Blessings or Maledictions—There Is a Choice!
“I have put life and death before you, the blessing and the malediction; and you must choose life in order that you may keep alive.”—DEUTERONOMY 30:19.
1. Humans were endowed with what capacity?
JEHOVAH GOD designed us—his intelligent human creatures—to be free moral agents. We were not created as mere automatons, or robots, but were extended the privilege and responsibility of making choices. (Psalm 100:3) The first humans—Adam and Eve—were free to choose their course of action, and they were accountable to God for their choice.
2. What choice did Adam make, and with what result?
2 The Creator has provided bountifully for human life of perpetual blessing on a paradise earth. Why has that purpose not yet been achieved? Because Adam made the wrong choice. Jehovah had laid this command upon the man: “From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.” (Genesis 2:16, 17) If Adam had chosen to obey, our first parents would have been blessed. Disobedience brought death. (Genesis 3:6, 18, 19) So sin and death have been passed on to all of Adam’s progeny.—Romans 5:12.
Blessings Made Possible
3. How did God provide assurance that his purpose for mankind would be accomplished?
3 Jehovah God instituted a means by which his purpose for blessing mankind would eventually be fulfilled. He himself foretold a Seed, prophesying in Eden: “I shall put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He will bruise you in the head and you will bruise him in the heel.” (Genesis 3:15) God later promised that blessings would come to obedient mankind by means of this Seed, a descendant of Abraham.—Genesis 22:15-18.
4. What arrangement has Jehovah made for blessing mankind?
4 That promised Seed of blessing proved to be Jesus Christ. Concerning Jesus’ role in Jehovah’s arrangement for blessing mankind, the Christian apostle Paul wrote: “God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Blessings will be enjoyed by those of sinful mankind who obey God and avail themselves of the merit of Jesus Christ’s ransom sacrifice. (Acts 4:12) Will you choose obedience and blessings? Disobedience will result in something far different.
What About Maledictions?
5. What is the meaning of the word “malediction”?
5 The opposite of a blessing is a malediction. The word “malediction” means to speak ill of someone or pronounce evil against him. The Hebrew word qela·lahʹ is derived from the root verb qa·lalʹ, literally meaning “be light.” When used in a figurative sense, however, it means to ‘call down evil upon’ or to ‘treat with contempt.’—Leviticus 20:9; 2 Samuel 19:43.
6. What incident involving Elisha occurred near ancient Bethel?
6 Consider a dramatic example of prompt action involving a malediction. This occurred as God’s prophet Elisha was walking from Jericho to Bethel. The account states: “As he was going up on the way, there were small boys that came out from the city and began to jeer him and that kept saying to him: ‘Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!’ Finally he turned behind him and saw them and called down evil upon them in the name of Jehovah. Then two she-bears came out from the woods and went tearing to pieces forty-two children of their number.” (2 Kings 2:23, 24) Exactly what Elisha said when he spoke that malediction by calling down evil upon those jeering children is not revealed. Nevertheless, that verbal pronouncement got results because it was spoken in the name of Jehovah by a prophet of God acting in harmony with the divine will.
7. What happened to the children who jeered Elisha, and why?
7 The main reason for the jeering seems to have been that Elisha was wearing Elijah’s familiar official garment, and the children did not want any successor of that prophet around. (2 Kings 2:13) To answer the challenge of his being Elijah’s successor and to teach these young people and their parents proper respect for Jehovah’s prophet, Elisha called down evil upon the jeering mob in the name of Elijah’s God. Jehovah manifested his approval of Elisha as his prophet by causing the two she-bears to come out of the woods and tear to pieces 42 of those mockers. Jehovah dealt decisively because of their blatant lack of respect for the channel of communication that he was using on earth at that time.
8. What did the people of Israel agree to do, and with what prospects?
8 Years earlier, the Israelites showed a similar lack of respect for God’s arrangements. This is how it developed: In 1513 B.C.E., Jehovah showed the people of Israel favor by delivering them from Egyptian bondage as if “on wings of eagles.” Shortly thereafter, they pledged to obey God. Notice how obedience was inseparably linked to receiving God’s approval. Jehovah said through Moses: “If you will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant, then you will certainly become my special property out of all other peoples, because the whole earth belongs to me.” Thereafter, the people responded in the affirmative, saying: “All that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do.” (Exodus 19:4, 5, 8; 24:3) The Israelites claimed to love Jehovah, were dedicated to him, and vowed to obey his voice. Doing so would result in great blessings.
9, 10. While Moses was on Mount Sinai, what did the Israelites do, and with what consequences?
9 Before the basic tenets of that agreement were etched in stone by the ‘finger of God,’ though, divine maledictions became necessary. (Exodus 31:18) Why were such tragic consequences merited? Had not the Israelites indicated a desire to do all that Jehovah had spoken? Yes, in word they sought blessings, but by their actions they chose a course that merited maledictions.
10 During a 40-day period when Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites broke their earlier promise of loyalty to Jehovah. “Meanwhile,” says the account, “the people got to see that Moses was taking a long time about coming down from the mountain. So the people congregated themselves about Aaron and said to him: ‘Get up, make for us a god who will go ahead of us, because as regards this Moses, the man who led us up out of the land of Egypt, we certainly do not know what has happened to him.’” (Exodus 32:1) This is another example of a disrespectful attitude manifested toward the human agency that Jehovah was then using to lead and direct his people. The Israelites were lured into imitating Egyptian idolatry and reaped dire results when some 3,000 of them fell to the sword in one day.—Exodus 32:2-6, 25-29.
Pronouncement of Blessings and Maledictions
11. What instructions regarding blessings and maledictions were carried out by Joshua?
11 Near the end of Israel’s 40-year trek in the wilderness, Moses itemized the blessings to be reaped by choosing a course of obedience to God. He also enumerated the maledictions that the Israelites would experience if they chose to disobey Jehovah. (Deuteronomy 27:11–28:10) Shortly after Israel entered the Promised Land, Joshua carried out Moses’ instructions involving these blessings and maledictions. Six tribes of Israel stood at the foot of Mount Ebal, and the other six took positions in front of Mount Gerizim. The Levites stood in the valley between. Apparently, the tribes stationed in front of Mount Ebal said “Amen!” to the maledictions, or curses, read in that direction. Others responded to the blessings that the Levites read in their direction at the foot of Mount Gerizim.—Joshua 8:30-35.
12. What were some of the maledictions pronounced by the Levites?
12 Imagine that you hear the Levites say: “Cursed is the man who makes a carved image or a molten statue, a thing detestable to Jehovah, the manufacture of the hands of a wood-and-metal worker, and who has put it in a hiding place. . . . Cursed is the one who treats his father or his mother with contempt. . . . Cursed is the one who moves back the boundary mark of his fellowman. . . . Cursed is the one who causes the blind to go astray in the way. . . . Cursed is the one who perverts the judgment of an alien resident, a fatherless boy and a widow. . . . Cursed is the one who lies down with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered the skirt of his father. . . . Cursed is the one who lies down with any beast. . . . Cursed is the one who lies down with his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother. . . . Cursed is the one who lies down with his mother-in-law. . . . Cursed is the one who fatally strikes his fellowman from a hiding place. . . . Cursed is the one who accepts a bribe to strike a soul fatally, when it is innocent blood. . . . Cursed is the one who will not put the words of this law in force by doing them.” After each malediction, the tribes in front of Mount Ebal say, “Amen!”—Deuteronomy 27:15-26.
13. In your own words, how would you express certain blessings that the Levites pronounced?
13 Now imagine that you hear those in front of Mount Gerizim respond vocally to each blessing as the Levites call out: “Blessed will you be in the city, and blessed will you be in the field. Blessed will be the fruit of your belly and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your domestic beast, the young of your cattle and the progeny of your flock. Blessed will be your basket and your kneading trough. Blessed will you be when you come in, and blessed will you be when you go out.”—Deuteronomy 28:3-6.
14. On what basis would the Israelites receive blessings?
14 What was the basis for receiving these blessings? The account says: “If you will without fail listen to the voice of Jehovah your God by being careful to do all his commandments that I am commanding you today, Jehovah your God also will certainly put you high above all other nations of the earth. And all these blessings must come upon you and overtake you, because you keep listening to the voice of Jehovah your God.” (Deuteronomy 28:1, 2) Yes, the key to enjoying divine blessings was obedience to God. But what about us today? Will we individually choose blessings and life by continuing to “listen to the voice of Jehovah”?—Deuteronomy 30:19, 20.
Taking a Closer Look
15. What point was made in the blessing recorded at Deuteronomy 28:3, and how can we benefit from it?
15 Let us reflect on certain blessings an Israelite could enjoy for obeying Jehovah. For example, Deuteronomy 28:3 says: “Blessed will you be in the city, and blessed will you be in the field.” Being blessed by God is not contingent on location or assignment. Some may feel trapped in their circumstances, perhaps because they live in a materially devastated area or in a war-torn country. Others may yearn to serve Jehovah in a different location. Some Christian men may be discouraged because they have not been appointed as ministerial servants or as elders in the congregation. At times, Christian women feel disheartened because they are not in a position to engage in the full-time ministry as pioneers or missionaries. Yet, everyone who ‘listens to Jehovah’s voice and carefully does all that he requires’ will be blessed now and to all eternity.
16. How is the principle of Deuteronomy 28:4 being experienced by Jehovah’s organization today?
16 Deuteronomy 28:4 says: “Blessed will be the fruit of your belly and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your domestic beast, the young of your cattle and the progeny of your flock.” The use of the singular Hebrew pronoun rendered “your” indicates that this would be the personal experience of an obedient Israelite. What about Jehovah’s obedient servants today? The worldwide increase and expansion under way in the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses are the result of God’s blessing on the earnest efforts of over 5,000,000 proclaimers of the good news of the Kingdom. (Mark 13:10) And the potential for greater increase is evident because over 13,000,000 attended the 1995 observance of the Lord’s Evening Meal. Are you enjoying Kingdom blessings?
Israel’s Choice Made a Difference
17. Being ‘overtaken’ by blessings or by maledictions depended on what?
17 In effect, blessings would pursue an obedient Israelite. It was promised: “All these blessings must come upon you and overtake you.” (Deuteronomy 28:2) Similarly, it was said of maledictions: “All these maledictions must also come upon you and overtake you.” (Deuteronomy 28:15) If you had been an Israelite of ancient times, would you have been ‘overtaken’ by blessings or by maledictions? That would have depended on whether you obeyed God or you disobeyed him.
18. How could the Israelites have avoided maledictions?
18 At Deuteronomy 28:15-68, the painful consequences of disobedience are set forth as maledictions. Some are the exact opposite of the blessings for obedience enumerated at Deuteronomy 28:3-14. Often, the people of Israel reaped the blistering results of maledictions because they chose to engage in false worship. (Ezra 9:7; Jeremiah 6:6-8; 44:2-6) How tragic! Such consequences could have been avoided by making the right choice, that of obedience to Jehovah’s wholesome laws and principles, which clearly define good and bad. Many today suffer pain and tragedy because they have chosen to act contrary to Bible principles by practicing false religion, engaging in sexual immorality, using illicit drugs, overindulging in alcoholic beverages, and the like. As in ancient Israel and Judah, making such bad choices results in divine disapproval and unnecessary pain of heart.—Isaiah 65:12-14.
19. Describe the conditions enjoyed when Judah and Israel chose to obey Jehovah.
19 Blessings were abundant and tranquillity reigned only when Israel obeyed Jehovah. For example, concerning the days of King Solomon, we read: “Judah and Israel were many, like the grains of sand that are by the sea for multitude, eating and drinking and rejoicing. . . . And Judah and Israel continued to dwell in security, everyone under his own vine and under his own fig tree, from Dan to Beer-sheba, all the days of Solomon.” (1 Kings 4:20-25) Even in King David’s time, which was marked by much opposition from enemies of God, the nation felt Jehovah’s backing and blessing when they chose to obey the God of truth.—2 Samuel 7:28, 29; 8:1-15.
20. Of what is God confident concerning humans?
20 Will you obey God, or will you disobey him? The Israelites had a choice. Though all of us have inherited a sinful inclination from Adam, we have also received the gift of free choice. Despite Satan, this wicked world, and our imperfections, we can make the right choice. Moreover, our Creator is confident that in the face of every trial and temptation, there will be those who make the right choice, not only in word but also in action. (1 Peter 5:8-10) Will you be among them?
21. What will be examined in the next article?
21 In the next article, we will be able to weigh our attitudes and actions in the light of past examples. May each of us respond gratefully to God’s words through Moses: “I have put life and death before you, the blessing and the malediction; and you must choose life in order that you may keep alive.”—Deuteronomy 30:19.
How Would You Answer?
□ How has Jehovah made blessings possible for sinful humans?
□ What are maledictions?
□ How could the Israelites have received blessings instead of maledictions?
□ What blessings did Israel enjoy for obeying God?
[Picture on page 15]
The Israelites assembled in front of Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.