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A few days ago I wrote a brief reflection on my favourite chapter of the Old Testament – Isaiah 52:13-53:12. If that doesn’t make you want to leap for joy and praise the Lord, there is something seriously wrong with you. However, not every chapter in the Bible is intended to lighten our steps – some of them are meant to put weight in our souls. So it is with Deuteronomy 28.

Deuteronomy 28 is not my favourite chapter in the Bible. Not by a long shot. In it, Moses tells the people of Israel that they are not strong enough to live apart from the protection of the Lord. He tells them that if they forsake their covenant with the Lord, then they will be exposed to the power of their enemy and they will fall.

The Bible says that our enemy seeks only to steal, kill and destroy and this story reminds us that he will use every weapon in his arsenal and every minion in his power to erase and deface the image of God in us. If the Lord is not our fortress, then we shall utterly despair! This chapter describes that prophesied desolation in almost unreadable detail.

“They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land. And they shall besiege you in all your towns throughout all your land, which the Lord your God has given you. 53 And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you. 54 The man who is the most tender and refined among you will begrudge food to his brother, to the wife he embraces, and to the last of the children whom he has left, 55 so that he will not give to any of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because he has nothing else left, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns. 56 The most tender and refined woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because she is so delicate and tender, will begrudge to the husband she embraces, to her son and to her daughter, 57 her afterbirth that comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears, because lacking everything she will eat them secretly, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in your towns.” (Deuteronomy 28:52–57 ESV)

Siege warfare is brutal and dehumanizing. The Jews endured it twice, first during the Babylonian assault in 589-586 BC and then again under the Romans in AD 69-70. Prophecy became history in the writings of Flavius Josephus. He records the story of a woman named Mary, driven mad by her incessant hunger during the Roman siege:

“Famine gnawed at her vitals, and the fire of rage was ever fiercer than famine. So, driven by fury and want, she committed a crime against nature. Seizing her child, an infant at the breast, she cried, “My poor baby, why should I keep you alive in this world of war and famine? Even if we live till the Romans come, they will make slaves of us; and anyway, hunger will get us before slavery does; and the rebels are crueler than both. Come, be food for me, and an avenging fury to the rebels, and a tale of cold horror to the world to complete the monstrous agony of the Jews.” With these words she killed her son, roasted the body, swallowed half of it, and stored the rest in a safe place.”1

It is very hard to read a prophecy like the one we read this morning in Deuteronomy 28; it is ever harder when we know that it actually happened – twice in the history of the Jewish people.

This is one of those chapters from which we would rather look away.

We would rather imagine a God who was only mercy.

We would rather imagine a God who was slightly less antagonistic towards human rebellion and sin.

However, the Bible does not give us such a God.

The Bible describes a God who is three times holy. He is HOLY. HOLY. HOLY. He is who He is, and He is not subject to our judgment or approval. He is glorified in the display of His mercy and He is glorified in the display of His judgments.

That is what the Bible says.

That is what Deuteronomy 28 says and nowhere is that said more forcefully or more frankly than in Deuteronomy 28 verse 63.

And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. (Deuteronomy 28:63 ESV)

Full disclosure: I have never preached a sermon on that verse and I’ve never heard one preached by anyone else. But I read it every year as I make my way through the RMM Bible Reading Plan. Every year, once a year, I am forced to wrestle with the most difficult verse in the Bible.

When I read it I am reminded, forcefully, that God delights in who he is and he is HOLY. HOLY. HOLY.

When I read it I am reminded that God’ actions and God’s words are never in conflict. God said this sort of thing about Himself; He said this was WHO HE WAS. He introduced Himself to Moses, who was hidden in the cleft of the rock, by saying:

“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6–7 ESV)

God is merciful. God is gracious. God is patient. God is loving. And God is just. He will by no means clear the guilty but will visit consequence upon people and upon communities in keeping with their actions.

That is who God is. Therefore, what He says in Deuteronomy 28:63 is entirely in keeping with His character. One commentator puts it this way:

“With this bold anthropomorphic expression Moses seeks to remove from the nation the last prop of false confidence in the mercy of God. Greatly as the sin of man troubles God, and little as the pleasure may be which He has in the death of the wicked, yet the holiness of His love demands the punishment and destruction of those who despise the riches of His goodness and long-suffering; so that He displays His glory in the judgment and destruction of the wicked no less than in blessing and prospering the righteous.”2

He displays His glory in the judgment and destruction of the wicked no less than in blessing and prospering the righteous.

That is a truth from which I am inclined to look away.

That is a truth that I am inclined to seek escape from. Perhaps this truth is in some way mitigated or clarified or negated in the New Testament, I wonder. But then I remember Revelation 20, which I read just last week:

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.“ (Revelation 20:11–15 ESV)

God has not changed.

God does not change.

And he is not judged by me.

Today, by reading my Bible and seeing again what I try hard every year to avoid, I am freshly rebuked for my idolatry. I am reminded that I would lie to myself about the character and nature of God. I am reminded that I would dare to sit in judgment over the Lord.

I repent.

I am not God. I am not the judge. The Lord is just and right and good in all He says and does.

Thanks be to God!

Paul Carter


1 Flavius Josephus A History Of The Jewish Wars, The Wars Of The Jews, Book VI, Chapter 3.
2 C. F. Keil and Delitzsch F., Commentary on the Old Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), paragraph 2945.


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12 thoughts on “The Most Difficult Verse in the Bible”

  1. Lynda says:

    Deut 28:63 made me pause with a sense of terrible awe this morning also. Well, the whole chapter does, of course, but the thought that God would delight in destroying them seems almost incomprehensible. He also demands, in the same chapter, that they serve Him with joy. I immediately thought of the Lewis’ words from his Narnia book, that Aslan was not a safe lion, but he is good. I know that other cultures and peoples don’t have quite the same aversion to this, and it makes me wonder that we have become so arrogant in our democratic self-aggrandizing culture that we think we can judge God. Which is spectacularly ridiculous, isn’t it? I keep thinking, What is wrong with us? (of course, that’s obvious, too, but I cannot help but feel a sense of wonder at this).

    Thank you for your sound faithfulness in proclaiming the full Gospel, and continuing to tremble at His Word.

    1. Paul says:

      Thanks Lynda. I appreciate the feedback and I too have always appreciated Lewis’ blend of awe, fear and beauty in his portrayal of Aslan. It is a helpful lens. Blessings.

  2. Phil says:

    You haven’t explained anything- simply reiterated that God is Holy. My response is to go ‘yeah- I you’re right. I can’t argue with God’s holiness’. But it keeps my heart heavy, rather than lead me to rejoice in Gods character.thanks though.

    1. Andrew says:

      There’s a quiet, peaceful and fearfully reverent awe and rejoicing here. This God is not one that is overshadowed by the deepest evil. His judgment must be terrible, or He is little comfort to those who see or experience the depths of evil by men and women. He may be confusing to those who haven’t closely seen or experienced breathtaking evil, but his terrible judgement is comforting to those who have (a comfort mixed with reverent concern to not defy Him oneself). I am thankful God has the capacity to answer the evil that has been done against my loved ones, and that against Christian brothers and sisters across the globe and history.

  3. Chris Ross says:

    Hi Paul….. Yes this is a difficult passage. I have been reading through Judges with my teenage kids and chapter 19 the Levite and his concubine is likewise a challenging chapter. My conclusion was that when sin reaches its zenith unrighteousness reigns and results. Similarly in Deuteronomy when we sin we can expect judgement because God is holy. Judgement for sin seems to be a recurring theme in the Bible reminding us of the final judgement. Yet…. I don’t hear many sermons on the judgement of God or his call to righteousness…. Maybe l am attending the wrong church….. In spite of this… I always attempt to give my children the truth of biblical teaching balanced with the gracious provision of Christ for salvation but the verse l have really struggled with is Matthew 7:21-23. This is a really tough one…. Apparent believers evidenced to be false…… A tough teaching indeed….. This was a good post….. Thanks

    1. Paul says:

      Hi Chris, I have often referred to Matthew 7:21023 as “the scariest passage in the Bible.” I’m with you. That’s a tough one. God have mercy.

      1. Paul says:

        Whoops! Matthew 7:21-23.

  4. HpO says:

    I disagree, brother Paul Carter. That “the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you”, per “Deuteronomy 28:63 ESV”, is NOT at all “that God delights in (that) he is HOLY. HOLY. HOLY.” By those three dots or periods there after each of the words “HOLY”, I can tell, feel even, cringe even, that you’re still – even after this supposedly cathartic piece of writing – having “THE MOST DIFFICULT” time of coming to terms with this, “THE MOST DIFFICULT VERSE IN THE BIBLE”. How palpable the restraint you’re forcefully putting on yourself when, upon reflecting on that “VERSE” yet again, you bite your tongue while repeating these words to yourself: ONE, “God … is not subject to (my) judgment or approval.” TWO, “And he is not judged by me.” THREE, Be myself “reminded that I would dare to sit in judgment over the Lord.” Whoah. Simpleminded me, but I thought “Deuteronomy 28:63 ESV” says that God would judge “you”; yet here you are trying hard not to judge God BACK. What’s up with that, my brother in Christ? Speaking of Whom, that’s just it after all, isn’t it? Take Jesus the Buffer off God and off you and me and the rest of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and what do we get? That’s right; the same old, same old “Lord (God who) will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you”, per “Deuteronomy 28:63 ESV”. But NOT “God (who) is HOLY. HOLY. HOLY.” – with all the 3 dots.

  5. Colin says:

    I think we tend to forget, or not try and understand, the extent to which the Israelites provoked God on their way from Egypt to Canaan. That is the context of the verse.

    Have we ever seen even a tiny fraction of what the Israelites saw with their own eyes and experienced themselves of God and His works?

    Have you ever been rescued by God physically, say, from a China with God annihilating the million+ Red Army and their nuclear missiles to get you out? And then while you were drifting along in a small open boat across the Pacific to America being fed and watered and sheltered and warmed daily by God? And then turning away from Him and worshipping a golden calf with an orgy going and complaining that the dungeon in China had better food?

    That’s the context.

    The fact that God goes on to promise in Deut 30:3 that even in that utter pit of exile He will not forget them and His covenant, and bring them back ought to leave us speechless in His grace, rather than focus on His completely justified anger and punishment.

  6. Colin says:

    We also need to keep in mind the fact that Israel was a means for the revelation of God to all the nations.

    That’s why Deut 29:24-28 comes in after this (as well as Deut 30 of course). The nations would see the great power, justice, and grace of the true God through Israel and know that He alone is God.

  7. Colin says:

    Finally let us remember that it is the loving Father who delights in disciplining His sons.

    The more stiff-necked and rebellious the greater and tougher the methods needed.

    Let us pray that our hearts are softened and open to His Spirit and teachable so that we experience only our Father’s gentle reminder, without the need for the heavy hand.

  8. Taylor says:

    While the truth that God is glorified in the punishment of the wicked is indeed weighty, we also need to be careful not to slip into believing a sort of “Equal Ultimacy” in God’s mercy and judgment. From Bavinck: “It is incorrect to represent the wretched state of the lost as the goal of predestination….When he punishes the wicked, he does not delight in their suffering as such; rather, in this punishment he celebrates the triumph of his perfections,” here citing, among others, Deut. 28:63. Later: “What he does in keeping with the decree of reprobation is not directly and as such the object of his delight.” (p389 and 398 of Reformed dogmatics).

    I cite these passages not because I disagree with what the verse explicitly says, or because I necessarily disagree with the Keil and Delitzsch quote. I just also think it is important to emphasize the punishment of the wicked and the blessing of the righteous are not at all symmetrical in the overall economy of God’s delight and glorification, as the passage and quote come very close to saying. God delights in the display of both His mercy and His justice, and though he does not delight in the death of the wicked, as K&D note, he will yet demonstrate His sovereignty by exalting His justice in them. In one sense, yes, He is glorified just as much in this punishment as in his blessing of the righteous, but in another sense He is glorified far more in the latter.

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Paul Carter


Paul Carter attended Moody Bible Institute and is a graduate of York University (B.A.) and McMaster Divinity College (MDiv). He has been in pastoral ministry since 1994, serving in both Fellowship and Canadian Baptist churches in Oakville, Mississauga and Orillia, Ontario Canada. He presently serves as the Lead Pastor of First Baptist Church, Orillia, a large multi-staff church with a passion for biblical preaching and local mission.

Along with his friend Marc Bertrand he is the co-founder of the Covenant Life Renewal Association (CLRA) seeking Biblical and Spiritual revival within Canadian Baptist Churches. He also serves on the TGC Canada board.

Paul has written two books and is a frequent blogger on issues of Christian faith and living. You can find his devotional podcast at www.intotheword.ca

Paul is the happy husband of Shauna Lee and the proud papa of 5 beautiful children, Madison, Max, Mikayla, Peyton and Noa.

You can find him at:

www.intotheword.ca
www.adfontes.ca
www.firstbaptistorillia.org

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