The Curse of the Law (Galatians, Part 29)
This week we continue exploring the book of Galatians using a question-and-answer format.
12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ 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”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
What is the “the curse of the law” (v. 13)?
As we saw last week, when God gave the law to his covenant people (Israel), there were two possible ways they could respond. They could either keep his covenant and obey the law, or they could break his covenant and disobey. Depending on which way the people chose to go, they would experience either blessings for faithfulness or curses for disobedience. These blessings and curses are described in some detail in several passages in the Old Testament.
Leviticus 26 is one of those passages, and it begins with a list of blessings for faithfulness. (See last week’s blog post for a description of those blessings.) Then the passage shifts gears, and God says to Israel, “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, but break my covenant, then I will do this to you….”:
- “I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache.” (Instead of health, well-being, peace, and joy under God’s rule, the people would be filled with dread and struck with disease.)
- “And you shall sow your seed in vain.” (For all of their labor, they would not be successful and would have their hard work frustrated.)
- “I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies.” (Instead of fighting Israel’s battles for them and giving them victory over the enemy, God himself would turn against Israel and fight on the enemy’s side.)
- “I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze…for your land shall not yield its increase , and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.” (The rain they needed would not fall from the sky, and the food they needed would not grow from the ground.)
- “My soul will abhor you. And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas.” (God would withdraw his presence from his people. They would not be able to draw near to him in worship, and he would not receive their sacrifices. Instead of setting up his home in their midst, he would pack up and leave.)
- “And I will scatter you among the nations…. And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies’ lands.” (Israel would go into exile. See below.)
The ultimate punishment for Israel, therefore, is exile. This was the worst curse imaginable: for God’s people to be banished from the good land he had given them, unable to worship him and fellowship with him, and publicly humiliated before all the watching nations. God’s purpose for Israel had always been to set them as a “city upon a hill,” to make them a show-people to display his glory and his good kingdom to the rest of the world, so that the world might be drawn to God as God’s people lived holy lives in their land. So, to be suddenly ejected from that land and cut off from the presence and worship of God was the worst punishment imaginable.
So what does all of this have to do with Jesus, then? We will answer that question next week.