven will far surpass the blessings of a man-made kingdom on earth. Likewise, those that do not acknowledge God and refuse the Gospel will be cursed, and the curse of death, hell and the lake of fire will be far worse than losing land or watching your cow die. The blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 28 pale in comparison to the eternal reward of heaven and damnation of hell.